Tuesday, June 22, 2010

London: Our Last Stop

After a restful five hour train ride, we arrived in London, the final destination of our European tour. Lorenzo and Kim spent the afternoon washing clothes, while Travis stayed behind in the hotel to relax. That evening we went to one of Lorenzo's favorite restaurants, Yo! Sushi. Yo! Sushi has a 125 foot long sushi conveyor belt and we each selected a variety of colorful sushi plates as they passed us on the belt. After dinner, Kim and Lorenzo headed to a movie theater in Leicester Square for opening night of Sex and the City 2, while Travis went to a nearby club. The next day, we rode The Tube (the London metro) to Harrods, a huge luxury department store, where we ate at a dim sum restaurant and purchased some tea for souvenirs. We continued our shopping in the Piccadilly Circus area before stopping for fish and chips. Our last stop for the evening was the Tate Modern Art Museum where we appreciated (even if we didn't fully understand) colorful and creative works of art. We begin our next day in London with lunch at a small pub with fantastic and inexpensive food. We all ordered meat pies, or pot pies as we call them at home, and thoroughly enjoyed our delicious and filling meals. After eating, we began a walking tour of London. We started at Trafalgar Square, walked along Whitehall past the horse guards to Parliament, Big Ben and the London Eye. Despite the strong wind blowing particles into our eyes, we continued our walking tour to Buckingham Palace. For dinner we enjoyed more British comfort food at the West End Kitchen - Kim and Travis had salmon and chips, with the more adventurous Lorenzo trying a liver meal. On the morning of our last full day in London, we boarded a tour bus for a 1.5 hour drive from London to Stonehenge. Stonehenge was a little smaller and less dramatic than we expected, but was still interesting and mysterious because no one knows the original purpose. Stonehenge could have been used as a clock or calendar, observatory, or for religious purposes. Whatever the purpose, we enjoyed learning about Stonehenge and exploring the beautiful countryside surrounding it. We ended our time in London with an evening walk across the Tower Bridge for a fantastic view of the city.

South of the Thames River with St. Paul's Cathedral in the distance

Yo! Sushi is a must do whenever we come to London

This stack of sushi plates is about ready to fall

Finally! Sex and the City 2

Kim and Lorenzo eating a London classic: fish and chips

A day of sightseeing makes these two very tired

Meat pie is a traditional pub food

Lorenzo and Travis on a huge lion in Trafalgar Square

Travis doing gymnastics

Lorenzo and Kim with the horse guards

Houses of Parliament

The London Eye

Big Ben

Buckingham Palace

Lorenzo's liver dinner . . . yum!

Stonehenge from afar is smaller than we imagined

Kim and Lorenzo at Stonehenge

Travis playing in the countryside - just like at Grandma's house

Lorenzo enjoying the British countryside

The Tower Bridge at night

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Amsterdam, Holland

After a five hour train ride with a transfer in Brussels, we arrived in Amsterdam to find that the temperature was about 25 degrees cooler than Paris. We donned our jackets and waited for Travis to make an entire wardrobe change since he was the only person in Holland in shorts. We then purchased train tickets for the next part of our trip from Amsterdam to London and rode the tram to our hotel, Hotel Aspen. Even though it has extremely steep stairs and no elevator, we found Hotel Aspen to be comfortable and centrally located with a very friendly and helpful owner. We were extremely hungry after checking in, so our first stop was Sara's Pancake House located just a few feet from our hotel. Sara's has a wide selection of large crepe-like pancakes made to order with almost any ingredient we could imagine. We loved the pancakes so much and we were so impressed by Sara (who is in her 20's and runs the business alone) that we ate here three times in our two days in Amsterdam. After eating, we walked around the city admiring the canals and trying not to get run over by the many bicyclists. Next, we walked over to the Anne Frank House and respectfully toured the home where the Frank family hid from the Nazis during World War II. That evening we explored some of the unique aspects of Amsterdam - we ate french fries with mayonnaise like the locals and walked through the red light district. The next morning we went to Sara's again for breakfast, then we sampled picked herring (a local specialty) from Stubbe's. The herring was surprisingly tasty, especially when eaten with pickles. Our next stop was the Heineken Experience, the tourist attraction Travis was most excited about. We learned about the history of Heineken and how beer is made before doing a beer tasting. That evening we went to Sara's again for dinner before heading to the Leidseplein area where many clubs are located. Overall, we loved the slower pace of Amsterdam and the fact that almost everything was in walking (or biking) distance. Amsterdam is a very charming city with friendly people and we enjoyed it much more than we expected.

Lorenzo making his way up the super steep stairs

Kim in front of Sara's Pancake House

Lorenzo's Belgian pancake from Sara's

Lorenzo and Travis on one of the many bridges

There are so many bikes in Amsterdam!

Travis wasn't so sure about the mayonnaise

Kim in a very large shoe

Lorenzo and Travis tasting pickled herring

A close up of the pickled herring

Travis and Lorenzo at the Heineken Experience

You're not supposed to taste the hops!

Travis did a little shopping at Heineken

Kim posing at a canal

The smallest car in Amsterdam

Travis ready to eat another pancake!

Kim and Lorenzo with Sara

A canal at night

Paris, France

When we arrived in Paris, we were surprised to find that our hotel lobby was under construction and our room was not yet ready. We left our bags at the hotel, picked up a map, and rode the metro to a more central area. When we got off the metro we did not know exactly where we were, but our plan was to walk toward the Eiffel Tower. Although it didn't take long to see the Tower in the distance, it took us about an hour to walk to its base. We then relaxed in a nearby park while admiring the Eiffel Tower and planning the rest of our time in Paris. The next morning, while trying to find breakfast, we stumbled upon a street market around the corner from our hotel. We walked along the food stalls before Kim decided on a croissant and Lorenzo tried some green beans. After breakfast, we rode the metro to Notre Dame so we could begin another Rick Steves walking tour. We followed the audio tour from Notre Dame to the Left Bank, before stopping at Subway for lunch. Then we continued walking on the Left Bank to the Orsay Museum. The Orsay is in an old railway station and contains many classic works of art. We especially liked the art by Monet and Van Gogh. Later that evening, we walked along Champs-Elysées, a famous avenue with cafes, restaurants, and luxury shops.

The next morning, we changed hotels and Lorenzo headed to the airport to meet our brother Travis who would be traveling with us for the next 10 days. Once we all finally met up, we headed to Champs-Elysées. We happened to be in Paris when the Champs-Elysées was "going green" - it was closed to cars and filled with plants, trees, and animals to support Parisian farmers. It was also about 85 degrees, so we tried to stay cool and dodge the crowds while walking up the avenue to the Arc de Triomphe. Next, we walked over to the Eiffel Tower so Travis could see it for the first time. Despite the heat, we continued walking around the city and ended up at the Louvre. It was too late to buy a Paris Museum Pass to use the following day, but we finally took a break and ate at the food court. We began the next day with a visit to the Louvre, one of the world's largest museums and the most visited museum in the world. Some of our highlights included seeing the Mona Lisa (although it was much smaller than we expected) and Travis posing next to statues and paintings throughout the museum. Next, we toured Notre Dame and the Modern Art Museum at the Pompidou Centre. We ended the day with dinner at a restaurant near our hotel that specialized in mussels. It was too late to go up the Eiffel Tower after eating dinner, so we headed over to take pictures of the Tower at night. The next morning, we rode the train to Versailles to tour the royal Palace built by Louis XIV. The Palace was richly decorated with various styles of art. We particularly enjoyed the gardens and the famous hall of mirrors (surprisingly the mirrors are on only one side of the hall with windows on the other). That afternoon we used our Paris Museum Passes at the Arc de Triumphe, where we climbed hundreds of curvy stairs to the top of the Arc for a great view of the city. Finally, we ended the evening with another visit to the Eiffel Tower. This time we rode the elevators up to the top level. It was amazing to see the city lit up at night and we were able to spot various landmarks that we visited during our stay in Paris.

Our first view of the Eiffel Tower - EXTREMELY exciting!

Lorenzo reading a travel guidebook at a park near the Eiffel Tower

Lorenzo exploring the street market

Kim on a bridge over the Siene River with the Orsay Museum in the background

Inside the Orsay Museum

Welcome Travis!

Kim and Travis eating bakery treats on Champs-Elysées

Travis and Lorenzo in front of the Arc de Triomphe

Kim and Lorenzo in front of the Eiffel Tower

Lorenzo, Kim, and Travis taking a break at the park

Must be jet lag...

Kim at the Louvre with the Mona Lisa in the background

Travis doing one of many poses at the Louvre

Pompidou Centre housing the Modern Art Museum

Kim with Notre Dame in the background

Travis and Lorenzo resting in Notre Dame

Kim admiring the stain glass windows in Notre Dame

Travis and Lorenzo eating mussels

Travis and Lorenzo under the Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower

Kim and Lorenzo in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles

Travis listening to the audio tour at Versailles

Kim and Lorenzo at Versailles

Travis in the extremely small elevator at Hotel Republique

Travis and Lorenzo at the top of the Arc de Triomphe

View of Paris from top of the Eiffel Tower

Travis, Kim and Lorenzo at the top of the Eiffel Tower