Thursday, October 31, 2013

Chelsea in Budapest Part III

Sunday, October 27

Our alarms went off at 9am and we finally got up and got with it in a timely manner. We ate a moderate breakfast (meager compared to the two before it) consisting of two eggs, some sausage and the last of the baguette. We headed out around 11am and got our bikes at 11:30am, just in time to have a complete 6 hours and turn the bikes in at 5:30, right before closing time.

The bikes were actually pretty decent. Romeo's had a bell, but mine didn't. I wish they'd have had a basket, but otherwise they ran well and were pretty comfortable (although my booty today would disagree!). Our first stop was Parliament. We got to the back side of the huge building only to find fences blocking our view due to construction. We tried to navigate around the people but with bikes, it was a bit tiring. We finally decided to jump back on the bikes (we had been walking them) and see the building from the other side of the river later.

So, after that we headed to Margaret Island in the middle of the Danube. We biked to mid-way across the bridge over the Danube and then turned right onto the entrance road for the island. There were loads of people renting four-wheel multi-person bikes, kids two-seater bikes, even small golf cart type-vehicles. I was very glad we had rented the bikes and ridden them onto the island, as these all looked more cumbersome and more expensive (and more annoying).

We saw a large fountain in the middle of the park when we first got on the island and everyone was watching it expectantly so we stopped to see what might happen. About 2 or 3 minutes later, some music started and the fountain began! It was a water-show to some Hungarian music. It was cool to watch, but when the second song started we decided to continue biking. The island is about 2km long, and while we did not do a proper circumference, we probably biked the same amount. It was like one big nature reserve. Tons of trees, all of which had orange and yellow leaves both in their branches and covering the ground below.

We took a little break and laid in the leaves under a big oak and had a cookie from our snack bag. It was beyond gorgeous and I couldn't be happier. After a bit, we hopped back on the bikes and finished the island. After we got to the hilly Buda side of the river (we were staying on the flat Pest side), we took the path along the river, the same which I had stormed along the previous evening heading home. We paused across from Parliament and tried to get some photos. There was a big boat in the way, so our photos unfortunately are marred by that pestilence.

By then we were ready for some lunch, so we biked around the back roads and found a cafe serving goulash (which I was craving since the night before). We each had some stew, Romeo trying Hungarian cabbage and meat stew since there was only one serving of goulash left and he was a gentleman to let me have it. Since we had already completed 7 miles, we treated ourselves to some dessert and I chose apple pie. It was an odd kind of apple pie, as it looked like more of a tart being a square flat pastry. But, it was pretty good.

We finished eating and continued our path towards the Citadel area which google claimed had unrivaled views of the city. For some reason, I really wanted fantastic views more than anything in Budapest. We biked to the base of the hill and locked up the bikes. From there we had to hike up to the top, which was about 3/4 mile. It was a beautiful area, full of trees and couples walking along paths. Budapest also seems to have so many dogs! People seemed to take their dogs everywhere, and this area was no exception. We watched dogs playing along the hillside and enjoying the weather maybe more than I was enjoying it.

When we got to the top, the views were phenomenal. We were pretty tired by then, but still took some photos (finally, I got our photo with a view!). A couple next to us offered to take our photo in return for taking theirs. I agreed, of course, as I am always trying to find someone to take a photo for us. The guy's camera was badass! It was huge and I didn't blame him at all when he made sure to hang the strap around my neck. The photo I took was awesome, too. I love my camera, and I think it's perfect for my needs and lifestyle, but when I get filthy rich one day, I WANT THAT CAMERA!

We then headed back down and grabbed the bikes. Originally I had wanted to go to the Central Market Hall, but with our dwindling funds (down to about 1500 HUF, or $8, total), I decided against any temptation to spend money. Instead we crossed back to the Pest side and biked along the river. We caught a beautiful sunset against the backdrop of the Citadel and wound our way through the streets once we could no longer follow the river. We stopped by a grocery store and bought some more sausages.

We returned the bikes right at 5:30, and walked home. Along the way, we bought metro tickets with the last of our remaining money to get us to the train station the following day. We literally had pennies in our pockets, maybe totaling $0.40.

We got home and collapsed. I fought the temptation to take a nap and instead made some dinner: the last of the pasta, two sausages, and two potatoes (fried). We ate and lamented the lack of more food, but I was full by the end.

We fell asleep early, after each of us talking to our parents on FaceTime/Skype. It was a full and exhausting day, and we had to wake up and pack in order to make our train the following day to Bratislava. All in all, I fell in love with Budapest, probably due in large part to the phenomenal weather we experienced and the sunshine I had missed severely in our rain-soaked previous locations. So far, I am loving Eastern Europe!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Chelsea in Budapest Part II

Saturday, October 26

We overslept our alarm just a little bit, and we got up around 9:30am. We again made a delicious breakfast, although slightly smaller than the previous day's. We got ready somewhat leisurely and finally made it out of the apartment around 1pm.

We headed straight for the train station to get our tickets for Monday to Bratislava. We walked to the station and we got a little lost in the underground area of the station, but finally found ticketing. The tickets ended up being slightly more expensive than we had thought, but bought them anyway. They were about 5250 HUF each. We could take any train on the day we had booked for, and she gave us a timetable. We decided to take the 1:25pm, since our checkout time was noon anyway.

When we left the station, we walked across the street to a bike rental place that I had found online. However, when we arrived at about 2:05pm, we found that they were closed from 1pm-3pm for lunch. Since the shortest amount of time we could rent for was 6 hours, and they closed at 6pm, we decided to wait until the next day to rent them, making sure to arrive there before noon. So, instead, we walked.

We headed first towards St. Stephen's Basilica. We had a basic map and a general sense of direction, so we managed to find it alright. Have I mentioned how fantastic the weather has been in Budapest? Again, it was incredible. Clear blue skies, temperatures around 75F.  I couldn't stop commenting how perfect it was and how happy I was. We walked around a park and I took a picture with a Ronald Reagan statue. We finally got to the Basilica and took some more pictures. We decided not to go inside since we were a bit tired of churches. Instead we walked towards the famous Chain Bridge that connects the Buda side with the Pest side (yes, they were once two separate towns and that's how the name Budapest came about!) across the Danube River.

I was enjoying the walk across the bridge, but Romeo seemed to find it smelly and loud, as the cars were passing next to the pedestrian walkway. I tried to take some photos, but he wasn't in the mood, which frustrated me. I was pretty annoyed that he seemed to be raining on my perfect weather parade, so when I walked away from him, I think he got frustrated with me. Basically, two stubborn people feeling indignant does not a pleasant experience make! We walked to this area where we could go up a hill to get some great views of the river and both sides of the city. We walked up in silence and after about 5 minutes, we each walked away from each other.

For the next hour, I walked around the hilly area. I believe it's called Castle Hill, because, you guessed it, there is a castle there. Well, I think it used to be a castle. There is still some building guarded by military guys with pointy guns, but it didn't look super prestigious. Rather, I enjoyed the views much more! There were so many areas to explore. I walked down the hill just a bit and found a bench with a view of the bridge. The area was relatively secluded with maybe 10 other people loitering about.

After about 5 minutes, an old lady asked in Hungarian if she could sit down next to me (I assume this is what she asked thanks to my superb body language reading skills honed by 13 months in Korea). I motioned yes, she could sit down. Maybe a minute later, she asked if I was Russian. I did not interpret this one from body language; I heard the word "Ruski" in her question. I shook my head and said "America". She nodded in understanding and went silent again. Once again, maybe 30 seconds later she pointed to herself and said "Hungarian" and "speak Ruski". I laughed and pointed to myself and said "speak English! No Ruski." She nodded, and said "Rusk" and made a dramatic spit at the ground, effectively spitting on all Russians and their homeland.

I couldn't help but laugh because I had no idea what else to do. (I wonder what she would have done/said if I HAD been Russian!). She then proceeded to explain Cyrillic to me by drawing letters on her hand, saying their sounds followed by "English?", waiting for me to nod my head, then saying another sound and saying "Cyrillic!". In effect, I think she was explaining that Cyrillic is hard because the English letters we know the sounds of (which are same in Hungarian) make completely different sounds in Russian. My mind was still spinning from my frustration with Romeo, and I didn't really have the patience or brain-power to actively participate in the conversation, so I just laughed and nodded each time she told me another character.

Eventually she told me that she was 66 years old, born in 1947 (these numbers written on her hand also), and once again spit on the ground as she said "Ruski". I assume, since she was born during the existence of the Soviet Union, and Hungary was part of the Soviet block, that she harbored some negative feelings towards Russia. I was starting to miss Romeo and speaking English in general, so I looked at my watch and pointed back towards the main lookout point up the hill, saying "My friend!" She smiled cheerfully and said "Bye bye!" The sum total of her English was "English" and "Bye bye".

I walked back to the point at which Romeo and I had split, but he wasn't there. I sat for a few minutes on a wall, then decided to walk some more. I found the best views and enjoyed them immensely, taking several photos. When I walked back again to the point I'd last seen Romeo, he was sitting on the wall there, exactly where I had sat about 20 minutes earlier waiting for him. We didn't say much but I dragged him to where the view was the best, and attempted to take a photo with him. However, my frustration and his stubbornness got the better of us and we headed back down the hill, photo-less.

At a few points in our journey down the hill and to the river, where we were to walk back to the apartment we almost broke our fight, but once more our stubbornness persevered and we barely spoke. When I paused along the river, hoping to come to a truce, his frustration got the better of him and he burst out with "Can we just go already?!" At that, a fire was lit inside me and I power walked the nearly 3 miles back to our apartment. By the time I got there, I had practically lost him in my dust. He knocked on the door about 15 minutes later (I had the only key). After a few minutes of ignoring each other, he came and sat next to me and apologized. How nice it is to hear a simple, "I'm sorry" after hours of frustration over virtually nothing. And how easy it is to feel also that you're sorry when you hear that. We hugged and it was over. Thank goodness.

Exhausted from the walk back, and also emotionally drained, we opted to go for dinner rather than cook. We wanted a nice, traditionally Hungarian meal. A google search revealed one in our neighborhood that got 4.5/5 stars on ratings. We decided to go there. It was a 2 minute walk, and after about 3 minutes of debating if it was worth the steep prices, we decided to splurge.

For starters we shared a portion of Hungarian goulash stew. It was fantastic and I knew if the entrees were of the same caliber, it was going to be a good meal! Romeo ordered bacon wrapped pork medallions with baked potatoes (essentially wedge-cut fries) and salad; I got zucchini stuffed turkey breasts with croquette potatoes and jasmine rice with a cheese sauce. Both plates were absolutely delicious and we split everything. When we finished, both plates were thoroughly.

We got the check; I put down 7575 HUF on a 7172 HUF bill. We waited for the change to come (which amounted to about $2, but since service was included in the total, we wanted that $2 back!). After maybe 5 minutes, I asked for the change. The waiter looked at me confused and I explained how much I paid and how much the bill was. He looked a little flabbergasted, but I stood my ground. He went over to the sullen-looking bartender who manned the register. Another 3-4 minutes past as he went about his business with his other tables.

Finally I flagged him down again and gave him a questioning look. He shrugged his shoulders and made some flustered sounds. I looked him dead in the eyes and said "I put down 7,575. You owe me 400." He rolled his eyes and walked to his tip jar and made a show of pulling out 400 in 20 cent increments and brought me a huge stack of change. I said if this was America, I would have a word with his manager about his attitude.

I collected my change and we walked to the door. As we walked by the bartender glared at us, which I tactfully ignored. Romeo, who had my back the entire time, told the bartender that they both needed to work on their attitudes and it was ridiculous. I was steaming mad by the time we got outside. Essentially, they ruined our otherwise fantastic meal.

We decided to go get some wine and forget about them, which is exactly what I needed. We got two more bottles of wine at the convenience store and turned in for the night. It had been a long and tiring day, and we were determined to make the most of our last day in Budapest the following day.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Chelsea in Budapest Part I

Thursday, October 24 and Friday, October 25

So, last you heard of us, we were embarking on the longest bus ride of our trip to date: 20 hours. We would cross all of Germany, pass through Austria, and finally arrive in Budapest, Hungary. This portion of the trip is what I had been most looking forward to. I've been to Western Europe previously, and I was anxious to see what Eastern (well, central-Eastern) Europe was like. Even more exciting was our accommodations awaiting us; we decided to try AirBnB again, but this time try to rent the entire apartment rather than just a private room in someone's home.

The buses on Eurolines have been extremely hit-or-miss thus far, and our trip from Brussels to Budapest was no exception. We were hoping for either electrical outlets (we have had once on a bus thus far) OR WiFi (also had once). It was pushing it to hope for both. We got neither. The bus was going from London to Budapest, and I think the entire stretch was something like 29 hours. How in the world do they expect people to not use their phones, iPods, iPads, computers, etc, for that long without a charge!! I mean, I know these things used to not even exist, but they do now and PEOPLE USE THEM. Especially when they're bored, which is a frequent occurrence on these bus rides...

Anyway, we did get to see a movie at the beginning. And, it even had English subtitles, something we haven't had thus far on a bus. However, we were so far from the screen, and me with one contact; it was more work than it was worth to try to watch the movie.

Overall the bus ride was uneventful. There were some interesting characters on board; a pack of true-blue Gypsies (one of whom was coughing so much I swear he had Black Lung); a mom and her 2 year old toddler who got quite cranky around midnight; some idiot in front of us who decided it was a good idea to transport fruit in the overhead compartment on a nearly-30 hour bus ride, the putrid liquid result contaminating our bags which had the unfortunate luck to be in the same compartment.

Around midnight, I decided to try to outsmart my body by taking some sleeping pills. I hoped that I would make myself so tired that my body would have no choice but to sleep despite the incredible discomfort. Instead of achieving my goal, I managed to make myself about as cranky as the 2-year-old next to us. I finally got about 2 hours of total sleep between 4:30am and 7:30am (off-and-on, of course). We rolled into Budapest around 12:30pm the next day.

When we got off the bus, we headed to the Eurolines office once again to book our next leg: Budapest to Bratislava. However, we finally hit the one roadblock I feared most on the trip: no seats available. The one time I booked a place to stay in advance, we were going to be unable to make it. There were no seats on Monday (the day we had planned to leave) OR Tuesday. We could get a seat on the bus leaving at 6am on Sunday, but we would lose 2 days and 1 night in Budapest, plus have no where to stay on Sunday night (our BnB was booked starting Monday). After a slight panic, we declined to book anything and chose to look for another way to get there.

But, first, we needed to get to our apartment in time to meet our host, Flora. We took the metro to our stop and walked around a few minutes until we found our street. We walked up to the building at 1:29pm, just in time to meet Flora at 1:30. She let us in the building, gave us the key, showed us around a little, and left us to settle in.

Let me note here that the weather in Budapest was perfect. It was that lovely balance between warm and cool, being neither hot nor cold, but feeling just right without needing a jacket. We had a huge window in the apartment and immediately opened it and let the sun and gorgeous weather shine in and light up the whole apartment.

The apartment was very nice, and just the right size for us. The kitchen was a little small, but it was big enough for us to cook, which was what we wanted to do in order to save a bit of money. But, at the present moment, we were too tired to think about cooking. Instead, we headed downstairs to a gyro place in the neighborhood. I think it must have been the best gyro I'd had in ... well, years. I don't usually eat them in America, and the ones in Korea weren't too impressive. In Belgium, they didn't have very good flavor sauces. So, I very much enjoyed the spicy/cool sauces here.

After properly gorging ourselves, we decided to hit the grocery store to get some goodies for dinner and breakfast. We bought: a baguette, a small stick of butter, a bag of pasta, a small thing of parmesan, a carton of milk, a thing of juice, pasta sauce, a bottle of water, and a bottle of wine. It was the equivalent of about $17. We weren't totally sure of the exchange rate, since we were now using Hungarian currency rather than Euros; I thought it was a little cheaper than it ended up being, but oh well.

We later learned that the water we bought, despite our best attempts to get still, was in fact sparkling. I refused to drink it, and even though Romeo had previously tried to deal with it, he didn't want it either. Thankfully it only cost us about 40 cents. Romeo tried to run down to the convenience store under our apartment for a bottle of still water, but faced with no less than 2 dozen options, he guessed wrong and we ended up with TWO bottles of water we had no desire to drink. In the end, we refilled our bottle from Brussels with tap water and stuck it in the fridge. It tasted fine and google showed no potentially hazardous reasons we shouldn't drink it. It just goes to show how hard it is to read Hungarian!

We headed back to the apartment and had a nap. Traveling is exhausting, and 20 straight hours of it is really rough. After a wonderfully luxurious nap (in a real bed, rather than a crappy hostel one!), we made some dinner and enjoyed the wine. On TV, the only English we could find was on MTV and we watched some TV. At one point, I walked out of the room just as Romeo exclaimed that he found Alf on TV. When I walked back in, there was a black guy on the TV and I asked, "Is this Alf?" to which Romeo just about died laughing. In my defense, I meant "Is this the TV SHOW Alf?" not "Is this guy Alf?" PLUS I've never seen the show! But, Romeo won't let me live it down... It ended up being the Catfish TV Show, and we watched it for a while but it was pretty crappy.

In an effort to avoid watching TV, I started googling how we were going to get to Bratislava on Monday without our Eurolines pass. I looked at other bus lines and found some for 9Euros, but most of them were completely booked. Then, I looked into train tickets. They seemed to be a decent price, only a little more than the bus at around 15Euro one-way. In order to avoid the horribleness that is bus-travel, we decided to spring for the train tickets. They were more flexible anyway. We would head to the station the next day to get them.

However, when the next day arrived, we couldn't get our butts out of bed. We finally got up around 10:30am, and decided to go back to the grocery store for more staples. We ended up with: a dozen eggs, a package of sausages, a bag of potatoes, a zucchini, a small block of cheese, another flavor of pasta sauce (I didn't like the one from the night before), some more bread, tortillas, salsa, a can of beans, more wine, and olive oil. It was about 6000 HUF, double what we spent the night before. But, we reasoned, this would feed us hopefully most of the rest of our meals.

We got back home and made a huge brunch of scrambled eggs with cheese, sausages, beans (for Romeo, not me), fried potatoes, bread, butter, juice and milk. Romeo opted to go for a breakfast burrito style plate, but I couldn't fit all of mine into the tortilla without it becoming too large for my mouth. So, I ate like a civilized person instead!

The rest of the day was comprised of napping, watching crappy TV, blogging, doing laundry (finally!), making some more food, and playing Plants vs Zombies on my iPad. Basically, it was the best day ever! Just kidding, although it was pretty amazing to have such a relaxing break from go-go-go traveling we had been doing the past few weeks. It was the first day we had truly done nothing. We even splurged on going to see a movie in the evening. We saw This is the End with all the celebrities trying to survive the apocalypse. It was truly abhorrent and terrible; I won't get into all the many ways it was awful, just take my word for it. However, it did "entertain" us for a couple hours, and compared to America it was cheap. Tickets (with our student IDs!) were approximately $7 each and popcorn/Coke was about $3.50 together. So, not super cheap but definitely less than America.

Finally around 1am, we called it a night and decided to set an alarm for the next day so we wouldn't completely waste all of our time in Budapest.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Chelsea in Brussels

Monday, October 21 - Wednesday, October 23

We got up early in order to get our things together and make our way to our coach for a 10am departure. Before we left, we grabbed a quick breakfast at the hostel, then checked out. We took a bus to Victoria Station (which was super packed; I forgot to account for rush hour crowds at 8:30am). When we arrived, we made our way to the Tube area in order to return and cash out our Oyster cards. Between that and the deposit returned from renting the towel at the hostel, I had a little over 10 pounds. Romeo also had about as much. We decided not to worry about trying to exchange this for Euros since there would probably be a fee that wouldn't make it worth it.

Instead, we hit the Marks and Spencer's next to the station and loaded up on snacks and sandwiches for the road. I also got a salad, which turned out to be incredible! It was quinoa, lots of types of beans, feta, avocado, and a very light dressing. I took a picture of the ingredients in hopes that I would be able to recreate it later at home.

Anyway, after replenishing our goodies, we walked to the Victoria Coach Station which is about 5 minutes walking away from the train station. We checked in and waited to get on the bus.

The trip was mostly uneventful. However, the coach did go to Dover before crossing the channel and I was excited to glimpse the white cliffs. Once we got to the French side of the channel, our passports were checked, but thankfully there was no crazy baggage examination or interrogation.

We arrived in Brussels and were able to secure our place on the coach to Budapest for Wednesday before we began the trek to the hostel. We were pretty disoriented and ended up walking the wrong way for a little bit before we realized our mistake. Maybe 15 minutes later we reached the hostel to check in. The guy who helped us was really nice; he was from DC and his parents were diplomats in Belgium. He even spotted us 1 Euro when we were told we could not use my credit card for the balance on the hostel because it was less than 100 Euros and had to scrounge our Euros together.

The hostel where we checked in was actually not the hostel we were going to be staying in, so after this process we got our keycards and walked another 15 minutes to the hostel we were actually staying at. The area we were in was really good and upon consulting the map, it appeared that we were close to all the good bars.

When we got to our hostel, I pretty much cringed. It was terrible, just as most youth hostels probably are. Beds packed into a tiny room, barely room to walk through. No privacy curtains and the lockers were in another room than where our beds were. The bathroom smelled terrible, but it was at least moderately clean. We immediately put our things up and headed for a bar. We went to a place called Celtica that was recommended from our check-in guy. It ended up being the same place Romeo had been to when he was in Brussels 7 years ago with his brother. It was great because before midnight, a lot of their bottled beers were only 2 Euro each. We each had a few but when it got pretty busy around 11pm, we left and walked around the square behind our hostel. It had a big church and some other beautiful buildings all lit up in the night sky.

We turned in after that in order to be well rested for a full day the next day. We woke up around 9am and got ready. The hostel didn't offer breakfast (not surprisingly...) and I got locked in the shower (I couldn't figure out why the door wouldn't open and I started to freak out yelling to Romeo on the other side to help me). It ended up the door was just stuck and Romeo was able to yank it open for me. After that I decided to use the other shower outside our room...

Finally ready, we headed out in search of food. We ended up having a Thai lunch set. I had spring rolls and yellow chicken curry; Romeo had a variety of appetizers (sampler) and pad thai. Everything was really good but pretty light. We walked around trying to decide where to go to sample some beers. We ended up back at Celtica for a few hours, allowing Romeo to try more of the beers on the 2Euro menu. We left in search of dinner around 6:30 and ended up getting Egyptian food.

When it started to pour down (quite unexpectedly, as the weather had been beautiful all afternoon), we huddled together under our crappy umbrella and made our way to a bar nearby where we, again, sampled some beers and hung out.

Finally, when the rain stopped, we decided to go back to the pretty square and see if we could find a bar with a view of the square. We ended up finding the perfect place. While it didn't have the view we wanted, it had something we had been searching for: a for-real sampler of beers: 3 beer samples for 6 Euro. They weren't too big, about 15 cL, but it was enough. We each got a sampler and shared most of it (some of Romeo's I couldn't handle). Satisfied that we finally found a way to try a variety of beers, we decided to come back to the bar the following day before our bus.

And we did exactly that: after getting up and "checking out" (stripping our beds and throwing the linens in a hamper, and putting our keys in a box), we dropped off our bags at the check-in hostel's luggage room, and got some lunch. Finally, we were ready to hit the bar again. We tried another 9 kinds of beers (actually, I repeated one or two that I knew I liked hehe). Pleasantly tipsy, we headed for the bus station after picking up our bags.

Of course, the crazy weather from the day before hit again; the blue skies suddenly became gray, and, loaded down with bags, we once again huddled under the umbrella, which was threatening to break at any moment. Fifteen minutes later, we trudged into the Eurolines waiting area soaking wet and miserable. The bus arrived a bit late, but we finally took off and began the longest bus ride of the trip: nearly 20 hours to go before we would arrive in Budapest, Hungary.

Chelsea in London Part III

Sunday, October 20 - Romeo's Birthday!!

I slept in luxuriously (well, as luxuriously as possible in a hostel room with 8 twin beds stuffed in it) and headed out around 11am. Before that, however, we took advantage again of the free, albeit meager, breakfast. In the dining room, I saw two girls I recognized. I couldn't figure out where I knew them from, but I ran up to them thinking I had met them in Lyon, but they said no, they had not been to Lyon. They agreed that I also looked familiar, and after finding out they go to school in the northeast and have never been to Texas, we said goodbye. Literally 30 seconds after sitting down and them leaving the room, I realized where I knew them from. They were in the group of people in Florence that Romeo had approached about a place to stay the night we were stranded. While we had barely talked to them specifically, I knew I had recognized them! Unfortunately, by then they were gone and I never ran into them again. What a strange coincidence to run into them in a hostel in London almost a month later!

Finally, we set out for the day. We went in the direction of the British Museum, and found a place serving full English Breakfast all day. Since breakfast at the hostel was so pathetic (croissants and cereal and coffee), we decided to splurge. Romeo enjoyed this treat for his birthday and I got my favorite in London: bagel with lox (smoked salmon).

When we finished eating, Romeo headed to the loo (toilets), but there was a key-code needed to access them. He went to the counter and asked for the restroom. The man looked at him confused, and said the name of the restaurant "Toscana". Romeo looked confused in turn, and repeated "restrooms?" The man once more said "Toscana" and added the number 36 after. Romeo wandered back to the restroom door, thinking maybe the keypad had letters as well. But, no, there were only numbers. The man at the register saw him at the door of the toilets and started laughing and said "Oh! Toilets!" The miscommunication was pretty funny to witness! Lesson learned: ask for the toilets or the LOO when in England, not the restrooms!!! (Btw, "Toscana36" was the WIFI password!)

Once we left there, we headed to the British Museum only a few blocks away. London's museums are all free, so we enjoyed finally not having to pay for something! London is expensive, and museums are a great way to have some cheap and educational entertainment. We had downloaded Rick Steve's British Museum walking tour, and listened together as we strolled through the Ancient Egypt exhibit. We saw the Rosetta Stone, around which was a big crowd, as well as the huge Ramses head statue. We wandered through the mummies on display, learned about their ancient burial practices, and even saw Ginger, a 5,000 year old preserved body found in Egypt. Apparently, because they did not put him in any box or tomb, the weather and elements naturally preserved his body almost perfectly. I guess Romeo had learned about it on the Discovery or History channel, but I had never heard of it before then.

After Egypt, we headed into the area displaying Assyria. The most interesting part of that area to me was seeing the ancient language written on the big statues. I remember my dad talking about this language in class and it was crazy to see it carved into stone with such precision. Really neat!

Finally we went to the Greece area and saw the displays from the Parthenon. We had a nice sit in front of that display and also listened again to the Rick Steve's informational talk. I think Egypt was my favorite area, and  by the time we finished those three areas, and got one more look at the Rosetta Stone, we were ready to head out.

When we departed, it was raining (of course, it's London!), so we huddled under the umbrella together as we walked to the bus stop. I spotted my favorite store, Primark, and Romeo sweetly acquiesced when I asked to pop inside.

Three floors and about an hour later, we departed and my shopping bag contained: 1 large duffle bag (which to store the stuff I seemed to be continuing to accumulate despite not really buying anything!), 1 pair of knee high cozy socks, 1 neutral color infinity loop scarf, and 1 pink long sleeve basic t-shirt.

We then found our bus stop location in order to get a bus to Camden Market, but the bus which showed to be 10 minutes away took about 25 minutes. When it finally came, there was only barely room for us to stand near the entrance door. As we rode, I noticed a woman sketching near us. Romeo told me that he thought she was drawing me. I glanced over and saw not only was she drawing me, she was drawing the both of us! And, it was pretty good!! I didn't realize we were inspiration for art, but apparently we are. I only wished I could have gotten the completed picture from her.

We got off at Camden Town and walked about 10 minutes to a pub called the Lock Tavern which I had found online. It served what is according to the internet one of the best Sunday roasts in London. We lucked out and it was 2 for 1 deal. We got some drinks and I treated Romeo to his birthday dinner. We got a nice table and enjoyed our meal. We both got the pork belly and it was delicious. It came with the traditional roast sides: roasted potatoes, parsnips, red cabbage, green beans, and Yorkshire pudding all slathered in delicious gravy.

At the bar when we ordered, the bartender helped us choose a drink. Then he asked Romeo if he was Chilean. I couldn't help but laugh because in almost every country, someone has assumed Romeo was from South America, whether it was asking point-blank or just beginning to talk to him in Spanish.

After a couple hours of just relaxing at the pub, eating, and drinking, we made our way to an ice cream shop I had also found online. However, when we arrived, it had JUST closed for the day. It was okay, though, as we were both pretty stuffed from dinner and drinks. We browsed around the market shops still open then got a bus back to the hostel. Both of us turned in a bit early, as the next morning we had to get up and get to the bus station to catch our bus to Brussels.

Chelsea in London Part II

Saturday, October 19

We woke up on our first full day in London a little later than we had planned. The alarm went off at 7am, but we finally got out of bed at around 8:30. We went straight to breakfast, as it ended at 9am. When we walked into the cafeteria area, I could fully appreciate how big the hostel is. It was packed and there was a line for the food. I sent Romeo off to find a table and promised to bring him some food.

Well, when I got to the counter, I realized I might have to break my promise as there was virtually no food left! I snagged the second to last box of cereal and the last two croissants. Balancing that as well as a bowl of milk for the cereal, I found Romeo at the table. He got us drinks (coffee for him, hot chocolate for me!), and we discussed our plan for the day. Eventually, the staff put out more food so I went and got us more provisions.

When we returned to the room, we got ready quickly and set off for the Tower of London. We took a bus to the general vicinity, then walked a little bit to the tower. While I stood in line for the tickets, Romeo went to take photos. He hadn't seen where I went, so when he finished and I saw him walk in the opposite direction, I was torn if I should leave my primo spot in the tickets line to get him, or just find him after I got the tickets. Luckily, he finally spotted me and joined me in line.

We got our tickets, and I again lucked out with getting a student ticket, and headed for the entrance. Just as we entered, a guided tour was starting and we joined in. It was lead by one of the Yeomen Warders, or Beefeaters. He was very genial and fun to listen to. The tour was massive, though, and it was sometimes hard to hear him. We stayed with the tour for the duration: 1 hour. When he finished, we headed towards the White Tower with the big collection of weapons. We had a short tour of that, then looked through the artifacts, coins, weapons, and armor. It was interesting, but I am not too much for those kinds of exhibits.

I had been half-blind since Rome, sporting 1 contact in, 1 out, due to my eye's irritation. This constant state of half blurred vision takes its toll on my head, and after a while I had to find a bench to sit on and close my eyes. Romeo let me sit while he wandered the room, then collected me to move on. I was perfectly fine with that!

We left the White Tower and had a small snack of pretzels as we waited in line to see the Crown Jewels. There were some Koreans behind us and we evesdropped a bit. Romeo, who is way better at Korean than I am, told me that the mom was asking her kid why he didn't like meat...

Anyway, we waited a while and finally got inside as it was starting to sprinkle a bit. Some more waiting and we got to the room that houses the jewels. It was stunning and surreal to be separated by only inches from the largest cut diamond the in the world (over 500 carats!).

We finished that up, and I had only one more area I wanted to visit before we left the Tower. I wanted to see an exhibit in the Bloody Tower called Torture at the Tower. Romeo gives me a bit of a hard time about how fascinated I am with that kind of stuff (I am currently reading Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, so I get his point...). We waited in another short line, and this time an Indian/British family was in front of us. I heard the older boy (about 7 years old) telling his younger brother (about 5 years old) about King Henry VIII.

Brother #1:"Imagine you had 6 mummies, and 2 of them died!"
Brother #2: "Huh?!"
Brother #1: "Yeah, two of the mummies died. Had their heads off!!! Imagine if it was your  mummy!!"
Brother #2: (totally confused and freaked out, looks at his mom) "But, no...? Mummy's here....?!"
Brother #1: exasperated sigh at his brother's lack of understanding.

Okay, maybe my memory of their exact words isn't perfect, and maybe this rendition isn't that cute, but believe me! In person, it was adorable!!

Finally, we entered the exhibit. It was interesting as we got to see three of the most "popular" instruments of torture: manacles, the rack, and another that I can't remember the name but basically you are folded in three and this metal cage is clapped around you and over your back. Looked excruciating! Ultimately, though, the exhibit was small and as we exited, I admitted as much to Romeo, "Well, that was underwhelming..."

We headed for the exit of the Tower and got a wonderful view of the Tower Bridge. After snapping some photos of each other, and asking a nice passerby to take one of the two of us, we walked across it to the Southbank. By then we were starving, so we had fish and chips at a pub in Hay's Galleria. It was packed and the food was no

t too great. But, we were starving so we ate with gusto.

After lunch, we continued our walk along the Thames down the Southbank. We indulged in a chocolate covered Belgian waffle (which was incredible!!), then crossed over to the other side of the river to continue the walk towards Parliament. It was leisurely and enjoyable as the sun was peaking out from behind clouds. The weather was mild as well, and on the whole it was a perfect walk along the Thames.

When we finally got to one of the bridges that has a perfect view of Parliament, Big Ben, and the Eye, it was starting to sprinkle again. We snapped a few quick photos then headed for the Tube to make our way towards Brick Lane to meet Romeo's friend for dinner.

We met Jonathan, who Romeo knew in Korea, at the subway station a little early. We were both very early, but luckily we found him easily. Once we met him, we consulted a map and navigated to Brick Lane. Brick Lane is an immigrant neighborhood and has changed throughout the years depending which ethnicity was the primary immigrant ethnicity of the time. Recently, it has been Indian and Bangladeshi, so there are loads of restaurants serving curries and tandoori meats. Literally, as you walk along the road, workers from all the restaurants try to tempt you inside with deals offering free drinks, discounts, set meals, etc.

We didn't have to walk long to find a good deal - 2 free drinks each (including beer or wine) plus 30% off our entire meal. We each ordered a different curry, ranging in spices from virtually no spice (Jonathan the Brit), moderate spice (me), and extremely spicy (Romeo). We shared naan bread as well as some rice. It was very good, but poor Romeo had a tough time; his curry was insanely spicy!!! I could barely stand to smell it. I don't know how he managed to eat as much as he did.

After dinner, we headed to a pub near the subway to have some more drinks. By then I was pretty exhausted, so I only had one. To allow time for Jonathan to catch his train home (in the suburbs), we parted ways around 10:30pm. Luckily there was a bus heading straight for our hostel. The subway, we learned, had closures on our line, so it would have been a huge hassle had we decided to take the Tube.

We turned in pretty early once we got home, although I think Romeo grabbed my iPad after I passed out and played Plants vs. Zombies for a few hours. He is addicted now!! We enjoyed our tourist-Saturday and recharged our batteries for a relaxing Sunday.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Chelsea in London Part I

Friday, October 18

Eurolines has been a ridiculous company to deal with. Finally, though, on the bus from Amsterdam to London, there was actually WiFi on board!!!! I tried to control my impulse to surf the web, email, Facebook, etc for the entire 10 hour trip. It was nice, though, to have the option to use the internet, especially for maps to our hostel, etc.

Anyway, the coach went back through to Brussels then over to Calais to take a train under the English Channel. We had to go through customs and passport control on both the French side and the UK side. The French side simply looked at our passports, but the English side made us take our baggage out of the coach, take it through a check point (we were threatened with drug sniffing dogs, but I never saw any), then passport check.

Baggage checking was smooth and quick, but the passport counter was a bit of a hassle. Our coach driver, who was very informative to the passengers, had told us to take our landing cards, but never gave us any and we were a little confused. As we waited in line, we didn't see any one else with a landing card, so we just went to the desk like everyone else. However, we were both turned away and told to do a landing card at a separate desk. We had to get out of line and complete them. As we finished, a big group of elementary school kids came in; I slipped by them, but Romeo got stuck in the middle of them.

When we once again got to the counter, the woman asked me if I was traveling with someone. I pointed to Romeo, still in line, but she didn't tell me to have him join me. She asked me a lot of questions; had I been to England before? Yes. What did you do? Study. Where? Richmond International Uni. Where do you study now? I teach English now. Wow good for you! Thanks. What are you doing on this trip? Sightseeing. What are you hoping to see? The usual stuff in London. What in particular? Um, Big Ben, Parliament, Tower of London, etc. Ah, I see.

Finally she stamped my passport (my first stamp of the trip and it was one I already had!! Dang it!!), and I waited just past her for Romeo. His passport checker was much more interrogative. He asked him all about Korea, where we were staying in England, about return trip tickets, etc. It took a good 4 or 5 minutes more for Romeo to get through than me. I guess it's on account of how much of a trouble-maker he looks like. ;)

Finally we walked back to the coach. About 4 passengers were turned around looking out the window where we were walking over, and I waved at them cheekily. We finally continued to the train where we drove onto a train car and road that through the English Channel. It was quick, about 30 minutes. On the other side, we began driving on the left (of course!) and we were really in England! I think my whole countenance brightened up just being there.

About two hours later we rolled into London Victoria Coach Station. Finally getting the hang of the Eurolines Pass, we immediately went to bookings and reserved a seat for Monday morning to Brussels. Once that was complete, we got some money from the ATM (and subsequently died at the exchange rate. 100 British Pounds Sterling was 162 USD!!! Ack!!

We walked over to the Victoria train station and proceeded to attempt to get an Oyster (metro) card. We finally found the line and had to wait about 30 minutes to get our cards and load them with some money on them. At last, we were ready to head to the hostel. We took a bus, since it went directly, and we had all of our things. The Tube seemed too much of a hassle.

We arrived literally across the street from our hostel and checked in. It was quite stylish and modern, but they were fiends and we paid 2pounds plus a 5pound deposit for a towel, as well as 5 pounds for an adaptor. We got to our room and got showers and freshened up.

Around 8pm, we headed out to meet my ZTA friend Misty. We had become friends two summers ago when I studied in London. We were to meet around Warwick Station, as per her email. We found the Tube station easily, but once we arrived at Warwick, I realized I didn't exactly know where we were going.

We walked out and looked around. It was a very residential area, and no sign of the pub we were trying to find. Romeo suggested we go back into the Tube and look at a map of the vicinity. I had the address, so we were able to find the street we needed easily. We ventured out and did eventually find the place.

We met Misty upstairs in the restaurant area. It was nice to see a friendly and familiar face after so long with only Romeo's mug to stare at. (hehe) Two of her coworkers had joined her. After the introductions and such, Romeo and I took a seat and looked at a menu. Seeing the options and prices, I mentally had a heart attack (while of course maintaining outward composure). I glanced at Romeo and I could read the same thought in his eyes: What the hell!!!

We both decided to order an appetizer as our meal. We chose the same thing: tortellini. I chose it because it was the only thing I actually recognized. I'm guessing maybe that was Romeo's thought as well. We abstained from drinks (wouldn't even want to guess how much that would have set us back).

Through much of the evening, we listened to stories between the three coworkers and occasionally spoke up. We were both exhausted and had little brain power to participate too much. I did, however, find out that Mike, one of Misty's coworkers there, knows my ZTA Big Sister (Kristen). He is friends with her roommate in NYC, or something. Anyway, continuing proof that the world is SMALL.

The food came, and I couldn't stop myself from commenting, "There are three tortellini on my plate. Three..." Mentally resigning myself to going to bed hungry, we finished the evening and said our goodbyes around 10:30 or so. The Tube ride back to our area, Elephant and Castle, was simple but once we arrived, we were pretty turned around. We walked in the wrong direction about 5 different times (damn roundabouts!) before we found our hostel.

There were a bunch of Spanish guys in our room (which held 8 beds), so I slept with the curtains around my bed firmly shut (well, as firm as curtains can get). I slept like a rock and enjoyed every second of it.

Chelsea in Amsterdam

Wednesday, October 16 and Thursday, October 17

We arrived off our bus from Lyon around 3pm, only a little later than scheduled. We immediately went to the booking office next door and booked our outbound tickets to London for Friday. The office worker was very nice, I was pleased to note.

Next we walked to the metro/train station a few yards from the coach station. I was glad I had done my research and found out about the different kinds of public transportation passes, etc. We were able to buy a 48 hour pass good for the buses, metro, and trams for 12 Euro each. Individual rides were something like 2 Euro each, so we figured this was a good deal. Again, the ticket lady was nice! I was starting to get a good feeling about Amsterdam.

We asked at the information desk about the platform to catch the metro to Centraal Station where we could get a bus to our B&B. Once again, the man was very kind and helpful to us. We got on the metro and managed to find seats together. Once we got to Centraal Station, we looked for the bus stop. There were about 15. We finally found a map that showed which buses went to which specific bus stop. I was feeling on a roll from our success thus far, so I found the bus our host had told us to take, and we headed for bus stop "F". We found it easily enough after a bit of a walk, and luckily the bus was just then approaching. We boarded it and found seats.

We were supposed to get off after 7 stops, but I forgot to count. As we passed bus stops, I noticed that I wasn't recognizing any of the stop names from the map I had looked at before arriving. Finally, I decided we should probably get off and look at a map again. So, we disembarked at the next stop and upon consulting the bus route map, I realized that while we had gotten the correct bus NUMBER, we took it going the wrong direction. *Sigh!*

We crossed the street and waited about 5 minutes for the bus heading in the right direction. When the bus pulled up, we recognized the driver from our last bus! I guess it had reached the end of the line right after we got off, then swooped around to go the other direction. Ironic. We finally headed in the right direction and made it to our correct stop.

After navigating the slightly confusing winding streets, we made it to our Air B&B host's place. It was cute but very small. I guess Romeo had thought we were getting the entire apartment, not just a room. Meeting our host was a little awkward. She spoke English, but spoke very fast with a strong accent. It was hard to understand her. It felt like couchsurfing but we were paying and there were rules. I admit, I didn't like the experience very much... We decided that if we wanted to do AirBnB again, we would book the entire apartment/flat rather than simply a room.

I had a much-needed shower and then we headed out to make the most of our first evening in Amsterdam. We took the bus back towards Centraal Station and got off near a cute neighborhood that looked like it had a lot of shops and restaurants. We were starving, so we ate at the first place that looked good; it happened to be Italian food. Romeo got the pizza special and I got salmon pasta. My pasta was actually very good (the sauce was better than what I'd had even in Italy), but there were lots of onions I had to pick out. Also, while we were waiting for food, I heard a microwave and got very suspicious.

After dinner, we walked around the canals and streets soaking in the atmosphere. We had a juice (wasn't in the mood for alcohol) at a cafe, then walked around some more. It was a low-key and relaxing night.
When we got back to the room, our host was there and awake. We soon learned just how thin the walls were. No, we didn't hear anything explicit, but we could hear her TV as if it were in our room, and around midnight she had on some techno music. "What is this b!^$# doing, Jazzercising?! It's midnight!!" was my infamous comment about it...

The next day, we woke up at a decent time and got ready for the day: our only full day in Amsterdam. We had breakfast at the apartment, but we tried to be super quiet and whispered the whole time. We ate some toast and cereal, as were provided. We also made a couple of sandwiches since some meat and cheese were provided as well.

First, upon my request, we went in search of H&M so I could try to find A) a light jacket, my only one thus far being quite heavy; and B) some jeans. I had ordered some new jeans before the trip, and only took those. One pair fits nicely, but the other is very loose in areas that you don't want it to be loose, so I wanted to get some tighter, better fitting ones. Luckily, I found both at a good price!

After HM, where Romeo also found a shirt he needed, we went next door to a Turkish kebab restaurant. We shared some frites and a Coke, and each had a delicious kebab sandwich. In our post-lunch food coma, we meandered around the area, ran into a carnival happening, and finally got a tram in the direction of the Anne Frank house. It was the one tourist-type thing I wanted to go to in Amsterdam. However, the line was quite long and I decided that I didn't want to wait. Plus, it was 9 Euros to enter. I just didn't want to wait and pay. It would have been cool, but I didn't think it was worth it. Instead, I took a picture with an Anne Frank statue nearby.

Next, we headed towards the Museumplein where there are the famous "I Amsterdam" letters. We once again misread the bus/tram map and had to backtrack a bit (thank goodness for our unlimited pass), but we finally got there. After a quick snack run at the grocery store nearby, we walked to the letters and took some photos. Of course, it was overrun with tourists, children, and idiot fraternity guys climbing on the letters, so our photos weren't the best. But, such is life as a tourist!

Snacks in hand, we went to a bar and got some drinks to accompany them. With free WiFi, we hung out for a couple hours, hiding from the rain and enjoying our relaxing day in Amsterdam. Our snacks held us over and we decided to forego dinner. Instead, we headed to the infamous Red Light District. No trip to Amsterdam is complete without a walk down the streets of this area. We witnessed some Madam yelling at a John in the doorway of a shop. Literally she was screaming at him and telling him to leave. We weren't too sure what sparked this controversy, but I saw her walk over to the wall next to a window a press a button. A light lit up outside, then she went back to dealing with the guy. I am guessing it was calling either some gangsters to come and deal with him, or the police. One or both.

We got some frites as a treat and continued our very interesting walk. It was very sad to think that probably 75% of those women were trafficked into their current profession. And it was disgusting to think that men actually pay for sex with them. It almost seemed like a tourist attraction to me, rather than a real woman trying to make money with her body. Sad...

Having seen quite enough, we headed back to the apartment and turned in early. Our host was home at the beginning of the night, getting ready to go to some DJ party, but she left around 11 and we finally felt like we didn't have to whisper every single conversation.

The next morning we got up early and headed for our bus to London!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Chelsea in Lyon Part II

Monday evening, October 14 and Tuesday, October 15

As it turned out, our chili was a success. Romeo went grocery shopping with our hosts and got some ground beef, way too many beans, not quite enough tomatoes, some "Mexican" spice packets, and a bag of french fries.

We had a lot of fun in the kitchen together, attempting to figure out the ratios of ingredients, improvising a lot. I decided that there weren't enough french fries, so I took to chopping potatoes for fried potatoes. Romeo was in charge of the chili and I was in charge of the carbs (french fries and fried potatoes). It was a bit hodgepodge, but with a couple glasses of wine in hand, we enjoyed our cooking adventure.

We presented our chili and potatoes nicely, I think, and it was almost gone by the end of the meal. At least half of the table had seconds, and everyone finished their plates. I think people really liked my homemade potatoes (maybe even better than the french fries!). We were proud and I was so glad that it was deemed "quite nice" rather than "interesting", and no one had snuck off to McDo's (McDonalds). Success!!

After dinner, we had some more wine and cheese, and Romeo and I showcased a little two-stepping for our hosts. We aren't the best, but they were entertained. Then, they showed us a French line-dance. We had fun listening to big variety of music and exchanging French and English words. Eventually, we all made our way to bed.

 The next morning, Romeo and I made sure our packs were ready for that evening when we were to get our bus to Amsterdam. We leisurely got ready and then took the tram into the town, going to a shopping mall. We were starving so we looked for food. The choices were "Hippopotamus", "Pizza Pia", or "Flunch". We ended up having Flunch fo'lunch! I still crack up over that...

We were a little confused about how it worked. It seemed a bit like Luby's. We each ordered an entree at the register, then took our receipts to the hot food counter. As we walked through the seating area, we saw what we had not noticed previously: a buffet of sides. French fries, mashed potatoes, rice, spaghetti, sauce, cauliflower, lentils, ratatouille, etc. Our eyes got big and probably turned heart-shaped. Romeo was unconvinced that we were allowed to eat it, but I asked the chef preparing our food, and she nodded yes. When I got a huge smile on my face and asked, "Really?!" she laughed and nodded again.

We ate as much as we could possibly hold. I was surprised that my favorite was the lentils! We enjoyed unlimited food for the first time in a while, then decided to have dessert (gluttons that we are). Romeo had just a scoop of ice cream (he had stuffed himself quite a bit more than me), and I had a waffle with ice cream and Nutella. Delicious!

Stuffed, we made our way to the supermarket in the mall and got some necessities (shampoo and conditioner, toothpaste, and cookies for the bus). We took the tram home, then hung out a bit until it was time to go for our bus. Once again our hosts went out of their way for us, and rather than taking public transportation, they drove us to the bus station about 45 minutes away.

Our bus left at 10pm heading through Paris and Brussels to Amsterdam. We didn't get the good seats we had wanted, but thankfully there was enough room that we could both lay out and get a little sleep on the way. And, at the present moment, we are between Brussels and Amsterdam, about 2.5 hours from our destination. I am ready for a shower and nap, but our time is limited in this city, as we are heading to London on Friday, so I think we will be running on low energy for the next 48 hours. Oh well, that's the name of the game sometimes!

Chelsea in Lyon Part I

Sunday, October 13 & Monday, October 14

Don't you love those mornings when you can sleep late, lounge around, stay in PJs for a few hours, and just relax?! Who doesn't? I haven't had one of those in quite a while, and it was a welcome respite amongst all the adventuring we have been up to the last two weeks to have a "lie in" Sunday morning.

When we finally got up around noon, we came downstairs to have lunch with our amazing hosts, who again cooked for us. We had leftover pasta, chicken, and of course: cheese and bread. I got an education on different types of cheeses from France, and tried all of them. A few of them I had to hold my breath, but I am proud to say I tried each one. Even the ones with a bit of green! (Blech!) Paired with some local wine, I had a very French education.

After lunch, we mentioned that we really needed to get to the Eurolines office, to see if we could get the bus that night (9:30pm) to Munich or Prague. Our host, Matthieu, offered to call the office for us and ask if they had any seats available on the bus, as yesterday there were only 2 and they might be taken by now. He called and what do you know? There were no seats, and bonus: the woman had lied, and the office in Lyon was actually closed on Sundays! Can you believe it?! (Actually, I can... Eurolines sucks!)

So, he saved us from a fruitless trip to the bus station and instead, we all piled in the car and went into the city center together to do a little sightseeing! We decided that we would forget about the stress of figuring out where we would go and just enjoy our day with our fantastic hosts in a cool, new city. After all, our hosts said that we could stay as long as we need in their home.

First, we went to the top of the town to an area called Fourviere. There is a big basilica atop a hill with an amazing view of the city sprawling below. On a clear day, you can even see France's highest mountain in the distance. Too bad, I had taken out my contacts (thanks to my eye problems of late), and it was a little foggy, so we couldn't see that. But the basilica itself was gorgeous. It might not be as old as some of the churches we saw in Italy, but I think it was just as beautiful, if not more so. Romeo says it was just more flashy, but I thought the grandeur was gorgeous.

After taking in the view for a while, and walking into the church (and right back out, realizing that it was Sunday mass!), we went to another area close by with an ancient amphitheater built by the Romans a while back. I don't know too much about it, or even its name, but it was cool to see.

After we had walked around for a while, the boys (Romeo and two of our hosts, Matthieu and Nicholas) decided to have a gladiator fight on the stage at the center of the amphitheater. Nicholas wore the hood of my jacket (since it was fur lined), and Romeo and Matthieu took off their shirts for a more authentic feel. Then, using continuous shooting mode on my camera, they "fought" the lion (who didn't move at all). We decided after looking at the photos later that it looked a little kinky, rather than manly and heroic. It was hilarious!

After deciding that the boys could make millions making an adult-film "The Lion from Lyon", we headed to the big park in Lyon. I'd read about this park because it boasts a free zoo. We walked around for about an hour and saw some animals, but the zoo area closed soon after we arrived because it was Sunday. However, it was nice to just walk around in a pretty park. (No, we didn't see any actual Lyon lions...)

As we were heading towards the exit, I had to pee (story of my life on this trip, it feels like), so we found the toilets. After a mental high-five seeing that you did not have to pay to use it, I started to pull on the door. Only, it wouldn't budge. Then I pushed. Nothing. Romeo, laughing, suggested I slide the door sideways. Nothing. Romeo walked over and pushed a button I had failed to see, and the door popped right open. "Doh!" Thank goodness we had the sense to steal a roll of TP from the hotel we stayed in in Nice, because beyond a metal toilet and sink, it was empty.

Finally we left the park and headed back to the house. We had some hot chocolate, then made dinner. It was Matthieu's turn to cook, and we ate a casserole of zucchini, potatoes, and onions mixed with cream and topped with cheese. Interesting, but the potatoes didn't cook all the way through. After dinner, we all found our way to bed quite quickly. When Matthieu suggested that Romeo and I cook dinner the following night, while doubting our cooking prowess, we agreed and set to planning what we could possibly make for a house full of French foodies. It was going to be "interesting"!

The next morning, we again had a nice lie in and got up quite late. It sounds like a lazy way to spend our vacation, but Lyon isn't a place we had a lot of things we wanted to do/see, plus the weather has been quite bad, so we enjoyed having a nice cosy room to hide away in. We still had to figure out what city we would go to next. I spent a few hours online trying to find either a couchsurfing host or hotel in Zurich (originally where we planned to go after Lyon), but I couldn't find anyone on CS, and all the hotels were crazy expensive. So, we started to look at other cities. After a lot of back-and-forth, we finally decided to go to Amsterdam next.

So, we took the metro to the bus station and finally booked a bus! We will be going to Amsterdam tomorrow (Tuesday) at 10pm and arriving at 2:30pm on Wednesday. We decided to relax and not worry about looking for a CS host, and we booked a BnB from Hopefully it works out well, even though its not terribly cheap (less than Zurich, though!)

And now, we are off to prepare dinner for our hosts. Since we are serving around 7 or 8 people, we decided to make chili. We'll see how it turns out!!

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