Mike’s Travel Diaries: Part 3

Day 5: The day when I was pretty hungover, and we walked around Bruges a lot, and I met Alyssa’s friend, and our trip took and unexpected turn
I woke up at about 8:30 and noticed everyone in the hostel was still sleeping so I had to be quiet, which is something that I am absolutely awful at. I slipped on my running gear and headed out the door to run the countryside. I soon realized that we were quite far from the countryside, so I jogged along the canals and some of the windmills that the crazy guy had told me about. I did more walking than running, but I really appreciated the great scenery and the oldness of the city. It reminds me a lot of Prague. When Alyssa woke up (or more accurately, when I woke her up), we walked around town forever trying to find a cheap waffle shop. After the waffle (worth the walk) we hit the streets and enjoyed some serious walking around. We found an H and M but it turned out to be a women’s only branch. Alyssa looked for her stuff while I took to the main street to find a reasonable place to find a jacket. I completely failed in that; every shop was selling t shirts in the 15 euro range, which is to say, too much. Alyssa bought quite a bit at H and M, but who can blame her, that store is cheap. A loud British lady in a wheelchair yelled at me why I didn’t “buy my girlfriend some lingerie”. So, that happened. We made it back to the hostel to meet Alyssa’s cool Dutch friend, Niels. They met in China and apparently dated at some point? Well, he turned out to be a cool guy. We stopped at a cafe to grab lunch and mine did not taste good. It was my first experience with curry, maybe it was just because I had it with pasta. During lunch, I grilled him about why the Dutch love mayonnaise so much (seriously, he had never heard of ranch dressing. I think it would have blown his mind) and what they call jumping rope with two ropes at the same time (apparently “Double Dutch” to them is a sex move). Also, a pigeon got ran over a car and the whole street pretty much shut down while everybody freaked out. We finished eating and took to the city to walk around for the rest of the day. The best part was walking through a convent; it was so peaceful and green. As we passed through the convent, we heard the sounds of a drum circle and decided to investigate. We crossed a canal and found our way through a small school and into its backyard, where a bunch of hippies were having a drum circle. It didn’t take us long to realize that we were very much not welcome. A girl with peace signs painted on her face talked to us for a bit. Niels explained to her probably 3 times that I didn’t speak Dutch, but she continued to try to talk to me in Dutch. So we enjoyed the party for about 5 minutes before deciding we should probably leave. Once out, Niels dropped an info bomb on us. Our plan had been that he’d stay with us at the hostel for 2 days and then he’d drive us up to Amsterdam. But, he had to drive up to France in two days, so he offered to let us stay at his house in the south of Holland for those two nights, then we could take a train to Amsterdam. Sure that we had experienced every facet of Bruges in just over 24 hours, we decided to drive home with him that night. We drove, ridiculously fast, to his house, which was probably the coolest thing ever. Niels family is loaded. As Alyssa told me, she hears his family owns half of Amsterdam. So, we go to enjoy his perfectly decorated house, with the nicest garden I’ve ever seen, and he’d casually refer to his housekeeper and gardener, and I’d pretend it was totally normal. Anyways, we got to his place, enjoyed some beers, and he made us fries in a really weird cooking device that looked a lot like a giant centrifuge. However it cooked it, it tasted great to me. We headed over to the guest room and slept.

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Mike’s Travel Diaries: Part 2

Just a warning before you read: This travel diary is pretty much just an itinerary of things I’ve done in Europe, with unneccesarily detailed accounts of the food I’ve eaten and my ignorant thoughts about Europeans. All of this is unedited from my travel journal, much of which was written while intoxicated. Theres really no reason you should read this.
Oh, and here’s Part 1

Day 3: The day when I found out that Sacre Coeur totally beats Notre Dame
Finally, some decent sleep. Solid, from midnight to 8. Alyssa was sleeping in so I walked around town for a while. I found a cool little bakery and grabbed myself a “pain aux raisons” which was delicious. I nabbed an orange juice from a corner shop and came back to the hostel to wake Alyssa. She got ready while I watched the A-Team dubbed in French. I was hoping they’d give Monsieur T a gruff/silly sounding voice but they didn’t. We left the hotel around noon and went to a cafe around the corner. We felt like real Parisians drinking our espressos on the rainy street, smoking our stupid little cigarettes, and wishing we had berets until we got the bill and saw that we got charged 3 euros a piece. As tourists in Paris, we headed next to Notre Dame. Awesomely, it was free to enter. As with all sweet cathedrals in Europe, my favorite part was the greatness of the architecture. I was breathless, or maybe that was from trying to smoke that cigarette earlier. We cafe hopped to another restaurant where I got mussels, steak, and caramel flan for only 12 euros. Deals. Every english speaker in Paris said that we had to see Sacre Coeur, so we decided to give that a shot. The walk was difficult, lots of steep roads, but the shops on the side of the road made it interesting. At the base of the church, the view was so amazing we decided to pay to go up to the dome. First though, we went for a quick tour of the church. Call me crazy, but I liked the look of Sacre Coeur much more than Notre Dame. We then took the 300 step journey up to the top of the dome. The view was spectacular. We could see pretty much all of Paris laid out in front of us. On our way back down I complained about the shopping system that is used in Europe with having specialty shops selling specific types of foods like cheese, meat, bakeries, and such. I guess I just don’t care for it because I value convenience so highly in shopping. Alyssa disagreed with me, but neither of us had compelling arguments. Oh well, we walked around town for a bit, trying to find reasonable places to shop at. I wanted a pair of shorts so I could run in the mornings and Alyssa needed new flats, whatever that means. Eventually, I found a thrift store that had prices I could somewhat afford. Alyssa found a reasonable pair of flats as well, I guess. We went back to the apartment to prep for the night. I saw a message from one of Gwen’s friends saying that we should meet at the nunnery. We got there late, so we just ended up getting sandwiches from a cafe. I originally ordered a strawberry tart with my sandwich and the guy got mad when I tried to change it to the (cheaper) apple tart. After two minutes of great arguing (in French!) from me, I paid for the strawberry tart and we hit the road. When I got back, he had given me the apple tart, and it tasted horrible. Oh, but on the metro ride back, I met two cute Australian girls. We talked about how they’d be in Amsterdam at the same time as me and how they liked That 70’s Show. Alyssa pointedly ignored them (le croq monsieur blocked) and I found out when we got back that Alyssa explicitly hates Australians. We ate our sandwiches while she made fun of Australians and I silently disagreed with her. I watched some dubbed Doctor Who in French (still awesome) while she showered and I hit the sheets by 10:30. Boom, sleep scheduled.

Day 4: The day when we got to Bruges and met a crazy old guy at a bar
Up at 6:30! I feel like my dad. I strapped on my thrift store running shorts and my walking converses with no soles and hit the streets. I knew my hostel was near a central metro so I just decided to run where I felt and worry about getting lost when I was totally lost. I found one of the large gardens and ran the paths there for a while. After getting totally lost for an hour, I eventually found my way back to the hostel. I got back, showered, and bought us some juices and quiche. I bought myself a crappy razor and gave myself a crappy shave with the hotel soap as shaving cream. We packed up and got to the train station with only minutes to spare, and then we missed our train as we picked up our tickets. I bought some crappy Turkish food while waiting and we got harassed by a bunch of gypsies begging. On the train ride, for about the 20th time so far in the trip, Alyssa told me to stop talking so loudly. I’m mostly blaming this on coffee, but its still probably 20 percent just me being loud and obnoxious. I’d say that I hate feeling like a loud American, but the fact that this is the 20th time its happened, I guess I don’t care. When we arrived in Bruges, I saw waffle shops and chocolate stands, good signs! We hit the bus and arrived just outside of the hostel. Check in went find, the clerk had a really cool accent. I bet Alyssa that she was born in Scotland and moved to Canada at around age 6; Alyssa just reckoned she was from Canada. We unpacked and got excited about the “In Bruges” walking tour. Hungry, we decided to walk around the town and get some dinner. We walked around the town square and up along a lot of the side streets. Soon enough, we stopped at a mussels joint (these are huge in Bruges; every restaurant loves telling you about the deal that they have with mussels and french fries). I got the Flemish stew with fries. It was super rich, and the Belgian beer left me totally full. After watching the waiters hit on tourists for an hour, we went to a put that I had seen earlier, Muppets! Quite the dichotomy: the pub was called Muppets, and featured kermit the frog on the front of the building, while it was also the scariest and most uninviting bar once you got inside. The three people inside chain-smoked while shooting snooker and watching a movie where Michael Caine trotted people. It was intense. We drank a beer and played a game of gin and got the hell out. Ready for a more social bar, we found a great big sports bar playing some good tunes. The place was America rock themed and had all the US license plates on the wall, as well as a Chicago bus stop sign. We started talking to a local who was quite the character. He was a hairy, old native of Bruges, and probably the most interesting person I met this trip. I don’t remember all of our 3 hour conversation (on account of him buying us pints throughout the night), but here are some things that I recall him saying:

-He is the third greatest hunter in Belgium

-His son is in a more elite squad than the Green Berets

-The Belgian police force hires him every year to train their officers

-The Muppets bar that we went to is completely run by Belgian ex-convicts

-A story about how he took his son to a brother for his 18th birthday.

-How he became a member of an Irish clan

-He has a tattoo that reads “I’m From Belgium, Fuck The World”

We left the pub just after midnight and walked our way home. We stopped at a corner store and had some delicious premade Belgian waffles. While there, the owner stuck me with his sticker pricing gun and left a price on my sweatshirt. I was 18 euros. Our hostel room was packed and hot. I had to go to the bathroom midway through the night and had forgotten that the hostel shares the bathroom with a bar. I had a drunken conversation with a hot British clubber while I was in my boxers; it was weird.

Mike´s Travel Diaries: Part 1

Just a warning before you read: This travel diary is pretty much just an itinerary of things I’ve done in Europe, with unneccesarily detailed accounts of the food I’ve eaten and my ignorant thoughts about Europeans. All of this is unedited from my travel journal, much of which was written while intoxicated. Theres really no reason you should read this.

Day 0: That day when I flew to Paris
I’m hanging out at my Parisien hostel right now and I feel that I should  start this journaling thing already. I started my trip Wednesday night, when I left for the airport with my cousin Alyssa. We didn’t have enough time for Chili’s to go so we hit up cafe zoot for those subs with the Italian dressing on them. I immediately spilled mustard on my shirt and when I took my seat on the plane, I realized that I already left my journal outside the gate. Shit. The flight started and I watched the inflight entertainment a bit. That Bradley Cooper movie where he takes drugs and gets superpowers was awful. With the crappy voiceover, the 30 minutes that I watched seemed like a drawn out commercial for itself. Also, cut it with the montages. I get that its a clever storytelling device and it looks stylish, but it gets annoying fast. I fell asleep for like an hour but was wide awake after that. I listened to some podcasts for the rest of the ride until we arrived in Paris at 9:25 am.

Day 1: That day when I was really tired in Paris and saw Gwen
We got off the plane extremely tired. Alyssa got probably an hour more sleep than me but she was just as beat as me. We bought our tickets on the RER out of Charles de Gaulle and made our way to the hostel. We left a metro stop somewhere near our hostel and proceded to get completely lost. We got to the hostel at half past noon, just as my good friend Gwen arrived. We threw our bags in the very insecure luggage room and took the metro deep into the heart of Paris. We got off at a busy streetcorner and after Gwen found a menu that wasn´t ridiculously overpriced, I sat down at my first Parisian cafe. Per Gwen´s advice, we each got “Le croq-monsieur”, which is like an opened up grilled ham and cheese sandwich with butter. I regretted my choice after I learned that there is a “Le croq-madame”, which has a poached egg on top. Oh well, those feelings instantly vanished when I took a bite and had probably the best meal I’ll ever have in my life. We drank from our tiny glasses of water and chatted about what to do in Paris and how Gwen has been getting along there. Why are the water glasses in Paris so small? I get that people think they´re cute and stuff, but they´re so impractical. You pour wine into a good size glass, do the same for water. And why is it that when you don´t drink water from a shotglass, you drink it from a waterbottle roughly 5 times larger than my bladder. Just settle on a reasonable sized please. Anyways, we excused ourselves from lunch and went to check into our hostel and take a solid 3 hour nap. Refreshed, we took the metro out to the nunnery where Gwen was living for the summer. She was out shopping, so Alyssa and I hung out in the peaceful garden for a spell. When Gwen got back, we went to the supermarket to grab some pretzels, crackers, prepacked chicken sandwiches, and some warm beers. Because it was Bastille Day, fun stuff was going on at the Eiffel Tower, so we headed off to some gardens with Gwen´s friends from school. The garden was probably about a quarter mile away from the tower, and though the trees blocked most of the view, it was still amazing. We relaxed, drank champagne, quoted Mean Girls, and watched the fireworks above the Eiffel Tower. We took the train back to the hostel, gave Gwen the ol’ “We´ll always have Paris!”, and went in for the night.

Day 2: That day when I was still really jetlagged and I went to the Louvre
I did not sleep well that night. I probably managed about 3 hours of sleep, but I was wide awake from 5:30 til 8. I pulled Alyssa out of bed and we went downstairs to get our free breakfast. I had some decent cereal, coffee, and a croissant. We packed our bags and made our way to our next hostel. After dropping off our bags, we started to make our way to see the Louvre, and stopped at a cafe on the way. I got some beef and potatoes, which tasted great (no croq-monsieur though) and got to eat the hard boiled eggs from Alyssa´s salad. We paid our bill and walked to the Louvre to get our art history on. We bought our tickets for the museum but not the special Rembrandt collection (I´m not paying 8 extra euros to make toothpaste jokes for 15 minutes). Navigating the museum was a nightmare. I reckon that I walked at least 6 miles in the 4 hours that we were there. We hit the statue section first and got to see that sculpture of that woman who didn´t have any arms. That was a stupid Venus de Milo joke- it was actually a great piece of art, I´m really glad that I got to see it. Then we found the section I was most excited for: Italian paintings. Lotsa great paintings, but the highlights were those paintings of the faces made out of vegetables, cool Jesus paintings, that badass angel painting by Raphael, and of course DaVinci. Two things about his section: 1. No one was freaking out about Madonna on the Rocks. That painting is awesome and deserves more reverence. 2. Everyone always says about the Mona Lisa “Its really small and its just not as great as I´d imagined.” I had really low expecations and was ready to be disapointed. But no! Its still a wonderful painting and its very reasonably sized. How big do you want this painting to be? People also whine abou not being able to get close enough. Wrong. I was like 3 feet away from it, thats plenty close. I don´t have to lick it. Oh also, at the cafe before the museum, we totally watched a woman yell at another lady for like 5 minutes because she had let her dog pee on the street. It was awesome. Anyways, after we finished up the Italians, we went upstairs to see some French, Germans, and Dutch painters. I saw that famous corronation painting which was unbelievably huge. I also really dug the still lifes that the dutch fellows did. After the Louvre, we hung out in the gardens outside for a bit. There were cool statues all over, a sweet view of the Eiffel Tower, and really, really, remarkably perfect grass. I cannot overstate how nice this lawn was. Alyssa sat while I took a tasty nap. It was very peaceful. We then decided we should get a better view of the Eiffel Tower. We first stopped for at a cafe where we talked to an obnoxious American family. The wife claimed that she saw Spike Lee at the tower in the 90´s, I didn´t belive her. I got another croq-monsieur which wasn´t as good as the one the previous day. We started walking again and about 40 minutes later we were at the base of the tower. Alyssa had already been up and I just wanted to relax, so we just hung out on the lawn and watched Parisians try to sell champagne, roses, and Eiffel Tower keychains to stupid Americans. It quite satisfying when the cops showed up and made the buskers leave. We spent the rest of the day walking the city and ended it with doners from a turkish fast food joint.

The journey continues in Part 2…