We started Paris off with a walking tour that took us to Notre Dame, the sites of Marie Antoinette’s imprisonment and beheading, the Louvre courtyards, and a few other places. We got more history about the places in Paris than actually seeing them, since it’s too far to walk to all of the places in a reasonable amount of time. From there we got lunch in a French restaurant, and then actually went into the Louvre. That place is amazing. And not just because of all the stuff inside – the building itself is just amazing. And massive. You’d never make it through the whole thing thoroughly in 3 days, so forget seeing it all in 3 hours. But I can now claim to have seen the Mona Lisa in person. We headed back to the hostel to grab dinner and were going to go out on the pub crawl, but we were a tad late and just tired (somehow travelling for 2 months does that to you), so we gave it a miss. Tuesday morning we were all set to go to the Catacombs and stopped at reception to clarify on directions, only to find out that the place is temporarily closed (they just don’t tell you that on the website). So we popped up to the Moulin Rouge and the Sacre Coeur district. We grabbed the subway over to the Arc de Triomphe, and strolled through town window shopping. The booths for the Christmas markets are erected, but not open yet. Too bad for all my friends and family....Caitlin stopped in the Impressionist Museum, but I was just beat so I grabbed a cup of coffee instead and watched the sun go down and the city light up over by the Louvre. Then we headed up to the top of the famed Eiffel Tower. It really is quite the view. We finished our night with a lovely dinner in a French restaurant and packed up all our belongings. Now for home!
I don’t think that I’ve mentioned it before, but Caitlin is a massive Liverpool fan (football, or rather soccer, for those who aren’t familiar). And since it was such a short train ride away, we just had to stop by the stadium. We had tried to sort out tickets for a match the previous Sunday, but they’re a bit hard to come by, so we settled for watching Liverpool play Russia in a pub next to the stadium. Liverpool is a bit of a rough town –few fancy buildings or architecture, slightly gaudy accents – definitely not built with tourists in mind, but interesting to visit for that reason. We went to the stadium, watched the match, grabbed some dinner, and headed back to our B&B. Speaking of the B&B, that was some quality accommodation. It was pretty cheap, but we had a high-ceilinged room with 2 separate beds, our own separate kitchen and bathroom, and a HOT shower.
Friday we flew to Barcelona, via RyanAir. RyanAir has the cheapest tickets, but they try to catch you on everything. For example, if you forget to print off your boarding pass they charge you 60 pounds/euros to print it during check-in. That might be twice the cost of your actual ticket. We nearly forgot to print our passes, which would have been another 120 pounds, but we remembered at the bus stop and ran back to the B&B. Whew. The flight was uneventful, and we arrived in Barcelona no problemo. Spain has a different culture than many other part of Europe. Everything is close and packed in, people stand much closer to you when they talk, shops are full of anything they think someone might want to buy. It’s a very social place. Our hostel, in keeping with the culture, did a big communal dinner every night. We all met out on the roof at 9 o’clock (they eat much later, too), and enjoyed a bowl of sangria and getting to know the other travelers. Then we went downstairs and crowded around tables grouped together for a family-style dinner, which was both vegetarian and good. Dinner was followed by a cabaret at 11, where a girl from Utah who performs with a fiery hool-a-hoop (sans fire, this time) amazed us all, and then 2 of the receptionists, well, I don’t actually know how to describe what they did. Crazy partner yoga of sorts. What a show. The others went out for a night on the town, but Caitlin and I decided to stay in so we could make the most of the next day.
We started that next day with a visit to Camp Nou, the football (soccer) stadium of the Barcelona team. Then we headed over to the Sagrada Familia, the Church of the Royal Family. The outside is quite a sight, so I can only imagine the inside, but there was a l-o-o-o-o-n-g line and we wanted to see other things, too. We wandered through parts known for their architecture, had the most delicious pastries (wait til you see the pictures), and headed to a tapas bar for lunch. I love tapas bars. We got a bottle of rioja, assorted olives, garlic mushrooms, patatas bravas, an open-faced toast with chorizo and cheese, or in Caitlin’s case sundried tomato and goat’s cheese. Just yum. We missed the walking tour of the Gothic quarter, but just wandered a bit ourselves. We had coffee on an outdoor patio, walked, and shopped. It’s a great place for shopping. Then we had traditional paella (seafood paella for me) down on the waterfront, with a big pitcher of sangria (again, not until late). I really enjoyed Barcelona and the Spanish culture. Today we are on a train to Paris – my final city on this adventure!
Sunday we grabbed the train up to Glasgow, Scotland to visit the infamous Sarah Dowling, a fellow biocon. She got a job reducing landfill waste for a whiskey company – the first biocon with a proper job! We got in a little passed 4, and it took most of the rest of the night, and some dinner with Ginger Grouse (her company’s new beer – hooray for product allotment!), to recount all the happenings of our trip and hear about Sarah’s new life in Glasgow. Sarah had to go to work the next day, and Caitlin and I thought we’d have a bit of lie in then go around Glasgow, but it was just so nice sitting on the couches drinking coffee and relaxing, in a flat to ourselves, that we managed pretty much nothing that day. Fortunately, it was the 5th of November and Guy Fawkes Night in the UK, so there was plenty to do that evening. We got to meet Sarah’s lovely flat mate, Eva, and her friend Chad and former flat mate joined us as well for the festivities. We went to the West End bar by Glasgow Green and watched the fireworks. It’s a bit like America’s 4thof July celebrations, except we celebrate a successful revolution and they celebrate the successful quashing of a revolution. We enjoyed the local beer and some chats, then got – at Chad’s suggestion – deep-fried haggis and a deep-fried Mars bar (candy bar) on the way home. As it turns out, haggis is pretty good, and certainly not how I pictured it in my mind. It’s really similar to regular ground meat with minced onions andspices cooked in, but a slightly stickier consistency. Definitely worth a try if you get the chance.
The next day Caitlin and I got lucky and got the last 2 seats on a tour up to Loch Ness. We stopped off at Loch Lomond on the way, and went pass Ben Nevis (the highest mountain in Scotland), Glencoe (site of the famous MacDonald massacre), and a few other places. We got dropped off at Urquhart Castle and left to explore the ruins for about an hour, then took a cruise across Loch Ness in search of the famed beast. I’m sorry to report there were no Nessie sightings that day. There was plenty of bagpipe music and lovely views to compensate. We made a large circle of Scotland by bus, but the whole ordeal was nearly 13 hours, so we were a bit wrecked when we finally made it back to Sarah’s. That dear girl had cooked us dinner with lots of spinach, which was simply delicious, along with a few Brew Dogs since they’re made in Scotland. (Europe tends to give you fewer vegetables when your order a meal, so the spinach was doubly appreciated after all our travels.) Sarah and I nipped off for a bit of whiskey drinking while Caitlin was in the shower, and just had a lovely time catching up one-on-one. Then we came back and turned on the news to watch as the election votes started coming in. We did pretty well, seeing as we were still awake by around half one, but gave up and went to bed before anything significant was really known.
The next day we awoke to the news that Obama was President again for 4 more years, and Sarah had managed to get a day of to spend with us. She did her undergrad at Edinburgh University, so the 3 of us headed over to Edinburgh and Sarah gave us a personal tour of the town. It’s one cool city. Because the town had built up rather than out back in the day, you end up with streets on top of streets (I’ve no idea how you’d show that on a map), and all sorts of neat architecture demarcating different levels. The castle sits atop Castle Rock overlooking all of the surrounding area, and the sea is at the other end of the city. We grabbed a coffee in a shop looking out over the city, wandered around the outside of the castle, walked past the shops and looked in at the Queen’s Gallery, and decided it was time for lunch. There’s a fantastic shop called Oink, where they spit-roast one pig a day, make pork sandwiches with seasoned stuffing and applesauce and crackling if you’d like, and when the pig is gone they close the shop. They only do one thing, but they sure do it well. We popped into a more vegetarian-friendly restaurant so Caitlin could eat something, too, saw a bit of Edinburgh University, and did a bit of shopping. Sarah recommended a tour of the vaults, but decided it was scary enough the first time she did so she wouldn’t be joining me and Caitlin. So while Sarah meandered and reminisced, Caitlin and I went on a tour of vaults built into a lengthy, lengthy bridge. The vaults had been intended to be storage space for shopkeepers atop the bridge, but leaked when it rained (bit of a problem in Scotland), so they shopkeepers quickly removed their wares from them and the city’s homeless quickly moved in. As you can imagine, the vaults weren’t nice places to live, and there were many deaths there, so they are now renowned for their ghosts and paranormal activity. A cloaked tour guide showed us around and shared some of the horrific tales of the vaults. I found it all quite interesting, though I think Caitlin was more of a mind with Sarah on this one. We met back up with Sarah and went for a drink, then got the train back to Glasgow. We grabbed a late dinner and said our goodbyes (since Sarah would be leaving for work before we were like to be up).
Caitlin and I got packed the next morning, than ran to Piece, the sandwich shop were Eva works, to get lunch for the train ride. Piece is a great shop, and I got a baguette with Polish beer sausage, dilled beet root, horseradish mayonnaise, and lettuce that was again delicious. But Eva wouldn’t even let us pay for it. We owe her a huge thanks. It was lovely of Sarah to have us stay with her and give up her own bed, to cook for us, to be our tour guide, and to let us wash all our clothes (thanks again, Sarah!). But Eva didn’t even know us before this weekend, and still let us invade her space, take over the wash for 3 days, use her hairdryer in her room, hang out and entertain us, and then bought us lunch on top of it all. What a pair. So a big thanks to Eva as well, and if either of you end up in my neck of the woods I will gladly return the favor. Cheers, ladies!
We had the potential for another train disaster leaving Amsterdam, as the train just never came. We had a changeover before connecting with the ferry, so time was of the essence. Luckily we found another train stopping at the changeover station, and we made it to the ferry – crisis averted. The ferry was quite nice, with comfy seats and windows, shops, restaurants, 3 different styles of bars…they even had a cinema onboard. Got a bit of reading in, had some dinner, and made it to London without further hitches, though late in the evening. The next morning we switched to a different hostel, conveniently located on King’s Cross Road, right by King’s Cross, which many of you may recognize from Harry Potter. And yes, I found Platform 9 and ¾. I even have pictures to prove it. We went to a pub from the 18th century for lunch – Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese – the kind of place that has a peat fire going and sawdust on the floors and big cozy booths. I had braised pheasant with stewed vegetable and berries and baked asparagus with bacon and cheese. It was delicious, along with the pub’s own organic lager. We stopped back at the hostel and sorted out our flights to Barcelona next week, then went to London Bridge before going on the Grim Reapers of London tour. It took us all over the East End, to Tower Bridge, the Bloody Tower, Traitor’s Gate, the plague pits, the world’s first psychiatric hospital, and to the sites where several of Jack the Ripper’s victims were found. Dark, but fun. We met two other girls on our tour who were studying in France, so we grabbed a bit to eat with them and swapped stories.
The next morning I had a very cold, very pathetic shower –the kind you have to push the button and you get 10 seconds of water and then it turns off. It was fairly miserable, but it was nice to be clean afterwards. And, at my insistence, we stopped at Starbucks and got some Christmas flavored coffees to take on our walking tour. The tour guide was an absolute hoot, and took us just about everywhere – including Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard, Westminster Abbey, and Big Ben among other places. We had lunch at The Old Monk’s Exchange with another girl we’d met on our tour, Kelsey, from America working as an au pair in Italy. They even had Hobgoblin on tap! We parted ways and Caitlin and I headed for the Natural History Museum. Sadly, there was a very long queue to see the dinosaur exhibit, and we didn’t have a ton of time there, so we gave it a miss and explored the rest. It’s an amazing museum, and they do an excellent job of explaining ideas and concepts and significance in their displays. You could spend days in there. We grabbed a British dinner, and here by British I mean something that sounded pretty good on the menu and yet they still managed to make it bland. But we had a great Rioja wine with it and a great chat, and decided London was much cooler than we had expected. Turned out Kelsey was in our room at the hostel that night – so a pleasant surprise to end with.
The Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.