London calling

I was able to experience the Eurostar high-speed train this morning from Brussels to London, and it was lovely! It’s a good thing I arrived early, because I have only 1 day to explore London before the overnight bus to Glasgow, Scotland tonight. Wish me luck!

Elsie

P.S. There’s supposed to be wifi on the bus tonight, but if I don’t post until tomorrow morning, don’t fret! I’m not anticipating great upload speeds, if I’m able to post at all.

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Exploring Brussels

It’s so hot! The streets are filled with people eating ice cream cones and dodging into the shadows of buildings to escape the heat. I don’t know why – perhaps because of the recent attack – I was really expecting fewer people out of the streets. But the city is jam-packed with locals and tourists, alike, from all backgrounds and speaking many languages. There is much greater visible diversity here than anywhere I have been so far… aka fewer blonds 🙂

There are a lot of military personnel at the train station and definitely a police presence around the major areas. Walking through the streets I see gay pride flags everywhere, walk by a lot of graffiti that sometimes strives for peace and sometimes has anti-immigrant sentiments. There is a memorial with flowers still present with a lot of crosses and peace symbols for the recent bombing.

As we weave our way through the crowds we don’t really require an intentional approach to see most of the sights. The streets curve and stretch around – unlike the New York grid that I’m used to – but all of the major buildings are around the same area. It seems that at every corner we stumble upon another church more fantastic and intricately carved than the last.

We start at the closest church: St Michael and St Gudula Cathedral.


As we pass through the large Warandepark in the royal quarter, I see the US embassy through the trees. I was going to go snap a photo in front of it but was quickly reprimanded by several US military men in full uniform/rifles standing outside, so we moved on to the palace (Palais du Bruxelles).


We walk through the Grand Place, visit the Manneken Pis (along with a hoard of other tourists), pass by Bourse de Bruxelles, stop inside Les Halles Saint Gery, and visit inside the Église Sainte-Catherine (Saint Catherine’s Cathedral).
In the center of all of this is the central Train station and my hotel 🙂


After a lovely day adventuring, we enjoyed a restaurant popular with the locals recommended by the concierge at the hotel (so much French!). P and I shared insights with each other about our two countries, their education systems, health care, religion, politics, and daily life. It was very pleasant to have a friendly face around for a few days (in a row!!). I completed my day by returning to the hotel to kick my feet up and stretch out before sleeping for my early start the following day.
I am currently sitting on a Eurostar train from Brussels to London, where I will spend a very short visit (one very long day, just about 12 hours) enjoying the sights until I leave by overnight bus tonight at 11pm, for Scotland. 

Belgique

As I’ve traipsed from city to city, through hotels, hostels, and homes, I can feel the pulse of this continent – the interconnectedness. I’m currently in a country that shares 4 borders, has 3 national languages, and headquarters NATO and the EU. As much as the US is supposed to be a melting post, this place is definitely making a run for its money. I’m so excited to see what particular adventures I will have here.

EU

In other news, I wanted to take a moment to discuss freedom of travel as it pertains to terrorism. I had two responses from people when I told them I’d be traveling through Belgium after the recent attacks in Brussels: “Aren’t you afraid?” and “Good for you!” Obviously, I am classified in the “good for you” category, and I’ll tell you why.

I remember 9/11. I was a young teen at the time, and – as most others in America and particularly those who grew up outside New York City – I could tell you where I was sitting and what I was doing when the first plane hit. I remember how no one knew what to do with us at first, and they let some of the other kids whose parents worked in the city go into the teachers lounge to watch TV, just to feel like they were doing something. I remember that cell service was overloaded (which was still a younger tech), and no one could get through to anyone else. I remember how my father had been to the towers for business meetings just days before, and was supposed to go to a meeting in the building across the street from the towers that day, and he played hooky to stay home and garden with my mother, instead. I remember attending the candlelight vigils in the town square in the weeks that followed, as we came together for those who had lost people to those horrific acts.

candlelight-vigil.png

It is not in spite of those memories but rather because of them that I travel as I do. It’s not just because I realize that these horrible acts can happen anywhere at any time, but it is about enjoying every day we have because life is precious. It’s about meeting the world’s people. I feel so compelled to live my life and explore the lives of others as much as possible to determine the things that bring us together and recognize what draws us apart. And thus far in my travels I have learned that if you strip away the cultural norms and layers of ideology that have been thrust upon us by our communities, we are all so fundamentally the same. As much as I had an aversion to being forced to read about philosophers in college, some of that resonates with me now: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. First, the most basic needs of man: satiating thirst and hunger. This is followed next by safety and then connecting to others, connecting to oneself (self-esteem), and the ultimate goal: self-actualization.

“What a man can be, he must be.” – Abraham Maslow

I don’t say any of this to be preachy or to tell you how to live your lives, but only to express some insight into how I feel that I must live mine. My desire to travel will never be sated. Although we may share the fundamentals, there are innumerable combinations of how the facets of a person come together on top of that base. As often as I take photos of the architecture, tour the sights, and absorb the historical commentary relevant to the areas I visit, there is one thing that drives me to leave the comfort of my home, time and  time again: people. This is why some of my fondest moments not only include peacefully drifting down a canal in a gondola in Venice, but also shivering while crammed inside a tent at 12,000ft with a storm barreling down the mountain on top of us. It is the shared experience. It is the love of an old friend and the forging of a new friendship. It is connectedness.

This is why I travel.

– Elsie

Celebrations in Amsterdam

My time in Amsterdam was mostly spent on foot/tram, exploring the city neighborhoods, and have a coffee at the cafe (NOT a coffee house – which is where you go to smoke pot, if you want actual coffee go to a cafe) and watching the world pass by. It was nice to not rush and rest after several days of pushing through city sights. Shortly after I arrived in my room in the hostel, another traveler appeared staying in the bunk above me: Patrick from Germany.


I got lucky as he’s in town to look for an apartment rather than to party, so a pleasantly calmer travel companion than I was expecting from Amsterdam. We ended up having dinner together and then heading back early to sleep, so that we could get up early for a full next day.


The Flying Pig is definitely a fun party hostel in Amsterdam complete with a bar and smoke room, but the rooms are air-sealed so that it was quite quiet at night.
They also offer a free walking tour, which I enjoyed thoroughly as our tour guide was fantastic! We went by the palace, the red light district, through the parks, and over the canals.

 There’s always a long wait at the Anne Frank House, so I decided to go to the Resistance Museum (Verzetsmuseum) instead. They had a very good presentation of the events surrounding World War II and the the occupation of the Netherlands.
May 4th is Remembrance Day in the Netherlands, where they pay their respect for the victims and fallen soldiers of WWII. They hold a moment of silence for 2 minutes at 8pm, and the whole country stands still (trans and buses stop, people are quiet, and nothing moves). In the central square (Dam Square) royalty, government officials and military personnel gather to lay flowers at the monument and remember. The square was packed with thousands of people, all quiet. There were speeches (in Dutch) given by those alive at the time to share memories and to express the effects the war has had – urging us to remember and learn from the past.


May 5th is Liberation Day, and following the relative still of the previous day, this is a day of partying! I will, however, be on a train to Brussels. Also, Patrick is joining me! He’s waiting for a contract for his new flat and has never been to Brussels, so he’s joining me there for the day. It will be nice to have a buddy for Brussels, as I won’t meet anyone tonight (hotel instead of hostel).
I’m looking forward to tonight. I’m staying in a hotel (due to recent events things are a little cheaper here right now) and have the whole room to myself 🙂 So spoiled!!

Amsterdam

I’ve arrived in Amsterdam and I’m so excited to actually stay here for more than 1 night! I’ve got 2 nights in the Flying Pig hostel (which just sounds like fun), and I’ve got plenty of time to adventure around this nebulous city. I got in a little late today so I’m going to head out to dinner with a new friend from the hostel and then crash early so I can enjoy a full day tomorrow 🙂

Ik zie je morgen (I’ll see you tomorrow),

Elsie

Jeg er her

“I’m here” in Danish.

Today, I’m so excited to be staying with my very first Airbnb host! Her name is Deborah, and I can’t wait to get to know her and her beautiful city of Copenhagen (København).

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Yesterday evening I arrived at the airport in Copenhagen, hopped on the metro to the central area (Kongens Nytorv, very short trip!) and walked a few minutes to my Airbnb hostess’ place on Gothersgade. After meeting Deborah, Jeff, and of course, Otto, I ventured out into the city to the few sights I knew would still be open. Also, yummy avocado toast at the cafe downstairs.

 The first was the Round Tower (Rundetårn). This is a tall, (you guessed it) round, tower that is centrally located in the trendy shopping district, nestled among some of the historical treasures in Copenhagen. It was built by Christian IV, who’s name you will continue to read for all of the transformative works that he influenced in Denmark. For a small fee you are awarded the pleasure of hiking up the 34.8m spiral ramp to the beautiful panorama from the northern side of the city. This is one reason why it makes an excellent observatory, for which it is still used on select evenings throughout the year. Rundetårn is the oldest functioning observatory in Europe.

Next I went to the neighborhood of Christiana, which was originally established in the 70’s by squatters and has morphed into a laissez-faire commune where you can find handmade crafts, a music venue, weed dealers, and guys playing the guitar next to the river. The street entering the area is not-so-subtly called Pusher Street (seriously, even on google maps), and you will find many men ready to supply you, should that be your thing.

A stones throw from this mural-lined hippy central is the lovely church of Vor Freslers Kirke (17th century) which has an intricately designed tower with – you guessed it – many stairs to climb. The view is well worth it, however, and as you navigate up through the church bells and eventually onto stairs on the outside of the tower (caution for those who are heights averse), you are rewarded with another panoramic view from the south side of the city. This tower is even higher than the round tower at 95m, and 400 steps will get you there.

Lastly, I stopped into the Royal Library (Det Kongelige Bibliotek). Yes, I am a nerd for visiting a library, but it’s also a cool mix of architecture. The original red brick building is connected to the “Black Diamond” of the new building, which is located right next to the river with lovely views. I also snuck into the old library to see what my guidebook described as its “Hogwarts-like northern reading room, resplendent with vintage desk lamps and classical columns” and wasn’t disappointed. It was a nice, quiet break from the hustle and bustle of the last few days, and I only moved on because my stomach was rumbling so loudly it was disturbing my studious neighbors.

 On the way back to my neighborhood to find a bite to eat, I happened to pass by the Royal garden behind the Christiansborg palace (complete with parliament, stables, and church) so I explored around there, as well. The garden houses a statue of Søren Kirkegaard.

Day 2:

After my second day in Copenhagen, my feet are barking! I took a slower pace and wandered from the Rosenborg palace to the Amalienborg palace (following the path the Royal guards would have taken) and witnessed the changing of the guards. Inside the Rosenborg palace they have designed each room so that as you pass through you also pass through time. You start with King Christian’s (I-VII) and also have the opportunity to see their regalia including jewels and crowns, weapons, and a room on Ole Rømer, who was an astronomer of the time.

Next I went on to the marble church (Frederickskirken), which reminded me of my time in Rome/Florence for the giant marble constructions. It had a beautiful old pipe organ and a lovely interior, and construction was started by King Frederik V in 1749.

I meandered down the river to the 5-pointed fortress (kastellet), which truly is shaped like a star. I walked through the barricades up into the fortress and saw the barracks, the fortress church, and their memorial to fallen soldiers. Just on the other side of this is the waters edge, where you can find the little mermaid on her perch, surrounded by tourists. She is the size of a real life tween girl, sitting on a rock with her fin curled underneath her. I walked back toward the city along the water past Gefion fountain, grabbed an iced coffee and ended up at the National museum of Denmark (Nationalmusset).

The Nationalmusset had a very good presentation on the early settlements of humankind, starting all the way from 13,000 BC up to 1050 AD. They had burial tombs and artifacts from the Stone Age, the Egtved girl – who was an unusually well-preserved body/clothes from 1370 BC – the sun chariots of the Bronze Age, and the Gundestrup Cauldron from the Iron Age. They had an extensive exhibit on the lore surrounding Vikings and rune stones (800-1050AD). Lastly they had a modern history of the country including its regional conquests, generations of kings and current state of life.

After this enjoyable day in Copenhagen I went back to my Airbnb apartment (which was a lovely stay) and went to the airport for my next stop!