Thursday, 16 June 2011

Far less phlegmish in Flemish

For the first time, blogging from a stationary position!

I am currently in Mannheim, Germany accompanied by my lovely ginger friend Sarah! "Mannheim?" you might say, "why the heck are you in Mannheim?" well, to be honest, we chose this city for the most noble of reasons. 1. I looked up prize winning German Rieslings (sweet white wine for those of you less cultured like myself). 2. There were two from the town of Diedlehorf (or something to that affect). 3. The name Diedlehorf made me giggle. 4. Mannheim was the closest major city with cheap accommodation. So, we chose Mannheim, but I will not write about our German adventures until later.

Where I last left off was on the train to Bruges. Now the Belgians are a slightly more Androgynous looking people than the gorgeous Dutch, but are incredibly friendly and have a superb taste in food and drink - mussels, chocolate, waffles, fries, and beer! The first night in Bruges we endeavored into 3 of the 5, none of them being the more substantive mussels. This pretty much set the tone for the remainder of our visit. Sunday morning we toured the medieval city and rented bikes for the day. We had an absolutely beautiful ride along the canal to an adorable town called Sluis. We later found out that this 40km bike ride had actually taken us back into Holland. I was quite surprised about the lack of federalis on the border or guards interrogating me about my purchases in Seattle, and the fact that we rode rickety old bikes into a new country without our passports. Either way, it was an amazing day despite the severely bruised sit bones, and we all decided Bruges topped our lists for favourite cities.

Monday we travelled to Brussels where, unfortunately, we sent Kristin packing back to Paris to finally fly home to Canada. Brussels wasn't nearly as pretty as Bruges as we figured out quite quickly after becoming incredibly lost on the transit system. Once we finally found the place we had google mapped (about an hour of lugging around our backpacks in 25 degree weather and 80% humidity) we realized that we had in fact googled the wrong hotel. Just as a side note, always ensure to type the s into hostel otherwise you will be thoroughly disappointed when you show up at the really nice hotel that is not only way nicer than the place you are staying, but also NOT the place you are staying.

Anyways, after finally conceding to call a cab we ended up at the complete dive that was our hostel, but could only laugh into the smoke-smelling pillows in the room at our luck. After a quite night because everything was closed due to yet another national holiday, we started out early the next morning. We took in the sites - more like site - of Brussels and hopped a train to Luxembourg. This site that I speak of is a statue of a  little boy peeing with a fountain coming out of you-know-where. The Brussel-ite, -ians, - sprouts whatever you want to call them, are incredibly proud of this defiant little boy and have someone hired to go and put cute outfits on him a few times a month - very weird. Taking pictures felt almost pedophiliac, but I've attached one for everyone to enjoy.

So, off we went to Luxembourg feeling kind of wrong about the statue and Brussels in general. Luxembourg is very... Quaint. Not a whole lot to see or do, mind you we did end up stumbling through the red light district which was scenic to say the least. The city (Luxembourg city) has a giant valley surrounding it, filled with a gorgeous park. We went for a brisk early morning walk there and climbed the flights of stairs back up into the downtown. Highlights of Luxembourg: easy to walk places, cute, nice church, and good Chinese food. All in all, a nice country to spend a day in.

So now I've reached Mannheim, of which I have promised not to reveal the secrets of until a later date. So far, the trip has been amazing, the people friendly, the company energetic and the languages hilarious. On a simple giggle level, German takes the cake, but Dutch wins the prize for being the language that although impossible to speak, is a charming mixture of things close enough to English that I can get by, and Flemish was just impossible noises that make up a language and has by far the most descriptive name!

As the Von Trapps say... Auf Wiedersehen and Goodnight!

The pretty church in Luxembourg

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Ze French continued and da Dutch

Once more, on the train.
This time to Bruges. Just finished up a great visit with a very close family friend, Mandy, in Brittany. We shopped and toured and gossiped and ate and drank, it was tres fun! The area we were in was vey rural and so cute. The people were quite friendly but did the usual switch to english the moment I ask a question in french. Like the other Gaelic provinces in Europe they spoke their own language (similar to Welsh or Cornish) which made my comprehension skills even worse than usual.

We had some amazing food (this is where crepes came from) and some very good wine. Also had a lot of fun entertaining Mandy's old English sheepdog Belle. She is nearly the size of a Shetland pony and still has all her puppy energy, which can be a little intimidating while playing fetch and she comes barreling back straight at you.
I had a fantastic time with Mand, but like most our visits, they end way too quickly. I think I've convinced them of a Vancouver visit soon though. If not, I guess I'll just have to go back and do more shoe shopping - it's a tough life, but someone's got to live it.

Next stop Amsterdam, and as I didn't post this in Amsterdam, I can also discuss that stop.
I took the train from Auray in France to Amsterdam (a lot of travel) but met up with Kristin and Sarah (watermelon) who I work with at Deloitte. Now, Amsterdam is a pretty unique city. The main train station spits you out into the red light district about 3 blocks from the working ladies. Decided not to take the scenic route to the hostel and hopped a tram. The first night we caught up over some ice cold Amstel as there was a lot to catch up on - Sarah just graduated from Dal and Kristin just finished up her final semester exchange in Paris.
The hostel we were staying in was pretty big 16 girls to a room which got a little obnoxious.
The next morning, after a very eclectic breakfast of mini Dutch pancakes and tomato soup, we headed out to explore the pride of Amsterdam; the Heineken brewery. It was a pretty great tour that spat you back into daylight around 2:00 feeling a little pickled and trying to figure out what to do with your life for the rest of the day. We opted for a nap and a pub crawl - solid choices I know! Friday was a bit of a late start followed by a huge pancake brunch, like pizza sized pancakes. We spent the rest of the day toodling around the city, visiting the red light district (pretty depressing) and finally finding the long sought after IAMsterdam sign.

Somehow my map skills deteriorated and my Dutch reading was not very good, which resulted in a long walk back to the hostel. At night we sampled a few more Dutch beers, and finished off with a riveting cribbage match.

So that sums up the past week, onto Bruges, Brussels, Luxembourg and Germany. So far I have tripped an unimaginable amounts of times on the cobble stones, not fallen into any canals, and prevented Sarah from being hit by numerous modes of transportation (scooters, bikes, bicycles, cars and trucks).

Having lots of fun but still a little homesick.
For now - Proost!

Ze French

The ever-poised Belle

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

On the road again

On the train again.
This time one of France's TGV trains - the high speed line they sold their entire gold reserve for. I am sitting in the lap of luxury (1st class cost only $4 more) and speeding down the line at nearly 200kms/hr!
On my way to Brittany or Bretagne en francais to visit very good family friends, the Bales. Mandy has promised lots of shoe shopping so I am very excited!

Switzerland was a great stop. Lausanne is absolutely gorgeous, and Lake Geneva is impossibly blue. I had a really relaxing visit and practiced my pathetic French skills. Luckily, the Suisse took pity on me and used heir very good English skills or great hand gestures to help me out. Capped off the visit by visiting a highly recommended bar called the Whitehorse, where, during happy hour, you order one beer and they go e you two. Great system!
Next stop was Strasbourg, France; an eclectic German/French town with a cute river encircling downtown. Strasbourg was one of those cities that flip flopped between warring countries constantly throughout history (switched from German to French 6 times). I did a cute little river boat trip and saw the city as well as the very modern buildings that house the european parliament. I got to travel through the river locks which was also very neat.
The second day I spent indulging in French and German delights aka. French onion soup, German lager, and chocolate mousse! And lounged about in the sun reading my book with my feet in the river. My tan is back almost as good as after Cuba!

A couple observations: everyone smokes in Europe - tres gross. French people have an aversion to picking up dog poo -makes for interesting side walks. I don't look European whatsoever. No matter how much I try, my scarves do not fool anyone and they usually just ignore me. Having a French name does not help people understand you don't speak French. I yet again enjoy reading as enough time has past since he dreaded thesis. And maybe the most significant, I am physically capable of relaxing - who would have thunk it?
Next stop as I said, is Brittany for some French country side relaxing. After that, the very relaxing city of Amsterdam with a couple great friends from Vancouver, then Bruges (hopefully will get to see Colin Farrell or Jean Renou), Brussels, Luxembourg, and the enchanting city of Mannheim (has to be pronounced in a very deep German accent), and Diedlehorf - teehee.
If this too long to read the whole thing:
A. Still alive
B. Having fun
C. In France

Xo for now or as the French say Sante