Netherlands, Brussels, France: 7/16 – 7/22

Amsterdam >>> (Belgium) Brussels >>> (France) Paris

7/16 – Canal Tour and Rijkamuseum
7/17 – Explore Brussels: Museum of Musical Instruments, Mannekin Pis, and waffles overlooking the city
7/18 – Explore Brussels: Gourmet Chocolates and Food Trucks
7/19 – Arrived in Paris and met Caroline!
7/20 – The Louvre!
7/21 – Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame
7/22 – Museum D’Orsay, Fashion Show, & Eiffel Tower

7/16
Canal Tour and Rijksmuseum
+ This was our last day in Amsterdam and we still had a couple of items left on our agenda. So we packed up and stored our bags at the hotel and caught a tram into the city.
+ We had bought some tickets on Groupon for a canal tour through Amsterdam and so we boarded the long boat and plugged in our headphones. Then we listened to this fictional couple tell us all about the history and interesting sights of the city as we explored almost a hundred different canals during our 90 minute tour.
+ When that finished, we only had to walk about a block or two before our next stop, the Rijksmuseum. This museum is very large and houses a bunch of different types and eras of art from all over the world, but unfortunately we only had less than two hours to see as much as we could before we had to leave. We did manage to see almost all of it, although it was at a much quicker pace than we would’ve preferred and didn’t have time to read a lot about the art or just sit and admire some of the more impressive pieces.
+ After we exited, we went to the colorful Amsterdam sign made up of giant separated letters and took some pictures. There was some kind of 3D chalk drawing you could line up to take a picture in, but we were rushed for time and had to skip it.
+ To go back, we had to catch a tram but it was going a different route today so we had to walk a bit further until we finally found the stop we needed. Then we rode 25 minutes back to near our hotel, and as soon as we hopped off, we jogged the rest of the way since were running out of time to catch our bus. Got our bags and went straight back to the bus station. Luckily, we had just enough time before it departed to grab some food to eat on the bus on the way to Brussels.
+ On our 3 hour ride to Brussels, we both eventually fell asleep after staring at the scenery and crossing the border into Belgium.
+ Once we arrived, we took the metro close to our Air BnB and met our host’s friend who showed us to the apartment and explained everything to us.
+ Happy to have a nice room in a well decorated apartment (with a friendly cat too!), we relaxed for a bit before we went out to grab dinner. After a bit of searching and declining a few places a bit too pricey, we ended up eating some doner and fries at a Halal restaurant. This wasn’t Liz’s favorite food, but Corey really liked it and it was super cheap!
+ Hung out back at the apartment the rest of the night, took some showers and watched The ESPY’s on the tablet before bed.

7/17
Explore Brussels: Museum of Musical Instruments, Mannekin Pis, and waffles overlooking the city
+ In the morning we slept in for a little bit to rest up from our previous few days of go go go! Then we grabbed some breakfast bars and took off for another day of walking 7+ miles!
+ Walked through the city looking at all the interesting shops and restaurants and rode an outdoor elevator up a few stories where we had a great view over the city.
+ Made our way to the Museum of Musical Instruments, which was our first destination for today. They gave you a headset and little handheld tablet where you could punch in the numbers of the instrument you were looking at and hear it being played as well as read some history about it. While it wasn’t the most exciting thing ever, it was interesting to us since we both had a background in band After 2 hours and seeing more instruments than we ever thought existed, it was closing time and they politely kicked all the guests out.
+ Right outside the museum we hung out and ate some Belgian Waffles and had Belgian Beer. We were sitting in a square that overlooked much of the city while we watched a traveling brass band from Paris perform. They weren’t the best, but they had sprit and were certainly having fun!
+ When that finished, we walked through a park and then over to the extravagant Grand Central Square. Watched two national teams from Belgium play some sort of sport that we had never seen before while we drank some Belgian beers. It involved the players wearing a hard glove on their hand and whacking a ball back and forth inside a long playing field marked on the concrete by chalk. We watched a few points, but couldn’t understand the rules and the purely French speakers around us couldn’t explain it to us either.
+ Afterwards we walked to the famous Mannekin Pis statue which is just as it sounds- a statue of a little boy peeing. Nothing extraordinary, but a huge tourist attraction nonetheless. Sometimes he’s dressed up in different costumes, but today he was just naked!
+ On the walk back to the apartment, we stopped at a beer store (many of these mini market stores carry over 500 types of Belgian beers!) and picked some up for back at the apartment. Then we hauled the heavy bags all the way back.
+ Hung out on the back patio in our AirBnB’s really nice garden and watched Whiskey Tango Foxtrot as we drank some beers. Before we went to sleep we noticed the patio had a bunch of slugs crawling all over the ground! Apparently they come out of hiding in the middle of the night and leave their trail of slime everywhere as they inch along searching for whatever it is they eat.

7/18
Explore Brussels: Gourmet Chocolates and Food Trucks
+ Slept in and grabbed some frozen pizzas from the little store in the corner that we cooked back at the apartment. Had trouble figuring out the different pictures on the European oven and which one we needed.
+ Went out and walked around the city some more, went to a chocolate shop called Pierre Marcolini (the fanciest chocolate shop in town) and after trying some free samples, we indulged a little by buying some of the delicious chocolate.
+ Found a grocery store on the way back and picked up some breakfast and lunch for the next day at the apartment.
+ After dropping that off back at our place, we headed south to a food truck event that was going on. We’d heard about it from our host who said it was a fun thing to do when the weather was nice. It turned out to be a nice little event with a band playing and plenty of wine, beer, meat, and cheese trucks around to feel much more European than some of our food truck events back home.
+ After we were full we headed back and spent time talking with one of the roommates and her friend out on the back patio. Eventually they went to bed and we each spent some time on our tablets and phones until the slugs came out again and reminded us it was time for bed.

7/19
Arrived in Paris and met Caroline!
+ We had a nice leisurely morning as we had plenty of time until our bus departed and the whole place to ourselves. So after some showers and packing our bags, we cooked our American lunch of wings and pizza in the oven and Liz had a special bottle/can type of drink that she thinks might actually be a mixer, but says it was still delicious!
+ Rode the metro back to the bus station and ended up waiting around for almost an hour since our Mega Bus was running late. But we eventually boarded and settled in for our 5 hour journey to Paris! We were really excited because we were going to get to visit our friend from back home, Caroline! She had lived in France now for a few years and offered to put us up for free (which was great since Paris was going to be the most expensive city we’d visited our whole trip!).
+ After we arrived, we wandered around the park and bus stop area looking for Caroline for 30 minutes. Luckily, the park had free wifi and we were able to text a bit and finally found her!
+ Walked with Caroline over a cool bridge to some nice restaurants that were situated next to a bunch of fancy looking house boats along the Seine river.
+ While waiting for a table to open up at the restaurant, Corey tried to go get us all a beer at the bar. But with only 3 bartenders and 50 people wanting 3-4 drinks each for their table, the line hardly moved at all and after 20 minutes he called it quits and we just went to our table. It was funny seeing these French people dressed up so nicely for a night out on the town while Liz and I were not only wearing worn out looking backpacking clothes, but profusely sweating due to lugging our heavy bags around for the past mile in the sun.
+ After we unloaded our bags and sat down, the 3 of us all ordered the same thing and we scarfed down our burgers and fries. We even splurged for some drinks at this ridiculously overpriced restaurant. But hey, it’s Paris!
+ Before we knew it, it was somehow after 11 pm and we needed to head to Caroline’s place, which was a bit outside the city. So we walked a long time to the metro and after some trouble figuring out which tickets we needed, we bought some passes back to her house. Walked 10 minutes through her neighborhood to her place and up the 3 flights of stairs. Happy to take off the backpacks (we were covered in sweat once again), we knew we wouldn’t have to wear them again for at least 5 more days! The 3 of us hung out and talked for a bit, reminiscing on all our fun times in high school before finally calling it a night.

7/20
The Louvre!
+ Tired from the day before, we slept in and when we did finally roll out of bed, we did some research and planning and put together an itinerary for Paris over the next few days.
+ With our first destination in mind, we left and walked to the train station and bought the tickets we needed for the next 5 days of travel throughout Paris.
+ Rode the train to near The Louvre and then made our way through the Paris streets until we found the iconic attraction. We walked around the majestic looking square and took pictures with the Eiffel Tower poking up in the background. Finally it was time to enter the giant glass pyramid roof that the museum had for an entrance.
+ We had decided we didn’t want to be too rushed at this museum like we had the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam so we alloted 5 whole hours to wander through The Louvre. We managed to see about 80% of it, including all of the most famous works! We had downloaded suggested route itineraries beforehand to make sure we made it to all the best spots. Some of the highlights were the impressive sculptures of dramatic scenes in Greek Mythology, seeing a real mummy!, some of Napoleon’s lavish furniture and decorations, and the famous (and underwhelming) Mona Lisa.
+ We only exited when they closed the museum and then to calm Liz’s growing hangry-ness, we found a nice looking Italian restaurant down a side road that had decent prices. Liz got pasta and Corey ordered a pizza and the food ended up being really filling and tasty and a good choice (although it certainly wasn’t French cuisine, but we had time for that later).
+ Afterwards we had our sights set on visiting the famous love lock bridge so we made our way through the busy streets of Paris to where that was. To our surprise, the love locks seem to be no more! The metal railings where locks could be placed had been completely covered with glass so you couldn’t place locks there any longer. The only area we saw any locks was a little chain someone had placed around a lamp post with about 20 locks attached to it. But that was obviously put there by someone and would be taken off soon. We don’t know why they’d get rid of something so famous but oh well!
+ Then we walked through what was supposed to be a hip and happening neighborhood of Paris called Saint-Germain-des-Pres. I think we were too late in the evening since nothing much was happening and only a few open restaurants and bars dotted the streets.
+ So we called it a night and caught a metro and train back to Caroline’s. Once there, we hung out and talked for about an hour until she had to get some sleep for work the next day. Then we did stuff on our phones for another hour until we followed suit.

7/21
Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame
+ We had hoped to wake up earlier today, but still slept in too late to make it to the Eiffel Tower before lines would become horrendous.
+ So instead of heading there, we went towards the Arc de Triomphe to gander at it’s impressive architecture. Before getting there, we ducked into McDonald’s for a quick bite and tried some new French items, like a bagel sandwich.
+ There was an option to pay to go up the Arc de Triomphe, but we felt content to just gaze at it from ground level and save our Euros. Although it was big, we’d seen (and been in) bigger ones, like the St. Louis arch! We also saw the tomb of the unknown soldier which honored all the French lives lost in WWI.
+ From there, we caught a metro back across town to the Notre Dame Cathedral. It was situated on an island in the middle of the Seine and had lots of impressive statues adorning it’s outside walls.
+ Since it was one of the only free attractions in Paris, there was a long line to get in. So while Corey waited in line, Liz wandered over a couple blocks to a flower garden she’d seen online and tagged. It was very pretty and had lots of different flowers, but was mostly made up of plants.
+ Once we entered the cathedral, we opted for an audio guide to learn some more of the history. So for an hour we looked at the big stained glass windows and different chapel rooms and alters inside. Right before we left, a service actually started and we got to listen to some of it before finally exiting. We had heard you could climb up in the towers, but we never saw a place where you could access them, so maybe they were closed.
+ Our next stop required us to walk about a mile through the city to the south side of the river. The Luxembourg Gardens was our destination and while Corey thought it was mostly just a nice open space, Liz loved it! She wanted to sit and relax so she found a nice spot next to a fountain with little sail boats in it while Corey walked through some more of the park and saw a miniature version of the Statue of Liberty.
+ Although we would’ve liked to stay longer and relax, it was time to head to Starbucks and meet up with Caroline. While waiting, we used the internet to book our bus to London and Liz took one for the team and ordered a yummy latte.
+ Once Caroline showed up, we all went to an outdoor concert that was taking place right there in the city. We had planned on going in but Caroline had a backpack they probably wouldn’t have allowed and it was already getting late so we just stood outside the gates drinking some french beer and rocking out.
+ For dinner, Caroline took us to a restaurant called L’as du Falafel. It was in the only Jewish section of town and we all ordered some falafels and kebabs.
+ With our stomachs full, we jumped on a metro to go back home and then hung out for a bit before bed. Caroline told a funny story about the time her head got stuck in an automatic metro gate in Portugal. She’d gone through with her suitcase first and then it closed on her head before she could pass through. Liz was crying from laughing so hard.

7/22
Museum D’Orsay, Fashion Show, & Eiffel Tower
+ In the morning, we realized we’d left Corey’s sunglasses at Starbucks the night before. So we grabbed a croissant from the bakery near the train station and then rode the metro back to Starbucks. Thankfully they still had Corey’s sunglasses from the night before!
+ From there, we went to Paris tourism center to pick up our tickets for our next stop.
+ Walked through a nice park that had statues and large square topped trees dotting the landscape to the Museum D’orsay. Inside, we spent 3 hours walking around the museum with audio guides learning about all sorts of different paintings and statues. They even had some famous works that we didn’t know we’re located in this museum! Although we’re certainly not art enthusiasts or history buffs, it was neat to see all these famous works of art we’d seen or heard about over the years!
+ Now it was time for a very Paris-y type thing that Liz had discovered online. So we Headed over to Gallerias Lafeyette for a live fashion show! Feeling like super important designers with names you can’t pronounce, we watched 6 models (5 girls, 1 guy) walk the runway showing off this upcoming falls hottest fashion and latest trends. They’re so hot right now. Before leaving the building, we went up to the rooftop terrace and had some amazing views overlooking the city.
+ Starving when we finally exited, we headed just down the road to eat at a Chipotle! We hadn’t seen one of these since the U.S. and we practically inhaled the delicious burritos, chips and salsas.
+ Another ride on the metro brought us over to the Eiffel Tower. We opted for the cheaper (and original) option to walk up all the steps to the 2nd floor instead of these new-fangled elevators they had. To our surprise, the wait for tickets was a lot shorter than we’d anticipated! After a brief stop on level 1 to watch a little film about the Tower, we made it to level 2. The view was already impressive and a lot higher up than it looked from the ground. From here the stairs were closed so we rode the elevator the rest of the way up to the top. The whole time we’d been standing or walking, we were listening to a bunch of interesting stories and history on an app we downloaded about the Tower. At the top, we admired the sweeping view we had on this clear day and took pictures. At one point, Liz stuck her head out of the fence and looked straight down at the 1000+ foot drop below us!
+ We walked back down to the 1st floor and had some ice cream while looking out over the city. Then we realized we were gonna be late to meet Caroline and had to get off the tower ASAP!
+ Hurriedly rushed down and then walked back to the metro and rode it about 15 stops to meet Caroline. She and her friends, Pepe and Mustafa, were going to a comedy club that was having an open-mic night in English!
+ For about 90 minutes we watched different comedians from around Europe perform their acts, some funnier than others.
+ When that was over, the 5 of us rode in PePe’s car to the Saint Germain neighborhood and found a road side place to get Crepes. Corey got one with Chorizo and Liz had one stuffed with Chicken. They were delicious and filled with yummy goat cheese!
+ Walked over to a bar called The Highlander and hung out and had a few drinks. Listened to live music by a guy who played the guitar and a few other instruments (mostly American music) and was really good!
+ Went to another bar and got another beer and ended up talking until after 3 in the morning!
+ We finally called it a night and got an Uber home. By the time we were back in the apartment it was after 4 in the morning! After briefly checking our phones, we passed out just as it was starting to get light again outside!

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