Day 14: To Groningen and Beyond

Now waiting at Hbf (too lazy to spell the whole name) train station in Cologne, while sipping on my Java Chip Frap. Today’s such a nice day out today, so I’m sitting on the patio. It’s sunny and there’s a nice breeze today so it isn’t hot at all. The first two days here I was sweating buckets and the AC in the hotel wasn’t exactly very strong.

Just got approached by a row of homeless people.  There’s 3 of them going to table-to-table asking for change; in German of course.  Just shook my head and they moved on to the next table.  I find that homeless people in Europe are a lot more active than the ones in Toronto.  But, they also look a lot more miserable.

Well! Goodbye Cologne!

… (Hours later in Groningen)

I took 2 connecting trains.  First one was in Arhem and then in another one in Zwolle before ending up in Groningen.  Called my aunt once I landed – whom I’ve never met in my life – and she told me to take the number 3 bus that would head near their street.  I hopped on and used my Google Maps to figure out which stopped to get off.  Google maps has little icons that says where’s the stops, and I just got off at the stop near my uncle’s street.

When I got off I was greeted by 4 little Dutch kids! I had no idea what they were saying but pretty sure it was something along the lines of welcome.  The smallest one wanted to help me with my luggage but I couldn’t let a 40 lbs boy carry and 40 lbs suitcase.  Luckily my uncle only lives on the 2nd floor of his apartment so it wasn’t all that hard to carry it up.  My uncle wasn’t home yet so my aunt helped me settle in and I hung out with my newly discovered cousins in the living room while I unpacked my stuff into my room.

First thing I did was get my internet working on my phone so I could use Google Translate! Thank you Google for making this trip to Groningen possible! When my uncle got home it was a little easier since he understands some English and Cantonese.  He helped me translate a lot of thing on the spot and I’ve already picked up a bit of Dutch now.  For dinner we had some vegetarian lasagna, since my uncle’s a vegetarian Buddhist.

After dinner my uncle took me around the area.  He has this garden in his area that he shares with his neighbours.  It’s pretty cool.  Each household gets a small plot of soil and can grow whatever they want.  We ended up picking some green peas and lingonberries.  Later we went to go pick up some of the Netherlands’ famous french fries.  They’re REALLY good here.  Especially with their mayonnaise and satay sauce.

Day 11: To Cologne (Köln)

I’m on my way to Cologne now, having some breakfast at L’Alizé.  It’s a small restaurant inside of Gare du Nord.  I don’t think I mentioned this before but Gare du Nord is basically where all the high-speed trains stop in Paris.  It’s at least one of the major stations, kind of like Union station in Toronto.  I’m taking my usual train around central Europe, Thalys.  It’s the fastest high-speed train they have in Europe, and it can be very cheap if you book your ticket 15 or 30 days in advance.  I’ll explain tips on booking train tickets in another post.  I’ll probably make a tips section sometime soon.

… (hours later)

I made it to Cologne (Köln).  I somehow managed to sleep a bit on the train but it was really uncomfortable.  After getting off the train I hailed a taxi and gave the driver the address to my hotel.  It was so silly! My hotel was literally 100 meters away from the train station, I probably could’ve walked.  But the tab was only 6€.  The hotel I’m staying at is really nice.  Its called St. Martin Rhein Hotel.  The view I have is great and the area is really lively.  Lots of restaurants down below, kind of like le quartier latin in Paris, but somehow it feels a lot more different.  The only downside to this hotel so far is that there’s no elevator.  I struggled carrying my 40lbs suitcase up to the third floor.  Overall though it’s really good.  The front desk people are really friendly and helpful.  Also, after my initial check of the room, I have to say, it’s really clean!

Wiener and Pretzel After grabbing some famous German wieners and a pretzel I walked around the area around my hotel.  My first impression of Cologne is it’s awesome here; granted this is a tourist area.  In comparison to Paris, I think I like it here a bit more, but we’ll see what I find in the following days.  This place actually reminds me a lot of Hong Kong’s better shopping areas.  Just outside my hotel there’s a nice quay or wharf.  I get a decent breeze into my room so it isn’t too hot and the view is a good addition.  And also, there’s lot of really good live music playing all over the area.  However, I hope it stops around after 11, I’d like to get some sleep.

I had no idea about this either but there’s a rather large Chinese disaporic community in this area.  Actually, quite a few waiters I’ve seen around the hotel are Cantonese-Chinese.  I had one of the waiters come up to me and ask if I was Chinese.  Ended up having a conversation where he spoke Chinese and replied back in English with a lot of sign language.  But, it’s even more impressive when they start speaking German.  At least to me, the German here sounds so much nicer then what Hollywood likes to show us.

After walking around for a bit, I stopped by Starbucks to get a Java Chip Frap with soya (or soja pronounced the same way).  Cost me a pretty 4€ slightly cheaper than Paris!  It was quite nice there, quiet too.  Sat down a surfed the net for a bit.

Here are some photos I took while walking around town.  I saw this Asian buffet place while walking around, might actually eat there tomorrow.  I haven’t touched Asian food in like 2 weeks now, having withdrawal!

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Day 3: Paris, Explore Rue de Rivoli

Today was the first day I walked into the city centre. It’s still Sunday so I had to make my way there with regular tickets. I did buy my Navigo Week Card. It’s basically the same as a Metro Pass, unlimited travel for a set amount of time. The weather today was pretty miserable. Overcast all day long, so the photos didn’t really come out the way I wanted, but they’ll have to do.

Walking towards my bus I saw the funniest thing.  I saw a father smoking weed in front of his, probably, 3 year old.  Let’s not forget, smoking weed in France is a pretty serious crime.  Not like its neighbours.  I actually read an article in Le Monde, a French newspaper, that was talking about how the government takes it too seriously.  Then on the bus I saw this lady who dressed her son in a suit matching her blazer and dress.  I wish I could’ve taken a photo of this but it’d be too weird.

SWAT Gear

My original plan was to go to Le Louvre but for some reason my bus 76, decided to change its last stop to Bastille mid way through the ride; close to Rue de Rivoli. So, that was a ticket wasted.  But, whatever, I decided to walk around the area.  The area is actually one of the tourist areas.  There’s even signs that say, “End of Tourist Zone”.  I thought to myself, “Heck, I can walk to Le Louvre from here.” I tried, but then got distracted by like every building in the area.  Then there was this area that was filled with police in full SWAT gear.  They were guarding some protest that was going on.

After wandering for a while I decided to grab a bite to eat.Crèpe Avec Poulet & Fromage I was so tempted to eat McDonalds lol They have this McWrap, that has chicken and bacon, and they’re huge! Not like the tiny ones in Toronto.  But, I ended up eating at this, I think, Egyptian restaurant.  They made this thing that looks like a crèpe but inside it has chicken, cheese, and egg.Starbucks Caramel Macchiato Tasted pretty amazing.  They even give you different dips, so every bite is a bit different.  It’s pretty similar to a quesadilla.  Oh, for a drink, of course I got Starbucks! But, so bad.  The Starbucks ran out of the white plastic tops, so they gave me a frap top instead.

After eating I decided to get some cash from HSBC.  But, crap! It won’t let me withdraw that much cash.  The most I could get was 60€. Something is definitely wrong.  I was told $400 CAD was the max.  I’ll have to go into a branch tomorrow morning and see if I can get some extra cash.  Definitely can’t be walking around with only 60€ in my pocket.  I’d be screwed.

WC Sign Public WCThere was the one other cool thing I wanted to mention! Look for WC signs while in Paris. Of course, most of you know WC stands for “Water Closet” aka the washroom.  I swear, their public outhouses here are so cool. It’s like going into a Star Trek elevator!  If I find it again, maybe I’ll film a bit.  Actually when I took the photo of it, there was this family filming it, and people were giving them looks.

Here are some other photos I took today.  Mostly photos of buildings I thought were pretty interesting.

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Day 1: Plane, Train, Starbucks, and Paris

This post is really for two days worth, but I was travelling most of the day on the 16th so really today is “Day 1”.  I promised a video everyday but it’s a lot more work than I expected lol I’ll still post a video ever so often, but it’ll be a lot less frequent than these blogs.  I do have some clips I want to show off from my arrival but I’ll post that a bit later.

Anyway! I actually made it safe into Paris. But before I got here it was quite the ride.  I did some real FAIL planning.  I only gave myself a month to plan really, and I thought, “Amsterdam is in the middle of everything, that’s a good idea.”  Then half way through my planning I rent my apartment in Paris the day I arrive.  So I had to take a train from Amsterdam to Paris.  But, that isn’t the FAIL part.  The fail part is where, my plane does a connecting flight in PARIS, then goes to Amsterdam.  If I didn’t plan my trip going to Amsterdam first, I wouldn’t have had to chase it all the way there.  FAILPLANNING.  But, at least I got to see Brussels and Luxembourg while passing them on the train.

My plane rides were the usual, uncomfortable, no rest, feel sick because I get too nervous on planes, kind of ride.  The only real upside to them was that the plane food wasn’t half bad this time.  Air France was actually pretty good about it.  What I really didn’t like other than my displeasure with my nerves was, there was no personal TV or plug outlet where I was sitting.

Starbucks in Amsterdam

While waiting for my train in Schiphol (Amsterdam Airport), I was pretty thirsty.  I ended up getting Starbucks.  I know, not cool.  But what was ever more UNCOOL, is that they didn’t have LACTOSE free milk.  So, I settled for Soy.  But, the poor girl was so confused.  Or I looked totally retarded for saying lactose free.  Starbucks is mad expensive in Europe.  Think Canadian prices but switch the dollar sign to Euro sign.  That’s about how much it costs here.

Right now, the weather is pretty crummy here in Paris.  I did find my “host” who I’m renting the apartment from, though.  Yes, I’m living in some random apartment in the suburbs of Paris.  I’m in a town called Bagnolet.  TBH, it’s what we Canadians would consider ghetto.  But, there’s kids playing in the streets and stuff so I’m assuming is fairly safe here.

It’s actually not all that inconvenient to get to my area either.  Hop on the 76 and it’s right at the last stop.  I’ll probably hop on the 76 tomorrow to head to La Louvre, assuming it isn’t raining tomorrow.  If it is, I’ll probably stay indoors and VLOG.  I’m prepared for tomorrow too though.  I headed out earlier in the afternoon to get my area a bit better.  I wandered around the area aimlessly (stayed away from bad looking alleys).  I eventually ended up at a mall near Gallieni Metro.  At the mall I picked up a SIM card for 15€ and got some groceries from Auchan.  Actually, this store is more like a Wal-Mart.  It has everything. Picked up something to drink, a lot of bread like croissants and baguettes, salad and fruits.

Most of my evening today was spent looking at maps and figuring out what I wanted to do.  If you ever travel to Paris, land on either a Sunday or Monday to make the most of a week pass for trains and buses!  Do this because the week pass or Navigo Découverte is only valid from Monday to Sunday.  You can buy passes that suit your needs more, like the Visite Paris passes but they’re much more costly.  So, not until Monday will I be able to really go around the city an explore like the pass says!

Later in the week I’ll do a video on what my place is like.  For now I’m gonna go relax and chill out for a bit.