Some Days are Better than Others (Western Europe Road Trip Fall 2015, Day 1)

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I don’t want to sugar-coat full-time travel and only write about the fun stuff, so here’s an example of a pretty mediocre day. Nothing too bad like getting robbed or cheated, just a bit of a setback.

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ROAD TRIP! Western Europe Fall 2015

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Flowers in Middenheim, Antwerp

Today we began our new adventure: ROAD TRIP!

We rented a car in The Hague, Netherlands for two weeks from Hertz. Hertz allows us to drive pretty much everywhere but Scandinavia (due to weather conditions), so we have a pretty open road ahead of us. Here’s the basic plan:

Day 1: Visit Antwerp and check out the Sculpture garden in Middenheim, a park right in the city.

Drive on to Ghent, look at all the pretty buildings there, and spend the night. Drink belgian beer.

Day 2: Drive onward to Bruges, where we will spend 1 or 2 nights depending on our taste.

Day 3: Probably more Bruges. Drink beer, eat waffles. And fries. And chocolate.

Day 4: Drive to France, to stay in the town just across the border called Lille. We found a cheap hotel and I’m hoping we’ll find a mill bakery immediately so that I can eat too many baguettes. Really any plural amount of baguettes is probably too many.

Days 5-14: Drive into France a bit more, maybe head to Paris. It’s only 2 hours from Lille. We’re trying to find a way to park in the suburbs and just take the train into Paris for the day, but guides online are telling us there’s not much advantage there. We’re really trying to avoid driving in Paris.

Next, drive to Luxembourg. Neither of us has ever been, and come to think of it, I don’t know anyone who’s ever been. Should be fun to check out.

Head into Northwestern Germany. I love Berlin, but have never been anywhere else, so this should be an adventure.

Finally, return to the Netherlands and head to Utrecht, hopefully to grab drinks with a friend of ours we met in Galapagos.

So that’s our big plan. Trying to keep as flexible as we can while having fun. After the road trip, we head to Copenhagen, Denmark, and Malmo, Sweden for about a week before I fly back to NYC.


Day Trip to Leiden, Netherlands

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This lion is so metal he wields a broadsword.

This lion is so metal he wields a broadsword. Seen outside the town’s renaissance-era fortress.

Today we took a day trip to Leiden.

My god, what a charming little town. Not the kind of phrase I’m used to saying, but Leiden was really beautiful. It has the canals you’d expect to see in the Netherlands, as well as handsome older buildings.

Honestly, I don’t know much else to say, so here’s some photos!

First Windmill Leiden

I imagine we’ll be seeing a lot of these.

A Coat Wall Poetry Leiden Netherlands

Love me some Yeats.

Volksbadhuis Leiden

There were a lot of buildings with this cool hand-lettered signage. I really liked the contrast.

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Bridge over Canal Leiden

Bridge Leiden

The same bridge, but bigger.

First Windmill Leiden

Our first windmill!

Mural in Leiden, Netherlands with a giant eyeball and tiny santa clause and bishop.

Mural near the train station.


M.C. Escher in The Hague

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Sunshine Autumn HagueStill in The Hague.

Had to skip writing yesterday because I was running on 4.5 hours of sleep and just couldn’t pull it together. Sometimes changing hotel rooms every few days catches up with you.

Great fun yesterday as we checked out the M.C. Escher museum here in Den Haag. I’ve been a big fan of Escher since childhood, so I was surprised to find a number of prints and sketches I’d never seen before. The whole first floor of the museum is dedicated to his earlier work, before he started with all the imaginary mindscapes.

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Autumn in The Hague

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So, today we’re in The Hague.The Hague in Autumn

We took the train from Amsterdam – it was about 20 minutes and 8 euros each. It was over so quickly that I didn’t want to get up when we arrived because I was comfortable.

We walked to the hotel because it was only 20 minutes away (11 minutes by tram) and I didn’t feel like figuring out the public transport with our bags.

We’re staying at a place called EasyHotel, which I guess is part of the EasyJet brand, and operates pretty similarly. There’s a comfortable double bed in the room, a television, a very small place to hang clothes, a normal but small bathroom, and not much else. The whole room is probably about 130 square feet, and I love it.

In EasyJet fashion, you don’t get any extras you don’t pay for. The room is clean when you arrive, and cleaned after you leave, of course, but if you want the maids to come during your stay, they charge 15 euros. I think this is brilliant, as we normally send the maids away anyway, because we are adults and don’t need someone to make our bed for us. If we need more towels, they’re available for free at the front desk.

We can pay reasonable amounts for late check-out and things like that. There aren’t any things designed to be obtrusive just so we’ll pay for them or annoying ads (I’m looking at you, Air Canada), it’s just a perfect utilitarian room in a great location.

The Hague is beautiful. Home to a number of international courts, the architecture here really appeals to me, especially during the cold and rainy fall weather we had today. There’s a lot of black, gold, and crimson that makes you feel like you’re in a medieval fantasy world, but without all the bloodshed.

Even the modern buildings are fun to walk through, as we found out when we stumbled into what we thought might be a mall when looking for shelter from the rain. It turned out to be a convention center, and we took a quick look at some model trains before continuing to the Binnenhof, the oldest house of parliament still in use.

One thing that has stood out to me so far about The Netherlands is the incredible number of bicycles. I love biking myself, and it’s my favorite means of transport (paragliding just doesn’t cut it for the commute), but I haven’t been able to do it very often, as Houston drivers seem to combine ignorance of traffic laws with misguided aggression, making a simple ride to the park a harrowing experience.

This visit to Amsterdam and The Hague is the first place where I’ve felt the same thing with cyclists. Let me first say that the cyclists have been respectful and careful, things that drivers are not. What I’ve found here, however, is that it’s tough to navigate as a pedestrian, because not only are there cars to deal with, but bike lanes and tram tracks. When you add in the fact that we’re not familiar with the rules for crossing the road, things get pretty confusing. What you have to do to cross in some countries will get you run over in others, so I usually just stand behind a local with the assumption that drivers won’t try to hit someone from their own country.

These new sources of stimulus and danger come to a head when we walk from a pedestrian piazza to a 3-way intersection and suddenly have to navigate 3 kinds of traffic going in 6 different directions.

Copenhagen, of course, is famous for having even more cyclists than here, and I’m excited to see it.

Tomorrow morning we’re checking out the Escher Museum here in the Hague, potentially followed by a screening of The Last Witch Hunter. Ah, the perks of dating a film critic.