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Bienvenue en Belgique! Belgium welcomes me with rain

Tuesday, September 10, 2013 @ 02:35 pm from Belgium Belgium
Day 76

After writing my blog post yesterday I went to a pub across the street from the Victoria Coach station and had a beer and re-read my journal entries from the first half of the trip. I had to check in an hour before departure so they could print a ticket and run my passport so I did that then waited for the coach to show up.

There was a bit of a mad rush to get on board because everyone wanted a good seat so they could sleep the whole trip. It turned out all the hassle wasn't really necessary since there were so few people on the coach that it didn't matter.

Sleeping on an overnight bus is about the same as trying to sleep on a plane, except without the steady, basically unchanging vibrations you get from jet engines. We got to Dover where we had to give up our passports to the French authorities. After that we waited for about an hour before driving onto a big train that took us through the channel tunnel. I was in and out of sleep during this time.

I must have got a few good hours of sleep because I woke up around 4am and then was in and out of sleep until we pulled into Brussels a little after 7 local time.

It was a bit strange stepping off the bus into Brussels. First off, the weather was absolutely freezing. I had my long sleeved shirt on and I had to put on my jacket and rain coat just to stay warm. I eventually made my way to a Starbucks and ordered a coffee and used their electricity to charge up my phone. Unfortunately they didn't have wifi I could use.

With a lot of time to kill before I could check into my hostel I decided to wander around and make my way toward the Grote Markt (main old square) here in Brussels. The city started off looking like any big city I've been to but as I got closer to the square the buildings got older and more "European" looking. It had just finished raining and I got to the square and took some photos.

Not sure what to do now I decided to hunt down some WIFI. I walked roughly toward my hostel and found a few pockets of free wifi here and there and was able to check a few emails. Carrying around all my gear was starting to get annoying so I went to the hostel and dropped my bag off. I charged my phone and used the internet until around 11:00. The rain had been on and off all day today but I was looking out the window to bright blue skies.

Since I was cooped up on a bus all night I decided to walk down to the Atomium (a giant building made up of tubes connecting giant spheres). It was supposed to be around 7 miles round trip which sounded good to me. Unfortunately on the way there it started downpouring again. I hid in a park under some trees for about 10 minutes until it lightened up enough for me to venture out again. I got some good photos of Atomium but was starting to get really hungry.

Since I didn't have cell connection and couldn't find any wireless internet I just set off in a random direction in hopes I'd find some food. After about 10 minutes of walking I came to a "Fritkot" which is a restaurant that specializes in Frites (fries). I had some of them with a stuffed pita and they were sooooo much better than the soggy worthless chips you get in England. I'm not sure why Brits find those poor excuses for fries acceptable but they do. The French/Belgians certainly know how to do their fries right. They actually double fry them so they all come out nice and crispy.

While I was eating it started raining like mad again. Without any real options I put on my rain coat and started walking back to the hostel. After about an hour the rain finally stopped and the skies cleared up again.

I stopped in some random little market and bought some massive Pink Lady apples and ate one as I walked the rest of the way back to the hostel. Once back, I checked in and got situated in my bed. This hostel is a half hotel, half hostel and it has a really cool vibe. A lot of concrete and a very modern feel to it.

I'm extremely tired now and it's only 4:30. Between sleeping on the bus and about 9 miles of walking today I'm beat. I had a late lunch so I'm not sure what I'll do for dinner. There's a full kitchen here but I'm not sure what I'm in the mood to make. I'll probably hang out a bit and maybe get some Belgian waffles for dinner instead of making something myself.
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Grand' Place-Grote Markt, Brussels
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Atomium from a distance
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Cool sculpture

Last day in the UK. Belgium here I come!

Monday, September 9, 2013 @ 04:10 pm from England England
Day 75

Well, today is my last day in the UK for this trip. In a few hours I'll board a coach that will take me to Brussels, Belgium overnight.

I've had a lot of fun in the Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales but I'm ready to move on. I'm not sure if it was due to the time of year or if that's how it always is, but it seemed like most places I went in Ireland and the UK were filled with people who were there to party. It was a rarity to come across a fellow long term traveler.

Today also marks the last day I'll be in an English speaking country until I return back to the States on December 17th. That's a full three months of being in countries where I don't speak the native language. I'm sure it'll be challenging but that's also a part of this trip that will be sure to stick out in my mind when I look back on it.

I'm in London's Victoria Coach Station right now. When I arrived here from Brighton it was pouring down rain. I wanted to see some of the sights so I checked my big bag and set out. I got pretty wet and ended up spending a little time in a pub waiting for the rain to die down.

When it looked like the rain was slowing, I took off and saw Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, Parliament and Westminster Abbey. I've got to get rid of the rest of my GBP before I leave. Between dinner and a few more drinks that shouldn't be a problem.

I'll upload photos from today once I'm settled into my hostel in Brussels. It's 4:10 now and the sun finally broke through the clouds. I'll probably go out and explore a little more, even if it's just to a nearby pub for a drink and maybe dinner.
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Buckingham Palace
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London Eye
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Telephone box
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Big Ben

My Last Night in Brighton!

Sunday, September 8, 2013 @ 06:04 pm from England England
Day 74

Tonight is my last night in Brighton and I couldn't be more excited to get the rest of my journey started. I'll post more of my impressions and thoughts about the UK and Ireland tomorrow before getting on my coach to Belgium.

This morning I got up early to go for a run. The temperature might have dropped 20 degrees from the highs a few days ago, but the weather started out great. It was alternating between clouds and blue sky while on my run. I actually finished my run a few minutes quicker than normal and I think that's because of the weather.

Back at the hostel I showered and then worked on ClearCheckbook the rest of the day. The weather has been alternating between sunny, cloudy and torrential downpours all day. Fortunately I haven't been caught out in the rain today.

During my 9 hour "layover" in London I'm planning on seeing a few of the big sights that are within easy walking distance from the Victoria Coach station. Those include Buckingham Palace, Parliament (Big Ben) and the London Eye.

Fresh Laundry!

Saturday, September 7, 2013 @ 07:19 pm from England England
Day 73

Since I hadn't properly washed my clothes since Bristol (I've done ghetto laundry several times but a sink doesn't compare to a washer), I wanted to get that done before heading to Belgium. I found a laundromat and washed everything.

After getting back and eating lunch I started working on ClearCheckbook again. I've been doing that all day aside from running to ALDI to pick up some stuff for dinner. I got a microwaveable steamed veggies bowl and some chicken. I mixed the chicken with the rest of my pasta sauce and had all of it with some bread. The goal is to clear out the random stuff I have in the fridge before leaving on Monday.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do tomorrow... probably just work some more. I've been on a roll the last few days and figure I might as well ride this motivation wave while I can.

Rain and Cold

Friday, September 6, 2013 @ 08:49 pm from England England
Day 72

I woke up this morning to the sound of rain. I had breakfast then started working on some major updates to ClearCheckbook. The codebase that the site's currently using hasn't really been updated since the end of 2008 when I launched V3 of the site. What I'm working on now is upgrading all of the javascript libraries from Prototype to jQuery and I'm also working to make the site responsive (so it loads and looks better across a wide range of devices).

After lunch the rain finally stopped and the sun came out, but it was a full 20 degrees colder today than it was yesterday. I still had to walk around in jeans and a long sleeve shirt when I went out to pick up a few items for dinner.

I had some tomato and lentil soup (very good), bread and some steamed veggies for dinner. After dinner I worked on CCB some more until just a little while ago when huge groups started checking in and everyone started getting into Friday night party mode in the lobby.

I'll probably find time to do some much needed laundry tomorrow. There are a few laundromats I found near here so I'll head to one of them. I want to have a clean set of clothes before heading to Belgium!

Enjoying the Sun

Thursday, September 5, 2013 @ 06:57 pm from England England
Day 71

Today is going to be the last warm day I have for quite a while. The high today was 84 degrees and there wasn't a cloud in the sky all day. Tonight rain comes in and the next couple of days are going to be at least 10 degrees cooler. Once I get into Belgium the weather looks like it's going to be in the 60's.

I started off this morning by getting up early and going for an hour long run. I came back completely drenched in sweat since it was already blazing hot, sunny and humid by the time I started. After showering I ate lunch then went out to the beach to read (under the cover of shade) for a while.

On the way back to the hostel I picked up a beard comb and scissors so I can keep some of the raggedness down as it grows longer. I also got some more soup, bread and apples from Tesco.

For dinner I had some soup and then spent a little while researching Firefox OS. Since it's supposed to rain all day tomorrow I think I'm going to work the ClearCheckbook mobile site and make it compatible for Firefox OS.

Paddleboarding in Brighton

Wednesday, September 4, 2013 @ 09:01 pm from England England
Day 70

I had a horrible night's sleep last night because the guy in the bunk above me must have been having some issues and literally tossed, turned, coughed, sneezed and shook the entire freaking night. Each time one or a combo of those would happen, it would send vibrations down to my bunk, amplifying them along the way.

When I woke up, I had a couple cups of coffee to snap me out of the bad mood I was in from having the worst night's sleep I can remember in recent years. After breakfast I changed into my beach gear with the plan to get my travel to Belgium booked for next week and to try my hand at stand up paddle boarding.

First, I wanted to get my travel booked and get it out of the way. I went to the bus station but realized the ticket office was a few blocks away. When I got there, I had to wait in line for almost an hour with other people trying to book train, bus and coach tickets.

I already had the coach information I wanted written down, but upon talking to the ticket agent he told me I could take a train to London for half the price of the coach and get there twice as fast. I was sold. The coach from London to Brussels was still the best option so I also booked that.

Yesterday when I was walking along the beach I saw a company advertising an hour long paddleboard rental for £10. I made mental note of where it was and went back today. I've never tried paddleboarding before but it didn't seem like it should be that hard. It seemed like it was mostly a balance sport and if you could master that, you'd be fine.

I rented the board and got into the water. I realized right away that it wasn't going to be quite as easy as I though. For the first 15 minutes I just stayed on my knees paddling around. Eventually I stood up and paddled around for a while. The waves didn't seem too bad from shore but when you're on a 2 foot wide board trying to balance and paddle while not falling off, any disturbance in the water seems extreme.

My hour was coming to a close so I headed back to shore and officially made it without falling off! I was pretty proud of myself for that accomplishment. There was a group of people who took lessons and they went out a little after I did. I watched several of them fall in multiple times, so I felt like I at least did better than that, even without a minute of instruction!

I got back to the hostel, ate, showered and caught up on a few episodes of Dexter. Tomorrow I'll get up and run in the morning. It looks like it's the last hot day here for a while so I'll try to take advantage of it. I'm debating going to a digital art / electronic music show tomorrow night. I'll do a little more research and see if it looks worth it.

Planning for Belgium

Tuesday, September 3, 2013 @ 08:02 pm from England England
Day 69

After breakfast this morning I packed a lunch and went out to the beach to read for a while. After lunch I walked down to ASDA and got some more oranges and some pasta sauce for dinner tonight. It was getting pretty hot after the clouds broke so I came back to the hostel and worked on plans for Belgium.

I booked 3 nights in a hostel in Brussels and then 4 nights in a hostel in Bruges. From Bruges I can take day trips to some other cities such as Ghent.

I'm really looking forward to starting the next leg of my journey. Ireland and the UK have been great, but I'm ready to experience more of Europe than the English speaking countries. I'm also looking forward to trying some new beer. I've had some good beers, some average beers and some crappy beers while in the UK but I'm ready to try some Belgian beers. The hostel I'm staying at in Bruges has a bar with 25 different Belgian beers to try.

Tomorrow I'm going to head to the coach station and buy my bus tickets to Brussels. I'll need to get from Brighton to London and then from London to Brussels. I'm planning on taking the overnight bus so I don't waste a full day traveling. We'll see how that goes. I'm not sure what the plan is for when it comes time to cross over into France though. Will I have to get off the bus and onto a boat? Will the bus just drive onto a ferry? Maybe the ticket agent tomorrow will know.

Another Working / Reading day

Monday, September 2, 2013 @ 09:04 pm from England England
Day 68

I went for an hour long run this morning along the beach then waited around the hostel because I had to switch rooms. I had lunch then waited, worked and read while my bed in the new room was getting made.

After getting situated in the new room, I showered and then read and worked a little longer. It started to get noisy in the hostel so I went outside and read in a park for a while. For dinner I had some tortellioni (which I learned is non-meat filled tortellini), chicken, asparagus, lemon, garlic, butter and olive oil concoction again.

I'm kinda running out of things to do here so I'm thinking about renting a paddle board this week and taking it out. I've never tried it before but the ocean is really calm here and I've seen a lot of people out on them.

The ClearCheckbook Money Management app for Windows Phone 8 was approved by Microsoft today. I'm hoping that will help bring more users to the site and help existing users have more options to access their finances. Now all that's left is a Blackberry 10 app and then I'll be happy for a while.

Reading and Working

Sunday, September 1, 2013 @ 07:45 pm from England England
Day 67

My plan for the day was to head down to the beach to read and swim some more. I packed my lunch and went down. I read for a little bit but it started to cloud up and a stiff breeze kicked up which cooled everything down.

Rather than stay on the beach and shiver I came back to the hostel where I worked for a little bit and read for a while. The Co-Operative Food Co has some really good Minestrone soup that I had the other day. It was 2 for £3 so I bought two of them yesterday and had one for dinner tonight.

I'll probably just read the rest of the evening. It's Sunday night so everyone has pretty much calmed down and the lounge is pretty relaxed. Tomorrow I'm going to get up and go for a run in the morning. Running on the promenade along the beach is really nice. It's really wide and in the mornings it's pretty empty. Plus there aren't any streets to cross and cars to contend with.
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Belgian flag at the arc de triomphe. #brussels #europetrip2013
Sunset in Newquay. #newquay #europetrip2013
Hiking between the Cinque Terre towns. #5terre #europetrip2013
Crowds like this all over Florence. This is not fun. #europetrip2013
Can't leave the UK without an obligatory phone booth shot. #london #europetrip2013
Brecon Beacons National Park #europetrip2013
I had gelato here last time I was in Rome. It was just as good this time. Over 150 flavors to choose from. #gelato #rome #europetrip2013
Banksy. Mild Mild West. #banksy #bristol #europetrip2013
The beach in Valencia. Cold and windy today though. #playa #europetrip2013 #valencia
Clifton Suspension Bridge. #europetrip2013 #bristol

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Where I've been:

Good Evening… Planet Earth
All the countries I visited on this trip (in yellow).

What's this about?

Traveling is something I've loved doing for as long as I can remember. I've been lucky enough to travel out of the US a few times but never longer than 2 weeks at a time. I decided that I should go see the world and experience all it has to offer. I booked a one-way ticket to Dublin, Ireland to depart on June 26, 2013. After I get to Europe I'll let serendipity take hold and see where I end up. No schedules and no itinerary… just go with the flow. That's as close to a plan as I'm making.

Who am I?

My name's Brandon O'Brien and I'm a travelholic. Before this journey I've been to 11 countries and put over 17,500 miles on various motorcycle trips through the USA and Canada. I'm a self-employed web developer so I'm fortunate enough to be able to work anywhere there's an internet connection. That's what truly made this experience possible.

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