Month: April 2009

London, England: I Solve The Hat Problem

Previously, our intrepid hero had disembarked after a long journey from Amsterdam and found himself without a single farthing, standing in the pre-dawn, sickly flourescent glow of the Eurolines terminal near Victoria Station …

I needed cash, to begin with, but strangely, I wasn’t hungry. A bakery stand had just opened and a line had already formed for coffee, but though it carried a range of pastries, I usually try to avoid bakeries in dirty bus terminals. A man stopped me and asked me about where I was from, apparently I had a very interesting look about me. The bald head really throws people off.

The foreign exchange booth finally opened it’s shutters and I exchanged my Euros for quid. I left the bus station and walked a block down the street to the Victoria train station. I wasn’t about to spend a day in London lugging my giant backpack around with me, so I needed to find baggage lockers. Unfortunately, by the time I finally found them at the train station, it wasn’t even open yet. I sat on a chair nearby and thumbed through my LP.

Victoria Station is situated west of the city center. In fact, a walk towards the city takes you by Buckingham Palace, Parliament and Westminster. I came up with a general outline of things I wanted to see that day and mapped out my approach.

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London, England: A Midnight Bus to Victoria Station

I prepared for the interview all morning, heading to the neighbourhood cafe De Balie, where free internet and great coffee abounds. The interview was in Katwijk (say Cat-vike), and by the time I took a train and bus out to the coastal town and got back, it was already late afternoon. I had bought a ticket on the overnight bus to London, via the ferry from Calais to Dover. I walked through the Albert Cuypmarket looking for something to take on the bus, but didn’t find any prepared foods that looked any good, except some fries which I ate on the walk back to the hostel.

Suddenly I passed a shop window and saw the familiar spread of rolls, pastries, cakes and breads. Bakery. I ducked in and bought an olliebollen, a Dutch donut widely considered to be the first version of the modern donut. They’re rounder and lack holes in the center, but they’re just as delicious.

I ended up taking the long way back, and by the time I got back to the familiar grounds of the Rijksmuseum, I spotted another olliebollen cart and had to try another one. Yup, still delicious, I was satisfied. In fact, the sugar high had made me a little sick. But I had just come out of a great interview so I felt the need to treat myself to the point of trauma.

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Amsterdam, The Netherlands: This Must Be What They Call Travel Sick

I only had until about 9AM before I was supposed to be on a train to Clervaux. It was home to one of Western Europe’s largest and most famous photography collections, amassed by Edward Steichen. I figured I could spend a couple hours there before heading off to Amsterdam. It would involve careful choreography on my part, since I needed to be at the train station in Luxembourg by a certain time, out of the museum by a certain time, and in Amsterdam with enough time to get a good night’s sleep. Careful choreography, you know that’s what I’m all about.

I woke up especially early to get some time walking around town before I had to leave. I started at the hostel, which was buried in the valley. I walked through the small neighbourhood of Pfaffenthal and then up the side of the cliff to the old town. I took a wide loop around town, stopping every now and then to take pictures.

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Luxembourg, Luxembourg: Hey, Even Lewis And Clark Had To Ask For Help

It was a short wait until the train departed and the ride was quick and uneventful. A day earlier, I had sketched a quick map of Luxembourg in my notebook, showing the streets I would have to take to get from the train station to the hostel. Luxembourg is pretty small, so I figured it would be enough. Just to give you an idea of how careless/confident I was, here’s that very map:

The asterisk on the left of the page (along those partial train tracks) is the train station, and the asterisk on the far right is the hostel. Do you see just how ridiculous that is? Well I didn’t, at least not until I reached the bridge. You see, Luxembourg is one of those old fortress cities, so it’s a mix of new town and old town, modern and historic. And, in this case, low and high.

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Paris, France: … Guarded By A Graveyard Hippie And Her Cat

The day before, I had stopped at one of the Paris train stations and bought a ticket to Luxembourg. Here was the plan:

I had a job interview in Amsterdam on Monday, so instead of waiting out the weekend in Paris, I thought I would work my way back up to Holland and visit some other cities. I noticed on the map that Luxembourg was nearby since, like most people, I had no idea where in Europe Luxembourg was to begin with. I bought a train ticket for Saturday afternoon to Luxembourg City.

That Saturday morning I hopped on the train to visit one last attraction in Paris. Keeping on my death-inspired tourism theme, I decided to go to the Pere Lachaise cemetery. Now I know what you’re thinking … ‘OK, I understand the Catacombs, that’s actually interesting and unusual, but a cemetery?!’ But it’s not just any cemetery, it’s one of the most famous burial sites in the world. Not because of it’s age, layout or locale, but because of it’s occupants. Many of France’s most celebrated leaders, thinkers, singers, poets and authors lie entombed on it’s expansive grounds, including one James Morrison, lead singer of the Doors. In fact, I heard that Morrison’s grave had become something of a Hippie Mecca. From Wikipedia:

American singer and songwriter with The Doors, author, and poet. Permanent crowds and occasional vandalism surrounding this tomb have caused tensions with the families of other, less famous, interred individuals. Many other parts of the cemetery have been defaced with arrows purporting to indicate the direction toward “Jim”, though even these defacements have in many cases been defaced themselves, resulting in arrows that point in two directions.

I just had to check it out.

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Paris, France: The Empire Of The Dead

I was in Paris for two and a half days, and I had already exhausted the usual things to see: the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, Eiffel Tower, Champs-Elysees, yeah, yeah, whatever.

I mean, I could always check out the Asian Table Tennis Championship being held at the two outdoor ping-pong tables down the street from the hostel, which I did, but I’m pretty sure I’d get bored, which I did.

And the action shot …

Winner! Note the solid plastic divider instead of a classic net, very clever.

Instead, I had something a little more interesting planned. I read about it in the LP, and it’s a little outside town, but I figured it’d be an interesting site: the Catacombs.

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Paris, France: Behold, The Greatest Pastry Ever

On Thursday morning I did an emergency wash at a laundromat just a few doors down the street from the hostel. While the machines ran I read my book and assisted a couple American girls who couldn’t get detergent out of the coin-operated dispenser. In the end I just gave them some of mine.

I picked up some bread, cheese, sliced turkey and fruit, and took the train to the neighbourhood of Les Halles. There’s an enormous shopping complex there, the Forum, and it’s is a maze of escalators, fast food stands, side exits, front exits, emergency exits and modern teenage fashion. I stumbled out somewhere near my intended destination, the Jardin du Forum des Halles, a small park near the shopping Forum. I sat at a bench and ate my lunch with a keen eye on the pigeons and crows that had their keen eyes trained on my lunch.

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