London, England

Well, this is my final travel post. The title is slightly misleading because it actually includes two cities, Edinburgh, Scotland and London, England. However, I only spent a day in Edinburgh and they are both in the same sovereign state, so I thought it would be okay.

I left Paris and had a several hour layover in London on my way to Edinburgh, which gave me a little bit of time to walk around. I ended up seeing Big Ben. Well, technically, the Big Ben clock tower. I have since learned that Big Ben is actually just the bell. My bus for Scotland left at 11pm. It was a pretty full bus, so it wasn’t very fun (I guess they’re never that fun) and I didn’t get a ton of sleep. It was strange, I had a person sitting next to me for about half the trip. At one of the stops, we all got out to get food or walk around and I never saw her again. I don’t know if she missed the bus or moved seats.

I’m not able to pinpoint exactly why it is, but Edinburgh turned out to be my favorite place of the cities I saw. It doesn’t seem like there was anything too drastically different from other places. It was very medieval, which wasn’t unique, but it was more green than everywhere else. Here’s a picture of a hillside showing a pretty good picture of the scenery.

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And here’s one more of scenery, that includes Edinburgh Castle.

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Maybe it was just the atmosphere or a combination of everything, but I would like to go back and spend more time there. I’d especially want to see more places outside of the city, like the lochs.

I had a bus back to London 24 hours after I got to Edinburgh. My brother Richard was in town for work, so I was going to be staying with him for a few days. After a month of being by myself or seeing only strangers, I was finally able to see someone I knew. I was also able to sleep in a room that only had one other person in it instead of nine (in Edinburgh, I actually had, for the first time, an entire room to myself. It was supposed to be for 12 people.) Richard said he could invite some people to come sleep on the floor if I felt uncomfortable with so few people.

Well, Thanksgiving is not quite the same when you are not in the US. We didn’t have any turkey or cranberry sauce, but we did have Pad Thai and curry, as well as an indulgent three desserts. I still missed the stuffing and sweet potatoes, but it was a good tasting substitute.

As far as site-seeing, we had some leisurely strolling through some streets, ate some donuts, saw Hyde Park, visited Buckingham Palace, and perused Harrod’s, a ginormous department store with ginormous stuffed animals. The next day, Richard had work, so I walked around some markets and around London Bridge. It’s still there, it hasn’t fallen down. I don’t know why everyone says it has. We then had Nando’s for dinner, a delicious chicken restaurant that has an open soda fountain with unlimited refills, quite an unusual feature in Europe. I got to be all British by ordering chips with my meal but getting french fries.

 

I had a very long trip back to Austria before going home. It was about 36 hours of bus and train travel to get back to Villach. And I almost missed my bus to Venice in my layover in Paris due to the time change. Then I had two days in Villach before about 24 hours of traveling time back to Las Vegas.

I did some calculations. This trip in total, I traveled about 34,670 kilometers (21,539 miles), or 86.5% of the circumference of the earth, not counting walking and other intracity travel. This is broken down to 20,992 by plane, 9,545 by bus, 1,880 by motorcycle, 1853 by train, and 400 by car.  417 kilometers or 259 miles per day.

I can’t believe my trip is over, it was an incredible time. Now I have the wonderful opportunity of getting used to school again after not having classes for 6 months.

 

Scotland:

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London:

IMG_7110IMG_7076    IMG_7080 IMG_7100 IMG_7086  IMG_7070  IMG_7055IMG_7115London Bridge selfie with Tower Bridge in the background.

Paris, France

My bus ride to Paris was not very good. It was an overnight bus that was completely full with people. Usually, I’m able to get some sleep on the bus but it’s really hard to get some sleep on a bus when the only movement you have to get comfortable is tilting your head to the side onto your shoulder. On part of the ride, I did meet and talked to Wahid, a Tunisian working in Lyon. It was also fortunate because he helped me get on the correct bus at my transfer because I don’t speak French and many of the bus people don’t speak English.

On my first day in Paris, I subsisted exclusively on pastries and crepes. I guess France already has a reputation for having good pastries, so I’m just here to confirm it. They were really good and also really cheap. My favorite was the baguette/roll thingy filled with chocolate chips. The crepe tasted like a crepe. But it was folded up so that you could eat it with your hands, which was cool.

The first touristy thing I did was visit the Catacombs. They only allow a certain amount of people in at a time, so I had to wait over an hour before getting in. And this is considered short. The website says the expected waiting time is 2-3 hours. Like I said in a previous post, I can’t imagine visiting some of these places during peak season. The Catacombs used to be a granite quarry underneath the city that got repurposed as catacombs after the granite mining ended. It was pretty incredible how many bones there were, all stacked very nicely. It was strange because I mostly only saw leg bones (yay anatomy class!). I was wondering where the rest of them were. There was an occasional arm bone, one hip bone, and no vertebrae. Clearly, there were enough bodies where there should have been more variety of bones. Perhaps they were behind all of the leg bones I saw. Or perhaps there were different rooms we didn’t get to see with only arm bones. The Arm Antechamber. Or the Vertebrae Vault. Or the Pelvis Place.

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I also briefly saw the Eiffel Tower.

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I mostly passed by so I could get a few pictures because I wanted to get to the Arc de Triomphe before it got too late.

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In Paris, there are three main sites that you can go to the top of in order to get a view of the city: Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and the Arc de Triomphe. Notre Dame is pretty far from everything else, so it doesn’t have as good of a view of the city, but does have the grotesques if you would want to see those. The Eiffel Tower is pretty central, so it has a good view of the city, but I went with the Arc instead. The Arc is pretty close to the Eiffel Tower, so you get a similar view, but I did it because the line is shorter than the Eiffel Tower and this way I’d get a view of the city with the Eiffel Tower in it.

I got to the Arc just a little bit before sunset. I wanted to get there before sunset so I could get some good photos of the city before it got too dark but I could also watch the sunset from there and then see the city at night with the lights on. I thought it was pretty cool. At one point whilst looking around, I saw a man taking a picture of his special lady friend with the Eiffel Tower in the background. Since it was dark, the flash on his phone went off, which made the special lady friend grimace and me laugh.

At the Arc, you can go underneath it and walk around for free, you just have to pay in order to go to the top. So naturally, there are always lots of people at the bottom, walking around and taking pictures. At the apex of the Arc, there is a camera that looks down at the people. In the area you get to after you pay and walk up all the stairs, there is a monitor that shows the feed from this camera. It was fun watching people looking up and taking pictures of the camera without knowing it was there.

The roads around the Arc are a mess. Circumscribing the Arc is a free-for-all roundabout. It’s wide enough to fit like 6 lanes of traffic, but there are no lanes. You just drive in and pray that people let you exit when you need to. Needless to say, there was lots of honking. And two of the streets coming off of the roundabout had no lanes either. They were just these wide streets that cars would haphazardly distribute themselves on. This picture shows part of the roundabout and one of these laneless roads.

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I met Will from London that night back at the hostel. He was a recent graduate from high school and waiting to hear back about his university applications. In the gap between now and when school would start, he was doing some goalless traveling. He told me that he had taken a ferry from the UK to the coast of France. After getting to France, he just decided to walk to Paris. I can’t remember where in France he walked from or how long it took, but it sounded like it took several days, if not a week or more, even with some hitchhiking. This is the kind of free-spirited traveling he was planning to do for the next year or so. He thought maybe he’d go to Greece to work and live for part of it but didn’t really know what he’d do in the mean time. I have definitely met people on this trip that I don’t think I would have ever met in Vegas or Provo.

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Rome, Italy

I’ve been a lot worse with directions and getting places than I thought I would have been. I got to Rome in the late afternoon. I checked in at the hostel and planned what I wanted to do for the couple of days I’d be there. I decided that I would finish the evening with a few hours of exploring. I specifically was planning on going to the Pantheon since I knew it was one of the few sites that would still be open. I started walking in what I thought was the correct direction but turned out to not be. After I realized this, I decided I would take the metro to the Pantheon and then walk back, since it would be closing soon. But I walked in the wrong direction after getting off the metro. I ended up no where very close to the Pantheon and decided it would have to wait until the next day. However, I did end up at a shopping area that I was planning to go to anyway, so it wasn’t too horrible.

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I really liked Rome, I believe it is my second favorite place I’ve been to. It was pretty cheap to eat there (you could get a good sized piece of pizza and a soda for about 5 euros almost anywhere. They do pizza by weight, not by the slice, and then it gets folded up so you can eat it like a sandwich), it was warm (this whole trip has been a lot warmer than I thought it would have been. I think I could have done without one of my coats), had interesting historic building to see, and a good selection of stores and street vendors to peruse. The second day in Rome, I decided to go to a flea market in the morning before going to see the Colosseum and Roman Forum, probably the quintessential Roman tourist activities. IMG_6447

Until I got to the flea market, I didn’t know I had so many friends in Rome. Several of my “friends” would tell me, “My friend, look at my things, I give you cheap price.” The flea market had basically what you’d expect: electronics, clothes, shoes, and purses, all with questionable authenticity and life spans. All of the vendors were pretty aggressive in trying to get me to shop at their stands, getting in my way and trying to show me anything at their table. One of the men asked if I was gay, which made me wonder what was different in his sales pitch to gay men rather than straight men. Despite me telling him I wasn’t gay, when I walked by the stand again at one point, there were calls of, “Mr. Gay, Mr. Gay!” to try and get my attention.

The aggressive vendors weren’t limited to the flea market. Almost anywhere, but most especially in the very touristy sites, people would be standing around selling scarves, umbrellas, and the most popular of them all, the selfie stick, the telescoping pole that holds your phone so you can be in every single one of your photos. I don’t believe I’m exaggerating (too much) when I say that I saw 100 people trying to sell them throughout my time in Rome. And I think they were pretty successful, people everywhere had them. Outside the Vatican, there were aggressive tour guides. They would stand all along the walkway to the entrance, stopping you to try and tell you about their services. The guy that stopped me first told me that he would be able to get me into the two main sites (St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum, which includes the Sistine Chapel) without waiting in line. This sounded appealing because I had heard that the lines, especially in the busy parts of the year, could get pretty long. However, even with the “exclusive” deal he would give me, it would still cost over 4 times as much as me going myself. I guess it came with a tour as well, but it didn’t seem worth it. I’m glad I didn’t do it, the lines didn’t turn out to be that bad. I probably only waited 30 minutes between the two, and that was mostly to get past security at St. Peter’s Basilica.

The last couple of places I’ve been have been a lot more busy with tourists than the first few places I went to. I can’t imagine what it would be like coming to these places in the summer, which is peak season. I feel like it would be so awful to have to jockey with even more people. I think I would have to do very non-touristy things if I came at a different time in order to avoid everyone. Paris, which was next, seemed especially bad.

I liked seeing the ancient part of the city. Since everything there was at least hundreds of years old, many over 2000 years, it made me wonder what it was like just a couple of hundred years ago before it was a tourist attraction. Could you just go and pick up ancient ruins? If that was the case, how is any of it still there? I know whether over thousands of years can do a lot of damage, but it was still surprising to me how little of many of the buildings there was. Viscerally, it feels like a little rain and wind shouldn’t be able to do too much to a solid granite building. And finally, there was still some areas getting excavated, which made me wonder entire buildings could get completely covered in dirt. And how they haven’t been found yet since Rome has had 2000 years to excavate the area. Here’s a photo from the area, showing some of the buildings and ruins. I wonder if those scattered pillars and things are original, which seems incredible to me that they wouldn’t have been taken, or if they were placed there after the area became a tourist attraction.
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The next day I went to Vatican City. I thought was it was a really nice, but it would be really incredible to come as a Catholic. It’s a very impressive display of Catholic beauty, power, and wealth. Everything is just very ornate and decorative.

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Miscellaneous photosIMG_6399   IMG_6379

Barcelona, Spain

Well, getting to Barcelona was the longest bus ride of my life, 26 hours of joy. The bus was supposed to have wifi, but I’ve learned that when a bus is supposed to have wifi, I seem to only get wifi for about half of the trip.

It was strange, at one point pretty early in the morning, the bus just pulled off into a gas station. It wasn’t a normal stop because the doors never opened and the bus driver never made an announcement. After about 25 minutes of sitting in idle, there were police lights flashing behind the bus. Some police officers came onto the bus and one man grabbed his stuff and walked away with them. I have no idea why. There didn’t seem to be any reason to single him out. I never saw any of the bus employees talking to him.

Many of the times that I’ve crossed into Germany or France, the bus has stopped so that some border patrol officers could check everyone’s passports. At one of these stops, one person didn’t have the proper paperwork or visa and had to get off the bus with the officers. That would be pretty sucky.

I lost 100 euros because of one of these stops. I usually kept my debit card and 100 euros in my passport in case something happened to my wallet. At the stops, I would take them out so I could give just my passport to the officer. At one of these stops, I must have put them down on the seat and forgotten about them. I didn’t realize they were missing until after I got off the bus in Barcelona. Fortunately, the bus wasn’t going anywhere right away, so I was able to ask the bus driver if he found them. He had my debit card but, of course, he said there wasn’t 100 euros with it. But I was more worried about getting my debit card, since I didn’t have any other way to withdraw money, so I guess it’s okay.

Barcelona felt pretty touristy, like Prague. There is a big street called La Rambla that is a strip filled with stores. Most of them are clothes or souvenir shops, but there was a little bit of everything. Every time I walked around this street, it was packed with people. At all of these stores, the owner would stand in the doorway, usually smoking, and then follow you into the store if you walked in. I thought it was annoying. It always felt like they were following me around to make sure I didn’t shoplift. Every other street seemed to be made up of a souvenir shop, a market, and a restaurant. And every restaurant seemed to have the same large picture menu out front, selling the same things. The signs must have been sold in bulk.

The first night I was there, I met Harry. I was on the roof of the hostel, video chatting with my parents when he came up to smoke. He was from South Africa, but was born in the UK. We ended up chatting on the roof for awhile before going to a restaurant and getting pizza that we questioned whether or not it was microwaveable (it still tasted decent.) He was just traveling for fun. He was on a gap of year from school, working in London but was preparing to go to college some time next year. He’s been the first person I’ve met that has been younger than me (he was 19.) Except he still looked at least the same age as me (I seem to assume that everyone is older than me unless they are prepubescent.)

I also met three Egyptian doctors, who shared a room with me. They were doing some traveling before going to America to study for their USMLE exams. In Egypt, you start medical school straight out of high school instead of after college, so they were actually only one and two years older than me. The night I met them, I was in the room about to go get something to eat when one of them said that the hostel was having some event at a bar with free food, you only had the pay for drinks. Since I don’t drink, it seemed like a pretty good way to get free food. And since they were Muslim, it turned out that we were all going for the same reason. After learning that I didn’t drink or smoke, one of them said I was “basically Muslim, bro.” The food didn’t turn out to be very good (it was slices of a baguette with meat, chips, and a crappy pasta dish.) But it still was free.

The next day, the four of us tried to go to the Picasso Museum. However, we all failed to remember/know that it was Monday and many places in Spain are closed on Monday. It only took us getting there to realize that. So we walked to the Arc de Triomf.

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On the way, I learned what the Egyptian way to cross the street was. Basically, it meant crossing the street whenever you wanted, regardless of what the crosswalk sign says. So, in short, I learned how to walk like an Egyptian. The Bangles would be so proud.

After going to the Arc, I had to leave so I could catch my bus to Rome. I did budget some time to stop at the beach as well as a store for some things I needed to get before leaving, but I didn’t budget enough. I left the store with not very much time before my bus left, and I still had to go back to the hostel to get my stuff before taking the metro to the bus station. I got to the metro with about 10 minutes left. When I walked to the platform, I heard some other people talking, saying the train was delayed and they didn’t know when it was going to come. It was possibly going to be 45 minutes. Clearly, I didn’t have that much time. After getting out of the metro station, I walked a little bit and found a taxi. I had heard that some taxi drivers will try to greatly overcharge you and I didn’t really want to deal with that but I was desperate to get to the station. I asked him how much it would be to get there, and when it turned out not to be that much, I had him take me. I got there with about 5 minutes to spare. All of this traveling and close calls have been very exhausting.

Miscellaneous photos:

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Prague, Czech Republic

I missed my bus to Prague.

I thought I set an alarm, since my bus left early the next morning. Apparently not. I woke up about a half hour after my bus was scheduled to leave. Fortunately, I knew that there was more than one daily bus to Prague from Copenhagen, so I was able to get another bus a few hours later.

I got to Prague around 11pm. Trying to get to my hostel turned out to be a larger ordeal than I thought it would. My phone didn’t save the location of the hostel like it should have, so I had to go off of knowing that it was close to a specific plaza. The streets of Prague are pretty windy and confusing, which didn’t help. I also hadn’t had anything decent to eat all day, but it was so late that I didn’t expect anything to be open. Fortunately, I found a pizza place that was open, which might have made it the best pizza I’ve ever had.

Prague was a lot more touristy than all of the places I’ve been to so far. There were people everywhere and every street seemed to have a souvenir shop. Crystal was the big thing in Prague, as well as marionette puppets and Russian stacking dolls. I ended up getting a stacking doll because I think it’s funny that Prague sells tourists an item that is Russian because the tourists think it’s Czech. So I guess it’s an ironic Russian stacking doll.

There were also several large shopping malls and strips. At one of the outdoor strips, there was a pay toilet. It had this warning.IMG_6071 I was wondering how they enforce the only 15 minutes rule. Does the door swing open when your time is up? Or perhaps the toilet shocks you.

Without the Thanksgiving buffer, it’s already Christmas season in Europe. IMG_6099I actually saw Christmas decorations before (you can see some in my photo of Selfie Square in Amsterdam) but this was the first, big amount.

I’ve been trying to think if I can tell a major difference between the cities I’ve been to so far and I don’t know if I can. Except for Frankfurt and Munich, which are more modern because they were heavily bombed in WWII, all the cities, especially the oldest parts of the cities, seem to have this style look. IMG_5917I wish all the people weren’t in this photo, at least the two right in front, but perhaps it’s symbolic of how I thought Prague was more touristy and busy. Maybe Prague was more medieval or ornate than the other cities, like this building. IMG_6061I didn’t actually notice what appears to be a knight slaying a dragon in the center until looking at it on my computer. And it also has the coat of arms going all the way around near the top, which seems unique.

Prague has a castle on one of its hills that overlooks the whole city. Except it wasn’t really one single large building, like Neuschwanstein, but a fortress area surrounded by walls. Here’s a cathedral within the walls.IMG_5981

Some of the beggars in Prague did something I hadn’t seen before. They lie there, prostrate, with their hands or cup stretched out. They stay like that the whole time, until someone gives them money, in which they usually look up to thank them. In this photo, I was trying to do something with the stairs that didn’t turn out to be as cool as I thought, but it happens to show one of them.IMG_6031 I gave this man some of the extra change I had at the time, and he began thanking me in several languages. After I said he was welcome, he asked, “Italia?” When I told him I spoke English, he began telling me in broken English that he was going to use the money food and not alcohol.

Perhaps it makes me a hypocrite with my previous comments about Instagram but look at this thingy. IMG_5931It’s a cinnamon, sugar, almond spiral. I thought it was pretty good. There were several vendors on the street that would sell these.

My roomies this trip were Ashley and Ben, a couple from Australia spending their summer break backpacking. The day I walked around, they went to a temple made of human bones. James from Copenhagen showed me pictures of it a couple of days before. I can’t believe that it exists, it sounds very macabre.

Someone who passed me in a car honked and waved, so apparently I look like some Czech guy.

I also got told to empty one of my pockets by a guy in a store, apparently because my (albeit full) pockets looked suspicious. I decided not to buy something from a place that accused me of stealing.

Prague has a very delicious Cocoa Puffs clone.

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Copenhagen, Denmark

I got to Copenhagen, Denmark Sunday evening. We had to take a ferry in order to get to the island that Copenhagen is on, so at one point I was on a bus on a boat on an ocean (or strait I guess.) I didn’t know Copenhagen was on an island. Basically, this trip has been one expensive European geography lesson.

It’s interesting because the part of Copenhagen near the bus depot where I walked in order to get to my hostel is newer and more commercial, so this is what I saw.

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I could easily believe this picture is of Las Vegas. I felt like I was in familiar territory You might not be able to tell (the photo isn’t very great because it was at night) but there is a 7/11, Burger King and McDonald’s all in a row. 7/11 is actually fairly common in Copenhagen, I probably saw 4 or 5 while I was there, which I think is a strange franchise to have been exported. I’ve since learned that 7/11 is also in Malaysia. Besides the occasional 7/11, the rest of Copenhagen has what seems to be the standard European look of brick buildings with brick roads and isn’t this American looking.

I had planned on doing another walking tour the next day but it turned out that the place where I thought we were supposed to meet was completely wrong. I have no idea where I got the incorrect address, because when I thought about it, it didn’t make much sense. Having missed my tour and without anything else to do, I walked around aimlessly, a pretty common activity.

All of the cemeteries I’ve seen in Europe have been really interesting. They usually have a squared off part in front to plant flowers or place mementos. For example, this is a cemetery I saw in Slovenia about a month ago.

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In Copenhagen, I walked through a cemetery that had many plots similar to that but this is one of the more original grave sites I saw.

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I also saw the pride of Copenhagen (not really), the Little Mermaid statue.

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According to my tour guide the next day, it is the second most disappointing European tourist attraction after Mannekin Pis, the statue of the peeing child in Brussels (in Brussels, my tour guide said Mannekin Pis was the second most disappointing European tourist attraction after the Mona Lisa.) I wasn’t too disappointed because I didn’t have very high expectations to begin with. I didn’t even know about the statue until I got here, but apparently it gets hyped up quite a bit, even though it’s just a statue. Hans Christian Andersen, the author of The Little Mermaid and several other popular fairy tales, was from Copenhagen so there are several things relating to him around the city.

At the Little Mermaid statue, I thought this guy was funny. He’s taking a selfie on his phone while wielding a huge shoulder cannon camera (with stylish fuzzy thingy!) and another camera around his neck.

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The big camera looks like a nice video camera, but I don’t know what he’d be video taping, nothing exciting was going on.

Having been a tourist for the past 2 months, I have thought quite a bit about what the appropriate level of photographing is. I know that cameras now being cheap and small, allowing essentially everyone the ability to take pictures at any time, is a good thing. However, I do believe there can be too much photographing. I’m always surprised at some of my (I assume) fellow tourists’ need to document every second of their trip, and as a related side note, their compulsion to make sure they’re in as many photos as possible. While it’s nice to have things to help remember the trip, I feel that too many photos just leads to pictures of stupid things you won’t care to look at after the trip. Every time I pull out my phone, I have a self conscious wondering if I’m being an overly, photo-happy tourist. Overall, I think I’ve been pretty conservative with my photo taking.

I do consider this different from people who are actually interested in photography (Dad). For them, a big part of their enjoyment of the trip, and perhaps a large justification for going, comes from taking many photos. And their photos are also likely to be more interesting. Basically, I’m advocating for anything that leads to less pictures of food on Instagram.

This is the royal courtyard.IMG_5784

From left to right, you have the Prince’s house, the Queen’s house, the guest house, and the Prince’s younger brother’s house. Apparently the Dane’s don’t like the younger brother too much. His first marriage ended in divorce, which left a royal palace and yacht with the ex-wife, which would be a pretty sweet deal if you ask me. If you look closely, you can see little men, with larges rifles and large fuzzy hats, in the background. Unlike the guards outside Buckingham Palace, they can move and talk to you. I got a Dikembe Mutombo finger wag from one, for what I’m not entirely sure. I think it might have been for leaning up against one of the columns you see on the far right.

Dinner that night was two donuts from The Donut Shop, a place I just happened to pass in my wanderings. They were both awesome. One of them had a blueberry frosting with coconut flakes on top and the other was caramel. It’s always nice to have American comfort food in Unamerica.

That night, I met Other James at the hostel, a fellow James, as well as a fellow American. He is a native Texan getting his PhD in sports science in Australia. He was on summer break, so he was visiting his girlfriend in Prague (which was a coincidence since Prague was my next destination) for most of it, but had a conference related to his schooling in Copenhagen that week. We went and got food at a cafe together. We first tried to eat at an African place, but it apparently half of the menu, including all of the things we wanted to try, wasn’t available, so we left. So much for trying to be adventurous.

I did the official tour I was meant to do the next day. Copenhagen’s history seems to be dominated by fires and warring with Sweden. I don’t think anything else significant happened that day. There was more wandering, a little shopping. But I didn’t die, so I guess that’s nice.

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Amsterdam, Netherlands

My bus to Amsterdam was a few hours late, but I still had some time that night to walk around after dropping my stuff off. I didn’t really know where I was going, I just picked a direction and started walking. I got my first, brief exposure to the red light district. I passed a few women who were standing in the typical windows with the red lights around them. I got the more complete view of what the red light district was like the next day. To me, the red light district was no more debaucherous than what you’d see in Las Vegas. And it felt like the streets were a lot nicer and safer.

 

The next day was spent wandering more of the city. I did stop at another flea market and got more goodies. Flea markets are awesome for getting cheap souvenirs. And there’s weird things you probably wouldn’t get at a regular store. Other streets had lots of little, quaint, funny, or strange stores. I saw a store dedicated to juggling. And another to cats. Many of the streets I saw looked like this, brick buildings with brick ground.

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And this photo also has another Amsterdam trade mark, a coffeeshop. Cafes are for coffee and coffeeshops are for marijuana (and probably coffee.) I also saw lots of other marijuana-themed items at some stores, including pipes, grinders, lollipops, cookies, and ice cream. I guess you got to pander to the tourists.

 

Amsterdam is filled with canals and bridges, so these photos are also representative of what I saw in Amsterdam pretty much everywhere I went.

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Somewhere in my wanderings, I ended up at Dam Square, or as I’ve renamed it, Selfie Square.

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I saw soooo many people taking selfies. They might be hard to see, but this is one of a couple using one of those long, telescoping poles.

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And here’s a twofer.

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And here’s me taking a selfie of people taking a selfie. How meta!

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And here’s Mom’s worst nightmare: people actually trying to interact with pigeons.

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The pigeons were very human acclimated. People were getting them to go onto their hands and shoulders. I also saw one land on someone’s backpack as he was walking away.

 

I didn’t know this before, but Amsterdam is known for having several windmills. I thought they were nice, but nothing spectacular. The seemed kind of small. However, I didn’t go to the more famous windmills so that could be part of the reason. But I did get some cool pictures at one of the windmills, including this one.

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Another thing I didn’t know before coming is that everyone rides bicycles. There were still plenty of cars on the streets, but you’d see way more bicyclists. The huge, multi-story parking lot outside of Central Station is not for cars but for bikes. There are bike lanes on most of the side walks so you have to be very careful about not walking in them. This is one of the smaller bike parking lots I saw.

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I had planned on going on a tour the next day, but I got to invited to hang out with two people I met at my hostel, so I did that instead. It was Mike and Alisa, a couple from Germany that came for a weekend getaway. Alisa was studying interior design and Mike was studying electrics but also was a model. They were both into fashion, so we mostly walked around a market, looking at clothes. I also tried a red currant for the first time. In the afternoon, they had to go check in to the new hotel they were staying at that night. We were supposed to meet up in few hours later but they never got back to me. It gave me more time to wander, including back to the flea market to buy a bag that I saw the previous day.

Just some side notes that didn’t fit my narrative: their metro tickets are pretty cool. Instead of being the paper tickets that you’d insert into a slot to get past the barrier like I’ve mostly seen, they have a chip in them so you just had to tap it near a sensor. I’d seen that before in Salt Lake for a month pass, but not for every ticket, including the one trip tickets. Also, there are stands with these delicious pastries called oliebollen, which is oil ball. I guess in English their called Dutch doughnuts but I’ve never heard of them. They’d come with powdered sugar on them or fruit fillings.

 

I am currently on my bus to Copenhagen. It’s a 12 hour ride. But the bus has WiFi, how neat is that!

Misc photos. The first is exactly the same as the photo above, I just liked this version I made when tweaking with it settings.

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Brussels, Belgium

So, as stated before, Brussels began with my emergency hostel stay. The actual hostel that I had planned on staying at the next two nights ended up being super nice. It was basically this man’s condo downtown, except that it was several stories and spacious and felt more like a house. It’ll probably be the nicest hostel I’ll stay at, and it didn’t cost much more than all of the other options in Brussels.

 

I’ve learned that no matter how hard you try to plan things, you should expect that things won’t go as planned. After checking into the hostel, I went to the bus station to get my next ticket for when I left Brussels in a few days before beginning my activities for that evening. The plan was to leave for Oslo, Norway on Thursday. When I got to the ticket counter, I was told there was no bus to Oslo on Thursday, only Wednesday (the next day) or Friday. Once again, my bus company has been incompetent. See, I’m not crazy.

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I don’t know where the disconnect is between the website and reality. I didn’t want to go the next night because I already had the hostel booked. Leaving Friday also didn’t work because I wouldn’t get to Oslo until late Saturday evening and the bus leaving Oslo only goes Fridays and Sundays, which would give me no time to see Oslo. I had to reorganize my entire trip. After some planning and rearranging, Oslo was no longer in the picture and instead my next destination became Amsterdam. One good thing that came from all of this is that the new itinerary has a more logical sequence of countries that minimizes long drives between cities.

 

After the bus debacle, I had planned to walk to the Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée, aka, the comic strip museum. It talked about the history of comics, the drawing process, the printing process, genres, and Belgian artists. Before, I only had a vague knowledge of the Tintin comics, but apparently it’s a big deal here since the creator was Belgian. There was also a section devoted to the Smurfs, which I also didn’t know was Belgian.

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After the museum, I took a scenic route back to the hostel. I got my first Belgian waffle at a stand. Ironically (I believe this is a correct use of irony), the most common kind of waffle in Brussels (and all of Belgium) is the Liege waffle, named after another Belgian city. I don’t exactly know what the taste difference is, but Brussels waffles are square while Liege waffles are rounded and with a little difference in texture. Belgian waffles don’t come with syrup, but they can have different flavored glazes. The first one I got was apple-cinnamon, so it tasted similar to an apple fritter. However, I learned later that that was not the proper way to get a Belgian waffle, that they shouldn’t be adulterated with the additional flavors. I eventually paid my penance and got the plain waffle, which still has a sugar glaze on it. It was also really good.

 

The next day, I basically walked for 8 hours straight. There was a flea market that I wanted to go to, but it was a relatively far away (all in all, Brussels isn’t very large.) I thought I’d stop at a nearby bus station before going so I could get my newly decided ticket to Amsterdam. After I got to the station, I was told that I could only get the ticket at the station the bus goes out of, which was a different station back where the hostel was. Which, again, is directly conflicting with the information I found on the company’s website about getting tickets. I would have to get the ticket later that night after my other plans.

 

I started heading for the flea market, but as things go, I was heading towards the wrong place and consequently got lost. After some wandering, I was able to find some free WiFi and get back on track. This photo was taken on my way to the market.

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I got to the flea market without any more problems and did my perusing. I ended up buying a safety razor, which I won’t know how to use properly but thought it would be fun to try out.

 

I had just enough time to grab something quick to eat before the free tour I had planned next. I enjoyed the tour; the guide was good and I was able to learn more about the history of Belgium. Basically Belgium’s history is the conflict derived from the convergence of differing cultures, areas and kingdoms.

 

This is probably the most iconic part of Belgium, a peeing child, seen whilst on the tour.

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Somehow, the exact origins of it aren’t known. It seems strange that a fountain would just appear and it’s not known how it got there.

 

This is the opera house and it’s the origin of Belgium’s independence when people began rioting against their Dutch rulers during a play that was going on. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me either.

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This is the Grand Place. It’s where the town hall is (far right building) as well as a historical trading ground and other stuff.

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Finally, just a scenery view. The behemoth building way in the background is the Palace of Justice (the photo I took on the way to the flea market was taken there.)

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I learned from the tour that it’s bigger than St. Peter’s Basilica and only 10% of the building gets used.

 

After the tour, I went to the bus station to get my ticket (finally) and then back to the hostel to rest my tired feet. After resting a little bit, one of the fellow hostelers asked if I wanted to grab some dinner with him. I wasn’t too hungry but thought it would be fun to go. He was able to gather one more person before we left. He was Luigi from Italy (of course), a journalist looking for better employment outside of Italy. The other person who came was Dawna, a Kiwi woman on vacation. She was pretty quiet the whole time but Luigi was very lively and interesting. He was a frequent traveler, had finished another degree in business and finance, and couch surfed for a month in Boston in 2008 so that he could volunteer for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, even though he isn’t an American citizen. We ended up going to a Thai restaurant and talked for awhile. I got a soup that was delicious; it was basically a lighter form of curry with some noodles in it.

 

After we got to the hostel and we went into our rooms (Luigi and I were in the same room but Dawna was in a different one), Luigi told me that he couldn’t understand anything Dawna said the whole night. Since he’s not a native English speaker (even though his English was very good), he couldn’t understand anything over her New Zealand accent. He said he it made it so he wasn’t able to really talk to her or follow up any of his questions, which may have explained why she didn’t talk as much. I didn’t notice at all at the time but I thought it was funny to hear after.

 

The next day, I didn’t do anything besides get some Belgian chocolate to try (they were delicious, but I don’t know if I noticed anything real spectacular about them) before going to the bus station. The previous night, Luigi had said that he heard from someone that there was going to be a political protest in the city and he was correct. And where they held the protest, at least for part of it, was right outside the bus station. I tried asking a few people about what was going on but none of them spoke good enough English to explain it to me. It turns out people are upset about some austerity measures the government is implementing. All over, you’d see people in red and green. They seemed like two different groups but not against each other because everyone was civil towards each other. My support was for the red people because a woman in red gave me chocolate. Basically, it was people making lots of noise by banging things and setting off firecrackers. This video doesn’t accurately portray how loud everything was.

 

 

I don’t understand what was supposed to be accomplished by making lots of noise (apparently part of it did turn to rioting later on.) I also don’t know why they chose to be outside the bus station, but it delayed my bus by 2 hours. And even after all the people left the bus station, we still had to walk probably a mile to get to where the bus was parked since it couldn’t get all the way to the station. Again, things not going as planned.

 

The bus ride to Amsterdam was short, only three hours. On the ride, I got to meet two fellow young people. There was Louis from Canada who was traveling frequently during his study abroad for law school in France and Hannah from Germany who was studying international relations at a university in the Netherlands. We got to Amsterdam late, but still alive.

 

Extraneous photo:

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