Sunday, March 15, 2009

Lonely Planet #2: John's version :)

As it creeps towards midnight late Sunday night, I'm procrastinating the Monday morning, so I've decided to pour myself a glass of OJ, turn on some 'Rodrigo y Gabriela', and begin my 2nd edition of John's Lonely Planet.

I haven't been good at keeping these updates frequent, but at least that ensures solid content for each new entry :) Since November, I've had the chance to do a lot of travel (including back home to Edmonton for Christmas!) and many trips with Dina and friends. So without further adieu, let's get it started:

Amsterdam, November 1-2
3 Words to Describe Amsterdam: Liberal, Changing, Dirty

Agustina, Maqui and I went to Amsterdam for a weekend adventure! We did the free guided tours of Amsterdam during the day and Red Light District at night, visiting the Anne Frank House, RLD, Heineken Experience and all other major sites. Of course, the city is liberal, as you can enjoy coffee-shop-space-cake on almost every corner. This is all changing however, as the city is slowly buying back all of the properties in the Red Light District and shutting down many of the coffee shops. If you want to see the Red Light District in it's classic form - get there soon! Along with a party/sex/drug industry that the city is so well known for, it definitely leaves a dirty trail of Sunday-morning-post-party grime throughout the center. The highlight of the trip was a visit with Klaas outside of the city to see the windmills! Like Vegas, worth doing once for a weekend, but definitely not the city where I want to grow old :)

Nice, November 7-9
3 Words to Describe Nice: Gorgeous, Blue, Chique

During the November long weekend, I did my first solo trip down to the Costa Azul. Thanks to family, this trip was a wonderful birthday gift and definitely one of my best trips yet. Nice is situated right on the south east coast of France on the Mediterranean Sea. It's no wonder they call Nice the capital of Costa Azul, as the sky was always clear and the water always blue! Something unique to Nice is it's smooth stone beaches. Although this may sound unpleasant at first, it made a perfect location for an afternoon nap on my 2nd day :) Staying in the center really gave me close access to Promenade des Anglais, beaches, restaurants and museums. The people of Nice are all very well dressed and always up on the most recent fashion trends! The museums also offer free enterance and if you go to the Museum of Contemporary Art, make sure to visit the rooftop for a spectacular view of the city! If you're planning on taking a trip to Nice, skip Cannes and Antilles and spend the extra days day-tripping to Eze and Monaco.

Monaco, November 10
3 Words to Describe Monaco: Over-The-Top.

Take the best parts of Nice, add some Italian flavour, ultra-high-class celebs with cash to spend, flocks of tourists and a few hundred oversized yachts...and you've got Monaco! Oh, and don't forget the fact that Ferrari's, Mazerati's and Lambourghini's own the streets in this not-so-humble city. I did a day trip from Nice to Monaco for less than 10 euros return by train and got to live a day like the rich and famous. Everyone is dressed in designer clothes showing the most recent trends in fashion - including the tourists who are just trying to show off, in order to fit in. (I had the aviators on!) Just to give you an idea of how steep the hills of Monaco are, there are elevators built into the hillside for people to transport themselves up the hills. Also to mention that the train station is built right into the mountain side! I highly recommend doing the day trip option to Monaco, as it will start to become incredibly expensive once you deside to start staying the night there. If you do however, do it in style, over-the-top and stay at the Fairmont Monte Carlo resort, located right on the infamous hairpin corner of the F1 track in the center of the city. You can also try driving a Ferrari around the track yourself for 80 euros, gamble in the ritzy casino (10 euro entry and suit jacket required), and travel to Monaco from Nice Bond-style in a helicopter for 200 euros return!

Paris, December 31-January 2
3 Words to Describe Paris: Picturesque, Tourists Everywhere!

Admittedly, my trip to Paris was a whirlwind trip! I flew straight from Edmonton to Brussels, connecting through London, took the train directly to Leuven, re-packed my bags and took the train to Paris with Mitul and Miguel. After already having travelled 24 hours, the day didn't end there! We arrived around 9pm on New Years Eve into Paris and met Dina and her friends to celebrate New Years at the Eiffel Tower with champagne. What an incredible way to bring in 2009! The guys and I had decided that in order to save money, we would stay up all New Years night and just check into our hotel the next morning...of course this is a wonderful plan at first...but after travelling from Canada and staying up 30 hours - it was tough to do! After ending up at an AIESEC house party and seeing old friends, we found an all-night restaurant/bar, we ate and drank at until the sun came up. We checked into our hotel and woke up, fully recharged, just in time for dinner that night! The next day we toured all of Paris, including everything from Montmartre to Champs Elysees to walking the Seine...Dina was a great tour guide :) This trip was a great way to celebrate New Years with some very special people.

Berlin, January 23-25
3 Words to Describe Berlin: Edgy, Young, Contrasting

Dina, Miguel, Mitul, Max and I all took advantage months before of a cheap flight sale for a long weekend in January to Berlin. The trip was AMAZING! Let me start by saying, what a cool city. Such an incredible history, with such a young, modern, edgy city full of contrasts! If you've been there, you know what I mean, and if you haven't been there, you're probably saying 'what?'...Here, let me give you an example: standing in front of the Brandenburg gate, one of Europe's most famous landmarks, you hear classical music booming from loud speakers of Hotel Adlon, and suddenly a group of 4 punk rockers walk by each carrying their own graffiti paintings under their arms. It's amazing to see this modern/classic contrast play off each other all throughout the city. Berlin ranks 2nd or 3rd in my list of top European cities, only behind Barcelona and Nice. If you go, I HIGHLY recommend you book an apartment - as it ends up the same cost as a hostel. Dina and I booked City Quartier Berlin and were sooooo impressed, we had a full apartment with balcony right in Potsdamer Platz! Definitely a city to go back to in the summer! Make sure if you go to take advantage of the free city tour!

Barcelona, February 12-15
3 Words to Describe Barcelona: My Favourite City.

Dina and I took a long weekend trip to Barcelona before she had to return to Russia...and what better place than Barcelona! I had already been there once before (and knew it was already my favourite European city), but this trip only convinced me more! Barcelona is a very unique city, combining modern architecture, with beautiful beaches and a wild nightlife. Home to Antonio Gaudi, you'll find the Sagrada Familia over-priced, but the additional 2 euro to take the elevator to the top for a panoramic view of the city makes it all worth the 10 euro enterance! If you're looking for enjoying a low-cost day in the sun, I highly recommend buying lunch at Marcado de San Jose on La Rambla and hiking up to Parc Guell for the day. If you've got cash to spend, shopping in the gothic quarter is phenomenal, then go have dinner and wine at Gino's in Maremagnum. If you feel like touring the city, you can keep yourself busy for 3 days, always seeing new things, but Barcelona is also a cosmopolitan city where you can relax and enjoy the laid back culture of the Castellano. Barcelona, quoting the words of the Terminator: "I'll be back."

Lille, March 7
3 Words to Describe Lille: Quaint, International, Students

Marianela, Miguel and I made a fun 1-day trip to Lille. I had already been once before, but only for a short tour from Carol and I was itching to go back. 30 euros return by train from Leuven was definitely worth the money! Lille is similar to Leuven, in that the city really comes alive when the university students are in town studying. We toured the Opera House and took advantage of a free Children's Day event where they were offering free musical shows, but unfortunately we soon realized that the "music" was only sound effects for a mime acting on stage! After using this time to nap and re-energize, we quickly slipped out through the fire exit and continued our tour :) Unfortunately dinner at the Hippopotamus kept us a little late and we missed our last train - and our options were slim-to-none - all I can say is thank god for the eurostar! We paid 17 euros extra and were able to take the last train home to Leuven from Lille Europe train station. Lille's city center is quite small, but very quaint. Lots of cinemas and good shopping on Rue de Bettun. If you find yourself in Lille, you must stop by Patisserie Meert for french macaroons!

Antwerp, March 21-22

As I have already been to Antwerp, I will keep this one short. Went with other interns for the AIESEC 'Diamond Weekend' event in Antwerp, where we toured the city, did a 'Ghost Walk' at night, visited the De Koninck brewery, Diamond Museum & zoo. All-in-all a great weekend!

Stay tuned, as Lonely Planet #3 will include the like's of Moscow, Prague & London!