The End.

Jolie and I hit the road at the crack of dawn. A cab driver picked us up from her house at 7:00 AM to embark on the two hour journey to the airport. His car was enormous, and so was the trunk. It could have held 7 passengers, or two American girls and their bags. I’m impressed that he could lift mine. Not every cab driver can.

It took us two hours to get to Heathrow. Jolie’s flight was at noon and mine wasn’t for another 24 hours, so no one was worried. I’d gone to bed so early last night I still got a full night’s sleep and was feeling much chattier than my usual morning self. 

It wasn’t until after Jolie left and we said our tearful goodbyes (knowing we wouldn’t see each other for as many as two whole days) that the cab driver and I made a connection. He asked me how long I’ve been here, because he was sure he’d picked me up from a station once.

As it turns out, he is the very same cab driver who I met on my first day in London. You can read about it in blog post number one. He took me from Paddington Station to Victoria Station and was just so kind. He could lift my luggage then, too. What a small world and a strange bookend to my experience. Coming to London for the first time and leaving it for the last time. 

At the airport, I deposited my bags so I could head back into the city and enjoy one last day. I am using the same carry-on bag that I came with, but the size requirements seems smaller. I could get it to fit into the test thing if I sat on it, but one of the American Airlines reps cheekily pointed out that I couldn’t sit on it to get it in the overhead bin. Then I couldn’t get it back out, so things were not looking good. A man who works for American then walked by and effortlessly pulled it out with one hand… So it’s a little dubious, but I reeeeeally hope they let me on the plane with it tomorrow.

Yesterday I saw a poster for a Rossini opera at the Royal Opera House. I mentioned it to Marcos and he said we could probably score cheap tickets the day of. The Piccadilly line goes straight from the airport to Covent Garden, and as he hadn’t even left the house yet I went myself. 

There was only one ticket left for tonight. Marcos told me to go on and get it for myself. It’s my last night in London and my last chance. Besides, when you have to sleep in an airport, the more time you can kill elsewhere the better.

I grabbed some lunch and the decided to head over to Westminster Abbey. It was one of the only major London sights I’d somehow missed. To my shock, it cost £15 to go inside, and that was the student price. At this point, that’s half of all of the money I have left–but even on an average week, that would have been half my budget for food.

I paid the price and went in, and I am glad that I did. I was just disappointed that a religious institution would be that much of a scam when it’s supposed to be upholding a higher moral standard. I can’t be surprised, though, given it’s history. I just wish we could move past that. 

They have to search your bags before you can go into the Abbey. I was carrying around this huge thing I was hoping to pass off as “handbag/personal item” to get it on the plane tomorrow. 80% of this bag is occupied by Howie, the bear that Matthew gave me for Christmas. I told the man searching the bags that he was going to laugh when I opened mine. He looked like he was a little concerned, but did laugh when he saw it and told me I was right. They let me in.

Westminster was sufficiently impressive. I really enjoyed walking down the aisle where princess Kate walked on her wedding day. I saw some graves, my favorites being those of Charles Darwin, Elizabeth I, Mary I, and Mary Queen of Scots. Especially Mary Queen of Scots, actually. 

The whole experience felt thoroughly British. Afterwards I visited the attached Abbey, and there was an exhibit about the coronation of the current Queen. This was awesome. There were many photos I’d never seen before, and I can just never believe how young she was. They built temporary stadium seating in the abbey, and built an entire (temporary) wing to accommodate all of the priceless regalia and allow the processions to have space to prepare.

It was hard to leave the last of my London experiences, but I went on to meet Marcos. He and I caught up at Covent Garden a bit before the opera began. Marcos gave me a wonderful parting gift, a book called The History of English about the history of the English language. He said he had read it in college, and I’m really looking forward to it. It looks interesting. I know this is the second time I’ve talked about saying goodbye to him now, but I’m pretty sure this time was final. I’m going to miss having such a good friend. We’ve had some good adventures.

He walked me to the door of the opera house. For a second time today, things seem to have made a neat little circle for me. We met the only other time I’ve seen an opera in London, right at the beginning of my time here. 

The opera tonight was a Rossini called La Donna del Lago. I unfortunately did not have the money for a program and therefore didn’t know the synopsis. I knew it was set in Scotland. The first moment that the first woman on the stage began to sing, I knew this was going to be incredible.

During intermission, when most people want to stretch their legs, I wanted to rest mine. The standing spot I was in also had a restricted view, but it was at the end of a row so I was able to duck around and see most of the staging. I just had to work for it. So, after nearly two hours of this, I was ready to sit.

I found a long bench off the lobby, and hadn’t been sitting there long when an older gentleman sat down next to me. He seemed very intent on eating a yogurt he had with him. I made a casual comment about what a good show it was, and we got to talking. Apparently, I’m quite lucky to have gotten a ticket. I guess you’re supposed to queue when the ticket office opens, not stroll in mid afternoon. He was an interesting fellow who lives in Oxford, and had almost not gotten a ticket himself for the show.

I went back to my standing place a few minutes early, but not much. Shortly thereafter, another older English gentleman approached me. Apparently, someone had vacated the seat next to him if I wanted to take it for the remainder of the performance. I don’t think he had even finished asking the question before I agreed to it. He told me later that, though he’d started several operas standing at the Royal Opera House, he’d always finished them sitting down. I guess the same is true for me, now. Two of two!

He was also loving the performance, and again impressed upon me how lucky I was to be there. Apparently, the show had been sold out for weeks because the cast included the two most talented (and most famous) singers in the world. He had queued this morning for one of the last minute tickets. Yeah, I’m very lucky. I’d like to think I could tell how wonderful the performance was, but I always question myself too much. It’s nice to have some affirmation.

Interestingly, both men commented that Kansas City opera was very good when I mentioned where I was from. Most people have never even heard of it beyond Wizard of Oz. 

The one thing that bothered me about the production was a rape scene in act one that seemed highly unnecessary to me. The Scottish soldiers were singing about war, before a battle, and if ever a woman tried to pass through the set she was (violently) grabbed and eventually pinned beneath one (or more) men. There was another scene where they gutted a goat and spread the blood over themselves, but the former bothered me more. I guess that’s when you close your eyes and listen to the music. Which was sublime.

When it ended, the crowd gave quite an ovation. I think the singers got tired of bowing before the audience grew tired of clapping. Only one or two people stood (Londoners evidently aren’t as liberal with that as Kansas Citians) but did go so far as to stop the floor to augment the applause. I was impressed. The show was definitely good enough for it, though.

The Covent Garden tube stop, which is right outside the Royal Opera House, is on the Jubilee line–as is Heathrow Airport. So at the end of all this, all I had to do was elbow my way onto a lift, get on a train, and wait. It’s a long journey to Heathrow, but it goes fast when you don’t have transfers. 

I was exhausted by the time I got to Heathrow, and I wasn’t the only one. For the last 20 minutes of the journey, it was only me and one family on the train. Of course, we happened to be seated directly across from on another when the train was full. The dad reminded me a little of my dad, who fell asleep chronically on the underground. Their older son had passed out even harder, with his head rolled back and his mouth hanging open. The younger brother was probably only awake because that’s the only chance he ever gets to have a turn playing with the family iPad, and the mom was only awake obligatorily since someone had to make sure they made it off the train. We all were headed to Heathrow.

I found a nice section of armrestless bench to cozy up on for the night, and for the first time in an airport I’ll even have my best with me. 

It’s hard to believe that this is the last time I’ll be updating from Europe. Tomorrow, I wake up and get on a plane. I don’t even remember what it’s like to be picked up from the airport, instead of immediately having to figure out a way to navigate a new city. I know my Mom is excited, and the rest of my family and friends. But I’m really not. I’m sure I will be by the end of that 7 hour flight, and once I hit the ground. Right now, it’s just hard to believe. It doesn’t feel real, but neither do the past six months. 

I have been so lucky to have this opportunity. I’ve been able to visit fifteen countries, explore countless cities, meet all kinds of wonderful people, and experience so many different cultures and their art and their way of life. It’s been challenging, exhausting, exciting, and endlessly rewarding.

I know I’ll be back someday, but I don’t know if it will ever be like this again. I can come over for a week or two, but I might never have this much time. It was crazy to be on the beginning of this, looking forward, and feeling limitless. I thought had all the time in the world. It flew by so quickly. I only wish I could have done more.

Victoria, Albert, and David (Bowie)

I woke up early today to head into the city. Marcos had just gotten back from working on a documentary in Wales. He’d found out about a David Bowie exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum, so we had decided to go to that together.

We met at London Bridge, which actually stressed me out a little because I’d forgotten what a big station it is. It has lots of exits and entrances, so I was worried we wouldn’t find each other. I walked around a few times before we found each other, but we did find each other. I also ran into one of my Brighton classmates, which was funny. I don’t think I’ve run into anyone I know randomly in London before.

Marcos and I were both hungry, but apparently 11:30 is an awkward time to be hungry in London. Everyone has stopped serving breakfast but most places aren’t open for lunch. Eventually we settled on sushi, then headed to the museum.

I’d never been to the V&A museum before. With that and my trip to the British Museum yesterday, I think I’ve now hit all the major ones. Our tickets for the David Bowie museum weren’t for a couple hours, so we explored the museum a bit. It was really impressive. They have the Raphael “cartoons,” which aren’t cartoons at all. That was really exciting to see in person, but the lighting was awful. It was really dark, which I understand for the protection of the work, but positioned so that you couldn’t look at the drawings without half of it obscured by glare.

They have a good collection of Asian art, but the Nelson’s collection is so good it was hard to appreciate as much. They had fashion through hundreds of years. It was very interesting. 

The David Bowie exhibit was great, when we finally got to see it. It was accompanied by headphones that were activated to play different music or commentaries as you moved through it. It had a bunch of his costumes and props. There were videos he’d made and videos of his performances. Most interestingly to me, it went pretty in depth on his creative process. There were his writings, scribblings, drawings, and paintings. There were interviews with designers, dancers, and artists who worked with him. 

Bowie even used something called “oblique strategies,” which I’d learned about in art school. It’s a deck of cards created by an artist and a psychologist to help artists of all kinds through creative blocks. You make a contract with yourself to follow whatever instructions are on the card that you select, then select one randomly. They cards may say anything from “go for a walk” to “deconstruct exactly what you did last” to “bridges: build, burn.” It might be specific, it might be open to interpretation. But they’re very famous and always interesting, so it was excited to see them in use.

Marcos and I worked up quite the appetite, but it was too near dinner time to have a full meal. We stopped in a nearby Chinese restaurant for a snack, then discovered an awesome bookstore. We loitered there for a while, looking at picture books and comparing the British classics section to American classics. 

It was a nice end to our day in the city. I love a good bookstore. I headed back to Jolie’s house, and we had fish n chips for dinner. Probably my last fish n chips in England… and they were good ones. 

The British Museum

Our day started off on the right foot. Ray drove Jolie and I into the city in their fabulous new BMW 5 series M Port GT aka stormtrooper limo aka British minivan. It’s the biggest car on the isle. 

So we arrived in London in style. Ray took us for an amazing brunch. We went to Smiths of Smithfield, a really cool place in the Smithfield Market area. I had French toast for the first time since America, something I’d really been missing. Jolie had a waffle in her lumberjack stack that was fresh and far better than anything I saw in Belgium. 

It felt so natural I tried to order “coffee.” I forgot there is no coffee coffee in England, or anywhere else in Europe. You can try to order “filter” (drip) coffee, but you’ll probably get instant. Typically, you order coffee and then specify whether you want a cappuccino or a latte, etc. 

He dropped us off at the door of the British museum. After going to Athens and seeing the Parthenon, Jolie and I wanted to see all of the original sculptures that Lord Eglin repossessed. The museum was a fantastic space. I can’t believe it’s the first time I’ve been there. I had totally forgotten about the Rosetta Stone being there, so that was a pleasant surprise. We also passed a bunch of ancient Assyrian artwork I remembered from Western Art I with the wonderful Reed Anderson. 

Shockingly, we saw four or five different people walk up to and touch these Assyrian pieces. The ones I’m thinking of specifically are large winged lions and bulls who are carved into walls at entrances to guard them. The British museum, being awesome, has displayed them in this same way: they are built into the wall at gallery entrances.
People taking photos with them would lean against them, and one man even sat on one. This is why I can’t go to museums. I get too angry, and I’m trying not to become a proper museum vigilante.

The Parthenon sculptures and reliefs were really interesting. It was actually quite moving to see them. It was a little surreal, even, having just been in Greece and at these amazing sites. We looked at a bit of some other things before heading out, but nothing really compared to the Greek art. Once you see that, you’re done for the day. 

We made a quick stop to Primark. I realized that my luggage situation could be solved if I had a really, really large bag that I could pass off as a “handbag” or “personal item.” For £10 I got just what I needed. 

After this, Jolie was meeting an old friend from Kansas City. When she worked at Halls, this guy was one of her regular customers. He works for Microsoft now, and comes to London quite regularly, but this was the first time they’d been able to actually find time to get together.

The three of us met at Covent Garden and had coffee to catch up. I had one of the best blueberry muffins ever. Jack, the friend of Jolie’s, was very nice. Apparently he’s here to work on Skype, and hopefully fix it. I told him my sad story of how many times it had sabotaged my connection with Matthew. 

I’m sure Jack is tired of hearing about it, but I had to tell someone who could maybe do something about it. Fortunately, we won’t be depending on Skype much longer. After Wednesday, I can just pick up the phone! And a few short weeks after that, I get to see him! That’s one thing that will make coming back to America sweeter. 

This was the end of our night. We enjoyed Greek yogurt for dinner with strawberries, my favorite. I am enjoying the amazing guest bed here and going to bed as early as possible. I feel like I could sleep forever, but I also have to make the most of my last days here. 

Brussels Burn

My sleeping skills have greatly improved the longer I’ve been on the road. I didn’t wake up when a single one of my 5 roommates came into the dorm last night, and naturally woke up around 6:00 AM. I did force myself to go back to sleep, several times, since I knew I needed it–but kept waking up in a panic that I was running late for something.

I checked out of the hostel in time to run to the pharmacy before the Walking tour. I needed new blister plasters for me feet and new sunscreen. I couldn’t smuggle my enormous bottle of SPF 50 through airport security out of Greece, but thankfully retained my face sunscreen. 

At the pharmacy, there was no sunscreen for less than €20, which is money that I simply do not have. Usually I’d buy it from a large pharmacy like Boots, the UK equivalent to CVS or Walgreens, that has cheaper brands. Even a large supermarket would probably have it, but no such places were to be found in downtown Brussels. There were small pharmacies and mini markets on every corner. As much as I love to see the small businesses still competing with mega super stores, it was pretty freaking annoying today. 

I grabbed a waffle for breakfast and a water bottle. The waffle was covered in something sweet and sticky, like a doughnut, instead of powdered sugar like yesterday. It had still been sitting in a window, though, and was still disappointing. 

It was about a quarter til when I arrived at the square. As an American, I still haven’t broken the mindset that you arrive early because things will begin at the scheduled time. In Europe, though, you arrive at the scheduled time and the thing actually begins a few minutes later. The tour guides reminded me of this, and sent me back on my sunscreen quest with directions to a large supermarket.

I never found it. The directions were pretty simple, so I’m not sure what happened. I also had forgotten what happens when I’m back in Northwestern Europe: people ask me for directions. In Greece or Italy, nobody mistakes mr for a local. Here, even after hearing my accent, tourists look at me skeptically when I tell them I can’t help them as if to ask, “can’t or won’t?” Believe me, I’m as lost as anyone. 

I actually barely made it back to the square in time for the tour. They’d already moved away from the meeting point and separated people by language to the appropriate guide. Fortunately, I found the English speaking tour. I confirmed this with the guide, then looked across the crowd. Much to my surprise, I saw a familiar face.

It was the Australian doppelgänger of my old friend, Sean. This guy’s name is Matt. To recap, I had met Matt in Krakow after the first walking tour, then we went on the second one together with his friend Corry and my friend Irene. This was followed by pierogies. So basically, he and I go way back.

I wasn’t sure it was him at first, and I’m sure I was giving him the strangest look when he waved at me. It’s just so odd to run into him again. I cannot believe we ended up, several weeks later on the opposite side of a continent, in the same city going on the same walking tour on the same day. And we got there in completely different ways. He went north through Berlin, I went… Well, I went way off track through Athens. 

Much like in Krakow, Corry was sleeping in so he was doing the early walking tour on his own. Matt and I have discussed our mutual appreciation for these tours before, but today he summed it up quite nicely. “There are the people who swear by walking tours, and there are the people who’ve never done one.” 

Because really, what’s not to love? In a few short hours, you see all of the sights you are obligated to see to say you’ve been to a city. It’s a more meaningful way to do this because you then actually know what you’re looking at and why it’s important. You get insider information about the city, restaurants, etc from someone who lives there. You learn a little something. You take all the compulsory photos, and then you’re done. You can do whatever you want for the rest of the day, whether that be lollygag in a museum or drink all of Belgium’s famous beer. 

Since my sunscreen quest had failed, my new mission was to stay in the shade. I was mostly successful. There was once or twice when I was in full sunlight for ten minutes, but generally I hardly had to be in it for more than a few seconds. Fortunately I’d had enough sunscreen for my face, which is the most important thing (protect your wrinkle zones!). My goal, always, is to catch as little sun as possible. 

Our tourguide was interesting and informative. I think there just isn’t as much material in Brussels for the tour. Some cities are like this. I’ve never been on a bad walking tour, but the better cities have better ones. It was a great way to spend my last day in Brussels, and I did learn some new things. I saw the fountain of the little boy relieving his bladder, which is the very famous national symbol of Belgium. He has his own tailor, and was in a special costume today. I’d have preferred to see him as he regularly is. 

The tour took a short break in a square. Matt and I took this opportunity to visit a popular fritterie. A fritterie is what a chipper is called in French. A chipper is what the Irish call a place that sells chips. Chips are what Americans call french fries. 

“French fry” is actually a misnomer. I’m not talking about “freedom fries,” that’s just silly. French fries, as they’re called, are actually Belgian in origin. During the world wars, hungry American soldiers loved these fried potatoes and were determined to take the concept back to America with them. There aren’t exactly clear political boundaries painted on the ground, and since the people were speaking French, the name to catch on was french fry. 

When made properly, they’re boiled twice. The first time is at a low temperature til the potato is thoroughly cooked. The second time, they’re briefly boiled at a very high temperature so they will be hot and crispy. By the way, this is how they are made at the restaurant where I work in Kansas City. I would highly recommend a trip to Aixois if you’re in the city. 

I had been hoping to try Brussels moules frites, one of my favorite Aixois dishes that is apparently an Brussels specialty. Unfortunately, it’s not mussels season. You could still get them, but I was out of time and money anyways. The chips were good enough on their own
Maybe I’ll come back someday for mussels.

When the tour was said and done, I had a little time to kill before my train. Matt and I wandered into a few Belgian chocolate shops to try the free samples and maybe make a small purchase. We followed this with coffee and people watching. 

There is a weird trend in Brussels of people wearing matching outfits. We saw two guys walking around together in the same shorts, and a mother-daughter pair in the same shirt. Later on, I saw two more guys in matching sweatshirts. I’ve seen this in no other European city, and none of them looked like they were on Amazing Race. It was odd.

After a nice chat, it was time for me to head onwards towards London. It took us a moment to orient ourselves, but I made it back to the hostel then train station easily. When I was at the hostel and finally indoors again for the first time that day, I realized my shoulders had gotten a little touch of pink. This is so irritating. It could have been worse, I suppose, but I can’t believe I made it through this whole trip and get sunburned for the first time in Belgium. Of all the places I’ve been!

I used my eurail pass for the last time, a five minute ride from the Brussels Noord station by my hostel to Brussels Midi/Zuid where the Eurostar terminal is. I hope the pass was worth it. 

I arrived right on time to check in 30 minutes before departure, as it says to do on the website. I barely made it on the train. The customs line, although not particularly long, was the slowest I’ve ever been in. I didn’t start to worry until we were within 10 minutes of departure and I still had security to go. Fortunately, I made it. It’s the last time I’ll be crossing the UK border for a while. 

It’s amazing to think that you can go from Belgium to London in under two hours, especially when you consider that London is on an island. 
I made my way through the city to Jolie’s house. It’s strange to be in a city again that I already know my way around, but the strangest thing about returning to London is how natural it feels. It’s only just new enough now that the normal ness is still unusual. Does that make sense?

She and Ray picked me up from the train station down the street so I didn’t have to walk up their massive hill. I relaxed and showered. Jolie has the best shower in the entire world. I have no words for how luxurious it is, and how good it is to be clean. She made a big Greek salad for dinner, we sorted out my luggage situation, and I went to bed early. 

I love hanging out with Jolie. I love being in London. I’m trying to focus in that, and not the fact that my return to London signifies my inevitable return to Kansas City and the end of this wonderful adventure. 

Brugge

Last night, I learned from my American friends that I have been pronouncing Brugges like a hick. I guess that’s what I get for being from Missouri, the state with a city pronounced “vur-sales” but spelled Versailles. I thought I’d left that all behind me, but apparently not. I’m just glad I figured it out before I mentioned it to anyone from Belgium.

Brugges was actually the city I really wanted to see in Belgium, not Brussels. The reason I ended up in the latter is because the Eurostar to London departs from it. As unlikely as it would be for something to go so wrong with the trains on the day of my departure that I couldn’t get from Brugges to Brussels, I am taking no chances. I don’t have the time or money to mess around, now.

All this being said, it occurred to me last night when I read my aunt Tatie’s comment on my blog, (“I hope you’re going to Brugges!”) that I still had that option. It’s only an hour away by train, which is nothing. So I made a day of it.

I woke up at what I considered to be the very reasonable hour of 8:45, considering my sleepless journey from Athens and the fact that I then didn’t even make it home from dinner until after midnight. I was on a train by 10 and in Brugge by 11. I stopped somewhere on the way for breakfast, and I’m 90% sure that the cappuccino I ordered was actually instant coffee with whipped cream on top. No complaints here, I love whipped cream. It’s just not what you expect when you order an unsweetened drink made with espresso and foamy milk.

The journey was uneventful. The train was packed, but the stop after I scored a seat an old lady with a cane got on. I gave my place to her, and spent most of the rest of the journey between cars with some very nice Belgians who had never learned to use deodorant. 

It had been so warm and lovely and sunny all day yesterday, in Cologne and Brussels, that I decided to bring my new sun hat. I considered bringing a scarf, for protection from the sun rather than the cold, but decided against it. I didn’t want to have to carry it around all day if I wasn’t going to need it. This turned out to be a rather ironic decision, because I was freezing all day and couldn’t keep my hat on in the wind. 

I knew that Brugge was the right decision before the train even pulled into the station. Not only were we leaving the big city further and further behind us, but we passed several fields of grazing horses. It was delightful. Some things never change. 

When we did arrive, I decided not to consult a map or guide. It was a small enough place I wasn’t worried about getting lost. I explored the back streets for a little while, and then when I wanted to find the town center I just looked for the bell tower or cathedral spire. That’s the lovely thing about small places like this. There’s almost always a landmark that you can see from anywhere in the town by which to orient yourself. 

The whole place feels like a fairy tale. If Prague had the enchanted castles of epic adventures, Brugge has the forests and cottages of fables. I think it is one of the most quaint and pretty places I have ever seen. 

I don’t see why it’s called “The Venice of the North.” Sure it has canals, but not so many. it’s small and authentic. If there is to be a “Venice of the North,” it should be that dreadful tourist trap Amsterdam. Lots of canals and hiked up prices. They could be sister cities. 

I first found my way to a church and passed some interesting looking museums. The church was closed for renovations to the interior. Across the street was a Picasso exhibit, which was selling double tickets for it and a Dali museum. There was also a hospital museum. I took a mental note of these and continued to explore.

I eventually found my way, past the cathedral, to the famous Markt Square. It was so beautiful and picturesque, I had to stop and admire it for a while. There was located the Salvador Dali museum, which I started to consider. I wasn’t initially sure I I wanted to spend my day in Bruges in museums, but it was starting to pique my interest.

It was about time for lunch, and I knew exactly what I wanted: Belgian waffles. It took me forever to find an ATM, and then to find a place with both waffles and wifi, but I eventually succeeded. It was… honestly a little disappointing. The waffle was crunchy and only had powdered sugar on it. I don’t understand why waffles here aren’t made to order. You see them sitting in piles in windows of all these cafes and vendors, but I just can’t see why that’s necessary. They take a couple minutes to make, at the most. I expected more, Belgium.

At this point I felt like I had seen enough of the town that I could take some time for art and museums. I headed to the Dali museum first to buy a joint ticket for them and Picasso. The Picasso closed an hour earlier, so I thought I’d head there first just to be safe. It was an interesting exhibit. It was mostly drawings, and as an artist, I really like to see drawings from painters. It offers an insight to process and concept. My favorites were Picasso’s drawings of dancers, which before then I hadn’t known existed. There were some other artists as well, like Rodin, Matisse, and Derain. Rodin being a sculptor, his drawings were another thing I found exceptionally interesting.

The museum was quite small, so I had plenty of time after I finished to head over to the Dali. I decided to check out the hospital museum I’d seen earlier. It turned out to be €1, so why not?

It was really odd. Apparently the building is one of the oldest standing, purpose built hospitals in the world. It now houses Flemish art, some related to the hospital but not all. The strangest thing was this portrait of a doctor. It was a normal looking portrait from elbows up of a conservatively dressed man looking out at the viewer with a stoic profession. In the bottom half of the composition, though, he was holding a child by the head and pushing a long pin into his eyeball. It was deeply disturbing.

The hospital museum has an Apothekary annex that was a short visit. It was basically preserved as it was in the days of its use. The old bottles and everything were odd, but about what one would expect.
On my way back towards the Dali, I ran across yet another museum. As it also turned out to be €1 for students, I gave it a shot. This was a fine art museum of Flemish art from the 1500’s to today. Again, it was surprisingly small. My favorite period of it was the 1500’s and 1600’s, which is unusual for me. My tastes usually land me a little later on. The reason I enjoyed these so much is because almost all of these paintings had to do with the apocalypse.

Regardless of your religion, you should read the christian book of Revelations. In it, a man (this is often said to be John the disciple, but it was written at least 150 years after his death and by more than one author so don’t be fooled) has visions of what is to come at the end of days, after the Last Judgement. This is where almost all apocalyptic imagery in modern pop culture comes from, which is why I think everyone should read it. Vampires, zombies, and some pretty scary things come out of that book. It’s crazy. And once you’ve read it, you will see references everywhere. I mean everywhere. It’s a short read, so you should really just do it.

So, I enjoyed some crazy, double rainbow, miniature flying hornet horses, legs of fire, eight headed monster, zombie art. Again, the museum was pretty small, so I was on the streets again before too long.
I finally made it to the Dali museum. I enjoyed my detours, but this was definitely the highlight. I had mixed feelings about Dali before now, but this was the first time that I’ve seen an extensive amount of his art in person. He never had a relationship with Brugge, but he had a huge collector from there. 

His work is sooooo fabulous in person, and many of his drawings are so engaging you can just look at them for ages. There is an image that you see right away, but different things keep revealing themselves. The thing about this gallery, though, is that they may have editorialized it a bit too much for me. The walls on which the paintings were hung were covered in leopard print. Or just mirrors. Or there were taxidermied peacocks hanging from the ceiling.

Another thing that I found incredibly odd was that, at both the Picasso and Dali museums, some of the work was for sale. I have never been to any museum that sold original work. Not the things in the exhibit itself, but there was framed original work in the giftshop. In the Picasso museum there was a price list, in the Dali museum you had to meet with someone and negotiate. It was weird to think about owning those paintings. What a souvenir! But hey, art is always a good investment.

I have heard a thing or two about Belgian french fries, and after the last museum closed I decided it was my time to taste them. I found a little place that served burgers as well. I totally understand what the hype is about, the fries were incredible. Fresh, hot, crunchy on the outside but potatoeyon the inside. I hardly touched the hamburger. It wasn’t good. The fries were so excellent though that I did not care.
I don’t think I’ve fully recovered from yesterday yet, as by this time I was already running out of energy. It had been a busy day today, too. It felt like a good time to head back to Brussels. 

I planned to write my blog and go straight to bed, but the people at this hostel are far too friendly. I made a bunch of new friends in the common area. Two English girls, both named Ellie, are backpacking on the continent for the first time. They’ve just started their adventure, we talked a lot about the tips and tricks to it. They cleared up a few lingering questions I had about British words, and were so sweet and fun.

There was also a Canadian guy named Josh, who scored major points when his response to my “I’m from Kansas City,” was an unhesitating “Home of the Chiefs!” He did, however, think that KC is in Kansas, whereas I knew a little about the Canadian east coast. So I won at geography. Josh shares my enthusiasm of Holocaust history, plus we have all kinds of North American inside jokes, so we hit it off.

I don’t think I left a doubt in anyone’s mind as to how much of a nerd I am. I raved about the educational walking tours I’ve been on and dazzled them with Amsterdam facts. I followed this up with giving Ellie a link to my blog, and opting to stay in tonight while they all went out. Hopefully, though, I’ve been able to open their minds to the free walks. Maybe someone will even join me tomorrow at 11:00 AM in front of town hall for the Brussels walk!

The Art of Sleeping

The quantity of sleep that I got last night is actually something I consider an accomplishment. I’ll never be sure whether it was the right choice to forgo the cushioned couches in the noisy food court for the hard floor of the quiet chapel. It probably didn’t make too much of a difference, in the end, since I only went to sleep a little after 2:00 and had to check into my flight at 4:00.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. My flight didn’t leave til the next morning, so why be in a hurry to get to the airport? It wasn’t until I was setting my alarm that I realized my critical mistake.
As a result, I made it my personal mission to spend the maximum amount of transit time asleep as was possible. This involves, for me, the practice of never fully waking up. As other people rushed through the airport and pushed their way onto the plane, I floated dreamily along. 

I went straight to my gate and was delighted to find that the seats there did not have armrests. I caught almost an hour of sleep before my plane started boarding. I didn’t use earplugs because I didn’t want to get left behind, but the repetitive tune of some electronic advertising itself soon became white noise. 

On the plane, a baby or small child was throwing a tantrum. thank goodness for my earplugs. I swear I will never again travel without them. 

I was in the row before the exit row. Although this meant I couldn’t lean back in my seat, it actually worked out pretty well. There were meant to be three seats in a normal row, and I would have been in the center. However, the window seat was completely missing. Unlike being in an aisle seat with the mere illusion of more space, I could actually stretch as far as I wanted in that direction.

I was afraid I would miss the airplane food, but the smell woke me up just in time. It was decent. I’m not in a position to ever turn down free food… well, “free” with your purchase of a stupidly expensive seat on a mediocre aircraft. 

I was also awake just long enough to witness some atrocious airplane etiquette. The seat next to me was occupied by a very nice girl who I would guess to be approximately my age. I can call her nice because of how she handled the following situation, which I never could have put up with.

A few minutes after getting our food, the woman in the seat in front of her abruptly leans all the way back. Then, she removed a clip from her hair. It was stuck in her long, unkempt locks, and she pulled it out straight behind her seat. This lady’s disgusting hair was only a few inches from my neighbors face when she finally snapped the clip out and let it fall.

I was too shocked to react for a moment. I mean, I was stunned. Did that really just happen? I had to laugh. I offered sympathy to my seatmate. 

It wasn’t five minutes later that the women in that row played musical chairs and the hairmonster ended up in front of me. Again, snaps her seat back. I was a little resentful even of this, because my seat didn’t lean back at all as to not obstruct the exit row. Then, she flipped her hair up so it draped over the back of her seat and right in front of me.

Today I learned why they don’t let you take scissors on board a plane. That woman would have had quite the haircut.

I wasted no time in poking her arm aggressively until she would acknowledge me. I assumed that this must be like training a dog. I’ve never had a dog, but I’ve heard you have to correct them right away or they won’t connect their mistake to the reprimand and just be confused. I’ll do more research before I adopt. You know, dogs probably don’t deserve to be compared to her, but I don’t know anything about training goldfish.

I noticed the baby screaming again towards the end of the flight, but it had lost its voice almost completely. 

When we arrived in Frankfurt, I found out I was not connecting to a plane. I was connecting to a train, with a car operated by Lufthansa, my airline. This irritated me a little bit. When I booked online, I was given no indication that part of my journey would be on a train. Even when I was checked in, I was given a boarding pass for my connection that referred to it as a flight. It was on the airport departure boards. It left from “terminal T,” which I arrived in Frankfurt to discover is the platform in the adjoining train station.

I like trains. Clearly, I rely on them quite a bit. I had no problem with part of my journey today being by train. I have a problem with being charged for it. I’ve invested quite a bit of money into a Eurail Pass, and I would like to make that worthwhile. I’ve already paid for the train. Buying a ticket from the airline means I paid for it twice.

I roused myself from my sleepy state to try to get this money back. I was passed from one Lufthansa help desk to another, until finally I was told that they couldn’t help me at all. Since Polish Airlines owns my ticket (which doesn’t make sense to me, first of all, since I’m on Lufthansa flights) I needed to bring this up with them. This is only possible online, because they don’t operate at all in Frankfurt. 

I find it highly irritating when companies refuse to take responsibility. I’ve had several issues with this trip to Athens, like arriving in Greece 12 hours late, hat evidently no one is accountable for. Really, it’s not in the best interest of Lufthansa to work with a company that treats it’s clients this way. All of my flights, services, and issues arose while I was in the care of Lufthansa. They’re the ones who look bad.

After all this, I still had over an hour before my train. I went to a small coffee shop above the station and attempted to buy a bottle of water. It was almost €3. I have officially left Greece, the blissful oasis of hydration in this long and thirsty journey. Every restaurant in Greece gives you water when you sit down and then, unprompted, they refill it. I was magical. If you happened to be at the acropolis or a museum, there were public water fountains everywhere. Or, if you preferred, you could buy a bottle for €0.30. But those days are behind me now. I will remember them fondly.

I bought a tea instead, as it was cheaper, and didn’t take a sip of it. It was a small place, but I immediately passed out on the least conspicuous (although still quite obvious) couch. I didn’t awake until it was almost time for my train. A very animated German man had apparently just started his shift, and discovered my sleeping body when he came to investigate my apparently abandoned bag. I’m just thankful that I wasn’t in the middle of another bomb scare. How embarrassing would that be.

The girl behind the counter tried to quiet him, evidently being aware of my not-so-sneaky napping all along. I don’t think the guy had a quiet mode, though. He is probably one of those people born without an indoor voice. “OH, SLEEP, SLEEP!” he yelled at me reassuringly, when he had finally caught up with what was going on and stopped trying to start conversations with me in German. I rested just a few more minutes there before heading down to my platform.

The train was quite comfortable and I got another hour of sleep here. I actually prefer trains to planes, when the time is about the same. All of these naps, I hoped, were adding up.

I was excited to spend my afternoon on Cologne. The first order of business was to freshen up. After so many overnight trains, sleeping in airports, and just generally being on the go, I have this down to a science. Wash my face, put on deodorant, put on makeup, and I’m fresh as a daisy.

The second item to take care of was my luggage, and after I deposited that I would find some wifi so I could figure out how to get to the cathedral. I passed by the huge, floor to ceiling windows that make up the three story entrance to the station on my way to the luggage area. There, staring me right in the face, is the cathedral itself. The building is stunningI liked Cologne already. 

I ventured into the cathedral. It’s amazing outside and in. I was told there was a service about to start. Feeling quite lucky to have randomly stumbled upon a mass at 12:00 on a Thursday, I took a pew. It took me a while to realize that what I was attending wasn’t a mass. Since it was in German, I just assumed that the responses of the congregation just had a different rhythm and length. Eventually, though, I did figure out that it was some kind of prayer service. At this point I picked up the program I’d been given. If I’d looked at it in the beginning it would have been clear, but now I had no idea where we were. The whole thing lasted less than 30 minutes, after which I got up to look more closely at the elegant church.

Cologne didn’t seem too crowded at first, but it really was. It just sneaks up on you because it wasn’t your usual tourist population. The place was teeming with young teenagers. Or their grandparents. Maybe they weren’t all related, but there were just the two age groups and almost no one in between.

I noticed tents set up around and went to one labeled as information. Someone there told me that this week was a Christian youth conference. There would be live music later on and some other things over the weekend. 

It seemed more crowded every minute. I wonder if maybe the weekend was the main event, and people were arriving for that as it got later on the Thursday afternoon. I tried walking around but it the streets were so full it was hard to move. It had seemed like a sweet small town at first, but as you walked around it felt more like an outdoor shopping mall. Every street was shops. You had high end stores and discount footwear. It was odd. I did find a place that sold Cologne original cologne, which was interesting to smell. The scent that started it all?

I realized I needed to get some food, but I also needed to check wifi at some point before heading to Brussels. I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone, but unlike Greece, wifi isn’t at every restaurant here. I wandered around for a pretty long time before I decided to give up and go to McDonald’s. There was one in the train station and one a block away. I tried the one in the station first, but it was packed to the gills with the young Christians. I checked the Starbucks, but it was no better. When I got to the McDonald’s a block away, I decided I’d have to stick it out. Then, of course they tell me after I order my food, there is no wifi. Also, they charge for ketchup.

I headed back to the train station yet again to find a coffee shop with wifi. I knew they have an aversion to ice here, but this place had never heard of iced tea. I probably wouldn’t have needed to order anything, the employees were so apathetic. I took a couch in the back of an alcove and looked up the directions I needed.

I’m not sure what lead to me falling asleep there. At this point, I’m only 50% sure that I haven’t developed narcolepsy. The hippie music might have done it, though. When I wake up, I set an alarm to go off before my train. I doze there for another hour or so before I leave Cologne. There were museums that had looked interesting, but I was too tired to fight the crowds. 

The train was very comfortable, and each seat had an electrical outlet. I needed one desperately, since I had saved the directions to get to my hostel on my iPad which had only 5% battery left. Of course, it was too good to be true. When the conductor came around to check tickets, he told me that it was a private train and my eurail pass wasn’t good for it. 

Fortunately, by this time my iPad had gotten some charge. We were most of the way there, and the ticket man didnt make me buy the new (very expensive) ticket. He told me to get off at the next station and catch the following train to Brussels, which arrived about five minutes after. No big deal.

The instructions for getting to the hostel after you arrive in the city are horrible. They seem okay until you get here, then you realize that they make no sense. As a result, I got to know the area around the train station better than I really would have liked to. It’s never a nice part of town. Hostels aren’t ever in a nice part of town, either. You just have to hope that none of it is too bad.

When I was finally checking in, another group of Americans were at the same time. They were five young men who had all been in the same fraternity in college. I asked them if they wanted to join up for dinner, and we decided to meet up after half an hour.

I went to my room to drop off my things and walked in on a young Muslim man engaged in prayers. I had no idea what to do in that situation. I wanted to be as respectful as possible, but I was afraid that if I left I’d look intolerant. If I stayed, I didn’t know whether I should cover my hair or wait til he was finished to start moving my things around. 

It all worked out find, of course. I set down my bags and he introduced himself after he finished. He is from Morocco but moved to Nice for work. In Nice, the discrimination against Arabic people had been to great for him so now he is moving to Brussels. He seems really nice, and I hope it works out for him here. His story makes me sad.

I went downstairs to meet my American friends. Even now, I still couldn’t tell you what any of their names are. They were really nice and funny, and we spent the better part of the evening together, but I was pretty tired by this point. Plus, they were thrilled to hear this, I kinda just felt like I was hanging out with my dad and his old frat buddies. Each guy reminded me of someone specific in my dad’s old friends. In my head, they’re young Rusty or Kevin. In real life, I’m sure they’re lovely. Whatever their names are.

One of the guys had a friend in town that was somewhere approximately a 20 minute walk away. This sounded manageable. It turned into nearly an hour. It was a lovely hour, though. We walked from one end of the city to the other at dusk, and Brussels is very beautiful.

When we finally arrived, I knew right away it would be too high energy for me. There was a square filled with young people and loud music. The boys were too hungry now to wait any longer for food, so we ducked into the nearest restaurant. 

It was a Chinese place, and one of the most expensive for quality that I’ve seen in Europe. Brussels is another city with perfectly safe tap water that forces you to pay for bottles at a restaurant. At this restaurant, they just charged you for tap water. Brussels is already killing my budget. It’s perhaps a good thing I’m not here for long. Unlike other weeks, when I can borrow against my future weekly budgets, this is the end. It’s my last week, and the last money I have to my name. When I run out, I’m up against zero. It’s a little more stressful like this.

After dinner the boys were all ready to go party, and I was ready for bed. I maybe should have asked a few more questions in the beginning about where we would be going and what we’d be doing. I found my way back across the city pretty successfully. I took an accidental detour and saw the cathedral at night, which was quite nice. Men here aren’t as aggressive as the Italians, but still “appreciative.” It was annoying but harmless, and I made it home safely. 

Last of Athens

Today I said goodbye to Jolie. It will be an entire three days before I join her in London, and then after that we go to Kansas City within 24 hours of each other. It’s funny how that works out.

Her flight was in the early afternoon, so we took the morning to pack. The flight was late enough that we didn’t have to worry at all about time, Jolie even got to visit the pool one last time, but it early enough for her to get back to London at a decent hour.

We had a quick lunch at Commerce so we could have that famous Greek salad one last time. Commerce has been quite an important part of our enjoyment of the city, I think. Both the food and the people have been really important. It was meeting Meg there, eating salads, and goofing around with Marios and the sweet waitress. It’s nice to find places like that.

It reminds me of one of the few things I’ve missed about Kansas City. I haven’t had the time or means to really develop a relationship with a restaurant since I left. I miss my hometown restaurants, my favorite servers, and being familiar with a staff.

After I saw Jolie off, I headed out to walk around a bit on my own. I found this a little awkward alone, and besides it was in the heat of the afternoon. I bought a nice wide brimmed hat that I’d had my eye on and headed straight back to the hotel. They gave me an English newspaper, which entertained me for a while, and I was able to kill time on my iPad til I was hungry enough for dinner.

I went back to Quick Pitta, since I knew I could depend on it to be delicious and cheap. So it was. I had my last tzatziki and filled up on pork skewers. I thought I might spend the rest of my evening loitering at Commerce and hanging out with Marios, so that was my next destination. I was strangely in the mood to have a hot chocolate, so that was my dessert.

Marios got off work at 9:00 and invited me to come out with him and some of his friends afterwards. We met them, two beautiful Greek girls, at a nearby beer bar. Don’t worry, there were other things besides beer as well. Even though I’ve restocked on my migraine medication, I’m not taking that risk. 

It was a really cool place and felt like a nice way to end my time. Marios and I talked about all kinds of things. We apparently share a love for animated movies and he made me attempt a British accent. He’s a very talented singer, and promised to send me some tracks. I’m going to hold him to that.

The girls left early. They spoke mostly to each other and not in English, but I have the impression that they were really nice. Marios and I were only there for a while longer ourselves. I did have to eventually make my way to the airport, after all.

We went first to Syntagma Square to check the bus schedule. It left every 20 minutes. From Syntagma, I had almost no idea how to get back to the hotel where they were keeping my luggage. I felt so bad dragging Marios in circles. He eventually had to take me back to the restaurant because I knew I could find my way from there. When we did make it, it seemed like we’d never really been more than a few blocks away. That’s what I get for not paying attention to streets all week. It’s just been so nice to let someone else take charge!

Marios saw me safely back to the bus stop and carried my luggage. It’s heavier than it looks, even after Jolie lightened the load a bit. She took a few small items back to London for me. My bag, though, was as hard to zip as ever. I noticed this in Florence, when I threw out that ripped dress, and in Venice when I bought souvenirs: no matter what I add or remove from my bag, it always seems to be exactly as full as it could possibly be. It’s always a struggle to zip it, but it shuts in the end.

The bus driver was a little odd from the beginning. He couldn’t understand that Marios and I weren’t a couple and sang the praises of Greek men. When I got on the bus and realized it would be just the two of us, I tried to find a seat away from him. Unfortunately, I had to buy a ticket from him, and he was very very insistent that I moved nearer. 

He talked very very loudly at me for the first part of the ride. I was tired and didn’t feel like talking about whether Kansas was north or south of New York. I was so relieved when another passenger came on board, and his chatter ceased. Not a word til we arrived at the Athens airport. 

I have been getting better at finding the good places to sleep in airports. I made my way towards the food court, because sometimes there are very nice cushioned benches. This was no exception, but there was obnoxious music playing. I had earplugs, but decided to follow up on another option instead. I’d seen a sign for a chapel, which I followed. It was carpeted, very quiet, and very out of the way. There would be no foot traffic or cleaning crews. One other person had gotten there before me, but it was a large enough space for the both of us. This is where I camped out for the night.

Tomorrow I’ll hop on a plane and arrive in cologne, where I hope to have a chance to see the cathedral before hopping on a train to Belgium. I’m sad to leave the blue skies and free tap water, but Jolie checked the weather and it should be warm and sunny in all my remaining destinations. As a Kansas City girl, I’m skeptical of weather forecasts, but here’s hoping!