When I was thinking about what a fabulous year 2012 was, I realized I never blogged about our trip to Switzerland! We left the day after my internship was over and spent four days in Lucerne with James’ parents and sister. The mountain air was wonderful and we had a great time hanging out with the fam. Emily and James did most of the picture-taking, so here are the highlights! Continue reading
James and I both have an insane amount of vacation days to take off before our contracts end (I have 16.5 days for my 4-month contract, crazy!), so we planned a little vacation to Berlin. Continue reading
Just a bit about our Christmas, over a month late. My apologies. 🙂
James found us this amazing hostel in London, Astor Hyde Park. Right next to Hyde Park and about 15 mins from Harrods. We were in a big dorm room so it was cheaper, but still my favorite hostel we stayed at. They even had a special dinner Christmas day that we participated in, so fun! We met a lot of nice people (mainly Australians since they can work in the UK for 2 years, lucky). The only annoying thing was there were about as many people working as visiting so there was a lot of “staff” things. “Staff table”, “staff breakfast”, “staff blah blah”. Most of them were nice though.
London is one of my favorite cities. It really just amazes me how clean things are there, especially the Tube. The first day we just went to Harrods (which was nuts!) and guess who is their new mascot? HENRY! Well, a dog that looks a lot like Henry. They had a million things with him on it but I managed to control myself and only bought a notepad for my parents and a Christmas ornament.
The next day we did another New Europe walking tour, this time it was great! Even in the rain. The only disappointed was the Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square. I was expecting something along the lines of the one in Rockefeller Center, not even close. More like Charlie Brown. After our fabulous tour we found one of the restaurants in the tour book a teacher lent me: Pret a Manger. Now, for some reason I thought it was just one restaurant and we were lucky enough to stumble upon it during our tour. No, its a chain and if you’re going anywhere fun you’re bound to see one. We had lunch there and it was delicious with reasonable prices. For the rest of the trip we knew if we saw a Pret a Manger we were going in the right direction. Thanks Madame Blas!
For some reason I thought it would be fun to go to Christmas Eve midnight mass in London. Even now I can’t remember why, but the Brompton Oratory was not too far from our hostel and my sweet James agreed to go with me. In retrospect I wish we would’ve just stayed at the hostel and watched Home Alone. When we got there it was already packed, standing room only. The church itself was amazing though, a gem considering the distaste for Catholics London once had. First the choir sang a few numbers, absolutely fabulous (my favorite part of the whole thing actually), then mass started. I was excited to finally have a mass in English, but right before it started I said to James, “Do you think this is going to be in Latin? If it is I want to go home”. Of course it was. We stayed though and after a while of standing we went to one of the side chapels and sat on the kneelers. The most entertaining thing about the whole service was some guy decided to bring his black lab. James and I watched him/her most of the night.
Christmas day everything was closed, even the Tube, so we decided to take a walk through Hyde Park. It was so beautiful! A little cold, but the sun was shining so we decided to walk back to Buckingham Palace and St. James Park as well.
When we got back to the hostel the Christmas party was just getting started. We only paid 5 pounds a piece and had tons of food! It was a super fun day/night with tons of foods, drinking, dancing, and games.
The day after Christmas in the UK is Boxing Day, which must be the biggest shopping day of the year for them. James and I made the mistake of going to Oxford Street. It was SO crazy! We went into a few stores but couldn’t even begin to look at things and to purchase something probably would’ve taken an hour. I actually saw a group of girls run down stairs and push people out of their way for stuff. After that madness we went up to the Camden Markets. A lot of cheesy, crappy stuff but some really interesting creations as well. I found a lot dresses I liked way out of my price range and James found the most super cool shoes ever (AND on sale), but they didn’t have his size. Boo.
That night we went to see the new Sherlock Holmes movie. At the theater we went to, they assign you seats when you get the tickets, just like at a real theater, so we had to sit fairly close. I still liked the movie though!
The next day we went to the Imperial War Museum which is located in the old mental hospital, Bedlam. The museum was HUGE and had a lot interesting things. We were planning on only spending an hour or so I think we ended up staying for 3. It still amazes me that all museums in London are free!
One of the things I really wanted to do in London was a ghost tour. James found this really cool company called London Walks and the walk was great! We walked through so many little alley ways and quaint areas of the City of London. The tour guide was great as well and talked about a lot of historical things as well as the ghost stories. One of my favorites parts was that we saw Diagon Alley! I think I might have embarrassed James by yelling it out before the tour guide told us, but I was so excited! Pictures coming soon!
For our last day in London we went towards the City of London area again and the Tower Bridge. We walked across Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern and this time gave ourselves a time limit. I really like a lot of what we saw! One of our favorites was the “married couple”.
After a lovely lunch at the Tate Modern we went by St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London, and the Tower Bridge. I really wanted to go into the Tower of London (it looks so cool!), but it costs 17 pounds! I couldn’t believe it was so much! They must be trying to make up for all the museums being free.
For dinner we went in search of Fryer’s Delight, supposedly the best Fish and Chips in town. We actually found it, but it was closed. Bank Holiday. GRR!! Next time for sure. As a consolation for eating McDonald’s, James took me to the Winter Wonderland aka Christmas Market. I had been talking about hot wine the whole trip, so I was super excited to get some! The Winter Wonderland was a little different than what we have in France in that it had lots of rides, and even a weird haunted house roller coaster. We walked around for a while and then headed back to our new hostel by St. Pancras station.
If you’ve been to London you might know that St. Pancras is right next to King’s Cross. Who gets on their train at Kind’s Cross? That’s right, Harry Potter! James was sweet enough to take my picture: I’m on my way to Hogwarts!
In order to catch our super early train to Paris the next morning we had to switch hostels. James warned me it didn’t get good reviews, but I don’t think I could’ve ever been prepared for the night ahead of us. It looked sketchy from the outside, but was actually quite clean. The horrendous part was our room. Bunk beds three tall, no place to put your stuff, super squeaky door, music all night, at least 15 people in the room, guy snoring super loud next to me. And to make matters worse I was getting sick. I don’t think I’ve ever had a worse night. Although it was utterly terrible, it was exactly the location we needed.
The Eurostar was great, well what a remember. We both fell asleep almost immediately and woke up in Paris. WEE!! I’ll try to write more about Paris soon, James had a few tricks up his sleeve!
Just posting a few pics from our Christmas voyage.
I was a little afraid I wasn’t going to like Bruges because so many people have told me what a tourist trap it is. Umm, whatever, it was amazing!! Okay, so it was really cold and snowing but the city was so cute. We stayed at a hostel called Snuffle and our room was inside another room. You literally had to walk through one room to get to ours and most people didn’t even realize it was there when we popped out. Our little annex would’ve been great except it was a four-bed room so we weren’t on our own.
We mainly just walked around the city. It was so cute though, especially with the freshly fallen snow the next morning. We walked along a canal and then to the windmills where a lot of locals had taken their children to go sledding. Oh, and I got to see the Basilica of the Holy Blood where they claim to have a vial of Christ’s blood. Who knows if its really true, but we timed it just right so I was able to walk up and see it. Its in this really fancy vial, but is a gross, thick, reddish brown. The church itself was quite small, but very pretty. We also walked to Minnewater (Love Lake) which was gorgeous as well. I’m sure Bruges is amazing in the summer, but I’d take less tourists and snow any day.
When we were leaving Bruges is when the snowstorm of the century hit Europe. Okay, so maybe not of the century, but it shut most of the region we were in down. We were supposed to switch trains in Brussels, but when we arrived, everything to Amsterdam was canceled (which it took us a least an hour in line to find out). Major Bummer. Of course I didn’t have any credit on my French pay-as-you-go phone (boo!), so I couldn’t call another assistant who was in Brussels. We did manage though to use some sketchy Internet at the train station and find a hostel. We were so exhausted from traveling and carrying our bags around forever we thought it would be late when we got to the hostel, nope only 8.
The next morning we got up early hoping there would be trains going to Amsterdam again. No luck. This time we waited about 2 hours in line to find out what we should do. In the mean time we met a guy from Chicago who had to get to Amsterdam as well. He had his laptop with him and was trying to buy a Thalys ticket (magically, the more expensive trains were running), which we were getting ready to do when it was our turn. The guy at the counter told us to take a train to Antwerp and from there we might be able to get a bus to the border. We really had nothing to loose at this point, so the three of us went off on our day long journey to Amsterdam.
Brussels->Antwerp-> Roosendaal->Rotterdam->Leiden->Schiphol Airport->Amsterdam
Thats how many times we had to switch trains. Who knows why you couldn’t just get a train directly there, but every station we went to, we just got sent to another city. But we made it!
We stayed at the Flying Pig Hostel, but they sort of ripped us off. Since we didn’t make it the first night and emailed instead of calling, they canceled our reservations. When they saw our email they remade them, but for a much more expensive room. Jerks. The hostel itself was okay though. Amsterdam’s canals were very lovely and I really liked seeing Anne Frank’s house. It wasn’t my most favorite city, but I’d go back in the sumer for a bike ride.