Friday, August 30, 2013

Europe Trip Travel Blog #9: Paris, France

We had three days in Paris. Paris was one of the places I most wanted to go. While I really liked it, I didn't love it as much as I thought I would. The people were pretty rude and the city was kind of smelly. However, since this was the last place we went we really splurged on food and ate very well. We got to do all the things we wanted to do, as well, so that was awesome, and I am so happy to have been there.

On our first day we ate lunch at a little cafe in Montmartre (near where we were staying) called Chez Ginette. The restaurant had a globe light, which was awesome!
We ate the best veggie burgers ever. The patties were made of chickpea and weren't entirely solid. They were very good.


Right after lunch, it was raining. This was the only rainy weather we had on our entire trip so we really lucked out. Unfortunately, the only indoor activity we had planned to do in Paris was visit the Louvre but it is closed on Tuesdays so we couldn't go our first day.

We went back to our hostel for about an hour and the rain cleared up.
I am used to the fresh-smelling prairie rains at home and while it was raining I kept opening our window up to smell the rain...only it didn't smell fresh at all. I kept forgetting and inhaling again. Woops.


Once the rain cleared up we went to Shakespeare and Company, an English bookstore in the 5th arrondisement. The original Shakespeare and Company bookstore opened in 1919 and many famous writers visited such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and James Joyce. The store closed in 1940 during the war. The second store opened in 1951.
It is like one of those rooms from Harry Potter - it seems small from the outside but it is big on the inside.
There is a new bookstore, a secondhand bookstore, and an upstairs library/reading room. It is a very cool place.

I bought a copy of A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. It is a collection of memoirs published posthumously, and there are stories about his time in Paris. The cover of the book is him in front of the bookstore.


Next, we went to Notre Dame because it is close. We did not go inside, we just walked around the outside.


We walked across a love lock bridge. Lovers put their initials on a padlock, lock it to the bridge, and throw the key into the water. We did not make a lock, we just took pictures of the bridge.

Then, we went to the Eiffel Tower.
The man working the till was really rude and yelled at Stephen, so that sucked. There was a sign saying the top floor was closed, so Stephen asked about it, and the man said, "I can sell you a ticket to the top." Stephen tried to clarify if the ticket would be good for that day and the guy interrupted to yell, "ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME. I CAN SELL YOU A TICKET." Super rude. Sadly that was not our first (or last) experience of a French person being rude to us when we asked for help/for them to do their job.
So...we walked up all 670 steps, as far as one can. Then we took the elevator to the very top. We had another rude experience in the line for the elevator. There was a couple standing at the edge taking a picture, about 3 feet away from the back of the line. So we joined the line and then they got all mad at us because apparently they were in the line? (they weren't.) So whatever, we let them go in front of us. Then the man explained that he wasn't really mad at us, but they'd just seen a different person cut in line....so basically they yelled at us because somebody else did something rude. Whatever.

The top of the tower was cool. Paris is reallllly big, so I couldn't even see all of it from the top, but it was cool picking out landmarks we were planning to visit, and I am very proud to say I have climbed the Eiffel Tower.

On our second day in Paris, while walking around Montmartre, I spotted this building which looked like the produce stand from Amelie, so I took a photo of it, and it turns out it is the same building. Very cool.


We went to the Louvre after lunch. It is very big but some parts were closed off, which was kind of a relief because it automatically eliminated certain things for us, but it also sucked because we would suddenly reach a dead end and have to backtrack through things we'd already seen.

We saw the famous, over-rated Mona Lisa. We saw the Venus de Milo. I liked the Greek sculptures and the Egyptian stuff.

After the Louvre, we walked to the Champs-Elysees. It started raining so we ducked into a mall and got some macarons at a chocolatier (we got a few souvenirs for friends and family, too.)

Then we went to see the Arc de Triomphe.



On our third day we took a day trip to Versailles to see the palace. We already had our tickets and we still had to wait in line for about 40 minutes to get in because we went right after lunch.


We did not get audioguides, which I am grateful for because every single room was just jam-packed with people just standing around listening to their audioguides, and the guides didn't have headphones so everyone was just holding it up to their ear, cranked.
As a result of not having the guide, we didn't learn too much history about the rooms or the palace, but we did enjoy the extravagence.

hall of mirrors. Super fancy.

Marie Antoinette's bedroom.

My favorite part of the palace was the garden because it was not as crowded, and it was just beautiful. So many lovely flowers, hedges, fountains...it was gorgeous.

On our last night in Paris, after supper, we went to see the Eiffel Tower at night, all lit up. At one point they made it twinkle/sparkle, by turning the moving/blinking lights on. It was awesome. We took lots of good photos and stayed for a while.
It was a nice way to end our time in Paris.

I would definitely recommend a trip to Paris if it's a place you'd like to see. I'm glad we had three days there because there was a lot we wanted to see and do, and we managed to fit it all in.

After Paris, we went back to Frankfurt for part of a day, so we could spend the night there and get to the airport in time for our flight back to Canada.
Although this was the last destination on our Europe trip, I am going to share one more blog with you because we didn't go straight home after our trip. We spend a few days in Ottawa with our friend, and did some cool things. So stay tuned for that post coming soon, and

check out my other Europe Trip Travel blogs:
Barcelona
Ottawa

and my packing tutorial

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Europe Trip Travel Blog #8: Barcelona, Spain

Our first full day in Barcelona was my 24th birthday! So we tried to make it extra special.

We spent the afternoon at the beach. We went to Barceloneta Beach. It was super crowded and really dirty (garbage in the water) but there were lockers for us to lock up all our stuff so we could both swim at once. It was really hot out so the water was refreshing.
I let the ocean waves give me "the birthday bumps."


After the beach we went back to our hostel to relax and shower.
Our hostel was right near this apartment building designed by the famous Spanish architect Gaudi.


Later, we walked on La Rambla, a pedestrian walkway with lots of shops and street vendors and street artists. We went to Piazza Reial. We knew we wanted to go see a Flamenco show on my birthday, and when we researched it (while we were there) we found a cheap one with good reviews in this square.
The show was at Tarantos club. They had three nightly performances - at 8:30, 9:30, and 10:30. We bought tickets to the 9:30 show and then went to eat supper at a restaurant in the square.

This was definitely the best meal we had on our trip.
I had delicious sangria, and a kebab of freshly caught salmon, zucchini, and red pepper, with a salad of greens, oranges, and strawberries, with raspberry dressing.
Stephen had freshly caught cod with asparagus, zucchini, onion, tomato, balsamic vinegar, pesto, and lettuce.

It was awesome. We had to take pictures.


After supper, we went back over to Tarantos to go to the show. The venue was really small and probably sold out but we got seats right in the front. The show was amazing.
It was 1 guitarist, 2 singers/clappers/stompers, 1 cajole player (a cajole is a Spanish instrument - it is a drum shaped like a box and you sit on it and hit its front), a male dancer, and a female dancer and everyone was extremely talented.



It seemed like the male dancer was almost their conductor. They were responding to his dance moves with their music, and he was responding to their music with dance. Everybody watched him intently. It was amazing to see.


The show lasted about 40 minutes, but I don't think the performers could have gone longer than that. Especially since they perform three times in one night!

It was a great day and a great birthday!

The next day, we went to see the famous cathedral Sagrada Familia, also designed by Gaudi, and we were super disappointed because it was entirely covered top to bottom under construction. It was very expensive to go inside so we didn't go in.


Next, we went to Camp Nou Football stadium. Stephen loves premier league football and supports Barca. Since we couldn't see any games (they are in the off season) we went to the stadium for a self-guided tour.


a Champions' League trophy.

The stadium had a museum with trophies and jerseys and videos etc. Then we got to go into the stands and see the field.

Then we got to go down to the changing room (there is a hot tub!), and walk through the hallway the players walk through to enter the field. There was a soundtrack playing fans cheering and singing the chant. Then we got to walk onto the field (just on the edge), and go up into the media seats.
I am not a big sports fan but it was pretty cool.

Later, we went back to La Rambla and found another place for supper and walked around until dark, and hung out on the pier.


The Columbus Monument on La Rambla.



Barcelona was great. We got to do everything on our list and a bit more but I know there is so much more to do. Berlin and Barcelona are the two places from our trip I would really love to go back to, because I know there is so much I haven't experienced there. I would love to see more of Spain some day, too. It was very beautiful.

Check out my other Europe trip travel blogs: 
Paris
Ottawa

and my packing tutorial

Monday, August 26, 2013

Europe Trip Travel Blog #7: Nice/Monaco, France

We spent a day in Nice and Monaco because we needed a day to relax in between our two full days of train-riding to get from Rome to Barcelona, and because we wanted to check it out! The train rides from Rome to Nice, and Nice to Barecelona were beautiful, going along the coast.
We stayed in Nice but took the bus to Monaco for part of the day. I was bummed because I really wanted to go the beach but it was kind of cloudy and rain was forecast. It did not end up raining, though.


We walked around Monaco, and checked out the famous casino (from the outside. We didn't go in.)


We enjoyed the tropical palm trees and the seemingly prehistoric plant life.


Monaco is really beautiful, with all the apartment buildings and office buildings built up the mountain. It's very interesting.


We saw a lot of fancy cars and a lot of fancy people while we were walking around.


We walked to "the top" and enjoyed the view, and saw the palace (again, just from the outside).


Later that night, back in Nice, we went to the beach after supper. The beach we went to was rocky (no sand) but the water was SOOO clear. The water was coled. We walked in it and Stephen skipped stones, and then I went swimming.
There was nowhere to lock up our stuff so we didn't want to both swim at the same time. Stephen didn't end up going in.


You can see me - that black speck under the moon. I got my beach day after all! (kind of.)


I really enjoyed Nice and Monaco because they were very beautiful, but we weren't there long enough to really recommend anything or give any tips.

Check out my other Europe trip travel blogs: 
Paris
Ottawa

and my packing tutorial

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Europe Trip Travel Blog #6: Rome, Italy

Rome was SO HOT! It was about 40 degrees celsius when we were there, with a crazy humidex. Over the two days we were there we spent a lot of time in our hostel because it had AC (which worked sometimes) but we still managed to tour the city and see all the things we wanted to see and a bit more.

First, we took the metro to the Spanish Steps and visited the Shelley-Keats museum, which is right by there. The museum is in the house that Keats lived in in Rome, and the house he died in. The museum is also dedicated to other writers such as the Shelleys, Byron, Wordsworth, and Wilde, but it is mainly about Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats.

One of the rooms has the complete works of all the others, and multiple editions of many of their books in a library, and the room also has exhibits in it.

the plaque that's up in the room Keats died in.

The museum was interesting but I didn't learn anything new. I studied those guys in school for my English degree, so I knew all the info the museum had, but it was cool seeing artifacts and old editions of the books.


After the Museum, we climbed the Spanish Steps and looked at the church, but didn't go in. At the bottom of the steps, we drank from the Barcaccia fountain, which is supposed to bring good luck. Then we went to Vatican Square.


We didn't go inside the Vatican because it was expensive, the line was long, Stephen had seen the Sistine Chapel before and I wasn't too interested in it. We just saw the outside. It was pretty weird. There are saints on all the buildings, and street vendors selling pope merch.

We hung out in our hostel until the sun went down because we needed a break from the heat.
Then we went to see the Trevi fountain. There were hundreds of people there. It was so crowded but the fountain was really beautiful. We threw our Euros in and made wishes. An Italian man showed us the proper way to do it: standing backwards and throwing the coin over your shoulder with your eyes closed.


We went to a bar near the Fountain because when we were walking by we saw a jazz trio performing. We had a great conversation with the host at the bar before he seated us. He was interested in talking to us because he was planning a trip to Canada for the fall.
Then, as we were sitting there enjoying the music, the host went up and started singing with the band. They covered an Elvis song and a Queen song in English. We noticed that the host and the guitarist looked alike so we think they were brothers. We talked to the band after the set and learned that they are called the Jet Set.
They were really good.


On our first day in Rome, I had two encounters based on my globe tattoo. The first one happened on an escalator down into a metro station. A man behind me said "Excuse me" so I moved over, but he didn't pass. When we got off the escalator he followed me and kept saying "Excuse me." We kept walking, thinking he was a peddler or beggar. He asked, "Picture or tattoo?", pointing to my shoulder. I was freaked out because he was obviously high and he was holding a cigarette and gesturing wildly and I was worried he might burn me so I kept trying to avoid him. "Tattoo," I said, and kept walking. "Tattoo?" "Yes." "Tattoo blue?" he asked. ".....yes," I said, not sure how to answer. He said "It's very nice," and I said thanks and walked away and thankfully he didn't follow me.
The second encounter was much nicer. We were outside at an ATM and an older Italian woman who was sober and spoke better English than the stoned guy came up to me and said, "Excuse me, could I make a picture of your tattoo?" I said sure. She asked me where I am from and explained that she is an avid collector of globes. She showed me her globe necklace and map ring. She took a photo of my tattoo and said, "This is a true collector's item," which was kind of creepy.

On our second day in Rome we went to the Colosseum. The best travel tip I have came from this day. The ticket to the Colosseum also gets you into the Palatino, which is Old Rome - all the ruins from when the city was originally built. The Palatino entrance is only a couple blocks from the Colosseum and there is no ticket line! We went to the Palatino, got our tickets, walked back to the Colosseum, and went right in. We walked past a line of hundreds of people who had been waiting in the sun, probably for hours. So, my tip is - if you go to the Colosseum, buy your ticket at the Palatino!
The Colosseum was amazing to see.


We then went to the Palatino, which is the ruins of Old Rome, and the Forum, and we went into the Porti Classico museum and the Romulus Temple. It was very cool to see, but it was a lot of walking and it was very hot out.

I liked these two-headed statues we saw. They usually had a female head and a male head, representing both sides of a person. This one's nose fell off.

After the Palatino we went to the Mouth of Truth. You are supposed to put your hand in the mouth and say something. If you are telling the truth nothing will happen but if you are lying, the statue will bite your hand. We thought of a paradox to say: "You will bite my hand." If you are telling the truth, it will bite your hand but it is only supposed to bite your hand if you are lying. If it doesn't bite your hand, the statement becomes a lie....
nothing happened even though I said that.


The statue is outside of a cathedral, and the church had a sign telling people in multiple languages to dress with dignity, only the English said, "Dress WHIT Dignity." If people weren't dressed with dignity, they made them wrap a kind of toilet paper gauze around themselves, which didn't strike me as too dignified. Also there was this creepy old Italian guy who was being really annoying. He would make a sound every time someone put their hand in the mouth to scare them, which got old fast but he did it every time. And if a young girl was wearing a tank top or shorts, he would "help" her wrap the toilet paper around herself..so that was creepy. We didn't go into the cathedral. 

That was the last touristy thing we did in Rome. After that we just hung out at our hostel and went out for supper.

Rome was great. It was hard to see it in two days but there was nothing else on the list we wanted to see, I just know there is so much more to see. It was super hot and really noisy and crowded, but it was awesome to see all the history.

Check out my other Europe Trip Travel Blogs:
Berlin
Leipzig
Vienna
Venice
Florence
Nice/Monaco

Barcelona
Paris
Ottawa

and my packing tutorial

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Europe Trip Travel Blog #5: Florence, Italy

Since we got home from our trip, pretty much everybody has asked me what my favorite place we went was and I have said Florence. Stephen was in Florence once before, in 2006, and he loved it and really wanted to go back with me. And I love it, too!

The first thing we did was visit the Duomo. The Duomo is a cathedral that the Florentine people fund-raised money for and built, and it is just beautiful. 

On the top of the building is a dome (you can see it in the photo above) that people can climb to the top of. We climbed the 500+ steps up a very narrow, low-ceilinged spiral staircase. It was really cramped and claustrophobic and I did not like the climb but when we got to the top it was worth it because the view was amazing.

We could see all of Florence. We climbed a lot of tall buildings in many cities on our trip, but a lot of those cities (Paris especially) were sprawls so you couldn't see all of the city even from a great height, but Florence is surrounded by mountains so it hasn't had much opportunity to expand, and we could see it all. 
The red roofs reminded me of Croatia.
The city was very beautiful and we took lots of photos from the top of the Duomo. We also saw a guy do a headstand on top!

After the Duomo climb, we took a break at our hostel. Our hostel in Florence was probably one of the best hostels we stayed in. It was in a good location. We had a private room with one bed (not two separate beds or two singles pushed together with a crack in the middle like many places we stayed, but a queen-sized bed) with a beautiful canopy, and our room had a private bathroom with shower, and the hostel wasn't too hot or noisy. It was very nice and felt more like a hotel, which was great because we were in Florence for 3 days.

Later that night we went out and rode the tourist bus. We got a 3-day pass that worked for the tourist bus and the normal bus. The tourist bus is a red double-decker bus that is open on the top. You can plug headphones in to an audio guide that gives information about the history of Florence and important buildings and landmarks, and when it's not sharing information it plays lovely instrumental music. Riding the bus was so enjoyable because it was relaxing, an easy way to see the city, and riding on the top was nice and cool because you got a breeze. We got hit in the face with trees a few times but I didn't even mind because we'd just come from Venice where there are no trees or plants, really.

So on the first night, we rode it around and I fell in love with Florence. We passed Piazza Michelangelo and drove over the river during sunset, and it was gorgeous!!!! The sun was bright pink!

On our second day in Florence, we went to the Uffizi art gallery. This is the fake statue of David outside the gallery. 

I liked seeing the Botticelli paintings and all the creepy Renaissance babies (a favorite of mine at any art gallery.)

We didn't do too much the rest of the day but relax and eat, and walk around, and hang out at the Duomo again because it was near where we were.


On our third day, we went to the Museo Galileo, which was really cool. There were lots of globes and maps and telescopes, and it was very interesting.

This is a globe and all the rings around it represent the orbit patterns of different stars and planets that scientists thought orbited Earth. 

cool telescopes.

watches at the Museo Galileo.

After our visit to the museum we rode the tourist bus out of town and up the mountain to the town of Fiesole, across from Florence. We learned that many Florentines and foreigners have vacation homes there and during Roman rule Fiesole fought the power by maintaining their own language and religious beliefs despite being persecuted.

We got to stop in the town for about half an hour. We looked at a church, an outdoor Roman theater that was sadly closed so we couldn't really go in, then we climbed a big hill to a park with a great view of Florence.


We rode the bus around Fiesole and back to Florence. We went to Piazza Michelangelo and took lots of photos and walked around, then we went back into town to go to the Buboli gardens but they cost money to go in (we hadn't realized) so instead we went to a nice (free) park right next to them.
We went back to the Piazza to eat supper and stayed there until the sun went down, walking around, listening to street performers, and taking tons and tons of beautiful Florence sunset photos. Here are a couple of many.

pink sun!


There is another fake David statue in the Piazza.


I looooved Florence. Even though we had three whole days there, I would love to go back, not because I feel like we missed anything, but just because it is so beautiful and I just lvoe the atmosphere. The people are so nice and friendly and relaxed, it is touristy but because it is bigger it didn't feel overcrowded (like Venice, where we'd just been.) The food was good and well-priced, and I'm sure there are lots more things to do that we didn't even get a chance to do. For example, I would like to check out the National Library which we only got to see from the outside.

I loved loved loved it, and would highly recommend it to anybody.

Check out my other Europe Trip Travel Blogs:
Berlin
Leipzig
Vienna
Venice
Rome
Nice/Monaco
Barcelona
Paris
Ottawa

and my packing tutorial