Saturday, November 24, 2007

Last Few Days

My Europe trip is finished now and I'm back home but I need to finish writing about the last few days. We had to spend the Friday night in Rotterdam because there were no more beds left in Amsterdam. The cannabis cup was held that weekend. I think it's where all the coffeeshops compete in certain events and one of the 234 is crowned the winner at the end.

Walking towards our hostel down the streets of Rotterdam there were many modern and odd looking buildings. I, of course, was very impressed and thought they were all very cool. Holland has been, and still is, a hot spot for new architecture. But that didn't explain the fact that these buildings were everywhere. It all made sense when I found out that Rotterdam was levelled in WWII by order of Hitler. Hitler gave an ultimatum saying "give us Holland or we will bomb Rotterdam." Holland, with no other choice, handed over their country in which case Hitler bombed it anyway. Why would he do that? I don't get it. Anyway, we'll leave that for the historians to figure out

We only spent the one night in Rotterdam and really didn't need more. It was a nice city but there wasn't much to do. We did, however, have the pleasure of figuring out how to get to England. There were two options: a train, then ferry, and then train, or just a train. Sticking with our motto of cheaper is best, we chose the latter option which would take more time but was less expensive. When trying to book it though we found out that the train workers were on strike in France - they were on strike in Germany too - so we had no choice but to take the train through the Channel tunnel to London. I was excited for this because the Chunnel is a huge engineering feat and I wanted to see it. However, it was unimpressive since it was too dark inside to see anything. But at least I can saw I went through it.

Now that we made it to London we had to find our way to Kirsti's flat. She lives in Greenwich so it was a little complicated to get there. We caught the subway to a train line called the DLR but it was closed for repairs. We were upset about that but not as upset as one of the British guys we saw. He was going crazy and in the cool British accent which made it even more amusing! We took a bus to a new train and then walked to Kirsti's place after enjoying some tasty McDonald's. We met Jacki and Angela, Kirsti's friends from back home, and Kristy and Chelsea, some very cool Aussie girls. We also met the Kirtsi's flatmate Mark and his German friend Stephan. There were ten of us staying over and needless to say it was a fight for the couches to sleep on that night. Luckily, we went out to the bar that night so it didn't matter where I would be sleeping but I did manage to get the nice couch.

We basically slept the entire next day before leaving that night to go to the airport. We caught the last train from Kirsti's to the London Bridge train station where we were to catch a train to Gatwick. But the trains listed to come never came. As we were getting worried Jack called the train service and found an alternate route to the airport. Unfortunately, there were 2 trains leaving at 11:58 and we got on the wrong one. This was going to be a long night! We got off on the next stop unsure about what to do. Calling a cab was an option but instead we walked to a main road and luckily caught the last bus back to London Bridge. Now there were no trains to Gatwick left. With more luck on our side we found a bus/train worker that guided us on a train replacement bus that took us to the Blackfriar train station and from there we caught a train to Gatwick.

The story doesn't end there though. We arrived at the airport exhausted at about 2:00am and found ourselves a uncomfortable and cold nook in front of an Air Transat desk to sleep. After waking up shivering uncontrollably we eventually got our boarding passes and successfully got through security. Eight hours later we were back where we started 72 days earlier. The feeling of being back home was very wierd but it was nice to not have to carry that pack around anymore.

This will be my final post about my travels through Europe. I will still write a few more catered to people planning on going to Europe. I have had almost as much fun writing this blog as I have on the trip itself and I hope you enjoyed reading it. I like hearing people, who I didn't think were reading my blog, tell me that they've been reading it. So, for anyone wanting to hear more stories - possibly the more entertaining and better stories - about my trip I'm throwing an open invitation out there to go grab a beer or two. Send me a message on facebook, msn, or this blog. Until...I guess I can't write 'next time' here...cheers!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Sin City

Amsterdam is awesome! I can't believe how liberal this city is with pretty much everything. It seems like anything goes here. Anything you can think of in terms of sex, drugs, and gambling they have it. There are 234 coffeeshops and magic mushroom shops. Also, there are people on every street asking if you want coke, or ectasy. There are many casinos. And of course there is the red light district with it's many boths with girls in them and the numerous sex stores, stripper bars, and live sex shows.

Alright, this is where I apologize to my parents and relatives. But I'm just telling what Amsterdam has to offer. I could go into further detail but I think it's best if I leave it at that. Amsterdam has a very relaxing feel about it. There was no setting the alarm at this hostel. Well, actually I lost my alarm but I wouldn't have set it anyway. To ease any uneasiness I did visit the Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh Museum. I can only handle so much sin :)

I think that everyone needs to visit this city though. It is so different than any other city in Europe and you have to see it to believe it. I really don't have much else to say about Amsterdam except one story that I learned on the free walking tour. It is especially intriguing to me because I'm a structural engineer but I think everyone else will find it wierd.

In the picture above you can see beams with a hook at the end of it at the top of each building. This were, and still are, used for moving furniture in and out of the house because the staircases are too small and tight. But while lifting furniture they had a problem with high winds and the load swinging like a pendulum. As a result windows were regularly broken during the process. What was there solution for this problem? Well, one simple option would be to extend the beam, right? Apparently this solution was not complicated enough for them. The city decided to build all the buildings with a forward lean (you can kind of see it in the picture). This gave the movers an extra foot or so of space to avoid window smashing. Maybe it is just me but the latter option seems absolutely ridiculous.

Anyway, that's the end of Amsterdam, and almost the end of my trip. I should just sell my airline ticket and stay over here. Next we are on to Rotterdam for a night and then back to London for 2 nights until we catch our flight on the 19th. This is probably the last blog entry from Europe. I hope you enjoyed it thus far.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Belgium Has The Best Beers

When I say that we went on an adventure to find the best beer in the world I really mean it. Read Jack's post named 'the holy grail of beers' and you'll understand. Briefly though, this beer, named Westvleteren, is brewed in small quantities in a monk monastary in the middle of nowhere. We had to figure out a way to get to this middle of nowhere place. Thus, our journey began.

We decided to embark on this adventure on the Friday morning. After asking some fellow beer seekers on the internet how to get there, we jumped on a 2 hour train ride to Poperinge - a small town of about 15,000 people. Once there we had a choice of renting bikes or waiting 2 hours for a bus to take us the last 20 to 30 kilometers. The weather wasn't good for biking so we decided to bus the out there. We went to the tourist office and asked the gentlemen - who I thought looked like Waldo from the Where's Waldo books - to book a bus for us. That is when he informed us that the bar was closed on Thursday and Friday.

Trying this beer was one of the top things we wanted to do on this trip, so we knew we had to return the next day. With Belgium being another 'B' country we didn't mind losing a day to come back. We probably would have gone to a bar and tried more Belgium beers anyway. So, the next day we made our way back to Poperinge and caught the bus to the monastary. The bus took us down very narrow and winding roads, while driving past fields where they grow hops for beer. After trying the first bottle of Westvletern I knew this journey was worth it. I can't decisively say that Westvleteren is the best beer in the world but it certainly was within the top 5. With the other 4 also being Belgium beers.

Our last night in Brussels we not surprisingly decided to try more Belgium beers. The easiest spot to do this was in bar that has over 2000 different beers. The bar is called Delirium and even had Molson Canadian and Moosehead. The menu of beers was larger than a school textbook.

The following day we left on an early train to Amsterdam, our final city before going back to London. For one of the first times this trip we actually had a hostel reserved before arriving in the city. It felt good not having to walk from hotel to hostel to hotel asking if they have any rooms. However, when checking in the receptionist could not find our name on the reservation list. We knew we reserved 3 beds for 4 nights but as the receptionist pointed out we did not know when we reserved for. We somehow came a day early! We fortunately were still able to get beds but I could not believe we did that. Eventually I figured out that we left a day early from Paris. We spent so many days there that we lost track of which day it was. An extra day in Amsterdam can only be a good thing though.

Way back in Berlin we met an American named Chad who just came from Amsterdam. He loved Amsterdam so much that he ended up staying there 3 or 4 days longer than he originally inteneded. With all the praise he was giving Amsterdam maybe we subconsciously feel into the same trap he did. He even told us, "You guys should cut out a city and go to Amsterdam longer!" We knew we could never cut out another city but I guess we almost did. Chad, if you're reading this, the extra day is in honour of you my friend.

Amsterdam has been absolutely insane! I can't believe what goes on here. I'll leave this craziness for my next post - quite possibly my final post while in Europe. Once again, I'm sorry about the now pictures. Amsterdam has a plethora of sinful stores, shops, and activities but they have very few internet cafes of which none can upload pictures.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Finally, A Normal Keyboard

So, when I wrote that I would finish the Paris post tomorrow I meant in three days. I'm falling behind in my posts, seeing that I'm in Amsterdam now and I'm still talking about Paris. I just had too much fun in Belgium that I had no time to finish the post. Well, and their keyboards were very annoying. And the amazing Belgium beers hindered my limited opportunities to write. There actually isn't much else to say about Paris except for the food.

One of the main things I wanted to do in Paris was sit and drink a coffee at a cafe on the side of a major boulevard. Perhaps the Champs Elysses (?). I didn't find one there but after ascending the Eiffel Tower I found a cafe at the side of a roundabout with an awesome view of a palace and the tower in the background. This was one of the best, if not the best, things I did in Paris. The waiters had suits and were exceptionally good at their job. I guess for the high price for a cup of coffee and a bowl of so_p (Mitch Hedberg fans will understand). Despite the cost, every minute of sitting at that small circular table was perfect.

After the best bowl of French onion soup - and the only bowl I've ever had - we just barely boarded the train in time at one of the six Paris train stations. The train weaved through the rolling hills of the French countryside and arrived in Normandy. We stayed in the small town of Bayeux in a small hotel above a bar. The next morning we called to join a Juno Baech tour but there were no spots left so we took a bus out to the Juno Beach Center on our own. It was extremely good and it was only 5 euros. I've never felt as patriotic for Canada as I did that day.

The next day, however, gave me a similar patriotic feeling. We visited the Vimy Ridge memorial. This place was very moving emotionally because you could see the trenches, tunnels, and craters in the ground. While there I had a strong realisation about how pointless war is. There are areas cordoned off with signs everywhere saying that there could be unexploded mines and shells in the ground. The whole Vimy Ridge site was given to Canada from France as a gesture of gratitude for winning that important battle. Canada sends students to this site to work for 4 months. It was nice to meet and talk to fellow Canadians.

Well, that's all for France. Once again I was unable to upload pictures but I will get them up eventually. Now I just need to write about Belgium and I'm caught up. Belgium fell into the 'B' category of places we visited. It was a relaxing place with copious amounts of delicious beer. I will never like any other beer from now on unless it's a Belgium beer. Belgians really know how to make their beer - especially Westvleteren, the voted best beer in the world on There is a great story to go along with that beer too. So, stay tuned for that adventure. Until then, cheers!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Trqvels zithin Frqnce

I hqven't posted in qzhile qnd Belgiu, hqs presented ,e zith q uniaue zqy of zriting ,y qbout Pqris. Qs you cqn see letters on the keyboqrd qre szitched qround - zell q fez of the, qre. You ,qy or ,qy not hqve figured it out yet but here is hoz to decipher this text:

a = q
z = w
m = ,

There qre other szitches on this French/Belgiu, keyboqrd but those qre the ,qin three. I will, hozever try ,y best to not zrite zith the letterers qll szitched fro, noz on.

France was very cool! We stayed in Paris and visited Bayeux in Normandy and Vimy Ridge on the way up to Belgium. We visited all the regular Paris attractions like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and Notre Dame. One of the best parts about France was usuing the limited French I know from the 10 years of learning the language. It is nice being able to speak to and understand what people are saying.

We got into the Louvre for free because we happened to go on the first Sunday of the month; talk about lucky! Thqt reminds me qbout our other lucky experience on the dqy ze arrived in Paris. Of course ze didn't book any hostel aheqd of time so ze arrived with no plqce to stay. However, we hqve experienced this many times so we knez ze zould be okqy. As we were turned down from hotels because of no beds or we sqid no because of the high prices, the night grez lqter qnd we stqrted to get zorried. Eventuqlly we did find a hotel rqn by a very nice old mqn. We were saved once again! Believe it or not we pulled this sqme move in Belgium; we zill just never leqrn.

This is where I zould tqlk qbout the crepes but I'm tired of fighting zith this keyboard so I zill continue tqlking qbout France tomorrow. That's if ze cqn even find q place to stqy in Antwerp tomorrow.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Florence to Barcelona: No More Trains!

So, the overnight train from Florence to Nice was no what we were expecting. Our previous night train had reclining seats, a pillow, sleep mask, and ear plugs; we couldn't have asked for much more other than a bed. We were given the opportunity to sleep in beds for the Nice train but that would have cost us 35 euro rather than the 5 euro seat fee. We elected to take the seats but now realize that the savings will not outweigh the Chiropractor bill. Needless to say I had one of the worst sleeps of the trip. Not to mention there were conductors coming in every once in awhile to check tickets and passports.

However, after stepping off the train in Nice, we realized that our luck had changed. The weather in Nice was incredible - at least for this time of the year. The sun was shining and it was probably about 23 degrees. Good weather and being on the Mediterranean Sea means swimming! We were throwing the frisbee on the rocky beach when I didn't realize my own power (<--) and threw it into the sea. I ran and dove to get the frisbee before it sank - luckily finding it sitting on the bottom - when I realized how freezing cold the water was. I thought it would have been warmer but instead I walked out full of goosebumps. We ended up going back in because we had to say we swam in the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, we only had one day in Nice - oh so close to where an episode of Entourage was shot - and then had to leave on another long train ride to Barcelona. The first half of this train was excellent; France trains are the best. As for the second half, lets just say I got to see a 4 hour show in the seats, and throughout the car, in front of me. Two kids were talking loudly, standing on their seats, and running up and down the asile. And it seemed like the parents were encouraging this behaviour. But enough of the train complaints. We eventually arrived at the Barcelona train station after seeing the gorgeous French and Spanish countrysides.

There wasn't a lot to do in Barcelona so we made it another relax city, just like Budapest. The 'B' cities have been good to us. The hostel was similar to the Bubble in Budapest too in the way that they both are small, making it easy to meet people. We walked around the city seeing some of the weird buildings designed by the architect Gaudi. Below is a picture of the famous cathedral that he designed.

We also walked down Las Ramblas, which was basicallay a circus on the street. Lining the sides of the street were buskars and street performers dressed in ridiculous costumes and doing some of the weirdest things I've ever seen. Check my Barcelona pictures to see some of these characters. This is what happens during the day but once night rolls around the second face of Las Ramblas comes out. Once again people line the streets and try to make money but through other means. While walking down the street I could not even count how many times I heard these people say 'charlie!' or 'hashish!' And of course there's the prostitutes that don't hesitate to grab your arm and try to convince you to go with them. I have to admit though, this was a very cool side of the city that I could have only imagined about before. To me, the most interesting experiences are the ones that I would never see back home.

Anyway, that breifly sums up my Barcelona experience. Of course there was more to my stay than what I have talked about but none of them beat the craziness of Las Ramblas. As a final note, I need tips on getting off a McDonald's diet. I have been eating it too much. But there is a somewhat reasonable explanation. That being, there is no other food in Barcelona or Paris. McD's knows how to strategically place their restaurants. Also, after going through about 5 countries without Starbuck's, Barcelona and Paris have brought them back to me. The morning ritual is now to go straight to a Starbuck's and then see the attractions. Alright, that's enough blabering about my eating habits.