Wednesday, July 19, 2006

What so hot about Belgium?

Our first extended train ride led us to our second stopping point in Europe, Brussels. The train station was a short walk to our hotel, and we pleasantly discovered everything else was a short walk from our hotel. Bonus. One of the things close to our hotel, in fact, right outside the door, was "the restaurant-lined rue des Bouchers". It's always comforting when you find that the street with all the restaurants mentioned in the travel guide is right there. The only problem with the rue des Bouchers is that with so many restaurants so close together, the competition for diners creates this sort of carnival barker atmosphere with each establishment having their own "salesman" acting like he's your long-lost best friend and about to give you the greatest deal ever. Bryan went ahead and went with the guy who promised us free beer. Shocker.

So, we're at this mainly seafood place. We're in Brussels. So it seems obvious what to order, right. Of course, I did. I ordered the mussels. Prepared in garlic sauce I believe. Who really knows, the menu was in was the waiter. My travelling buddies ordered...Italian food? Yeah, I don't know. But my mussels and pommes frites were tasty. Next on the list was to find the waffles we had heard so much about. And find them we did. The first waffle I had that day came topped with cream and chocolate sauce and to even compare this to Hershey's would be an insult to the entire country...we were in Belgium people! After one bite the only thing I could think of was when I could get my next one. While walking around in a epicurean induced haze we stumbled into the Grand Place. And I can make no argument, there is very few places on earth more grand than that.

After a respite in the room to finish our waffles and watch a game we headed back out on walking tour #2 of the trip (Yea Walking Tours!) This one shockingly lead us back to the Grand Place where I succumbed to the pressure of a local custom by "rubbing the bronze deathbed sculpture of Everard 't Serclaes". You run your hand along the length of the female sculpture and then that thing on the top. It's supposed to be good luck. Word's still out on whether it worked or not. From there we made our way to the Manneken-Pis...yes, the peeing boy . It was here that we began to take note of an apparent European custom that seems to be their version of a bachelors and bachelorette party. We found groups of people where one, presumably the bride or groom, dressed in some sort of costume accompanied by other members of the party that were attired in matching t-shirts usually identifying the betrothed couple. Here at the Manneken-Pis I believe we saw the bride and groom parties accidentally run into one another.

It was here that I made my first major error of the trip. Up until this point I was the one always stuck with being the "obvious tourist goob" by having to guide our walking tour while carrying the book. I had grown weary of the thing and passed it on to Bryan. After 30 minutes and about a mile and half, I realized we were no closer to the Palace and its accouterments that was our goal. So, I took the map back, never to be relinquished again. Oh, there was also some sort of Turkish festival going on while we were there. They were parading these things down the street. I have no idea...

We did a little more walking and finally ended up at the Royal Palace. We headed back through the Parc de Bruxelles. Thought we saw a topless chick, but I had to assure Bryan that it was a dude. We grabbed some dinner as we watched some more soccer and plotted where to get our next waffle. And get it we did. Except this time, I thought some ice cream might be an excellent addition. It was, but I gotta tell you, eating a waffle covered in ice cream and heated chocolate sauce on a paper plate with a plastic fork while walking through crowded streets is not the easiest thing to do. We got back to the hotel and some poor teenage girl was forced to ride the elevator up with us while we toted our food. Oh, the elevators were kind of tiny, so she seemed quite relieved to get off.

The next day we had decided to take a side trip to Brugge. A quaint little town filled with historic churches and canals. Kind of like Amsterdam, but smaller. We did the obligatory canal boat ride , not bad. Hit a disappointing museum that was partly closed for construction. Had a big argument over lunch (shocker). If you believe what they tell you, we saw the blood of Christ and a Madonna and Child sculpture by Michelangelo at two different churches. It's really hard not to be impressed by the churches there. Not just the size and architecture, but what's inside. The church with the Madonna also featured numerous paintings bigger than a wall, and all pre-1700. Here that would be fodder for a noteworthy art exhibit. There it's just some stuff they hung on the church wall. This day we tired quickly (it was quite hot) and decided to head back to Brussels. We missed the 4:30 train by about 45 seconds. The next one was at 5 pm. Bummer. And then it was 30 minutes late. Real bummer. Then the 5 o'clock and 5:30 train arrived at essentially the same time. And then we made one of the worst decisions of the trip when we chose the wrong train. Wrong being the one without air conditioner and vastly slower than the other. Our 50 minute train ride turned into about and hour and half.
Bummer doesn't begin to describe. Nothing like hours of marinating in your own sweat. Look how happy we were to arrive back in Brussels. We went straight to dinner, another patio with the game on. I think we had to watch Mexico win (bastards). Then we headed off for our (sadly) final waffle run of the trip. This time without the ice cream (you CAN have too much of a good thing), but everyone was still quite pleased with the way things were going. We walked back through the Grand Place one last time and that was it.

Oh, one last thing. Possibly the best feature of our hotel was the breakfast. Both the food--that featured hot food and chocolate croissants(the greatest baked good ever)-- and the view. See picture. I'm pretty sure no one has something like that outside their breakfast nook (Yes, that is the Grand Place in the background).

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

I AMsterdam...

Yes, finally. So, the trip I took...that long and arduous journey, well, it began in Amsterdam. Technically, I guess it began in Dallas with a connection through Chicago, but you know what I mean... Amsterdam.

A couple of things first. One, this was only my second time to go overseas. And a reminder for those of you not following along or with short memories, I was going to Europe for the World Cup and staying something like 16 days. So a long trip is what I'm saying. Thirdly (heh, that's a funny it a word?) --and this may the most shocking part of trip-- my traveling companions consisted of two people...who happened to be one another. Pictured thusly, that's Bryan and Lisa. Let me first say this was not the original plan, but what are you gonna do? So, I embarked on this "adventure" knowing I would be in the longest continous state of third-wheelness I, and maybe the world, has ever known. Luckily for me (or not really) I'm used to it, but I digress. So we've got this trip, we've got this World Cup, we've got this potential tenseness at ever turn with the added bonus that no one in the party has ever been to mainland Europe. Let the wackiness ensue!

And it did...depending on your definition of wackiness, of course. We arrived, like I said, in Amsterdam. After making our way to the main train station with minimal difficulties (cough!) we got our first sight of the European sun and the outdoors. Our response? What's freaking hot! (Possible theme) After following and checking weather patterns we had come to expect (and packed for!) cool weather (65-80 degree highs) instead that day in Amsterdam it was about 85. Yea for us. Anyway, upon arriving at our hotel we discovered one our first truths about the Dutch. They like their stairs, they like them small, and they like them steep. Of course we were on the top floor (5th, approx), about 76 steps, not that anyone was counting. Also, like the rest of Europe, not all that big on air conditioning. Moving along.

I'm sure your wondering what we did in Amsterdam, but it's all kind of a blur. We only had two days in Holland, you know. The first day, after dropping our luggage at the room, we headed out to find some food and see what we could see. Ok, let me tell you what I did see. In the short (cough!) walk to our hotel, and in the walk to our aventual dining spot, I made some observations I will share with you now:
1) Amsterdam is a city with numerous canals and is very beautiful. It's really a shame it's a 10 hour plane ride away.
2) There are a lot of freaking bikes. Everybody seems to be on one and there's a million more just waiting to be used.
3) And most disturbingly, all the chicks are hot. And by disturbing I mean not disturbing in any way, shape, or form. Ok, I recognize that this "observation" is really an impossibility, but I'm just saying that it was shocking the number and frequency with which you would encounter a female of exceeding beauty. One would walk by me as two more rode by on bikes. Waiting on my table, selling me my croissant, next to me on the train. They were everywhere!

At lunch that day I vocalized this "observation" to my traveling buddies and was immediately taken to task by the more feminine of two, I was told that it was a little too early in the trip (3 hrs.) and I had too little sleep (5 hrs. in the last 48) to be making such bold claims. I heeded those words and cooled my jets. But, nothing I ever saw dissuaded me from my original statement. In fact, after an additional day of observation someone (cough! Lisa) stated that I was, in fact, wrong because for every hot girl that wheeled by on a bike, two less attractive lasses could also be witnessed. With that I whole-heartedly agreed...that if having 33% of the female population being hot was wrong, I did not want to be right.

After lunch, we walked around (Walking tour!), got hot, got cranky and returned to the hotel for a nap. We awoke and had an odd experience. Bryan and I both looked out the window and realized we had no idea what time it was. And by that I mean, we weren't sure whether it was still day 1, or if we had slept all the way through to day 2. After checking our watches and realizing we still had 5 hours of day 1 left, we headed out again. As we sat outdoors at a café that night it was then that we realized a couple of things. First, it was 10:30 pm and showing no signs of getting dark. Second, Jason was having his first beer...ever (A Heineken for those of you keeping score at home).

We all were surprised that no one had thought to mention this earlier. I mean, out of all the books and travel guides and websites and stupid travel shows I had used to prepare for the trip you would think at some point someone might have mentioned, "Oh, by the way, It doesn't get dark until like 11:30." But no, nothing. And then imagine my surprise the next morning when I awoke at 5:15 (because the stupid jet-lag, I presume) but think it's 9:30 am because the sun is already so high in the sky! Notice: the picture to the left was taken from my hotel room at 6:00 am. Does that really look like 6 am to anyone? I'm just saying a little advance warning would have been nice.

We had scheduled a little trip to Haarlem for the next morning to see Corrie Ten Booms's Hiding Place. That simple task provided it's own drama when we arrived only to find that the "Museum" only employed one person, so calling ahead might have been better, but we talked our way in (after a 2 hour wait) and were rewarded with a very insightful experience. We returned to Amsterdam to hit some art museums. You might just want to skip the Rijksmuseum until they're done with the renovation, but "The Night Watch" was really cool. The Van Gogh Museum provided much more bang for the buck.

We then tried to find a place to both eat and watch the opening game of the World Cup. This was a far more difficult task than we ever imagined. And it really didn't ever get easier as the trip went on. If it was a game of any import, it seemed you had to get to a place an hour or more before it started. And we never did. This night we ended up a burger place (Dutch burgers are for crap!) and then moved to a bar for the second have. A quaint old place were a bunch 40-50 somethings who knew each other hung out at the bar while us and another couple of similar demographic intently watched the game.

After the games and a couple a more beers, we decided that 11:30 on Friday would be a good time to hit the infamous "Red Light District". In actuality, we had been told this would be the worst time, but whatever. For everyone out there not familiar with the significance of light colors or Sting, that means it's where the prostitutes do their business. Business seemed to be okay that night. Now, a couple of the things. I had been under the impression that these girls were really not all that much to look at. In some cases that was true, but not in most. These were on the whole, attractive women. There were various reasons I did not want to have sex with these women, one being that I wasn't married to them and two being that they were PROSTITUTES!, but in most cases three would not have been because they were ugly. We were probably there only a total of ten minutes. We did a pretty good job of staying out the way and to the fringes of the crowd to avoid any direct interaction with what someone in the traveling party referred to as "the whores". But as we were heading out of the red light district, I made what apparently is a grievous error. For the briefest more than half a second...a nanosecond really, I made eye contact with one of the ladies of the night. I then abruptly turned my head and kept walking. As I walked I heard a loud knock behind me from the general direction of the aforementioned...whore (cough!). I inquired to those with me who were trailing behind if that was I thought it was, and they confirmed that, indeed, the woman had thought it useful to knock on the window in hopes, I guess, of re-gaining my attention. Alas, we were long gone on our way back to the hotel. Besides, I had to pee. They charge to use the restroom in Holland so it had been awhile.

One final thing, even though we were only in Amsterdam for about a day and half, we were propositioned for drugs, and I mean hard-core stuff, no less than four times. Or at least one guy in our party to guess who? (Cough! wasn't me.) let's see. We had hot chicks, beer, whores, and drugs. All in all, not a bad couple of days.

Monday, July 10, 2006

In Retrospect...

Ok, this is lame...but it's also a warning. Soon and very soon a blog near you will carry outdated news and coverage of someone's trip to a faraway land. Included will be lots of bandwidth hogging pictures and stories of stuff you don't care about. Yes, I realize this entire site is filled with stories you don't care about, but that only gives me pause not a full-out reason to quit posting.

Tease Part 1: Possible post titles...
Dutch Chicks are hotter
Why does my stomach feel like that
What soccer game?
German Chicks are hotter
The gayest thing ever...even with the World Cup exemption
Just because I'm talking this loud doesn't mean I'm drunk
Doocey Von Duetchey
Who knew they had German nookie girls?
Just pick a restaurant already.

Tease Part 2: Pictures...