Category Archives: Holiday

Firenze (aka, Florence)

Some tips from Firenze:

If you have a train ride which is going to take over 10 hours from one place to another your best do it overnight. Why?! Well you can sleep though most of it unlike an overnight flight you get your own fold out bed, albeit with 5 other people in the same compartment, this also saves your one night stay in an expensive hotel room. If you are a bit social, you may even meet some interesting people along the way… Pretty darn nice.

Firenze...
Now if that overnight trip lands you in the city say 5 hours before you are allowed to check into your hotel. Then go straight to the bathroom and clean yourself up (wash face, shave, brush teeth, change clothes, extra swipe of deodorant, etc.) Then check your bags into a locker and head out on the town.

If it’s Sunday and you find yourself in Italy then pretty much 2/3 of the city is going to be closed. So my suggestion, which is taken from a couple of girls I meet in Pairs, take one of the open top tour buses which rip though the city at mock speed. You get a pair of earphones to tune into the language of your choice and it gives you an overview of each attraction as you drive by. You can get on and off the bus at each place if you like to check it out, but I was using this to cool off, relax and check out what I would like to see in the next couple of days. If you like stay on the bus for multiple loops and listen to the tour in a different language, like Italian, you may learn a new word or two.

Okay enough with the tips for now…

I meet my friend Allyson at the train station, she was coming in from Utah and taking the train up from Rome. I’ve known her for quite some time, actually since grade school. I hadn’t talked to her since our high school graduation, but randomly got connected about 3 months ago though Facebook. Got to love geek social network software…

I wanted to take Florence in at an easy pace. We walked through Santa Croche Cathedral on the second day, had some of the best gelato in the city, and then walked for ever in the park and found a horse race track, and the velodrome which people were training on. The third day we walked though the Boboli Gardens and had more gelato, of course! We spend a lot of time just wandering though the city, and the food was just great fantastic…

I will be coming back to Florence in a couple of weeks with my friends John, James, and Jeremy (who I haven’t meet, but he’s John’s brother so we’re friends by association, right?!)

Check out more photos here.

Next up?! Tuscana: good wine, cheese, and ummm… more wine!!!

Paris Wrap Up…

I had a great time in Pairs and probably could have hung out for another few days, but it was time to move on and head out to Italy. I have finally uploaded photos from the last 3 days I was there.

Paris

I left the best restaurant to the last night of my stay. After reading Nicole’s review of Restaurant a L’Impasse I knew I couldn’t miss out. Well it took me over an hour to find the place, it’s sort of tucked down a little alleyway, but I was super disappointed once I got to the door and saw this sign! Damn, well one more thing to look forward to my next trip to Paris…

Anyone want to go?!

Be sure to check out the other photos, some great ones from the Eiffel Tower…

Paris – First day or two…

I arrived by train yesterday around 6:30PM. Once I made it to Paris Nord it took a few minutes to figure out which metro line I need to get on, but once on it I only had to go 2 stops to make it to my Hotel. I opted for a single room, after reading though some of the Hostel descriptions for Paris and some of the reviews, I decided this would be the best bet. Well it was, I am loving having my own room. The bed is super old and actually not as comfortable as any of the ones in the hostels over the past 2 1/2 weeks, and there may be a rodentiside box under the wash bin in my room, but heck it’s all mine!

Paris

Le Sacré-Coeur — more photos

Okay, well the room is in Montmartre area. Which is hilly much like SF, so last night I decided to hike up and see what it was all about. There are a ton of touristy areas, but the streets are pretty much out of Amélie, and the views from up there are amazing!

Today I was suppose to do the walking tour Rick Steves lays out, but once I made it to Notre Dame I noticed that my camera battery was dead. Plus, I noticed that running has started to irritate my right calf/tendon right around my achilles tendon… Anyway, it hurts to walk up and down stairs a bit, so I thought why not cut my losses and head to the Louvre and look at art all day..

The Louvre is HUGE… I spent over 3 1/2 hours wandering around, looking at everything from Greek sculptures, to Egyptian hyroglyphics and tombs, to paintings which include of course Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. It’s really not hard to find either, you just have to look for the crazy amount of people clustered together looking at the painting from over 40 feet away behind a huge wall of glass.

I believe technology may be getting in our way of understanding why we are at the Museum in the first place. Just about everyone is running around with camera, video recorder, or just their phone and taking pictures or running video of each piece w/o even taking the time to look at it. I really don’t think your camera phone is going to take a photograph that is any better of a painting that isn’t already in a book in your local library! I guess it’s more of the social pressure to go to the art gallery then actually wanting to go, so you take pictures to say: “Hey Mom… Look I’m in front of this important part of history!!”…

Am I getting a bit jaded?! Or is my New York upbring just coming though?!

Well the Louvre is just down the way from the Champs Elysées, and if you don’t know that’s the ending circuit for the Tour de France! I took a couple of photos, but will probably hit that up again before I leave, and if not then the next time will be to watch the ending stage of the Tour…

More from Paris to come….

Amsterdam

Amsterdam. What else is there to say, but a beautiful place. It was a last minute decision to head up here, so I made my hostel reservations through Hotel World, and came up with what looked like a pretty good deal. Well the place was nice enough, clean, good enough bunk bed, and decent breakfast, and not too far from the action…

AmsterdamWell maybe too close to the “action”… The map claims it was on the outskirts of the Red Light District (RLD), but when this is only 3 doors down I would claim it’s well with in the limits of that district.

Now there’s really nothing wrong with this, it not as if the girls are causing any trouble and can be a nice little glance on your way back from dinner. Well theoretically, most of the girls on my way home may make you loose what you just ate… Maybe that’s why the hostel is not considered inside the real RLD.

The real issue is what type of people who tend to stay in this hostel. Most of them are kids who just graduated from college, who played rugby for the fun of it, and believe the only place to score drugs is in Amsterdam.

I had 4 of these guys in my room and it was as if they had never seen a beer before. I asked them, “Yo was your campus dry or something?!”, their answer, “Dude, this is Amsterdam. You want to come with us where headed to a sex show?” At that point I wished them a good time, and I hoped they weren’t talking about the shop down the street which the sign read: “4 Men on Men live shows 24 hrs”…

The other type of person? Well lets just say he’s a 6 foot creepy ass 45 year old German dude missing 5 teeth with the rest to follow in about 3 months…

Hey it was a bed for only 23 euro a night…

With that said, I had a wonderful time going to the Van Gogh Museum, The Heineken Experience (where you get 3 beers during the tour), hanging out in Vondelpark, and pretty much just wondering around the town and talking to the locals…

Ohh I almost forgot they love their bikes! There are more bikes than cars and scooters combined. I’m not kidding and they aren’t super expensive bikes, in fact the crappier the bike the better. I’m guessing because they get stolen easily, which is the only reason on would put a NYC lock on a 100$ bike. (You can read more about this in the write up Brian Wilson had done last year… And now it’s a different Brian Wilson…)

See more photos…

The next destination is Paris…

Brussels, Belgium

The train ride from Brugge to Brussels was nice and quick, under an hour and only cost €12. Pretty darn good. My directions to the Hostel were not so good, I ended up wandering around for an hour in the rain trying to find the place, which was no more than 3 blocks from any point I was at one time. When I got in I was soaked and couldn’t check in for another 45 minutes. Not a good start. I decided after checking in a shower and a nap was a better idea than heading out into town. When I woke up I was ready for dinner, which as you can see with what I ordered I’m looking forward to Italy.

Atomium Brussels, Belgium

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First thing on my list the next day was to book my seats for my Amsterdam to Paris, and Pairs to Florance legs of the trip. The the train station is located right by Grand Place (Grote Markt), the town center, so that was easy enough to hit up to take more pictures of amazing Gothic buildings. Finding the popular bronze statue Manneken-Pis was not hard you just had to follow the crowd. As you can see it’s aptly named. Now why you would want to pose in front of this for a portrait as the kid is practically hitting you with his stream of water is beyond me. Hey, tourists can be funny that way…

St Michael Cathedral was pretty, but it felt a little too updated to me. Now they had a list of Royal weddings which had taken place here that date back to 1320. So it’s obviously been around for quite some time.

It didn’t take long for me to OD on Belgium architecture, so for fun I jumped on the subway and took it to Brauparck, the location of the 1958 World Expo and now a “funpark”. For the Expo they built a monument called Atomium, which has 9 spheres that represent the atoms of an iron molecule. I gladly paid the €9 to check it out and found it facinating. Each sphere had a seperate purpose, for example one was set up for children to come and stay here for weeks on end just so they could observe how they react in a child community of their own. Rather clever and strikly odd at the same time.

Day 3 was spent on me. Woke up at 9AM, went down for breakfast, then headed out for a run. All this before I went out to do my laundry which is the first time since NYC. It’s funny trying to figure out which detergent to buy when it’s all in a different language. You just have to make an educated guess, I decided that the one which had wacky colors on the wrapper probably okay to wash your colors in, and it was. I finding that I have brought too many t-shirts, I end up running out of socks and underwear far before anything else, better to note next time.

I had a few hours to kill before dinner, so I headed over to the English Bookstore to see what they had in guides for Amsterdam and Pairs. Some how I ended up also getting roped into buying 3 other books, they had a 3 for 2 sale. And now I have to read, read, read… more about my reading in a later post…

Anyway, I was suppose to meet up with a new friend I meet in Brugge for dinner, but I screwed up the meeting place. I missed out on what sounded like a killer Ethiopian dinner. Not at all happy about that. I guess my salad was tasty…

More from Amsterdam…

Brugge, Belgium – 08/20/2007 – 08/21/2007

The Eurostar train rocks! I had a table and two seats to myself. Along with a power connection for my laptop. Too bad they didn’t have internet access. The whole trip from London to Brugge only took 3.5 hours. The same amount of time it would have been consumed by fly, but with out the hassle of checking luggage and immigration, and other typical crap that comes with flying…

Brugge - Bike and a Door

More photos…

Belgium is know for it’s beer, chocolate, and good food. Well I can attest to the good beer and chocolate, for example Staminee de Garre brews it’s own Tripel and it’s SOLID. From what I have seen the food does look good, but I have been sticking to cheaper fair just because Brugge seems to be a bit of a tourist town which makes the food a bit over priced. But how can one go wrong with sausage, frijts and a tripel.

Brugge is a cute little town and it seems to be a day trip from most of the visitors. So at night this place is rather quiet, but that can also be due to me being here on Monday and Tuesday. It’s been a nice change from the busyness of London and NY…

The hostel is more like what I was expecting when it comes to hostels. I am in a room with 5 guys who are about 20 and are having a dinner of cookies and soda. NICE! Then came the shower, it was a freaking mess. Good thing for flip-flops! I hope the rest of them are more like the one in London.

Here are some more photos I have snapped over the past couple of days. Off to Brussels tomorrow.

London – Rest Day – 08/19/2007

Today I decided to hit up the National History Museum to see some Dinosaur bones. Well I made it in, but left after about 20 minutes. It was a mad house and would probably be better if I had a couple of younger kids in tow.

So I headed back to the hostel to send out some email and try to chat with the folks on Skype. Email worked as normal, but I couldn’t seem to get Skype to work with the headset I have. I may need to see if there’s something better out there, otherwise I will stick to pre-paid phone cards or just email and chat.

I meet up with Brian, Liz, and Brian’s Mother tonight for Fish & Chips and a movie. The fish & chips were spot on. Brian also reminded me that the food at the Windsor Castle Pub on Wednesday night was indeed good. And I have to agree, I think I may have been too tired to remember it, but my Bangers and Mash were top notch. Maybe I just need to get better recommendations from locals. Where is London’s Yelp!

Well I’m off to Brugge tomorrow morning. Looking forward to the Eurostar Train Ride to Brussels, apparently it get upwards of 200mph.

What no photos?! Well like I said it was a rest day…

London – National Gallery – 08/18/2007

Holy crap! I didn’t wake up until 10AM! That’s a full 12 hours of sleep YO! The last time I managed that I believe I may have been taking vicodin to cut the pain of getting my wisdom teeth pulled. So I would claim that it doesn’t count. And this time I only had 2 beers, did I mention that it’s super expensive to do anything here?

Round about in front of the London National Gallery

Today I decided to head over to the National Gallery to see the Rembrandt exhibit. I stepped into the The National Portrait Gallery first pretty much by accident, which I wasn’t too moved with what was mostly portaits of old English dudes. All of which I’m sure are really important figures in history, but not being a British history buff, it’s much like looking at portraits of my neighbors family tree. Not that interesting.

Then I stumbled upon the Princes Diane Exhibit. It’s very interesting to see how more relaxed and natural the photos were after their divorce. I guess they were trying to give her a better public image, which they obviously did. It’s really sad she died at such a young age.

Okay this is super strange, I’m writing this in the hostel and there is a couple down stairs in the computer area chanting and doing some weird hippy crap! You just don’t get this slice of life outside hostel living. Well maybe in Golden Gate Park, some of the other people are leaving the room. Too funny…

Anyway… Next was the National Gallery. Again trying to keep to my 1.5 hour museum limit I picked up a map and went to only the pieces I thought would have been interesting. Of course the Rembrandt Exhibit was first, then to Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Monet, Van Gogh. Now we’ve seen a ton of this stuff in books, but seeing the actual work is pretty neat. What really sets you back is some of these paintings are close to being 800 years old. I’m not kidding. The quality of these are truly amazing.

Okay now I know nothing about art. But I can tell when I like something. Actually I have heard someone a week back utter the words, “You know, I think Van Gogh was a phony”. Now I may not go that far, but I sort of agree with her that his work “Sunflowers” doesn’t seem to stand up to the likes of “Searport with the Embarkation of Saint Ursula”, by Claude. I believe I spent over 15 minutes alone trying to absorb the whole work.  See update:

After the Gallery I did some more wandering and happened upon the House of Guards, where they have some of the nicest looking horses doing miserable work. I don’t think the guard is very happy either, but they chose this gig. I’m guessing if you are late to work you get stuck out on the sidewalk like this as a punishment.

I stopped in St James Park to cop a squat and to listen to an hour of some local symphonic orchestra playing a free show. Good stuff, brings back wonderful memories of playing in my High School Band.

Tonight I decided to do dinner right, and stopped into an Italian Restaurant in South Kingston. Started it off with marinated olives and a glass of the house red. For the main course, Tagliatelle di Ragu Bolognese and another glass of the house red. The pasta was excelent, which is too bad because I didn’t save enough room for a piece of tarimsu. Anyway, all of that for only 16.80lbs. Nice huh? Yeah unless of course if you convert that to US dollars which is ~$40. But, I gave up on that about 3 days ago, and now everything feels cheap to me.

Update: I got the wrong guy, “Van Gogh is in now way a phony” it was “Picasso is a fake“. With that said, I still think Claude has some sick stuff…

London – Day Three – 08/17/2007

Monument in front of Buckminster Palace

Today I decided to forgo my typical breakfast, and went for just coffee and a croissant. Oh if you get your food ‘take away’ they charge you less money, about 5-10p (cents) per item from what I can tell. Which is what I typically do with something like this anyway…

With coffee in hand I took the tube to The Tate Museum. A lot of good things to see and some not so much, but I guess it’s tend to be in the eye of the beholder. Ones that stood out:

  • Francesca Woodman – A photographer who does mainly self portraits of her self nude in everyday situations, in an artful way… I think she was one of the photographers which was pointed out to me during my B&W photography class a couple years back.
  • Claude Monet
  • Pierre Bonnard – Coffee
  • Steve McQueen – I didn’t realize he was an artist as well. (It’s not the one from Bullit)

Kept my time under 1.5 hours and it seems to be working. I was ready for lunch, but not at all exhausted. After sitting down for a sandwich and crisps (potato chips), I finish up my River Thames walk. Starting where I left off: The London Eye, The Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abby, Buckingham Palace.

Which led me directly to Green Park, it was 3PM and my feet were tired so off with my shoes and on with the iPod to listening to my first Spanish lesson.

Pardon, Senorita. ¿Tienes usted Inglés? No?! Hablo Español un poco.

Ohh yeah… Let’s see if I make it to Spain to use this high powered lingo!

Anyway, after the half hour of that I read a little and watched the worst attempt at a cricket game I can imagine. These guys looked as if they didn’t have an athletic bone in their body. Pure comedy.

What did I eat tonight?! How about Indian curry and a beer. Better, but not as good as Indian Clay Oven in the Lower Haight, starting to miss San Francisco cuisine!

Check out some more photos

London – River Thames Walk – 08/16/2007

Woke up this morning around 8:30, probably due to the guy in the bunk next to me banging his shit around as if he was trying to kill a rat in a garbage bag. I guess this is what I have to look forward too for the next 7 weeks.

So I decide to get an early start and went to the first place I saw for my eggs and toast breakfast. I ordered two eggs scrambled, wheat toast and coffee. The waiter asked me brown toast? So I said yeah, wheat toast. Well what came out wasn’t wheat toast, but instead burnt white bread. Also I’m not sure, but I think they made me 5 scrambled eggs or it was two ostrich eggs because the whole plate was covered. I didn’t eat much because it tasted rather nasty, which I think pissed off the waiter, he gave me a “what you don’t like” look. From this point out coffee and a croissant is going to be plenty for me.

River Thames - LondonToday was such a nice day I decided that walking the River Thames was a good idea. I started at Tower Bridge and planned going all the way to Buckingham Palace. I snapped a ton of cool pictures, but only made it to The Houses of Parliament before my camera battery gave out on me.

So here’s a quick list of what I saw:

  • Tower Bridge – The coolest bridge in London
  • Tower of London – I didn’t actually go inside the line was HUGE and it was £16. Which is more than $32. Call me cheap, although it’s probably worth the money…
  • Borough Market – Apparently London’s oldest food market. I got a killer sandwich and coffee for only £3.50
  • St Paul’s Cathedral – Again didn’t go all the way inside because the line was super long, but I did get a couple decent shots…
  • Royal National Theatre – I tried to get a ticket to one of the shows, but it was only running two more days and it was already sold out.
  • And a bunch of hacks who probably get a better wage on Pier 39

By this time it was almost 7PM, so a quick trip back to the hostel on the tube to drop my stuff off in the room then off to the pub for dinner and a beer. Which again the beer was probably the only part of the meal worth the money.