I'm writing this from a train, which I suppose is a touch cliche. We've been travelling for 15 days, which means this is the official halfway point. Somehow, it both seems like it's been ages and no time at all. That's just typical for travelling though I think.
Trying to post lots of picture from the shoddy wifi I usually have to connect with isn't really possible, so I'll try to sprinkle a few throughout the post, but there will be a big dump when I get home. And there really will this time. The reason I wasn't able to do the big picture post last time is because I took 1600 photos and never did any kind of sorting. I've learned from my mistakes and am sorting as I go this time. It works pretty nicely with my new iPad, as I can just pop in the SD, import all the photos, then sort and edit really easily from the photos app. Maybe I'll do a breakdown of my workflow for that one day. Consider it in my "potential posts" list.
So our trip started in London. It's really one of my favourite cities. This is the third time I've been, and I'm still not tired of it yet. The first time was in 2010 with a school trip. We did most of the super touristy stuff then - Big Ben, Westminster Abby, the Changing of the Guard, the London Eye, etc. There were tons of us in the group, so it wasn't very personal. The second time I went was at the end of last summer, and that was a super laid back visit. I spent lots of time in the hotel room watching British TV, walking around and checking out the streets and markets, and visiting a few smaller museums like the Wallace Collection (which was, by the way, a really fantastic visit). I was by myself on that visit, so it was easy to just be a bit lazy. This last time was just with one of my friends, so it was a totally different experience.
It wasn't completely packed to the brim with events and tours, but it also wasn't nearly as laid back as my solo trip. We did a shit ton of walking, which I was NOT prepared for. It wasn't really more than I did on the first couple days of my trip last summer, but I think the reason it was more painful this time is because I hadn't spent the last 2 months in Germany, getting outside, eating well, and walking around lots; I spent the last 2 months sitting in a truck for 14 hours a day eating garbage and sleeping in on the rare day off. So, needless to say, my feet were absolutely screaming at me within the first few days.
It wasn't so bad though, as we were doing tons of fun things to take my mind off it. Trying to think about it right now everything kind of blurs together a little bit, so I may not get the exact days and activities right, but it will be close. We started out by checking into our hostel and just walking around a bit that evening. Unfortunately we wandered into the financial district while looking for a restaurant, so we had some issues that first night. Eventually we found a place that was open and had seemingly edible food, and all was well. The next day we did some touristy stuff, like the National gallery and the British Museum, both of which were very interesting. Seeing the Rosetta Stone especially was a highlight for me. It's kind of amazing to see such an important artifact in person.
The next day my sister and brother-in-law landed, so we went out to greet them and had lunch. Afterward my friend and I walked around Hyde Park a bit while they got settled into their airbnb, and we met up again for some touring of Piccadilly Circus and supper at a pub. Afterward we did a bit of pub crawling until we found some live music, which I thought was at least somewhat decent but everyone else wasn't very impressed, so we left back for our hostel. All in all that ended up being a pretty laid back but fun day.
We had planned a day trip to Brighton the next day. We had considered originally going to see the cliffs of Dover, but ended up nixing that plan, which was all well and good as there were cliffs in Brighton that were plenty impressive for me. It was nice to walk around the smaller town after being in the metropolis for so many days, and we had one of my favourite meals of the trip thus far at a little American style restaurant. We also went up in this huge tower view deck type contraption, so we were able to get a birds eye view of the whole city. It was a pretty good day trip.
Finally we've come to the whole reason this entire vacation happened in the first place. In October of 2015 my brother-in-law got tickets to the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play in London. Even though he managed to order them within minutes of the sales opening, it was an 18 month wait until the date of our showing. April 29th, 2017. That morning was super chill. We took the tube to my sister's place and walked around Notting Hill for awhile, found a nice little market down Portobello Street, and had a traditional English breakfast. Then we made our way to the theatre, as the play started nice and early at 2pm, and got our tickets.
I'm not going to do an in depth review of the play, I'll just say that overall I really, really loved it. The production itself was so far above anything I expected, they really went above and beyond to make an amazing experience. The acting was superb, and while the script had a few issues, it was overall good. It definitely felt like a Harry Potter book.
The play ended around 10 that evening and we pretty much just went back to the hostel and crashed. The next morning we got up and went to Bristol for 2 days. It was a bit of an in between destination, as our original plan was to rent a car from there and head up into Scotland and the Highlands. Unfortunately, I was born a year too late, as renting a car before you're 25 is literally more than double the price. I'm 24. I also have a class 1 licence and have more miles under my belt than probably 99% of the 25 year olds renting cars, but insurance is unfortunately quite black and white in this regard. So, instead, we headed for Paris.
This was my second time in Paris, the first having been on the school trip I mentioned earlier. We did some of the same stuff I did then, like the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, but we also did lots of other things too which I never did, including Versailles. I had alway heard stories about how beautiful Versailles was, and it truly was an amazing palace, covered in gold and crystal and mirrors, but what I found the most beautiful were the grounds. The garden behind the palace stretched on and on, and it was absolutely gorgeous. We rented bikes and pedalled around the canal. We had impeccable timing as the sun had just come out when we got to the palace and the rain began just as we were leaving. It was an unforgettable experience for sure.
After some more time in Paris, doing things like the Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame, we hopped on the train for Ghent, Belgium. This was another last minute decision. We had considered maybe going to the south of France, or Italy, but in the end those all looked to be much better experiences with a car, and so we settled on Belgium, then The Netherlands.
Ghent was a really pretty town with a huge, very cliche looking medieval castle in the middle of it. It was mostly quiet which was nice, but the main thing I wanted to see in Belgium was Bruges. There is a movie called "In Bruges", which is a dark comedy that I've loved since I first saw it probably 5 or 6 years ago. Since seeing the movie I've wanted to visit the "fucking fairytale" that is Bruges. And 2 days ago we took a day trip there, and it met and exceeded every one of my expectations. I was worried that it might be a bit over hyped, but it really was fairytale-esque. There were windy cobbled streets, tall church towers, windmills, canals, alcoves, everything. We climbed the 300 odd steps to the top of the bell tower, which had fairly predictable views, but was a fun thing to do and a good story nonetheless. The steps were so narrow and windy, and you would meet people going up and down and try to shuffle by. It was incredible.
Yesterday was a bit of a rest day, we didn't really do much at all. And now we are on the train to Amsterdam, which I was in last summer as well but am excited to return to. It's a really unique city, and very beautiful, with so much history. I might do another update before I'm home, but I'm not making any promises.
Post Script: I'm sitting on the train from Antwerp to Amsterdam right now. We got first class tickets, and I can say this is by far the best way to travel. Nice, big seats, armrests, room to type. It's amazing. I've been ruined for all other forms of train travel!