Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Cousins in Cambridge

From Belgium we made our way through coastal France toward Calais to hop on a ferry and set foot on English soil. The ferry itself was bland and ordinary, but the Cliffs of Dover greeting us at the end made the sea voyage worthwhile. As Willie and I kept humming the cliffs influenced catchy riffs of Eric Johnson, we docked in Dover and were welcomed by the vast cream coloured cliff faces. There was one problem... How do we get to the train station from the port?

An outspoken pudgy taxi driver insisted his price to the station was only £6, so we agreed to use his services. He asked where we were from and we replied Canada. "VANCOUVER... Is where I'll be going next year," was his response. Okay (awkward pause) who is this guy, we thought. Upon settling into our seats, Willie reached down and found a £5 note... Being honest, he held it out to our driver and asked if it was his money that had fallen down. "Ah no, it would cost one more quid for ya," he shot back. I told Willie to just hold on to it and we fell silent for the rest of the short ride. Getting out of the taxi we quickly paid the guy, however we didn't have any accessible change to tip him... "What?! No tip? Do they not tip in Canada?! In America it's tip for this, for this, for this, and for that. I'm fed up!" Yikes. By this point we didn't know if he was still talking about us or not. I ended up handing over the small Euro change I had in my pocket as a tip. Little did he know, we ended up paying him with his own £5 note... Harsh on our part—and we still kind of feel bad about it—but we also felt he deserved it for his abrupt manners! It was a weird situation that we obviously laugh about now.

Anyway, we hit the tracks and made it to Cambridge later that night. We were fortunate enough to stay with our cousin and his wife for the next little while, which ended up being a much needed relaxing 5 days in total. They are both working on their Ph.D's and were quite busy but still made the time to host us. They were amazing hosts, taking us to their favourite pubs and spots to eat/have a drink. They gave us tours of the many colleges, told us where to go punting, and laughed along at all our quirky travel stories.

Punting is a legendary boating tradition amongst Cambridge and Oxford students, in which a person stands on the back of a narrow boat and uses a long wooden or metal pole to push off the river's bottom, propelling the boat along. It felt legendary. We got the hang of it and luckily didn't end up with our pole stuck in the water's muddy floor, which would result in one of us clinging on for dear dry life, alone with no boat beneath. This was my cousin's fate earlier this summer, but he didn't mind walking back through his college drenched to the bone while waving to his laughing onlookers.

Saturday rolled around and we were off to the North Eastern coast of Sunderland. Spurs and the Black Cats were facing off in what turned out to be a thrilling contest. It was a dream of mine to witness a Premier League football match, and now I can say I have. Our seats were fantastic, and we learned later on that we were visible back home to our parents watching on TV. Our wide grinning faces were permanent for those 90 minutes of game play. Two goals in the first few minutes made for quite the opening, giving a fast paced counter attacking style to us fans straight from the get-go. In the end, a 2-2 draw was a little disappointing for us Spurs supporters, but the action and increasing aggravation/excitement from the fans was definitely invigorating.

England has been quite the highlight of our travels. From our amazing cousins to our exciting experience at the game, we felt at home in Cambridge and it was tough to leave. But we must, and we're now off to pay homage to our fallen Canadians in Normandy. I look out the window as I type and see the crashing waves of the English channel, imagining what it must have been like in the moments before storming one of the nearing beaches in WWII France.

Until then, here are some pictures from this last leg of our travels:

Platform 9&3/4s in King's Cross Station

Pembroke College 

The River Cam and its punting

Willie at the helm

It was a lot of fun

No caption needed

Our seats at the Stadium of Light

Who do you see, as happy as can be?

Ciao for now!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Brothers in Belgium

The search for Belgian bliss began when Daniel and Danielle left us. We were bound to find the sweetest chocolate and fluffiest waffles imaginable; there was no looking back. In Bruges, we stayed in a quaint little inn 2km from the city limits. This proved a bit difficult to find when we arrived around 9pm, when nobody in Belgium seemed to be awake. The deserted area behind the station was spooky at night, and with the highway being a construction zone we figured we had to jump a fence to get to our desired path. Willie went first and quickly realized that he had jumped out from behind a large highway sign into a death stare with oncoming high beams. Jumping back, he was a second away from being one with Belgian asphalt. Phewf. Getting past the construction death trap was the only hard part it turned out. We found the walkway on the other side and in no time we were at our destination.

The next morning we rented bicycles and set off to experience Bruges. We found our Belgian waffles in the Markt square, and enjoyed them while taking in the architecture of the perimeter. There we climbed to the top of the Belfry tower and took in a bird's eye view of the whole city. Staring at and admiring architecture plenty of centuries old is magnificent. From there we ventured to the half of the city where we found no tourists. Our inn's helpful staffer mentioned the oldest pub in town as it was established in 1515. Unfortunately it turned out to be closed on Mondays, but I stood on my bike to peer into the tall window because I needed a visual. After cycling to historical churches and the river's windmills, we looped around and headed back to the centre for food and drink. We stumbled upon the 19th century De Halve Maan brewery and ordered a drink from their prestigious taps. I highly recommend Brugse Zot if you can get your hands on it.

The icing on the cake of a fulfilling day was that we also got pulled over by a motorcycle cop for accidentally cycling down a one-way... the wrong way. I thought she was going to run me down because she veered straight toward my bike, forcing me onto the sidewalk (it was an impressive strategic pull-over). She also thought Willie had no brakes because he flung out his long legs to stop quickly behind me. As soon as it was apparent we didn't speak Flemish, she gave us a fair warning and dangled €150 fines in our faces. Cheers to being foreign!

The next day we were on our way to Brussels. It was a short day but we made the most of it by checking into our hostel quickly and hitting the city centre. Walking about, we were craving another waffle. This time a Liege waffle which was a delicious dessert for lunch. The ice cream and chocolate sauce added to the party in our mouths and we savoured every bite. After talking to a hilarious American and his wife beside us, they suggested the Musical Instruments Museum a short walk away. So we carried on and got there half an hour before close. We persuaded the ticket lady to let us run around for the remaining minutes, and we saw a fascinating amount of old age instruments. Still thinking about the massive variety of instruments I thought I knew something about, we continued and made our way to the Royal Palace and its central park. Here at a beautiful gazebo, we eavesdropped on a passionate Belgian named PJ who was giving his tour ending, epic monologue. You'll have to ask me about this in person, because Willie and I practically memorized his speech verbatim and found it amazingly patriotic, yet hilarious at the same time.

To cap off our wonderful time in Belgium we decided to hunker down at a bar that night to enjoy a few €1 beers and Euro '16 international qualifiers. We would take off for England the next day! Cambridge with our awesome cousins was on the horizon.

Here are some photos from our time in Belgium:

Willie admiring the canals in Bruges
Us in the Markt square, Bruges
A windmill!
View from the Belfry tower, Bruges
Grand Place in Brussels
Looking over Brussels
Musical Instruments Museum
I'd love this in my living room someday
Brussels Cathedral

Ciao for now!


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Dutch Delight

Amsterdam proved to be the gallant theatre of intertwining canals I had imagined. The tight quarters of narrow streets, bridges, squares and crowds made for quite the spectacle. In our experience, we managed to marvel at Heineken's marketing prowess, tour the city by boat, appreciate van Gogh's talents, and walk through the densely populated parks.

The next day we rented a vehicle and headed out toward Friesland which reminded us of the prairies with its sprawling farmlands and massive barns. But now windmills and more herds of cows and sheep were added. In Witmarsum, we found Menno Simons street and had completed a Mennonite Mecca of sorts. After this we experienced the historic and beautiful windmills of Zaanse Schans. 
De Zaanse Schans
Amsterdam Canal Boaters
Dan's opposite travel pose
Beautiful canals
Fun times with Dan and Danielle
Next stop was Bruges, which was a whole new beauty. But I'll save that for another time! 


- MG

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