Saturday, May 30, 2009
We woke up and went to the Eiffel Tower. We just went outside of it because the line was ridiculously long and the entrance was not included in our Paris Pass and since it is a two day pass we wanted to do the things that were included first. So we walked over to the Musee d'Orsay and saw a lot of Paris along the way, it is really beautiful. The Eiffel Tower is a little different than I thought it would be, it looked lighter than it does in pictures. It was really cool though and I was not disappointed. The Musee d'Orsay was also awesome and I really liked all the paintings there, especially the impressionist ones. After that we went to the Louvre. The Louvre was huge and beautiful and overwhelming. We walked through some of it and saw the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. The Venus de Milo was wicked cool and looked just like she does in pictures and was really impressive. The Mona Lisa was cool too, but people have all been telling me I would be disappointed, so my expectations were very low. I really liked the painting though. One great thing about the Paris Pass was we got to cut the lines at a lot of places. After the Louvre we picked up sandwiches for lunch and went to Notre Dame. At Notre Dame we went into the cathedral which was beautiful and then waited in line to go up to the towers. This was a long line that we were not allowed to cut but it was completely worth it. There were two places we could go up to and they both had beautiful views. We also go to see one of the bells. There were so many stairs, when we got down we were so tired. But then we went over to the Arc d'Triomph and climbed more stairs! It was worth it again though. After the arc we walked around that area for a while, which seemed to be really expensive shopping streets and found a place to have crepes for dinner.
Today we woke up and went to Versailles. This was quite the journey because we got on three wrong trains before finding the right one that would take us there. When we finally got there we walked around the palace and saw the apartments and the outside. It was huge and gorgeous. Then we went out to the gardens. The gardens were also huge and beautiful. I really liked them and they were cool because you would just walk around then there would be a sort of courtyard with statues or decorative plants. There was also a man made pond where you could rent boats to paddle around but we did not do this. We hung out in the gardens for a while and then we headed back into the city. Once we were back we went to the Conciergie which used to be a prison and was where Marie-Antoinette was imprisoned. There was a recreation of her cell and a normal prisoners cell. Hers had two guards, a bed and a desk while a normal cell was straw on the floor. It was actually a really pretty prison. After the Conciergie we came back to the hotel and relaxed for a little while. Then we walked around the area our hotel is in, at first it seemed like a residential area but then we found this cool street with tons of restaurants. Our hotel is actually in the Latin Quarter so we went to a Cuban restaurant! It was not as good as in Miami, but that is not surprising. Then we walked around that area for a while and headed back to the hotel. Tomorrow we are doing some stuff around Paris then taking the overnight train to Venice!
We arrived in Amsterdam on Monday morning and once we got there we took the tram to our hotel. Luckily our room was ready even though we were early, so we took a shower since we felt gross from the train and then we went to see the city. We walked around for a while and saw the Dam which is the main center square, some of the shopping streets and a few of the museums. Then we decided to buy the Holland Pass which gives you free entry to five museums and a bunch of other discounts. We decided to do this instead of the I Amsterdam card because it was cheaper, it wasn’t limited to 24 hours and what we wanted to do was included. After we did the tour we walked around a little more and then we did the Canal Tour. The Canal Tour was really cool because it took us down the main canals and showed and explained the history behind the major sights of the city. It was lucky that we did that tour on Monday because it rained all day on Tuesday and was pretty cold on Wednesday. We seem to be bringing bad weather with us. After the canal tour we walked around the Red Light District a little bit and then headed toward the area where our hotel was and found this square with a bunch of restaurants. We had dinner and just hung out there for a while because it was a nice night.
On Tuesday it was Amy’s birthday! We got up and went to Madame Tussaud’s first thing in the morning. We got to cut the line there and at the Rijksmuseum because of the Holland Pass. This was very fun and we took pictures with all the celebrities. Then we went to the Rijksmuseum and saw the paintings. This museum was a lot smaller than I expected and not as impressive as I thought it would be. It was still a good thing to go and see though. After the Rijksmuseum we had lunch. Every day for lunch I just had a sandwich with Dutch cheese which is delicious. Once we were done eating we went to the Museum of Bags and Purses. As we all know, this is my kind of museum. We saw bags that were used all through history and there were some really gross ones with actual lizards, crocodiles and other animals on them. They also had samples of all the different skins and leathers bags are made of which was kind of disgusting. But I actually loved this museum and seeing all the designs and different types of bags. It was like shopping at a really expensive store I couldn’t afford, only better because no one else could buy anything either. Then we went to Gassan Diamonds, which is a diamond factory that has a free tour. When we got there we went and got the ticket and then got to have free coffee and tea in the café. Then we did the tour and they told us about how diamonds are cut and polished for jewelry and how they are judged for their worth (cut, clarity, color and carat). Then the guide took us to see some diamonds and just put them on the table for us to see. The most popular cut is the princess cut which has 57 facets and is used all over the world, but Gassan invented a new one which has 121 facets and it’s the only company that makes it, so we got to see the difference between these. After this the guide took out boxes of rings for us to look at and TRY ON! Each one had the description of the diamond and the price on it and there was over 100000 euros worth of diamonds just sitting on the table for us to try on. It was wicked cool. I think a few people actually bought stuff. Then we didn’t know what to do so we had some more free tea and then went to the hotel and changed my shoes because my feet were cold. Then we had some time to kill so we went to the Vodka Museum. This was kind of cool, basically Russia dominates vodka and during World War II the Russian government could not afford to pay their soldiers so they paid them in vodka. We did get a free drink with the tour though. After this we did the tour of the Red Light District. This was cool because the guide showed us a lot of interesting stuff that we would never have noticed just walking around by ourselves. We also learned some stuff like only 25% of the prostitutes are Dutch, they make about 50 euro for 50 minutes, but the girls on the “African” street only make 35 euro for 50 minutes, it costs 150 euro to rent a window for a day and all the girls have panic buttons in their rooms so that they police can be there if they need them. In the middle of the Red Light District there is also a day care center and a church. The streets surrounding it are also very wealthy and it’s an expensive area to live in. A prostitute was murdered two months ago in the Red Light District but before that the last murder was in 2001, so its actually a pretty safe area to walk around in, you just have to watch out for pick pockets. At the end of the tour we got another free drink and then we went to dinner for Amy’s birthday. We actually had trouble finding a place that was serving food since it was past 10 PM and things close pretty early, but we ended up going to a place in the same square we went the night before and it was really good.
Today we checked out of the hotel and went to the Anne Frank Huis. I had been there before but Amy wanted to go. It is a very interesting place to go but also very sad. After that we went to the Houseboat Museum which was a houseboat turned into a museum where you could see what its like to live on a houseboat. Then we walked around for a little while and I bought a pair of shoes. Then we went to the dam and met up with my friend Nadine for lunch and hung out with her for a little while. After that we went back to the hotel, picked up our luggage and went to the train station to go to Brussels. We are actually on the train to Brussels right now and should be there around 6PM.
On Saturday we started out by going to the National Museum. This was pretty interesting because it had a lot of modern and cultural things but it also started with ancient history. After the museum we walked around Christiansborg Palace. This palace was actually burned down twice and rebuilt several times because of the fires and being out of date compared to other palaces. Underneath the castle are the ruins from the first two that were destroyed. This was also really cool to see because the ground used to be so much lower. After the ruins we went to the Round Tower. This is literally a round tower with an observatory on the top where you can see the whole city. Then we walked around for a while and decided to walk over to Christiana which used to be a commune and is now the alternative part of Copenhagen. But we couldn’t find anything interesting so we just sat by a lake for a little while.
Sunday we were going to go to Tivoli Gardens but it was raining. So then we had no idea what to do but we knew that an amusement park wouldn’t be fun in the rain. It was also wicked expensive because you had to pay to get in and pay to go on rides. So we decided to go to Glypotek which is an art museum. It was free for those of us who are under 18…and maybe other people because I didn’t actually see anyone else buying tickets but it was listed as free under 18. After the museum we went to Christiansborg to do the tour of the Danish Parliament. We picked up the tickets and then still had some time so we saw the Palace Chapel. This church was really pretty and was not like a normal church, it did not have lots of stained glass or anything, it was really light and had columns in it. The tour of Parliament was interesting because we got to hear about how the voting works and see where everything happens. We also saw the Danish Constitution and heard a lot about the history. After the tour of Parliament we had lunch. Then there was not much to do so we walked around for a while and then went back to the hotel, picked up our bags and went to the train station to get the overnight train to Amsterdam. As I write this, it is 9AM and we are about an hour away. I was very surprised I actually kind of slept last night on the train and once the people who were in our compartment left we were both able to spread out and actually sleep. When we get off the train we are going to drop our stuff off at the hotel and go see Amsterdam!
Friday, May 22, 2009
The flight to Copenhagen was only about an hour and ten minutes so we got in at 11:40. Then we took a train to the main station and then walked to the hotel. We got to check in early and then we went out and had lunch. Lunch was very expensive but good, everything in this city is expensive. After lunch we walked basically from one end of the city to the other to see the Little Mermaid Statue, which is Copenhagen's most visited spot. On the way there we saw the Amalienborg Palace which was really pretty. After the statue we walked around for a while and went to the Guinness World Records Museum, which was really cool and had tons of exhibits about strange records. Then we walked up and down one of the shopping streets. It was raining on and off throughout the day which was unfortunate because I forgot to take my umbrella with me. It is also colder here than I expected, I knew it would be colder but everyone here is still wearing jackets and scarves (which seems a little unnecessary but it is chilly). After the museum we continued our walk back and we got ice cream. I got soft serve on Belgian waffle which was wicked good. Then we walked the rest of the way back and we are just hanging out because we are exhausted and walked a lot today.
Monday, May 11, 2009
Thursday: We left for the airport around 3:30 and our flight was supposed to be at 6:25 but it was delayed until 8, which was boring because we had to sit in the airport for longer. The flight was only about two hours and there was an hour time change. As the plane landed I could see the Blue Mosque and some other mosques from the sky. The city was really built up and it was really cool to see everything as I was coming in. When we landed one of our tour guide, Eva's, friends met us at the airport with his bus and took us to the hotel. The hotel was small but very cute and a nice place to stay, especially since it had free breakfast. We got there around midnight and went on a short walk to see the Aya Sofiya and the Blue Mosque at night, when there was no one around and they were beautiful.
Friday: Friday was our big tourist day. Very early in the morning I was awoken by the call to prayer and very confused but went back to sleep. Hearing the call to prayer throughout the city multiple times a day was really cool and at one point I actually saw people lined up outside a mosque praying on the sidewalk. After breakfast we started at the Aya Sofiya (Hagia Sophia) which was gorgeous and huge. We went inside and had a tour guide and also got to walk around by ourselves to see everything. It used to be a Christian church so there were actually crosses all around it. The Aya Sofiya is now a museum and there are no longer services there. Then we went to the Blue Mosque which we had to go through pretty quickly because Friday is when there are longer services but we had some time to sit on the floor and our tour guide told us about it. The floor was very comfortable because the idea is that people should be comfortable and enjoy praying. I also saw where the men were praying but the women's area was on the second floor and we did not have time to go up there. Inside of the mosque it was really beautiful and decorated in tiles with blue designs on them, which is how it got the name. Inside we had to wear head scarves and have our knees and elbows covered. My dress was an inch shorter than my knees and I was wearing tights and the man at the entrance originally let me through but then called me back and gave me and ankle length "skirt" to wrap around my waist. I think that the Blue Mosque was one of my favorite sights because it was really beautiful outside andd gorgeous on the inside. After we went there, we had a break for lunch. We ate at a little cafe and had kebaps for lunch which were very good. Then we went to the Sultan's Palace and walked around the gardens and went to the harem and the treasury. I do not really know how to describe it, but I will put up pictures. After the palace we walked around for a while then relaxed a little and we went to a show that night. We saw whirling derwishes which are some sort of religious figures who whirl. It was a pretty cool show but I was tired and spaced out a lot of it because the music was really relaxing. The performance was at the train station which was really nice and was the final stop on the Orient Express. Once the show was over we went to dinner at a Turkish restaurant where we sat on cushions/ a little couch on the floor. This was where I discovered apple tea which is a Turkish drink and is basically hot apple juice but really good. It is also where I had the best hummus I ever had. Before we went to dinner we actually bought some candy to eat after. This was an experience in itself. We bought lokum, which is Turkish delight and is just different sorts of chewy candy, in different flavors and some have nuts and then some baklava. As we were waiting in line, we were just talking and laughing and I was laughing about something and turned my head and there was a Turkish man. He started laughing at me and then decided he should pet me. For some reason he really liked my hair. Needless to say I went back to the hotel and took a shower.
Saturday: Saturday we went to the Grand Bazaar, which is the biggest shopping place ever and has over 4000 shops. We were there for a few hours and did lots of souvenir shopping and then got very overwhelmed and went to lunch. To shop there you had to bargain with the people and I don't think I was very good at this and probably spent more than I should have but whatever. As we were walking around there were three girls and one guy so we got many comments such as "Its Charlie and his angels!" "Hey Spice Girls!" "You're short, but you're pretty" "Why is he mean to you, you are so prettty!" They seemed to think that this would make us want to shop there. Whenever we were asked where we were from we said Prague so that they would not know we were American. When we were done with the bazaar we wanted to go to the oceanso we just walked downhill until we reached it. We had fish on a roll for lunch and then just walked around and sat by the sea sporadically. It was while we were sitting that my friend Tim thought it would be funny to try to sell us to some Turkish teenagers, because human trafficking is a big thing there. I don't think they spoke English so we were fine. Saturday night we walked to the European side of town. Everywhere we were was actually Europe and we did not go to the Asian part but this part was considered European because it is across from the very conservative religious side and is where the academics and intellectuals would hang out. We had dinner at a fish restaurant there and they gave us free tea and french fries. Once you are in a restaurant and off the street Turkish people are extremely friendly and nice and do not heckle you. After dinner we walked to the end of the street, to Taksim square and took the tram back to our hotel. We could not walk back because Eva told us that the area we had gone through to get there beecame kind of dangerous at night. Then when we were back in our part of the city we stopped at a hookah bar where business men apparently go after work. One of the men started talking to us and they were all very friendly. He also said that he had onlyy learned English from working in a hotel and he spoke very well. This was when we especialy realized that only men were out and no women except tourists were around. This was fine because we were in the conservative part of the city so I still felt safe but it was very strange and I was just wondering what they could have been doing. While we were there a girl walking down the street fell and people from every table got up to help her. This also showed us how helpful the Turks are because if that was Prague (ormany other cities) most people would have just walked around her. We actually saw one of the guys we met the next day outside his hotel and he said hello and we just ignored him because we thought he was just another person from a restaurant or just in the street harassing us. Then we realized it was Ottoman the Friendly Turk and felt bad and said hello.
Sunday: We woke up early on Sunday morning to go to the Basilica Cistern. This was built hundreds of years ago to hold water for the city and protect it from being poisoned by enemies. The walls were actually several feet thick to protect it and it was huge. The columns inside were gorgeous and they reflected perfectly off the water so it looked almost exactly the same. There were also two columns of Medusa's face, one tilted to the side and one upside down. It was really cool. After the cistern we did a little shopping to get postcards and little things and then packed up our stuff to go home. Then we went and had lunch in between the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofiya. I had a bagel, it was different than a bagel at home because it wasn't as thick. After lunch we went back to the hotel and we left for the airport. We again took a little bus and it was really kind of scary because the streets are wicked narrow and hilly, but once we reached the highway it was fine. The flight back was on time and they gave us dinner again which was ok. I had to check my bag this time because I bought so much stuff. Then we came back to Prague!