Europe #3: Explosions of Sweetness and Joy

Ok…here we are at post number three and I’m only on my second day in Paris…*looks around nervously*…gonna get this trip written up in three more posts…yup!

Alright, so after my night at the Eiffel Tower, I had an incredibly fabulous day by myself touring Paris. Thankfully it can be summed up pretty quickly since I did things most of you have probably heard of. I went alone because I knew exactly what I wanted to do and I knew I’d be going at a really fast pace and that doesn’t usually work well with a group.

I had purchased a two-day Metro pass the night before, so I got up and made my way up to the Pigalle neighborhood to visit Buvette, a precious little restaurant that had been recommended to me by a friend of the family. It did not disappoint. The staff was delightful, spoke great English and the brunch I ordered was among the best meals I ate during my trip. I got their Croque-Madame, which is basically a melty toasted ham and cheese sandwich with an egg on top. Not only was it delicious, but it was beautiful.

Croque-Madame from Buvette. I could not have been happier eating this.

Croque-Madame from Buvette. I could not have been happier eating this.

Also in Pigalle, I stopped by the Abbesses Metro station to photograph the original Art Nouveau station entrance architecture that I had seen so many times in my art history and architecture history text books. Only two of these original structures are left in the city.

Abbesses Metro station entrance with original Art Nouveau architecture.

Abbesses Metro station entrance with original Art Nouveau architecture.

From here my day gets a lot more “typical tourist’s day in Paris.” I went to the Louvre and enjoyed some French paintings and French and Italian sculptures (I was told to pick a specific set of things to see and make a bee-line for those because otherwise you’ll be totally overwhelmed – great advice). Yes, I did see the Mona Lisa because you can’t go to the Louvre without seeing it and it was as much of a tourist trap as I expected. From there I walked through the Musée d’Orsay and enjoyed their impressionist collection. I walked to Notre Dame next and, dismayed by the wait to get inside, decided to just take pictures outside, which was great. From there I walked to the Centre Pompidou, which is a contemporary art museum in a very unique building where all of the working parts of the building (plumbing, pipes, air vents, electrical cables, escalators, etc.) are on the outside. It was another building I’d seen in textbooks and had to see in person. The building was quite unique, but the art was just a little too “out there” for me. And coming from a person with a degree in art, that means it was pretty f-ing weird.

Notre Dame on the left and Centre Pompidou on the right.

Notre Dame on the left and Centre Pompidou on the right.

I attempted to visit the Arc de Triomphe next, but unfortunately it was closed for some kind of official ceremony, so I was only able to look at it from across the street. At that point I was starving, so I took the Metro back to Rue Saint Dominique and bought some fruit and pastries and enjoyed them in the garden next to the Rodin museum with some very friendly pigeons.

And here’s where I take you to two more countries in just 800 words! Early the next morning we boarded the bus for a long travel day. Mid-day we made it to Brussels, Belgium for a scant couple-hour tour of the center of the city. This was disappointing because, as you know, I love beer and was really looking forward to Belgian beer. Sadly there wasn’t enough time to properly enjoy it, so many of us bought bottled beer at shops in the city to enjoy later in the trip. Anna, Leena and I, along with several others, visited a chocolate shop and bought a few pieces of Belgian chocolate and we all bought a Belgian waffle from one of the many shops selling them for just a few Euros.

My prized Belgian beers, left, and the display at a Belgian chocolate shop, right.

My prized Belgian beers, left, and the display at a Belgian chocolate shop, right.

Let me just stop for a minute to explain how good this waffle was. The picture is nice, but you cannot possibly understand. There were what seemed like small crystals of sugar inside the waffle that I kept biting into and they were little explosions of sweetness and joy. The toppings (Nutella and strawberry for me) were delightful, but these waffles would be extraordinary all by themselves. Me, advocating for a plain old dry waffle! Do yourself a favor and get one if you’re ever in Belgium.

This waffle. Oh god, this waffle.

This waffle. Oh god, this waffle.

And we’re done with Belgium! Phew! On to the Netherlands.

After several hours in Brussels, Giovanni drove us into the Netherlands to our hotel just outside of Amsterdam. That evening we took the commuter train from our hotel into the center of Amsterdam where some of the group walked with Claudia to the Ann Frank house (which sadly was about to close and the line was too long to visit), and everyone else went off to pursue their own Amsterdam interests, many of which involved visiting a “coffee shop,” which, in Amsterdam, is different from a café in that they sell something quite different from coffee. Sadly my employment drug test was scheduled as soon as I returned from Europe, so I missed out on the coffee shop experience. A few other trip-mates were in the same boat, however, so I wasn’t alone.

Anna and I both wanted to try the famous Amsterdam french fries. These are big, thick fries served in a paper cone and most popularly covered in a mayonnaise sauce. I opted for the classic, while Anna got curry sauce. Both were phenomenal. After that we continued up the street and, while looking for a currency exchange, stumbled upon a sex museum. Yes. A sex museum (not the sex museum, Amsterdam has several). Amsterdam is really into sex. If you like sex and drugs, Amsterdam is the place for you. The sex museum is not for puritanical folks, luckily Anna and I are not puritanical and got our four euros worth of entertainment.

Not that this requires a caption, but it's me, posing next to a penis bench.

Not that this requires a caption, but it’s me, posing next to a penis bench.

The whole group met up with Claudia again around 10 p.m. for our walk through the Red Light District. Prostitution is legal in Amsterdam (like I said, they like their sex), and the Red Light District is where the girls display themselves in glass-windowed doorways with red lights above them. I had no idea what to expect, but I have to say I was impressed with the whole operation. I have pretty liberal views on sex, so I know not everyone would have had the same reaction (in fact, a few in my group vehemently disagreed with me), but I thought the Red Light District was surprisingly classy. The girls were gorgeous and the fact that the whole thing was out in the open and legal made it feel respectable and safe. The thing with illegal practices (such as drug use and prostitution) is that they tend to become dramatically safer for everyone involved when they are legalized and regulated. Again, I’m sure not everyone will agree with me on that, but it’s my blog and my thoughts.

As would be expected, no photos were allowed (we were told they will pretty much tackle you and take away your camera if you try to photograph the girls). One of my trip-mates went up to one of the girls and asked her how much (his girlfriend was on the trip with us, so it was definitely just an “ask”). Apparently her rate was 50 euros for 20 minutes, though he didn’t do price comparisons with any of the other girls. After touring a few streets and enjoying a couple beers at a nearby bar, we hopped the train back to our hotel.

The next day was a group excursion out to the countryside northeast of Amsterdam where we toured a cheese and wooden shoe manufacturer and took a group bike ride through and around the little village of Edam. I can’t say enough about this part of the Netherlands. It was absolutely precious. Every house in Edam looks like a postcard. We rode through the village and then out through farm fields to the shore of the North Sea where we visited with free-ranging sheep and took group photos. After our bike ride, we took a short trip on the bus to Volendam, a little fishing village next to Edam where we had lunch and did some souvenir shopping.

Cheese aging at Henri Willig cheesemakers, left, and biking through the Dutch countryside, right.

Cheese aging at Henri Willig cheesemakers, left, and biking through the Dutch countryside, right.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent back in Amsterdam where many trip-mates toured the Heineken brewery. I choose, instead, to try to make it out to Brouwerij’t IJ, or, more simply “the windmill bar,” that had been so highly recommended to me by my brother. This is a tragic story. I had only about three hours before our group dinner. The windmill bar is slightly outside of Amsterdam so I had to get from south Amsterdam to the train station in north Amsterdam, find a train/tram/bus to take me to said bar, and return back in time for dinner. The walk from south Amsterdam to the train station took a painfully long time, even for someone who walks as fast as I do. Once I got there I couldn’t find a single map and no one seemed to speak English. I got a little English from a woman at an information booth but she seemed to have no idea what I meant by “windmill bar.” Sigh. I showed her the actual name of the bar in my brother’s message on my phone and she wrote down a tram number. By this time I would need to get to the bar, enjoy a beer, and return in less than two hours, and I still wasn’t confident in where I was going. I walked out of the train station feeling defeated. Next time.

The much sought-after Brouwerij't IJ. This is obviously not my photo, since I failed to make it to the one destination I'd hoped to visit in Amsterdam *sad trombone*

The much sought-after Brouwerij’t IJ. This is obviously not my photo, since I failed to make it to the one destination I’d hoped to visit in Amsterdam, *sad trombone.*

I made my way back down to the I AMsterdam sign where we would be meeting to go to dinner. I visited the Diamond Museum (alright, not thrilling) and watched other people photograph each other with the I AMsterdam sign (the sign was too long and my arms were too short to do a proper selfie, plus I hate selfies, and don’t even get me started on selfie sticks). Overall a disappointing afternoon in Amsterdam. If I have a chance to go back, I’ll plan my time much better.

People don't usually photograph this sign from the back. I like to be different.

People don’t usually photograph this sign from the back. I like to be different.

And in just 1800 words, Paris, Belgium and the Netherlands are done! Stay tuned for Germany, Austria and Italy.

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