Day 12 – Belgium / France

The first half of the day was spent walking around Bruges, Belgium some more. I think the city was kind of boring, honestly. In the afternoon, I took the under two hour Thalys high-speed train to Paris (in addition to a 1 hour connection to Brussels). I had the same problem buying subway tickets again: my credit card wasn’t accepted and the machines only take coins. I guess I’m finding out my card doesn’t work everywhere after all. Now I’m spending two nights at Myriam & Guillaume’s apartment in the city, through the Hospitality Club.

Day 11 – Belgium

Brussels

Last night I arrived on the EuroStar, which was a smooth, fast ride. Another time zone change too. I’m now six hours ahead of Eastern Time. My first observations: no public drinking fountains and you have to pay to use bathrooms. I tried to buy a subway ticket with my credit card, but it wouldn’t accept it. And my first attempt in asking someone if they speak English was unsuccessful (older man). Finally got coins and a ticket, then I got on the wrong train. I turned around and finally got on the correct subway train, and there was vomit on the floor of the car. So I had to stand next to that and just look away.

First time “couch surfing” in Brussels with Florent, who grew up in Paris and now works and lives in this city. It worked out well.

The city is the center of the European Union, so there are a lot of government buildings around. Also a few older ones in the market square. After a look around, I validated my RailPass. So it is good for two months from today.

Bruges

First journey with the pass is to Bruges, and where I’m spending the night tonight. This is an old city where you pretty much walk around and see the streets and canals. All the residents ride bicycles.

Day 10 – Cambridge / London

Spent the night in Cambridge and had a nice breakfast at the hostel in the morning. Then I walked around the town for a few hours and saw some of the famous university. Then I took a bus back to London, and free Wi-Fi again (this time it worked). Afterwards I walked around a few of the sights in the city that I missed in the previous days, including Buckingham Palace, Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey.

Right now I’m waiting for the high-speed Eurostar train from London to Brussels, which goes through the Channel Tunnel. I may not be in a English speaking country for a while.

Day 9 – London

Right now I’m in a National Express bus heading to Cambridge, England and using their free onboard Wi-Fi (only worked for a few minutes though). I’m going to visit the original Cambridge, since I visited Cambridge, MA a few days ago.

Today I went to the British Library (saw such things as the Magna Carta and hand written Alice in Wonderland books), Hindu Mandir, Science Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum, and Natural History Museum.

Day 7 – London

The flight was delayed an hour, so it was a little longer than it was supposed to be. Air India has received bad reviews, but I think everything went smoothly for me. They gave everyone pillows and blankets and quite a bit of food. There were a lot of empty seats, and what were left was mostly Indians on the plane. I managed to sleep some on the plane, but my right ear really started to hurt on decent. It took a few hours to get better.

Once I landed, I realized I forgot to write down the name and address of the place I was staying at. I knew the general location, so I tried to get as close as I could. So I took the London Underground (subway or tubes), some trains, and then I got stuck and couldn’t find the last train station to get me there, so I ended up walking the last 3 miles or so. I also found a wireless hotspot and got the address.

On the way, I stopped at the National Maritime Museum & Royal Observatory, in Greenwich. I was able to stand on the 0° Longitude line, and walk over both the western and eastern hemispheres of the world. I ate at Wing Wah Buffet in Greenwich and it was probably the worst Chinese food I’ve ever had. So pretty bad first impression for food in England, but I guess the country isn’t known for its food.

After checking in, I finally figured out the train situation (my room is a nice 25 minute train from the center of London). So I headed to the middle of the city and went to the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, some of the many free museums. By the way, no photography rules inside all the museums I went to today, so not many photos so far.

Some observations about London so far:

  • They don’t believe in road signs. Once in a while you might get a sign on the side of a building, but that’s it.
  • Public transportation costs are among the highest in the world, but ticketing isn’t enforced greatly. It appears you can just walk right on any subway or train without going through any barrier. I did buy a 3 day travel pass for $40 however.
  • CCTV cameras are everywhere. Every room of a museum, every hallway in a hotel.
  • Not only do the British drive on the wrong side of the road, the lines they paint on the roads are wrong! They put double yellows on the outsides and whites in the center.

Day 6 – New York

Being the last day in the city, I furiously tried to visit every major sight remaining. After checking out of my room, I went to, the unfinished Cathedral of St. John, General Grant’s Tomb, New York Public Library, Grand Central Station, Cleopatra’s Needle (Egyptian Obelisk), Empire State Building, Chinatown, Wall St, New York Stock Exchange, and World Trade Center Site. In Chinatown, I ate some dumplings at one place, a $2.50 bowl of noodles at another (not a single tourist showed up while I was here), and coconut juice on the street (straight out of the fruit).

Then I took the subway and headed towards the airport. Unfortunately there was construction on the track and an entire portion was shut down. They directed all the passengers over to buses to drive the stretch to the next open station. This added nearly an hour through congested streets.

Finally arrived at JFK International Airport after an extra charge for the Airtrain going the last stretch. And then checking into the plane, I sure got questioned. How long are you staying in London? Really, that’s your only bag? That sure isn’t much luggage for a long stay? First international flight? Apparently traveling one way from NYC -> London with only one bag makes you look like a suicide bomber. They flagged my boarding pass with a thorough search. Fortunately the search wasn’t too bad at this airport.

Past security, I exchanged almost all of my US Dollars for UK Pounds and Euros for a fee of $6 plus a bad exchange rate. But at least I don’t have to carry around US cash and coins for the rest of my trip. Right now I’m waiting to board an Air India 747 to London. Departs at 7:45PM and arrives at 7:30AM.

Day 5 – New York

Woke up at 6AM and rushed to get in line for Saturday Night Live tickets. Unfortunately, there was construction on the subway and it made me change my route. There were hundreds of people already in line when I got there, some there most of the night. I did get a ticket though!

I headed back to the subway with the goal of getting on the Staten Island ferry. However I missed a stop and ended up in Brooklyn. I figured this would be a good time to walk across one of the world’s oldest suspension bridges. After this walk I finally made it to the ferry and took that across the bay, past the Statue of Liberty. Next on the list was the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of the largest art museums in the world. It took me five hours walk through. I still don’t feel 100%, I feel tired and a little sick. I walked through Central Park back to my room. It was warm today so it was a like rush hour of people walking, running, and riding bikes through the paths.

It was time to try to get into Saturday Night Live, of which I had a stand-by ticket for the dress rehearsal at 8PM. Everyone has to get there about 7PM and they were able to fill about 40 seats with stand-by people, I estimate. Unfortunately, I was number 88. So plan B is to go to sleep early. Also, I think I used that free wireless too much because they are now blocking me. I’m using the official signal in the lobby now.

Day 4 – New York

Early in the morning, I headed to the bus station to catch a crazy Chinatown bus from Boston to New York. Half the price of Greyhound, but they have a worse safety record. Four and a half hours later (having this computer makes time fly) I was dropped off in the middle of NYC’s Chinatown. For a while, I didn’t see any other white people and didn’t hear anyone speak English. I figured I had to find my room, so I found a subway station and walked underground. NYC’s subway system has quite a learning curve compared to other cities I’ve visited. There are local and express trains, a single line will branch out into multiple directions, and the signs in some of the stations aren’t always the best. So today it took me a while to get anywhere, since I got on a few wrong trains and missed a few stops.

If you want to use a computer at any of these hostels so far, they charge $2 for 20 minutes. So I figure having my own computer is the way to go. The wireless in the Boston hostel was broken the entire time and it was lucky my bed was next to the window so I could borrow some connection from across the street. Same in NYC, there is no official wireless in the room, but if I put the computer next to the window I can connect to someone’s apartment.

After checking into my room, I visited the Museum of Modern Art (free on Friday evenings) very quickly and then walked over to Times Square. Unfortunately, I’ve had a sore throat all day and don’t feel the best. Tomorrow I’m going to get up early and try to get stand by tickets for Saturday Night Live at 7AM.

Day 3 – Boston

The rain stopped today and even got some sunshine in Boston today. I think I’ll throw my coat into the garbage now. Today I walked to the MIT campus and looked around. I then continued to walk to Harvard University. I ate a buffet lunch at India Castle in Cambridge, which was really good.

The rest of the day I walked on the second half of the Freedom Trail that I missed yesterday to Boston Common and then continued down Commonwealth Avenue Mall, a straight mile long sidewalk with statues every so often.

Back to my room about 4PM, so a pretty short day so I don’t wear myself out too fast. I talked to my roommates: one is a Japanese Sociology grad student spending a week vacation in the USA, the other is a French traveler who started cycling his way from French Guinea (South America) two years ago and is on his way to Canada now and eventually Russia.