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Visiting Gent

Monday, September 16, 2013 @ 04:48 pm from Belgium Belgium
Day 82

I wanted to see a different city today and Gent was on my list before I left the States. It's a 30 minute train ride from Bruges and the trains run very regularly. I went to the train station today to pick up my tickets to Amsterdam and buy a round trip to Gent.

The lady at the ticket counter couldn't figure out what to do with my confirmation code which was pretty frustrating. To make it even more frustrating, I couldn't pull up the email with the information since there was no wifi available at the train station. I said screw it and figured I'd get it all taken care of later.

I jumped on a train to Gent and watched the countryside pass by through the window. When I got to Gent I jumped on a tram that took me to the city center. Gent is a lot bigger than Bruges and has more of a "real city" feel. The old city center area was nice but I felt like half the place was under construction. A lot of the statues and buildings were surrounded by scaffolding and tarps so they could do whatever maintenance they needed to.

I walked around for a few hours and took some photos. There was some free wifi outside a McDonalds so I took a screenshot of my Amsterdam train ticket email and figured I'd try my luck getting the ticket printed at the Gent train station.

Rather than hang out in Gent all day aimlessly wandering around, I jumped on the tram back to the train station and successfully printed my ticket to Amsterdam. There was a train leaving back to Bruges a few minutes later so I got on it.

Back at the hostel I did some research into hotels in Paris. The hostel is getting pretty packed earlier than normal. A lot of English people just checked in and they're all hanging out drinking. After this blog post I'll probably get some dinner going and then have a drink at the hostel bar.

The first stage of my trip to Amsterdam leaves at 9:18 tomorrow morning so I won't stay up too late tonight.
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St Nicholas Church in Gent
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Castle in Gent
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Canals in Gent
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Gent Belfry

A Beautiful Day in Bruges

Sunday, September 15, 2013 @ 04:48 pm from Belgium Belgium
Day 81

The weather today was beautiful. I got up early, ate and then set out to explore as much of the city I could without the interference of rain.

I walked by canals, through parks, through markets that took up several streets, and by the windmills again. I covered a ton of ground today and got some great photos along the way. A few hours after I ate lunch I was getting hungry again so I stopped in a chocolate shop and got what was essentially a chocolate rice krispy treat and ate it by one of the canals.

The windmills looked great today with blue skies in the background. I got a few photos that I'll probably upload to indePrinted when I get a chance.

The town was packed today too. I'm not sure if it was due to the weather or the fact that it's a Sunday or a combination of both. There were massive groups of people on tours that blocked entire streets.

After walking around town for about 5 hours I came back to the hostel to do some planning for the rest of my trip. I was looking at the map and train routes and prices and figured I should probably get a more defined route ready for the next month of my trip so I make sure I'm in Paris by the 21st of October. It looks like after Amsterdam I'll head to Berlin, from Berlin to Prague, Prague to Vienna, Vienna to Verona, Verona to Vernazza (the Cinque Terre) and that's as far as I've got so far. Ultimately I'll end up in Naples so I can see Pompeii. From Naples I'll get a train to Rome and then from Rome there's an overnighter to Paris that will get me in on the 20th.

The unrelenting rain finally returned. I've done my fair share of walking for today so I'll just eat dinner and hang out at the hostel the rest of the night. Tomorrow I'm planning on visiting Ghent for the day since I've seen just about every nook and cranny here in Bruges.
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Getting Soaked in Bruges

Saturday, September 14, 2013 @ 06:29 pm from Belgium Belgium
Day 80

Last night I hung out in the hostel and had a couple of beers. They have a happy hour from 9-10 each night where one of the draft beers is only 1 euro. After two beers the rain had stopped and it turned into a really nice night. Instead of going to bed I decided to head out and see Bruges at night and take some photos. It was gorgeous at night! The rain must have scared a lot of people off so I was able to take photos from some of the prime spots without any interruptions.

This morning I woke up to rain again. Apparently this is nothing out of the ordinary since Bruges is known for its rainy climate. Even so, when the weather sites are calling for 90-99% chances of rain, you know you're going to get wet.

There are four windmills on the northeast side of town that I wanted to see. After eating breakfast I put on my rain coat and headed out into the drizzle. It took about 15 minutes to walk over there but I finally got to them and got some photos. Between the 3rd and 4th windmill it started downpouring. I sought shelter under some trees and waited for the worst of it to end.

Finally the rain let up enough for me to feel confident in heading out again. I took some photos of the last windmill which was the only one that didn't have some sort of fencing around it. From the hill the windmill sat on you could see some nice views of the city. It's too bad it was so rainy since all the moisture made it hard to see all the towers in the distance.

After that I wandered around and came across some canals with some really nice views. I grabbed some photos there and then went to the Grote Markt to eat lunch. Right after I finished my sandwich the skies opened up again. Rather than deal with the constant wetness I came back to the hostel to avoid the rain.

I used my time at the hostel to book my travel to Amsterdam for the 17th. I wanted to stay in Belgium another few days but both Gent and Leuven didn't have any reputable hostels with availability for the weekend. Amsterdam also didn't have any availability for Saturday night in the decent hostels so I've booked Tuesday - Friday night there. Depending on how I feel after 4 nights in Amsterdam I might try to find another hostel with availability for Saturday night or I'll just head out somewhere else.

Once I booked my travel and hostel it was still raining outside so I downloaded In Bruges and watched that while I'm... In Bruges. It was cool seeing some of the sights I've already been to in the film. Aside from it being filmed here, it's a good movie too.

I bought a "beer card" for the hostel for 10.50 euros. It lets you drink 5 different beers which evens out to being a little cheaper than buying all of the beers individually. I'll have a couple of the beers tonight and then see how the weather is. If it's nice I'll probably go out for another walk. Looking up at the sky I can see some blue peeking through. It looks like the rain might finally be over for a while. Tomorrow is calling for no rain which would be a nice change.
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Windmills in Bruges
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Windmill in Bruges
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Photo from Sint Annarei and Blekersstraat
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Smiling even in the rain

In Bruges

Friday, September 13, 2013 @ 06:29 pm from Belgium Belgium
Day 79

The ticket I bought for Bruges yesterday didn't have a specific time and the trains run about every 30 minutes, so I wasn't in any kind of rush this morning to get ready. One issue that had been plaguing me during my stay in Brussels was my key card for my room at the hostel kept getting deactivated. I was on the 4th floor so every time it happened I'd have to walk all the way back down to the lobby and then back up to get it fixed.

I was planning on getting the 12:21 train so I left the hostel around 10:30 and hung out in the Grote Markt and had lunch there. The skies started clouding up and it felt like rain was coming any second so I went to the train station a little early.

I looked at the schedule and rather than wait around for an hour and a half I decided to get on the 12:00 train. It ended up being delayed by about 10 minutes but once I got on the ride was fine. It rained a bit but the countryside was nice.

When I got to Bruges, it wasn't really raining hard but it was just enough that I needed to put on my rain coat. When I left the train station I headed toward the Grote Markt in Bruges. The town is beautiful! Even in the gloomy weather the town has a certain kind of charm to it. I took some photos and then went to seek out the hostel so I didn't have to lug my big bag around with me.

After checking in I went to a big supermarket to get some stuff for dinner. I ended up getting a green pepper, an onion and some oranges. I didn't realize you needed to weigh, bag and print prices for all the produce you buy. When I walked up to the cash register they had to call an employee to run back and scan everything for me. It was pretty embarrassing since I don't speak any Dutch. It's close enough to German that I can understand some stuff but there's no way I can try to put together a worthwhile sentence.

Anyway, after that got figured out I came back to answer some emails and do a little bit of work that I wasn't able to do on the last hostel's extremely slow internet. After that I set out to find some frites to eat as a snack. I had some that were pretty good, although the ones in Brussels were better. These frites were a little thinner cut. They were still super crispy and delicious, but I liked the super crispy thick cut frites that I had in Brussels.

Back at the hostel I made some vegetable curry for dinner and now I'm working on this blog post. Every night between 9-10 the hostel has a happy hour where their already cheap beers are discounted even more. I'll probably hang out here at the hostel tonight and have a beer or two tonight.

The weather tomorrow is supposed to be nicer so I'll try to do all of my exploring of the city then. There's a 7km walk around the old city walls that I want to try too. There are 4 old windmills set up along the old canals that are supposed to be nice photo spots as well.
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Canal in Bruges
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Grote Markt in Bruges

Getting lost in Brussels

Thursday, September 12, 2013 @ 01:54 pm from Belgium Belgium
Day 78

The kitchen was slammed last night. There were a couple giant groups that were all trying to cook at the same time (and the kitchen is pretty small). I ended up making my pasta with red peppers, listened to a Coffee Break French podcast then went up to my room to read and shower before bed.

This morning I got up and had another chocolate croissant for breakfast then wanted to head out to the Parc du Cinquantenaire to see the Arc de Triomphe here in Brussels. I just checked the map and it should have been a 9.5 mile round trip but I got completely lost. I got so used to having a data connection and the ability to see where I was at any given time on the maps on my phone. After a couple mile detour I finally made it to the park and saw the Arc de Triomphe. The arc here is made up of three arcs where the one in Paris is a single arc.

I had lunch at the park then went to the Central Station to buy my train ticket to get to Bruges tomorrow. After buying the ticket I went over to the Grote Markt again in search of a Belgian waffle. I passed a few stands that seemed a little pricey but finally found one that looked good. I got a waffle with powdered sugar on it. The waffle was fresh out of the griddle and tasted amazing.

I ate the waffle in the Grote Markt then stopped by the Carefour express on the way back to the hostel to pick up some breakfast for tomorrow and some beers to enjoy tonight. I got a couple trappist beers and a random Belgian beer to sample.

I've just been hanging out at the hostel now enjoying the beers and some grapes that I bought. I'll probably try to eat a little early in case the huge groups descend on the kitchen like a swarm of locusts again tonight.

Tomorrow I head to Bruges to get the feel of a smaller Belgian city. Brussels has been fun but it definitely has that "big modern city" feel that I've come to be unenthusiastic about. There are areas (like the Grote Markt) that have that old European charm, but it seems like a lot of Brussels could be mistaken for any other large city throughout the world.
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Arc de Triomphe in Brussels
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Belgian flag at Arc de Triomphe
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Belgian waffle with sugar
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Me at the Grote Markt

Walking Around Brussels and Belgian Beers

Wednesday, September 11, 2013 @ 02:56 pm from Belgium Belgium
Day 77

I ran out to a Carefore market to pick up some food for dinner and lunches over the next few days. I picked up some chocolate croissants for breakfast and some fruit to snack on. After that I went to Aldi and got what I thought was peanut butter but ended up being some kind of weird biscotti cookie tasting spread. It was alright at first but didn't sit to well later on. I had a couple beers, watched the latest episode of Breaking Bad, then went to bed.

There was a couple in my room that was spending 2 weeks traveling around Europe from England. I talked to them a little bit then went to bed. I was exhausted from traveling and walking all over Brussels so I slept really well.

This morning I got up and had a croissant and some grapes for breakfast. The croissant was really good! I microwaved it for 30 seconds so the chocolate inside was nice and melted. I found some peanut butter in the shared food shelf at the hostel and used that to make a sandwich for lunch. I didn't want to have another one with that weird spread.

My plan for the day was to see a few of the sights and have some Belgian beers. I started off by going to the Manneken Pis fountain. The fountain is of a little dude peeing and is supposed to represent the irreverent spirit of Brussels. It gets dressed up in a different outfit a few times a week. The fountain is tiny and is located in a random intersection in Brussels but it was pretty funny to see.

I started walking toward Jubelpark which has Brussels version of the Arc de Triomphe but on my way it started to cloud up and look like it was about to pour again. Rather than get caught in the same situation as yesterday I decided to eat lunch in the Grote Markt and then find a bar to have a drink at. In my research I found the Delerium Cafe that has a Guinness World Record for most number of beers at 2400. I had a beer there, then went next door to their Monistarium for a trappist beer.

It rained when I was in both of the bars so my intuition to drink instead of getting rained on was correct. When the rain slowed down and I was finished with my second beer I set out to find some frites. I stumbled across the Friktos Tabora and got some frites with andalouse sauce. I think it's some kind of mix of mayo, ketchup and peppers. Whatever it was it tasted really good. It reminded me a bit of animal style fries at In-n-Out.

Sufficiently happy after eating the frites I set off for another bar I found online called Moeder Lambic and had a beer there. Belgian beers really are good. I had 3 different beers today and each of them was different but really good. Also, the lowest ABV of any of them was 8%!

I decided it was probably time to head back to the hostel so that's what I did. I stopped at a Lidl along the way and got a pepper, pasta and pasta sauce for dinner. I'll probably start making that in a little bit before the kitchen gets overrun.

For tomorrow I'm thinking about getting a day pass for the metro so I can see more of the sights without getting rained on and stranded a few miles from the hostel. I also need to buy my ticket to Bruges tomorrow.
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Manneken Pis
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Delerium Cafe
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Frites with andalouse sauce

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
Rekorderlig hard cider on the beach overlooking Brighton pier. #brighton #rekorderlig #europetrip2013
Galleria Umberto. #europetrip2013
More chalk cliffs. #europetrip2013
Cliffs of moher. #europetrip2013
Super Stroopwafel! #amsterdam #europetrip2013
John Lennon Wall. #prague #europetrip2013
Castel Sant'Elmo. Some fantastic views of Naples from here. #naples #europetrip2013
Riomaggiore in the Cinque Terre. #riomaggiore #europetrip2013
Churros y chocolate. #valencia #churros #chocolate #europetrip2013
#amsterdam #europetrip2013

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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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