European Tour 2018 – Wrap-up

Adventure, food, Just things, Travel, Uncategorized

We came crashing back down to Earth pretty hard after we got back to Seattle. We got to our hotel and barely made it to 8:30 PM. We had to run out to get a bite to eat but couldn’t muster up the energy for anything more than that before falling asleep. After being up for about 20 hours straight flying home, the Sandman dumped a bucketful on us and we were out.

Jim got on the plane and went back home Wednesday morning; I got to my apartment and have been taking care of some personal business needing my attention. I did not want to do that necessarily but it could not wait and needed to be handled. I started back to work today and it was good to have things taken care of before I went back.

I wanted to post our experiences in different places we went, mentioning some names and give some businesses their due while we were out and about. I would have rather added these places into the posts as we travelled, but trying to do it on my phone was tedious; it is much easier on a desktop.

I won’t get into comparisons, differences and politics between our experiences in these different countries and the US; I do have my opinions on these things but they won’t be published on here. Everyone we ran into everywhere we went were extremely helpful and friendly to us without regard to our nationality. People from all sorts of religions and ethnicity ate together in the same restaurants and sat next to each other on the buses and trains without rude comments or slurs. A few people wanted to ask questions – out of simple curiosity – about what is happening in the States, which we did respond to truthfully and without hesitation.

Language – Western Europe is more “English-speaking” than it was the farther east we went but we did fine. I tried to order my food in the local language if I could wherever we were (which was obviously not a problem in the U.K.!), and the people were helpful and smiled when I tried to pronounce something and couldn’t quite nail it – at least I attempted it. I tried to use local words for everything I could since you cannot (and shouldn’t) take for granted everyone knows English. Some people here in the US expect (actually demand) English to be spoken when here so it works both ways when visiting another country. Most people we met could speak multiple languages and with the different countries so close it is a necessity. They are taught multiple languages in schools from an early age. For example, it was either Belgium or Luxembourg (cannot remember for sure) who used Dutch, French and German languages. Notice that English was not mentioned.

Most everywhere we went there is serious consideration given to real energy conservation. The hotels all had LED lighting, and you had to use your room keycard to turn on the electricity in your room. You take it out to leave and the lights shut off. Sometimes the steam heat doesn’t come on until it gets to be a certain temperature in the office downstairs.

Every city in Europe was very clean pretty much everywhere we visited. They run sweepers and people pick up trash daily. There are trash receptacles and ash trays all over so there is no excuse to litter (there is no excuse anyway – you had room to bring it so you take it back). Even the train stations were clean and felt safe.

I have been asked about my “favorite part” of the trip or “favorite city” we visited. It was all my favorite as each experience was unique. We are really all the same on this planet and I think that everyone should do a trip like this to see what it is like in the rest of the world. It is good to experience other cultures and talk with the people. I really had no idea about what to expect or have any real preconceived notions about what we would see on the trip. It was ALL a life-changing experience for me and it ALL was amazing and eye-opening. I took several things away from this trip personally. I cannot wait to go back again in the Fall, and would love to go stay for a few months at some point to really immerse in it.

Now for some other thoughts on various things we did, places we stayed and ate at. This list is not a comprehensive one.

AIRLINES

Icelandair – inexpensive and great service, friendly staff

KLM – great service and friendly; they gave us free food on-board even in the cheap seats!

Aer Lingus – very friendly staff and great service

easyJet – gate personnel were not very organized; late leaving Edinburgh

All of our flights were smooth, planes were clean, flight crew were friendly. We did have to load and unload on the tarmac on most of our flights so be prepared for that! There are so many budget carriers and easyJet was one of those that we were on. With only a carry-on bag we had no problems. I would fly them again in spite of the disorganized gate personnel.

TRAINS

Eurostar – high-speed between London and the Continent; f-a-s-t, smooth and quiet

Eurail – Eurail is NOT a rail line; it is a pass that you can use on almost all of the many, many trains around Europe (NOT the UK, though). It is a pretty good bargain given the flexibility even though it may seem steep at first glance.

The public transit in Europe is amazing. You can get pretty much anyplace you want to go and several options to do so reasonably. Do not rent a car unless you really need it; parking is OMG expensive WHEN you can find it and London has a “Congestion Charge” for about 35 Euro a DAY!

HOTELS

Hotel d’Amsterdam – guess where

Sheldon Park Hotel – Dublin

Travelodge – Edinburgh

Point A Hotel – London

Comfort Inn – Brussels

Hotel Bristol in Luxembourg

Ibis Hotel – Köln, Germany

Ambassador Suites – Antwerp

Hotel CC – Amsterdam

Van der Valk Hotel Schiphol A4 – Amsterdam

Just a blanket statement for these: I would easily stay at any of these hotels again and I actually plan to when I go back. Clean, quiet, and decent rooms for a decent price and a few even had breakfast included. Rooms are much different than here in the States so it may test your comfort zone. Americans are not used to rooms like these so expect beds right next to each other in small rooms and probably steam heat. No washcloths in Europe either!

FOOD and PINTS

Costa Coffee – across Europe; their version of that unmentionable US brand but has good coffee unlike that US brand

Co-op markets in London

Au Pains de Papy bakery in London

le Chambord in Brussels

Casa Mamma in London

The Albanach in Edinburgh

The Scotsman in Edinburgh

MISCELLANEOUS

I bought two books by Rick Steves, which I mentioned previously in an earlier post. I found his books to be very helpful for the “real” traveler – one who wants to see the real Europe and not just the touristy hot spots and attractions. From my previous travels I knew many of his tips already (packing, no checked baggage, etc.), but I think his books are very good for everyone to read and I definitely learned a few things from reading them.

We used backpack luggage to do our trip – one apiece. We had plenty of room and the only problem with it was the weight restrictions of the airlines. Our bags alone weighed 2.3 kg, and the total limit was 10 kg so there was no bringing back souvenirs on this trip (except for a 500g package of smoked cheese!). Following guidelines in the book we packed the same amount of clothes recommended and did laundry once along with washing and drying a few items in our hotel rooms. The more you pack, the more you have to carry. Next time I hope to use an airline that will allow more weight carried in luggage. I do plan on being more stationary and can ship items home.

There were so many good places across Europe to eat. We saw American fast food restaurants everywhere and that is a horrible thing to do to a society with such an amazing centuries-old food culture. The foods we ate tasted fresher and more delicious than similar things we have eaten in the States. The bakery items are indescribably good and the selection is huge.

All told since Jim arrived in Seattle we walked 103.15 miles in 16 days including Seattle and Europe. One day was over 10 miles alone. Our average over the entire time we were together was somewhere around 6.4 miles a day. Not a bad amount of exercise!

MAPS

Here are some simple maps to show our route. It may appear we did nothing but go, and I guess that’s true, but it was not at all hectic. The planes and trains were only an hour or two apart between cities we went to; much like it would be getting around in the northeastern US. We found we had time to see and do things and get a good taste of the places we went but not get too run down in the process. When I go back again I will break it up and do continental Europe in one trip and the U.K. in a separate one to save time and travel expenses. It would also give you more time to get a car and get away from the cities to see the countryside.

If you have any questions about our adventure feel free to send me a message and I will respond.

Europe – Day 7 – January 31st, 2018: London, England and Brussels, Belgium

Adventure, food, Just things, pictures, Travel, Uncategorized

Admiralty Arch near Trafalgar Square – London, England

That’s right…back to the Continent today.

We got up and went back to the bakery I went to yesterday and grabbed a fresh croissant with ham and cheese, coffee, and another piece of raspberry torte.

Our train was not until this afternoon so we took in a bus ride and did some more sightseeing before checking out of our hotel. It was a rainy day in London, just a few sprinkles but overcast, grey, and a bit breezy. Much like home for me.

Our morning destination was Trafalgar Square, another famous place we have always heard about.

We got off the bus in front of the National Gallery. It’s an area not too far from the big attractions but we weren’t going to get to see some of them being on a limited time schedule today but that’s okay. I am quite certain that I will be back again. I have to…I have British Pounds left over.

Trafalgar Square – London, England

Trafalgar Square – London, England

Trafalgar Square – London, England

Trafalgar Square – London, England

Admiralty Arch near Trafalgar Square – London, England

One odd and interesting thing we saw was a Harris hawk and it’s handler.

Trafalgar Square pigeon control

They use the hawks as “pigeon control”. It is a huge open square and apparently they had a huge pigeon problem due to tourists feeding them. Perhaps they should use the hawks to take out the tourists instead.

It is a natural way to control pests at least…kinda like getting a cat to keep the mice away in your house.

It has been interesting to see in London there are crews sweeping and keeping the sidewalks clean. Most of what we have seen so far in the places we have been is that things are generally pretty clean. We never saw crews in any of the other cities.

We went back to our hotel and checked out of our room. Time to head back to St. Pancras Station to hop on the Eurostar – the bullet train – to leave London for Brussels. The train goes nearly 200 miles an hour and goes through The Chunnel. Pretty weird hauling ass through a tunnel under the English Channel. It was a fast and smooth ride.

Eurostar high-speed train

Inside the Eurostar high-speed train

We got to Brussels about 6 PM and checked in to our hotel room. We were hungry so I found another Italian restaurant nearby. Off we went into the night through the dark backstreets of Brussels.

We ended up at le Chambord after an interesting journey to get there. We started down the road and turned the corner where we went past some, shall we say, strange people that we kept an eye on…until we walked past windows full of red lights and prostitutes. Just another day in Europe I guess.

Dinner was great. Penne carbonara with bread, a glass of wine and an appetizer of tomatoes with buffalo mozzarella, greens, and balsamic. We left there quite full.

We wrapped up the night looking at options for our next destination. We have an idea but we’ll see what happens and where we end up!

Europe – Day 6 – January 30th, 2018: London, England

Adventure, food, Just things, pictures, Travel, Uncategorized

Artwork I saw on the way back from the laundrette – London, England

Today we got up early to go to the launderette. We were both out of clean clothes and this was a good day to do it since we had the opportunity. It was just a few blocks away but we had to get breakfast first so we went to a coffee shop we saw last night.

We went there after the sign we saw on the sidewalk said that they had a bacon breakfast sandwich. That was delicious and we both could have eaten another but we needed to get things done.

After laundry we took another walk around a different area close by. There are little shops and restaurants everywhere on every block.

We took a few minutes at our room and then we met up with another guy Jim knows named Nigel. He took time out of his day and took a three hour train ride (one way!) to meet us and give us a tour of historic music sites around London.

Jim and I walked over ten miles today and most of it was with Nigel. We saw several sites that you may have heard of…

How about Apple Corps. headquarters…the place that The Beatles filmed their infamous rooftop concert?

How about the famous fashion area called Carnaby Street?

And there is the famous EMI Records office building where The Beatles took the pictures looking down from a balcony for the red and blue albums (this is not the original building but is similar).

There was Piccadilly Circus…

…and a place Hendrix used to hang out at…

It was quite interesting to see these places that musicians frequented that I heard of when I was a kid.

While we were out we stopped for a pint and some fish and chips at an English pub. I really like these pubs and if I lived near one it would be a frequent hangout for the atmosphere. An occasional Guinness would be consumed as well I am certain.

Both ways we ride the London Underground. Some call it The Tube. Very convenient, but on the way back we got into rush hour and it was packed. I thought we would have to lube up to fit into the car. It was so packed I thought my asscheeks were going to get picked off when the doors shut.

Tomorrow we have the morning and part of the afternoon to go sightsee some more before we leave.

It’s going to be another great adventure!

Europe – Day 5 – January 29th, 2018: London, England

Adventure, food, Just things, pictures, Travel, Uncategorized

London Underground station – London, England

Cheers from our next stop…London!

We flew into London and arrived around noon or so. Not as early as we wanted and the plane boarding and leaving late was unacceptable. We flew easyJet and they were pretty disorganized. Flight attendants were nice but the gate people just were not

Fortunately, this was our last flight until we go back to the States. From here out it will be mass transit and no firm plans other than when we are leaving London and when we leave Europe.

We got to our destination via train from the airport and ended up on the King’s Cross/Pancras train station. This is the same train station in the Harry Potter movies.

img_0315

St. Pancras Station – London, England

img_0312

St. Pancras Station – London, England

img_0310

St. Pancras Station – London, England

We went for a hike around our hotel in the King’s Cross area and checked out a few local sites. We then went to an Italian restaurant called Casa Mamma’s and ate what is easily the best lasagna I have ever eaten. It was fantastic.

We walked around some more to get dinner worked off and stopped by the local grocery store for a snack. There are lots of interesting snacks and I’d like to try most every one of them!

Eager to get an early start we went to sleep at a decent time. We have a big day planned for tomorrow!

Light as Art

Just things

At the Hayward Gallery in London, England is an art show all about light. Here is a link for it: http://www.king5.com/news/slideshows/Photos-Light-as-art-show-in-London-188846211.html?gallery=y&c=y&ref=%2F#/news/slideshows/Photos-Light-as-art-show-in-London-188846211.html?gallery=y&c=y&ref=%2F&img=0&c=y.

There is some really cool pictures on here. The one that really catches me is the first one with the rooms. Many other ones are pretty interesting as well, but that one is so simple, yet intense and interesting.

I would love to see this show – maybe it will travel over here.