29 June 2011

europe week--cologne, germany

From Luxembourg I caught a train to Trier in Germany. I grabbed a bite to eat before I boarded my next train. As it's light late in this part of the world I got to see quite a bit of German country side and the little towns along the way. I must admit I was surprised to see it so green.

I arrived in Cologne at 11pm and then tried to find the hostel I'd booked into. After wondering around a little I realised I'd exited the wrong side of the train station. So I went back in and came out the other side. WOW! I was met by the impressive DOM (Cathedral). All lit up at night. Spectacular. It was my highlight of all that I saw in Cologne. The magnificance and the detail. I'm sure it took hundreds of years to build.

I then found the hostel which was quite a lot nicer than I was expecting and I only had to share with one other girl who was in town for some lectures. The next morning I stored my luggage at the hostel and took one of their city guide maps and went walking.

I first headed down a long street toward the South Gate (and did a little shopping along the way). You can see it there at the end of the street. It's from the 12th century and the main road to Rome ran through it. I then went across past the Bottmühle which was originally a defence platform and over to the Rhein.

I walked along the Rhein to Altstadt which use to be the old harbour and fishmarket. I found a Thai restaurant there where I had a quick lunch. I back tracked a little to find the Overstolzen House because the architecture looked very interesting. Apparently the only richly ornamented building in the 1200s that wasn't owned by the catholic church. The Overstolz family became rich through trading wine. Quite different style to the churches around. I wandered back through the shopping streets--lovely to do since Luxembourg denied me ;)--up toward the train station as the time for a long parted friendship was due to reunite. ^^

Suhra and Mike met me there!! It was really good to see them again. It was wierd too because last I saw Suhra she was farewelling me in the USA three years ago telling me to save so I could come to her wedding and now that time had come. We met some other wedding guests there as well. Some I knew and some I didn't. Then we walked along the Rhein to the chocolate factory. Mmmm.

We wandered through the various levels where you could learn important stuff like how chocolate is made, fairtrade and how chocolate is good for your body. There was even a mini-tropic zone so you could experience the environment that's needed for cocoa to grow. Hot and sweaty! I actually found it interesting to see pictures of the cocoa plant. The 'fruit' grows straight off the trunk and are quite large. At least bigger than I thought. Inside the 'fruit' is a whole bunch of cocoa beans. There was also a factory making chocolates and we could watch how a little square of lindt chocolate like what we ate when we purchased our tickets was made. Oh, and they had a chocolate fountain flowing from golden cocoa 'fruits'. A lady was dipping in wafers for us to eat. Yum. Suhra and Maddie kept going back for as many as they could get.

I was drooling all over the place when I found the biggest Lindor chocolate ball I'd ever seen!! Lindor is my favourite chocolate if you want to buy me some. ^^

Suhra's brother led us to an Italian place for some tea. I had a schnitzel but I was a little disappointed. It wasn't as good as others I've had. I did have my first ever mojito though which was quite pleasant.

After this followed some drama of retrieving a hirecar that had been towed earlier. We hung out at the guest's hotel while Suhra (being a natural german speaker) went and helped out. Then we wandered back to the DOM for some final photos and night shots. I went and collected my bag from the hostel and Mike, Suhra, Suhra's brother and I got on a train to Düsseldorf. By the time we caught all the trains we needed to get back to Mike and Suhra's it was 2am and I was tired. But there was not to be much sleeping whilst in Düsseldorf where I spent most of my Europe week...

24 June 2011

europe week -- luxembourg, luxembourg

I boarded a train in Paris on Sunday 12th June. A few hours later I arrived in Luxembourg City. First time ever that I've gone to another country by land. He he.
I checked into my hotel which wasn't near as nice as I was expecting sadly but still sufficient. I went for a wander to cheer myself up a bit. The glimpse of the city got me excited about my day to explore on Monday. Excited again I tried to decide what to eat. Ended up at McDonalds. There's one everywhere. I had to have something I don't usually see on the Australian menu so I got a 1955 burger which was ok. It was funny to see german on the box. Ich liebe es! I returned to my pokey room and the one english speaking channel was boring so I watched Harry Potter in German coz I know the story well. It's funny hearing different voices and not actually understanding it. I could still laugh and enjoy knowing what they said in english from memory.

Monday morning I got up early and checked out. I took my bag to the train station and after some hunting I found a place I could lock my bag away for the day. Armed with the map I'd grabbed yesterday and the plan I'd formed I headed off on foot. The more I walked the wierder it seemed. It was now 10am and I headed for the city centre as it was spitting lightly so I thought I'd do some shopping earlier and hope the weather fined up later but apart from some wandering tourist it was awefully quiet. I was just seeing if I could figure out how to hire a bike (I really wanted to ride along the valley later but I couldn't make sense of how you used the hire machine) a guy asked if I spoke english and then if I lived in Luxembourg. He was hoping I could tell him why today was a public holiday. YOU'RE KIDDING!! I have one day in Luxembourg and it's a public holiday? I was pretty bummed about that. I wandered the city streets for quite a while searching for anything other than food places that might be open. There goes my shopping plans. A couple of small touristy places were open so I managed to buy some postcards and souveniers. Actually there were a lot of postcards that had just certain people on it. Family photos. I guess they were some kind of rulers or royalty or something. Found out later they would be the Grand Duke and his family, head of Luxembourg. Luxembourg is the world's only remaining sovereign Grand Duchy according to Wikipedia. That explains the postcards. Funny thing is I could kind of see how the kids grew up just by looking at different postcards. So there's today's lesson for you. Useful for if it ever comes up at a trivia night. :)

As the day progressed the city began to wake. There was an All American Music Festival in Place Guillaume II (William Square) and I hung around for a bit there. Doc's Big Band was playing so I was enjoying the music. I did go for a wander and then come back to buy some lunch at the american stalls. I chose a bagel with honeybaked ham and was seriously disappointed. I didn't realise I'd get a whole chunk of ham (americans and their meat *eyes roll*) but it came in a hamburger bun! Wounded. The main reason I chose that one was because I love bagels. Well I ate some of it. Enough for sustainance. I listened some more to the good music and threw my camera on the ground. Well, not exactly. I usually put the strap around my wrist so if I want I can let go and it will dangle. Only this time I didn't make sure the strap was around my wrist. So the batteries came rolling out with the bash against the pavement but worse the main button came off. You know, the one that actually takes the pictures. I could set it back in place but when I pressed it, although it worked, the button lifted with my finger. I didn't want to risk losing the pieces coz there was glue in my bag at the train station that I could fix it with--which I did successfully later. So the rest of my snapping for the day was upgraded to higher difficulty level. Most self portraits required a temporary button-assembly.

I wandered back to Place de la Constitution which has a statue or two and with a bit of looking around I found the entrance to the Casemates de la Petrusse. Luxembourg is built across a valley which makes for some fascinating scenery. In the 1600s the spanish dug tunnels into the rockface under the now city centre for defensive purposes making Luxembourg once one of the most envied fortresses of Europe. I went wandering through the sprawling tunnels and up and down a bunch more stairs.

At some points the tunnels were quite thin and low. The structure above is toilet and translated the note on the side says "Don't forget the sand". No flush button here. There was also a canon down there and it was fun just to poke about and wander through. When I'd seen it all I made my way out and round to the edge of the cliff area.

Great views from this area down across the valley. The buildings I thought looked more german than french here in Luxembourg. It actually took me a while to figure out what language they use. I noticed that all the signage was in french but there was a lot of german around too. I figured french was the base language but being next to Germany that language was common. The information signs in the Casemates were all in French and German which didn't help me understand anything. It didn't occur to me that the country would have more than one official language. But that's europe for you. As a matter of fact, Luxembourg has three official languages. French, German and Luxembourgish. Some more trivia knowledge for you. I continued around to the Casemates du Bock and went and looked in those tunnels too. They were the better ones though they were really just tunnels, some stairs, window holes and a cannon. The set up was nicer and more touristy I suppose. I took some fun photos in there and had to be careful on the spiral stairs which at times had steps only as wide as half my foot length making slipping much more likely to happen.
When I finished poking around there I went back up to the edge of the city centre where there is a left that goes down through the cliff so you don't have to walk down the winding street to get to the valley below. I crossed a river and wandered past the Grund and down to a castle wall. I crossed over along the top of the wall and down into the Vallee de la Petrusse.

These buildings are built into or under the rock which I just thought was interesting. A lot of the valley sides are terraced with houses so you get layers of great looking buildings climbing up the mountain side. I walked along the valley in the lovely green park area all the way to Pont Adolphe (Adolphe Bridge). I think this was the largest single arch across a valley in its day or something. I can't quite remember now and it's not explained on my brochures. It's one of the landmarks of the city and I found it somewhat impressive and interesting.

I finally climbed back up to the city centre and wandered a bit more looking for a cafe that appealed to me. I did go past a most spectacular playground. It had a large ship, a high tunnel slide and a funky water play area. Just as I was wondering about simply heading back to the train station I rounded a corner and saw the building below. Wow! I noticed it had little guard huts and one was manned. I figured it must be some kind of palace. Actually called Palais Grand-Ducal (Palace of the Grand Dukes). Right opposite I just had to stop in for a cuppa and cake. No second thoughts. Chocolate cafe.

While the guard stood and then marched back and forth I sat and ate some blackforest cake and had a drink. See the plastic bag next to my cup. It's a spoon with a hunk of chocolate on the bottom and you select your flavour and they bring you a mug of hot milk. Yum. I chose Chili Orange. Was goooood. After a moment to enjoy such deliciousness I moved myself along so I could gather my bag and make my next train. I really enjoyed my day in Luxembourg City despite the public holiday and the drizzle that carried on most of the day. It's quite a fascinating view with the valley, the rockfaces, the buildings and the greenery.

This stained glass window is at the train station. It is a great basic picture of the city and I think it just looks cool. So I farewelled Luxembourg and boarded a train for Germany.

21 June 2011

europe week -- paris, france

So I awoke on Friday 10th June, the day my Europe trip began, and the first thing I thought was, "WHAT!? I'm suppose to be leaving the house now!" Great start to my holiday :S So I scrapped my plans to catch the bus and called for a taxi instead. That gave me 30mins to get ready. I made it to the meeting point in plenty of time, especially with the tour bus being late, and was then on my way to adventure! From the white cliffs of Dover we crossed by ferry to France which took a bit over an hour. It was raining and stormy on our drive to Paris. We stopped along the way to get lunch and it was truly an odd experience to order food where you don't know the language. Thankfully the descriptions were in English as well so I knew what I was ordering but the accent of the lady who served me was heavy so it was difficult to understand the little english she knew. We skipped going straight to the hotel so we wouldn't spend hours in heavy traffic. What we got was bad enough. It was still raining and I got a little wet waiting to get in line for our river cruise which was our first stop. I could NOT believe who I saw just a few people ahead in line!

Michael and Katrina, friends from Australia, whom I knew were in Paris at the time but had not planned to meet just happened to be getting on the same cruise. It was awesome to actually run into them when I'd joked about it just a few days earlier. Nice to see friends you know from home when you're touring the world. The cruise itself wasn't that great as the rain made the windows hard to see through but the company was great. So we had our little unplanned cruise together before my tour bus went on to pass other significant sights before taking us to our hotel to check us in.

That night I went out with three USA girls (one of whom I was sharing a room with). We caught the Metro (the underground train) and sat by the river Seine and ate some food and walked across the Pont Des Arts which is a bridge that lovers go to and put a padlock on the bridge with their initials on it. I don't know where this idea came from but there's more than one place that does it. There's a bridge in Germany like this too but I didn't go there. When it got dark we walked to the Eiffel Tower. I ate a delicious crepe with chocolate, strawberry, banana and cream filling and then we watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle at midnight before finding a nearby station to catch the metro back to the hotel.

Saturday morning we went to Montmartre famous for its artist hub. We went and viewed the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur (pretty much Sacred Heart Church). All the detail is quite impressive and it was quite large. Got a good view of the city from there too. Around the corner there was an artists market where people were selling paintings and doing silhouette portraits. That was impressive to see too. A lady was just freestyle cutting black paper to reveal a side portrait of her customers head. I also ate a pain au chocolate. Mmm. We then met up again and went on a little walking tour past some old windmills that used to cover the hills here. There's only a few left now. One is the famous red one...you know, Moulin Rouge? (Which I now understand means Red Windmill.)

We were dropped off at the Notre Dame of Paris and left to wander as we pleased. Again this building is massive and highly detailed. I was always impressed by these two factors. I went for the free walk around inside and saw the famous rose stained glass windows. Then I walked around the shops a bit and got some food and then met the bus for the afternoon option.

A visit to the Chateau de Versailles! Talk about over-the-top extravagance!

This was a hunting lodge and apparently King Louis XIV who entertained guests here felt a little underdone by someone else and went about making it completely extravagant to impress everyone with the splendour and glory of France. Unfortunately all the successful battles and wealth gained went into this place instead of taking care of the population at the time. It is from here in their extravagant wealth that Queen Marie-Antoinette is attributed with saying in regards the people being so poor that they couldn't buy bread, "Then give them cake." This place was again massive and highly detail, yet more so than the other buildings I've seen. It really is quite astonishing to view and imagine living in. And I only viewed some of the palace. The grounds themselves which are filled with gardens and more buildings and water features are way larger than the area the palace is on.

This is the queens bedchamber, fitted with viewing area (not just for today's era) and the dinning table where the royal family would eat, also fitted with a viewing area for courtiers and others to watch. The king was surprisingly social in this way and let people see a lot. Probably just wanted to show off I suppose. That's why he made the place so elaborate in the first place. He held entertainment nights for the courtiers regularly and weekly too.

Check out the detail even on the ceiling. Each one was a masterpiece painted with gods and victorious scenes. We were there three hours and there was left so much unseen. Actually I kinda got tired of viewing the rooms. Yes they were elaborate but all of them were so after a while it was more of the same. I sat in the tea rooms and had a tea and my first ever macaroon which was yummy. Then I went for a wander through the streets of Versailles and found a lovely little stationery store where I bought a pen and notepad. Delightful ones of course. :) Returning from Versailles I got off at the Eiffel Tower because I wanted to go climb it.

And I did. Up the stairs. As high as I could go. Man, I've climbed up and down so many stairs on this Europe trip. I looked around the city at the second level and ate some ice cream and felt the slight sway of the structure in the wind before coming back down again. I quite liked the Eiffel Tower. I didn't know it sparkled on the hour at night and it was fun to see up close and I liked the patterned detail around the arches and it's such a famous landmark it's fun to say "I've been there." I walked back along the Seine, doing a little tourist shopping, and then caught the metro back to the hotel. It's wierd with the daylight. It didn't get dark until 10:30ish so I always stayed up late coz it never felt like I did.

Sunday we went to the Musèe de Lourve. I got someone to take my pic with the pyramid entrance and then ditched the tour. It cost to get in and I opted to go climb the Arc de Triomphe instead. Then they were going back to England but that didn't fit in with my plans.

So I walked along the long garden like street toward the Arc de Triomphe (one of the glorious landmarks Napoleon built to praise himself). Notice the intersection above? Quite a major one and no line markings. This is very common in Paris. Traffic seems to just go where they please. Including pedestrians who never bother waiting for the walk signal. I'm surprised there's not more accidents. From the top of the Arc de Triomphe (more stairs) I got to watch the traffic below. It's essentially a large round about now and again no line markings AND the traffic entering has right of way. Weird. And yet it works. It was also interesting to see the spray of streets jutting out from the Arc too. Twelve of them.

I then moved myself along and headed back to the hotel to collect my bag and then on to Gare de l'Est (train station) via the Metro. There I sat and waited and ate my last meal in France before boarding the train to Luxembourg.