My mom gave me the idea to post the ‘selfies’ I have taken through my Travels – here are some of the greatest hits: from Spain to France to Belgium to where I began this journey in London.
I have been taking so much time to tour and take pictures and get settled in each place I have traveled, I have been lax in posting ‘up to date’ posts – my apologies. I decided since I have been journaling and haven’t had time to go through all of the wonderful photos I am taking, that I would delay posting photos and other stories until after I get back – not to worry though, I am keeping up with some missives through the actual travel through Europe. Thanks for understanding, those of you who are following! By the way – I love Barcelona!! Girona and Figueres were amazing today!!
my first full day was packed! I had so much fun navigating the Metro and dealing with gypsies/pickpockets, planning my day with consideration to another friend’s ‘plans’. More about that later. My first goal was to go to the Grand Palais And the “Taste of Paris” 2015, which hosted a slew of renowned chefs as well as some up-and-comers. Those of you who aren’t serious ‘foodies may not identify with this part of the post – I will be updating and expanding later….
The Taste of Paris: I saw this event was taking place when I was planning my trip and decided it would be an opportunity of a lifetime- so I purchased a premiere pass. This got me so much more than I imagined. 3-star Michelin chefs like Joel Roubouchon and Alain Ducasse were present and schmoozing the crowd.
Some Paris Experiences: Paris was rather a whirlwind – I purchased a ‘Museum Pass’ with a 3-day travel card good for the metro, RER, and buses around Paris. To navigate these, I highly recommend you download an app on your smartphone. I used “Paris Metro” for my iPhone and iPad – proved to be invaluable.
Also purchased with this pass was a ‘Hop On/Hop Off’ one day Bus Tour and a Parisienne Batteaux Pass (which is the boat tour). This is something I had not tried before, so I decided to jump on this opportunity. I also purchased a guided tour for Versailles, which included the fountains and the gardens and a self guided tour after the rooms of the palace. Worth it as well. Although we still had crowds to navigate, it was a group of us, so we held priority when entering each room, plus the guide, Julien, was very informative and pleasantly engaging. I told him I was an art history teacher and he asked if I wanted to lead the tour, to which I replied, “I’m on vacation.”
Ok so back to the good bits… Just as in Italy, the city’s poorest are running rampant through train stations, and other popular public sites. Gypsies and panhandlers try to distract, beg and pickpocket those that give them the time of day. My first episode of this distract/pickpocket scheme while traveling happened in Paris this time, across the street from the Museé d’Orsay. My friend, who had never been to Europe, and I were separated by these these 3 young teenage girls looking to get us to sign something in one hand and trying to unzip our bags with the other. They did not succeed with mine because I have a really secure travel bag, however they did unzip my friend’s fanny pack and a jogger yelled, “she just unzipped your bag!” as she ran past.
My friend realized this and began chasing after them and flipping them off and cursing, where I just turned around and started snapping photos. They are quite shy when you do this – and so my friend did the same, albeit more aggressively. Now, I understand my friend being upset, but this is something that I have learned while traveling in many countries in seedy situations, and not so seedy – do not acknowledge these people, be aware of your surroundings, and get a secure over the shoulder bag like the one seen here: Travelon anti theft bags I found on ebags.com best fit my needs. It’s an interesting thing that later that day as we walked to the Eiffel Tower that all the kiosks were closed. We later heard on the news (and through Facebook) that they had closed the site because of the prevalence of pickpockets. Hmmmm
I decided to have a picnic by the Siene with some wine and a nice rabbit terrine I bought at the ‘Taste’ the night before. So I bought some vin rouge, some cherry tomatoes, a petite pain, some mustard, some olives, and a nice small wheel of muenster cheese. After the Museé d’Orsay experience, which the museum was amazing, and I thoroughly had a brief conversation in my head with John. This took place in front of his favorite painting, “Olympia” by Edouard Manet. (Insert story)
I told my friend I would catch up and took some moments to really connect with some memories of John and how much he would appreciate this experience. I know you are traveling with me and I miss you terribly.
I want to start off by saying that Ghent reminds me of Italy – perhaps it’s the Catholic influences in Flanders through the centuries, the churches and Gothic buildings, the cobblestone streets (straats) – perhaps it is the love of food and good company that provides the warmth I remember of Italia. Whatever the reasons, I feel more at home and in my element in Belgium than in London.
Maybe it was those tall ceilings in the Faja Lobi B&B possibly the unique terrace views, whatever it was, Ghent has my heart. I will definitely be back.
My first night was awesome! It started with the taxi from Gint-St. Pieters. My taxi driver was named Mari (pronounced Mar-ee).
Bruxelles Midi Train Station has lockers! This means I could store my luggage while I explored. I dared not go out of the terminal, however, because I had to take some time for a café and a croissant and to update my blog. I also did not have the energy or time to explore Brussels as I felt, so I will put this city on hold for another trip.
You can’t sit long before someone comes up to panhandle. I thought giving a few coins would dismiss her, but she proceeded to sit right next to me and she wreaked of urine. Thinking she may move on after counting her bounty, I was dismayed that she called over a fellow panhandler to commence in a drawn-out conversation. I could not stand the smell any longer and moved outside for some fresh air.
Notes to self – always check for appropriate hair products – especially when traveling to somewhere humid. The chances you will find something comparable to what you have at home – or at a reasonable price is slim – even in London (although they did carry Burts Bees and Jason’s products). I had to get some type of leave in conditioner, so I came upon a nice organic hydrating day cream for – wait for it – £13.50 (approx.$22) – for an 8oz tube. This stuff better work miracles!
Some Great SITES –
Great Britain has some wonderful art, historical museums, and nice pubs. The downfall was in London where 70% are not English (albeit English speakers). It is a metropolis. So as I have said before, I really didn’t get a feeling for English culture until I left the city proper. Everyone is in a hurry to get to and from somewhere (work, I presume), and according to the many conversations I had with Londoners, it is not only expensive but outrageously so.
I tried to compare it to California prices, but this is New York City standards of living. It boggles the mind how many people will never be able to afford much more than a studio flat 100m by 100m.
In the London Eye Experience near the Queen’s Jubilee building, there was a Mandala painting being executed in front of my eyes – apparently Deepak Chopra was going to speak during this festival. I wasn’t able to make it, but considering the turmoil in Tibet, all proceeds were going to help earthquake victims.
My taxi driver was from Iran. When he found out I was American, he apologized that I probably hated him (it made me wonder what is being told to the Persian people about us). I said I had nothing against Iranians, or anyone for that matter, and he said I had such a good energy to be able to start his day and thanked me for the open conversation. It went much deeper than that, but kind of gets off topic for this blog.
He did explain the pricing system for the Zones around London – for everything be it rent, food, etc. Zones 1-2 are most expensive and 6 is the least. I was told the taxi would take credit cards, but he did not, so the kind man watched my bags while I found an ATM – London is expensive, if I haven’t said many times before. Next time I visit, I will stay in the countryside. I was glad I only stayed 4 days.
The first days in a new city, when traveling, are all about ‘Getting Your Bearings’.
I had taken a few ‘Google street view’ walks, virtually, around all the hotels in which I am staying, so I had a general lay of the land in Notting Hill. What I neglected to do, was take into account the 1. weight of my luggage, 2. time to reorient (jetlag, etc.), 3. actual distance to sites, and 4. time of day upon arrival.
When I arrived in London, I had a very aggressive itinerary – to say the least. I would post it here, but so many would say, “you are crazy, you’ll never get that all in”. But that’s what travel is about too – learning the lessons by even ‘failing’.
So I left Heathrow knowing I needed to get to Leicester (Lester) square before 4:30p to pick up my London Pass. On a side note, I would highly recommend anyone doing this and get a travel card (Oyster card) with it. One thing to note: The London Eye is NOT on this, but there are so many other sites and museums and deals that I think it is well worth the purchase.
I arrived at the Hotel Blue Bells around 4:20pm and there was NO WAY I was going to make my timeline, so I casually changed and freshened up to make a trip to the area where I would start my first day in London. I got rather lost, but did venture into Trafalgar Square and even checked off the National Portrait Gallery from my list (by the way, many of the galleries and museums are free and only ask for donation).
By this time (7pm), I was ready to head back to the hotel and find some good Pub fare – See The Prince Edward, London cuisine posts to come.
With so much that had happened a couple things I learned: pack less, no matter if you think you have, pack less than that. Also, try to adjust your sleeping on the plane (I fell asleep as soon as possible, which made my jetlag much less). Being over-prepared by doing your research will save you time and money – I still find this THE most helpful tip. Some more stories to come, stay tuned!
Well, I have yet to really find a good authentic gelato in Phoenix since living in Italy – but here in Notting Hill, I recommend Zaza. They have a few around London as well. Good after a day of touring, and it felt a bit like Italy as there was an Italian family speaking at the next table.
I just got final grades posted from St. Pancreas in London this morning, so I haven’t had a chance to get photos and stories together, however, I have been diligently writing them down and can finally – officially begin to relax and enjoy my wonderful vacation. the Eurostar train was perfectly comfortable and quick. Local train to Ghent was a challenge, vow to shed some luggage here.
I am breathing in the city of Ghent (Gent, Gand). I absolutely have a couple of stories and videos to post about my train trip and arrival.
Ghent Train Station was very welcoming – my Taxi driver had a NY accent and was a great conversationalist. He wants to move back to the states and teach youth sports. More than anything he was excited for Ghent to beat Bruges in the upcoming soccer final on Thursday the 21, which I was going to miss. If they won, it would be the first time ever! ‘Go Ghent’!
I watched a Rick Steves tourism video awhile back and remember his recommendation for Fish and Chips here in Notting Hill. The Fish House of Notting Hill (see tripadvisor review here) – was so much more than expected. I was pleasantly surprised by the wonderful service (try their ‘homemade tartar sauce’ it’s awesome), the large amount of fish and chips (similar to steak fries in America) and the obligatory ‘salt and vinegar’ were all delicious and authentic to London. I did opt for the ‘onion’ flavored vinegar, but it was just as pleasing – no ketchup for this girl. I had the cod, which was enormous! I didn’t think I could finish it, but this was so very tasty with its batter-fried goodness, I ate every bite.
I promised my dad to do a chip, frite comparison once in Belgium. Cheers!
I have to take a moment to step back and get rest – especially with my ‘aggressive’ itinerary. Today consisted of so many sites and experiences, I was exhausted by 5:30p – so I need to remind myself to pace like a long distance runner. A two hour nap and some ibuprofen was all it took to recharge for tomorrow’s ambitious schedule.