European Vacation II Day 12- Paris

We set off for a long day of site seeing and museums. We had some breads at the hotel and pretty much followed the Seine all day. Strolling by the Seine is one of life’s finer moments I feel. You’ll pass by wonderful artists, performers and mimes! It is so French you just have to walk a mile if you in the city of lights. 

The Louvre is on the path, the Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Élysées and Notre-Dame. The old cathedral was under renovation for its 300th anniversary, so it was completely covered in scaffolding. That was a shame as this was one of the most beautiful cathedral facades I’d ever seen. We headed over a bridge, complete with locks attached, and began the slow walk back to the Eiffel Tower for dusk viewings.

We walked down a street or Rue as they are called, that I’d heard about in a song: St. Michele. The song was by Peter Sarstedt, “Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?” I really enjoyed the accidental way this came about, these moments that just happen without planning are the best! About this time the clouds turned dark and it began to sprinkle. We sought refuge in a café with a covered awning. We drank absinthe and watched people walking by with umbrellas or run by if they didn’t have covering. It rained fairly hard but not long. We drained our drinks and walked on the wet bricks in search of food.

We found a café next door to a small grocery store. We figured the food came from the store so it would be fresh and good. I got ham and cheese omelets. It arrived a bit runny and very yellow, nearly orange, these were healthy chickens. It seemed that anything ordered arrived with a side salad which I found was a much better option than fries. In fact, these days when you want to substitute salad for fries it costs more to get a salad! Changing that so they you pay for fries would make things a lot better and faster. It takes awhile to fry something verse chopping a salad.

The areas around the Tower are full of vendors selling souvenirs, usually key chains, statues, anything that that you can sell an image of likely the most famous structure in the world. They would all scurry away, pulling up their wares in the sheet they displayed them on whenever the police showed up. It seems these aren’t official images or something. Maybe the city doesn’t want so many people out front of a major tourist attraction, which would be odd as there are many street performers, dancing, stunts and magic out front that lasted ten or more minutes. It gives you something to do while the sun goes down. Seeing the Tower lit up was worth the wait and we lingered a bit to take it in.

We hit up another café across the street from our hotel for beverages and dinner. I decided to go all French and ordered foie gras and onion soup. I was presently surprised at how good foie gras was it being duck liver pate. I thought it would be gamey but it was sweet and flavorful. You just spread it on bread like butter. The soup was nice, cheesy. I slowly chewed and watched as a vagrant tried to sit and drink some wine. The waiter seemed to have seen him before or the guy had been there awhile. It started politely, he told the guy to leave which he refused. It escalated into shouting match before the waiter began pulling the chair. Finally the vagrant left shouting at the beleaguered waiter while he walked away. The waiter watch and shrugged as he turned to serve more tables. Just another evening in Paris.


European Vacation II Day 11 Amsterdam to Paris, France

One last morning routine before we checked out. We tramed to the main rail station where we procured tickets to Paris by way of Brussels. We sat down and began our journey. Trees, windmills and animals were our view in between cities. Even tiny towns had a train stop, everywhere was connected by train. We had a quick train hop in Brussels. Everyone else took naps; I stared at the scenery and I too was fast asleep. We pulled in the Paris train station in the early evening. Our place was near Arc de Triumph so we walked around it once to check it out before popping into our hotel. We had a lovely view with large windows that opened outwards to a courtyard below.

We obtained directions for night spot and found a French sports bar. Across the street was shawarma and strip club, this sounded like the area to be. They had shot specials and cheap Bud just like the US, but futbol, cricket, rugby were on the telly tonight. We posted up at a standing table and people watched for awhile. We were weary however and there weren’t too many people out.

We hit up the schwarma spot on the walk home. There always seems to be 2 spots across the street from each other. If one is busy just go to the one across the street. Schwarma is like the burrito of the EU. Thinly sliced lamb or chicken are cut from a standing leg onto a piece of pita style bread with lettuce, lots of onions, tomatoes and tziki sauce. Cures what ales you and portable.

European Vacation II Day 10 Amsterdam

We awoke and I was sad to realize I had a great morning routine: free breakfast sammich, juice, nice walk to kaffee shop for a spliff and kaffee. I could do that every morning for a long time yup. We again walked all over the eastern half of the city. We walked right by a Hard Rock Café, so I had to pop in and get a pin for my brother’s collection.

Our Go Amsterdam pass included any form of transportation so why not just take a water taxi? We explained to the driver we just wanted to ride around and to be dropped off at the same place he picked us up. He smiled and told us no problem. One of the coolest things you can do in Amsterdam too! Just passing under the many bridges is so fun, there isn’t a better way to see this wonderful city than by her canals. We waved to our captain as we hopped out right back to the HRC.

We walked around a park and decided to go out for a nice, sit down dinner with beverages in Rembrandt’s Square. We found a long table next to a couple and sat down. We made some small talk about the weather and what things we did for work. This couple was in the middle of a month long vacation in the city. They stayed in a different place in each part of the city so they could see everything without having to walk or tram too far. He revealed he was a lumber CEO in Canada. We asked all about how it worked and he said everyone in the lumber mill voted to be closed for a month so he agreed. Paid everyone for a month long vacation, wow!

I noticed the man pulled out a joint. We continued to talk about work life balance, cool things to do in each of our home cities as well as Amsterdam. Beer after beer, passing around joints all evening. It was a wonderful night and great cap to our stay in Amsterdam.

European Vacation II Day 9 Amsterdam

I awoke, showered and met the fellows for a free breakfast. Overseas they have a lot of cold lunch meats, cheeses, fruits, and granola for first meal. There wasn’t  omelet station or trays of bacon; everything was lighter fare so I generally made a cold sammitch. After breakfast I again ventured out for daily spliffs. This time I saved the map on my phone and noticed what an idiot I was to miss this place. It was literally 3 blocks down the street from our hotel, and then turn right. The sign out front read: Kaffe Shoppe, the Dutch spelling. Opening the door reveled a narrow hallway that lead to a lady behind a glass counter, very much like a bank. To the right, behind more glass was a few tables you can hang out at, smoke, drink, read the paper, that sort of thing.

After purchasing a coupled prerolls, I asked if I could sit in the café for a moment and was buzzed in. I sat down at a communal table and lit up. A table over was a big man with crazy, white hair slowly crushing up hash. He nodded at me as I smoked and I smiled and waved.

“Where are you from, France, you are tourist?” he asked.

No I am from the US, but I love it here. This city is great,” I replied.

“Come, sit, let’s talk and smoke,” he said.

I sat at his table and watched him break up hash and tobacco. He told me all about Dutch history, especially the Navy. New York City harbor looks very familiar to him, take a walk on Amsterdams’ harbor. The Dutch found most of the world’s of trade routes. He recommended I go see the Dutch history museum down the road. I mentioned I liked beer and wanted to see a local brewery, not Heineken. He laughed and agreed the city was angry with them. Whoever bought Heineken closed production in Amsterdam and moved it outside the city for the 1st time since the beer was brewed in 1873. Generations of families had worked at this brewery, their jobs, gone He gave me directions to a windmill brewery close by. The whole time we were swapping his hash and tobacco spliff. He drank coffee; a lot of coffee, guy must have had two cups in the 30 minutes we were talking. This was in addition to however many he had before I arrived. The Flying Dutchmen I named him! 

I met the gang back at the hotel and we agreed to hop trams, boats and walk around the city. We found the art museums, Van Gogh and Rembrandt were from there, so was Anne Frank house but I didn’t think that seeing her museum would be a lot of fun. Carlos and Bay checked out the Van Gogh museum whilst I sat outside and smoked a spliff. There was a lone guitarist out front, playing classical style guitar. I must have hung out for over half an hour listening to this guy play, the sounds bouncing off the buildings creating a symphony. It was glorious and better experience to me than checking out some paintings.

I told the fellows about the windmill brewery option as it was sort of on the way to our hotel, the east side of town anyway. A short tram and walk and we were there, I am still shocked at how easily we walked up to it given the state I was in when I received the directions. We got some pints and sat down out front. The weather was amazing, not too hot, not too cold. We lingered for a few pints sitting outside near water.

Around dusk we headed back to the hotel where we found out that other friends had an overnight layover in the city. We gave them directions to our hotel and they met us. We tramed up to the red light district where they secured a room to stash their luggage. Their flight was super early, 6 am or something like that so they wanted to be near a rail stop to the airport but still be able to walk around and see the city for a few hours with us. 

A fine night ensued. We had a nice dinner as well as investigating some rock bars in the District. 

European Vacation II Day 8 Berlin to Amsterdam, Netherlands

Our flight left at 7 am so we were up by 5. A short cab ride took us to a surprisingly small airport. We navigated the maze like areas of security. I noticed they had an orange and strawberry juice option at a coffee shop and it was the best thing I’ve drank on this trip. They had a machine out front and there was guy chucking oranges and strawberries into it, which filled plastic bottles with their juices. I savored this beverage as long as I could during the flight.

We took brief naps during the hour flight. Groggy we boarded the train and I forgot which stop to get out at. All I remembered was Centraal but there are several. I picked the one in the next town south so we had to get out and buy another ticket back. It was about an hour detour but we saw a lot more of the Netherlands.

When we did arrive to Centraal Amsterdam, I recognized it and knew where to go. We still had over two hours before checking so I suggested we pop into a coffee shop. I figured they would partake as it was legal but only I went in while they waited. I had to consume on the premise he said, even though I bought two spliffs. I drank a tea and smoked half of one whilst Marley played on the speakers. On my way out I got directions for a public wash.

We took in the sites as we walked down the street and over canals. I am still amazed we found it, we had to make several turns. We put all of our dirty clothes, basically everything we weren’t wearing to create a load and then had to wait while it went through its cycles. This time they did join me in a coffee shop as it was closest, best option, Plus we could still see our clothes. I seem to recall it rained on us while we washed so it was the best thing we could do at that moment.

I watched as tables of guys methodically created spliffs that they called ‘an Amsterdam in other countries. They took a cigarette and slowly rolled it under their fingers until all the tobacco was on the table. They took hash or grass and mixed it in with the tobacco. They used the empty cigarette and moved the mixture inside, and twisted the tip. Some tore the filter off, some left it on but that is how I saw it done this day,

I told my friends we should get a Go Amsterdam pass after laundry. This card gave you discounts on meals and shopping, plus you can get tram passes for as many days as you want. They gave away city maps here too, always good to have. It is right by the main train station so it’s easy to find and should be the first stop in the city, before a coffee shop anyway.

We followed the Amstel River south and found our hotel right in view of it, perfect spot! I took a shower and while everyone else was cleaning up, I hunted for the closest coffee shop. I had solid directions or so I thought and wound up getting lost. So lost I remembered where I was and stopped into the hotel Thom and I stayed at the last time. No one saw me as I walked straight to the restroom. Back again, out of site. I found the hotel’s WIFI. Since I had been there before I was able to log in as a guest. I soon located another place to get spliffs. Look for the Green Cross, there you’ll find what you seek.  I then walked through the park next to the hotel and reminisced about the great experience I had there a couple of years previously.

I got back to the hotel and we talked about what we wanted to do that evening. The Red Light district was the winner so we tramed up. We walked through the streets, down narrow alleys where girls knocked on their glass doors to their 1 bed room to get your attention. Women of all shapes, sizes, races, quite literally any woman that may interest a man is an option for the right price. I’d heard that the experience wasn’t worth it or I should say the ladies tried to make it more difficult. The story I have heard is that they place an egg timer on a desk so the whole time you hear this tick tick. Clothes stay on but do come off if the price is right. It seemed like quite an ordeal to try, plus there is a strange vibe I picked up every time we were in the area.

We found a smoky bar who didn’t mind if I smoked a spliff too. A few beers, half a spliff and lots of people watching. The bar turned on a baseball game, west coast too, so the time difference meant we could see a live baseball game in the middle of night. Baseball in Amsterdam, most excellent!

A long walk back to our hotel just following the river was the end of our night. The District closed around midnight. I am still not sure why the tram couldn’t run this late, too seeing as how there were lots of tourists who could’ve used the help getting back to their part of town. Its about the only thing they didn’t do perfectly here it seemed. 

European Vacation Trip II Day 7- Berlin

We awoke and had some coffee and plotted out the day. We were within walking distance to many historical places so we began with what was left of the Berlin Wall, now closed off behind more walls that charged a sizable admission. Rather than pay we kept walking and found the Memorial to Murdered Jews of Europe. Small columns slowly grew taller as you walked further into the memorial until you were surrounded in a maze of walls. Each column represented one person killed in WWII. It was very moving and heavy experience to walk around in.

We continued our tour to Check Point Charlie, the gate between East and West Germany when the Berlin Wall was. There remained a very military style kiosk with a man in full war regalia who was selling stamps that were required to pass the border at that time. I was hesitant as he was stamping passports and these stamps are no longer required. I figured a hassle or explanation would be required at security so I passed. He was stamping upwards of five stamps per customer, which seems to match the German bureaucracy required at that tense time in history. I couldn’t help to notice the 2 story McD’s directly behind the guard post. This is what tearing down the wall really means cheap corporate burgers. Freedumb fries. 

We continued walking and located a small bar and popped in for a pint. It was hot which surprised me about Berlin. The beer on tap was from Weihenstephan, which is proclaimed to be the oldest operating brewery in Germany. Since 1040, monks have made this wheat beer and here I was, first time seeing it on draught having a pint. It was good, hefe style beer. I spied a guy delivering small kegs of beer that he grasped using metal pincers. He carried two at a time in and out of the bar, just like had been done for decades previously.

We had Wi-Fi at this bar and discovered we were very close to the Berlin Cathedral. Every overseas trip I’ve been on I visit a cathedral. They are beautiful, old buildings, full of great art. They are also usually free, but not Berlin. It had a ‘tour,’ self paced so basically, pay us to walk around. Bay and I elected to sit outside in the sun. Oddly enough, they had beer, wine for sale next to the cathedral. I am not certain if this was a church supported endeavor or not, but we got a couple beers and people watched.

Berlin has so many exposed pipes! Every street is usually lined with pink and blue pipes that snaked around the city, giving it a very interesting vibe. I wondered about crashes into these pipes by trucks, cars, how often did that happen and what came spraying out of these pipes? I have learned that Berlin has a lot of groundwater, and the pipes take all the water in older buildings’ basements and carries it to the many canals that run through the city.

As the sun began to go down, we made our way back to the Brandenburg Gate. They were in the process of constructing bleachers for Obama’s speech at the Wall. We found a bar in which to watch the construction. More pints of Weihenstephan were had while we discussed JFK, WW 2, Obama, life things. All the while, more and more metal bleachers appeared.

We continued our drink walk to the hotel. Bay tapped out and said he wanted to rest a bit as we had a very early flight the next morning. Carlos and I continued at a nearby bar. I soon realized I had never seen a biergarten so we hailed a cab. I was soon crushed as the cab driver told me most had already closed but he knew of one that may be still open that he would drop us off at. I had let time get the best of me, either that or Berliners turn in very early as the one we were dropped off at was closed. A few blocks of walking revealed an outside shopping area. Tucked well inside was a steakhouse so I had steak and fries while Carlos smoked and drank beers. All around us were teens smoking hookahs and drinking tea.

We caught a cab back to the hotel and it was a fun ride. The cabbie was not a fan of Obama, especially the extra security that made navigating around the plaza difficult. The entire ride was an obscenity filled tirade that grew as louder as each street was closed or a detour required. We had to show our passport anytime requested once we were in the plaza and then again in the hotel. It is rather annoying as just anyone will ask for it and you are constantly reaching into your pocket, answering questions, proving things to people you’ll never see again. I needed to get something from the room and on the elevator ride down; I got on with a man with a dog. German Shepard, of course.

“Nice dog?’ I inquired.

“No, not nice, no pet dog.’The man replied in stilted German accent.

It was a very long ride down as I wondered how bad of a dog this one was and if it would attack me. There’s nowhere to run in an elevator.

We sauntered into the hotel bar, hey it was close and we had already shown our passports so it made things a bit easier. Plus it had Wi-Fi. We let Bay know where we were and waited for him to join us. At some point Carlos went away for awhile. He came back and reveled his bank had been hacked. He checked his account and someone swiped his password and was working on draining it. He had caught it early, but now his debit card was no good, no more Euros for him. We worked out an agreement to pay for him in cash when needed and he used his card for beers, dinners to pay us back.



European Vacation II Day 6 Copenhagen to Berlin, Germany

It was a rough morning, that was for sure. We had to be out by noon and we just made it out in time. Our flight was later that afternoon so we walked around for a bit before languishing in the airport. Everyone was pretty hung over so we just slept it off for a couple of hours, then boarded another easyJet. I’m still amazed at how inexpensive and quick these trips were to different countries. In a bit over an hour we touched down in Berlin. We did have to pass a window to get a stamp, but it wasn’t too much security other than they looked at your passport and reservations.

I had purchased Kraftwerk’s Autobahn on my phone prior to landing and I decided that I’d only listen to this one bands’ record while I was in their home country. I am glad I did, the city seemed to ooze at the same rhythm as their music. Aiding me was the fact that the title song was over 20 minutes which helped as we hopelessly tried to figure out the German rail map. It seemed to be several circles overlapping each other and at key points you could change directions further out or closer to, downtown. We got lost and had to hail a cab.

The real security awaited us at the hotel. We were staying in city centre near the Brandenburg Gate and many memorials to a divided Germany. Obama was in town and apparently some of his entourage was staying in our hotel, too, though he was staying in a much more presidential hotel. We were greeted at the door by multiple security and were told we would have to show passport and key upon request for the entire weekend.

We were still restless so we began to wander about the area where we encountered several closed or closing bars. We were pointed in a general area by one helpful German and soon found a very hip throwback bar. It was 50’s styled but filtered through German experience. We drank several pints and discussed our options at an outside table. Hardly anybody out in this part of town. I guess we were in the business district, not the party Berlin I’d heard about from a few rock stars

I felt uncomfortable with all the extra security measures and we agreed to get out soon. We booked a flight for the next morning to Amsterdam. Haha going from 1 security extreme to another. From max security a la ‘show me your papers, papers please!’ to do whatever you want.