Jamaica – Part II

***Continued from previous post.

{February 9 – 6:00 pm – Montego Bay, Jamaica}
Dragged myself out of bed at 5 am to shower, get dressed, and pack my beach bag with towels, cash, and sunscreen. We were in the lobby by 6 am, just on time to be picked up for our trip to the Blue Mountains. No time for breakfast, just a granola bar. Dark outside and we’re the first ones on the bus; turns out the driver made a special trip to pick us up. When we first tried to book the trip, the Jamaican Tours agent said there weren’t enough people wanting to go (meaning, in Montego Bay) so we would have to try for another day. But because we showed such an interest in this bicycling tour, she called the tour company again and they agreed to have us picked up. Anyway, we picked up more people in Ocho Rios and Runaway Bay, then headed all the way across the island to the Blue Mountains. We drove for hours, past lush banana and papaya plantations.



First we stopped somewhere for a quick brunch of toast, eggs, juice, and rolls. I really have no idea where we were. But then we hopped back onto the bus and drove up some pretty crazy winding roads to get to the top. Endless photo opportunities through the window. Absolutely breath-taking landscape. Once at the top everybody picked out a bike and were given a helmet, elbow protectors, and knee pads for safety. We were told we were not allowed to bike down the mountain without wearing them. Now I must mention that there was a Belgian family with our group, a mother, father, and daughter, and they caused some trouble when we first picked them up. Apparently they didn’t have their tickets (ie. proof of purchase) for the tour and weren’t going to be allowed on the bus. They delayed us quite a bit and finally were allowed to come. They were very loud during the ride. Now that we had our bikes and were ready to go, they put up a huge fuss over wearing the safety gear. Oh. My. God. I could not believe how annoying they were being; all I could think was “Just put the stuff on and let’s go already!” But they finally got their way and didn’t have to wear the knee and elbow pads. Idiots.



Anyway, we were finally on our way! A pretty smooth ride all the way down, some bumps and ruts, but lovely weather for biking and taking in our surroundings. There were special “check points” where our guides had the group stop and they spoke about the region and pointed out local flora and fauna. We inspected a primary school, tasted Blue Mountain coffee brewed outside in a large iron pot, and ate slices of grapefruit one of the guides picked off a tree by the side of the road. We were shown different leaves and herbs that are used to brew into a tea that, after drinking for a couple days, removes all traces of marijuana from one’s bloodstream so that the person can visit a doctor and not be caught with the drug in their system. At the bottom of the trail we got back on our bus and visited a nearby waterfall. By now it was cooler and I didn’t want to swim, but Jordan was the first into the water! He almost lost his glasses, too. There was also a beer-drinking contest that Jordan and two others volunteered for. Afterward, tipped the tour guide $250J and the driver $300J (approx $3.50 USD).



{February 9 – 8:00 pm – Montego Bay, Jamaica}
Just got back from dinner and some shopping. Delicious pasta for dinner at “Little River”. I am addicted to this dish. So far there hasn’t been much opportunity for me to shop. I brought money to spend and I was determined to spend it all before leaving. So after dinner we visited the hotel shop and I ended up spending about $75 USD on a beautiful sundress, a blue “Jamaica” T-shirt, photo frame, two postcards, and a gorgeous pink tote bag.

{February 10 – 10:15 pm – Montego Bay, Jamaica}
First thing after breakfast, we went down and signed out one of the catamarans since it’s such a gorgeous day. However, not much wind so we didn’t get very far, just kinda floated around and enjoyed the solitude and sunshine. The sky was so blue and hardly any clouds at all. We were allowed to sail for an hour for free but got bored after half an hour of hardly any movement so we returned the catamaran and found ourselves some chairs on the beach. Jordan joined a game of volleyball, which didn’t last long because there were only a few players, and then we went for a dip in the water. Lazy, relaxing day. Later, we visited the craft stalls just off the property, along the beach, and bought some beaded bracelets, necklaces, and a couple shot glasses ($15 USD).



At four o’ clock we hopped on the free shuttle to “Rose Hall Shoppes” and wandered around there for awhile. There was a Scotiabank ATM there, even though two workers at the hotel said there wasn’t, so I used that to get out some cash without having to pay any fee. Bought some cool magnets, a black tote bag for my sister ($12 USD), etc.
Took some photos of me in my new sundress by the picturesque waterwheel. Back at the hotel, picked up two more bags of Blue Mountain coffee from the store, plus some Jamaican vanilla extract with cardamon ($30 USD). Also found a ladies Fossil watch that I actually liked, so purchased that as well for $85 USD (I’m so picky with watches). Ate dinner at “Jambalaya”, the Cajun restaurant, at 9 pm, but because we had a quick bite to eat before going to the “Shoppes”, we were not overly hungry. The food was just alright, nothing spectacular.


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{February 11 – 7:00 pm – Montego Bay, Jamaica}
Yet another fun and adventurous day on our final day on this beautiful island! We ate an early breakfast of fried eggs and then met in the lobby for 7:45 am. First off, an extremely bumpy ride out of Montego Bay to the south coast to Black River. Small group, only five of us and all Canadians, so we introduced ourselves and chatted during the ride. Once at the Black River crocodile safari, we piled onto a boat with some others. Black River is the country’s longest navigable river. Our guide pointed out egrets, herons, osprey, fish, mangroves, and five different crocodiles. For each one he brought the boat as close as possible. He explained that during the day the crocodiles are docile; it’s only at night that they are dangerous because it’s hunting time for them. We learned that the river is called Black River because the water looks a dark sludgy brown or black. But if you fill a water bottle with the river water, it’s perfectly clear. After that lovely, hot boat ride we ate lunch right in the open-air buiding: jerk chicken, rice, pork & beans (too spicy), and cole slaw.



Another winding, heart-jarring bumpy ride 30 minutes away to famous YS Falls. Hopped on a tractor that pulled us in a sort of trailer with bench seats that took us from the main building where the souvenirs are to the park where the falls are located. Got bit by mosquitoes! We were allowed to go off on our own and explore, as long as we met back at a certain time. The falls kind of rise at different levels and at each level there are pools that you can swim in. At one level there is a rope swing that Jordan jumped off a couple times. Everything was so beautiful, but there were also a lot of people. Took lots of photos, of course.



When we got back, we ate a hamburger at “Uncle Tony’s” and then walked down to the sister resort, Iberostar Rose Hall Suites. Wandered around their shops, which are a lot better than our measly two stores. Collected some final souvenirs: postcards and magnets ($11 USD). Now we are back at the resort. Suitcases are stuffed to the gills! We need to be ready to go at 10:45 am tomorrow (Saturday). Goodbye Jamaica!



***End of journal.

Getting through security when leaving the island is just as much a pain as arriving. Had to remove all excess sweaters/shirts and even shoes (that’s the first time I’ve ever been asked to take off my shoes at an airport). Regardless of those inconveniences, what an amazing trip! When I look back on our trip now, I’m so happy that we did more than just lounge around the resort. There was so much to do and see on the island! I think my favourite thing to do was climbing Dunn’s River Falls and bicycling down the Blue Mountains. For me, those activities were adventurous.

Jamaica – Part I

Jamaica, my first trip to the Caribbean! I really needed a break from work and I’m so glad we had the opportunity to go. After Europe in October, we didn’t think we would go on another vacation for awhile, considering the expense, but Jordan wanted to go somewhere after returning from his deployment. He knew he would have extra leave time to use in February so we chose a week in that month. I requested the time off work, and then started researching which Caribbean island to visit. Even though I would have loved to go to the Dominican Republic, Jordan specifically said anywhere but there. Since he was in Haiti last January as part of the DART team, he claims he has no desire to visit that island any time soon. Maybe another time I’ll convince him!

So my search led me to the lovely island of Jamaica. And once I’d decided on the destination, I hopped onto TripAdvisor and started sifting through all-inclusive resort listings. After reading a bunch of reviews and asking some questions on the TA forums, I picked out the Iberostar Rose Hall Beach Resort as the place to stay. I sent off an email to the travel agent who set up our Europe trip and she booked the Westjet package for us: Ottawa departure to Montego Bay, February 5-11th, 2011.

For spending money we brought some US dollars, but I had the majority of my cash turned into Jamaican dollars (represented as “J”). Most places will accept either currency. For tipping, we used either $1.00 USD or $100J. All the vendors would give us US prices and then I’d have to ask what that would be in Jamaican dollars. I think if we were to go again, I’d just stick with US dollars.

Jamaica is in the same time zone as Ontario, and the electrical outlets accept our plugs. Anyway, here is my journal from our fabulous stay in Montego Bay, Jamaica!

{February 5 – 9:10 am EST – Ottawa MacDonald-Cartier Airport}
Yesterday I worked until 4:30 pm and then rushed home to finish packing the rest of our – meaning Jordan’s – luggage. He stuffed everything into one carry-on bag, whereas I had packed a large suitcase and a carry-on. I never know what I want to wear, I’m terrible at packing light. Made egg-fried rice for a quick dinner. We locked up the house and headed to Ottawa sometime after 6 o’ clock and found our hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn, by 9 pm. Checked in, paid for a parking permit for the week, then went up to our room. Comfortable king bed and spacious room. Changed into our swimsuits and took a dip in the indoor pool. I hung out in the hot tub because I didn’t think the pool water was very warm. Went to bed sometime after 10:00 pm, knowing we had to be up extra early the next morning.



Woke up at 4:30 am this morning to have a quick shower and dress. Down to the lobby for 5:50 am to catch the free shuttle to the airport. Jordan grabbed a green tea to go. Once at the airport we checked in and then sat down for breakfast at one of the restaurants – fried eggs, bacon, toast, and potatoes, way too much food for that early in the morning. Found our gate and boarded just after 8:30 am. Sitting here on the Westjet plane, with nothing but a packet of Bits & Bites to eat and something to drink. Nothing on this flight, other than tiny snacks and beverages, is free, not even movies to pass the time. While I read a book, Jordan watched something on his Netbook.

{February 5 – Noon – Over the Bahamas}
Flying over the Bahamas! Took some photos. Wow, looks so beautiful from the sky. So much green and blue. Soon we’ll be flying over Cuba!



{February 5 – 7:00 pm – Montego Bay, Jamaica}
We landed fifteen minutes early and spent almost one and a half hours in line to get through Customs. Heat not that bad; air-conditioning in the building made it bearable. By the time we got through that line, everyone’s luggage had been taken off the belts and piled on the floor – Jordan had to sift through everything to find my bag. Left that room and found the Jamaican Tours booth to collect our passes for the hotel transfer. We boarded the proper bus and the driver told us some information about the island. A few clouds in the blue sky, warm but with a nice breeze. We arrived at the Iberostar Rose Hall Beach Resort just before 4 pm and checked in quickly. We were given a cold drink during check-in; I don’t know what it is but it certainly tasted tropical! Our room is on the same floor as the huge lobby, but far enough away that we can’t hear any noise. To us it was the perfect location, because we didn’t have to walk very far for food or to get to the pool.



Decided to stroll around the grounds to get our bearings. The hotel provided us with a map that showed all the restaurants and listed the times that food is available at each one. Grabbed a hamburger and fries at the beach buffet, “Uncle Tony’s”. While we ate we watched a wedding take place on the beach. After eating we walked up to the lobby and made a reservation for 9 pm at the Japanese à la carte restaurant called “Samurai”. I’ve never eaten Japanese food before so this will be a new experience for me.

{February 6 – 10:10 pm – Montego Bay, Jamaica}
The “Samurai” restaurant last night was cool. The food was cooked in front of us while the chef put on a show of tossing his cooking utensils. To start we were served sushi rolls, then our choice of soup, and finally teppanyaki with fried rice. The fried rice was delicious and for the teppanyaki I ordered beef and chicken, and Jordan had the salmon and octopus. Jordan had some desserts but they all looked like they were made of gelatin so I stayed clear.



Today we woke up early to eat breakfast at the indoor buffet, “Little River”. After sampling a bunch of different breads, fruits, cheese, and fried eggs, we headed inside to the lobby for a briefing with our Jamaican Tours representative at 10 am. We booked a trip to Dunn’s River Falls for Monday (tomorrow), costing $65 USD per person (on AMEX). Returned to our room to change into swimwear and then descended on the pool! I expected it to be much warmer, but brrr it was cold! The breeze certainly didn’t help. We went to the swim-up bar and ordered a couple drinks and then proceeded to shiver and drink cold cocktails. I decided I was not a fan of the cold water and climbed out and instead we lounged on the beach and soaked up the rays. There were no chairs available at the pool but plenty on the beach. There’s lots of natural foliage on the beach for shade if you’re not able to find a palapa.



Ate dinner at “Little River” in the air-conditioning. There is so much to choose from for food. I am in love with the pasta with cream sauce that is cooked right in front of you. Still wearing long sleeved shirts. Later, at the lobby bar, I had a frozen strawberry margarita and Jordan drank a mojito. The Super Bowl is happening in the Calypso Theatre but we’re not interested in watching football. Getting late so we’re heading to bed.

{February 7 – 6:00 pm – Montego Bay, Jamaica}
Today’s tour was a trip to Ocho Rios for shopping at a centre called “Taj Mahal” and then to a craft market. Bought some Blue Mountain coffee ($12 USD) at one of the shops, as well as a couple postcards, a keychain, and a country patch for a total of $25 USD (including the coffee). At another shop I spent $15 USD on a beautiful frame and 2 more keychains for a couple people at work. At the craft market, the people were very pushy, which I did not enjoy, and I only ended up buying one item – a pink waterproof zippered pouch for carrying money ($4 USD).



After shopping, and making friends with the ladies on our tour bus, we drove to the “Ruins at the Falls” restaurant where we had to each pay $15 USD for lunch buffet. I thought that lunch was included in the tour price, but apparently it wasn’t. The food was alright but definitely not worth what we paid. After eating there we headed over to Dunn’s River Falls and walked through the parking lot in our skimpy swimsuits to get our tickets. We had to leave everything on the bus, even towels. Our tour guide even said to leave glasses behind but I wore mine anyway, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to see to climb the falls! A nice lady gave me a string to wear around my neck that attached to the glasses so that I wouldn’t lose them. Finally we were brought to our guide and walked down the beach, and then we all linked hands and started climbing! It was exhilarating and the water was very cold but after awhile you don’t even feel the cold. We brought along Jordan’s waterproof camera and there were plenty of opportunities to take pictures. I had a lot of fun during this part of the tour!



When we returned to the hotel, exhausted, Jordan and I ate dinner at “Little River” and we were back in our room by nightfall. Watched some television and fell asleep.

{February 8 – Noon – Montego Bay, Jamaica}
This morning we ate breakfast and then booked a dinner reservation for “Uncle Tony’s Steakhouse” for 9 pm tonight. Also booked the Cajun restaurant for Thursday at 9 pm and some other fun activities to keep us on the go! Excursion for Wednesday (Feb 9): full-day Blue Mountain bicycle tour, $157 USD per person (on AMEX). Excursion for Friday (Feb 11): Black River safari to see crocodiles and a visit to YS Falls, $88 USD per person (on VISA). Wanted to go sailing after completing these bookings but winds are too fast right now and we were asked to try back later.



{February 8 – 10:00 pm – Montego Bay, Jamaica}
Still couldn’t sail due to high winds. For a day that started out as the warmest so far, it turned chilly and rainy pretty quickly. We went for a walk along the beach all the way to the Grand grounds and back, even though it rained a bit on us. Ate dinner at the steakhouse. Buffet selection not that great but the onion rings, pork chops, and potatoes were delicious! Wake-up call set for 5 am tomorrow morning as we need to be in the lobby by 6 am!

***Continued in next post.

Europe – Part VI

***Continued from previous post.

{October 20 – 9:11 pm – Amsterdam, The Netherlands}
Still not feeling well, big surprize. Couldn’t get up for the alarm and ended up sleeping til 10 am. Before heading out for lunch we went down to the lobby and I asked if there was any store nearby that I could buy cold medication from. The lady said to try “D.A.” since I would need a prescription to visit a pharmacy. So we went there and got some Kleenex packs and some cold medication. The store didn’t have anything like Advil or Tylenol and the lady there gave me some medication with Dutch all over the label and she explained to take a couple pills every hour.

Found lunch at “Small Talk”. I had a cheese omelet with toast and black tea while Jordan had fried eggs with toast and a cappuccino. Can’t remember how much it cost. While we were waiting for the food it started to rain and a bunch of people surged into the restaurant. After eating we hopped on a tram to Centraal Station (to get out of the rain) and bought two train tickets to Sittard, for tomorrow. Tickets cost 44€ total and would get us to Sittard before 4:30 pm, just in time to be picked up by Tyler & Tammy. Then we boarded the #9 tram, got off at Plantage Middenlaan, and walked to Hortus Botanicus. Entrance fee of 7.50€ per person. It was a little disappointing because I expected to see more flowers, but there was a butterfly conservatory and a cactus greenhouse, etc.



After spending some time there, we walked from the Plantage district to the Heineken Experience building. Even if you don’t like Heineken, or beer for that matter, it was still cool to go through the tour for 15€ per person (on VISA again). Kind of neat to see the process of how it’s all made. Myself, definitely not a Heineken fan, but we’re in The Netherlands! We had a sample partway through and then at the end of the tour we could use the buttons on our wristbands to trade for two more drinks. I kind of hurried us out of there since I was feeling pretty awful and was getting a pounding headache. Too cold out to do anything else, and getting late, so we returned to the hotel and sent Tammy a message to let her know what time we’d be arriving tomorrow. There’s still so much that I wish we could have seen, and I regret not getting to Leiden, but with our limited time and illness it is just not possible.



For our final dinner in Holland we ended up at “Mezzaluna” for pizza and pasta. Unfortunately I couldn’t taste my food, nor smell it, but it looked tasty. Add in green tea and a hot chocolate and the meal came to 23€. Now back to our room to rest and take some more drugs, which aren’t working very well. Why is there no Advil Cold & Sinus here?!

{October 21 – 11:50 pm – Tüddern, Germany}
Woke up to the alarm at 8 am to start packing. Now I have one small suitcase, my purse, the Salzburg bag, and the Amsterdam bag, plus Jordan’s suitcase, all crammed with stuff. Yikes! At 10:45 am we went over to the bakery for a sandwich, cookie, and apple turnover (7.10€). I ate half the sandwich, Jordan had the cookie, and we packed away the food. Checked out a little before noon. Hopped on the #2 tram to Centraal Station and boarded the 12:38 pm Eindhoven train rather than the 1:38 pm due to a very tight transfer schedule between trains. We figured that, if we did happen to miss our connecting train, we wouldn’t be late for Tyler & Tammy. At Eindhoven we got on the bus to Weert, and then took the final train from Weert to Sittard (still in The Netherlands), arriving at 3:18 pm. Waited inside in the warmth til 4:45 pm for our ride. Long day, but it felt great to be back at our friends’ home. Later that evening we ordered food to be delivered: pizza, fries, and schnitzel. Didn’t eat much as I still was not feeling well. We watched “The Hangover” and then I took some Nyquil (yes, REAL drugs!) and fell asleep.

{October 22 – 11:12 pm – Tüddern, Germany}
This morning I was still sick so I decided to not accompany Tyler and Jordan to the Düsseldorf Airport. I had a granola bar and apple turnover for breakfast, and some water. My nose is sore. Jordan and I have our suitcases packed, finally. Tyler picked him up before lunch and left for the airport. Even though Jordan and I are parting today, with him heading back to work in the Middle East, I’m glad to be going home tomorrow. I had a nap from 1:30 to 3:30 pm and ate leftover pizza for dinner. Tammy and I watched the new “Robin Hood” movie and then I went to bed. Coughed all night.



{October 23 – 10:30 am – Tüddern, Germany}
We leave in an hour for the airport. I made myself some tea with sugar and peanut butter on toast for breakfast. Trying to stay away from milk, as that makes my cough worse. I have no idea how I am going to handle the two plane rides home in my state. My ears are plugged and I can hardly breathe. I should be in Toronto by 8:15 pm tonight, then a looooong drive home!

{October 23 – 3 pm EST – Somewhere Over Atlantic Ocean}
Tyler & Tammy drove me to Düsseldorf Airport. Before checking in I thanked them profusely for allowing us to stay with them. Got my boarding passes. The first flight to Amsterdam was only 30 minutes on a little plane. Once in Amsterdam, I found my gate after passport control. I’m on my way home! What an amazing trip!

***End of journal.

Made it home in one piece. The last flight home was great, no turbulence, however my plugged ears caused a lot of pain on the descent to Toronto Pearson Airport. Such excruciating pain, I don’t know how I stood it. During the flight I kept myself pumped with cold medication, otherwise I got coughing and couldn’t stop. Home sweet home.

Europe – Part IV

***Continued from previous post.

{October 14 – 12:00 pm – Munich Airport}
Got up extra early this morning to shower and we were down in the lobby to check out by 7 am. Jordan grabbed a croissant to go and we walked to the bus stop for the #2 heading toward the train station. Once there we boarded the train to Munich OST at 7:51 am. At Munich OST station (which we almost missed), we transferred to the S-Bahn #8 that goes directly to the airport. Checked in with Lufthansa and passed through security. At 11 am we sat down for lunch in the airport. For 21€ we had water, mango juice, cheese and ham on toast (for me), and eggs with ham and croissant (for Jordan). We have a half hour before we need to be at our gate to board the plane to Brussels, Belgium!



{October 14 – 3:25 pm – Brussels, Belgium}
Short flight from Munich to Brussels on a little plane. We were confused where to go for baggage claim; once we finally made it, our bags were just coming out so it was perfect timing. Bought our train tickets for 16.20€ each – this is a train to Brussels North station and then a transfer to another train heading to Bruges (Brugge). Once at the North station, we realized our ticket doesn’t state what platform the next train will be at so that was also confusing. I found a map that listed all the train destinations and the times and we finally figured out that we needed to be on the train with end destination of Knokke / Blankenburge. Now we’re on that train, on our way to Bruges.

{October 14 – 9:15 pm – Bruges, Belgium}
Jordan and I arrived to a drizzly, grey Bruges. It wasn’t cold, exactly, but the rain chilled our hands. We boarded a bus at the train station (a difficult feat with our small suitcases and other bags) and ended up getting off at the wrong stop. We really had no idea where we were going so we got off the bus and started back-tracking to Markt Square. Finally, after wandering around in circles, miserable, tired, and cold, an older gentleman told us how to get to our hotel. We are staying at the Hans Memling Hotel on Kuiperstraat and we kept coming really close to the street and then somehow getting off-track. What a nice man to help us tourists! During check-in we were told that our room was near the street on which some construction is taking place and that it would be noisy; however, the lady offered us the studio “triple” room for the same price since it would be much quieter. That made is quite happy! We dropped off our luggage and explored the little studio: on the bottom floor is a tiny room with toilet and sink, another room with tub/shower, a wardrobe, and a desk; and up the steep, winding staircase is the bedroom with one queen bed and one twin (like a loft).



Went out looking for dinner, armed with a map from the hotel. Once again, we walked quite a distance, sometimes seemingly in circles, before deciding on a restaurant. Ended up at “De Gouden Kroes”, which was not crowded at all and very warm inside. I ordered iced tea with a ham and cheese omelet; Jordan ordered the Flemish stew and a couple beers. The food was perfect and just what we needed after a long day of traveling. The iced tea I ordered ended up being carbonated, which surprized me at first, but then I decided that I really like it! For dessert we had a Belgian waffle with ice cream and chocolate sauce. Our bill came to 40€, our most expensive meal so far in Europe. After eating, we roamed the streets and found ‘t Zand Square (maybe a ten minute walk from our hotel). Right in the middle of the square is a giant floating inflatable naked man! Weird. Admired the fountains and took a few pictures with Jordan and the naked lady sculptures in the fountain. Getting very dark by now. More walking and we popped into a chocolate shop for some chocolates (what else?) and stroopwafels. We ended the evening with a scoop of ice cream before heading back to our studio room. There will be lots more to see tomorrow! I hope the weather improves because I’m already sick of rain.

{October 15 – 8:10 am – Bruges, Belgium}
Quick entry before we head out: A few weeks before leaving for this trip, I booked us on the full-day “Triple Treat” tour with Quasimodo Tours. Totally recommend this company, they are great! The tour cost 120€ for both of us. Unfortunately, Jordan has the beginnings of a cold but he says he’ll be fine for the day.



{October 15 – 6:05 pm – Bruges, Belgium}
What we learned today: It’s Brugge, not Bruges! The guide was very adamant about that, but I’m sticking with “Bruges” for this journal. Jordan and I walked to Park Hotel at ‘t Zand Square to meet the van for 9:15 am. Very small group, only 6 of us! Philippe, our guide, was very amiable and knew all sorts of historical facts. First we drove out to the moated Castle Tillegem. There are two black swans living in the moat. The castle is now used as offices. (So far it hasn’t started raining, but the sky is grey and it definitely feels like it will later.) We walked around to the back of the castle and took some photos. Next we clambered back into the warm van and headed out into the Flemish countryside to Chateau Loppem. After hearing some history about the building, our group explored inside the chateau. Around 12:45 pm we came to the town of Lissewege where we saw some Belgian Blue cows. Learned that these cows usually give birth through Caesarian section because the calves are too large. In Lissewege we had lunch at a restaurant (after viewing the tithe-barn in the backyard) at a farm. Inside, we were served ham, lettuce, and cheese sandwiches (yum!) and one free beverage; everyone had beer except me. I drank the most delicious hot chocolate I have ever had the privilege to sample! It was so creamy and tasted just like a chocolate bar, but not too sweet, either. The Belgians know their chocolate! For dessert we each had a crispy waffle with icing sugar and whipped cream – what a treat! I’m in love with waffles!



After lunch, Philippe drove us back to Bruges to “Roose’s Chocolate World” on Havenstraat. He gave us a demonstration on how the praline chocolates are made. Then we tasted some samples and were given some time to look around the shop. I bought a bar of milk chocolate, one of dark, and a package of thin wafer chocolates for 8.50€ to bring home. The next part of the tour brought us to the town of Damme (north-east of Bruges) around 3:15 pm. We parked by a canal with a beautiful old windmill in the background and walked to the town’s city hall. Philippe told us about the history of Damme and then we walked some more, admiring the houses and scenery, and finally stopping at the Church of Damme to inspect the cemetery. (At some point during the tour we also saw bunkers from WWII but I can’t remember where.) And to end the day, we went to a pub for beer-tasting and sampled four different kinds of beer. I tried them all but of course didn’t like any of them, not being a fan. The Kriek Max tasted like alcoholic cherry blasters.



{October 15 – 11:30 pm – Bruges, Belgium}
Walked around looking for a place to eat dinner around 8:30 pm after watching a movie back at the hotel. I ended up falling asleep and woke up starving. Of course, when we went outside it was pouring rain! Found a restaurant called “Brasserie Strijdershuis” and decided to give it a try. Food was expensive but tasty and the meal cost 40€. I had chicken breast with mushroom sauce, fries, salad, and iced tea (carbonated!); Jordan ordered rabbit in cranberry sauce, beer. Waiter was not helpful when we asked for explanations of some of the meals, nor was he friendly, and he seemed to avoid our table. I had to actually go up to the bar and ask for the bill after we finished our meal; we sat there for a good twenty minutes trying to catch his attention, but no luck. Good thing the food was delicious! Still pouring when we left…



{October 16 – 10:30 am – Bruges, Belgium}
Slept in this morning; we really were exhausted. Jordan’s still not feeling well. Don’t have any crazy plans for the day. Another rainy day; the weather really sucks right now, it’s hard to enjoy ourselves when we’re constantly wet and cold every time we leave the hotel.

{October 16 – 3:30 pm – Bruges, Belgium}
The streets were packed today, probably because it’s Saturday. Rained off and on throughout the day, good thing I have my purple umbrella. Ended up at ‘t Zand Square this morning and bought some danishes for later. Vendors are set up in the Square today. Jordan found a really warm, nice hoodie for 25€ (made in France, not China). I found some stroopwafels for 1€ a pack. Also bought ten Christmas cards for 3€. Did lots of browsing, but it was too cold to stay out for long. Walked some more and found HEMA department store – 2 sets of earbuds (8.50€ each), salty licorice (1.60€), spekulaas cookies (1.95€), warm gloves for Jordan (7.75€). On our way out the door I spotted a “Best of Krezip” CD, how could I resist for 8.95€? Popped into a couple souvenir shops and bought some postcards, magnets, and a little ceramic figurine of a boy and girl kissing (typical Belgian touristy stuff). Had lunch at a panini restaurant: two cheese, tomato, chicken, pesto, pineapple paninis, an iced tea, and Sprite for 15€. Oh my goodness, it was tasty! Took lots of photos during our trek around town. On our way back to the hotel we stopped at “Dumon” to get some chocolate wafers (7€) and truffles (2€ for four). Ahhh, I only have 15€ cash left, need to find an ATM!



{October 16 – 9:30 pm – Bruges, Belgium}
I fell asleep once we got back to our studio and Jordan ended up watching a movie while I napped. When I woke up at 5:30 (after sleeping two hours), we watched “The Score” on the Netbook. Then went on a search for dinner. Found an ATM on the way and took out 350€, the last of my travel money which needs to get us through Amsterdam as well. Food here has been ridiculously expensive. Finally we found a fast-food place serving double cheeseburgers with medium fries for 9.50€ (per meal). Going to bed soon. I’ll pack in the morning, I don’t have the energy to do it now. Check out is at 11 am tomorrow.

***Continued in next post.

Europe – Part II

***Continued from previous post.

{October 9 – 11:30 am – Düsseldorf, Germany}
We are on the Air Berlin flight heading to Salzburg, Austria at the moment. This morning I woke up at 5:15 am to shower and make sure our luggage was ready. Cereal for breakfast. Tyler drove Jordan and I to the train station in Geilenkirchen to catch the 7:37 am train to Düsseldorf Airport. Our train was a double-decker and we sat up top. At the hauptbahnhof in Düsseldorf, we transferred to another train going to the terminal. Finally we reached the airport just after 9 am and checked ourselves in. Both of us set off the alarm going through security, which is funny since I wore the same outfit I’d had on going through Toronto security and nothing happened. Once our flight was announced, we boarded a bus which took us onto the tarmac to the plane. On the plane we were given a snack but I just had water and ate my Nutri-Grain bar because I didn’t like the apple biscuits that were served.



{October 9 – 3:10 pm – Salzburg, Austria}
After disembarking from the plane and finding our luggage, we hopped on Bus #2 heading toward downtown. We got off at Wolf-Dietrich-Strasse (as advised by someone on Trip Advisor) and with the help of a map printed off Google, we managed to find the Goldenes Theaterhotel (in New Town). The bus ride cost 2.10€ each. Checked in and collected some brochures, and came up to our room. Probably going to book a couple Panarama tours through the hotel for the next couple days. We’re going to head out in a few minutes to explore the city on foot and hopefully find some dinner.



{October 9 – 10:15 pm – Salzburg, Austria}
Our afternoon consisted of a LOT of walking. We never stopped after leaving the hotel. First we walked down Linzer-Gasse, looking at all the shops. Popped into a stationary store and bought a pop-up baby card for Michelle (3.50€). Then we veered off the main road under an archway and found ourselves going up a very steep street that has a magnificent view of the city and the Salzach River. There’s a church of some kind at the top, and a Mozart statue, and other Christian statues in niches on the way up. I think the building is Kapuzinerkloster on Kapuzinerberg. After taking pictures, we made our way back down to the bottom of the Kapuziner mountain and crossed over to the Altstadt (Old Town) on one of the pedestrian bridges. Found a grocery store and bought some rolls, cheese, fresh slices of ham, a bottle of water, and two juices for under 10€. We ate this yummy lunch down by the Salzach on the grass, on the New Town side, with Hohensalzburg Fortress slightly to our left. Beautiful!



After lunch we wandered back across the bridge to Altstadt. I don’t know how we did it, but we managed to find ourselves on the Mönchsberg (another mountain across from Kapuzinerberg). We walked past churches and a big fancy hotel, and through trails in the woods, not really knowing where we were. Saw a sign showing the kilometers to the fortress’s funicular (cable railway). Found the “Museum of Moderne”. We wandered so far into the evening that we ended up 300 metres from the funicular site. Finally we turned around, not having a clue where we were, stopped for a beer at a little shack selling snacks (by now it’s dark and cold), and then returned to ground level after another long walk. On the way back to our hotel we ate pizza at “Saboron”. We ordered a large pizza to split and black tea. The waitress must not have liked the idea of us splitting the food because she gave us one plate, one fork, one knife, and a single napkin! I used tissue from my purse to wipe my hands. lol The pizza was delicious, though, for 14€. Back to the hotel to write this entry and then bed.



{October 10 – 10:45 am – Salzburg, Austria}
Our wake-up call didn’t happen this morning so we woke up at 9:30 am. That meant we had to rush to get ready and go down for breakfast (closes at 10:30 am). We’d also planned to book a full-day tour, but without the wake-up call we were too late. Instead we’ve bought tickets to go on Panarama’s “Sound of Music” tour this afternoon at 2 pm. The tickets are 37€ per person. I’m pretty excited! Jordan and I both love this movie and are looking forward to seeing the locations where the movie was filmed. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll be up early enough for a full-day tour. So, breakfast was alright: lots of breads, rolls, croissants, fruit, yogurt, cereal, milk, cheeses, tea, coffee, etc. I found the grapefruit juice too bitter. Breakfast and wireless internet is included in the room price.



{October 10 – 8:00 pm – Salzburg, Austria}
Back at the hotel for the evening. This morning after breakfast we walked to Mirabel Gardens for a stroll through the grounds. Stopped at a few souvenir shops along the way. I picked up a couple postcards and a cloth Salzburg bag for 12€. Mirabel Gardens is free to enter and the flowers were absolutely beautiful! What beautiful weather for October! After our walk, we returned to the hotel to drop off my shopping and have a snack (leftover apfelstrudel from yesterday). Went down to the lobby at 1:45 pm to catch the Panarama shuttle. Time for “Sound of Music”! At St-Ändra Kirche we boarded a tour bus and drove through the city. The guide pointed out different areas that were in the movie. We stopped to take pictures of Leopoldskron, which was used as the back of the Von Trapp villa (canoe scene, etc). Also stopped at Schloss Hellbrunn to visit the gazebo from the film. Next we drove out to Mondsee in the Lake District (Salzkammergut) where we had an hour of free time to eat, view the cathedral that Maria and Captain Von Trapp were married in in the movie, and drink in the lovely scenery. Spent most of the hour trying to find a bathroom! Before boarding the bus to go back to Salzburg, we bought some truffles. Returned for 6 pm to St-Ändra Kirche.



The guide suggested we walk through Mirabel Gardens again and told us where to find the pegasus fountain, the “Do-Rei-Mi” steps, etc before he said goodbye. Jordan and I decided to take another walk through and realized we had missed an entire section earlier that day! We found the pegasus fountain, took pictures on the steps from the “Do-Rei-Mi” scene, walked through the arbor. Magical! It was getting late and a bit chilly so Jordan and I decided to walk back to Old Town to find something for dinner. We ended up buying chicken shawarma sandwiches from a vendor and brought them back to the hotel to eat. That sandwich was the best I have ever eaten! Time to relax and watch “Burn After Reading” on our Netbook.



{October 11 – 6:30 pm – Salzburg, Austria}
Started the day early with a 6 am wake-up call. I hopped in the shower and we were down to breakfast by 7:45 am. After eating quickly, we booked the full-day Panarama “Bavarian Mountains / Hitler’s Eagles’s Nest / Salt Mines” tour. We were picked up at the hotel at 8:20 am by the shuttle and brought to St-Ändra Kirche where the tour bus was waiting. The tour cost 180€ for both of us.



First we drove out of Salzburg to the Obersalzburg mountain area. Beautiful scenery and mountain views along the way. Because we were on a special combination tour, first the bus had to drop some people off at the salt mines before continuing on to Berchtesgaden, Germany across the border. Up, up some crazy hills and finally we reached the base of the “Eagle’s Nest” where we had to switch to a special bus that would take us on switchback roads the rest of the way up to Hitler’s teahouse. Once we reached the top, we walked down a long dark tunnel to the original brass elevator. A bunch of us all squished inside. There was a sign that I accidentally took a picture of before getting inside; I think it meant I wasn’t supposed to take photos of or in the elevator. The ascent took 45 seconds. Inside the teahouse, or Kehlsteinhaus, that was given to Adolf Hitler for his 50th birthday, our group was shown a brief video, as well as the fireplace from 1938. Then we were given just over an hour to wander around the mountain. Jordan and I went outside and it was very cold but the sun was bright. I realized that I had left my mittens on the tour bus! We could see Hohensalzburg Fortress from our vantage point – that was amazing! We took quite a few photos of the breath-taking landscape and then met back at the elevator for the 11 o’ clock descent. By noon we were in the picturesque town of Berchtesgaden. Jordan and I spent the hour of free-time eating lunch (cheeseburger and fries in a cone) and poking into a few souvenir shops.



Next stop, our turn for the salt mines. Only three of us got off the bus for this part of the combination tour. We introduced ourselves to Hussein, a friendly young man from Bahrain, and we stuck together for the rest of the tour. We dressed in large overalls (mine were absolutely huge) and waited around for the next underground tour at 1:30 pm. Hopped on the underground train, started the audio guides, and away we went! Even with fluorescent lights on the walls, it was still pretty dark. Flash photography is not allowed (although some people still used flash). At the end of the track, we could either go down the walkway or slide down the original slides that the workers used back in the day. Jordan decided to slide, while I just walked down. We were shown all sorts of equipment, there were little videos to watch along the way, and we even got onto a boat and slid across the salt lake – it glittered and sparkled and was really neat to see. Came across a second slide and I went down with Jordan; it’s very quick but takes your breath away! At the end we were given miniature shakers of salt from the mine.



Back to the tour bus for 3 o’ clock. Drove to Königssee, just south of Berchtesgaden, which is the cleanest lake in Germany. A bit of a hike from where the bus parked to the lake itself, but it was worth it. The weather was just perfect. We had 45 minutes to explore and most of us walked all the way to the look-out point and then back, all the while chatting with the tour guide who was very knowledgeable and friendly. He took good care of those of us who were doing the combo tour so that we wouldn’t get off the bus at the wrong time. After this enjoyable but exhausting day, we returned to Salzburg for 6 pm. Now I’m starving – leftover pizza for dinner. We watched “Bangkok Dangerous” on the Netbook before falling asleep.

***Continued in next post.