Saturday, July 31, 2010

Nice...where everything is nice

July 27

We sadly said au revoir to Paris this morning and headed to the train station to catch a high speed train to Nice. (Note: This is Jenny and I’s first time to ever be on a train! Exciting!) I think this train goes somewhere around 200 kilometers/hr. We had to wait for an hour before we could board the train, so we used this time to buy baguette sandwiches to take onto the train for lunch. We then hauled all of our luggage up to the second level of the train—this was interesting considering there’s 37 of us—and found our seats. Once again Jenny and I scored a seat with a table, but this time we were facing backwards. I wasn’t sure how this was going to go for me…but I didn’t get sick surprisingly. I think Jenny started feeling a little queasy after using the computer for a little while…but luckily our new friend Amanda switched spots with her. We all slept for the first couple of hours on the train. Our TG had told us to try and be awake for the last couple of hours of the ride to see some great scenery…and he was right. Beautiful French coastlines with crystal blue water.

Once we arrived in Nice, we dropped our bags off at the hotel and did a quick change of clothes before leaving on the optional excursion to Eze & Monacco. The stop in Eze included a visit to a perfume factory where they explained to us how the famous French perfumes are made. We were then allowed to sample and smell a handful of scents…all smelled delicious. I don’t want to ruin any surprises here…so let’s just say that Jenny and I did not leave empty handed (I know that shocks everyone). So then we loaded back onto the bus and headed a couple of miles up the road to Monacco. The only way I can think to describe this place is a paradise for the extremely wealthy. It’s famous casino, the Monte Carlo, sits atop a hill overlooking all of the pristine buildings and numerous yachts. Our mouths were hanging slightly open over all of the luxury cars that kept passing us…Ferrari, Lambroghini, etc. Don’t worry…we were on the lookout for potential sugar daddies (ok just me…don’t worry Chris). In the historic part of Monacco, we went into the church where Grace Kelly was buried. Turns out she was married to a prince from Monacco. We also got to walk around and take pictures of the palace where the current royal family lives. Overall, this was a fun excursion—we just didn’t have nearly enough time there.

Once back in Nice, we went to “Old Nice” to get dinner. This is the historic district that is full of restaurants, bars, souvenier shops, etc. I wasn’t very adventurous (spaghetti carbonara) but Jenny ordered a pizza that had both tuna and a fried egg on top. It was surprisingly good. After dinner we headed back to the hotel Busby and hit the sack! Beachin’ it tomorrow!


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Belgian chocolate, waffles, and french fries= Paradise!

July 23rd

This morning we left Hotel Inner (definitely NOT a hotel) and headed to Brugge, Belgium. We were pleasantly surprised to see a double decker bus waiting for us. Jenny and I scored a seat on the bottom level with a table and empty seats across from us. We’re good…I know. I wish I could tell you that we used this time to catch up on the blog…but as most of you can see…that’s not the case. We’re just easily distracted with movies, snacks, etc. What can we say? Once we arrived in Brugge, our TG led us to the center of town, where we went in yet another church. Jenny and I feasted on French fries (a Belgian delicacy) with an assortment of sauces: Jenny—stew and mayonnaise; me—garlic alveoli. Delicious! We didn’t have much time here in Brugge, so Jenny got yet another waffle and then we hurried back to buy some Belgian chocolates before we had to leave. Don’t worry Albey family…I got plenty to bring home! So then we were off to Brussels.

Once in Brussels, we checked into our hostel Generation Europe. This one was considerably better than Amsterdam…it had windows!!! After we got settled our TG took us down to the center of town and directed us towards the infamous mannequin piss…which is in fact a statue of a little boy peeing. Not quite sure why it’s so famous. We actually almost walked right past it. But anyway, then we all went to dinner and had “mussels in Brussels” which were delicious. We went from dinner to Delirium, a famous Belgian beer bar which serves over 2000 different kinds of beer. Mango and cherry for me, classic Delirium faves for Jenny. Fun fact: Delirium holds the Guiness world record for the largest variety of beer in one establishment as of 2004. Jenny and I decided to leave earlier than the group (as we usually do) so we set off towards Generation Europe. Well somehow we got turned around…the streets are pretty confusing in downtown Brussels…and we ended up in a pretty sketchy part of town. So using our good judgment, we saw a taxi with his light on and jumped in. So as we’re pulling up to the hostel, our TG and some others from the group are walking up. We left like a good 20 minutes before them. Embarrassing.

Tomorrow we are headed for Paris! I can’t believe it’s finally here!


Van Gogh and Vampires...must be more Amsterdam!

July 22nd

Ahhh…another day in Amsterdam. We started the day with the idea of going on a bike tour through the countryside with a local guide. We were pretty excited about this because it would allow us to get out of the city and do something fun. So when we arrived to get the bikes…it was to our dismay that the reservation had only been made for 20 people and there were 30 of us there to ride :) So since Jenny and I were late additions…we gave up our spots. I know, I know. We are so mature we can hardly stand it. So then we both looked at each other with a “what are we going to do now?” look…and everyone reading this probably already knows the answer: SHOPPING! So we walked downtown and did some souvenier shopping. We both got cute Am-dam gear of course. And Jenny got a random pic with Batman. We then met up with a friend of ours, Amanda, for lunch outside at this cute little restaurant that promised us free drinks and free guacamole. So with our coke lights in hand, sun on our faces, and guacamole on our chips… we were content. Jenny and I ordered spare ribs from the “tourist menu” and they were both huge and delicious.

On the way back to the hostel, we stopped at the Van Gogh museum. We wandered through the three story display…and I got to see my favorite Van Gogh painting—Almond tree. So when we got to the very top floor of the exhibit…we both looked at each other as if we were thinking the same thing—“Where’s Starry Night???” Lucky for us, there was a computer upstairs that let you search for different Van Gogh paintings and told you which floor to find them on. So our search for “Starry Night” produced no results. Weird. When we got back to the hostel, I googled it and found that it’s located in New York. Perfect. But we both got Almond Tree prints to frame when we get home, so I guess it was worth it.

Later that night, some peeps were making plans to go to the movies since they would be in English in Amsterdam. So we decided to join them. What did we see, you ask? Here’s a hint…it involves a pasty vampire and a dark sexy werewolf :) I’ll let you take it from there…But the theatre was pretty impressive. I think we took 3 escalators just to get up to the auditorium. Fancy. If only the popcorn had been up to par…we would have been in heaven. But it fell short. Sadly.

Tomorrow we head to Brussels! Bring on the waffles and chocolate!


A day of mourning...for a pink wallet

July 21st

Today was our first official “free day” in Am-dam, and we had a lot planned! Canal cruise, museums…so much to do! So you can imagine my surprise when I walked out of the room to buy tickets at the handy kiosk in the hostel lobby…and dig for my wallet…and dig…and dig…and PANIC. It’s not there. So I proceed to tear my room apart looking for it (semi-hysterical at this point) and feel the sudden urge to vomit. This is the point when I find out just how great girlfriends (new & old) can be. These girls just took control (Jenny in the lead…of course) and completely took care of me. We walked into town, determined to go to each place that we went last night and find the wallet. So…we were thoroughly disappointed when every one of them were still closed. So…we wait. And got ice cream at McDonalds. Really sweet Jenny moment: I got back from using the WC at Mickey D’s and saw that everyone had bought ice cream cones…and Jenny had one in each hand. What a gal. If that’s not a true friend I don’t know what is. So after a quick lunch, we headed over to jump on a canal cruise. The only problem with this is that it was around 2 in the afternoon…which means 8 sleepy girls. I think we all dozed off at some point during the ride. But it was really neat to see all of the houses that Jenny mentioned earler.

Insert from Jenny here. I was determined to stay awake for the cruise considering we paid good money to see the city via water, but 4 weeks traveling really takes a toll on ones ability to stay awake when drifting slowly around canals. So the boat makes several stops along the way to pick up more people, and I decided that would be the best possible timing to cat nap and not miss anything. So I lay my head down and doze off and feeling pretty good about the back of my eyelids when I suddenly felt something cold and wet on my leg. Holy moly. I sat up and said “did it start raining?”… Uhhh no I had just drooled on my leg.

So after the canal cruise…Jenny and I headed back to the hotel for a siesta. Well…she siesta’d and I fretted. I still had a phone call to make…and I was feeling it in the pit of my stomach. So I decided not to waste any more time and call my parents. Needless to say…they were great. I was borderline hysterical again after hearing my mom’s voice…but everything worked out thanks to a great company called Western Union. (Funny fact… Before the trip my dad and I were at the wal mart money center…and we had this conversation:

Me: Dad why would anyone ever need to send a money transfer?
Dad: Well Lauren that’s what you would do if you ever lost all of your money and cards and you were overseas without anything at all.
Me: Man that would really suck. I wonder how often that happens.
Dad: Let’s not find out, ok?
Oh the irony…. Hopefully Mark can laugh about this now. He didn’t really think it was humorous the day after it happened. Love you dad.)

So once I knew everything was ok on the home front…I could actually enjoy myself again. I promised them that I would go back to the places again and make sure no one had turned in a pink wallet, but neither of us had high hopes. And our assumptions turned out to be right. No pink wallet was found.

~Moment of silence~

But we did have an amazing dinner that night…Jenny and I split lasagna gorgonzola and tiramisu…and I drowned my sorrows in yummy Italian food in Amsterdam. After dinner, we all went to check out the red light district. I had expectations for this…but nothing could prepare me for what I saw. It was sad really. Enough about that. Tomorrow’s yet another free day here…some people just can’t get enough of this place. As for me….I’m kind of over it. Oh well…there are still museums to see tomorrow.


Happy Birthday Lauren!!!

July 20th

We pull into Amsterdam on Lauren’s 25th birthday and surprise surprise its actually beautiful! I guess one hears so many stories about certain activities of the city and assumes the average individual is walking around in a cloud of chemical confusion… If you know what I mean… But actually Amsterdam is another city built on canals and has beautiful architectural canal homes. They are so tall and narrow that they all have hooks on the top in order to be able to hoist the furniture through the windows. Amsterdam is a city of museums. It boasts some of the biggest impressionist museums of the entire world including Van Gogh and the Reicht museum. Day one here we check into our very first hostel! After certain movies, we were certainly slightly apprehensive of what was to come so at one of the gas station stops prior to arriving in the city we pulled the birthday card with our TG and asked him to set us up in the one room that was only going to have 2 peeps in it. Heck yeah. You only turn 25 once and why not use it for a little leverage to avoid sleeping with 6 other girls…?! We crossed our fingers, played it cool and upon check in he slid our key at us and sure enough we scored the double. After the door shut behind us, I’m not going to say that a little celebration dance didn’t happen.

After listening to all the other group members complain about their room set up, we went on an orientation walking tour of the city center. Our hostel is very close to the I Amsterdam sign, so everyone had to stop for a few pictures. We walked by Van Gogh museum, across canals, past waffles stands, and “coffeehouses”, and in through the Leninplatz square. Amsterdam has a whole street dedicated to its flower market so we got to see the little stands setup up on the water filled with tulips, roses, sunflowers, lilies, etc… They also have an entire shopping street dedicated for pedestrians only. Yes mam! Why is this so exciting you ponder? Because Am-dam (as I’ve been abbreve’n it) has a raging love affair with bikes. It makes Munich’s bike population look like they just found out what a bike is. Everyone here rides bikes. And after our recent experience wheeling around the German streets we agree that it’s actually a pretty fantastic way to get around… They have lanes dedicated for bikers only. If you so happen to cross into one of them as you casually stroll the streets the locals start with a polite bell jingle, and if that doesn’t jog you out of your stupidity, they will literally pop you as they pass. These people are serious about their lane. Let’s just say, between Lauren and I, there’s been some close calls…

We journey onto Anne Frank’s house. And yet again, get to experience another once in a lifetime location. The building is a discrete little canal house which was originally a factory/warehouse that Anne’s father worked at. There’s always a line to get in and so we waited for about 30 minutes, but finally got to go in. Otto Frank requested that the annex never be re-furnished to its original state after the Germans trashed it. But the museum has set up models and pictures of what it used to look like. It was chilling to get to see the bookcase that hid the narrow, steep staircase leading to the annex. In Anne’s room, the wallpaper that she had pasted pictures on is still intact and in place. They have Margot’s schoolbooks, the family Bible, and Anne’s actual original diary. It was amazing to see her little handwriting. There was video documentary of a friend and her father. One friend was able to tell about how she was on the other side of Aushwitz and right after Margot died of Typhoid, she found out Anne Frank was on the other side so they would meet even though they couldn’t see each other. Anne told her that everyone was gone, her whole family had died. She didn’t know her father still lived. Then one day Anne didn’t show up. Anne’s father spent almost 2 years after liberation desperately searching to find out where Anne and Margot were. He believed that they had actually survived and there are letters between him and his brother discussing where the girls were. It was such a sad place, and to know that they were concealed for 2 years and almost made it out.

For Lauren’s birthday bash a group of us headed out to Boom Chicago. In Am-dam. An English-speaking comedy club that did hilarious improv! We all had a blast laughing and actually understanding the language… Post comedy show, we strolled down the busy nightlife streets , stopping to watch some break dancing (see Lauren’s profile pic) and then on to yet another American experience: Bourbon Street music bar. We got to hear spectacular live New Orl’n blues played by 40 year old Dutch men in sleeveless shirts and converses. Last but not least, we topped off the evening with Apple Bottom jeans at a dance spot called “Amsterdamed”… Kimbo and Carrie: Lauren made no promises ;)… I did have a total old lady moment on the dance floor though. At the part in the song where it instructs one to “get low”, I was working my way to the floor and was getting a little fatigued as one will get when trying to bounce to a techno beat, so since there was a step there (which led to another dance floor) I just use that as the opportune moment to “get low” by sitting down… And continue dancing from a discrete sitting position before it was time to Apple Bottom again. Wow I’m getting old.

So Lauren is officially 25.

-Jenny & Lauren-

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Home Sweet Home...for Jenny anyway

July 19

So at last Heidelberg… I have returned! It was so exciting to see the highway signs indicating the upcoming town. We drove straight up to the castle and I kept wondering if what I remembered was really a memory or just years and years of watching the same home videos… It was really strange to walk in a place that I already had been to almost 20 years before. The castle was amazing, we wandered through the apothecary museum (random?), and saw the 50000 liter wine vat. Took amazing pictures of the Neckar river and bridge. Lauren and I somehow managed to exit the backside of the castle so instead of just rejoining the group in the courtyard, we got the pleasure of walking up 300 steps to get back around to the front. Even with perfect weather, we were no match for the exercise. We came up sweating and flustered. After the castle, we went back down the 300 steps to the Heidelberg square and enjoyed a traditional German lunch at a sidewalk cafĂ©. I ordered the German meatloaf and ate my weight in Lauren’s sauerkraut. Pictures at the bridge and an afternoon souvenir shopping completed our one day in my old hometown and we were bussed back to the hotel in Ludwigborg?

As it was the eve of Lauren’s 25th year of life, we went out for Mexican food. In Germany. But it was muy bueno. We all peppered (or really I peppered) Lauren with deep life questions like: “is there where you’d thought you’d be at 25? Do you have regrets? Where will you be at 30?” etc etc. I had previously taken a Benadryl , so I had a chemically-induced pondering mood about life questions :). But Lauren was a good sport and answered them all. She’s about to be a quarter of a century old!

As the old ladies of our group, we generally try to make it in bed before midnight if we’re lucky. So when we got back, we made a deal to stay up and ring in Lauren’s birthday at midnight in the SkyBar at the hotel. About 11 o’clock, we’re sitting up there with a few of classier peeps in the group and getting mighty sleepy so we decide about 11:15 that we’ll just pseudo ring-in her birthday so we can all hit the sack. We put cocktail streamers in her red ringlets and counted down the seconds and then all shouted Happy Birthday at 11:16… And then another friend in the group showed up, having been previously showering, and refused to let us leave so we waited til about 11:30 and decided to ring it one more time and call it a night. So at 11:31 we shouted Happy Birthday and sang to her yet again! But lo and behold, like 2 birthday count downs wasn’t enough, Lauren decided she actually wanted to have the legit midnight ring in so it was decided we’d stay up the last 30 minutes. I fell asleep on the table. Thanks Benadryl. But was able to rouse for the last and real countdown for Lauren’s 25th birthday.

Happy 25th Birthday Lauren! Or as the German bartender said it: “HEPAY BORTHDIY!”

Tomorrow we celebrate in Amsterdam. :)

Italian dinner in a German Catholic church?! What?!

July 18

Departing for Heidelberg we had about a 4 hour bus ride and stopped for lunch in Nuremberg. The city was originally the headquarters for the Nazi party and also the site of the famous Nuremberg trials after the war. We only spent a few hours there, but got to see a lot of Christmas shops and blonde-haired, blue-eyed german boys… We got to see the famous Beautiful Fountain and ate some delicious ice cream frrrrrrom McDonald’s!! Yep Ronald is definitely all over the world. But this was the first time we broke down and went for a stateside classic.

So we drove on to Heidelberg and stayed in Ludwigbourge? Our fabulous German bus driver got us lost, once again, but we did finally make it the Hotel Excelsior. Lauren and I scored a double again. It was dinnertime, so the whole grouped walked into this tiny town which was almost deserted do to it being Sunday evening, but we got to eat at an Italian restaurant that just so happens to be in an old church. It was probably one of our favorite dinner evenings. We actually ended up eating on the patio because the weather was fabulous. Lauren and I split the weiner schnitzel and it was mouthwateringly delicious. The group played a rousing game of Truth or Dare via my iphone app and we ended up shutting the place down. The owners were such great Italian people. They brought their little grandbaby over, Lucia, who had the cutest black ringlet curls and l got to hold her. Then he went to their gelato stand and a couple of the kids in our group tried to catch flinging ice cream in their mouth from about 20 feet away. It was hilarious, especially when it pelted one of the girls in the face! What a night…