Saturday, February 22, 2014

Cheers to Amsterdam!

Honestly I didn't know what to expect when I went to Amsterdam. Apart from the major sights to see and a brief viewing of the city map I really didn't know what I was walking into. More than anything I think I had a wonderful education in the area of acceptance and tolerance. Although I am writing this post fairly far after I was in Amsterdam, I must say it is my favorite city I have visited so far. The essence of Amsterdam truly cannot be explained in words. I have tried. Many times and couldn't find the words. Tolerant would probably be the one word to best describe the city. Most people you ask would probably use that same word. That being said, there are some things on this part of my trip that I really can't put into words. I encourage everyone who reads this to visit this city at some point in their life if they have not yet done so.

I arrived in Amsterdam at 8:30 AM. I walked out of the train station straight to the information desk since I really had no idea where in the city I was in relation to my hostel. I purchased the 48 hour tram pass which I learned was extremely good to have. I went straight to the hostel to drop off my luggage and have some breakfast. I found there was a walking tour given by the same company that I had been with in Brussels. I decided that would probably be a good way to learn the history and layout of Amsterdam rather than wandering around on my own. The tour left from the hostel at 10:40 and we headed straight toward Dam Square where the tour would officially begin. Again, I think the tour was a really good idea. The tour guide was from England, not the Netherlands, so I think she wasn't as good as my tour guide in Brussels, but she still did a good job educating us on the city. Unfortunately, for the entirety of the tour it was pouring rain. I quickly learned that my umbrella was useless and basically was destroyed by the wind within the first hour. After the tour finished, our tour guide invited us to have a traditional Dutch meal called Stamppot. Basically this is just a plate of mashed potatoes with vegetables mixed in and your choice of either a pork sausage or beef meatball all covered with gravy. It was not the most appetizing looking meal, but it was very tasty!

After lunch I walked around the city for about an hour and then I decided to go back to the hostel, shower and change into warm, dry clothes. By the time I was ready to head out again (with my raincoat this time) it was almost time for dinner. I found a really nice restaurant that was nearby the hostel. I had decided to sign up for another 2 hour walking tour of just the red light district that started at 7 PM so I had to eat fairly quickly and then make my way to Dam Square. On the tram ride over, the tram I was on was hit by a minivan and so they made everyone get off. No one was hurt, which was good. I just could not believe that happened! If you ever have been to Europe you probably are not too surprised because of the way that the tram is set up on the roads. I started running to make sure I didn't miss the tour. This one was not free!

The tour guide was from Alaska originally and she was very funny. She told us all about when and how the red light district was developed and how it is going to slowly disappear in the next four years. Currently it is a pretty large part of Amsterdam. The city has decided that they want to limit it to one road rather than several. One thing I did not know before coming to Amsterdam was that prostitution is legal. One of the reasons why I say that Amsterdam is tolerant. We learned all about how the industry works there. I was also amazed to learn that the city had spent $4 million on security cameras throughout the red light district making it an incredibly safe place to be. There hasn't even been a murder in Amsterdam in 5 years! One of the reasons I think I liked Amsterdam so much was because I felt so incredibly safe the entire time I was there. Unfortunately, I have not felt this way in every place I have visited (I just compensate for this by heading  home early). After the tour I walked around a little bit more and then finally headed back to the hostel. I sat in the lobby until about 11:30 so that I could get wifi and touch base with my family and friends before going to sleep.

On day two in Amsterdam I was lucky enough to be joined by my college roommate Jamie! We planned to meet at the Anne Frank house at 9 AM (right when it opened) to beat the crowd. It was really an amazing museum and I highly recommend it to anyone planning on visiting Amsterdam. From there we went to the Rijksmuseum. Neither of us liked the museum very much, but it gave us a chance to walk around and catch up which was nice. We decided that it was a good time to find lunch after the two museums so we found a mexican restaurant nearby which was very good. After lunch we continued our day of museums and headed to see Van Gogh. I decided to buy the audio tour which was very interesting. We spent about an hour and a half in the museum and then next went to our final museum for the day, the Heineken Experience. We had fun learning the history of the beer and how it was made. We got to experience firsthand how the beer is made in "the brew you ride". We finished the "experience" with a sample of Heineken!

In the evening I took Jamie into the red light district to walk around and explore. We stopped at a restaurant to get dinner where they proceeded to lose our order making our dinner take much longer than anticipated. We went into a couple shops and explored the essence of the red light district at night. We walked around for a couple hours before heading back to our hostels for the night. I was very happy to have the company for my second day in Amsterdam.

The next morning I had to catch my train back to Grenoble at 10:30 which gave me plenty of time to get to the station. Definitely was worth the trip! I highly recommend it. If I had more time I would have liked to see Bruges in Belgium and Rotterdam.

 Au Revoir!


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Brussels, Belgium

Wednesday morning (February 5th) I woke up bright and early to catch a 6:50 AM train to Brussels. The train ride was uneventful, which is always nice, and I managed to sleep almost the entire trip. I arrived in Brussels around 1:30 in the afternoon, and made my way to the Meininger Hotel, where I would be staying for the next two nights. The staff was very friendly and let me leave my luggage in a storage room since my room wouldn’t be ready for another hour or so. I decided to start right away and venture into Brussels to find the Magritte Museum. I got out of the subway and proceeded to walk from the Park to the museum. I wandered back and forth in front of the museum for a while before realizing it was inside the larger building. Every first Wednesday afternoon of the month in Brussels they offer museum exhibits for free. I was extremely fortunate to come on this particular day. The museum was very nice, but as it turns out a trend started for my trip where I would always be stuck near a group or class of younger kids. Always about 10 years old.

After the museum I decided to find Le Morte Subite, which my Aunt Bev suggested to me. I asked two women at the museum if they could point me in the right direction. On my way to the café I decided to stop at Cathedrale St. Michael. The Cathedrale was traditional Gothic style and extremely beautiful both inside and out.

I finally found my way to Le Morte Subite. I found a quite table in the back. This café was known for their variety of beer and their dark bread and cheese dish. Much to my surprised it was not what I was expecting. I was given the plate of food and had to create the dish myself. It was a very long thing piece of bread. The cheese was very soft and easy to spread across the bread. Next, I had to cut up the chives and radishes and spread them around the bread. Lastly, I could top it off with a little bit of salt and pepper. Wow! What a treat it was! It was so delicious. The waiter recommended that I try the cherry beer to go with my snack. It was the perfect treat for the afternoon. I spent some time enjoying my bread and wine while writing in my journal. It was a very pleasant afternoon.

I decided it was then time to wander the streets of Brussels a little bit more. I found a nice little chocolate shop with excellent chocolate and then made my way to the Waffle Factory. I experienced my first official Belgian Waffle. I decided that after treating myself to the bread and then the waffle, I probably didn’t need to have dinner that evening.

I made my way back to the hostel while it was still light. I had heard that hostels were a great place to meet new people from all over the world. Before I had left it looked like the bar area had several games such as pool and fosse ball as well as a nice atmosphere. I went to my room first and got all settled in. Unfortunately, one of my roommates had very smelly feet so I left the room quickly to find some new friends. I was lucky enough to meet one from New Zealand! The hostile wasn’t as social as I had hoped for it to be, but I had a lot of fun talking with this guy from New Zealand. If I remember correctly, he was 19 years old and just wanted to come explore Europe for a little while. His plan was to visit some friends and work a little as well. We spent at least an hour talking before we both decided to go to sleep for the night.

The next morning I met my friend from New Zealand again at breakfast. He was leaving for Bordeaux that afternoon so we hoped to maybe meet up when I visited Bordeaux.

I decided to do the free walking tour of Brussels on Thursday because I still didn’t really know the basic layout of the city. It was a 3 hour tour with a 20 minute break in the middle. Our tour guide was named PJ. He was Flemish and originally from Brussels. He showed us all the main points of the city and gave us interesting history, facts, and legends about various buildings and aspects of the city. He was very passionate about the information he was sharing, which I believe made the tour much better. I decided to sign up for a beer tour with him later in the afternoon as well because I enjoyed his tour so much! On the walking tour I met a girl named Quinn from Australia as well. She was staying in the same hostel as me and also was planning to attend the beer tour later.

I decided that I would part ways quickly from the group after the tour ended so that I could visit the Horta Museum, which had received great ratings online. I made my way via public transit to the museum. It was basically just a house with furniture that was meant to show the beautiful architecture from Horta. Again, I was stuck behind a group of kids. Even though they arrived at the same time as me they were put through the coat check first so I had to wait a while to get in. I did not enjoy this museum at all. I think that they could have made it much more interesting. It took me longer to get to it than it did for me to walk around inside. The house was very beautiful, but I didn’t feel like I learned anything at all. It was nice to see, but definitely not worth my time or money. I wish I had gone to see the comic book museum instead.

I made my way back to the center of the city. I had another waffle because I was in Belgium, so why not? This time it was more traditional with just the light powdered sugar, rather than the chocolate filling. I realized that it was getting late and I probably should find something good for dinner. I found a cute restaurant right across from where the beer tour was starting. The food was amazing! I had a traditional "beef stew" meal that I was told was a typical dinner in Brussels.

I finished my meal quickly and headed across the street. PJ informed me when I arrived that Quinn and I were the only two that had signed up for the beer tour and they needed at least 4 people for it to run. Instead PJ bought each of us a drink and talked about the beer and the importance of the foam ("head") at the top of the beer. When Quinn came, she had made friends with 4 guys from Italy at our hostile. The four of them decided to join us for the evening. PJ then took the six of us to a pub called Delirium. They offered over 3,000 different types of beer. From there we went to have a little snack before the pub crawl began. When the others were ready to go to that I said my goodbyes and headed back to the hostel to get some sleep.
At 6 AM the next morning I left Brussels and made my way to Amsterdam.

Au Revoir!  

Monday, February 3, 2014

Lyon, Skiing, and Planning

I want to apologize first for my inconsistency with my blog posting. I have never been good at keeping up with writing in journals or blogs before, which is mostly why I have never written one before. I have been staring at my calendar trying to remember everything I have done in the past two weeks since my last entry and as the title of the post says, the three major things I have done were traveling to Lyon for a couple days, skiing in the French Alps, and planning my upcoming trips.
On January 25th at 9:24 AM myself and seven other girls caught a train straight from Grenoble to Lyon. I sat with Lucy on the train and we chatted for a while (like 15-20 minutes), then me being me fell asleep for the rest of the trip. As far as road trips go, unless I am singing the entire time, I am a horrible companion because I ALWAYS fall asleep. We arrived about an hour later in Lyon. We found a map and ventured into the subway. We had to take two different subway lines to get to the center of the city. When we stepped out into the city we were welcomed by an extremely large ferris wheel. Four of us decided to pay to ride it and got to see an amazing view of the city. At first it seemed like a great idea, but the further up we went the more terrified I became. I would not let go of the center pole. It went around about 4 times, and by the end I was definitely more comfortable. I was too scared to turn around to see the view behind me, but I was still able to get some good pictures, just from a strange angle. We later found out that the pole in the middle could actually turn the seat in circles to get a better view of the entire city. I was happy we hadn't discovered this until later, I would have been even more terrified. After we got off the ferris wheel, we took a few more pictures and then headed to the Cathédrale St-Jean. From there we grabbed lunch and walked around the cobblestone streets.
The Majestic-for my Dad :)
Isabelle and I
After finishing lunch we discovered the Musée Miniature et Cinéma. At this point our group of eight decided to split in half. Some of the girls wanted to wait until the next day to see the museum, others weren't interested in going at all. The museum was definitely one of my favorite parts of Lyon. To some people this might sound a little strange or lame. But I really learned a lot while I was there and it was interesting seeing movies that I was very familiar with and learning how they created the special effects for various scenes. Also, there were tiny rooms with tiny items and tiny furniture and tiny people. I was truly fascinated by the attention to detail in each piece and the complexity of every room that was created. I took so many pictures in this museum, unfortunately the miniature rooms looked completely normal, so it was hard to tell how cool it really was.
After the museum we decided to wander through the streets a little more. Mona had booked a hostel for the night since she had decided to join us after we already booked our hotel. She had brought a suitcase with her so we decided to walk with her to the hostel to drop off her luggage and get her checked in. We had planned to meet back up with the girls in front of Cathédrale St-Jean at 4 PM so we headed there next.
Our next adventure for the day was to take the tram up to Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière. It was on top of a mountain overlooking the city. We wanted to make sure we were able to see the view before the sun set. We got halfway up and got off so that we could see the Théâtres Gallo-romains (Roman theater). We were standing across the street from it and some of the girls worried we wouldn't get to the top before the sun set so we ended up walking the rest of the way. It was very steep, but once we got to the top it was definitely worth it. The view was incredible. We went inside the Notre-Dame which was in the middle of a service, but it was absolutely beautiful. After walking around the grounds for a while we decided it was still light enough and we wanted to head back down to the Roman Theater.
Théâtres Gallo-romains
It was very fun to see and take pictures there. It was only about 6 PM by this point but we were all already getting tired. We went back up the hill a little ways into a garden and sat on a ledge and watched the sun set. The city at night was pretty spectacular. When we all were about to turn into ice cubes we decided to head back into Lyon. Two of the girls wanted to stay and enjoy the view a little longer, so we planned to meet up with them again later. We made our way back to the hotel and got all settled in; I stayed in a room with Miki and Lucy. Lucy wasn't feeling to well when we arrived so she decided to stay behind while the rest of us went to find something for dinner.

We wanted to find food that was traditional to Lyon so we found a place called La Mère Cottivet that looked like it would do the job. The prices were reasonable, it looked pretty crowed so we figured they probably had good food and it looked like an interesting restaurant. I had French onion soup, some sort of fish that I can't remember the name of with rice, and a brownie that all five of us shared.
We got back to the hotel around midnight and fell right asleep. After such a long day, a warm bed was exactly what we needed.
The next morning we got a late start although I was up and ready at about 9:30. I am so eager to see everything that it makes it much easier for me to get up and moving in the morning here. Sunday was a little more laid back. We mostly walked around the city. We found a shop to get food for bunch. They had sandwiches, drinks, and dessert for only 5 euros. Lyon is famous for their wall paintings which are suppose to look three dimensional so we ventured around the city looking for a few of them. We walked through a market, then to the opera house and the art museum, and saw 3 different wall painting along the way. We headed back toward the Cathedral and walked into different shops and tried to relax a little. After everything we had done, we were all pretty worn out by this point (it make me worry about my stamina during my future trips). At 4 PM we headed back to the train station and rode back to Grenoble.

Monday I started off strong with a full day of European Business Environment from 8 AM until 6 PM. I had two more sections of it on Tuesday coupled with 3 hours of French. Wednesday I had 4.5 hours of European Business Environment again and finally finished the week on Thursday with 3 hours of international business law. Needless to say, by thursday afternoon I needed a nap. Thursday night I attended an International student party and Friday I finally had a whole day to myself to relax.
Throughout the week I also planned various trips that I will be doing for the next few months. This week I will be leaving on Wednesday headed for Brussels and Amsterdam which is planned and booked. Next week I will be traveling with Zoe and Miki to Bordeaux and Toulouse for four days. At the end of February I will have about 2 weeks off from school. Luckily for me this will fall right on my birthday as well. My friend Ken from Clarkson finished school so he will be coming to visit. I will be meeting him and my roommate Jamie (also from Clarkson) in Strasbourg. We will spend about a day there to see the city and then leave the night of the 28th for Munich. We will spend 3 nights in Munich. Jamie has to start school again, but Ken and I will continue on for a trip to Vienna for three days and then spend four days in Prague before finally flying back to Grenoble. The next weekend Ken will be flying out of Paris so we will spend a couple days there before he goes home. Also, I have planned our "spring break" with my friend Lucy. We will be traveling to Geneva, Stockholm Oslo, and Copenhagen. We are hoping that it will be a little warmer by that point, but will still be preparing for the worst. And finally I have started to plan with my dad for his visit. It is still in the very early stages but I am extremely excited for him to come! I am hoping that we can see Normandy together since he majored in History and knows so much. However, whatever we do I know that we will have an amazing time.
Camila and I
On Saturday I traveled with the school's sports club to Les Duex Alps. It took about an hour for us to get there, which I didn't notice because I was sleeping, and it was so incredible. When I have gone skiing before, even at really large locations, there is usually a ski lodge where you rent your equipment, eat/buy your food, and people are usually trying to escape the cold. Here, this was not the case. There was an entire village in the center of the slopes. There were pubs, hotels, grocery stores, rental shops, and much more. We got off the bus and rather than getting a tag that you wear on your zipper, we received cards that looked like a hotel room key. If you put in in your left pocket, it would scan it as you entered the lift area so you could gain access. Unless you were going way up into the mountains they used a tow lift that had a little black disc that you would sit on. Even the "baby" slopes weren't very small. The most challenging part about skiing in this area was that the slopes were so much steeper than what I have been use to before. Camila, who had only been skiing one other time spent most of the day skiing with me because she felt pretty confident and I didn't want to ski alone so she tried something a little more challenging, and I stayed on a slope that was a little easier which worked at nicely for both of us. we stopped for lunch. I loosened my ski boots are relaxed a little bit. I had a sandwich that I had purchased at the grocery store in town.
Lucy and I renting our equipment
Hot wine and Crepe!
After lunch, we decided to take the large ski lift up to the top of the mountain so we could have a better view of the mountains. We decided we would just ride up and back since Lucy and Laura were both beginners. Even for me and Camila, it looked like it wasn't so bad, but we figured it probably was much more steep than it appeared. We came back down and went on the slopes we knew we were more comfortable with. After several more trips down the hill I felt as though my boots were on properly and they were hurting my ankle. It was really unstable when I went around turns, so I decided that maybe it was a good time for me to stop before I got hurt. I went into a pub that had a nice fire and ordered hot wine and a crepe to warm up. Camila joined me shortly after and we realized we were probably both done for the day. We headed back to Grenoble at 5 PM and I was completely exhausted by the time I got home.
Yesterday and today I spent the day preparing for my online course Midterm exam. I took it today at noon and I am just happy to say it's over. I am completely worn out from it because I crammed so much information into my head in such a small amount of time.
Tomorrow I have my law class and hopefully I can make a trip to Ikea. I was going to go today, but I came home and took a nap instead. I think it was a very good decision!

Au Revoir!

 Photos from the Restaurant in Lyon

Opera House

 wall paintings