Saturday, July 10, 2010

Day 40 - The Louvre, Paris

Today my plan was to visit the Louvre Gallery. It was a bit of a hike from my hostel. I took the metro to Concorde station and emerged in a somewhat familiar location that I recognised from Gran Turismo 4. I was in the area of the Opera race track.

I was going to walk around it later. I headed in the direction of the Louvre first. I went in, took a bunch of pictures and had a walk around.

I admired the gallery and the paintings. It's fascinating to see great works of art from the past. I found myself mesmerised in a lot of the paintings, particularly the religious ones about biblical concepts. You don't have to be a believer to admire the art.

Of course, I saw a lot of people lined up for the Mona Lisa painting. Like it was the only one worth seeing. The room was crowded, simply because it is the most famous painting, when there are other deeply fascinating works of art in the gallery. There were simply far too many paintings to see all in one day, however. They say if you spend a minute at each painting, it'll take you three months to see the entire Louvre.

After my visit here, I went and had a walk around the Opera streets.

Then it was back to my hostel.

I got a McDonald's meal later on (which is apparently healthy in France). I had quite a tasty mushroom burger. Oh, and they serve beer here too, which I didn't order because I'm not particularly a big fan of beer. I always preferred spirits.

Had to get an ice cream afterwards too.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Day 39 - Paris, France

After having a croissant for breakfast (typical of French), I checked out and made way to the other hostel called 3 Ducks. I had spread my stay in Paris over two hostels, as I couldn't get three nights in a row with one due to unavailability.

The hostel was pretty easy to find using the metro. I enjoy navigating a new city, especially one with a complex metro system. It's like going through a maze.

This hostel was a short walk away from the Eiffel Tower, which I would visit today. It wasn't time for check-in yet, so I left my bag in the locker room. I then headed through the streets navigating my way to the Eiffel Tower.

The view of the tower became more and more magnificent as I approached. I got to the base and decided to take the stairwell to the first level. It was only 3,50, as opposed to taking the lift which would have been 13. I thought, I'd rather put the physical effort in to climb the tower, that way it feels more earnt.

It didn't take too long, but I had some nice structural views on the way up. I spent some time on the first floor, then took the next stairway up to the second floor. It was an additional €5 to take the elevator to the summit, to which unfortunately I didn't have the cash on me at this time, so I missed out. I appreciated the view of what I could get.

I went back down and did some more exploring of the streets. I found my way to the Arc de Triomph. I noticed from what my college teacher once told me about this roundabout, is that the cars coming in had the right of way, and those in the roundabout had to give way, which was interesting.

I had enough sightseeing for the day, and headed back over the Seine to my hostel, and had pizza for dinner at a nearby eatery.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Day 38 - Brussels to Paris

First little event today when I arrived at the train station in Brussels involved a homeless man with a baby in a pram asking me for money. It happened while I was withdrawing cash at the ATM.

I decided to give him 2 Euros. But it didn't stop there. He asked for more, and kept following me around. I feel that I should have given him more, as he pointed to his baby child, but I thought 2 Euros was enough from me and I tried to tell him to appreciate what he got. I didn't know if he understood. But during this trip I was extremely frugal and didn't want to give out too much to strangers.

He didn't follow me around any more. I went to board my train to Tournai at 11:03.

It ran late (because of a trackwork delay, possibly) and consequently didn't make it for the connecting train to Lille. I had to go to the office and request a later seat reservation for the two remaining trains, and luckily I didn't have to fork out any more money.

I remember seeing a Frenchman in the same situation. He cussed when we pulled up just in time to see the other one leave. But I ended up conversing with him on the next train to Lille, and told him where I was from. He seemed very happy to meet an Australian. One thing I really love about travelling is that it makes you an interesting looking character from the perspective of the locals.

We both got off at Lille, and I waited for my train to Paris.

This final leg was going to be a TGV ride.

And so I got to experience high speed rail for the first time. This was the fastest train I had ever been on, and the views washed by incredibly quickly. Journey time to Paris was going to be within the hour.

When I arrived in Paris, and stepped outside, there was a temperature difference. Today was a hot day, of about 30 degrees. I made my way to the metro station and found the way to my hostel at Lamarck Coulaincourt.

The streets around here were beautiful. After leaving my things at the hostel, I was keen to go out for a walk. I ended up accidentally finding the Sacré Cœur Cathedral, which was a majestic site, and from here I admired the good view of the city of Paris and could see the Eiffel Tower. I was pleased.

Then it was back to the hostel for a hot night's sleep.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Day 37 - Luxembourg

Today, I simply took what I needed with me and left everything else at the hostel. I was going on a day trip to Luxembourg.

I left at 10:37 in the morning and it was a three hour journey. As soon as I stepped out of the train, I didn't regret a thing.

I was loving the new place I was setting my eyes upon. I walked the old town, across bridges, through parks and above canals surrounding castle-like structures. It was incredible, and I was ready to rate it the favourite of the European cities I've been to thus far.

I really enjoyed this city.

Then it was back to Brussels and back to the hostel. I spent the remainder of the day eating Belgian chocolate and being annoyed at the French keyboard layout, because the A and Z keys were swapped around.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Day 36 - Brussels, Belgium

Today I'd be continuing my journey on the Eurail Pass by heading to Brussels. I skipped breakfast, took the 21 bus to Amsterdam central and tried to make the train. I missed it by literally one minute.

So I had to wait an hour for the next one. In that time, I got something to eat. Guess it's the universe's way of telling me I shouldn't skip breakfast.

I boarded my train at 11:54, and made my way to Brussels. As soon as I arrived, I reserved my seat for a train to Paris two days in advance. Reserving the direct route would have costed €26, so I opted for the cheaper option of €3 which would take me through Tournai and Lille - interchanging at both stations.

I then went to find my hostel. It took me a while to find, as the directions on hostelworld weren't made perfectly clear, but with asking for directions here and there, I found my way, and once I checked in and left my things in the dorm, I headed out to see the city sights.

First place I went to see was the cathedral. It looked very French, and very much like out of one of the Tomb Raider video games.

I later had dinner at a Greek restaurant, with Greek speakers. I'm always happy to find other Greeks, being of Greek heritage myself.

That was that. Tomorrow I'll take a day trip to Luxembourg, since it's only three hours by train. Might as well visit the tiny country, as I may not have the chance again anytime soon.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Day 35 - Amsterdam

It was great to hang out with Mika and Mitch. Today I was leaving them for Amsterdam. I said goodbye to Mitch at the apartment, as Mika drove me to the train station. We took a while to get there because the GPS had a mind of its own.

I've arranged to meet another forumer; Mylene. As I left Mika, and caught the train to Amsterdam train station, I disembarked and met Mylene on the platform. Literally from one forumer to another, she helped me find my way to the hostel, where I was only spending one night. It was a fair while on the bus, and so we just chatted away.

We headed into the city centre together after I checked in to see all the sights. We spent some time in a bookstore and a video game store, which had a Lara Croft mannequin. The very video game heroine that connected us. It was a great day out, and we finished it off with having Subway - my favourite fast food chain back at home.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Day 34 - The Hague, Netherlands

I was happy to sleep in today. I woke up at 11, spent some time on my phone online, and then headed out with Mika and Mitch after breakfast to explore the parks surrounding The Hague. We went on a big long walk, through nature areas and forest. We met plenty of cyclists who were very friendly and greeted us with "Hello", which was actually Dutch but sounded 100% English.

We also explored the dunes and the beach. The Hague is popular for its beaches. We sat on top of a hill with a small, man-made crater-like dip, which people used to lie down in and observe stars at night.

We had dinner with the father at a Greek restaurant by evening, and I got so full I couldn't eat the whole plate.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Day 33 - Berlin to Amsterdam

I got up at 9, packed my things, and headed to the train station. There was a train departing for Amsterdam at 10:37, and I hopped on board with my Eurail Pass (pretty sure I had to reserve a seat first, which costs around €3).

The ride went pretty fast. While on board I contemplated whether I should have gotten off the train at Amsterdam Central or Schipol Airport. I went with Schipol, since it was closer to The Hague. Amsterdam Central was actually out of the way, so I decided to make it easy and stick with Schipol.

When I arrived I found my way on board a train to The Hague, and sent a message to my friends telling them that I'd be arriving shortly. Their names are Mika and Mitch, and they are awesome.

They were even more awesome in person. I recognised Mitch when he pulled out his phone, looking as if he were about to text. We looked up at eachother and said hey! Mika was right outside.

Mika and Mitch are a couple who met online a few years ago. Mika himself was from Finland.

We greeted and made way for the car. I shared my travel stories up until we got to the apartment flats, where I descended an extremely steep staircase to get inside - and then became acquainted with Mitch's dad. I thanked him for letting me stay. I told my travel stories, explaining that I had come all the way from China without flying, and he was very impressed. We all sat down to watch Mission Impossible 3 later, which featured Berlin at the beginning and I was quick to say "I just came from there!", to which we all laughed.

We chatted online together with another one of our friends from Slovenia, Ana, who we would all love to meet and whom I actually will be meeting on this trip. It was getting late and we all headed to bed soon after, and I slept on a mattress in the next room. I had my phone and Wi-Fi to look around for deals on the Eurostar. I snabbed a really cheap one on the exact date I intended to cross over the channel!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Day 32 - Berlin

Today I headed out at around 9, and went to the Brandenburg Gate after having a slice of pizza from the central train station. From here I went to the Holocaust Memorial.

While the place does represent some horrific history, the grid-like memorial itself was fun to stroll through. I hung around for a while before getting myself some bratwurst and ice cream. I was loving the ice cream.

When I got back to my hostel I booked accommodation in London as well as look up prices for the Eurostar - the channel tunnel crossing the strait between England and France.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Day 31 - Warsaw to Berlin

I was up and out of my hostel just after 5:30, and made my way to Warsaw Central train station. I was to depart from platform 3, which was down the escalators, at 6:35.

I found an entire compartment to myself on board the train, where I just sat, relaxed, and had the iPod out. The trip was very beautiful and scenic, and I was mesmerised along the way.

Upon arrival in Berlin, which was by far the biggest train station I've been to yet, and very European, I wasn't too sure which way to go. I had to ask around. But before that, I got myself some food, and activated my Eurail Global Pass. This was the first city I'd be using it in, as it wasn't valid in Poland. And it would be saving me a lot of money. Some of these point-to-point train tickets are a fortune and would be eating out of my budget had I not had the pass. I had the 15 day within 2 month pass.

I had to find my way to Charlottenburg, which was where my hostel was located. I asked at the information terminal and was told which platform to go to - this was a massive train station with trains coming in and going out in all different directions and at different levels of elevation.

I got my 2-day pass and departed for Charlottenburg, five stops away, and a ten minute walk to the hostel. Finding it was easy. I also hadn't had a hostel booked for Amsterdam - and I had trouble finding a spot available online. I was stressing out a little. I 'secured' one booking for the Hague, but then had an email sent to me saying that there's been a problem with overbooking, and I couldn't get the bed.

I shot two of my friends from the Netherlands a message. They are a gay couple living in The Hague, and I was planning to meet up with them during this trip. I told them that I was having trouble finding a place to stay, and luckily they were able to accommodate me - which brought the weight off my shoulders. But this encouraged me to look for future hostels much earlier in advance, so I already started looking for some in Paris and London - and was STILL having a hard time! For Paris, I actually had to book two different hostels over the three day period I intended to stay. One for one night, the other for two nights.

I went and did some sightseeing in Berlin to take my mind off Brussels, Paris and London. After all, the adventure is about the experiences you go through - but I know already from experience that not having a bed to stay in is a scary ordeal.

I hopped on a sightseeing bus, and I went up to the Upper Deck. It was en enjoyable ride around Berlin and all the sights, including the Brandenburg Gate and the Berlin Wall.

Shortly after this brief period of enjoyment, I went back to the central train station and found myself an internet cafe. I logged onto hostelworld and browsed for hostels in Amsterdam and Brussels. I booked one night in Amsterdam, for after I spent time with the two friends in the Hague, and also found two nights in Brussels. I had all the days covered up until London, so I was relieved.

This is peak season and I need to stay on top of this!