Disappointments on our last day

I slept so well last night. The bed was nice, but the temperature was just right! It was a beautiful night so we slept with the windows open instead of the AC. We went to breakfast and it was buffet style again. It was set up very nicely and had lots to choose from. It even had french toast (according to them, “The best french toast in the world.”)! it should be said, it was NOT the best french toast in the world, it was too eggy. I think they put break on a baking sheet and cover it in egg and bake it. Its very soggy and wasnt enjoyable. I did enjoy some granola and yogurt and of course cheese! We also decided to try the “Royal Cake” pastry. I didnt care for it. It was almond and fig leaf, but one of the spices in it made it taste horrible to me. Chris enjoyed it, but we didnt finish it.

After breakfast we went for a walk around the grounds. We discussed our plans for the day – heading to the new walking bridge I saw on the Today show, heading to a monastery turned nature park and then onto Coimbra. The monastery would be removed if we ran out of time. However, when I went to google the 518 bridge, there was a message about how you needed a TICKET! A month ago when I looked, it said nothing about appointments or tickets or anything – I mean, its a bridge! But sadly when I went to look at tickets, I found out that the earliest ticket I could get was for the last day of the month, so the bridge was out!

We ended up heading right to the monastery instead. It was about an hour and a half drive from us – so off we went! You had to pay $5 to get in per car, so no big deal! We parked after figuring out which way to go and then took off to find all the stairs we had seen in pictures. We started up the hill and found the first set of stairs. However after that we got a bit lost and decided to go back down and find a map. Of course you have to pay for a map, and we didnt want to, so we took a picture of the one they had set up and started walking.

We ended up behind a group going to the same place we were, but we were also following the blue trail. Turns out the blue trail, while it looks like it goes to the fountain stairs, doesnt actually go there once you are on the trail! We all got turned around at times, but ended up at the bottom of the stairs. It looked like a natural spring route that had been tamed by humans and made to look pretty, in between a set of stairs.

We kept going up the stairs to the top and followed that path, it took us right to our car. We probably walked about 3km out of the way to get there, but its fine. We were not in any rush.

After that we headed to our final town for the trip: Coimbra. Chris drove us to the town and even managed to get a parking spot right in front of the hotel! We lucked out! We got to check in early. Once we settled in, the lady at the front desk gave us a map and showed us what to see. First stop was a church in the lower part of the town.

We stopped for lunch to get pizza (I asked for pizza before we go home since its so good in Europe!) We enjoyed some olives, pizza, water, and then we both had some lemon gelato. While we were there a family came up and they looked very interesting. The dad was tall and lanky, didnt have a shirt on, just a vest and didnt look great. He told the waitress he wasnt feeling well (and of course he wasnt wearing a mask). It was dehydration, but still, put on a mask and get away from people, in the world we live in in right now, none of us know if you are really sick or not.

Turns out this town is built on a hill (or Everest as Chris’s friend called it). One of the streets is called “back breaker” and that was very true. It was essentially an alley with stairs, a lot of them. it took us near the top of the town to the church area.

We walked around inside and then took off to the top of the city where the university is located. The front desk lady said to check out the library, Chris’s friend said to check out the library, but guess what? You need tickets. And guess what? No tickets available. Im not sure if this is a Covid thing for the tickets, or if it is always like this, but it is very disappointing.

We walked around the university and then decided to head to the pedestrian bridge the hotel had recommended taking a look at. That meant we had to get down off the mountain. We ended up finding this stair alley. It was cool, basically straight up, Im glad we were walking down, but it was still really hard! We walked over one bridge and through a park, then came back across the river on the pedestrian bridge. It had a great view of the city in the background. We had to stop for a mini photoshoot. We do it for the ‘gram.

We talked about how we hadnt gotten massages yet, so I googled some. When we got back to the hotel, we asked them to call and everyone was full. It really made me miss Thailand and the ease at which you could get a foot massage at the end of a long day!

We head for home tomorrow. Im hoping everything works out alright – and that maybe I get stuck in London for a bit. I am really dreading going back to the states where people fight over masks, guns, wars, and rights. I just want to stay in my travel bubble a bit longer.

Bom Bidi Bom Jesus

Our Porto hotel has by far been our favorite. It was very nice, excellent customer service and we LOVED the location. I mean, in reality it was Chris and his research into the hotels that allowed us to have such great stays. We had a patio off our room, robes, a great bathroom – it was just grand. And to top it off, breakfast was the best we had so far!

After we indulged our stomachs with some excellent breakfast food – we headed off to the pharmacy down the street so we could get our Covid tests and not have to worry about getting the results too late before our flights on Sunday. We made our appointment for noon and headed out to check out our sites for the day.

First stop – the Stock Exchange, or what used to be the stock exchange. The stock exchange in Porto started before the one in Lisbon by a few years, but more recently it has been shut down in Porto and is strictly in Lisbon now. Anyway, one of the rooms is where Gustave Eiffel worked! This town also has a bridge by him and one of his students! The building is still used for commerce things, but also weddings and fancy shin digs. it has some amazing wood working but also FAKE wood, one room looked like all wood but it was in fact plaster from the shoulder height up. We had to take a tour with a guide as it is an active business building.

After our visit to the stock exchange we headed to the Capela das Almas – a church covered in the Portuguese blue and white tiles. It was about a mile away, up hill to get to. The church it is on is a shopping street – and that district has hung some aerial art – which sadly now impedes thee view of the church in its entirety.

From there Chris was kind enough to go with me to the Ponte Luis I bridge. We had crossed the bottom yesterday to go Port tasting, but since it was such a high point of the city I wanted to get on the top portion. It has a walking path and tram paths. The view was so pretty. This bridge was designed by Eiffel’s student. It is still used to this day. I love bridges and enjoyed getting to experience both levels of the bridge. It also allowed us to check out two more bridges, Eiffel’s and the vehicle bridge in between.

We had to head back to the hotel and check out at that point. Once we were packed, the front desk held our bags and we headed off to get swabbed for the Covid test. The upstairs of the pharmacy was a little pharmacy museum. These stupid swabs are not fun, but this one was better than I had in the states as the swab was thinner.

Now, its time to shop! I got some Port wine for my cousin (Mike, if you read this, your birthday present is coming early) and Chris was able to get some other gifts for his list. He likes to do his Christmas shopping on our trips, I had shopping and lugging around so I try to avoid it. I like pictures better.

Once we had what we wanted, we headed back to the hotel and grabbed our luggage and off we went to pick up our car at the garage. It is very silly. If you pay in the machine a 24 hour period is $37 – if you pay the guy working in the office is $23. So thankful I read google when we found the garage.

Chris was lucky enough to drive back out of the city and onto Braga. In reality the only thing we went to see there was Bom Jesus, a pilgrimage site that the Portuguese has built in the 16 and 1700s. It became larger and larger over time. We parked above the church and walked through a park to get there. Then we climbed down the stairs and back up. Its a lot of stairs, but the landings for sure help it not feel so horrible.

I drove us away from Brage to Guimares. Here we are staying in an old monastery. It is basically 15 minutes from the nearest town by foot – but has beautiful gardens, a pool and a restaurant. We decided to hang by the pool once we got here. It was a nice relaxing end of the day. We even decided to eat dinner at the hotel so we didnt have to get back in the car. It was much fancier than yesterday (when I dressed up!) and of course I did not dress up tonight.

The food was great, and the service was the best we have had so far.

Tomorrow is our last day in Portugal and then it is back to real life. This is something I am most definitely not looking forward to. It has been so nice to be around people who know that wearing a mask means that we can keep living our lives safely. They are being selfless here and I have appreciated every last person doing their part to open the world back up.

More bones, duh!

We got up earlier than breakfast today so we could walk around town since we didnt get here until basically it was closed for the night yesterday. On our way out we asked to move breakfast to 10 so we could stop at the bone church (wooohoo) BEFORE we ate. They had an opening, so we moved it and set off to explore the waking city.

We didnt have much in mind to check out, just meandered around and witnessed the city come to life. Shop owners setting up for the day, cafes setting out tables and pastries. It was a wonderful way to start the day, along with the rest of the city.

We got to the church at opening, we beat the crowds (maybe there is a crowd?) and hit the church first (the bone chapel is next door). The church was pretty bland. I was actually very disappointed because it looked very cheap. Like the outside had PAINTED grout lines on it (it was stucco made to look like blocks) and the inside was the same way!! It was just shocking, so cheap looking!

Anyway, after the blasé church we headed to the bone chapel. This chapel even had two mummies! It is said that the mummies had been found hanging in the corner and stayed that way for a while. It was much more recently (like within the last 10 years or so) that they have been removed from their hanging position and placed in glass boxes. Their origin is unknown. The chapel was created by some nuns to show the fragility and temporariness of human life (kind of ironic in today’s world). Anyway, as always the bone churches are a site to see and really do speak to the temporariness of humanity.

After the bone church we headed back towards our hotel and the church behind it was finally open. We also decided to check this one out. This one had a tower you could go up to, so of course, we must climb! Turns out, it wasnt a tower, it was the ROOF! It was cool to walk around the whole roof of the church. Wasnt much more than that to see there, but the views were great and it was a nice site to see before we left!

We went back to our hotel to eat breakfast and to grab our things and hit the road! We had super lucked out with our parking spot last night, so it was a nice easy walk to our car with our bags. Getting out of our spot was another story. I had to park against the block wall on the drivers side, which meant I had to climb over the passenger seat to get into the driver seat. Since this car is diesel, the gears are a bit different in automatic. You arent “held” in place on a hill like a gas automatic. You still need to wait for the gear shift to happen. That being said, the spot was tight and made for a long process to get out. I kept panicking I was hitting the van in front of me, because of course I was left with very little room to navigate out of the spot. Chris so kindly got out to ensure that I wasnt hitting the cars or the wall.

Once we were on the road I realized we would need fuel again before we got to Porto, so about an hour and a half in I pulled over at a station and got some diesel. Diesel is so dirty that they provide GLOVES for you when fueling up. It is just so kind! This little Benz is getting great gas mileage – it was only our second fill up, and it wasnt even on empty – it just wasnt going to make it all the way there.

We hit the road again and in another hour or so we switched drivers. Chris drove the rest of the way and into Porto. Porto is a CRAZY city for driving. random turns, one way streets, things Google thinks are streets, but Americans think otherwise (still dont know if it was a street, but it wasnt worth it to figure it out). We turned down this street and I said “We should really find parking” and BOOM, 100 meters behind us was parking, we just passed it when I said it. Thankfully no one was behind us so Chris backed up and we got in line. The garage was full and so until vehicles leave the gate wont open. It is great that the system is so smart, but annoying when you want to park.

We were the third car, but all of a sudden 3 cars came out and we were able to get in. The spots are tighter than the ones in San Francisco, CA! We found the last spot in the garage and parked for the night. The hotel was about 500 meters from the garage, we couldnt have had better luck!

We got to our hotel room and Chris had to take a work call (stupid work getting in the way of life!). I went outside to read for a bit and enjoy the outdoors (its much cooler here and provides much a more comfortable experience). His work call was postponed until tomorrow, so he called the front desk to get us reservations at a Port tasting room and dinner reservations.

The Port tasting room was a 30 minute walk, it wasnt far, its just downhill to the river, then back up hill on the other side. Needless to say, I climbed more than 50 sets of stairs today according to my watch! Anyway, I learned a whole lot about Port wine, and that it actually isnt horrible (I thought it was a bitter wine, its much more fruit and smooth than regular wine). I took a sip of both red and white and then gave them to Chris. We ordered some olives, because SO GOOD!

After our Port tasting we had a hustle back to the hotel so we wouldnt be too late for dinner. Tonight was our “nice” dinner. For me that meant a button down and jeans. For Chris is meant the same….just nicer haha! He ironed my shirt so I wouldnt look like a hoodlum. We then headed back down to the river for dinner.

This place was super cool. We ate right on the water and enjoyed wonderful food, beautiful views, perfect weather and excellent company! We have been enjoying the snacks menu at dinner. Tonight we got bread and olive oil, sheep cheese and olives. All were very good! My meal was a “calzone,” a salad and potatoes. What it was, was a veggie omelet wrapped in a tortilla, shoe string fries (like the ones that come in a canister at the store) and a salad. It was good though. Chris got veal, a salad and au gratin potatoes (his really was all that).

After dinner we were heading for gelato and everything was already closing. It was only 9pm (I know REALLY late for me, but Im doing “Europe”) and so we knew there had to be something open with gelato. We walked past our hotel and found a place. This one had the best gelato yet. I got oreo and nutella. Chris got chocolate chip cookie crunch. It was excellent!

We did some souvenir shopping after that and headed back to bed! What another amazing day in Portugal!

When everything works out!

This morning we got up and enjoyed some breakfast – but not before being very much out of it because of a one hour time change between Portugal and Gibraltar. For some reason that really threw off our bodies clocks.

Anyway, after breakfast I packed my stuff up and Chris and I took his suitcase and all my stuff (except the candy) to the car because he was dropping me off again at the Gibraltar Nature Park so I could do some more exploring.

While it should be known Gibraltar is SMALL, like less than 3 square miles small. However, there are so many tiny little streets and one ways, one COULD get lost in town. At least getting lost wouldnt last toooooo long. Ive had to do a few roundabouts a couple times because Ive exited the wrong link or couldnt figure out the right one to take.

Anyway, Chris drove me to the park so I could take the gondola (Cable Car) to the top and check out some more of things we didnt get to see yesterday. He wasnt as excited about the park again, so he went back to the hotel to finish packing and hang out by the pool.

I was very excited for the cable car ride to the top – the sky was already more clear than yesterday so I could actually see the Spanish peninsula. I was one of the first people to the top today, which was great and not so great. It was nice since it wasnt busy and no one would be in my way, but not so nice because the monkey’s hadnt seen enough people yet today…..

I got my “top of the rock” pictures from their glass observation deck and then made my way to Ohara’s Battery. As soon as I walked out of the observation area I noticed a few monkeys hanging out on the ledge. I got my camera out to take a picture of him and he started following me, I thought it was cute so I recorded him and then BOOM he pounced on me. Thankfully after watching them do this yesterday to people I stayed calm, but then I couldnt figure out what he was doing – he was OPENING MY BACKPACK!! I yelled “Hey!” and he jumped off and with that the bite guard case and bite guard went flying. I was trying to be so good and bring it with me for my walking around – and now 5 minutes in and I am no longer willing to stick it in my mouth!

After the monkey so rudely started my day in the park I continued on. I climbed up some steps to an old military camp and checked it out. I continued on towards Ohara’s Battery. At the entrance to this area there was a sign that talked about the Mediterranean steps. I thought “oh more steps!” The information said it was 1.5-2 hours and 1.5Kms. I thought they meant round trip…Either way I decided to check out the battery first. They still have the equipment in place, its pretty crazy to think that they managed to get the equipment up the rock in the first place. the size of the equipment versus all the turns and things on the paths – it wouldnt have been easy.

I got some good views of what should normally be the view of Africa, but since it was cloudy, I had a view of clouds. Either way it was a nice view!

After walking around there for a bit I decided to try the steps. A family was coming back (or so I thought) from their hike right when I walked to the top. They kept saying “the end is the worst, it was hard.” I figured, well sure, we are on a rock. What I didnt realize is they had walked UP the rock, I was walking down (and then assumed back up). The hike down was NOT very easy. It ended up taking me over an hour – but what a cool hike and what views!!

My service was spotty most of the way, but Chris was able to come and get me at the bottom when I got there, so it all worked out perfectly! Since we had checked out of the hotel and I had finished on the rock, all that was left (on my list, he didnt have a list) was to WALK across the runway that I had driven across yesterday. We parked the car in the car park and headed to the crossing.

I had learned that I wasnt going to be lucky and see a plane take off and traffic get stopped because the planes had taken off already and wouldnt again for over 3 hours. So we decided to cross anyway and just come right back. As we were crossing a military plane was warming up, but I thought nothing of it. We got across the runway and saw a large grocery store so we decided to head in for some of our favorite candies and to check for Gatorade (its been very hard to find!)

We got lots of candy (duh!) and I got blood orange juice! We then headed back outside. Traffic was stopped and I couldnt figure it out, then I heard it, the military plane. I ran across the street since there were less people and watched it take off! It was amazing!! To be so close, having just walked across that runway, just fascinating!

I couldnt figure out why they werent opening the gates for everyone and then I saw an EasyJet plane coming down the runway to take off, the planes had all been delayed!! Thanks to those clouds I saw earlier! I got to see a SECOND plane take off! They opened the gates for vehicles only after that plane. And about 2 minutes later another EasyJet plane was coming down the runway – a third and final plane we would get to see!! It just disappeared into the clouds immediately after take off!

They opened the road and we crossed back over, after a WONDERFUL day of checking off all my things on the list!! We got back in the car and headed across the runway to head to Ronda, Spain.

Customs and Border patrol was easy. No stamps, no stopping. The drive to Ronda was an hour and 45 minutes. Chris was driving this time so he could enjoy all the experiences too! It was a toll road we took and I think we ended up paying for 5 tolls when we only needed 3 – but we couldnt figure it out!

The drive to Ronda was crazy – wayyyyy up in the mountains, windy roads and slow speeds! But it was so pretty! The drive was cool, but the reason we drove this way was to see the town. The car rental guy told me about this town and that we should go visit cuz it reminded him of Game of Thrones (means nothing to me) and Lord of the Rings (also means nothing to me, but Chris knew it). We managed to find parking and get the pictures we wanted of this little town and its bridge.

We tried to find some gelato and failed, so just got back in the car and headed out of town onto Evora, our stop for tonight. We were in and out so quickly we got FREE parking!

Our drive to Evora was almost 5 hours. I had almost all highway driving and was just so bored. Chris had such a pretty view for his time driving, my turn was like driving down I-5 AGAIN! We stopped a couple times and then we decided to switch. The moment we switched we went back to some back roads before hitting the highway again, he always gets the cool driving! We did see a fire in the distance AND a castle on a hill, so I played Ed Sheeran’s “Castle on the Hill.” I think Chris is glad there havent been more castles!

Our hotel tonight is an old convent. We arrived and found a spot to park in while we checked in. It is in a little square next to the Roman ruins and a church. Its just crazy how historical things can be! The convent has some old artwork and things in the halls, but the building is neat the rooms are fine. We have a double bed tonight and a “cell” for a room. Buts it clean and nice!

We went out to find dinner around 845- turns out not many places are open tonight (weird) and if they are they are packed, so dinner was 2 scoops of gelato. But Im not complaining!

Tomorrow we are headed to another bone church then off to Porto! Think Port wine!

From Lisbon to Faro

Today we left Lisbon, but not before checking out the last two things on our to do list: the oldest bookshop in the world and the Cathedral (Se Cathedral).

We first headed to the bookstore that opened at 9am. Google told us it would take about 10 minutes, so we went walking. Of course, its up on a hill and that required some steep hill climbing to get there, but it was worth it. The bookstore is from like the 1790s or something and has been in operation the whole time. It has been updated, but the location and idea stayed the same. They had a small English section, but I didnt find anything I wanted/needed so I ended up empty handed.

After the bookstore we walked back down towards our hotel, and headed up the other hill in town to the Cathedral. That opened at 10am, and we were a little early so we just sat and tried to take pictures from the outside. A construction crew decided to park their van right in front of the cathedral and not move it the WHOLE time that we were out there.

Once it was open we entered. This cathedral was like the life blood of the city. The money from taxes on the spices from Africa paid for so many of the religious buildings in the city, this being the main one. It has stood for hundreds of years and basically survived the earthquake from the 1770s. Inside the church is actually pretty boring, not gaudy at all! (which I mean I appreciate). However our little tour for $4 took us upstairs to see some of the artifacts of the church, including robes and other Catholic things I dont know what they are?!

After we finished at the Cathedral, we headed back to our hotel to finish packing and head to the airport – time to pick up our ride! We learned that the taxis we both took probably ripped us off a bit (I paid $30, he paid $19 on the way into the city). To the airport it cost us all of $12, very different pricing!

He dropped us off at the rental car facility, however I learned the hard way that we to go TO the counters INSIDE the airport in order to start the process. Their desks in the rental car facility are pointless. And the guys were rude. So Chris stayed with the bags at their remote desk and I headed into the terminal to get in what I thought was going to be a very long line to check in and get the paperwork taken care of. Thankfully Sixt rental car (our company) had a short line!

I had a really nice guy help me and talked me into upgrading (I NEVER do this). His argument was that we would save more money on fuel and have a more comfortable car if we upgrade. So….I did. It should save us over $100 in the end AND we ended up with a BENZ! So win!

I drove us out of Lisbon and over the April 25th bridge. It looks EXTREMELY similar to the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco. It was built in the the 20th century by the San Francisco bridge company. They are the ones who built the Bay Bridge (originally). Anyway, it was a cool bridge to drive over, and just experience, mainly because of the twinning factor with the Golden Gate. That and I love bridges.

We had about a 2.5 hour drive ahead of us. I was really trying to hydrate after another hot day yesterday, so I was guzzling the water and Gatorade. After a bit I needed to stop for a bathroom break – a perfect time to get some snacks! Apparently every single person on the road decided it was a perfect time to stop as well, so the stop was PACKED. They have gas stations, restaurants, car washes and bathrooms all in one stop, like America would have a rest stop. There were so many cars there we had to circle the parking lot! After my bathroom break, we hit the road again, with a nice cold bottle of water and some snacks!

Chris navigated me to what we called the “heart shape.” He found it on Trip Advisor or something like that and it looked so cool! A natural rock formation that would line up to look like a heart at the right angle. So of course, we must go! (That and we didnt have much to see in Faro anyway) So the heart shape is near a beach and the roads were PACKED! We ended up parking in a lot that others had parked in. We started what we believed would be a short walk to the rock formation. I decided NOT to bring water, and lets just say that was the dumbest thing I have done in a long time! Our little hike became an adventure that was about twice as long as we expected.

It didnt help that we couldnt find a marked path, so we just meandered around and kept going to where we thought it was, long after Google had told us we were there. Me being, well me, decided to climb the rocks instead of attempt to find a path, so Chris and I scaled the wall of stone in flip flops on a mission to find the heart. We had some amazing views of the ocean, tons of kayakers and boaters out exploring, some cave like things, etc. However, we just kept striking out, until finally we found it. On our way to it, we realized we were on the wrong side of the warning signs….oops! Surprisingly we saw one other couple up where it was and that was it….but also it was EASILY 100* wit NO shade and we had no water.

After we got our pictures for the Gram (instagram that is) we decided to head back to the car cuz it was so darnnnnnn hot! This most definitely did not go as planned! I ended up getting so hot, having to pee AND starting to feel a bit nauseous. I felt heat stroke coming in. So Chris watched out for people while I jetted off to potty in the dust/clay and then we got on our way. However at this point I was really struggling. Chris was so kind and was making shade for me with his shirt above his head, making sure I was doing ok and pausing at every bit of shade we passed. He was going to get the car to meet me but was afraid I would just stop – he was probably right. Until I knew where we were it was probably best he didnt leave me, I think I would have sat down and struggled to get up. Once we knew where we were, he ran to get the car and I continued on the path. It was only about 5 minutes from the time he left to the time I got in the car, but I had never been so thankful for a car ride (lets be real, it was for the AC and water).

He kindly drove us to the Faro hotel (which I navigated us to the CENTER of Faro before realizing that wasnt the hotel – but hey I was out of it when I typed it in!). Its a little B&B that is almost more like a hostel, but we have our own private bathroom, and we are only here for the night. Once we checked in we cooled off in the AC since it was still well over 100*. Around 7pm we headed out for dinner at this place on the water thinking it would be cooler. It was NOT! But it was a nice restaurant. We got a cheese and meat platter, Chris got sangria and I got a Sprite. Chris got an omelet for dinner and I got the “cod and cream” which was really more like a cod cake – that was DIVINE! Apparently if you dont finish your cheese tray they dont think you are ready for dinner so we waited over 40 minutes for our dinner until we grabbed someone’s attention and they apologized because they didnt think we were done. All in all, very good restaurant though!

After dinner we walked through the old down, it was so quaint and pretty at night. We ended at a gelato place near the hotel, got our daily scoops and headed back to the hotel for the night.

It was a HOT and fun day. Note to self: ALWAYS BRING WATER.

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.