Wednesday, April 6, 2011

EuroTrip Day 2: London to Brussels

Day Two (Sat. July 11, 2009)

Day Two is longer than day one, read if you dare.

I was awoken by what sounded like someone cutting metal and smashing glass, but I managed to get back to sleep only to have a knock at the door 5 minutes later. It was 8:42 and our wake-up call came by way of a bellboy at our door announcing that he was our wakeup call. Unusual… our 8:30 wakeup CALL happened at 8:42 at our door. We got dressed and showered and headed down to the Lobby where I suddenly realized I might die if I didn’t eat or drink anything in the next 5 seconds.

In the past 36 hours I had eaten a sandwich, a 4x4 inch square of pizza, 2 beers, an espresso and 1 bottle of water. Oh yah, we walked like 8 miles too. The hotel restaurant closed literally the minute we walked in, so we continued on to the very next place we saw: Starbucks. Not very exotic, but my life was depending on it. After some fruit, a croissant and 2 bottles of water, I was back in business. Dan naturally made fun of me for expecting that he would be the tired one, when in fact I was the weak link. When traveling – especially on day one, when the adrenaline and excitement is pushing you forward, making you believe you aren’t hungry… you are. Eat something.

The Itinerary must go on, however, so we walked down to Big Ben where we hoped to take the City cruise up to the Tower Bridge, but alas, we didn’t have 45 minutes to spare waiting in the insanely long line. Back underground we went to the Tube and up and over to the Monument. It’s actually incredibly impressive. A very tall singular piece of stone carved into a monument to commemorate the massive fire of London. There were 311 steps to the top, where we were able to see the entire city, which is less impressive than you would think, but worth the sweat to get there. After all, we did get a certificate to prove we could handle it.

After that adventure, we got back onto the Tube to make our way to Waterloo. At this point in the trip, I became pretty impressed with myself as I no longer needed to look at the Tube map to see which line we should be taking and in what direction. Everyone says that the metro systems in Europe are way easier to navigate than Boston and NYC, and for London that’s definitely true. At the Waterloo station we picked up the National Rail to get us all the way out to Hampton Court Palace: Henry VIII’s favorite castle.

Since I planned almost no time for eating in our itinerary, we were starving by the time the train arrived at the palace, so we headed right for the Tiltyard CafĂ©, where I indulged in a chicken pie and some veggies. This was definitely our best meal in London, no questions asked and the pot pie reminded me of home. Dan had the same with a side of soup and bread. While we sat in the courtyard where Princes and Queens had once walked we laughed at my (bad) joke: “Mind the Gaps!” For some reason I found it hilarious that the operators of the Tube were obsessed with saying “mind the gaps between the platform and the train.” It’s even funnier when I say it in my awesome English accent. Then I called my Dad because bad jokes remind me of him. Sorry Dad.

At that point Dan had started to eat his slice of bread and noticed that he could “taste the British in it.” I found that to be incredibly amusing. He just kept going on and on about how he could taste the British and Italian in his bread. Then he mentioned Mark Beisley (our only English acquaintance) and wondered if this is what Mark would taste like if Dan decided to bite him. When lunch was finally over, we made our way to the old Tudor kitchens. It was interesting to see how food was prepared back before electricity. Lots of fireplaces covered every inch of the kitchen. They were pretty damn big too - like 20 people could fit into one of the fireplaces no problem. And there were about 5 of them in each part of the kitchen. I imagined it was probably pretty hot in there during banquet time, unsanitary too. From the kitchen we actually bumped into King Henry himself in the wine cellar, he was downing a few glasses before his 4:00 wedding that afternoon, arm wrestling anyone who dare challenged him.

We also saw the Queen’s apartments, where Queen Ann (from the 1700s) actually slept. The same bed, sheets, everything. The mere sight was pretty unreal, not to mention covered in a massive sheet of dust. If you were real daring you could have sat down in her bed! Of course, the entire thing probably would have crumbled beneath you, and then you would be stuck in British jail for a while. We also saw the King’s apartments and some amazingly impressive paintings and tapestries - couldn’t quite figure out how they were possibly woven back in the 1600’s. Even Dan admitted how impressive it was for them to figure out the whole thing.

We then spent some time navigating the rather impressive hedge maze and making our way to the middle. Yes, I traversed right to the middle! By the time we left the palace we had taken in quite a bit of history. Our train back to Waterloo was an interesting ride as we chatted with some British folks about different things to see and do in London. Dan laughed hysterically at me when they asked where we were from and I said “CT, near New York”. Obviously they knew we were from America because they heard us talk. So I figured when they asked where, they were looking for the name of a state. Oh well, the man relayed to his wife that CT was on the “East Coast”.

Back in the City of London we got over to the Tower Bridge. We had bought the London Pass before we left the states and it was definitely worth the money for us – free entrance into all the attractions mentioned, plus free tube rides.

Inside the bridge towers, we climbed to the top (a much easier ascent than the climb to the top of the Monument) where we learned a lot about why the bridge was built and some interesting facts: for example, in WWII a bomb that was destined for the bridge actually bounced off of it, and never exploded. We went down into the steam engine room to see how they lifted the partitions so that large boats could come through before electric power. Dan said that it was very similar to how nuclear power works, except much, much smaller. At that point it was getting late so we had to make our way back to the Hotel to pick up our luggage and hop aboard the Eurostar bound for Brussels.

We arrived at St. Pancras station about 45 minutes before our train left, but we breezed through the passport check. I was amazed that there were no snags, no delays and nothing to report except for the fact that Dan was very impressed himself for spending the remainder of his British Pounds before we arrived in Brussels, thus rendering them useless. The train was very fast, 2 hours to Brussels and traveled at about 300 km/hour. We were in the Chunnel and out before we really noticed. Sadly, we had no idea we were under the English Channel… would have been fun to know.

We arrived in Brussels at the station and dragged our bags down several levels to the Metro station. Here is where we began to run into some issues. First, we had to buy travel cards for the metro, and the machines wouldn’t take credit cards or paper money. Naturally, we didn’t have any euro coins yet. A helpful station manager convinced a local vendor to give us the proper change for the Belgian waffle we had to purchase. Yes, Belgian Waffles are everywhere! The guy at the shop was obviously a jerk, he didn’t want to give us change, so we had to buy something. And when we bought something and finally got the change, he didn’t want to give us the waffle we had purchased! I became pretty nervous when the Station manager started following us around and mentioning that we should not let our bags out of our site for a minute.

The nervousness continued as we sat to wait for the metro in what I think is the dirtiest subway station I have ever seen. Some thugs with piercings all over walked by us and spat all over the tracks. People spitting really grosses me out, I mean come on… it’s just disgusting. Aside from the hooligans, the place was completely empty. The metro ride itself was only 10 minutes to the Hotel, but pretty weird. Dan declared almost immediately that it would not be a good idea for me to ride the subway by myself during the day. Also, the seats were not very big, I sat in one section with my luggage and Dan had to sit in another. After the first stop some huge fat French girl came and sat down right next to me. The entire car was empty, and she sat right next to me effectively boxing me in… Europeans have a very different concept of space.

We were extremely glad to arrive at the Hotel in one piece and found our way to the Room. Happily, the rooms at the Brussels Sheraton are the same size as American Hotels (London’s hotel room could fit in the Brussels’ room 3 times over). I was really interested to see so many different languages represented on the TV. In fact, the weather girl was giving the forecast for all of Europe and Africa, America, Australia… the entire globe. That kind of thing makes me laugh because I know if I saw the forecast for NY at home I would be pissed off, never mind the entire world. I finally fell asleep at 3 am Brussels time, 9 pm in the States, completely frustrated at the notion of being stuck in the hotel all week if Brussels really was as sketchy as it seemed.

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