Sunday, February 27, 2011

Planes, Trains & Automobiles: London, Brussels, Bruges, Paris and Amsterdam all in seven days.

Hello Everybody!

Well, I'm sitting at my kitchen table, enjoying a start to a well deserved lazy Sunday morning.  I'm sipping coffee out of my new mug that says, "Dogs Laugh with Their Tails" and I'm ready to Blog!

As you saw in my little preview post yesterday, my travels over the past week brought me to four cities and three countries, all in the span of one week!

When I think of my time in Belgium I think of the following things: chocolate, chocolate, chocolate and beautiful canals.  My two days spent there consisted of a visit to Bruges (once the most wealthy city in Europe) and Brussels.  I was actually really happy our program decided to bring us to Belgium, mainly because its probably a place I would have never gone otherwise.  I think that it would be best if I left Jonathan Meades to explain Belgium to you (thanks Konstantin for the reference!)
Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3:

Although the videos are from 1994, the country is still very much the same.  Anyways: here are some pictures!

A street in Bruges....going toward the city center from the Train Station...UConn in London in Bruges!

The streets leading to the center. The architecture was really amazing.  All of the buildings were basically connected to one winding down towards the center.  The streets were all cobble stone as well. 

Canals!  Many call Bruges the "Venice of the North"

Me and Dennis in front of the Our Lady Tower

Chocolate!  We actually went on a "Chocolate Crawl" of sorts.  Went into about ten different chocolate shops.  Belgian chocolate definitely lived up to its reputation

Market Square.  We ended up climbing this tower (pictures further down).  This square is really a testament to Bruges' golden age from the 12th century to the 15th century based around a strong wool market of all things!
View from the top of the Belfry of Bruges (in Markt Square).  It was quite a climb up.  The stairs were so steep that it was basically like climbing a ladder.  Instead of a railing, they had a rope, that you could hold on to just dangling from the top. 

Me and some friends at the top of the tower.

Chocolate guy at work.  There were plenty of free samples of Chocolate in Bruges. 

Another canal shot.  Really a beautiful city! 
OK, now on to Brussels:
City center in Brussels...The "Grand Place" had some unbelievably breathtaking architecture.  Really amazing.

More from the Grand Place

We went on a city walk of Brussels and stopped in a gallery for short while to look at some really great Belgian art.  Here are some pictures from the walking tour of the city. 

Some beautiful French gardens leading up to one of the palaces in Brussels. 

I LOVE YOU, who ever you are!

Law Courts of Brussels.  Completed in the late 19th century, during a time when Leopold II reigned (and for some reason believed that Brussels would be a world power).  It was obviously very expensive and sadly also represents a time when Leopold II killed millions of people in Belgian colonized areas of Africa.  None the less, today it only hold a few offices and is merely just a monument to the nation.  Very beautiful building.  

The columns inside were massive!

Belgian Street Band. 

Huge market in Brussels on the edge of the Suburbs.  Really interesting stuff being sold, ranging from old toys, antiques, paintings, and basically loads of crap!  I also went into the church in the background which was really amazing! 
 Soon after this I headed back to the train station where our UConn in London program all parted ways for all of our different Mid Term Break destinations.  Up next for me: a EuroLine Bus from Brussels to Paris.

The Bus to Paris was actually really great.  It was much cheaper than the train and it flew by (probably because I had slept through about half of it).  What was great was that we sat behind three American students studying in Paris who told us all of the ins and outs of the city.  One of the students was even from Catholic University in D.C., which is where I lived.  She told me that last week they tore down the building I lived in.  It was funny thinking about that little room I lived in and how much my life changed there...and now its gone.  But, it was fitting, because I'm changing my life again...this time on a bus headed towards Paris.

We arrived in Paris at night on Sunday and stayed until Wednesday morning.  Its picture time again!
Ah! If only I could capture the smell of this place in my photo.  The picture tells this story!  One of the many reasons I loved Paris. 

Whether its a baguette, a croisant, a pain du chocolat or whatever, we knew what was good in Paris!

Oldest bridge in France.  The faces on the side are actually from a sketch of a party on the bridge for its opening!  They call it the first facebook! 

The Bridge of Love.  The locks are put on the bridge by couples who lock it to the bridge and throw the key into the river.  The funniest thing about the locks was that there were some combination locks.  Commitment is really a tough thing for some people. 

The Louve was amazing.  I was able to go for free because of my student visa!  We saw the Mona Lisa and lots of paintings (which my friends and I decided to try and imite...see below!)  I have so much more to go back and see there.  The museum was so massive!
Yeah, we are that cool.

Joan of Arc.  We saw this statue during our three hour walking tour of the city (great way to see the sights and learn the history!  We were led by a Canadian History student).  Right around this point we watched as a couple gypsy children tried to scam some guy, who apparently didn't take it to well.  Instead of walking away he started yelling at them.  It was interesting.  I love suspense.  So that made me really excited!   

Weird radio tower? 

Stupid radio tower keeps getting in the way of my photos.

St. Micael...smiting the devil with an awesome swiggly sword.  

The Spiking Sphinxes Volleyball Team is about to start their third season at UConn.  Unfortunately I'm in London so I will miss the season.  But it was really cool to see a memorial to all of the founding members in the Louve. 

This was a side street near my hostel in Paris.  I really liked it.

Sacre Coeur in Paris.  Like a big white birthday cake.  Overwhelming inside...the view from there was amazing! 

A little market near Sacre Coeur.  Known for its artisans.  I watched as numerous local artists painted amazing pictures of the city. 

One day I will make bread like this!

Notre Dame!

A Scene from the Hunchback of Notre Dame. 

So apparently that radio tower I was complaining about is an important land mark in France. 

Arc de Triomphe...right after this picture was taken there was an accident on this roundabout behind me.  There are no lanes, cars just go!

Yes, its Rape Cheese, which surprised us all a bit. 

On our last night in Paris we decided to treat ourselves to a more expensive dinner.  It was great to drink some amazing red wine and eat great food, most importantly with great people.  As great as it is to see the sites and experience new places, sometimes I feel the most important part of any experience is finding time to sit somewhere and share a few glasses of wine with the people you meet along the way in your life.  Every single euro I spent on this dinner was completely worth it. 

The Eiffel Tower sparkling at night!

We are spelling out France! 

Apparently Parisians love to Riot.  So we decided to riot as well.
I left Paris early Wednesday morning.  I feel like I have so much more to experience in the city, but I feel as if that will come in time.  What I found though, is that one of the joys of traveling is going to a place and loving it so much that you spend time finding reasons to go back.  Missing out on stuff never upset me, because I know that someday I'm going to go back to Paris!  So, on to Holland!

I took a train this time from Paris to Amsterdam.  It was smooth and again I was able to sleep for part of it, which was great!  Amsterdam, much like Bruges is full of canals...and Frites (fries).  I found Amsterdam to be a very interesting place.  I am happy I went there over break because its somewhere I wasn't planning on going at all while backpacking this summer.  Although it was cloudy the entire time and it snowed the first night, it was still a great experience. The last night was even clear, and the buildings along the canals at night are amazing!  While in Amsterdam I went to the Anne Frank House.  This experience was really sobering.  As you walk through the area where she hid with her family you learn so much about the will and perseverance of people.  What you also learn is how such a cruel thing as the holocaust could so easily take that hope away from a young girl and end up leading to her death.  What amazed me from the experience was her Father's work after he lost his entire family to the Holocaust.  How after he learned his entire family was dead he decided to share their story to the world through his daughter's writings and even opened up their house as a museum, not only in remembrance of his family, but also to raise awareness for all Human Rights Abuses in the world.  Anne Frank is an amazing and inspirational figure, but you should also take some time to read a bit about her father, Otto Frank. 

Here are some pictures from Amsterdam:

Me in front of some canal.

Our hostel!  Never before have I slept in an 18 person room.  It was quite an experience and I'm happy I can say I've done it, and probably will do it again.

Yep, I'm in Holland.

You may notice the guy on the TV.  Yay America! This is actually a bar that was for people in our hostel only.

The Cat at the Hostel, ordering a drink.

This little girl knows what its all about.  

We left Amsterdam Friday afternoon by plane.  It was pretty awesome because it was my first time ever time traveling.  That is right, we lifted off at about 9:20 and landed in London Luton at about 9:15.  Also, while appreciating the fact that I had just traveled through time, I realized that I had taken a train from London to Brussels, a bus from Brussels to Paris, a train from Brussels to Amsterdam and a plane from Amsterdam to London.  Yay European transportation! 

Overall, Mid-Term Break was really an unforgettable time, full of its ups and downs, as is any time that you travel.  Sometimes I was moving too fast to really take the time to apprechiate what I was experiencing.  There were a couple times that I had to really reflect though, and everytime I did, I thought about how awesome it was that I was seeing the world, and living.  I'm so happy that I am living with the people I know in my life.

So, I'm back in London.  Today I went for a walk along the Thames with some of my friends up to Big Ben.  No big deal, right?

On to a quick but very important note: today is a widely celebrated holiday that not many people know is Rosalind Day.  Rosalind is an amazing woman who I am so happy to call a great friend.  Her and Tom have been second parents to me since I was eight!  What is so amazing about Rosalind is that she has an amazing passion for life, and not just the experiences of her own life, but she cares deeply about the lives of so many others.  She helped teach me the real meaning of being a global citizen and taking the time to appreciate others company, but also to appreciate my own solitude.  She is the link between me and so many of the new friends I've made over the years in Europe!  I can't thank her enough for what she has done for me, not just by helping to make my journey possible, but also because she helped raise me to be the young man I am today (I also can actually put a pillow case on a pillow because of her!).  So, Happy Birthday Rosalind.  I hope you have an amazing Rosalind Day!  I'll be celebrating here with my friends in London.

Well, those are my adventures.  But don't worry followers!  My adventures continue.  Cardiff this weekend!  Then I believe I have some special guests from America making a hop across the pond.   I hope England is ready for all the PLTAs!

Also, Waggers just had some tooth surgery.  She is doing fine, which is awesome news.  So, to all of you who are within a 2,500 mile radius of her (which sadly doesn't include me).  Get off your computer and go give my dog a treat!  Thanks!



  1. Hi Stephen,
    Thanks for the images and sharing your memories. There are so many great memories of Paris that you brought back for me with your travel log. Mom and I will have to get to Belgium and Holland too.
    Thank you for being who you are!
    Enjoy every moment!

  2. Great update:) So many wonderful places and people!
    I have to go give Waggers a treat...

  3. Hi Stephen!!

    I just read your update and looked over all the pictures and enjoyed them SO much! I'm a Chocolet lover and I think I am going to have to go to Belgium after seeing your pictures. I am also looking forward to having some of your bread when you return to the states. I look forward to your updates as they help pass the time while I am recovering.

    Look forward to the next update.

    Mrs. Simpson

  4. Hi Stephen !

    What a great trip. Your writing evokes memories and feelings, and is great to read, so thanks for sharing. Enjoy every moment - although it sure seems like you are. Have a great time with your family.

    Excelsior !

    Tom M.

  5. Hi Stephen,
    We are almost there! See you Sunday evening. We will most likely need a slow night after our time with Brian and June! We can't wait to meet your friends and see London with you!

  6. hi Stephen,
    this is my third attempt at posting a comment today. each time i have almost finished, the internet connection has crashed!! AARRRGGGHH!

    So here goes, third time lucky!

    It was wonderful to see your photos and accompanying commentary, yet again,we see how wonderfully diverse the world is, and this is " just" the European portion!!
    There are so many different cultures, foods, communities, flora/ fauna, the world is truly an amazig place! One of the most significant effects that travel can have is to help us realise this diversity and hopefully from then on have a more global perspective on Life. It is difficult to be bigoted/discrimantory/jingoistic once you have experienced so many different cultures I think. Plus you yourself contribute to other people`s undertstanding of your culture as you meet and interact with them.

    Thank you too for your birthday wishes and thoughts.My twenty five+- years in Conn has been enriched by the friendship and time spent with you and your family.There is no pleaseure in being passionate about Life if you don`t have people around you to share it with. Tom and I are both so happy to spend time with you and Christian who, as members of the next generation bring you own energy and passion to the table that we all share so often.

    The stuffing of pillows into their cases is so important. If one does not get a good nights sleep on a comfortable pillow, one is grouchy the next morning, spreading negativity all around... I`m glad to have contributed to your ability to take care of yourself, in some small way!!
    There is however, one issue that still needs to be addressed... and I think you may be able to guess where I am going! Your worldliness will not be totally complete UNLESS.... you come to terms with.... MARMITE!!!

    Enjoy your time with your Mum,Dad, and Christian and rest assured that Ms. Waggers will get lots of attention from Tom,myself and her girly cousins!

    love Rosalind
    (phew , no internet crash!)