A Travellerspoint blog

Belgium

Brussels

I wasn't sure if I was going to like Brussels or not -- I had heard a lot of mixed reviews. Several people even recommended skipping it. I am really glad I didn't, because I loved it! It was such a great city, and a really comfortable place to walk around.

Belgium is a really intesting country. It is fairly small, but central to most of Europe. Brussels is the seat of the European Union Parliament, as well as several other major parts of the EU. There are actually 3 official languages of Belgium: Flemish (a version of Dutch), French and German. Add in the official language of the EU and English is spoken quite often. While in Dublin, I met a Belgian girl (Isabella) in the hostel. She explained quite a bit about Belgium to me. Apparently there is a big separatist movement going on right now. Besides language, there are numerous cultural differences between the Flanders region and Wallonia (the French-speaking region). Apparently, many Belgians feel they don't have enough in common to remain in the same country. Isabella explained that she really can only get employment in Wallonia, because she speaks French but not Flemish. An interesting dilemma for a country to deal with.

Brussels really felt like an amalgam of all of Europe. I am glad that I visited Brussels towards the end of my trip or I wouldn't have really appreciated this. There is the culture and food of the French, the industriousness of the Germans, the laid back feeling of the Dutch, the appreciation of the good life of the Italians, the love of music and culture of Vienna and even the art nouveau architcture of Slovenia. While some Begians might be insulted by this description, it is really a compliment. Somehow the Belgians have found how to take the best of their European neighbors without the accompanying bad stuff. It makes sense to me that the EU is based in Brussels. It just seems to fit.
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I took a hop on-hop off bus tour of the city. I have really grown to like these tours. There are fun, informative, and a very relaxing way to see a lot of places in a short amount of time. They are especially good in places like Brussels and London where the sights are spread out. One of the highlights was seeing the European Union Parliament. DSC_0431_02.jpgBrussels has found a way to incorporate really old buildings, art nouveau architecture, and modern glass and steel structures seamlessly.DSC_0377_02.jpg It makes for a very pretty city that feels both old and modern at the same time. I also really enjoyed the Laeken park area, the current home to the Belgian royal family. DSC_0398_02.jpgDSC_0394_02.jpg

The old part of Brussels is really beautiful and better explored on foot. DSC_0405_02.jpgI especially liked the Grand Place/Grote Markt area.DSC_0401_02.jpg DSC_0404_02.jpgThe Grote Markt (or Market Square) is easily one of the prettiest plazas I have seen in Europe. I had a great meal sitting outside in the square and visiting with a Norweigan family on their summer holidays. It was fun to see their perspectives of Paris and Brussels and to discuss how Norway is different. Norway and Switzerland are the only countries considered to be in Western Europe that are not in the EU (by their own choice). I learned a lot about Norway and enjoyed talking with the parents and their three beautiful blond daughters. Their fifteen year old is completely bored with Europe and can't wait to visit New York to go shopping!

One of the things I loved best about Belgium was the food and drink. Belgians are renowned for their beer and it seemed like each restaurant/bar had a beer list at least 5 pages long! And the beer is so good. Two of my all time favorite beers are Belgian: Stella Artois and Hoegaarden. I also enjoyed trying various local beers, including Kriek, a cherry-flavored beer. Very sweet but very good. In addition to beer, Belgium is also known for chocolate and waffles (I think I am figuring out why they are all so happy all the time!). The chocolate was amazing, with small chocolate shops on every street corner. I just had to try a little piece of chocolate at several different shops, and the amazing thing is that the chocolate can taste so different, and yet always so good. I imagine it is a little like wine in France; different varieties with different characteristics. I also sampled a delicious Belgian waffle with strawberries, bananas and chocolate. Yum!DSC_0410_02.jpg

Posted by jenniesue 07:09 Comments (0)

Food, Part 2

(Still) eating my way across Europe!

I wrote a while back about the great culinary adventure I am having as I travel throughout Europe. And I am happy to report, that it just keeps getting better!

I really have not had bad food anywhere. I am still trying to eat "locally"; that is eating food native to the country and place I am visiting at the time. It hasn't always been possible, but I have managed to avoid the American fast food places. I can't imagine eating such blah food when there is so much good food to be eaten!

As I mentioned before, I really enjoyed the food in Austria and the Czech Republic -- surprisingly so, since I thought I wouldn't care for the meat and potatoes thing. And it just kept getting better as I made my way through Switzerland and Germany.

What can I say about Switzerland except cheese and chocolate? Who wouldn't love a place where these two are staples of the diet? I enjoyed cheese fondue several times. I shared a great fondue meal with Ryan and Erica at their apartment, and again while my mom and I were in the mountains.DSC_0355.jpg It was the perfect meal for a chilly alpine night. The chocolate was out of this world, and thanks to Erica, I left Zurich with a good supply. I also really enjoyed the muesli served for breakfast in the B & Bs. Crunchy granola with real fruit and creamy yogurt on top -- delicious! I tried Rivella, a famous (or infamous) whey-based Swiss soft drink. Let's just say it was an acquired taste.

In Germany, I really enjoyed the bakeries. So many tasty treats to try! And the bread was fantastic too. In Munich we had great sausages and sauerkraut. I am not usually a fan of sauerkraut in the U.S., but the authentic German version was great. It is a little sweeter than ours, and goes perfectly with the sausages and a little horseradish on the side. Add a classic Hofbrau, and it was the perfect meal! I also really loved obazda -- a kind of cheese spread appetizer that is perfect for smearing on pretzels and eating with a cold beer. One of my other favorite things about Germany were the gummies. Gummy candy originated in the Black Forest region of Germany, and even today a lot of the gummies we get in the U.S. (think Haribo) come from Germany. They were so much better here! Fresh gummy candy -- and so many kinds to sample!

As much as I have enjoyed the food everywhere I have been, I think the best food award definitely goes to Greece. I enjoyed eating there so much. Great fresh food, very flavorful, with so many different options. I would wake up each morning to thick, creamy Greek yogurt slathered with honey -- a yummy way to start the day. I snacked on Greek salad, fried feta cheese, gyros, spanakopita, stuffed grape leaves -- the list goes on and on. In the islands, I enjoyed fresh seafood, including one of the best shrimp dishes I have ever eaten. And to top it all off, the baklava was amazing!

I was not looking forward to eating in the UK as much as I had in other countries. British food generally gets a bad rap as being bland, fried and colorless. I am happy to report that it is none of the above! The food in Scotland was really good, and even better because we were eating at Lisa's parents house. Our first night we had minced and mash, a ground beef dish with mashed potatoes. It was great! Of course we also had to have haggis, and Lisa's friend Claire made a wonderful dinner of chicken stuffed with haggis topped with whisky sauce. I liked cullen skink -- the Scottish version of clam chowder. I loved the buttries -- flaky pastries served for breakfast with jam. We also had real porridge for breakfast, along with sausage rolls, which were delicious. We got to sample Nana's famous meat roll too. By far the best part of Scottish food was dessert! Sticky toffee pudding, banoffee pie, and my all time favorite caramel shortbread. Lisa and I tried to sample caramel shortbread daily while we were travelling. It is a cross between cookie and candy, with a shortbread base slathered in caramel and coated with chocolate -- amazing! I am actually going through caramel shortbread withdrawals. Lisa also introduced me to flapjacks. They are not like American flapjacks (pancakes), but more like fresh granola bars made out of oats. Lisa introduced us to all of the wonderful packaged foods that she can't get in the states. I think Mary sampled every kind of potato chip (crisps on this side of the pond), including prawn cocktail, flame grilled steak, and cheese and onion. Prawn cocktail were by far her favorite, although I didn't really care for them. I will stick to the salt and vinegar. I loved the digestive biscuits (cookies) and Ministrels -- small chocolate candies kind of similar to M&Ms, but with much better chocolate. Of course we also had to try Iron Bru, the Scottish contribution to the soft drink industry. It was actually pretty good -- fizzy orange-colored soda that kind of tasted like bubble gum. Apparently it is the best cure for a hangover there is (didn't test that one out).

In London, we continued to eat well. Because London is so multicultural, there are so many different types of food available. Indian food is really big in the UK, and we had several great curries -- so delicious! I also had some great Italian and Thai food. We enjoyed the beer and pub grub on several occasions.DSC_0116_02.jpg The sausages were really good. As Mary said, "These guys really know how to do sausages." We also drank well while we were in London. In addition to the beer, we sampled the cider -- both apple and pear. In Covent Garden, we shared a wonderful cocktail of prosecco, chambord and fresh berries -- the perfect thing for a sweltering hot day!DSC_0156_02.jpg And of course we had to have a Pimm's at Wimbledon -- Pimm's liquer mixed with lemonade and served over fresh cucumbers, lime and mint. DSC_0026_02.jpgIt became my staple drink for tennis watching throughout my trip.

In Bath, I had what can only be described as the best fish and chips of my life. It was so good I can't even describe it! Tender cod, perfectly fried with salt, vinegar and lemon juice sprinkled over the top. Apparently the chip shop is considered one of the top 5 in the UK, and I can see why. I resisted going back for dinner after eating lunch there.

In Ireland I had some delicious food. One memorable meal was a great Irish beef and Guinness stew -- filling and perfect for a rainy day. I visited the town of Kinsale, which is considered the culinary capital of Ireland. I had an amazing lunch there -- crab and avocado salad that was out of this world. I have also had some great soups, including a creamed mushroom soup and a veggie soup. The brown bread is really good slathered with butter and dipped in the soup. And of course I had to sample the Guinness!Dublin.jpg

Belgium was another culinary highlight for me, mainly because the cuisine is based on three of my favorite things -- beer, chocolate and french fries! Two of my all-time favorite beers are Belgian: Stella Artois and Hoegaarden. I also sampled several other Belgian beers, including Kriek (a cherry based beer), Framboise Lambic (raspberry beer), abbey style ales and wheat beer. I loved the frite stands, especially the two identical competing stands at the base of the Bruges Belfry. Of course I had to try them both! Belgians served their fries with mayo for dipping, which is actually a lot tastier than I originally expected. I also sampled a yummy Belgian waffle with fresh fruit and drizzled in chocolate. The Belgian waffles are a little different than the breakfast food we eat in the states.DSC_0410_02.jpg They wouldn't consider eating waffles for breakfast; they are more of an afternoon snack food. I really enjoyed browsing and sampling at all of the chocolate shops. Belgians really know how to do their chocolate, and there are chocolateries on every street corner. It is amazing how they all have a similar product and yet they can all taste just a little bit different.

In the Netherlands, I ate some amazing Indonesian food. I haven't had really good Indonesian food since I lived there 8 years ago. Since the Dutch colonized Indonesia, they consider Indonesian food part of their national heritage. And it was so amazing! Great tempeh, gado-gado, sate, coconut rice -- I actually went back to the same restaurant two nights in a row because it was so good. I sampled several different types of cheeses at the Haarlem market. I also had a very delicious, warm, hot-off-the-grill stroopwaffel (basically two thin cookies with a layer of thick syrup in between).

One of the greatest parts of travel for me is sampling new and different cuisines. It has been an incredibly mouth-watering journey!

Posted by jenniesue 12:45 Comments (0)

Ireland

Cork, Killarney and Dublin

I started my one week tour of Ireland in the town of Cork. It is the second largest town in the Republic of Ireland, even though it really doesn't feel very big. The port and the river are its lifeline.DSC_0290_02.jpg DSC_0288_02.jpgIt was a nice town, but felt a little down on its luck. All of Ireland feels like that. DSC_0281_02.jpgThe worldwide recession has hit Ireland harder than most countries, and I could really tell. Many storefronts and restaurants are closed, and there seems to be lots of young people just hanging around without work. I have seen people in their early twenties begging on the streets. According to the papers, they are not seeing any "signs of recovery" like the US and other parts of Europe are. Despite all of this, I have found Ireland to be one of the most expensive places I have visited. I can't believe the food prices -- double the prices in London. Even in the supermarkets. And same with the clothes and goods. The locals blame it on the "Celtic Tiger" -- the boom in the economy that took place in the 80s and 90s. Numerous industries came into Ireland and for the first time since the Great Potato Famine, the population was actually on the rise. There are new houses and buildings everywhere. Unfortunately, many of those building projects are now incomplete. When Ireland changed to the Euro, prices increased again. Since the economy has tanked, wages are down, more people are unemployed, but prices have not decreased.

I took a day trip to the town of Kinsale, a very picturesque fishing village on the south coast. DSC_0299_02.jpgDSC_0302_02.jpgDSC_0297_02.jpgIt was a great little town with lots of history. I visited the Charles Fort, an old British army fort at the mouth of the harbor. I also enjoyed just walking around the town and the shoreline. DSC_0316_02.jpgDSC_0312_02.jpgDSC_0323_02.jpg

From Cork, I took a bus to Killarney. In Ireland, train travel is not as easy as in the rest of Europe. The train lines are very limited and the tickets are fairly expensive. Thankfully there is good long distance public bus service. Not as comfortable as the train, but the island is pretty small so you never have to go too long.

Killarney is a tourist town, without a doubt. Tourism is one of the biggest moneymakers in Ireland, and the tourist industry is taking a hard hit from the recession. However, you couldn't really tell from the shops in Killarney. Lots of tourist shops selling all kinds of junk -- and they all seemed busy. The main reason I went to Killarney is that it is an easy place from which to organize day trips into the countryside. DSC_0334_02.jpgDSC_0343_02.jpgI spent one day taking a tour of the Dingle Peninsula and another day on the Ring of Kerry. The landscape is really beautiful and exactly how I pictured it. Green rolling hills falling down to sharp cliffs that meet the blue sea -- stunning. Unfortunately it rained both days, so the views weren't as good as they could have been. But it was still really beautiful.DSC_0350_02.jpgDSC_0344_02.jpg

While staying in a hostel in Killarney, I was surprised to find out that my roommates were from Corpus Christi! I couldn't believe it when they said they were from Corpus. It was a group from the Cathedral of the Palms doing a mission trip. So funny to be in the middle of Ireland and talking to people who are living in my old town.

I spent two days in Dublin, and despite the (continuing) rain, they were great. Dublin is a fairly big city, with 1.6 million people.DSC_0356_02.jpgDSC_0359_02.jpg There is action everywhere. I enjoyed seeing the Book of Kells, a 9th century illuminated manuscript of the four gospels. It was really beautiful and amazing to think about the work that it took to make such a book. I also toured the Guinness factory, which was a real highlight for me. The brewery tour is really interesting, and to top it all off they give you a free pint of Guinness!DSC_0364_02.jpg Dublin.jpgI browsed through the National Gallery, a great collection of paintings and wandered around St. Stephen's Green, a beautiful green space in the middle of the city. I also had a great time people watching along Grafton Street.

As much as I have enjoyed Ireland, I think that I would do it differently if I were to come here again. I would love to rent a car and spend more time exploring the countryside. Without a car, it is difficult to reach some of the coastline and the villages that are the heart of Ireland. I also think that Ireland would be a really fun trip to take with friends or my family. It seems that people here don't really understand why a woman would be travelling on her own. For the first time since Italy, I have had men approaching me on the street and asking all kinds of questions about what I am doing. They are all nice enough, but very forward, which is a little uncomfortable for me. Thankfully I have done several group tours and met some nice people from the hostels to hang out with. I haven't really hit up the pub scene, since I think that would just be attracting trouble (plus it is probably a good thing to have a little detox after Scotland and England with my friends!).

Posted by jenniesue 14:16 Comments (0)

England

Bath and Cambridge

After spending over a week in London, I was ready to get out of the city and visit some of the English countryside. I didn't have enough time to go everywhere I wanted to go, so I settled on a couple days in Bath and a day trip to Cambridge.

Bath is a beautiful city and has been known as a tourist destination since the Romans conquered Britain. The Romans appreciated the qualities of the natural hot springs in Bath, and built Roman bathhouses there. The Roman baths are still incredibly complete, right in the middle of the town. Bath really hit its heyday in the 17th century. It became the fashionable city for anyone with money, land or a title to be seen in. Jane Austen lived here for awhile, and several of her novels are set in and around Bath. The majority of the city was built during this time. The architecture is one of the most beautiful things about the city. Almost all of the buildings (including ones being built today) are made out of Bath stone, a very white limestone that discolors as it ages. It makes the buildings look very regal and beautiful. Bath was considered on the cutting edge of architecture, and has several grand buildings to prove it. The Royal Crescent and the Circus were built specifically to house the rich and famous. Their symmetry and design are classic and still considered beautiful today. DSC_0210_02.jpgAnother important building is the Bath Abbey, a beautiful church right near the Roman baths in the center of town. Its claim to fame -- it was the church where Edgar was crowned the King of England in 973 -- the first King to consolidate all of Britain into a unified country.

The hot springs were out of commission for a long time in Bath. Just recently, the city went ahead with a project to re-open the baths to the public. Apparently it was very controversial -- very late in being completed, way over budget, and a lot of people were unhappy with the final design. I thought it was absolutely beautiful. The baths were incorporated into the old limestone buildings, but refitted to be modern day facilities. The stone buildings are off-set by a lot of opaque glass and metal. Really stunning.DSC_0245_01.jpg I spent an evening at the baths and I must say that it was very relaxing! The complex includes two separate pools, four different saunas, a rain shower and a full array of spa treatments. I loved the rooftop pool, overlooking the ancient Roman baths and the Abbey. The great thing is that these baths are meant to be for the public, so the admission prices are reasonable. It is the only natural hot springs in Britain and the waters are supposed to be healing. It was a wonderful way to spend a few hours and I highly recommend it to everyone!

The next day I took a tour to Stonehenge. Stonehenge is less than an hour from Bath, so I figured I should probably see it. Who knows when I will be this close again? It really is an incredible site.DSC_0228_02.jpg The stones are huge. Really amazing to think that it was built over 4,000 years ago with primitive tools. I could instantly feel the positive energy from the place. I don't know if that is because there really is something sacred about Stonehenge, or if it is more the energy that people put off while they are there. Either way, it is a special place. I think it holds such a fascination for us because it is a mystery that will in all likelihood never be solved. The area around Stonehenge is really interesting too. It has one of the highest instances of crop circles. There are also huge chalk figures carved into the hillsides by ancient people. More mysteries!

The tour also included a stop in Lacock, one of the quaint villages of the Cotswolds. The entire village is considered part of the National Trust. It was so beautiful and fun to wander around. Apparently numerous movies have been shot here, including several parts of the Harry Potter films.DSC_0238_02.jpg I would really have loved to spend some time in the Cotswolds, but without a car and with limited time, I knew it wouldn't happen. Maybe for a future vacation -- it would be a great place to just relax for a week or two.

While in Bath, I watched the semifinals and finals of Wimbledon. It was great to just duck into a pub and watch some tennis. Of course everyone was following it closely because of Andy Murray. The interesting thing is that many of the English were rooting against him. Seems that the English dislike the Scottish as much as the Scottish dislike the English. They were all quite impressed with Andy Roddick -- as was I. That final was almost as good as last years.

I returned to London from Bath and then headed out to Cambridge the next day.DSC_0250_02.jpg Cambridge is a fairly small town, despite being world famous for the university. It was a great town to stroll through and enjoy. The university is organized a little differently than American universities.DSC_0258_02.jpg There are 31 separate colleges that make up the university. Applicants apply directly to a college, and if accepted, they will live, eat, and study in that college. The colleges all have a distinct character to them. Several of the colleges were open for tourists to visit. The buildings are really beautiful.DSC_0278_02.jpgDSC_0275_02.jpg I really enjoyed Queens College, Kings College, St. Johns College, and Trinity College. They even have a Corpus Christi College! I enjoyed high tea at a small tea shop in town. It was a great escape from the heat of London.DSC_0266_02.jpg

Posted by jenniesue 11:27 Comments (0)

England

London

London is an incredible city -- so big and busy, with so much to see and do. We spent a week in London and there were still so many things we didn't get to see. But we had a great time and managed to hit a lot of the highlights.
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After spending the first 2 days at Wimbledon, we headed out to do some touristy stuff. We took a hop on-hop off bus tour, which was a great way to see a large amount of London quickly. Plus the guides were really good. We spent part of the day at the Tower of London.DSC_0086_02.jpgDSC_0080_02.jpg I loved the Crown Jewels -- especially seeing the crown that Queen Elizabeth II wore at her coronation. We also saw an exhibit on the armor and weaponry of Henry VIII. It is the 500th anniversary of his ascent to the throne and many of the museums in London are doing special exhibits. It was really interesting. We joined in a Beefeater tour and learned about the famous beheadings and prisoners in the Tower.DSC_0088_02.jpg Afterwards we took a riverboat down the Thames to Westminster Abbey. DSC_0108_02.jpg

The next day our friend Mel joined us. Mel had been living in Corpus Christi and the four of us had spent a lot of time together in Texas. She and her husband Jamy moved to Naples, Italy in December. I had spent a week with them in April, but that seems like so long ago now! Mel came to London for the weekend and it was so great for all of us to be together. We really had a great time. DSC_0151_02.jpg

On Friday night we went and saw the Lion King. It was a fantastic show! The costumes, set design, music -- it was incredible and more of an event than a show. All in all, I managed to catch four shows while I was in London -- Lion King, La Cage Aux Folles, Billy Elliot, and Les Miserables. They were all amazing and all totally different. Plus I was able to take advantage of the half price tickets booth, so it didn't bankrupt me! I loved it!

On Saturday we headed out to the London Eye. This enormous ferris wheel-type contraption was meant to be temporary for the millenium, but it was such a success that London decided to keep it. It really is an interesting addition to the skyline. It takes about half an hour to complete the full circle and each pod holds about 26 people. It was a different view of London and we had fun trying to figure out what certain buildings were. From the Eye we walked to Westminster Abbey and took the audioguide tour. What an amazing place so full of history -- religious, political and cultural.
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We spent a fair amount of time in London shopping (Mary might say too much time). The shops were just amazing and there were so many great places to browse. Of course we had to see Harrods. It is a one-of-a-kind department store. I loved just browsing through the food halls, crammed pack with foods from all over the world. We tried to check out the clearance rack for women's clothes, but most of those were still way out of our price range. We did have fun in the Pet Kingdom, and Lisa even managed to buy Bunty a birthday cake! We also wandered around the Covent Garden area.DSC_0154_02.jpg It was great for just hanging out and people watching -- there was always some sort of action somewhere. And the shopping was great! I managed to find a beautiful dress to wear to my friend Nicole's wedding, and my friends convinced me to buy it, even though it was the equivalent of a month long stay in a hostel!

We spent several evenings in London enjoying the pub culture. DSC_0116_02.jpgOne of our favorites was the Dog & Duck -- a London pub that has a sister pub of the same name in Austin. As a student Lisa used to frequent the Austin location, so of course we had to make a trek to the London namesake. It was a great pub, and we had a really fun night drinking too many pints! We also managed to eat several curry dinners. The Indian food in London is amazing, and the complete lack of Indian food in Corpus Christi is something we all used to bemoan. So we took advantage of the great food and drink that London had to offer.
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Somehow we managed to be in London during the biggest heat wave of the last decade. Think of Texas temperatures in a place where there are no air conditioners. It was incredibly hot and muggy. According to the papers, the temperatures in the tube reached over 43 C, which is almost 110 F. The big joke the papers kept making is that in Britain it is illegal to transport cattle if the temperatures are over 27 C, but people, hey, no problem!

After Mel and Lisa left, Mary and I still had a couple of days together in London. We managed to hit several of the museums. The National Gallery has an incredible collection of paintings, plus it was the perfect size. Not too big, but not too small. We also went to the British Museum, which is hands down one of the best museums I have ever been to. Even after going back for a second visit, there were so many things I didn't get to see. DSC_0167_02.jpgThe British Museum really is a museum that documents the history of civilization. From ancient Egyptian mummies, to Greek statuary, to pieces of Assyrian palaces and the Rosetta Stone -- totally amazing stuff. I think I could have spent a week in there. The Asian collections were amazing. The Parthenon marbles were also really beautiful. DSC_0175_02.jpgAfter being in Athens and seeing the Parthenon and replicas of the marbles, it was great to actually see the real thing. It was also interesting because there is a huge campaign in Greece to get the Parthenon marbles returned to Athens. The British Museum had a little pamphlet addressing the issue, and basically said flat out that they are not giving them back. They do actually make a good point -- the marbles are being preserved and protected, are an integral part of the history of civilization, and are available to visitors from all over the world in their current location. I couldn't help thinking as I wandered around the museum that if the Museum were to give the Parthenon marbles back, a lot of other countries and cultures would demand pieces of their history back as well. One of the reasons that the British Museum is so amazing is because of colonialism and the fact that the British took most of these treasures as if they were the rightful owners. However contrary that seems to today's thinking, it really was probably the best thing for preserving ancient treasures and artifacts. A lot of the Assyrian palaces and statuary are located in current day Iraq, and I can only imagine what would be left of them now. And the same is true of a lot of other collections -- had the British not taken them back to London, they probably would be lost forever. As it is, they are on display for anyone and everyone to see free of charge. I was amazed that almost all of London's museums were free.

I was sad when my friends left, and really was not looking forward to London on my own. I had such a great time with my friends, it was a bit of a let down when I was back to travelling alone. I was also not looking forward to going back to hostels. After staying in hotels in Greece, with Lisa's family and friends in Scotland, and in a beautiful Crowne Plaza in London, it had been over a month since I had been in a hostel. Plus it is now high season for tourists, so the hostels are filled with 18 - 20 year olds. When I first started travelling, I was meeting a lot of people my own age (or older) in the hostels. Since summer started, it is mainly all young students who are backpacking. Unfortunately, a lot of them are not interested in much other than partying. I really don't have a lot in common with them.

One nice thing is that I got to experience many different sides of London. While my friends were there, we stayed in the City, the business and financial district that is right in the middle of everything. After they left, I moved to a hostel in Shepherd's Bush, an area a little farther out of central London near Kensington and Notting Hill. It felt much more like a real part of the city, rather than a tourist area. It was interesting to just walk around Shepherd's Bush. London is truly a multicultural city, and you can feel it everywhere. On one block there was an Indian restaurant, a Middle Eastern market, a Chinese herbalist, and a Somali clothes shop. A fascinating blend of people and cultures. I spent a couple of nights in a hostel in the Russell Square section of the city as well. I really liked this area (called Bloomsbury). It was near the British Library and Museum and also right near the major hospitals. It felt like a neighborhood I could easily live in. As much as I loved London, I don't think I could ever actually live there. So many people, so busy -- a little like New York City. Great to visit, but wouldn't want to live there.

Posted by jenniesue 11:26 Comments (0)

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