Monday, September 1, 2014

London & Brussels 2014 {Day Five}

I didn't have a ton planned for Saturday (or Sunday for that matter).  I had figured that I would be a bit tired from going full speed several days in a row, so I planned on the lighter side.

I did get up early and headed to Nottinghill.  This was a cute and bright cottage I saw.

The plan was to hit up the Portobello Road Market.  
I had read that you should get there by 8:00 to avoid the crazy crowds.  I think I got there about 8:30, and boy did I miss the crowds!  The vendors hadn't even finished setting up completely.
I really drooled over these silver vendors, but I didn't buy anything
I managed to escape the market and only purchased a couple of onesies as a baby gift for my friend Abby who had given birth to her 4th baby the day before.

I walked a while and found more pretty flowers at a Pub
I kept walking until I found an underground station, and took it to Paddington Station.  From Paddington, I took a cab (because I didn't want to do two more train changes to my next destination). I headed to 45 Park Lane, to Wolfgang Puck's restaurant, Cut.

After a diet of chocolate, fries, and a waffle on Friday, I was starving!
{iphone photo}

After some sustenance, I walked up the street to Marble Arch, stopping briefly to drool at the Aston Martin dealership on Park Lane.  From Marble Arch, I took the underground to The British Museum.

The British Museum is a huge museum where you could easily spend a week, if not longer.  

In addition to all the artifacts to look at, the architecture is quite something.

I knew I could wander around for days and I still might miss something important.  So I found a guy that worked there and said, "what are the 3 must see exhibits?", and then I hit those up.

(1) The Ancient Egyptians Exhibit...

(2) The Rosetta Stone...
{iphone photo}

and (3) the Parthenon exhibit, which I really loved...

Outside of Athens, there are only 3 places where you can see pieces of The Parthenon (the Louvre in Paris; the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen; and the British Museum in London)

I embarrassingly walked right off a step after I took this photo because I was so enthralled with the room...
I took a cab from the museum to Kensington Palace, because my feet and bum ankle were getting really tired at this point in the trip.  
I didn't do the tour of Kensington Palace because I had done that before, but I walked through the sunken garden there, because I remembered that I really liked it.  On the way, I noticed some changes that they had made including a gift shop, restaurant, and new entrance for the tour.

The statue of Queen Victoria had been cleaned up as well

Then I walked through Kensington Park toward Hyde Park 

The Serpentine

Prince Albert Memorial
I spent lots of time walking through the park, enjoying the flowers, and soaking up the cool weather

I walked all the way through Hyde Park, back to the restaurant Cut.  I had spied a really yummy sounding Lobster Club Sandwich on the menu that I wanted to try for a late lunch
{iphone pic}

After lunch, I took a cab back to my hotel.  I was really tired, and decided to take a nap before I got ready to head out for the evening.

I had tickets to see a play called "Skylight", so I took the underground to Leicester Square.
I had been toying with the idea of seeing "Skylight" when I started planning my trip in early June, and then I saw Hugh Jackman tweet that he saw it and it was one of the top plays he had ever seen, so I quickly booked my ticket.
Luckily, I was there one week before it closed.
Carey Mulligan was great, but Bill Nighy, who I love in all his movies, was beyond brilliant.

I had great seats (as you can see I was the first down in the stalls)
The play was wonderful.  I'm so glad I got to see it.  It's one that you are still thinking about many days after.

When I got home, I noticed that there had been a write up in June's Vogue Magazine about it, but I had totally over-looked it!

Stay tuned for my last full day in London!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

London & Brussels 2014 {Day 4}

When I decided to go to London, I knew that I probably wanted to do two, out-of-London, excursions.  I knew that going to Newbury for Highclere Castle was an absolute must.  I mean they are only open to the public between 60-70 days per year, and since I was hitting it right this time, I had to take advantage.

I thought about going to Edinburgh, Scotland, but I've been twice before.  I thought about going over to Paris, but I've been there before too.  I had just about settled on traveling down to the coast, and visiting Brighton (and I still really want to do that someday), but then I realized that I was going to be in that part of the world during the Brussels Flower Carpet.

The Flower Carpet takes place in the Brussels' Grand Place every other year, for three days.  So I totally just lucked out with the timing.  Upon that discovery, I immediately booked my Eurostar ticket from London to Brussels.  It's only a 2 hour train ride aboard the high speed Eurostar.  It goes through the tunnel under the English Channel (what American's call "The Chunnel"), makes a quick stop in Lille, France, and then goes on into Belgium.

I took the 8:04 a.m. train, which got me into Brussels at 11:05 (due to the hour time difference).

I realized on the train over that I had forgotten to bring either of the umbrellas that I had packed, and it was, of course, raining as the train rolled into Brussels.  I was actually there on Assumption Day, which is a National Holiday, and that meant that lots of businesses and things were closed.  This was the case in the Brussels train station!  Luckily I finally caught one store that was just opening and was able to buy an umbrella (a very expensive umbrella!).

After securing an umbrella, I took a cab to the Grand Place, which is where the flower carpet is located.  Just FYI:  Belgium is a split country when it comes to languages.  In the north they speak Dutch, in the south they speak French, and in the middle is Brussels, where people speak both, so signs are in both.  
The Grand Place is also a Unesco-World Heritage site.

Once in the Grand Place, I took a quick look at the carpet from ground level, and then moved on toward the Hotel de Ville (french), Stadhuis (dutch), or Town Hall.  
Every year there is a theme and this year it was the 50th Anniversary of Turkish immigration in Belgium

You can pay 5 Euros and go out on the balcony of the Town Hall.  This is where you get the best view of the carpet.  
I loved the flower wreaths which were distributed around the Grand Place too.
These carvings in the building were so detailed.  
Anyway, the line looked long, but I got in it right away, because that was the primary reason I had come to Brussels in the first place. 
Funny part is, that when I got to this point in line, I realized that the longest part of the line wasn't even visible from the square.  Most of it was inside!  ACK!
They had pretty flower arrangements scattered throughout the building that made it a little more tolerable.  And luckily the weather was perfectly cool (lower 60's), and the rain was holding off. 

FINALLY!  After 2 hours in line (yep, 2 Dang Hours), I was just to the door of the balcony.  You have to wait until people leave, so that you can go out.  As far as I could tell, there was really no time limit, so you just waited for the balcony to have room.  
I could see dark clouds rolling in, so I shoved my way out and took some pictures quickly.



This is my "what do you do but laugh, when you've waited in line for 2 hours only to get 30 seconds on the balcony before the deluge selfie"

The square really clears out when it's raining cats and dogs.  And let me tell you, the balcony did too!  So I put my expensive umbrella to use, and took in the view!

Once I finally made it down to the square again, it was raining a little less.  I discovered that walking through a crowded square with an umbrella, when everyone else has an umbrella too, is quite a challenge.  More than one person's umbrella, grabbed one of my curls, and about pulled it out of my head!  

I made my way to the chocolate stores on the other side of the square... There is Neuhaus and Godiva, and a few others.  The thing about chocolate in Belgium, its all made with 100% cocoa butter and no vegetable oil added.  That's why its 200% better than what we can get in the U.S.  Even the Godiva is different.  Our's is made in Pennsylvania.  Their's is made in Belgium.

I bought a couple of pieces to sample, because it was after 2:00 and I was starving.  I then decided to try to find a restaurant to eat lunch.

I went through the Galeries St-Hubert.  It was opened in 1847, and was the first shopping arcade in Europe.

I stopped in a few other chocolate shops to look around, and then had an unpleasant experience trying to get a table at a restaurant.  I decided to heck with food, I was burning daylight, and headed for my bus tour.
Prior to leaving on my trip, I booked myself on a Hop-on-Hop-off tour bus.  There were two different routes that covered the whole city.  Since I had spent so much time in line for the Flower Carpet, I didn't have much time to Hop-on-hop-off.  I mostly just rode each route and saw what I could, since each one was 1 hour and 15 minutes long.

The first route started outside of Cathedrale Sts-Michel-et-Gudule
This was another shot I took a little later after the sun came out.

I don't recall which church this was, but it was pretty...

This is the Palais de Justice.
Throughout the city there are many Art Nouveau buildings.  I didn't get pictures of that many of them, but here is the Hotel Ciamberlani...
The Triumphal Arch...
I decided to hop off the first tour here for a few reasons:
(1) it was near the end of the tour, and it wasn't much of a walk to catch the second bus,
(2) the view looked great and I wanted to see more, and
(3) there was a music festival and lots of food vendors (FINALLY SOME FOOD!!!)
This was my favorite view of the day (Flower Carpet excluded).
I love how the Basilique Nationale du Sacre-Coeur is visible way in the 
background (green dome roof)...
I walked through this pretty garden, which seemed very French to me.

And I got some food as I mentioned... Pommes Frites, or french fries, were actually invented in Belgium, so it seemed like I had to try some.

I ate my fries, listened to some music...

...and then made my way to Bruxelles Central, where the second tour bus started from.
I also don't recall the name of this church...
but again, pretty

This is The Atomium
It was built for the 1958 World Fair and is one of Brussels' most famous landmark structures
I hopped off the 2nd bus tour at the next to last stop, because there was one other thing I just had to see.  Here was the view as I walked toward my destination...

Finally!  I had arrived at the Manneken Pis!
He has an outfit on that corresponds to the flower carpet Turkish theme.
Oddly enough, this is one of the most famous things in Belgium.
Though there are several possible stories about the origin, it has been around since 1618.
He has been stolen before, so the original is now in a museum, and this is a replica.
Here is what he looks like when he isn't wearing his clothes.
I walked back to the Grand Place to buy some souvenir chocolates and then walked back toward an area where I could catch a taxi back to the Eurostar terminal.
Right as I was leaving the Grand Place, I found the Belgian Waffle shop I had been looking for!
Words fail to describe how good this was.
The crispy waffle.
The warm chocolate.
The freshest and sweetest strawberries ever.
I took the 7:52 train back to London.  We made stops in Lille & Calais, France on the way back.  

Here is a pic of the French countryside sunset that I snapped on my iPhone as we sped down the tracks at 186 mph.

Stay tuned for Day 5!


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