MonthJune 2011

Double Rainbow!!! What Does It Mean??!

Day 168

Back in May, one of our intern “Stammtisches” took place at a beer garden up in the mountains in Stuttgart called Karlshöhe.  At the top, I could see pretty much the entire Stuttgart city center. 

While we were up there though, it rained really hard very briefly.  Once the rain went away, a rainbow appeared.  But moments later, we saw a second rainbow!  Apparently, the second, lighter coloured rainbow, is a result of a double reflection from sunlight in raindrops.

The second one is kind of hard to see, but it’s between the left edge of the picture and the brighter rainbow.  When we saw this, someone inevitably shouted, “DOUBLE RAINBOW!! WHAT DOES IT MEAN??!”  For people who aren’t quite familiar with that, see this YouTube video.  Either way, it was pretty cool to be able to see that.  Too bad, I didn’t bring my usual camera day and had to take the photo with my phone camera.

Tokio Dining

Day 167

The day after going to Munich, some of my friends and I went to eat some traditional Japanese food.  We went to a restaurant called Tokio Dining (http://www.tokiodining.de) and at the time they had a deal (until the end of June) where the first 20 bowls of Miso Ramen served each day would be half price.  I actually went to this restaurant once before, but for some reason I never blogged about it the first time.  As I kept writing this, it sounded more and more like a restaurant review.  Either way, the food was so good the first time I went, I decided to go again.  It was the best Japanese food I’ve ever had.  And by Japanese food, I don’t mean sushi.

I’ve never had Japanese food in Japan before, but I’d say this place was the closest thing.  As we walked in, the chefs greeted us in Japanese, and if I knew how to reply in Japanese, I totally would have done that.  When we went in, we were the only people there and that usually says something about how good the restaurant is, but not for this place.

Jasmine Tea

Unlike Japanese restaurants in North America, they do not serve green tea to all their customers by default.  It might be a German thing where they like to charge for every drink – even water.  I ordered their Jasmine tea since it is one of my favourites.  They served it in a very traditional looking (at least to me) teapot with a teacup.

In addition to looking good, it also tasted good.  The tea had been steeped for the right amount of time for it to have flavour and yet not have taste that was too concentrated.

Edamame

My friend had this the first time we went and this dish was perfect for him because he is a vegetarian.  Edamame is a dish that has immature soybeans that have been boiled in water with a little bit of salt.

I tried a little bit and it was pretty good.  I can’t say that it’s super delicious or anything because I’m a huge fan of meat.  It was pretty fun trying to get the beans out of the pod though.

Takoyaki

The appetizer I had the first time I went was the Takoyaki.  It is a dish that has a ball-shaped pancake with grilled octopus meat as filling.  It is also served with Japanese mayonnaise, takoyaki sauce, katsuobushi (dried fish flakes), and green onion flakes.  The restaurant served it in a wooden boat shaped dish, which made it extra cool.

When I bit into one of the takoyaki balls, the pancake layer felt so soft and delicious.  The octopus part was even better, but I think I say that only because I’m a huge fan of octopus meat.  The sauce and the fish flakes made it even better.  As I’m writing this part, I’m craving more of it.

Ikura

Ikura is the Japanese word for roe, which are basically fish eggs.  The restaurant called it Ikura Oroshi and the word Oroshi apparently means a strong wind blowing down a slope (if I got the context correct too).  I guess it makes sense when considering how it was served.  It was served on a small mound of water chestnut with the caviar on top.  On the side of the mound, there were a few strips of sliced cucumber and I guess that would represent the wind.  I never realized how much sense the name of the dish made until I looked it up while writing this part.

The dish was really small, but that makes sense because roe is quite expensive to serve in large volumes.  When I bit into one of them, they just pop as my teeth sinks through the outer protective layer and when that happens juice comes out.  It had the coolest mouthfeel.

Miso Ramen

Our main dish was the Miso Ramen.  The noodles had a soup base made of miso (hence the name) and was served with a slice of pork.  It also had other ingredients such as bean sprouts, seaweed, half a boiled egg and corn.  All of that made the noodles so much more delicious.

The noodles were soft yet chewy in a way and that was perfect for my tastes.  Many people think that the instant ramen and this kind of ramen are similar, but their only similarity is that they’re both noodles with the same name.  They taste completely different.  Although the dish was kind of small, everything in it was so good that I ate all of it – even the soup.  While I was eating this, I faced a dilemma.  In Japan, it is customary to slurp the ramen loudly to show appreciation of the food, but in western countries nobody does that.  In the end, I just slurped it like how I normally ate noodles (something like in between the two extremes), while my friends were really careful about making any slurping noises.

Conclusion

Everything here was so good that I would want to go there to eat all the time until I get sick of it.  I never thought I’d be going out for Japanese food while in Germany, but I think this worked out really well.  On our way out, we said thank you to the chefs there in Japanese.

When I go back to Vancouver, I will try to find another restaurant that is on par with this if not better.  That shouldn’t be too hard since Vancouver does have amazing Japanese food.

Prague

Day 166

Our latest trip took us to Prague, the capital of Czech Republic.  After going there, I’d say that Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. The city managed to retain its wonderful architecture because the city was not heavily bombed (relative to other cities)during WWII. Otherwise, we could not see this wonderful architecture today.

Since I lost my wallet, I couldn’t use my Bahn25 for my discounted tickets anymore, so I ended up cancelling my train tickets and instead went with others who were going by car.  We met at around 7:30 in the morning and began our journey.  As usual, I slept for most of the car ride.

The Mosaic House Hotel

We first went to our hotel to meet up with the others.  When I first walked into the hotel, I was surprised at how nice everything was and we only had to pay 72 euros for 3 nights.  The lobby of the hotel was also a restaurant/pub and each night, the hotel would hold events/parties.

The hotel room even had the coolest shower.

Normally, I don’t post about showers, but this one was too nice to ignore!

Czech Crowns

Since Czech Republic didn’t adopt the Euro, we had to go to the currency exchange.  Before leaving we learned that the rate was about 1 euro for about 24 crowns.  When we got our currency exchanged, we felt so much richer because of all the extra zeroes.


The Czech bills look cool too, but maybe that’s because I’ve never seen them before.  I really hate the change though.  Apparently a 1 crown coin exists and those were really annoying to carry around.

Old Town Square

At the old town square we saw some of the most well known historic landmarks in Prague such as the Týn Church, Jan Hus Monument, St. Nicholas Church, and the Prague Astronomical Clock.  We went here on the first day as well as the second day when we went on the free walking tour.  Many of the historic landmarks survived throughout the Second World War unlike many other cities because this city did not get bombed as heavily as other cities.


The tour guide talked about the history of Czech Republic briefly and explained the significance of the buildings and interesting factoids about them.  For example, he explained the story of how Jan Hus was burned at the stake, how the astronomical clock doesn’t actually correctly predict the correct positions of the sun and moon since it assumed that the Earth was in the center of the universe, and that the designer of the clock was blinded by people who did not want him to build a similar/identical clock elsewhere (what a terrible way to be treated after such an accomplishment).  He also talked about the defenestrations that occurred in Prague prior to the Hussite and Thirty Years War.  He even told us about random facts like how pedestrian lights in Prague only stay green for 9 seconds.

Random Frisbee Game

On our way up to Prague Castle, we decided to stop for a beer nearby.  I got to try one of the Czech beers called Gambrinus, a type of Pilsner.  It tasted similar to all the other kinds of Pilsner I’ve tried.  Afterward, we came across a grass field and decided to play some Frisbee.  While passing around the Frisbee, we somehow got the Frisbee stuck in the tree and spent about 10 minutes trying to get it down. 

We even played a game of Ultimate Frisbee too. I ended up running so much, and I surprised myself as to how long I ran for. I guess going on all these trips and walking around all the time really boosted my endurance without me realizing it.

The Tears of Stalin

While walking toward the castle, we came across a giant metronome on the hill.  In front of it, a huge sign read “The Tears of Stalin” with some missing letters.   According to our tour guide, he said that the area used to be the site of the world’s largest representation of Stalin until the statue was destroyed in 1962.

The picture is crooked because I took it while crossing the street, but at the top of the hill, the words can be see (although some letters are missing).

Prague Castle

When we arrived at the entrance to Prague Castle, we saw two palace guards dressed in a really formal uniform and they behaved like the guards at Buckingham Palace.  Each one wore a blue uniform with a rifle fitted with a bayonet.

When we reached the courtyard of the castle, we came across a bunch of people coming out from the cathedral while chanting.  They even had people wearing backpacks with a giant speaker coming out of it.  I remembered that the day was Corpus Christi and that would probably explain what was going on.

Once the people passed, we saw the St. Vitus Cathedral up close.  It seemed as massive as the cathedral in Cologne.  Apparently, this cathedral here is the largest in Prague.  We didn’t get to go in though because of the Christian holiday.

Everywhere around the castle were examples of really well kept architecture from hundreds of years ago.  It was quite an amazing site to be able to see all of that.

On our way down the mountain, we took tram 22.  Before going to Prague, I had read on the travel report for the city and it explicitly stated that lots of pickpockets operate along that tram route specifically targeting tourists.  So in order to prevent myself from getting pickpocketed again, I was extremely vigilant in watching my surroundings and protecting my stuff (I think I’m quite paranoid with that now).  Nothing happened and I didn’t notice anything suspicious either.  I guess the time that we went wasn’t exactly the peak traffic time.

Church of St. James

The next day, we went on the walking tour around the city.  We began at the old town square where our tour guide explained a lot of Czech history.  He also took us a number of other locations.  The next location we went to was the Church of St. James, where someone happened to be getting married that day.  That’s a pretty cool and unique sight if you ask me.

The tour guide also went on to talk about the history of this place.  In particular he told the story about Vratislav was buried alive by accident in the church.  Story says that the man climbed out of his coffin, but could not get past the stone doors.  Some thought his screams were because his spirit could not find peace so they tried to resolve the problem using holy water.  When the tomb was opened several years later, people found his dead body outside of his coffin.

Also in the cathedral is a statue of a mummified forearm which belonged to a thief who tried to steal from a statue of Virgin Mary inside the church.  Apparently the statue grabbed his hand and refused to let go.  After the thief’s hand was cut off, it was kept at the church to serve as a warning for all thieves.

Franz Kafka

Moving on to the next destination, the tour guide showed us a statue of Franz Kafka, a famous author from Prague.  The statue represented him conquering his demons in his dreams.

Before Kafka died, he did not want his works to be published.  He requested that all his works be burned, but the friend that he entrusted this task to felt that it would be a waste to do such a thing.  After publishing his works, Kafka became very well known and is now considered to be one of the best writers of the 20th century.

The Jewish District

Our next destination was the Jewish district of the city.  This is where we got to see a lot of synagogues build hundreds of years ago.  One of the synagogues, the Spanish Synagogue, had a design unlike most synagogues.  The tour guide said that the synagogue looks more like a mosque and could be due to the fact that the synagogue was built with the help of Muslims and the mosque-like design served as a thank you to them.

The next synagogue we went to was the oldest synagogue in Europe.  Known as the “Old New Synagogue”, it doesn’t look very beautiful as far as architecture goes.  If the tour guide did not mention that it was the oldest in Europe, I would have walked past it thinking that it was just any old building.

The last synagogue we saw was known as the “High Synagogue”.  Unlike the other two, this one didn’t have as interesting of a history.

After seeing the Jewish District, the tour proceeded close to the Vltava river, the river that runs through Prague.

The Rudolfinum

Near the river, was the Rudolfinum, which is a music auditorium.  It is also the home stage of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.

Walking further along the river, we could see the Charles Bridge.  And further in the distance up in the mountain, we could see Prague Castle.

Charles Bridge

The Charles Bridge, named after Charles IV, used to be the only bridge across the Vltava river and therefore, this bridge was used extensively as a trade route between Western and Eastern Europe.

While on the bridge, it started to rain and all the artists selling painters instantly covered up their art to protect it.  Unlike last week in Munich, I brought an umbrella.  On a different part of the hill, we could also see the tip of what looks to be a lookalike of the Eiffel Tower.  Apparently, it is an lookout tower and a transmission tower.

One the bridge, there were so many statues across its length.  One of them however, according to the tour guide, was of John of Nepomuk, who was thrown into the river hundreds of years ago.  This man is usually portrayed with a halo of five stars.

For some strange reason, the weather couldn’t really make up its mind at the time, so I got interesting pictures of the bridge with rain clouds and white clouds hovering over it.

Epic Karaoke

That night at the hotel, they had an karaoke event.  Those who were brave/drunk enough, went up on stage to sing for everyone.  When we were there, it was quite rowdy, and our group had quite a bit to drink too.  Some of my friends went up to sing “Summer of ‘69” by Bryan Adams.  They were like the Backstreet Bro(y)s.

While they were up there singing, the audience was really into it too.  People were dancing too.  I guess that’s a good thing.  Just for kicks, I took my friends lighter and started waving it back and forth like at a real concert.  Later on, with some “encouragement” from my friends (probably peer pressure), I went up with them too.  Never went up on a stage like that before, but I guess it worked out.  Afterward, the others went to the largest club in Prague.  Apparently it has six floors.  I didn’t go though, because I really hate clubbing.

International Music Festival

While in Prague, the International Music Festival happened to be on and so we went there to check it out.  I wasn’t that excited for this, since I’m not exactly a fan of any of the music they played there.  What was cool was that the event people shipped a truck full of beer and hooked it up to all the beer taps.  It’s like a dump truck (but with a smaller container that didn’t spin) carrying beer being transported over water.

When we left the festival, we came across the weirdest demonstration of modern art.  Just looking at it confused the hell out of me.  It just made no sense.

Modern Art

There was an modern art exhibit that people could walk through.  We didn’t go in it, but as we walked past the exit, we looked inside and saw some pretty strange stuff.  There was a couple standing in a room with glass windows on all sides and all they did was hug each other.  They stayed in the same hugging position and didn’t move.  Another exhibit had a tent with white cloth draped all over it with someone inside dressed in a similar way (I didn’t notice at first until he/she started moving) and all he/she did was move around randomly inside.  It made no sense.

There was also this thing called a “Sleeping Box”.  I guess it works really well for people who want to block the sunlight while sleeping outside.  Or maybe it was part of the modern art thing.  I don’t know.  The weirdest part about it were people randomly walking around holding a copy of “The Great Gatsby” that had an iTouch/iPhone taped on one of the pages and walked around reciting lines from a play.  It just didn’t make any sense.

The National Museum

Since the modern art exhibit was close to the box office for tickets to the opera, we decided to see if there were any tickets available for that.  Unfortunately, all their tickets had sold out.  Instead, what we did was go to the National Museum to see a mini classical music concert.


The concert played music from famous composers such as Vivaldi, Bach and Mozart.  When I heard the sound of the violins playing, it sounded so nice as I heard the instruments themselves as well as the echo.  I really admired the skill that these people had in music.

Food

In addition to just visiting landmarks around the city, we also tried some of their cuisine.  For food, I got to try their pork knuckle and their goulash.  They also served more mainstream things like perogies and burgers.  The perogies and burgers don’t sound very Czech (maybe not the pork knuckle either), but it was still very delicious.


The menu said that the pork knuckle was only 250 grams, but when they served it to me it seemed more like a kilo of just pork.  Somehow, I ate all of it (except for the really fatty part).

We also went to another restaurant called the “Iron Curtain”.  It was set up using the most stereotypical communist way.  It was underground and in every hallway was some paraphernalia from the communist times.  They were items like propaganda posters, or really old motorbikes.  They even had busts of Stalin and Lenin.  The front cover of the menu even said we’d have a “propaganda experience” and indeed we did.  The item with the best name on the menu had to be the CCCP Burger, where CCCP stood for the “Classic Capitalist Cheeseburger Plate”.  Oh the irony.


The “Iron Curtain” had the best restaurant atmosphere I’ve ever seen.  We left them a generous tip and the waitress was very happy about that.

Drinks

Many know that Pilsner beer comes from the Czech Republic, so everywhere in Prague, people drank Pilsner.  They had lot of brands, but the two most common ones were Gambrinus and Pilsner Urquell.  Apparently, the original Budweiser, came from Czech Republic and not from America.

We also tried another drink called Absinthe.  It is highly alcoholic (45 – 74% ABV).  According to Wiki, it says “Absinthe has been portrayed as a dangerously addictive psychoactive drug” and so, many countries banned it (Canada included).  However, it isn’t proven that the drink is any more dangerous than other types of liquor.

We prepared it by lighting a mixture of sugar and absinthe on fire and then dunking that mixture in a glass of water.  By lighting the mixture on fire, the sugar would caramelize and the absinthe would lose some of its alcohol content.  Apparently, that is one of the mainstream preparation methods for the drink.

We drank it and depending on the concentration of sugar, the drink would either be too bitter or too sweet. I didn’t like it very much. We even tried it without the sugar. We just lit the absinthe on fire and had a flaming shot. That drink just burned as it went down. Someone mentioned that it was kind of like Bacardi 151.

Going Home

On the morning of the fourth day, we went back to Stuttgart.  On the whole, the trip wasn’t very expensive.  It only cost me about 200 euros with transportation and accommodations included.  We even ate out at a restaurant every night.  If I had a wallet at the time, it wouldn’t have hurt at all.

Munich II

Day 165

Last Saturday, our original plan was to go to Neuschwanstein Castle, but while we were on our way there, it started raining really hard.  After seeing the rain go on for more than two hours non-stop, we wondered what the weather would have been like in Schwangau (where the castle is).  We figured it would be raining at the castle too and it wouldn’t be fun in the rain, we chose to go to Munich instead.  I’ve already been to Munich before, but I think we decided to go there for the Hofbräuhaus because we were all hungry at the time (I hate it when my stomach does the talking).  Since Neuschwanstein and Munich are somewhat close (~ 130 km), it was easy to change to a different train to Munich.

This time, I had the chance to try the Bavarian Weisswurst (white sausage).  According to Wiki, it is a “traditional Bavarian sausage made from very finely minced veal and fresh pork bacon.”  It was served in a pot of hot water and a special sauce with a sweet flavour.  Even though it is a breakfast food, we managed to get it in the afternoon (I guess their supply hadn’t run out for the day yet). 

It looks kind of disgusting in the picture but it tasted so good.  I also ate this dish that had roasted suckling pig.  It tasted like Chinese 燒肉.  It even had the same crusty skin on the surface.

After we ate, we walked around Munich in the rain (that part sucked a lot because I had no umbrella) a bit to see some of the attractions.  I didn’t really take a lot of pictures of these because I saw them the first time around.

For some reason, we also went to look for poker chips.  Apparently my friends couldn’t find them in Stuttgart.  We walked around the toy section of the Galleria Kaufhof and actually found some.  At the same time, I saw also saw some cool toys (almost like being a kid again).

Afterward, we walked around the city some more and stumbled on a statue that got turned into a giant Michael Jackson tribute.

I still have no idea why that’s there, but I guess that’s for a good cause.  We then proceeded to the train station to go home.

On the way home, we passed the time by playing Poker using the newly purchased poker set.  We even played Asshole (a weird variant of Big 2).  But then, in our card playing, we failed to pay attention to the fact that our train had stopped and just idled in Treuchtlingen, which wasn’t the end stop.  Everyone else had already left the train.  We were sure that we boarded the right train, but I still have no idea why our train didn’t go to the stop that we needed (it was the end stop).  We think that the train may have split and we got stuck in the half that stayed behind.

When we realized this, I asked the one of the DB employees (in German ^_^) how to get to Stuttgart and he told me.  While we were stranded in Treuchtlingen, we killed time at a nearby park until our train came.  Luckily one of our friends brought a Frisbee so we threw that around for about an hour.  When we headed back to the station for our train, we found that the doors to the station were locked.  With one minute to go to find a way into the station and to the platform we needed, we sprinted to the next entrance and onto our train.  We made it with just a few seconds to go.  I would not have liked to stay a night here.

We were supposed to return to Stuttgart at around 7:30, but that delayed us and we ended up getting back at around 11:30.

Amsterdam

Day 161

After my unfortunate disaster in Brussels, my friend and I took the first train out of the city.  When we arrived in Amsterdam, I immediately felt a huge tourist vibe in the city.  Unlike Brussels, the tourist population here was much larger.  It also felt safer.  By the way this post might have some “mature themes” because of the Red Light District stuff.

Coffee Shops and Other Strange Places

During our walk to the hostel from the train station, we began see some pretty strange yet touristy places.  For example, along the way, there was a Vodka Museum and a Torture Museum (they’d actually present different pre-modern torture devices), and of course a lot of “coffee shops”.  For those who don’t know what a coffee shop in Amsterdam is, it is where people go to legally smoke weed.  A place for people to drink coffee is simply called a cafe.  Many people go to Amsterdam for that reason, but not me though.

It wasn’t just the Vodka Museum that was weird, they even had stores selling cannabis seeds, which I guess is okay because weed is legal, but coming from a place where it isn’t, it definitely struck me as weird.  To take that even further, there is even a Cannabis Museum.

After walking through the town square for a little bit, we arrived at Dam Square, the historic center of Amsterdam.

Dam Square

As the historic center, this area has a lot of notable buildings such as the Royal Palace, New Church, National Monument, and Madame Tussaud’s Museum.


This is where I noticed the ridiculous amount of bicycles.  In fact, I saw more people riding bicycles than people driving cars.  When I crossed the street, I looked for bikers and not drivers.  Making our way further into the city, we began to see the large network of canals.

The Canals

Another thing that Amsterdam is famous for is its canals.  Built in the early 17th century, city planners had the idea of constructing this network for the purposes of defense and water management.  Today, people dub it as “The Venice of the North” and it is quite a cultural landmark.

The canal receives its water from the Amstel River (there is a beer named after it).  According to Wikipedia, because of the canals, there are about 90 islands and 1500 bridges.

Nieuwmarkt

While walking to the hostel, we reached the New Market, which is another city square.  In the center there is a city gate that has been long converted into a cafe/restaurant.

Turns out our hostel was less than 100 meters from here.  We went there and dropped off our stuff before we continued exploring.

The Christian Hostel

Before we left, Germany, my friend booked a place for us at this Christian hostel.  I’m not even Christian, but that didn’t matter.  It had a lot of rules like no smoking, no alcohol, no weed, etc, which was okay.  The ironic thing was that when I walked into my room (this was at around 2 PM in the afternoon), I saw a few people passed out on their beds.  I thought to myself, “they probably just drank too much beer or smoked too much weed.”  The hostel didn’t really care, so long as they didn’t bring that stuff in.  They even had a “bible study”.  I really wonder who would go to that.

Chinatown

Next to the New Market Square was Amsterdam’s Chinatown.  My first impression of this place was that the Chinese stuff here was really traditional unlike the multitude of westernized Chinese food places I always see in Germany (not a big fan of chicken chow mein or kung pao chicken).  This place even had a temple with Buddha and various people from Chinese folk religions like Guan Yu.  The butcher’s shop even sold entire slabs of an entire pig (like the ones that some Chinese people use for celebrations).

After walking through Chinatown, we proceeded to our next destination: the infamous Red Light District.

The Red Light District

Before going to Amsterdam, I already knew that the Netherlands legalized weed and prostitution and so I figured that these things would be really prevalent in the city.  Indeed they were.  Walking down the street, I could smell the odour of weed coming out of every coffee shop.  On top of that, if the business I walked by wasn’t a coffee shop, it’d be a sex shop. 

There even some businesses geared towards gay people.  They proudly waved a rainbow flag outside their establishment.  The Dutch are clearly really open about these things.

At first I walked by a lot of brothels without really knowing that I did (I had no idea what they looked like).  It was only when I noticed that some buildings had a row of windows with curtains over them.  In one of the windows, a woman wearing lingerie displayed herself for potential customers.  I noticed that the building didn’t have a banner or any label.  I guess people see that and just know (notice the guy who appears to be in deep contemplation in the picture).

They even had a condom shop that sold condoms with different shapes (they even had a Statue of Liberty condom).

This city has such a strange blend of an old European vibe mixed with the vices of modern people.  It is kind of interesting yet sad to see people indulging in such things.

The XXX Flag

In a lot of places, we kept seeing a flag with a giant “XXX” printed on it and at first, my friend and I thought it just meant what everyone knows it as.  Then we started seeing this on the side of old churches and even on police badges.  We wondered what its actual meaning was.  Apparently, that’s the flag of Amsterdam.  What a crazy coincidence.

Another thing really common in the city is the crazy amount of churches.  I didn’t really count how many I saw, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw at least five or six of them.

Lots and Lots of Churches

There isn’t really anything to explain here.


There are more, but I didn’t bother posting them.

Anne Frank House

While randomly walking, we stumbled on the Anne Frank House, the building that her family lived in during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.  For those who don’t know who Anne Frank is, she was a victim of The Holocaust who wrote a diary, now published into a booked called “The Diary of a Young Girl”, documenting her life between 1942 and 1944.  The building has now since become a museum for people to visit.  Inside the museum, people could see the conditions that she lived in and some of her personal paraphernalia.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t go in to see the museum for my self since my wallet got stolen (damn bastards!).

After walking for almost the entire day (I reckon we walked about 30 kilometers that day), we went to go buy food.  We would have been hungry a lot earlier if we didn’t stuff our faces at the breakfast buffet at our hotel back in Brussels.  Knowing that the Netherlands was famous for its fries, that’s what we got.

Dutch Fries

The most unique thing about their fries is that they do not serve it with ketchup.  The main sauce they use is mayonnaise.  When I first heard about that, I thought it was the weirdest thing.  I had never thought of combining those two things together.  After trying it, I can say that I’m never having fries with ketchup ever again.

Another cool thing about their fries is that they serve it in a nice conic container with a wooden fork-like utensil.

Other Dutch Delicacies

Although not as significant of a consumer of cheese as Germany and France, Amsterdam still has shops dedicated completely to cheese.  Now I don’t know much about cheese, but the cheese in the store looks so delicious (I like the colour too).

Another thing that the Dutch are famous for is their beer.  Everybody knows Heineken in North America (probably), but it’s really expensive there.  Here, it’s like a staple, so I had to try it.  We sat at a table overlooking the canals and enjoyed the view while we drank our beer.

Afterward, we made our way to Museumplein, also known as Museum Square.

Museumplein

We went here that night and also the next morning.  This area houses four museums: the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk Museum, and the Diamond Museum.  In addition, there is also a concert hall and a giant sign for the city.


In addition to going to Museumplein that morning, we went to the flower market first.  I was told that the Netherlands were also famous for its tulips.

The Flower Market

As I expected, there were indeed many varieties of flowers.  They even sold little ceramic “shoes” (basically a shoe shaped container) that people can use to grow their flowers in.  I also can’t really say I was surprised when I saw cannabis seeds there too.

After checking out this place, we went to a nearby park called Vondelpark.

Vondelpark

This place was basically a place for people to just relax or exercise and wasn’t really a touristy place.  Either way, for people that enjoy seeing nature (I’m not exactly a HUGE fan myself), this is a good place to go.

After going here, we went to Museumplein to see the place during the day.  After chilling out there for a little bit, we went back to the town center for some food before our train back.  We left in the early afternoon and by the time we went back to Stuttgart, there was time for a beer before going home.  Throughout the whole trip (Brussels and Amsterdam), I only spent around 80 euros with accommodations included, but not train tickets.  I ended up borrowing that money from my friend and we both had just enough.

My Horrible Experience in Brussels

Day 160

Whenever one mentions the city of Brussels, a few things come to my mind, mainly chocolate and beer.  Before actually visiting the city, I really expected that sort of thing, but I was wrong…oh so wrong.

We left in the morning of the 11th in a very uneventful train ride that lasted for about six hours before we actually reached the city.  Upon arrival, we got off the train in a very typical looking European train station.  We walked around the city and found our hotel.  They assigned us a room for four people even though our party only had two people (we would have had more people if we could have arranged it in time).  The room even had a flat screen TV and a bathtub (not just a regular shower!).  What a great first impression.

After dropping off a few things, we went out to explore.  We didn’t really have a plan as to what we wanted to see, so we walked from one place to another with an attitude like, “hey, that looks cool, let’s go there.”  Using this method of exploring, we saw a few buildings with really cool architecture, like the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, and the Square Ambiorix.


After reaching the basilica, we realized that we ventured really far from the city center, so we decided to take the metro to the city center.  At the metro stop, we looked on the map to see which direction we needed to go in.  One of the local with his family waited at the metro stop and saw us looking at the map and so he explained how to get to the city center.  I suppose he could instantly tell that we were tourists.  The guy seemed nice, but almost too nice.  I found that kind of suspicious and we avoided him for the rest of the metro ride.

We went on the metro, and off we went.  A direct route to the city center didn’t exist from where we were so we had to transfer to a different train.  One thing I noticed right away at our transfer station was the fact that there were so many people trying to cram on a train.  I saw this and knew that could be trouble.  Before going to Brussels, I had read on the Canadian foreign affairs site about what to look out for in Belgium.  It explicitly warned travellers about pickpockets operating at metro stations.  Knowing this bit of information, I pretty much kept my hands in my pockets the whole time to prevent anybody from getting in there.

As I got on this crowded train, I did my best to get on the train while watching out for any petty thieves.  At one point, my mind wandered, and my hands left my pocket.  During the time between getting on the train and cramming on with everyone else, the dextrous hand of a pickpocket reached into the left front pocket of my jeans and grabbed hold of my precious wallet.  Not long after, I noticed my empty pocket and immediately knew what happened.  I had let my guard down for less than a minute and disaster struck.  In a panic, I looked around for where my wallet could have gone even though I knew that all of my attempts would prove futile.

I looked at my friend and simply said, “somebody stole my wallet”.  My friend then looked at me with an expression that said, “are you kidding me?”  Normally, I joke around a lot, but never about something like this.  I was dead serious.  I knew what I had to do next.  Call the credit card company to block my credit card and go to the police station to report the crime.  I didn’t really see a point in reporting the crime since they couldn’t really do anything to get my stuff back, but I might need the report as proof for losing the cards that I had in there.

I talked to the first staff member of the metro I found and asked him where one would go to report a crime.  I followed his instructions and when I arrived at the station, I found a police outpost.  I went inside to talk to the police about the crime, but they simply told me that they were closed for the day and directed me back to the place I came from for help.  Really?  Are the police in this city that incompetent?

Knowing that I couldn’t really get these people to help me, I went back to where I came from.  I went up to the information point and asked an employee there where I could go.  Two security guards came out and directed me to yet another police outpost.  This one had closed too.  Okay, whatever, so what if the police here suck?  At the very least, I had to call to cancel my credit card.  I asked the security guards where I could have access to a phone to cancel my card.  They led me to the nearest phone booth.  Really?  My wallet was stolen.  How could I possibly have any money to make a phone call?  They clearly weren’t very bright. 

Afterward, one of the security guards took out his cell phone and called a number for stopping credit cards.  After talking to the guy on the other end, I found that he could only block credit cards local to Belgium and he gave me a different number to call (I really hate bureaucracy).  The security guard looked at the number I just wrote down and just shook his head.  He probably didn’t want me calling it because it was a long distance number.  I guess he cared more about his phone bill than helping someone out.

The next thing they did was direct me to an actual police station nearby.  Luckily, they were still open when I arrived.  I borrowed their phone and called the number that the security didn’t let me call earlier.  The guy on the other end told me that this number only works for Visa cards.  I had a MasterCard.  I was given yet another number to call except this time, the number didn’t work.  I don’t know how I was able to interact with so many incompetent people in one day.  I thought about what I could do next and realized that I could call home and ask my parents for the correct number.  I briefly told them about what happened over the phone, assured that everything else was okay and that I didn’t lose my passport.  They gave me the number; I called it; and then got my card blocked.  I even arranged for a new card to be sent to me.

The next step thing to do was to get the police report.  I waited around for an hour or two and finally got everything done.  I basically told the guy what happened, where it happened, and what was in my wallet.  My wallet had 170 euros, driver’s license, my student ID, two bank cards, a credit card, my Bahn 25 card, and my Stuttgart metro pass.  By now it was 8:30 at night.  I hadn’t eaten since the morning either so I was immensely hungry.  Using money I borrowed from my friend, I went to eat at McDonald’s.  Afterward, I spent the rest of the night walking around the city.  Despite the fact that I wasn’t in the mood to do anything anymore, I still walked around the city and saw what I could.  During my walk, I could see how shady the city actually was.  Some parts of the city were dominated by shady streets full of foreign immigrants.  I suppose that’s the reason for why some people here need to resort to stealing to make a living.


The next morning, we took the first train out and went to Amsterdam.  We had already booked our accommodations there before leaving Germany, so it didn’t make sense to go home early.

When I told my friends this story about my wallet, a few of them found it really surprising that pickpockets managed to steal out of a front pocket.  It surprised me at the time too.  Some of my friends even shared stories about how someone they knew once got pickpocketed in Brussels too.  If only I had known that earlier.  I guess it’s like what my parents said afterward, “I learned my lesson the hard way and paid for it with my wallet.”

Disappearing Firefox Icons

Here’s a quick post about resolving an issue about the Firefox icon disappearing and showing a generic Windows icon. It came up while I set up my laptop, A quick Google search gave me a solution. It involves rebuilding the Windows 7 Icon Cache.

Link: http://www.heerengandhi.com/2009/07/29/firefox-icon-went-missing-in-windows-7-heres-a-fix/comment-page-1/

New Laptop

After waiting for two and a half weeks for my laptop to arrive (not to mention that I had to pay 140 euros in import taxes), it finally came! In fact, I’m happily typing this post using this laptop and I can continue to keep posting things that I never got a chance to (like the trips that I went on during this time). The laptop is an Asus U33JC with the following specs:

  • Intel Core i3-370M Processor (2.4 GHz)
  • Nvidia G310M Graphics Engine with 1 GB DDR3 Dedicated VRAM and Optimus Technology
  • 4 GB of DDR3 1066MHz DRAM (2 GB x 2 slots)
  • Intel Wireless 802.11 b/g/n + WiDi
  • 500 GB Hard Drive (5400 RPM)
  • Windows 7 Home Premium (64 bit) Operating System (which I upgraded to Pro)
  • 13.3-Inch HD (1366×768) LED Display
  • HDMI Port
  • USB 3.0 port
  • Bluetooth
  • 8 cell 5600 mAh battery

The one thing it doesn’t have that I realized just now is that the computer doesn’t have an optical drive. I didn’t know that before. I guess I assumed that all computers except for netbooks have them. It’s not really a big deal though.

Here are some photos (thanks to Engadget for being better than I am at photography):

What I also never looked at when buying the computer was its look. From the screenshots, I saw glimpses of the computer like the keyboard and the overall shape. What I didn’t see was the surface finish that looks like really nice wood. It’s got a dark brown colour and one can see the texture of the wood grains along its surface even though it’s not actually made out of wood. When it’s dark, it’s not even noticeable. I gotta say though that this came as a surprise, not necessarily a good or bad one, but just a surprise. I didn’t know they made laptops like that. I have to admit though that I don’t do a lot of laptop browsing so I know next to nothing about buying a laptop.

The only things I really looked at when buying the laptop was to see its specs, weight, and how comfortable the keyboard looked, whether or not it could run CAD, and price. I pretty much overlooked everything else.

Since my laptop kind of died on me earlier, there weren’t many things I could do to solve the problem. I pretty much only had three options: get my laptop repaired, buy/borrow a monitor for the duration of my stay, or buy a new laptop.

Repairing my laptop was definitely the first thing I tried. I researched on how to fix it, but I couldn’t even get the screws out to even peek at the insides. Right now, I still think that the problem inside the computer is just a loose connection. Unfortunately, I can’t confirm that. I could let Dell fix the computer, but my warranty expired a long time ago. I also bought the computer from Canada and would have to go through lots of red tape just to get it repaired by Dell Europe.

The next thing I tried was to find someone who had an extra monitor I could borrow. Since all my friends in Germany are all interns or thesis students, they all had only a laptop and not an extra display. Although, I did manage to borrow one for like a week until I had to return it. I could have bought a new monitor, but then it would have been really been difficult to bring home a 20 something inch screen (if I’m buying a monitor to keep then I wouldn’t buy anything smaller). I didn’t feel like buying a cheap one and just leaving it behind when I leave Germany either.

In the end, I ended up buying a new laptop (with much financial assistance from my parents). I figure my old laptop is getting old anyways (2007), and for the past year and a half it had been failing to keep up with my intense computer usage habits. When I return to Vancouver, I’ll get this laptop repaired and then my parents could use it (or my brother if he decides that he needs to bring a laptop somewhere).

Normandy and All Its Epic Fail

Day 146

This post is dedicated to how we almost got stranded in Normandy and “misdropped” just like the American paratroopers on D-Day Minus 1 back in 1944. We were right where we were supposed to be, but nothing else was.

Getting to Normandy

Having researched this part before leaving for France, I knew that trains ran from Paris to Caen from Paris Saint Lazare Station. And with our EURail Pass, we could just board any of these trains freely and go at whatever time we wanted. I had booked a hotel in Saint Lo, and the plan was to visit Caen, and then get to Saint Lo in the evening.

Caen

Caen was a city with a rich history, but I only knew it from the Battle of Caen during the larger Battle of Normandy in 1944. While here, I saw a lot of war memorials and architecture leftover from the days of William the Conqueror.


The city itself was very beautiful and really had a French vibe. Unlike Paris, this place isn’t as frequented by tourists. And also the French people here are a lot less snobby and more nice to foreigners. People in Normandy also seem to have immense respect for Americans and the British.

I also got to see the horse statue that always appears in World War II games that feature Caen in it. I’m not sure if it’s the same horse statue, but this one sure reminded me of it.

After staying for a bit in Caen, we decided to go to Saint Lo. In order to do that we had to make a stop in Bayeux and make a transfer.

Bayeux

This is where the shit started to hit the fan. We arrived in Bayeux just to find out that all the buses were closed and there were no more trains going to Saint Lo until 11 at night. By the time we arrived in Bayeux it was around 9:30. We weren’t even sure if that train at 11 was even going to come. The only solution to get to Saint Lo was with a taxi. We looked around the station and saw a bunch of advertisements for D-Day beach tours until we finally found a number for a taxi. When the taxi driver came, he told us that it would cost a lot of money to get to Saint Lo from where we were. So then we tried to look for a place to stay in this city, but since D-Day is a high season for tourism in Normandy, it proved impossible to find a hotel/hostel with room for us. In the end we had to take the taxi anyway. When we called for a taxi the second time, the same taxi driver came back to pick us up too. It was kind of strange. Before actually picking us up, the taxi driver told me he’d come back in five minutes and then ten minutes later he was still not back. I called out in frustration, “five minutes my ass!”, and then a minute later, the taxi driver came back.

While looking for a place to stay, we wandered around time wondering what we were going to do. But even in our crisis, I somehow still kept a really chill attitude on the outside, although I was quite frustrated on the inside. I was still in the mood to take lots of photos though. While walking around, one of my friends broke out in song and started singing a song about how we were “lost in the middle of nowhere.”

Saint Lo

As the taxi entered Saint Lo and started driving to the outskirts of the city, we realized that the hotel we booked was in the middle of nowhere. Even though it was 7 km from the city center, the town only had a population of about 20000 people. The man at the hotel greeted us and checked us in. Inside the hotel we found pamphlets for the city bus that we would use to go to the city center the next day. And from there, we’d take a train/bus to a nearby town and go to the D-Day beaches. Looking further into the pamphlets, I discovered that the bus wouldn’t run on Sunday. It just so happened that we arrived on Saturday night. That sucked a lot.

The next morning, I asked the man at the hotel how to get to the city center and to the D-Day beaches and using his heavy French accent (it was kind of cool to hear), he told us that the only way to do it was using a taxi. That was definitely not the answer I wanted to hear. Before coming to France, I was under the misconception that the trains here would be well connected and that transportation to the D-Day beaches would not be a problem so I did not plan my transportation in Normandy in such detail. It was more of a “figure it out when we get there” sort of thing.

Rather than taking a taxi, we tried to walk to the city center and about 15 minutes into our walk, we all kind of got tired of walking and didn’t feel like walking 7 km, so we went back to the hotel to call a taxi. Luckily, the man at the hostel was very helpful (probably the nicest French guy I’ve come across), and he gave us the phone number for the taxi in the city. When we arrived at the Saint Lo train station via taxi, we found that there were no trains running to where we wanted to go. That is when we figured, “okay, maybe it’s time to get outta here.” We looked at the train departures again, and the next train to Caen wasn’t until 3 PM, and it was only 10 AM or so when we arrived at the Saint Lo station. We decided that the best plan of action now was to just cancel our second night at the hotel and go back to Stuttgart.

Instead of taking a taxi back to the hotel, we walked back to the hotel, cancelled our second night’s stay and walked back to the train station. Luckily the nice Frenchman at the hotel did not penalize us for cancelling our second night. I’m sure he realized that we were all having a hard time trying to arrange transportation to the beaches.

Using the time we had before our train, we walked around Saint Lo. The weather that day matched pretty much exactly what the weather was in ’44 and for me it felt kind of cool to see that the weather had stayed so constant over the years. The morning was cold and foggy, just like back then. For most our time in Saint Lo, we walked around with umbrellas. While walking around town, there was literally no one on the street except us. I guess everyone goes to church on Sundays and then goes home in Normandy.


Even though our plans didn’t work out, we did see a few cool things in Normandy like many of the war memorials and war damage that the city chose to leave behind and not repair. A good example is of the Notre-Dame here that kept some of the damage like the missing church tower to show others of the damage that the church suffered. Apparently over 90% of homes in Saint Lo were destroyed during the war.

If our plans had worked out, we would have been able to visit Carentan, and see the live paradrop in the nearby town of Sainte-Mère-Église. Then afterward, we planned to make our way to Omaha Beach, Pointe du Hoc to be exact. If our plans in Normandy had worked out, we would have even gone to Brussels afterward. Instead, I never got the chance to see any of the beaches and came home a day early. If I ever come back here, I’ll be sure to take a car.

Paris II

Day 146

Because I didn’t manage to see some of the attractions when I went to Paris the first time around, I went again. In this trip, I went to Paris as well as Normandy. This post only talks about Paris and I’ll write one later about Normandy. Even though it was my second visit to Paris, most of the sights I saw this time around were different.

Getting There

Since our trip involved going to Normandy, this meant that we needed to buy tickets using the French railway company rather than Deutsche Bahn. In order to avoid that, I used a EURail pass to go everywhere. However, since the EURail pass doesn’t come with train seat reservations, we had to go buy one for our train to Paris. It just so happened that the only train available for reservation was the City Night Line. We should have reserved seats for the train earlier than two days before. My friend and I managed to get the last two spots on the train. The third person we went with still had to buy his train tickets and ended up on a train that left earlier that night. This meant that we had to look for him once we arrived in Paris. When we got to Paris, we looked everywhere in the station for him and couldn’t find him. We couldn’t call him either because of the change in cellular network when leaving Germany.

Rather than waiting for him to show up we just proceeded to the hostel. I went to buy tickets from the lady at the ticket window and tried to buy day tickets for the Metro. Luckily, I had prepared for this due to my prior experience in Paris before. I had looked up the phrase in French for this and bought the tickets successfully. I managed to do this using only French. When I asked for the student discount the lady there asked me how old we were. Luckily I still remembered random French vocabulary from Grade 5 and I knew how to answer the question.

Once we got to the hostel and dropped everything off, we found that the check in time wasn’t until later in the afternoon. Finally, I got a text message from the friend we were trying to find and apparently he had been in the train station the whole time, but we somehow couldn’t find him. We went back to the station to get him and brought him back to the hostel.

The check-in process for our hostel was quite painful since the guy at the front desk looked like he tried to work as slow as possible. In order to check people into their rooms, each person had to fill out a form telling the hostel staff their names, nationality etc. Using the slowest work efficiency, he handed out the forms to one party at a time. It also didn’t help that the party ahead of us were a bunch of snobby American girls from Texas (they were probably even slower than the guy at the front desk). Once we filled out the forms, the guy would take his sweet time looking through the files to find our reservation while watching a Tennis game on the side. It look almost 45 minutes for us to check in. After checking in though, we began to see tourist attractions.

Arc de Triomphe

Although it was my second time coming here, I could still admire the beauty of the structure. It represented many of Napoleon’s victories and also featured many of his generals. On the ground directly underneath the arc, are plaques remembering the most recent wars that France fought in. Also there is a plaque of General de Gaulle’s radio speech to the French people over BBC. Near it is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Avenue des Champs-Élysées

One end of the street is the location of the Arc de Triomphe, but on the opposite end is the location of the Louvre. We walked along this street for a little bit and stopped whenever we saw something cool. We ended up passing by the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais. We also passed a bridge that had statues made of gold. Near the bridge, a couple was taking wedding photos. They definitely chose a wonderful place to do that. This is where we left the Champs-Élysées and walked across the street to the Invalides.


Les Invalides

This palace consists of museums and monuments that relate to the military history of France. It is also a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans. A few well known attractions there are Napoleon’s Tomb and the Museum of the Army.

Chapel of Saint-Louis-des-Invalides

The chapel here also matches the look of the exterior of the palace itself. It was inspired by Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Famous Tombs

The most notable tomb here is most definitely Napoleon’s. His sarcophagus sits in the center and directly beneath the dome of the Invalides. Among others buried here are some of his family and other French war heroes such as General Foch (he is the one who described the Treaty of Versailles in 1918 as an “armistice for 20 years”).


Musée de l’Armée

The Museum of the Army had exhibits that pretty much described all of France’s military history. We didn’t have enough time to see every exhibit so we only saw the exhibits on World War I, World War II, and France during the Medieval Age. Since we were all technically residents of the EU according to their definition (we each hold a student visa), they granted us free admission into the museum.

The exhibits on the two world wars had so many cool things to show. In addition to teaching the history of the wars, they also showed many weapons used in the wars. I got to see World War I and II era weapons, artillery, uniforms etc. They even had a V2 rocket. They also had a Nazi flag on display as well – something that people don’t ever see in Germany (even in museums).


The exhibits on the Medieval Age showed a large range of armour worn by warriors and even the armour used by their horses. The best part about this exhibit was that each set of armour had a different design in a variety of sizes. The exhibits even had a section showing Japanese and Chinese suits of armour. Also displayed were various weapons that the warriors carried. They showed different types of swords, crossbows, and even muskets.


Eiffel Tower by Day

This is probably the attraction that everyone goes to Paris for. I don’t think people come to Paris and don’t see the Eiffel Tower. It is just an amazing feat of engineering (at the time) and an amazing structure to look at.

Another thing I found out about the Eiffel Tower is that the grass fields in front of the, the Champ de Mars, is perfect for picnics. Anybody who has a chance to do that must do it. Maybe something like sitting on the lawn while eating a baguette while staring at the Eiffel Tower.

Notre Dame

This is another attraction that I revisited. I could have skipped going to this place when I came the second time around, but it is definitely a must-see for people who have never seen it before.


Place de la Bastille

Here is the historic location of the fortress-prison, Bastille Saint-Antoine. On July 14, 1789, an attack on this prison marked the beginning of the French Revolution. Every year on this day, France celebrates Fête de la Fédération, which is known as Bastille Day in English. Although the prison is no longer there, a historical plaque on the side of a building describes it. In the center of the roundabout here is the July Column, which is a monument to the Revolution of 1830, that saw the downfall of Charles X of France.

Eiffel Tower by Night

Because I never got to see this the first time I came, I had to take this opportunity to visit the tower in the night. However, since it is still early summer, the sun didn’t finish setting until around 11 PM, so I had to wait a little while before I could get a picture of the tower in the night without the light of dusk. While at the tower, I spotted a couple hugging in such a way that I could get a romantic shot (at least I tried to) of them with the Eiffel Tower (3rd pic).


Our reservation for the Eiffel Tower was at 11 PM, but we only managed to get tickets for the second level and not the top level because those tickets were all sold out. It was okay for me I guess, since I’ve already gone up to the top before. The lights of all the buildings looked really nice, but unfortunately my camera couldn’t really capture it that well. I tried playing with the exposure time, so that kind of helped.

On our way down, we didn’t want to wait for the elevator like everyone else so we took the stairs. I can’t prove it, but I think going down the stairs was totally faster than waiting for the elevator. Going down the stairs also allowed to see the giant lights that lit up the tower in the night. In addition to just the bright lights, the tower would have a light show every show often where the lights on the Eiffel Tower would flash. I only managed to see a bit of it as we left the tower.

Moulin Rouge

Another famous tourist attraction is the Moulin Rouge. It is located in the red light district, but the place attracts so many tourists who wish to see musical dance entertainment. The Moulin Rouge is also best known as the spiritual birthplace of the modern can-can dance. We only looked at the outside, because the shows there were very much out of our budget (90 euros minimum).

Musée du Louvre

Since the Louvre was so large that I couldn’t see everything last time, I went back again this time to see the things I never saw the other time. One of the exhibits I missed out on last time was the exhibit on the interior design of the residence of Napoleon III. I also saw the inverted pyramid that the Da Vinci Code made so famous.


Château de Versailles

I originally thought that this mansion was just a mansion that Louis XIV lived in, and I never knew that the palace took up so much land area with its canals, gardens, and orchards. I knew Louis XIV lived extravagantly, but I never saw it firsthand until coming to this place. Seeing the remains of his rich-flaunting lifestyle gave me the impression that this guy must have been the biggest douche-bag ever. Almost everywhere around/in the palace was something made of gold or a fancy statue (sometimes both). Going inside Versailles would have cost us 15 euros, but since we’re residents of the EU, it was free.


When we got inside, we were surrounded by so many tourists that it was almost impossible to walk anywhere. It’s as if the staff there just kept letting people in regardless of how many people were inside just to make more money. It didn’t help that each doorway acted as a choke-point for all the people trying to get out.

Once we got outside, everything was okay. The air suddenly smelled nice, and we got to feel the gentle summer breeze. And we go to enjoy the beautiful gardens and orchards. There was even an artificial lake a few hundred meters down that people rowed boats on.


Père Lachaise Cemetery

Even though this place is a cemetery, it still attracts a lot of tourists probably because a lot of famous people are buried here. Names I know off the top of my head are Frédéric Chopin (pianist), Joseph Fourier (mathematician and physicist), and Jim Morrison (from The Doors). I didn’t really try to look for these people, but we did stumble onto Chopin’s grave. That was a really cool find. The graves here have the most extravagant design I’ve ever seen. All the graves I’m used to in Vancouver are just plaques in the ground, but the ones here are huge. One grave could be for an entire family and not just an individual.


Catacombes de Paris

I had no idea that the remains of about six million people were buried beneath Paris in a series of tunnels until I came here. The catacombs here used to be a limestone mine and even now the rocks on the ceiling of some of the tunnels still drip water. Before going in, we found out that the staff there only permitted 200 people inside at a time, so we ended up waiting in line for almost 2 and a half hours before being able to get in. Even though the tour was only about 45 minutes, it was so worth it. Never in my life have I seen skull and bones stacked up in such macabre ways. In some parts of the catacombs, some of the bones were loosened from the stack and people could easily take a giant femur and start waving it back and forth (I don’t know why anyone would do that though). And for those who are sick enough to, could steal a skull as a souvenir. Although, I couldn’t resist touching century-old skulls and bones. It is also said that Robespierre is among these remains, but no one knows exactly which one.


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