Thursday, July 20, 2017

Evening in Edinburgh (Scotland #1)

I'm about to recap our very last trip from our year abroad! Yes, it's true! The adventures will come to an end after this!

The reason we went to Scotland was because Carson presented a paper at a conference there, and because we got a little funding, I was able to go too! The timing wasn't awesome, because he came home from his week-long seminar in Austria at 5 in the morning on a Saturday (I'd gotten back from Paris on Friday night at around 11), and then we turned around and left for the airport at 9am on Sunday. Thankfully, our trip was long enough that it was a lot more relaxed than either of our trips were the week before, so we weren't dying from too much activity. 

We left Düsseldorf at 2pm and because Scotland is an hour behind us in Germany, it was 3pm when we arrived! We took a bus from the airport to the Haymarket stop, and then walked the rest of the way to our hotel.

I'm not sure what was going on with my hair this whole trip - the idea of major humidity (aka RAIN) really made it think it was in Texas or something.

We checked in to the hotel, and very shortly left in search of food. I know I said that on our trip in Paris, Jaime and I barely ate, but in Edinburgh, I made up for it. I was hungry the entire trip, and I think I'm going to blame the weather. In Paris, it was so hot and humid that the last thing we wanted to do was eat (the thought made me feel sick, and I just drank a ton of water instead). Whereas in Scotland, it was cold, rainy and windy which is apparently the sort of weather where eating every 30 minutes seems like a good solution.

Anyway, we found a pub and I had fish and chips, while Carson enjoyed bangers and mash. They were good! Too much food though!

After dinner, we walked around a little bit. The whole time we were in the city of Edinburgh, it was drizzly and grey. In some of the pictures it may not look that way, but oh, it was. It was really quite chilly also. It was forecast to be in the 50s and 60s, but it felt much colder than that to me - a surprise, since Germany has recently been the same temperature, but didn't feel that cold.

Taking this picture was Carson's idea.

We visited the cemetery behind St. John's Church on Prince's Street. Old cemeteries are so beautiful, aren't they? Hope you think so too, because I think we visited two more the next day!

After we'd caught some glimpses of the castle and seen that Edinburgh was definitely really beautiful, we hit up the grocery store for some snacks, which included a block of sharp cheddar cheese! it almost brought tears to our eyes since we haven't had it since we were in the states! It was delicious. Our hotel was interesting in that in every wing, there's a shared kitchen with dishes and pots and pans and fridges. I guess some people take an extended stay. Anyway, we could store our beloved cheese there, and thankfully nobody bothered it. It's not pictured, but we had a snack of cheese every night, and thought about bringing a block back in our suitcases, but we figured that we probably would be getting more soon in the US.

We were sleepy and went to bed early that night!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Au Revoir, Paris! (Paris #5)

After a day of waiting in long lines and exploring the city, we returned to our hotel to rest and get ready for the evening. We'd planned on dressing up and going to dinner somewhere and then seeing the sunset at the Eiffel Tower, but since we hadn't planned on a four hour line (still not over it, probably won't ever be), everything we did that day had happened later than anticipated. So we went back to the hotel and sat like bumps on a log (I did, I think Jaime was a little more spritely) for a little bit to recover from heat exhaustion and then we got ready to head to the Eiffel Tower. 

Google Maps had us transfer subways and we got a little confused on the directions, so we ended up walking from the subway near this bridge (Alexander Bridge or something?) to the Tower. It took us about 30 minutes because we stopped to take pictures.

The sun was juuuuust setting when we got there a little before 10pm, so we barely had enough light to get a few pictures. They're okay, but we wished we'd had slightly more daylight!

We sat down on the grass in front of the Eiffel Tower, where there were hundreds of other people doing the same thing. Families had picnics, children were running around. I'm not sure that this is a favorite spot for locals, but there is some good people watching. All around there are vendors selling light-up Eiffel Tower models, bottles of champagne, beer and wine, and there are pedal taxi drivers going past trying to convince us that we wanted to take a ride somewhere. We decided that since our night was NOT going to look as planned, we'd splurge on a bottle of champagne and drink it while sitting on the grass, looking up at the glittering structure in front of us. Jaime is a really great haggler and we didn't really splurge after all. We sat there for almost two hours, talking and enjoying the view. 

Finally, we decided that we should probably get back to the hotel and also grab something to eat. There was a(n overpriced) crepe stand across the street, so we walked over there and I had a ham and cheese crepe, while Jaime got a giant hot dog with cheese. It looked delicious too!

After we'd eaten (have you noticed that we are not good at feeding ourselves and ate about four times total in three days in Paris? I mean it makes for a cheap trip, but I don't advise it. I'll also note though that we DID buy bottled water the whole time, so we were at least hydrated), we made our way to the metro. Once we were down there and had transferred one time, we realized that we'd missed the last one heading up to our hotel area. It would have been an hour and a half walk back, and that sounded like it wasn't a wise idea for two girls to pursue alone. I was surprised that the metro shut down so early, but maybe that's normal on a weeknight! We ended up calling an Uber. I've never done that before, but it was a fun experience and SO cheap! We did an Uber carpool (it has a proper name but I don't know it!) so it took a little longer, but it gave us the experience of seeing the city at night, and getting above-ground context for where we were!

Here's where we waited for the Uber. Not too shabby.

It was a late night, and morning came too early (those words could sum up my entire life). Our train back to Frankfurt left at 9 in the morning, but we were tired of not having time to eat, so we left with ample time to walk to Gare du Est, and were rewarded with time to sit and relax before the train.

We also had a visitor in the form of several birds, who prey upon messy passengers.

The ride to Frankfurt was uneventful, although my trip back to Münster was NOT. We got back and had lunch at the station, and then I had to wait two hours for my next train, which was supposed to be a three hour direct train back. That train was cancelled, and I was told to get on one going to Cologne and transfer, so I did. The train from Cologne was held so that we could get on it, and I thought all was well, but when we got to Dortmund, they announced that the train would not be stopping in Münster, Osnabrück, or Bremen for some reason (I think they said the reason, but I didn't understand those words). So about half of the train had to get off and wait for a tiny regional train that was only going to Münster. Then that train was 40 minutes late, and when it arrived, didn't have enough seats, so everyone was standing on top of everyone else. Finally, we made it to Münster, a little over 3 hours later than we were supposed to arrive! 

I did make "friends" in the Dortmund train station while we waited though. There was a Polish woman translating the German announcements into English for her Pakistani husband. I asked her to clarify something about the times, and then a Nigerian couple who overheard us speaking English came over and we all chatted. They said two things that I thought were funny: The Polish woman commented "You look pretty nice - I thought all Americans were fat!" and I wasn't sure how to respond to that. Then the Nigerian man told me that I "speak English VERY well", and I wasn't sure what to say then either, since it is my native tongue. It was fun talking with all of them though on their various reasons for being in Germany and their thoughts on living in the country (all positive, except the Polish girl thought that Polish trains were more reliable). So there was a silver lining in the whole situation, since I wasn't all alone waiting!

About Paris though - it was amazing. I'd definitely go back sometime, and I hope to, with Carson in tow. Even though we did get to see a lot of things in a few days, I didn't really feel like I'd been there long enough! Maybe next time I'd like to wander around more and get a feel for the city, whereas this was more of a "check things off the list, we're just hitting the high points" kind of trip. I'm so glad I got to visit Paris though, and Jaime was a terrific travel companion! 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Four Hour Line (Paris #4)

There was a 10% chance of rain the next day in Paris, so I left my rain jacket at the hotel. We walked to Gare du Nord to take the metro to the Catacombs, and when we came out of the metro station, it wasn't just raining, it was POURING RAIN. What a bummer. We waited inside the station for awhile until it mellowed enough to cross the street, then headed to a cafe for some breakfast. 

So. We had purchased online tickets for the catacombs for the 10am time slot, having been informed that if we purchased tickets we could skip the line at that time (the catacombs open at 9am). When we picked the tickets up at the tourist office the day before, they told us again that the tickets were skip-the-line, and that we could go at any time, not just our 10am slot. 

Not so. We went to the front of the line and were informed that to skip the line, we would need to purchase an additional 26 Euro ticket. The wait, they said, would be about two hours long. Since we'd already spent money on tickets, and had already seen most of the things we wanted to and didn't have tons to do that day, we opted to not pay the money and just to wait. It rained off and on as we waited, miffed about the incorrect information. I'm still not sure why they would tell you to reserve a time slot, if it doesn't even matter. 

Our two hour long wait ended up being FOUR HOURS. They were letting everyone who showed up willing to pay 26 Euro cut in front of everyone in the long line waiting, and also let only about 20 people in at a time, which is just a really poor system. Finally, after four hours and five minutes, we made our way into the catacombs. 

In retrospect, we would not have purchased tickets ahead of time, unless it had been those expensive, actual skip-the-line tickets (still really confused about that, and we went up and asked the workers like four times just in case our wait could have been shorter). Had we not purchased the tickets beforehand, we wouldn't have waited. We also wouldn't have stayed, even with spending the money, if we'd known it would be four whole hours. The catacombs were nice to see, but four hours? That is a very long time.

We walked down over 100 steps to the catacombs tunnels, surprised that we saw NO OTHER PEOPLE down there. They probably could have let more people down there at a time, because there really weren't many down there.

The tunnels are long, and it is cold down there. We walked for a long time before we came to the bones themselves. 

The Catacombs are basically mass graves that were built when cemeteries were found to be overflowing in the 18th century. Bones from graveyards were moved underground to these catacombs, and one of those was the cemetery of the Holy Innocents, which was the largest cemetery and contained bones that are thought to be from as far back as the 12th century, including some that were believed to be from the Black Plague.

When we left the Catacombs, the man at the exit checked our bags. We asked why, and he responded that sometimes, people have STOLEN BONES. How gross is that? We had noticed (and you will too if you scroll up) areas where there are missing skulls. I can't imagine doing that though - who wants a creepy skull? There was a gift shop at the exit (which is pretty far from the entrance; the Catacombs network is extensive) which had all kinds of skull related things. 

After that experience, we were hungry. We'd spent an hour underground after our four hour wait, and it was now 3 in the afternoon. We visited a bakery and grocery store to gather our lunch: a baguette, some salami, Boursin cheese (way cheaper in France than in the States!), and a couple of dessert items we couldn't resist. We decided to eat them in the Luxembourg Gardens, and passed a Bubble Tea place along the way. I've never had bubble tea, but have always wanted to try it, so Jaime ordered for me and it was delicious. I had what she had - black tea with passionfruit bubbles.

We joined lots of other people sitting on this grass as we ate our lunch. Oddly enough, there is a "keep off the grass" sign that all of us were ignoring to sit there.

Luxembourg Palace.

After we'd seen Notre Dame, we were hot and tired, so we went back to the hotel to rest and get ready for dinner... which I'll have in the next post!
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