Brussels, Belgium day 8 of trip

Trip Start Sep 23, 2010
Trip End May 31, 2011

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Juan and I woke up early so we could get in a museum, a bike ride, and have time to get our bikes back to the place we rented them from before we had to leave. It was going to be our last day in Amsterdam. We had already stayed one day extra and we could have stayed another few days and everything would have been grand, but we had bought tickets to Brussels already and needed to get to the city so we could complete the rest of our journey. After all, we weren't on this trip to just stay in one city.With my limited time off school, I needed to see as much as I could in Europe before I had to go back to work.

We headed over to the Vincent Van Gogh museum right as it opened and had a good time exploring it. It was one of the better museums I went to on the trip and it was really fun to visit. Vincent Van Gogh painted every single painting he ever made within a 10 year period of his life before he killed himself. The museum has a massive collection of his paintings and other painters that he was associated with or had similarities to him. I enjoyed the paintings and even bought a few postcards for some of my friends back home. The museum lined out a time line of his life and his paintings. It was cool to see how he painted these things over time. I overheard some Americans (you could tell) ask one of the security guards after they walked around the museum for only five minutes, "Hey. Is the painting with the swirls in the night (referring to Van Gogh's Starry Night) here?" The guard said, "No it is in New York City at the Museum of Modern Art." They then replied, "Ooohh man. We were just there. We could have seen it there." You could tell they weren't very knowledgeable on the subject at all and were just there to see that painting which wasn't even there. However, one could spend a lot of time in the museum, but on a tight time schedule it's hard to get everything done before you have to leave.

We hopped back over to the hotel and grabbed our bikes and took them for a spin in Vondelpark. Vondelpark is one of the most famous parks in Amsterdam and it was really cool to ride in during the winter. Some of the paths were quite slippery and the bike almost fell out from underneath of you if you didn't take the turns cautiously. It was quite interesting because it had many little side gardens and ponds in the park. There was also many bridges over the ponds that were cool. Juan and I spent several minutes climbing around on a playground and taking photos of the park from the top. It was a great time riding around inside the park and I can imagine just how great it would be in the Summer. However we had to get a move on back to the bike rental place before we were going to catch a train back to Brussels. The only problem was Juan had lost the map which we had marked the bike rental place on. This was going to cause some problems, but I kind of remembered where it was. I didn't know the city too much, but I knew it well enough to get to some main points of the city. I knew the bike rental shop was somewhere near the Anne Frank House, so we headed over that way. Within thirty minutes we made it to the area and it only took a few minutes of searching to find the shop. We got lucky because if we couldn't find it, we had no way of getting the bikes back. I'm sure we would have figured out something, but I'm glad we didn't have to resort to a plan b. Now it was time to grab a train to Brussels, Belgium. We needed to get their quick because we now only had one day to spend in the city and we had to see as much as we could before we had to leave.

Taking the train to Brussels was nice becuase we got to sit down for a little while after running around the city of Amsterdam. The train was about 2 hours at the most. We got there during night and yet again had to find our way to the hotel by finding maps around the city, asking for directions, and just looking at street signs. It took us about 30-45 minutes to find the hotel, but we finally found it after a stroll around some of the city. We ended up walking by a whole bunch of bars with mainly Arabic folk inside of them. I looked around and noticed that each bar was packed to the brim. It had so many people inside of it there were no open seats left. There were about 60-70 people in each restaurant/bar. It was quite interesting because all of the people in the bar were men. There weren't any women. This brought me back to something someone told me from Algeria when I was in Barcelona. He told me that all of the people there went out to bars and played dominoes and all of them were men. The women were made to stay inside. It wasn't a rule, but that's just how things went. Anyway, that's exactly how it was around our hotel. Juan and I went to a local restaurant and I ordered some Pizza with Ham and Mushrooms (I don't even like mushrooms really, but don't care anymore. I can eat anything now.) and Juan ordered cuscus which is a typical dish in Morocco. It is a plate with small fine rice, vegetables and meat. I tried some that Juan couldn't finish and it was really good. After eating we went back to the hotel and planned out tomorrow. We needed to make a quick strike plan so we could see as much as possible and still be able to catch our train. This called for sitting down and actually planning the day out hour by hour.

The moment everyone has been waiting favorite city in at #1..........
1. Barcelona, Spain- I've been two times now and I have seen the city for a total of 5 full days. There is just so much to do in the city. It's always good enough weather and doesn't rain often in the winter and in the Summer the weather is a little hot, but for me that's perfect. I like Barcelona for so many reasons, but one of the main ones is for the skateboarding. Barcelona is considered to be one of the best skateboarding cities in the world and everyone loves going there and skating. There are many professional skate videos with clips of the professionals doing tricks in the city. There are so many famous skate spots to choose from and there are even more spots that no one knows about too. I could skate there for weeks and not get bored.

I also love all of the sight seeing the city has to offer. I have seen so many wonderful things. I have seen the most detailed church in the world, La Sagrada Familia made by Antoni Gaudi. I have seen Gaudi's Parc Guel, Casa Battlo, and Casa Perdera as well. The city is heavily influenced by Gaudi and his architecture is very unique. It brings out the uniqueness of the city. I've walked around on the beach and have seen the Christopher Columbus column, street bands, a Barcelona world race exhibition, and the awesomeness of the beach itself. It is really nice to just sit down and relax on the beach and there are some spots where you can walk out on a stone boardwalk and just sit down and fish or relax too. Barcelona is a very laid back city.

I have gone to La Boqueria which is an open air market with tons of different foods on Las Ramblas. Las Ramblas the street itself is hugely popular. You can walk down it for hours and go into all sorts of restaurants and shops. There are all sorts of street performers and it's really neat watching them. Off to the side you can walk through the Barri Gotic (Gothic Neighborhood)  and enjoy some of the old city. This area is also home to the Pablo Picasso museum, which is a great place to see some art.

If this still isn't enough for you to do, you can catch a cable car to the top of Montjuic and catch a view of the entire city. There is a castle up there where you the best view can be seen from. If you walk around up on the mountain a little more you will find the Joan Miro Museum, The Olympic Museum, and The Olympic Ring where the 1992 Olympics took place. If thats still not enough for you, you can head over to the MNAC (National Museum of Catalunyan Art) and see a great collection of art from Spain and the rest of the world. At the museums front door is another excellent view of the city. Further down from the museum you can see The Magic Fountain, which is a fountain that lights up and sprays water to the rhythm of classical music. It's really impressive to see and the fountains go on for thousands of feet and everything is lit up and very astonishing. AND if that's still not enough to do, you can catch one of the greatest, if not the greatest, soccer teams in the entire world FC Barcelona at Camp Nou. Barcelona really goes big and it doesn't disappoint. There is just entirely too much to do there and I could even go back for another weekend and be perfectly fine with that.

One last note on Barcelona. I have found it to be extremely affordable to visit. The hostels I have stayed in have cost me 8 euros, 10 euros, and 12 euros at the most. You can grab some cheap fruit at some fruit stands for breakfast, have a light lunch and then indulge in a grand dinner of tapas. Most of the museums are reasonably priced and worth checking out too.

Until next time,
Joey Mueller
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