France and clean underpants

Tuesday, August 13th

Today I got up and headed over to Saint Michel square where I was meeting my free walking tour. I got there about 20 minutes early and there was no one there – the guides showed up about 15 minutes before the start and all of a sudden there were warms of people!! It was crazy! They ended up having 4 tours – 2 in Spanish and 2 in English.

My guide was Harry from the UK. He confirmed he was not part of the royal blood (he had red hair, so people must believe he is or something). We started our tour learning how much of the city had been demolished in the 19th century by Napoleon III and much of what we know as Parisian architecture is “new.”

The tour used to cross the bridge to the front of Notre Dame, but yesterday the city blocked the bridge to begin lead abatement from the fire. It’s pretty controversial in the city because people who live on the island are allowed home but the schools have been closed and now this specific part of the island.

We continued our walk to Saint Chapell, an old prison, a square, and a finally the Louvre.

It wasn’t a long walk but our guide did a great job of skeaping and teaching me things I hadnt heard on other tours.

After the tour everyone else went to the café he was going to be sitting at – but I paid him and left. I was actually getting chilly so I headed back to the hotel for my rain jacket. The market across the street was open so before I went up to the room I grabbed some rolls, cheese, water, blood orange juice, and of course Nutella.

I decided to lunch in my room and then go back to Notre Dame to get a closer look. On my way to Notre Dame, I decided to check out an original Banksy. He is an anonymous street artist who has been brought to fame through his political and controversial art. I brought my phones and my Kindle and headed out to Notre Dame. My hotel is only like a 15 minute walk over there. The Banksy was on the way, so I snapped a picture and continued on.

On the south side of the cathedral you can get a bit closer, but on the east side you can basically walk within 20 feet of the structure. Construction continues – today they were using cranes to build another crane. They have installed protection over all the windows and wooden support for portions of the structure. I stood in awe for a while – took some pictures and realized my phone’s camera was acting up.

I reached out to Google for assistance and was troubleshooting with them right next to the cathedral. With the amount of lead they say is around there Im sure Ill end up with lead posioning – but I did make sure not to lick my fingers.

After my troubleshooting I went to read in the park behind Note Dame. I spent some time there before my work phone started to ring – and the work didn’t stop so I decided to head back to the hotel to eal with work. I worked until about 8pm and decided to go get food – I actually used Google maps to find some good food and settled on a French place one street over.

I ended up with the most amazing onion soup, some cheesy pasta (duh) and a crème brule. I wanted a 7up but they only had Limonade – which ended up being a more lemony 7up – it was good.

After dinner I headed back to the hotel to do laudnry. I only packed enough clothes for 5 days so it was time to wash some clothes (and by some I mean all).

I headed to the laundry room, fully expecting to pay $5 for a load, but it was free!! They even had soap – but I had brought mine from home – including Bounce sheets!. It took just shy of two hours to get it done, but it is nice to have clean clothes for the middle part of the trip.

Luxembourg….er; France

Monday, August 12

I arrived in Luxembourg after a nice relaxing train ride. This is one I had to buy because they didnt have any more Eurail spots. I got off the train and found the left luggage place – $5 a piece – but better than lugging around my backpack and duffel all day.

I didnt have a list of things to see so when I was done at the station I opened Google Maps and clicked the “attractions” button. It is very handy when you are lazy – just pops up and tells you the things to do near where you are at.

The first thing to pop up was the Notre Dame Cathedral (no not the one in Paris). It looked to be a pretty central location to start so I walked the 10 minutes over there. The church location had a lot of history – dating back to 800AD. It had some pretty stained glass so I hung out in the cathedral for a bit and took it in. My step dad is Catholic and every time I enter a church I take a moment for him, taking in the peace of the place.

They also had a crypt so I went to check it out – just another chapel really, with a very modern looking crypt for someone who I did not know.

It was raining pretty hard after my visit so I put on my handy rain coat and headed to find food. I opted for some “fast food” Chinese. It didnt have much flavor leading me to believe it didnt actually have a lot of salt.

The rain stopped while I was eating, but stayed pretty cloudy. I got out the handy Google maps app again and found they have a really old bridge with a rand new pedestrian walkway underneath – I decided to head there.

The Adolphe Bridge is over 100 years old. It rises 140′ above the ravine and is about 500 feet long. Recently, in the last 5 years, they have added a pedestrian bridge underneath it. It was semi disappointing to see they had cut in and removed some original structure so they could put this bridge in, but its safer for all involved being below the traffic. From the bridge you could see the beautiful ravine below and the garden area near the church.

While I was on the bridge I noticed there was a carnival type ride that takes you up in a compartment and slowly turns around the city providing an aerial 360 view. I decided to walk over and check it out.

It started to rain again just as we got in the ride but was just sprinkling. The views were really neat, on a clear day you can see really far away into the country side. There is a huge ravine that runs through the city and you could see the gardens and houses below. It provided a different view of the area than the bridge did. It was about a four minute even then we slowly went back down.

I wanted to explore more of the city but I just wasnt enjoying myself and when I would walk from place to place I saw how dirty and grimmy the city really is. Luxembourg is supposed to be like the wealthiest country in Europe (they did have really nice cars) but they had trash in the streets and lots of loitering groups – mainly men – but some women. There were also lots of people begging – especially near the train station. So, instaed of exploring more I took my own internal advise and headed back to the train station over an hour early to do some work in the safety of the station.

In all my travels I think this may be the first time an uneasy feeling has washed over me. So, Im glad I followed my gut.

I did a bit of work and then it was time to head to my platform to catch the train to Paris. It was an almost empty car – except for the family with two very loud kids – SO LOUD!! I was seated next to someone – but realized after the second (and last) stop that the whoel four person seating in front of me was open so I grabbed my stuff and moved up. It was about a three hour train ride to Paris; a beautiful ride out of Luxembourg into the French countryside.

I got to Paris at around 915pm and needed to make my way to my hotel for the next few nights. I hopped on the metro line – after I was finally able to communicate (what little French I can remember and my mom did the trick!) and got a metro pass to my stop. The machine would not give me a ticket to my stop – for some dumb reason! I was able to find the hotel no problem!

I had picked this place because it looked close to metro lines and the river – and it has a washer and dryer!! Ill need to do laundry while I am in Paris. I took the worlds smallest triangle shaped lift to the 5th floor where my room was located (Rm 69).

The description said it was nothing fancy, but it was exactly what I needed. A small room with a fridge, fan and large window to open. They also have super fast internet which is great for having to set some work done.

It was past 10 when I got to my room but I was so amped to be in Paris I struggled to sleep. I just wanted to go explore the city – but forced myself to stay in and relax. I decided to book a walking tour for the morning, it ended up meeting just a few blocks from the hotel.

Den Haag…another day with no joke

Sunday August 11 – Den Haag

I slept in again today – my back was hunting again – but I had looked yesterday and almost everything was closed until noon today, so there was no reason to rush out of the house. I love taking walking tours and recommend them to anyone traveling. Usually it gives you an opportunity to explore the city center – including many places you may not have checked out on your own while giving you historical and cultural information. Many of them end with a trip to a pub or a coffee (depending upon the time of day).

I got ready and walked over to the meeting point – Im sure I would make most others nervous or anxious with the lack of planning I do – but it said it was going to meet in this square and the email didn’t necessarily tell you where.  I had a feeling it was near this cartoon statue – so I checked the website and I was right. There were 14 people on the tour, great size group – we had Russians, Texans, Germans, and some Asians – all different points of views on the world. Makes for great conversation when you find out how everyone learns a different history about many parts of history.

Our guide was Denny – he normally does architectural tours but he was filling in for his friend while she was on holiday with her family. He had a lot of insight on the architecture of the buildings so we got to see a lot of little details most people don’t notice – or if they do itll take years (according to Denny). He took us through parks, gardens and we walked all over the city center. For me the highlights were realizing how old the city and the fact that they are still ruled by a king! They vote here for the people who keep the government in check, not the actual government since the king appoints them. They also have like 25+ parties – so they are forced to work together and it is hard to bribe them since the group changes so frequently.

We also learned about the canals throughout Holland – basically they are all locks and dams meant to assist with water problems (rising and lowering due to weather) most of Holland is below sea level. They aren’t afraid of rising sea level because they are prepared for it – they worry about the world, but not themselves.

At the end of free tours they say “now is judgement time.” This is when you get to place value on the tour, since many people who come on these are backpackers or who don’t want large expensive tours, often times $10-15/person is a reasonable rate. I usually give $10 – if they do really good $15 – those are the ones who can answer all my crazy questions. After the tour I walked over to the city volunteers (they have these people with maps and candy to help tourists) and got a map because I want to take the tram to the beach, but first – LUNCH!

I ended up finding another pizza place but opted for pasta and soup this time. I really want some fries!! I haven’t found a stand open when I am actually hungry for them though.  I sat and wrote up to this point in the blog, read some of my book and enjoyed the food for a while. After lunch I walked around for a bit, then went to figure out the tram system so I could check out the beach. Luckily you can buy tickets with a card on the trams themselves – the signage and information at the stops is actually very good here. I rode line #1 from the city center to the beach area. It was about a 25 minute ride. The tram went down tree lined streets – everything so lush and green – make the outskirts of the city seem farther away than it really was.

I got to the beach stop, opened Google maps and headed towards the water. On the way over I ran into a bunch of kids teaching each other parkour. It was a pretty cool site to see – looked like a legitimate club – they had shirts and leaders and stuff. Getting to the beach from the tram line was a quick 10 minute walk. It smelled like fish the closer I got to the water – but the beach views were gorgeous. It was (and usually is) very window, so there were many windsurfers out on the water. I didn’t see many people camped out on the beach – but it was pretty cool  out (all of 64*).

After I checked out the beach I went back to the tram, I really wanted to get some digestives (ya know fiber full crackers, with chocolate!) and chocolate for my adventures tomorrow – luckily there was a shop just at the tram stop. I gathered my snacks and got on the tram back to the city center. I stopped at the Peach Palace as my guide recommended it. However, you can you cant actually go in and they only have a small visitor center to check out. I took some pictures and headed back to the tram. The Peace Palace is an international group of people appointed by each country that handles international arbitration. In order to participate each side must agree to the final settlement.

Once back at the city center I decided it was time to head back to my Airbnb and relax for a bit before the concert and also change, it was already cooling off and it was only 5pm. I got back to my room and no one else was home (woohoo) but I just went to my room to watch some Friends and take a nap before my super wild night ahead. I full expected to be out late (and I was!)

The concert started at 7pm – but tickets said P!NK had two openers – so I didn’t leave the house until after 7pm since the park was only about a 15 minute walk. People were filing in from the trams, buses and trains – all so orderly and excited. I followed the wave of people into the park. There was a bike parking lot at the venue (and many people didn’t even lock their bikes up) and a locker facility in case you wanted to leave stuff outside of the park.

I decided I had come all this way I should buy a shirt with the concert dates and places on it, so I waited in the long line and got a shirt. After that I headed to ticket check in. I paid for the closest area (the Golden Circle) which meant my line to get in was super short. They scanned your ticket, put on a wristband and made you throw away your ticket. You then have your bags looked at, but no metal detector or pat down. Europe (ok maybe just this area) has concert venues figured out. No cash at the food or beverage lines. You instead buy tokens – plastic round coin like pieces that can be split in half to pay for food or beverages. The minimum you could buy was 5 tokens – for $15. So I went with the 5 tokens because they had FRIES!! The friends were 1.5 tokens and the drinks (non-alcoholic) were 1 token a piece. I got fries, fanta and a water. They even had water refill stations around the site – its super nice!!

Den Haag – The Hague….

Saturday, August 10

I was so tired from traveling that I slept in until about 9am! It was wonderful actually, minus the fact that my back always hurts when I sleep that long. I decided to get ready for the day so I can catch my train to Amsterdam.
I always wonder how older people live in these flats with the two foot step into the shower/tub – it can be difficult for a healthy, able body person! I packed up my bags and headed out on my seven minute walk to St Pancras station to catch the Eurostar train to Amsterdam.

The ticket said to arrive 45-60 minutes before the ticket time and I got to the station one hour before. I probably should have checked exactly how to do the Chunnel portion = because I kept waiting for the board to announce my train platform and it just said check the website – which had ZERO information on it. I finally stood up and found a sign that said “Eurostar” (the Chunnel train). I headed there to find out that even though I was there 30 minutes before the train departed I may not make it because I am taking the Chunnel and they need to do passport control – luckily they rushed me to the front of the ticket line – but I was tuck in the passport and security line. Im not quite sure why they have you go through security  other than to check for guns? I never saw a single person get stopped or had their luggage pulled aside. I realized later because I was in such a hurry that my trusty sunglasses were left in the security bin – but I did make my train, with time to spare! In fact, the platform had just opened up and I got just hopped in line and got right on!

I was determined to stay awake because I really wanted to see all the sights along the way. The tunnel or Chunnel (channel tunnel) is about 31 miles long – there are actually three tunnels – one for each direction and one for maintenance. It was completed in 1994 and took less than 6 years to complete at a cost of about $12 Billion in today’s value.

It makes trade and travel easier between the UK and Europe main land. The tunnel comes out in France, and the rail splits between east and west – east going to Amsterdam and Brussels and west going to Paris. The train starts in the heart of London and heads out to the country side before heading to a shallow depth of 150 feet under water in the tunnel. I was expecting my ears to pop due to the change in pressure, but that never happened. The tunnel was to be expected – no cell service and dark. The train can reach speeds of 100 MPH in the tunnel, but 186 MPH on land.

The train stops in France and Belgium before heading into the Netherlands. My ticket was to Amsterdam, but I opted instead to get off in Rotterdam since my Airbnb host was hoping I could arrive early, and lets be real it cut about an our off my travel time.

I got off in Rotterdam and had to buy another ticket all of $5 (+$1 for the ticket itself) to get to Den Haag (or The Haag as they say it in English). I made my way to my Airbnb and knocked, and knocked and rang the bell (which is just a bell attached to a knocker inside), and nothing. I messaged the host and told him I would be sitting on the stairs. After about 5 minutes he opened the door and was like “why didn’t you knock?” Well, I had, but whatever. The room was exactly as the pictures showed – bright and airy and pretty large for a bedroom in Europe. I only met Alejandro, the husband, not the kid or the wife. If I had known there was a child, I may not have booked here, but she was so quiet that I never had to worry.

I dropped off my stuff, collected the keys and headed out to find myself some sunglasses – much needed after a whole day of bright sun without them! The city center was about 25 minutes by foot away from the house – but it is such a great little town that walking is no big deal at all. This is a bike country though, so I feel like at some point I should rent a bike. It probably wont happen – but it should.

I found some cheap ($2) sunglasses at the trustee H&M (they think H&M is expensive – but the prices are the same in the states and we think its cheap!). Im much more comfortable with sunglasses on, so I continued to explore the center – which is mostly shopping – and decided to find a place to sit so I could figure out wat to do tomorrow before the concert. I found a place called Binnenhof which is the government office building – but it is so pretty – right on a little pond (man made from the locks and dams and canals). There is a “garden” in the middle – with a large church and a pretty fountain – and that is where I started to plan my day tomorrow.

I wanted to find a free walking tour so I can get the most out of my time here and see all that I can. It took a lot of Googling – which is crazy – but I finally found one. I picked the 10am start time so I could go to the little amusement park later in the afternoon (its not rides, its just like a 1:25 exact replica of a lot of the important things of Holland, called Madurodam.

After I made my reservation I decided it was time for dinner. Of course I wanted pizza – there is something about a paper thin pizza that makes the world a little better. I was going to go to Jamie Oliver’s restaurant – but it was a chain (similar probably to a smaller Biaggi’s) and I feel like I should have done it in London since he British. So, instead I found a place with good reviews on Google next to the city center church. I arrived at the perfect time – it was full downstairs so they opened the upstairs just for me – but within 10 minutes the place was almost full upstairs as well.

My pizza and caprese salad were a perfect way to end the day. After dinner I decided to go find some ice cream or white chocolate bar (or anything by Milka really). I put my headphones on and started to walk towards home. I was enjoying my podcast when someone tapped me on the shoulder. He was a 35-40 year old man from Congo. At first I was a bit taken back – but we chatted a bit and I said I was walking home but wanted to get something sweet first. So we chatted on the way to the gelato shop.

I ended up talking to him for over an hour and a half. He was a nice guy, there was some language barrier – but it was great to hear about life in Holland, especially as an immigrant. I finally bid him ado, dropped him off at the train station, and continued on my way. Because I didn’t know him, I made sure he got on the train before I left, I didn’t want him stalking or anything – but he didn’t even look back.

Show me the way OUT of San Jose

Thursday, August 8 – Friday, August 9

I worked today before my 8pm flight – but didn’t walk enough and when you are going to be stuck on a plane for 10+ hours, getting in your steps becomes very important. So after my very slow (not just because of traffic, but because my driver really like the right lane, never once getting in the HOV lane!) Lyft to the airport I got through TSA, got to my gate and began my pacing. I got to the airport with only 4,500 steps and had just over an hour to get the rest of my 10,000 steps in – so I paced and I paced. I ended up grabbing my Kindle and reading and pacing – Im sure as it got closer to boarding the people were getting annoyed with my pacing – but I don’t care – I was on a mission!

I hit 10,000 steps (insert happy dance here) right as boarding was to begin. I saw some people queuing – they call that “gate lice” in Passenger shaming terms – and I wasn’t going to be one of them. They announced that the systems had crashed and that there would be a delay in boarding. It only lasted about 10 minutes, but once we were able to board, it went very slow, the computers were running slow and there were only half the amount of check in computers available. Because of my Platinum status on American I got to board with the elites on the flight – well after first class of course.

I had asked before the flight if the middle seat was taken and they confirmed it was, I am bummed because I changed my seat last night so I could have an open seat. Once I was by my seat the guy on the aisle was already on the plane (he must be status too) and since boarding was going slow because of the delay, I opted to put my pillow and technology bag on my seat and go stand in the galley

The flight attendants I talked to were just amazing and hysterical. We talked about how crazy the TSA regulations in the states are, as well as the UK version. For example, in the States the flight attendants don’t have a liquid allowance, but in the UK they do. And in the UK the armed forces can take their riffles and guns through security as long as they have a pass, but they cannot take water, as it may be used as a weapon – as opposed to the guns they have with them?!

We also talked about how crazy people are on airplanes and having to detain people mid-flight. Theyre given four types of situations and the solutions to all of them. Once of the flight attendants is a volunteer police officer in his town – and he knows (or seems to know) his stuff.

Boarding was complete; I had to return to my seat, and to my surprise, the middle seat was open! Woohoo! I had to bother the aisle guy again to get in and that’s when I noticed it – I was in a window seat with no window!! However, the lack of window actually means Ill be warmer on the flight since there is no window, there is no loss of heat!

They served the first mean about an hour and a half into the flight. I was really trying to exhaust myself so I stayed awake for it. They had what they called “red chicken curry” or the “vegetarian option” (I never did figure out what that actually was). I went with the curry; there was nothing “curry” about it, I never actually saw or tasted any curry – but it tasted really good. Simple salad, roll, dinner and some lemon custard, jello thing for dessert.

I don’t recall much after I finished eating because I fell asleep, and I slept hard! According to my FitBit I slept for over 5 hours. Im glad I brought my full size pillow (yes I know, judge away, but the Dr said it would help my back and he was right) it made sleeping so easy.

I woke up a bit before we landed – I missed breakfast (which is always my favorite part of the meals). We had left about 30 minutes late and arrived about 20 minutes early – yeah!!

After deplaning, came customs – many countries now have a chip in the passport that means you can bypass the annoying passport control people – it also means you don’t get a stamp – but I already have a London Heathrow stamp, so that’s fine by mean. I needed to get to the Underground station. I followed the signs and bought a ticket – I ran into someone who works for the Underground and he said it was delayed about 40 minutes and so I should take the TFN train and transfer along the way to the Underground. I followed all the directions and made it to the transfer point. The ticket guy there wasn’t as friendly as the airport – but he wasn’t mean. He kept trying to keep my card and I kept asking for it back – finally he opened the gate and let me have my ticket back.

My Airbnb was only about a 7 minute walk from the Kings Cross Station (trains and Underground). His directions to get to his place were spot on – but Google did assist a bit. The host, Mike, must be a shy guy. He lives, sleeps and works in 60% of the flat and the remaining is a storage closet, shared bathroom and guest room. It’s a great set up for Airbnb and its on the first floor (or in every other country in the world, the zero level). We chatted for a bit, I reviewed the binder he had set out for important information of the area, put on shorts and headed out to explore.

The moment I went to walk out the front door it dumped rain – so I ran back in to get my rain jacket that I had decided at the last minute to bring, sure glad I did that! I decided to put in the GPS – Westminster Abbey – since there is a lot to see and do in that area. I started the one-hour journey by foot and had to stop once because it was raining so hard.

On my way I decided to add a stop at the British Museum . It has been ages (like 15 years??) to my route – it was halfway between my flat and Westminster Abbey. Its free to get into the museum, I had forgotten this. They ask for a $5 donation – but its not required. You can now even text a number and make your donation that way!

I wanted to check out the Rosetta Stone again – its just a great part of history!! Its shocking to think that we learned so much from this stone – that before was just a guess! I walked around a bit more and then continued on my walk, I was getting hungry. My walk took me through the off-Broadway theater neighborhood – very busy, everyone is out on this Friday night to go see a show. I decided I was really hungry now so I looked for a place to eat and finally decided on an Italian place.

I got myself some olives and pizza with a 7up and water. Literally EVERYTHING tastes better here. A big reason is they don’t allow artificial colors (like Fanta isn’t cartoon orange, its like orange juice orange), and they don’t modify their food either. They don’t cut pizza here – you cut each bite yourself. I really like that because it forces me to eat slower. I wrote out (and re-wrote my boarding pass writing) most of this blog there. Once the food is delivered I switch over to reading (current read: Nelson Mandela’s Autobiography).

After dinner I continued my venture over to Westminster Abbey. Last time I was here Big Ben was under construction, it has been over 2 years since Ive been here so I expected it to be cleared – but when I got to the neighborhood I realized in fact there was ever MORE scaffolding that before!! They are doing a full restoration of the Parliament and Big Ben (much needed). Its an amazingly large project, but it will be great when its done. I walked around a bit, went to the Abbey gates and then hopped on the Tube back to the Airbnb. I was exhausted and worn out – exactly what I needed to sleep through the night.

Money, Money, Money

Cash/Debit

As an inexperienced traveler – my dad helped me order Euro before I left on my first international trip. I thought – this is great, I have what I need to get by on this trip. I thought € 200 was the perfect amount of money for a month long trip in Greece and Turkey. Little did I know – my trip wasnt that cheap at all – AND I had overpaid for my Euro.

So what did I learn for the next trip? Well I didnt really. I decided against getting Euros before I left – and opted to get money at the airport. That seemed reasonable!! However, it wasnt and still isnt. I watched my classmates exchange USD for the Euro at the bank. While it offers a “Zero Fee” explanation – you get the worst exchange rate. But they get you – that “Zero Fee” gets everyone! I opted for the ATM near the exchange bank. Also – not a great idea – I paid a whole lot in fees! The international transaction fee from my bank at 3%, plus the ATM fee levied by my bank at $4, plus the ATM fee levied by the ATM at ~$3.50. All of that for $100. Needless to say – I was over that.

After my trials I decided to figure out the best way to get cash in a foreign country. Step 1: Get yourself a good bank! I ended up choose Charles Schwab. Charles Schwab offers ZERO international transaction fees. Most banks (Chase, Wells Fargo, local banks, etc) have a 1-3% international transaction fees on EACH and every transaction used with that card. If you use your regular bank – be ready to pay fees. Doesnt seem like much, but they all add up – and 3% is just mean! Using your regular bank is an option, you should first call the bank and let them know you are traveling internationally so they dont shut the card off on an assumption of fraud or theft.

if you need cash – get enough to make it worth your while. You will be paying the international transaction fee and an ATM fee. So taking out $10 could cost you $3.90 with ATM fees and transaction fees. If you want cash I recommend taking enough out for you to buy trinkets and snacks with for the time you will be using that currency. Say you are going to be in Paris, Rome and Munich for a week – then flying to London to end your trip for a few days. A week in those three countries (all on the Euro), I would recommend about € 200 for your snacks and trinkets. Some places only take cash (think side of the road trinkets) and small museums sometimes only take cash as well. That € 200 would only cost you about $10 in fees (transaction and ATM).

The final piece of advise on the debit card/ATM front? Cover your pin. This is actually the most common way of theft – a pick pocket will watch you and catch your pin, then steal your card from your pocket or wallet. Every ATM will instruct you to cover your pin, many now have a cover over the numbers to make it more difficult to have someone catch your pin being entered. If you are really worried about your cards/wallet getting stolen, I would recommend one of these: RFID travel money belt. Keeps your money safe under your shirt at belt level. You can also use it to hold your passport (though I would recommend the hotel safe for that.)

credit cards

The most important thing to remember is in industrialized countries – is that their security on using credit and debit cards is actually better than the US. So, dont panic using a debit or credit card at a small restaurant or shop. Over a DECADE ago, Europe (and actually most of the rest of the industrialized world) switched over to the chip. Ya know the fancy little chip that causes you to stick your card into the machine and have it yell at you to take it out? Yeah, that one.

So use your credit card (with ZERO fees) with the chip and your debit card with the chip and feel pretty safe doing so. If you are hesitant, use your bank app to verify your transactions – but in all my international travels, Ive never been hacked or had my information stolen – that has only happened in the US.

Madrid

Oh golly where do I start with Madrid?

Well I’ll start off by saying I don’t like it. Not any one thing in particular, but just not satisfied with the city.

When I arrived I was excited, first because it was the nicest train I have ever been on (truly like a first class plane ride!!) And second because it was a new city, and new things to explore.

I found my hostel again, no problem. Its a very popular hostel and very well orgainized. It has a bar here 😦 and the bar crawl was the only city tour they offered really!! As soon as I heard that I knew that there wouldn’t be much to do.

But I thought positive and headed to the city center to see what there was to see. And again, disappointment. Algonquin has a bigger ‘city center’ than Madrid. I decided to do the bus tour of Madrid in hopes of finding something to see. I road the bus for one whole loop of the ‘red-old madrid’ line. Then I hopped off and got some dinner, a pizza at a nice little place in the ‘center’ of town. After that I hopped onto the ‘blue-new madrid’ line. And road that around for a while. There was a bike rally, like bicycle, through town, it was pretty fun to watch. It took 2 hours, and I actually didn’t see a thing! It was like a tour of Schaumburg!! What a waste!!

So what I’ve decided to do, is get up around 9, go to the train station, swap my ticket for the 30th, for tomorrow. If they won’t swap it, I’m rebuying, its not worth saving money to lose a day of Europe. My plan is to stay in Paris for 4 nights, go to Normandy one day and London another. Dad, I’m pretty sure I get a stamp for that!! That way, I have 2 half days in Paris to see the city!

Going to bed now, gotta be hard asleep by the time the drunks come back home!!

My heart is breaking, Notre Dame is on FIRE!

Notre Dame in Paris is on fire. From the looks of the feed the spire is in danger.

UPDATES WILL CONTINUE….

The greatest news that can be received after this terrible fire is that the Bell Tower has been saved and that much artwork was able to be rescued before the destructive fire reached them! Over two thirds of the roof has been destroyed. The cathedral was under a $6+ million dollar renovation – including the twelve apostle copper statues that once lined the roof – and it is believed the fire has started up in the “forest” of the wooden ceiling. The statues from the roof were removed last week – as part of this renovation.

Thankfully the firefighters were able to save the piece of the Holy Crown of Thorns, Saint Louis’ linen fabric and and the treasury of the Cathedral. These priceless pieces of art and history can be removed during the rebuilding period (because they will rebuild) and continue to share the history with generations to come.

23:28: According to Laurent Nunez, secretary to the interior minister, the two towers at the front of the cathedral are safe. At this point that also means the bells are safe. The firefighters are working tirelessly to save the artwork. From the news reports, it sounds as though the fire has been fought internally much of the time to protect as much of the original portions of the cathedral as possible. I am no expert on artwork, but I do know that smoke damage is difficult to clean up in normal circumstances so artwork hundreds of years old would be extremely difficult.

Nunez stated that one firefighter was seriously injured and 2/3 of the roof has been destroyed. As of now, the belief that the iconic front facade of the cathedral has been saved.

The Spire has fallen. At 1955 Paris time the Spire has fallen. Follow the link below for video.

The moment #NotreDame’s spire fell pic.twitter.com/XUcr6Iob0b— Patrick Galey (@patrickgaley) April 15, 2019

More of the roof has caught fire after the Spire fell. The scene is reporting that the fire alarm sounded at 1830 Paris time. At that time the doors were shut without warning. Shortly after the doors shut white smoke began to escape the roof, then quickly darkened. Within moments bright orange flames broke through the roof and spread quickly.

It should be noted that 13-14 million people visit Notre Dame every year, making it the most visited place in Europe. This historic Cathedral was under renovations, scaffolding covered much of the roof area. With Easter this coming weekend – the city was preparing for the massive crowds ready to visit this historic landmark.

Around 1925 Paris time the Paris Police tweeted :

Translated that means : “Notre Dame Fire in progress. Avoid the area and facilitate the passage of emergency vehicles and intervention of the @prefpolice.”

As it currently stands the flames are large and raging. The spire is fully engulfed, it’s just a matter of time before it crumbles honestly. The wooden structure that supports much of the weight of this building is all currently in danger.

Construction of Notre Dame started in 1163, completed around 1250. Additions and remodels have take place since then as well. The spire was renovated in the 19th century, being completed by wood covered in lead. It makes it very heavy, and will do significant damage if/when it falls.