Tuesday, September 21, 2010

London; The End of the Road

A little late with this blog entry; was running a fever of 103 last night for a little post-travel system shock, but back to normal now.

So, London. The final stop. So many things to do, so little time. Fortunately, I was staying in a pretty good location (a couple blocks off London Bridge), and I think I hit most of the highlights. And I spent A LOT of time in the West End - great seats for waaaaay cheap (e.g., £25 for 3rd row center at "Avenue Q")

A recap:

Day 1: Walked along the Thames to the Tower Bridge and crossed over to see the Tower of London. Wandered down the river on that side to St Paul's, then went over to Leicester and got tickets for Avenue Q (excellent as expected). Explored the squares (Piccadilly, Covent Garden, Trafalgar) and ate some dinner at busy local pub while waiting for the show to start.

Henry VIII's armor - as you can see, he was a pretty big guy
Day 2: Hit the south-west today. Crossed Westminster Bridge to see Big Ben and the palace, then off to Buckingham Palace to watching the Changing of the Guard (dodged the crowds by spending most of the time watching the new guard inspection/rehearsal). Walked up to Trafalgar and toured through the National Museum, then down again a bit to see 10 Downing St and the Palace of the Horse Guards. Saw the superb "Blood Brothers" in the evening (starts slow, and the slanted stage seemed to give the actors a bit of trouble).

Behold the freakishly tall guard
Day 3: Neglected to mention last night was the night when the hostel bar closing time was insufficient, and I got dragged out to an after-hours bar by a Kiwi and a Canadian (alright, maybe the Kiwi and I dragged the Canadian out - details, details...). So today was a little...slower...

Walked the OTHER way along the south of the Thames, saw the Globe and the Tate Modern (still trying with the modern art...). Picked up some advance tickets, then went back to the hostel for a nap. Overslept and arrived late for my dinner engagement with old high-school friend Bill and his fiancee Ania for some tasty Indian food. (sadly, forgot my camera - no pictures, but I should be seeing them again in the near future...)

Not from day 3, but this entry clearly needs a Big Ben somewhere...as do the ladies! Amiright? (Also obligatory: Big Ben-related penis joke)
Day 4: Saw the British Museum and the British Library. I'll give a special shout-out to the British Library, because I think it gets overlooked a lot. It's an actual library, but with two rooms of the "Treasures of the British Library". This includes 2 of the 4 remaining copies of the Magna Carta, the oldest extant copy of Beowulf, a Gutenberg Bible, and a whole bunch of other cool stuff.

Double-feature at the West End today - saw a matinĂ©e of Billy Elliot (great staging - would have been a lot better if the audience wasn't completely lame) and Chicago in the evening (very polished).

Oh, and I happened to walking north from the Victoria Palace Theater after seeing Billy Elliot and passed by Buckingham palace and there was a bit of a crowd. I asked a policeman if there was something going on, and he kinda looked at me funny and asked me if I read the paper. I guess it was a circus or something; there was a guy in some funny robes riding in a clown car.

London pictures

Just about wrapped up with the blog now - I think one more wrap-up entry in the few days and it will be time to close the book on a great vacation.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Athens was probably the peak of the poor planning section of the trip; "vacation from vacation" means I don't have to think, right?

I thought I had given myself 2 days in Athens, but my flight left later than I thought on the last day, so it was more like 3 days. This is far too much time for the city, so I figured I'd take a day trip out somewhere nearby as well after seeing the city highlights on the first day. This did not work out so well.

Hydra: ferry is too expensive
Delphi: Missed the bus on day 2 and it returned too late on day 3
The beach: Weather turned as I was prepping to go
Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon: I actually got on the bus for this one before I sensibly realized the general unreliability of Greek transport posed a strong risk of missing my plane. Good thing, too, as there was a transit strike that day, and the airport train was shut down.

My face after planning failures
Anyway, I spent a fair bit of time lounging in the city, drinking, and sleeping in. A good time was had.

Athens pictures

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Little Venice
In retrospect, Mykonos may not have been the best destination choice. If I had to do it over again, I'd probably use a little more time to try to get out of the Cyclades; there's a bit of sense of "more of the same" with the landscape after Santorini (generally considered the most beautiful).

That said, I don't regret going to Mykonos; there's a bit less to see from the tourist perspective on the island, but the beaches are quite nice, so that's what I spent my days doing.

Nice and relaxing. I hit a half-dozen beaches or so during my stay. Fokos is probably the best beach if you want something quieter, and Super Paradise was probably the best beach overall, and the best nude beach I've seen in Europe. Skip Paradise beach, it's horribly overcrowded. 

I did do a bit of exploring of the island as well, but it's a desolate wasteland once you leave the towns.

East Mykonos

Not too much drinking actually; just didn't run into that many people I wanted to go drinking with. Made up for it in Athens, though; details coming soon.

Mykonos pictures

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Island-hopping in Greece: Santorini

From Amsterdam, I flew to Santorini via Athens. The Athens airport is a little weird - I guess they don't have enough terminals, because I was loaded and unloaded from planes via bus. Not something you expect to see at a major airport.

But I arrived successfully in Santorini and managed to find a cab to my hotel (bus service on the island is very sporadic). Met up with the Fabrice, who'd been in the islands for a few days already and went out to a pub overlooking the caldera run by an ex-pat.

Next day, we hiked up the caldera edge to Ia on the northern end of the island. For those who don't know, Santorini is the largest remnant of a volcano that erupted about 4000 years ago (and probably wiped out the nearby Cretan civilization). It's a crescent that, with the smaller islands of Thirassia and Aspronisi, encircles the bay of the volcano caldera. There's also a couple of small barren islands in the center of the caldera that are still being fed by the volcano - they grow by about half a meter a year (IIRC). All of which makes for a pretty nice view.

From Ia, we took a small sunset cruise across the bay. The cruise takes you over to Thirassia, then to the hot springs in the caldera center (though "tepid lagoon" might be a better description), and back around near to Ia to watch the sun set over the water.

On the final day, we rented some ATVs (the rental guy decided we were unqualified for scooters) and explored the rest of the island. We went over to the eastern coast to hit some beaches; Santorini isn't known for nice beaches - Voulvoulos beach was pretty bad, but the town of Kamari has a nice black sand beach. From Kamari, drove up the mountain to see the ruins of Ancient Thira, but were denied - in a fine example of Greek industriousness, they close at 2:30 in the afternoon.

From there, drove back inland through Pyrgos (taking in the view from the castle on the hill), then out to the southern point of the crescent. Stopped by the clear waters of the Red Beach on the way back - it's a black sand beach also, but backed by a red cliff - and then returned to Fira for dinner with our new Italian friend Giovanni. Giovanni doesn't speak English, but he does speak French, so Fabrice generally has to interpret.

And now, after some indecision abut destinations, I've headed off to Mykonos on the ferry.

Santorini pictures
I'll update the album with Fabrice's photos when I receive them.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Amsterdam and Haarlem; A Farewell to Trains

My railpass expired 1 minute ago. I've grown a bit attached to it; it's paid my way through 16 countries, and has seen some wear and tear. I think I'll hang onto it as a memento of the trip.

I've spent the last 2 days in Amsterdam (with a little side trip to Holland). Didn't take that many pictures; partly due to traveling around by bike (reducing spontaneous photos), and partly because I feel like Amsterdam doesn't have that many things begging to be photographed; you just experience the city as a whole.

I'll be a little more explicit with the narrative here (especially as my guides are in the other room and the photos are consequently poorly captioned for the time being). I hit the big museums on day 1; Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh, and the Anne Frank house. Rijksmuseum is well laid out, and the Van Gogh has a nice set of Villon etchings in addition to the normal collection. Also biked around most of the city during the day. Wandered around through the red light district in the evening - there's a lot of windows open on a busy Saturday night.

Took a little side trip to Haarlem today (the happiest city in Europe), and went to the Amsterdam history museum. Also saw Boom Chicago's improv show; highly recommended - crowd was solid even on a Sunday evening.

Haarlem is so nice to live in that the Illuminati moved their world domination headquarters there
Into the air and off to Greece tomorrow...

Netherlands pictures

Friday, September 3, 2010


Me and Brendan Gleeson

I left Copenhagen on a fast night train to Amsterdam; fast being 16 hours through Cologne. Slow night trains go through Berlin. Given that Bruges is 4 hours from Amsterdam by train (a tough journey for a day trip), I decided to just continue the long train journey immediately and spend the next night in Bruges.

It's true, Bruges is pretty fookin sweet - when the largest/wealthiest city of the 14th century has its harbor silt up and disappears from the world scene for a few centuries , it stays well preserved. And the beer:

Magnificent. The Germans talk considerable smack about the "chemicals" Belgians put in their beer; all I know is, those chemicals are DELICIOUS. Had a fine night out drinking with a couple other guys in the hostel.

Took a tour of the De Haave Maan Brewery (the only remaining active Bruges brewery, IIRC), went on a cruise down the canals, and basically wandered around for a while.

Oh, and I did see a dwarf, but she didn't appear particularly racist or under the influence of horse tranquilizers.

Weather back to grey after sunny days up north, unfortunately.

Bruges pictures


I'm going to do a real entry once I've spent more than an hour in the city, but here's some quick observations before I forget them:

  • Hosteling is difficult and expensive. Maybe I'm here at a busy time, but I had trouble reserving at many places a week in advance (unheard of anywhere else I've been; in fact, I reserved here with a larger lead time than anywhere else). Not only is the hostel expensive, they're nitpicky with fees; Internet access is 3 Euros an hour(!). It's not like I'm the center, either; I'm out in Zeeburg.
  • There's some sort of Magic: The Gathering tournament in town - the hostel is filled with nerdy guys playing cards.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Two months since I arrived in Paris - how time flies...

I had just enough time remaining for a brief foray into the northern hinterlands of Europe, but I didn't think I'd have time to make it up here at all during initial planning; so it's kind of a bonus.


Copenhagen is a bike city - lots of cyclists throughout Europe, but Copenhagen is the first city where I feel like you need to have well-honed cycle crowd navigation etiquette (i.e., managing merging and intersecting groups of cyclists).

Copenhagen parking lot
Rush hour in Copenhagen
Came in on the night train from Berlin, and spent the day doing a long walk about town (did not end up cycling, though). Ended up covering most of the city center, with a side-trip into Christiania, the semi-self-governing neighborhood that's all about being one with the World and EvErything living and Dead.

Too bad I don't have any photos of the giant red "No Photos" signs inside

Copenhagen pictures

I covered pretty much what I wanted to see in Copenhagen on the first day, so I decided to take a little side trip to Sweden on day 2 (it's 30 minutes away by train). Plus, my night train arrived in Lund, not Copenhagen (short connecting train after), and I accidentally possessed myself of some Swedish currency - good excuse to cut it down a bit.


Malmo is an industrious, pleasant city with lots of modern parks and housing - it's also kind of boring and sterile. Probably a great place to raise kids or something. Fine for a couple hours, though, and I get to say I visited Sweden.

It's got a big tower, too.
Malmo pictures