A Travellerspoint blog

San Sebastian and Madrid including Valdelavilla

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Monday september 7th was moving day with all the extra luggage (bottles of wine) we headed for the station and a 2 hour train trip to San Sebastian Spain. San Sebastian is a beautiful town with really nice beaches and vivid blue water. Our hotel is just a block off the beach and almost everything is within walking distance, a great spot!

Once again we did the great chase for a SIM card and with nobody in the shops speaking English (naturally), it made the chase even harder. We eventually purchased a Spanish SIM card and some credit which was good because Liz gets a little agitated if she doesn’t have lines of communication with the kids.

We had a little siesta before heading out for dinner at about 8.00pm (a little early by local standards). We decided on a restaurant meal instead of Tapas because we wanted to sit down and have something a little more substantial. We had a nice meal including some paella and were pleasantly surprised when our wine was included in the meal price. We wandered around the old part of the city and visited some tourist shops that were still open at 10.30pm before wandering back along the promenade to our hotel.

Tuesday was another bright sunny day so we decided to do the climb to the Castillo de la Mota early before it got too hot. This was a strenuous climb but the views from the castle were spectacular. The climb up and the walk down provided a good day’s exercise after a big dinner last night. Once down we walked around the northern headland and back through the old part of the city for a baguette lunch.

After lunch we walked to the other side of the city whose beach opened directly onto the Atlantic Ocean. Liz walked down along the beach and said the water was pretty cold (probably explained why the surfers were wearing steamers!) but there were lots of people on the beach sunbathing. The beach culture is very different with few umbrellas and no sun shelters present and many people exposing plenty of skin to the sun; most women sunbathed topless regardless of age.

In the afternoon I laid down for a siesta and rested my aching knees while Liz decided to go to the beach to get some sun and read. However when she returned she hadn’t been able to resist the water and had gone for a swim. The bay side beaches she said had warmer water than the ocean side and she really enjoyed her plunge in the Atlantic.

During the evening we went out for a walk around the old town again and tried some tapas which were only OK and eventually settled on a restaurant that specialised in paella. Liz had a vegetarian and I had the mixed, which was full of mussels, squid, spare ribs and prawns, which was washed down with a nice rosé. We had a good walk back to the hotel along the promenade stopping to take some photos on the way.

Wednesday came around eventually (our room has no natural light so no sun coming through the window to indicate morning) and we firstly went to the station to make our reservation for the train to Madrid on Thursday. Seat booking for this train were going to cost about €25 each for First Class so this time we chose Second Class, which was €6.50 each – with what you pay for the Eurail Pass paying another €25 is crazy.

This was our last day in San Sebastian so we wanted to check out the western area of the bay, the walk was not as long as we thought which was good. When we reached the end of the path we found a few sculptures but most strangely a feral growling sound – this was actually a half dozen holes in the rock path that were 10cm in diameter which let the air from a blow hole below out (at high tide this would have shot water out). Liz placed her hat over the hole and for a second thought she might lose it as the air sucked in before the exhale that shot her hat about 3 metres in the air, much to the people near-bys delight!

We then took the funicular (uphill tram/train) to Monte Igueldo which had a fun-fair at the top but more importantly it had magnificent views of the bay. We took many photos and had a walk around the hilltop, the funfair was mostly closed so we didn’t stay long before getting the funicular back down. Once down the bottom we walked back around the bay and stopped for lunch at a beachside cafe – great views but mediocre food Liz did enjoy the fresh OJ!

Afternoon is always time for siesta but Liz decided on a swim instead while I again rested the dicky knees.

It is Thursday so its moving day with our entire luggage packed we hit the streets for the 15 minute walk to the station. Our train departed for Madrid at 8.40am so it was an early start for our 4 ½ hour journey, we began slowly travelling about 120km/h for the first 2 ½ hours but then hit 250km/h for the rest of the journey – I knew this because they had a digital display in each carriage. Eventually we arrived in Madrid and set about finding out way to the Metro with our heavy bags. Once we had arrived at the metro station it was a matter of determining which line to take to get to the closest station to out accommodation – Number 10 Line to Nuevos Ministerios. On arriving at the station we took the wrong entrance to the surface and ended up on the wrong side of a major road. Liz eventually sent me off to scout the streets to ensure we didn’t have to carry the bags in the wrong direction. Once I found the correct street we walked/dragged the bags the 20 minute walk to the Hotel.

We had paid a little extra for this hotel as it had a ‘full’ American kitchenette, WIFI and was close to our departure point for our Vaughantown experience. The hotel had no microwave, the WIFI was €6.00 an hour and the place was 4 metro stops on 2 lines from the departure point (OK the last one was my fault for not reading the map well enough). It was a nice apartment with a living room and separate bedroom but the area was very noisy at night so you couldn’t leave the windows open.

Over the next two days we visited the city centre, a number of monuments, the Egyptian temple and the Palace Real. Liz did a great change in the park after realizing the day was much hot than she envisaged. Luckily we had come across a street market that sold some clothing which allowed her to buy a dress that she changed into out of her long pants and long sleeved top. She also stopped along a crowded street and got a foot massage from a street vendor.

We had a good paella meal with some sangria at a restaurant in Mayor Plaza which sounded reasonable until we got the €50 bill – the downfall was three large sangria costing €20 which seemed excessive. We once again checked out all the tourist shops around the place and purchased some small mementos.

Over all Madrid was OK but nothing really outstanding. I think Liz enjoyed the opportunity to remember some Spanish from her days on exchange in the US. Daily she would remember a number of words and their meanings as she saw signs or heard people on the street or in shops.

Saturday night was the tapas reception for the Vaughantown program we almost stuffed it up as we both thought it started at 7.00pm (on the original emails) but had changed to 5.00pm when the venue changed so we arrived a fashionable hour late! We meet a number of Australians who were also doing the program as well as some Americans and English.
After the reception we went to meet Ashlee at the metro station, as she was joining us at Vaughantown for the week, before returning to the Hotel to get a good night’s sleep as we needed to be at the departure point at 9.30am Sunday morning. The Vaughantown program aims to improve the English skills of Spanish business people and others by immersing them in a totally English speaking environment. Our job was the speak English to them in one on ones, group sessions and over meals for 6 days while they provide us with accommodation and meals for the duration of the program.

Sunday morning we arrived at the departure point right on 9.30am and waited with the Anglos (the Vaughantown term for we English speakers) who we’d meet the night before for the Spaniards who looked a little nervous and bewildered at meeting all these people who would take them out of their comfort zone. The bus trip was interesting as we were paired Anglo and Spaniard for the trip to start the learning process. We travelled north for 2 hours by bus before stopping at a small community for lunch (the Spanish lunch break is 2 hours long) before jumping in the bus for the final 2 hours. We arrived at an isolated village, Valdelavilla, that had been deserted but VaughanSystems had purchased and renovated it specifically for these programs. There was no mobile reception and really no way to spend money (except at the bar at night) so it was good for saving us some money from later in the trip.

After settling into our 3 bedroom/2 bathroom villa (low ceiling and narrow winding steps for fun), we’re sharing with Ashlee, we headed for orientation and our first of 2 one on ones before dinner. Getting used to the times for this program will be a challenge as breakfast is at 9.00am (very civilised), lunch at 2.00pm followed by siesta until 5.00pm and dinner at 9.00pm with the in between times filled with one on ones, group activities, phone one on ones, group teleconference calls, rehearsals for evening entertainment and presentations. Basically everyone is totally stuffed by lunchtime from the constant talking but we soldier on. It is fun and interesting speaking to the Spaniards who are at first reluctant to speak but eventually loosen up to discuss a myriad of subjects in English.

As the week progressed we all became comfortable with each other and the Spaniards language skills improved. Each meal time was fun as we had 3 courses with wine as desired and in the evenings before our 9.00pm dinner we had entertainment done by various members of the group, I did a skit based on the 4 Yorkshiremen from the Monty Python guys (Liz said I just can’t act but I thought I wasn’t too bad!) one night and the Smith Family made up the Anglo section of a tongue twister game against the Spaniards – Ashlee and I had to do Spanish tongue twisters while Liz was luck as she had to read ‘Sally sells sea shells................’ the Smith family rose to the challenge to win (how I’ll never know as my attempt was pathetic – perhaps I got a sympathy vote or two!). Ashlee was involved in a group that did a couple of improv performances that were very funny and I taught everyone to do the Heel and Toe Polka and Queensland Backstep bush dances.

Overall the experience at Valdelavilla was very rewarding and good fun as we meet some good people from across the world. While the days were long and tiring I was pleased to have been involved with such a great bunch of people.

The final day was really great fun as we had a group activity, a pub quiz, followed by a live radio broadcast to promote the program for Vaughansystems (only 2 selected Anglos and 2 Spaniards spoke), a presentation ceremony and another good lunch before getting into the coach for the long trip back to Madrid. We had such a good time together that we even organised to have dinner together in Madrid with some of the others. We visited a Tapas bar which Kelly and Jim (English newlyweds) had visited before and had a good meal and plenty of Sangria before calling it a night at around 11.30pm.

Posted by lizanddave 08:43 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Le Man and Bordeaux

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Our apartment in Le Mans was a good option as it was inexpensive, only a 5 minute walk from the station and had a kitchenette for self catering. We walked into the city centre and checked out the old city which was very old with narrow streets with stone walks and buildings. It was a nice walk after lugging the bags about railway stations and sitting on trains.
Wednesday we journeyed to Bayeaux about 2 hours by train to the north. Bayeaux is in Normandy and has two major tourist attractions – firstly the memorial to the serviceman from the world wars and secondly a tapestry dating back to 1077 depicting the history of William the Conqueror and his rise to power. We visited the tapestry which is 70 metres long and very fragile, it is kept behind glass in a light and humidity controlled cabinet. We had to queue to enter the large room where it is kept, you had to keep silent and no photos were allowed. We were given an audio-guide that explained the tapestry as it flows along its length. Very interesting piece of fabric which is in amazingly good shape considering it’s well over 900 years old. Liz was impressed and was keen to get a souvenir but the tapestry kits which were copies of the main piece were expensive (€70.00 for a 500mm piece including coloured cottons) so she went without.
After visiting the tapestry we walked around the streets of Bayeaux. The town was very tourist oriented with lots of cafes and souvenir shops, the prices in other shops was fairly high so the locals must go elsewhere or are well off. We had a good lunch in a cafe - omelettes for mains, crepes with Grand Marnier and chocolate sauce for dessert all washed down with a carafe of Rosé. After lunch it was back to the station for the 2 hour trip back to Le Mans.

Thursday was travelling day as we moved further south to Bordeaux. The trip involved an hour long Intercity train before changing to a TGV (fast) train for the 2 ½ trip to Bordeaux. Once we arrived it was time to catch a tram (first time on the trip) to reach our hotel which was built in an old wine warehouse. It has all the conveniences of the previous hotel except a little better standard.

During the afternoon we took the tram to the Tourist Information office to check out local wine tours. We selected two day tours – Saturday is the Wine Harvest in Haute-Gironde (from the vineyard to the bottle) and Sunday a walking tour along the Garonne River (visiting vineyards along the way). So our time in Bordeaux is all planned so now it’s a matter of being at the right spot to catch the tours. Whoops; we’ve just received a message that the Wine Harvest tour has been cancelled because they aren’t picking the grapes yet – damn!

Friday I put my foot down and insisted to Liz that we have a rest day. Liz is so keen to see everything that we never get a chance to sit still. So we sat around reading until mid-day when we took the tram to the main train station to reserve our seats for the trip to San Sebastian (Spain) on Monday. After getting this done we walked back to the town centre stopping along the way for Liz to play in the water features – did her usual walking on water routine! We also checked in at the Tourism Centre to see if we could book another tour for Saturday or get a refund, luckily they had places on the Sauterne Tour for Saturday and we got it at a discounted rate because our other tour had been cancelled. After a salad baguette at a local cafe we went back to our hotel to rest for our busy weekend.

Saturday was an early start for us, (we’ve become a little slack) having to be at the Tourism Centre at 9.00am for out Sauternes Tour. This tour took us by coach about an hour south to the area of Bordeaux where sweet white wines (Sauternes) are produced. Our guide Brigitte was excellent and gave the tour in English which was a great help. We meet a father and daughter travelling together from Perth, a young physiotherapist from Melbourne and a Japanese man and his son who are moving to the Gold Coast for a year. The first stop was Chateau de Malle which was a 17th Century chateau and part of the tour included a look through the buildings and gardens before tasting two of their sweet white wines. Their idea of a taste is half a glass, so we had a full glass of wine before 11.00am – that’s the sort of day it was going to be!

The second place we stopped was Chateau Guiraud which was a large vineyard and we had a look at the vines, and were taken through the process by which the wine is crushed, processed and bottled. Then it was time to taste (again half glass each tasting, and these were not small glasses) two wines, a 3 year old and 5 year old sauterne which were very sweet. Luckily this was the venue for lunch as well (included in the cost of the tour) as the wine was starting to have an effect. The lunch was a real shock as I’d expected buffet with salads, cold meats and baguettes but what we got was a 4 course lunch with wines for each course and a formally set table. It was a great lunch and by the end I was feeling little pain.

Lastly we visited Chateau Caillou in the Barsac where we again were taken through the process of wine production and had tasting – only one type this time. We were starting to feel the day by the time we headed back to Bordeaux arriving at 5.45pm.

Sunday we headed off at 9.00am to join a walking tour along the Garonne River, it was a 45 minute bus ride from Bordeaux to the Entre-deux-Mers drop-off point. The weather was sunny and about 26oC which was good and also bad as we had a 2 hour / 6 km walk to the Chateau de Grand-Branet for our first wine tasting and lunch. Once again we had some Australians on the tour, which is always good, and a variety of other nationalities Japanese, Irish, American, Dutch, German and so on. Lunch was a lot different to the Sauterne tour as we had some smoked duck, foir gras and pate with white asparagus, gooseberry jam and plenty of bread. We also had rosé and Vieilli en Fût de Chêne (mixture of merlot & sauvignon grapes) with our lunch. It was a pleasant meal but not really my style.

After lunch we started the long walk back to the starting point but we took a totally different route which once again took us through the vines. With lunch settled and a fair sweat developed we made our way to the area’s largest vineyard Chateau de Marsan (it actually own about a dozen Chateaus and bottles more than 2 million bottles per year) for a tour and tasting. The tour was similar to the one we had done previously at every vineyard. The tasting however was good as we got to taste a white, rosé, two reds and a sweet white so by the time we finished we were a little tipsy – Liz kept saying that she needed some cheese and biscuits to really enjoy the experience – after all it was about 5.00pm and we had been walking for a few hours.

We eventually left the Entre-deux-Mers area about 45 minutes later but no one was complaining and lots of bottles where tinkling in the bus on the way back – a good day was had by all. We even had an assistant guide who joined us along the way, a medium sized poodle who stayed with us the entire walk, had lunch with us and stayed until we returned to the bus, the guide said he hadn’t seen the dog before but he was friendly and led the way checking for vicious dogs and so on. On the way we came across a hunting party – it was the first day of hunting season, I don’t know what they were hunting and didn’t want to engage them in conversation.

Posted by lizanddave 08:01 Archived in France Comments (1)

Paris in September

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Loaded with all our luggage we left Brussels for Paris. Once again we journeyed by train, firstly two Inter-City trains to get us to Lille (France) without having to pay a reservation fee and then by the TGV fast train to Paris (we did have to pay the reservation fee but it was only €3.00 each). We had already checked out roughly how to get to our hotel so we jumped on the Metro for our short hop to Les Halles station (actually went one station too far and had to back track).

Our hotel (The Karraz) lived up to reviews (steep narrow steps and no elevator) but we are in a nice bohemian studio in central Paris. The stairs are much like many of the steps we’ve encountered in castles across the UK – narrow and spiraled with mostly poor lighting and a good chance of breaking your neck if you lose concentration! The studio is a good size and has a kitchenette and digital TV. The shower is so small you would have to see it to believe. Hot water is not always available – sometimes yes; sometimes no. However the location is excellent.

After a brief recovery from lugging the baggage up the stairs we ventured out into the streets which were very busy. There are plenty of cafes, restaurants and shops within a couple of streets so we just explored. Tried out a café for some lunch and Liz was a little annoyed at the pace they did things – it’s French things perhaps? We also chased down a phone SIM card as the roaming costs from by mobile where starting to add up – this proved a problem as Liz wanted data for her iPhone but the French haven’t started doing that yet, let alone for pre-paid!!!

After an interesting night that involved the restaurant downstairs rocking on until the early hours of the morning and the couple in the apartment above having at domestic at 6.30am, so we slept in until 8.30am. After a quick breakfast we caught the Metro to St Michels to meet up with a free walking tour. This tour was free but a tip was expected at the end - if you liked the tour you paid which was great because generally you paid upfront for a tour you didn’t have a clue about. The tour was in English, our guide was actually an American who had married a girl from Paris and had been doing tours for a year or so, he was relatively young and easy to understand.

We visited a number of sites including the St Michel Fountain, the Cathedral de Notre Dame (from a distance), the Louvre, statue of Joan of Arc, the Jardin des Tuileries (gardens), a walk along the Seine, the Champs-Elysees, the Arc de Triomphe, and viewed the Eiffel Tower from afar. This tour involved a 3 ½ hour of walking around and the weather was sunny and hot (24oC). The Louvre had an incredibly long queue (1 km) as it was the first Sunday of the month so the museum was free to enter – crazy queue!!

After the walking tour we decided to visit the Eiffel Tower as it was only a further 15minute walk. The crowd around the tower was immense but supposedly pretty normal. So we queued for about 30 minutes to buy the tickets, then another 10 minutes to get to the elevator. As the elevator started to rise Liz got a little nervous and by the time we reach the second level (115m) she had a tight grip on my arm and is nearly pushing me through the doors of the elevator. After a walk around the second level we then had to queue to go in another elevator to the top. Liz wasn’t keen but she was determined to go all the way to the top because she’d paid for it. In the elevator on the way to the top Liz attached herself to a hand grip and my arm like a clamp, has closed her eyes and is muttering (telling everyone I made her come up). The attendant and other passengers didn’t know whether to laugh or be terrified by this crazy woman. When we made the top Liz was slinking along the walk trying not to get close to the edge, she did eventually go to the edge so she could get a picture to prove she made it all the way to the top. After this we queued again for the trip down which was a little better than the way up – just!

We walked back to the Metro caught the right train (remarkably) and changed to another train to get us back to Les Halles station without getting lost. Dinner in a café near the hotel gave us the chance to sit back, drink wine and watch the comings and goings on the street – a delightfully peaceful way and Parisian way to end the day.

Monday was a little overcast and drizzly. We started with a long wait at the Phone shop as Liz’s new SIM card just wasn’t operating. A young woman in line assisted us; she spoke a little English while the guy at the shop spoke none. Eventually all was worked out and we started our day at noon by walking to the Cathedral de Notre Dame and joining the hundreds of other tourists who marveled at the architecture and history of the place. We were amazed at how a service was still being held while all the tourists wandered around the building.

Next was the Louvre which had the long queues the day before but we were lucky and only had a 15 minute wait to get through security and another 20 minutes to get the tickets. While the museum was impressive in size we chose only a few things to visit: Mona Lisa (L. de Vinci), The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon I (J. L. David), The Wedding Feast at Cana (Veronese), a statue of The Winged Victory of Samothrace, Venus de Milo/Aphrodite, Psyche and Cupid (A Canova), Captive – the dying slave (Michelangelo) and other painting and sculptures as we struggled through the crowds. Liz really enjoyed the works of art but I was somewhat ambivalent – yes they were impressive (especially the size of David’s paintings and the history/story of the Mona Lisa) but I was not moved by the works at all.

I was impressed by the inverted glass pyramid (seen in the movie The da Vinci Code). The size and power of the object made my visit to the Louvre – you can find this just past the Starbuck on the way to the Metro. I was astounded by the commercialization of the Louvre with Starbucks and a shopping centre underneath one of the most famous museums in the world.

After the museum it was time for some retail therapy as it was our last day in Paris. We visited a number of tourist shops and found a few trinkets to remember our visit.

Once we walked back to the Hotel we did some Googling to find accommodation in our next port of call – Le Mans before hitting the Metro for a trip to Montmartre (the red light district) from which were doing a walking tour – same group that did the free tour on Sunday except this tour cost €12 each but we got a glass of wine at the end. The tour left from near the Moulin Rouge and visited the area where many famous artists lived included Picasso, Dali and van Gough. We walked through a small square were many artists would do your portrait (for a cost) some of which were very good. This was also a place of many pick-pockets according to our guide. Our guide’s name was Jacqui and she was from Melbourne!

This was a good tour taking about 2 ½ hours (started about 6.15am) with a little walking and some fun along the way. It was in English and we only had 11 people – mostly Australians with some Americans. At the conclusion of the tour we walked back to the Metro Blanche near the Moulin Rouge where we took some photos of the red windmill all lit up (couldn’t afford the ticket to go to the show €150 each dinner and show).

Tuesday was a moving day; from Paris to Le Mans with the added problem of a transport strike on the trains. Luckily the strike only meant that there was a reduction in service so we could still get to our main station on the Metro before catching the TGV to Le Mans. However, the rule of using a eurail pass is that you must reserve tickets/ seat allocations for the faster trains – the problem being, the strike meant there was nothing open so we could make the reservation. We were told to just get on the train and plead our case with the conductor and hope for the best, (at least that’s what we thought we were being told). Luckily First Class had a lot of empty seats so the conductor was OK.
After arriving at 1.00pm in Le Mans we realised our hotel was closed between 12.30 and 3.00pm so went and sat on the river bank in the shade; read a book and typed up this blog. Whilst there was no problem in doing this; the fact that we had to do it is because we are staying in cheaper style hotels that only have someone in reception for a couple of hours every day. We are getting use to all these quirks and only adds to the experience.

Posted by lizanddave 11:00 Archived in France Comments (0)

Belgium - Brussels, Bruges and Antwerp

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Arrived in the mid afternoon and eventually worked out that the Eurail Pass didn’t cover the Brussels Metro. Worked out which station we needed to get to and purchased the required ticket (only €3.40 for 2 tickets –cheap). The station signage confused us for a while but we got the right train and arrived at the correct station –Louise. Our hotel turned out to be about 50m down the road which was great.

We went for a nice walk around the local streets which was great to stretch the legs. We also found out that Belgium doesn’t have pre-paid SIM cards that contain data which was a real pain as we’ve become very reliant on Liz’s iPhone.

Wednesday had a slow start as the train trip and associated travel took more out of us than anticipated so we rose a 9.00am and started our days exploration of Brussels mid morning. Firstly we walked to a section of town that had a large square used for a Flea Market. Liz really enjoyed looking at all the stuff – usual Flea market stuff, while I was uncomfortable with some of the shady types hanging around.

We did a lot of walking with visits to Place Poelaert-Plein (had an amazing golden dome on its roof), the Royal Palace (did a tour but the only area of the Palace that was impressive was the ballroom which was massive and had 11 huge chandeliers), the Grand Place Grote Markt (a huge square surrounded by restaurants, chocolatiers and tourist shops), Manneken Pis fountain (fountain of a boy pissing) and walked many of the shopping streets.

We had a nice lunch in a cafe on the Grand Place. Liz was ‘adventurous’ with a local beer and vegetarian pizza while I decided a traditional dish of chicken and vegetables in sauce called Waterzooi with a local beer. Mine was delicious while Liz was totally underwhelmed by her pizza.

We had visited many chocolatiers so had a good supply for ‘dinner’.

Thursday we journeyed to Bruges for a little sightseeing. The weather was cool but the sun was shining when we arrived on the train – only took about an hour. After visiting the Tourist Information Centre at the station we took to the streets with the map they provided plus walking toward the church spires we could see above the other buildings.

Liz though Bruges was ‘prettier’ than Brussels and the first thing she wanted to do was a canal cruise around the city. We paid and were first in the queue (not a good thing) as we sat and waited 30 minutes before the guide/captain decided it was time to depart. We were surprised that our tour guide gave the details in English and another language (French I think – how lame is it that I can’t tell the differences in languages!).

After the boat ride we walked to the main square where the famous Belfort (Belfry) was located. This tower is 83m tall and has 366 steps to the top in a tight spiral staircase. Liz and I made it to the top but were a little disappointed that all we could do was look through the windows. The tower bells weren’t operating as they are undergoing refurbishment. It was a good view of the area from the top though! After the climb on Ashlee’s insistence we tried the fries from the two vendors at the entry to the Belfort and while they were good they weren’t anything special – I found it difficult to believe that people were eating them with mayonnaise?

Back down in the square we checked out the many chocolatiers and tourist shops, buying some chocolate (for comparison sake; only to check the difference between Brussels and Bruges) and a couple of huge beer steins. We walked many of the streets and stopped to watch a group of old men play pétanque and boules in a gravel car park next to some expensive Mercedes cars.

Before we left Bruges we decided to give the waffles a try. So seated at a restaurant I ordered waffles with ice-cream, whipped cream and chocolate sauce and Liz had a healthier alternative of waffles with fresh fruit and whipped cream - very tasty but extremely fattening but we are on holidays!

The cloud cover was starting to arrive and it was getting cooler so we decided to walk to the station for the return to Brussels.

Friday it was off to Antwerp for a look see. The Eurail pass is great as you just jump onto the train and the conductor checks it during the journey – no queuing for tickets. It’s also ‘First Class’ which means a separate carriage (or part there of) with a little more leg room and slightly better seating – not much different at all.

Antwerp was about 45 minutes away to the north and is best known as the home of the diamond trade. So our second stop was the diamond district (first stop Starbucks for a Chocolate Creme – haven’t seen a Starbucks in Brussels). This area was underwhelming as the sidewalks had weeds growing through them and the buildings were a little shabby. The security for vehicles to enter the street was impressive – a circle of retractable bollards that looked like they’d stop a tank! The bright and sparkly diamonds were all along the main street from the Station to the old part of the City. Liz loved it while I was bored stupid – a bloke thing “only go shopping if you need to buy something and then get is done fast.”

We wandered around with no real plan just to have a look. There were a huge number of shops selling very expensive everything along the Meir but the older part of the city was restaurants, chocolatiers and souvenir shops. After a while these areas start to look the same – except perhaps the architecture. So after a couple of hours looking around we caught the train back to Brussels for an early day – get organised to travel to Paris tomorrow.

Posted by lizanddave 08:20 Archived in Belgium Comments (1)

London Part 3

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A relaxed start to the day before meeting Ashlee and Dan for lunch in the city. Wandered around Leicester and Trafalgar Squares for a while before walking the Royal Mall to Buckingham Palace. Liz had booked the evening stateroom tour of the palace in January of this year – before we’d even booked our airline tickets to London. Dan, Ashlee’s boyfriend went off to visit a mate somewhere in London.

As chance would have it, Liz met up with Maurice, the man in charge of all palace tours whom she met last week outside Clarence House. The tour was worth the money, a small group with a very knowledgeable guide. The time went very quickly and before we knew it, 2 hours had passed and we were sipping champagne whilst standing on the west terrace overlooking the gardens. BUT the best was yet to come.

Little did we know that when we finished the tour we would then be escorted out the front entrance of Buckingham Palace; directly onto the Mall. Liz was in her element, waving to the crowds, who waved back and then rushed up to her after she passed through the gates wanting to know who she was and why she had been in the palace. Liz had a good time stringing them along by saying we were important people who’d just dropped by to have afternoon tea with her majesty, but we left when the queen went to have her “nanna-nap”.

If only we had known we were leaving via the “front door” we would have sent one of us out and then they could have taken photos of the other two at the archway standing right next to the guard. Oh well… It was a lot of fun.

We travelled back to Embankment on the Tube to meet Dan before he and Ash headed back to Ascot, Liz and I went to Leicester Square and had an alfresco dinner before Tubing it back to Russell Square and Passfield Hall.

Tuesday started with a shock – fire alarms and evacuations into the street (8.30am not too early). Liz was not impressed as she was just heading for breakfast. The Fire Brigade arrived, didn’t show any urgency as they wandered into the building, and five minutes later we were back inside having breakfast – a bloody false alarm. After breakfast we packed everything up again and walked the four blocks to St Pancras International for our Eurostar trip to Belgium.

Don’t know how I’ll feel travelling under the English Channel in a train doing 160km/h or 100mph, but it will be interesting traveling at 300km/h or 180mph on a train.

I’m looking forward to Brussels – Belgian chocolate, beer and waffles!

Posted by lizanddave 04:30 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (1)

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