Results tagged “Trains” from Eurasia 2012

Closed the blinds, had aircon that worked, a room that faced northwest, and sheets as well as a blanket. You'd think I'd have had the perfect sleep conditions. But alas, it still took me ages to get to sleep and felt like I was awake for ages early in the night. Sigh. But at least slept til after 7am which was good.

Had breakfast downstairs. There were no checks at all and the place is open to the airport terminal, so really anyone could just come in and eat breakfast there - bizarre!

Checked out and wandered across to the checkin gate for the planes. Turns out the JAL ticket I'd bought was already the boarding pass. Checked our bags, but didn't need to print anything else. Weird! Some confusion as we were trying to figure out how to get boarding passes, when in fact we already had them!

Flight was pretty dull. Clouds just after takeoff til just before landing, except for a small gap in the clouds looking down to the coastline at Sendai where the tsunami last year hit the worst. Sad..

Landed, got our bags, then had to face dragging my broken bag all the way across Tokyo :( The sweetie was the bestest sweetie ever and carried it and/or rolled it on top of his bag. I carried his carry-on bag.

So a monorail ride to Hamamatsucho then it was either a Yamonote line train or a Oedo subway to get to Shinjuku. We took the Yamonote line simply because we were super familiar with it.

Then the long painful walk to the hotel :(

We found the building ok, but walked around it trying to find the actual hotel :( Was quite blah by the time we found it upstairs. But you pay a premium for this hotel for a reason - there's pretty great service. They saw us coming and ran to grab our bags and help us check in, so that was nice. The sweetie thought we should get an upgrade to a corner room. Well we've already spent a fortune on this place, so why not heh.

Got to our room and it's super awesome :) Well the view is super awesome. And there's aircon that seems to work and a huge bed and a funky bathroom area. Hung out for a little while but decided to go out and find some food (it was mid-late afternoon but we still hadn't had lunch).

Wandered towards Shinjuku and ended up in the "geek" area with Yodobashi Camera and other such stores around. Decided to have dinner at a little place there - where you have to decide what you want before you go in, pay on the vending machine, and take the tickets inside for your food. And it turned out to be a super tasty chicken dish that I really really enjoyed. Who needs Michelin stars when you can find great food for under $10!

Stopped in at a Family Mart for some supplies, then came back to the hotel and enjoyed the view while using the internet :)

So after a drinks interlude, we went up to the New York Bar, a-la Lost in Translation. Had a couple of drinks and listened to the jazz band with front row seats.. a very pleasant evening :)

Distance covered on the GPS: 937.1 km
Steps walked: 10118
Photos on the Canon: 150
Photos on the Sony: 111
Videos: 0

OK day today, a few ups and downs.

The first down was a lack of sleep, it being too hot in the hotel, even after having the window open to let the cold air in, then the aircon on during the night. Stoopid all or nothing quilts :( Not to mention the sun getting up at stoopid o'clock. Got back to sleep but then slept in til 8:20!! Gah!! Then got stressed cause had to get ready quickly so we'd get down to breakfast in time *sigh*

But made it down in time.

Finished getting ready then headed out for the day.

First we headed to the Odori park. It's quite a nice little park. Enjoyed the flowers and the fountains and the people feeding the pigeons.

Japanese toilets failed me for the first time today. The toilets in the park had three squatty toilets (which I don't like because they're awkward and usually dirty and nowhere to put your bags) and a disabled toilet which I waited ages for someone to get out of, only to find *none* of the toilets had toilet paper anyway. So didn't go. Fail.

Wandered past the old government office building, which also had some nice gardens, and tormented a couple of tortoises.

Then we headed up to the station and got a train to Otaru. Couldn't get a seat to start with, but did later when some people got off.

So got to the station and just wandered down to the water. Found the canal. It wasn't quite what I was expecting. I guess I was expecting it to be a little more "European" with shops along the canal.

But we did find the Otaru beer cafe, so went in there for a couple of beers and lunch.

After lunch went to the harbour, then wandered back to the station.

Got back to Sapporo and I found signs for the JR T38 tower. So went and found that while the sweetie had a coffee. 700 yen (no discount or freebie for JR pass though - doh!). It had a pretty good view - probably better than the TV tower that you can also go up, as it's quite a bit higher.

Got back to the hotel and didn't end up doing anything else for the day. The sweetie had a snooze and I read news feeds. I also got all my beer of the day entries done which hadn't been done since London.

Went out to get some snacks for dinner but that was all for the day.

Distance covered on the GPS: 90.3 km
Steps walked: 14117
Photos on the Canon: 142
Photos on the Sony: 76
Videos: 2+?

Well today was pretty good until the wheels fell off .....

At 4am the sun was rising and it was pretty bright. At 5am the sun was streaming into the room. Grunt. This country could really use daylight saving!!

Breakfast at the hotel.

Then we hopped on a tram three stops up the road and a short walk to the Hakodate ropeway (cable car). Apparently this is one of the world's top three views at night (after Hong Kong and Naples). Sadly I didn't know this until it was too late. Oh well. Next time.. hrmmm. But even during the day it was pretty nice.

Came back down and wandered past some of the churches.

And the brick warehouses.

And was a little spun out by a plaque showing the height of the 2011 tsunami. Looking around the area you'd never know though.

Continued wandering, back through the morning fish market (it wasn't morning anymore but there were still a few things open).

And finally back to the hotel to pick up our bags.

Hakodate is a pretty user-friendly town. There's maps and signs all over the place, including in the pavement. I won't object if we ever have to come back here :)

Headed to the station. The next train was about an hour away. Couldn't get a reservation (they were all taken). Found some lunch at the station then went to get the train. Luckily we got seats no problems.

The train trip was quite nice. A lot of it was around the water so we had a pretty good view. It reminded me a lot of the day we took a train around the Kii peninsula.

Arrived in Sapporo and was walking to the hotel when one of the wheels fell off my suitcase :(:(:(:( This is going to prove very problematic over the next week :( What is it with me and luggage this trip? First my backpack, now my suitcase :( Blah.

Got to our hotel and checked in. It seems it must be a Chisun rule to have *tiny* rooms, not just an Osaka thing (our Loisir hotel in Hakodate had much more space).

Then wandered out to find dinner. Went to a little soba place hidden inside a building. Was pretty tasty.

Then back here to charge things and figure out what we're going to do on this island..

Distance covered on the GPS: 325.7 km
Steps walked: 11336
Photos on the Canon: 173
Photos on the Sony: 35
Videos: 0

Pretty quiet day today, as the step count will testify :)

Up, ready and out the door by 8:45. McGriddle for breakfast.

First train at 9:40 - shinkansen from Shin-Osaka to Tokyo. Slept a bit on the train (was so asleep I actually slept through the stop at Nagoya!). Couldn't see shiny at all :(

Short transfer at Tokyo, then took the next shinkansen to Shin-Aomori. Zoomed through Fukushima but stopped at Sendai. Dozed a little after Sendai. Lunch was bento boxes we picked up on Tokyo station.

Another very short transfer to the Super Hakucho to Hakodate. We left ten minutes late but got to the tunnel under the straight on time.

And then we were on Hokkaido. We've now been to three of the four main islands of Japan. Stu has been on the shinkansen as far north as you can go and as far south as you can go :)

Got to the hotel - it was super easy to find, being right next to the station.

They gave us a free cocktail voucher when we checked in, so went up and got that, then had a bit of fun with some Japanese whisky tasting. First up we tried a Suntory Yamazaki 12 (very smooth, a bit sweet) and a Nikka Yoichi 12 (a bit smokey, I liked this one). Then we had a Suntory Hakushu 12 (a bit bitier, not as sweet as the other Suntory) and another Yoichi. Expensive but very nice and with a great view over the city from the thirteenth floor.

Then we went looking for dinner. We were in the morning seafood market so not much was open for dinner, but did find one place and had some tempura squid and tempura seafood mix. Was good, but the fish gasping for air in the tanks made me a bit sad.

Washed hair and crashed.

Distance covered on the GPS: 1342.8 km
Steps walked: 5617
Photos on the Canon: 75
Photos on the Sony: 43
Videos: 1

Pretty quiet day today.

Slept in (til 9:18! gah!!). Had a slow start, then wandered up to the station. Got some breakfast at Lotteria, and activated Stu's JR pass.

Then we headed up to Kyoto. It was actually about midday by this point. On the way we looked out the window and it was *pouring* down rain. Great, we didn't bring wet weather gear because the weather forecast was for 10% chance of rain. hrmmmmm.

At Kyoto we actually had trouble finding the right station exit, which is a first, we've never had problems before. Then we needed to find a toiley. Then it was raining some more so we stopped for more coffee for the sweetie. After 1pm now.

At this point the sweetie thought we should catch a taxi to Kiyomizu-dera, rather than walk or (heaven forbid) negotiate the buses (the sweetie hates buses, and Kyoto buses are a special form of hell). Wasn't too bad, only ~1100 yen.

So Kiyomizu-dera. The rain had stopped so was a relatively pleasant, although slightly humid, wander around the place. Queued to have a drink from Otowa spring.

Then wandered back down the hill.

Walked up to Gion and by this point it was about to start raining again. We went looking for somewhere to eat but most things (that we saw) were closed, it being nearly 3:30pm. That and they hide restaurants in this place so they're not easy to find. After walking all the way through we gave up and walked all the way back to Starbucks and had a sandwich. Oh well.

We were tired so caught another taxi back to the station, and back to Osaka.

Rested for a while. I went out and got some random food from the place we got some food from in 2009 which is just a kitchen with a counter at the front.

Distance covered on the GPS: 91.9 km
Steps walked: 12534
Photos on the Canon: 56
Photos on the Sony: 26
Videos: 0

Well that was a long day. Starting like three days ago (it's 9:24am Tuesday local time by the time I'm blogging this).

So woke up quite early (as you do) and got myself ready. Was down at breakfast slightly before it started at 7am, but they let me in anyway. Fairly simple breakfast and was done by about 7:20. Went and grabbed my stuff and checked out and headed for the station. Thought I'd make the 7:40 train, but actually things went smoothly at the station and I got the 7:32. Very short trip to the airport, went on a longish walk to the terminal, checked in quickly, then sat around bored for nearly an hour. Oh well :)

First flight was on an A319. Back row on the right, row of three seats to myself. Nice view of Denmark before it got a bit cloudy over Europe.

At Zurich had a short gap between flights - enough to download the GPS and give it a bit of a quick charge.

Second flight on an A330, second back row on the right, two seats to myself. Nearly twelve hour flight, but probably one of the least stressful long haul flights I've ever been on. Having room to spread out, being able to get up whenever I pleased, being able to fidget in peace.. was just awesome. Plus it never got dark. We left at 1pm but it never got night. When it was supposed to be night we were so far north that the sun was coming over the north pole :) Very very cool. I watched four movies - I Heart Huckabees, The Bridges of Madison County, I Robot and The Vow.

Had a super long wait in immigration in Tokyo. They must have had a few planes come in at once because the hall was completely full and we had to wait an hour to get through :( Fortunately I was with this nice Danish guy (who had been diagonally in front of me on both flights!) so we were chatting about stuff while we waited. He travels to Japan a lot because he has a Japanese girlfriend.

Went downstairs to get my JR pass then hopped on the NEX into Shinagawa then a shinkansen to Osaka. Shiny wasn't being very shiny. Dozed a little but didn't really sleep.

At Osaka station, after a little bit of fuss, found the sweetie!!!!!!!!!!!!! Epic awesome :):):):)

Grabbed a McPork for lunch and ate it as we walked down to the hotel, getting there a bit after 2pm.

So yeah, shower, resting, "catching up", beer from the hotel vending machines, it was a lovely afternoon.

Headed out to get some dinner - went to the little ramen place we went to during the heatwave last time we were here.

Turns out this hotel does have a laundry (yayy!) so put our washing on. But it took over two hours and it was already late. I was falling alseep and completely non-functional, so the sweetie very nicely collected the washing when it was done.

Distance covered on the GPS: 10494 km
Steps walked: 10453
Photos on the Canon: 56
Photos on the Sony: 201
Videos: 0
DKK Spent: ?
Yen Spent: 150 plus whatever the sweetie spent

So today marks the longest I've *ever* been away from home (previous record was USA in 2004 at 42 days).

Last night I thought I'd try and do a web check-in for my flight from Billund to Copenhagen. So I googled the airline to find it, and saw some articles about it going bankrupt. Uh-oh. Clicked on the airline's webpage, and there's a single page there in Dutch. Got Google to translate it, and sure enough, they went out of business a couple of weeks ago and all flights are cancelled. You're freaking kidding me right? No!! Fail!! Well at least I found out the night before and not in the morning!! And thanks heavens for which is a brilliant site for working out transport around Denmark.

So this morning I had breakfast and checked out, then hopped on a bus to Vejen. 58 kr - not too bad.

At Vejen got to the platform and some Russians were also trying to get tickets to Copenhagen. They got themselves a family ticket. I just got an adult single. 346 kr. Fricken ouch!! Good thing the machines take credit cards! So the train came but it was a tiny little train of three carriages, one set aside for families and NO FRICKEN LUGGAGE RACKS!! (except overhead ones). So I had nowhere to put my bag. And all the seats are groups of four, not two. So me and my suitcase took up three seats! Denmark trains fail! Fortunately it didn't get full enough to need the extra seats, but it came very close! Was very stressed about it for most of the trip :( I also finished my book - sad making! (both the book itself and the fact that I've finished it).

Arrived in Copenhagen, tried to figure out how to get out of the station in the direction I wanted (getting grumpy at Denmark already). Got out and had to walk the long way round the station to get to my hotel. Checked in (yayy!!), dumped my stuff and headed out again. Found the entrance back into the station that I probably wanted on the way out. But there's no sign, just a small doorway. When in doubt, follow the crowds. I'll try and get a picture of it tomorrow.

Then to try and get a ticket on the metro. The ticket machines are very confusing and the signage is worse than Paris. Much worse. I asked a local what sort of ticket I needed (apparently a 2 zone, even though I was staying in the zone 1, 24kr) and managed to get on the right train.

So off to Osterport and a walk to find the Little Mermaid (I also walked around some of Kastellet which is this little star shaped fortress which is pretty cool).

I knew there'd probably be a few people, but I thought the statue would be a little bit further out of reach and you'd view it from the shore. Turns out you can go right up to it, as dozens of people from multiple tour buses were trying to do. hrmmm.

From there on it was a really long walk zigzagging my way back through Copenhagen.

Past our good friend Mary's house..

Into the Marmonkirken (just missed a dome visit)..

Up past the Rosenborg palace..

Down Kobmagergade and up into the round tower (I was almost not going to go into this one. It was only 25 kr but wasn't really in the mood. Luckily I decided to, it was pretty worth it)..

Down Ostergade to Nyhavn to see the Lego buildings..

Back past Christiansborg..

And Tivoli Gardens (oldest amusement park in the world, but you have to pay even to go into the place)..

And the Rathaus.

So a pretty good effort for about five hours of wandering.

Then I tried to find dinner. Prerequisites: had to have a Carlsberg, and had to be under 100 kr total (I'm rapidly running out of money and needed the rest for the train tomorrow). I couldn't find anything that met these requirements other than getting the beer at 7-Eleven and a burger from The Scottish Restaurant. Sadly (or happily) the beer was cheaper than Maccas!! So weird.

Something wierd happened to my phone when I got here. It's somehow got a time that is *very* wrong - not just a different time zone, but even wrong minutes. So it's nearly three hours out. Very strange.

Distance covered on the GPS: 315.6 km
Steps walked: 22251
Photos on the Canon: 120
Photos on the Sony: 111
Videos: 2
DKK Spent: ?

Had a nice slow start today. Breakfast at 7:15 then back up to the room to sort through all the paperwork I've accumulated since the beginning of the trip. Photographed and packed up everything from Australia to Amsterdam and was out the door a little later than I wanted to be. Checked out but left the bag at the hotel.

First stop was the post office. I packed up and sent home all the aforementioned paperwork, nearly 2kg of it! Partly to not have to lug around an extra two kilos for the rest of the trip, but also to reduce weight for my next flight which will be on something small and I don't want to get charged excess baggage!

Wanded up to the Rathaus which looked pretty spectacular in the morning sun.

Then down to St Nikolai's. This church was bombed during the second world war but the spire survived so they've left it as a monument. You can go up it for 3.70, so I did (I've done something Dave2 hasn't done! Yay me! hehe). Unfortunately they're doing restoration work on it at the moment so you can't see out to the west :( Came back down and went through the photo gallery of some of the photos taken of the destruction during the war.

Next up was St Michaelis, which is the church featured on Germany's two euro coin. This one you can also go up, for 4.00, and it has a much much better panoramic view. Unfortunately there was a big group of kids up there at the time which made it noisy and crowded :(

Kept wandering down to Landingsbrücke to see the piers and docklands.

And then hopped on a train back to the Hauptbahnhof. Grabbed my bag and went back to the station and picked up a roll for lunch while waiting for my train. Was slightly worried because I couldn't see Kolding on the station list, but the train number and time and even platform were correct so hoped for the best. On the train I did finally see it saying Kolding.

So train for next three hours. No GPS track. There must be something about the Germany express trains that causes grief with the GPS :( Had trouble getting mobile coverage too.

Got off at Kolding in Denmark, where I was going to need to buy another train ticket to get to Vejle. Why this country can't use Euros I have no idea. I went out and scanned all around for an ATM but none to be seen. So went and asked at the ticket office where I could find one. They said try one of the banks a hundred metres down the road in town. Like seriously guys? I know Kolding is nowheresville, but would it kill you to have an ATM at the station?? So I get back to the ticket office after getting some money and it's just after 5pm so they've closed. !?!?! Gah!! OK so the smallest money I had was a 100 dkk note, and the machines only take coins (I needed 48 dkk). So went into the 7-eleven to get some chips (lunch tomorrow - that's my excuse) and asked for some change as well. All sorted, ticket purchased, onto the train I go (good thing I had plenty of time and that there was a lift!)

So a short trip to Vejle where I got off to transfer to a bus. Thankfully that was pretty painless, although did confirm with a local that I'd be able to buy a ticket on the bus.

A little while later and I'm at the Legoland Hotel!!! Everything here is *hideously* expensive (I think dinner was going to cost me $60). But the hotel is awesomely cool. Lego everywhere and Lego-themed *everything*, including carpets, bed linen, decorations, soap, shoe shine, sewing kits (!!). Went for a wander after I checked in to have a look through the place.

Then had dinner at one of the restaurants, an all you can eat buffet for previously mentioned astronomical price. Still a bit full .. oops!

Distance covered on the GPS: 90.2 km (plus Hamburg to Kolding which I just couldn't get a signal for :( )
Steps walked: 15102
Photos on the Canon: 214
Photos on the Sony: 78
Videos: 0
EUR Spent: ?
DKK Spent: ? (too many!!)

So had to wake up at stoopid o'clock this morning so I could get to Hamburg by lunch time. So up, ready, out the door and at the station by 6:30. Three trains and six hours later and I'm in Hamburg (and I'm well over half way through my book).

Couldn't check in yet, so dumped my suitcase and walked down to Miniatur Wunderland!!

I saw this on the internet some time last year, and added a night in Hamburg to my trip just so I could see it. It's incredible!! The dioramas are of Hamburg and Germany, Austria/Switzerland, Scandanavia and the Americas. Most of the fun of the show is looking closely at the figures to find them doing funny (or rude) stuff. There's action going on everywhere. It's just amazing. I got there just after 1:30pm and stayed til nearly closing time (5:45pm). The crowds were starting to thin out by 3:30 and it was pretty empty by 4:30, so afternoon is definitely the time to go.

The biggest trouble I had was finding the entrance and actually getting in. The Hamburg Dungeon is right next door and gets all the big signage. The Miniatur Wunderland just a portable sign by a door further along the building. I wasn't sure if I was going in the exit (and it's up a few flights of stairs - next time - catch the lift up!). There's not a word in English so I wasn't sure if the line I was getting into was for people with or without tickets. There was only one line though, and it was all a big mess. Even when you got your ticket you're in the middle of the shop that's selling stuff and that's where the exit is too. It was just chaos. This is pretty abysmal for Germans who are usually so much more organised at that sort of thing.

Anyway, so after that I just wandered up through the city, passing St Nikolai's (which is being renovated - don't know what the view will be like) and the Rathaus and Binnenalster.

Went through the station, and looked for local beer and/or hamburgers for dinner. No local beers, but did find a hamburger (patty), but it was pretty dry.

Finally back to the hotel and checked in. This is a nice hotel from what I've seen so far, pity I only have the one night!

Distance covered on the GPS: 487.5 km (a bit more than this but the GPS kept dropping out on the last train :( )
Steps walked: 12415
Photos on the Canon: 421
Photos on the Sony: 71
Videos: 23
EUR Spent: ?

Had a bit of a sleepin this morning. Sort of. Really it was just a slow start. I'd originally been planning to go find this bridge - - but it was all going to be too much effort.

So instead I talked to the sweetie and read news feeds and eventually headed off to go to The Hague.

2.50 for a tram from The Hague HS to the MC Escher museum! This museum/gallery is housed in an old royal palace! Which is very beautiful all by itself, including a whole heap of newer chandeliers in various shapes. The ground floor had some of MC Escher's early work, the middle floor his later work, and the upper floor some fun with optical illusions.

Then I decided to see if I could make to Rotterdam to catch the 14:15 Kinderdijk cruise. It was about 12:40. hmm.

Firstly I walked by the little lake in the middle of the Hague. Then hopped on a tram, but made a mistake with the numbers, and assumed it went to the station. But it didn't. So got off after one stop and had to wait for a tram that *did* go to the station. The long way :/ Gah. So got to the station and didn't have to wait too long for a train. Got into Rotterdam and then had to go find the Metro. But they're doing all these station works and signs for the Metro dried up :( Gah. Finally found it and then was trying to figure out tickets. But the machines were all in Dutch. So went to the info desk and they said probably just catch a tram, they're upstairs. So up I went, but they were doing work on the tram lines so there were no trams. Just a sign in Dutch saying something about where they were going from. But I couldn't read it and didn't know really where I was or where they were talking about. Gah. So went back down and said halp, and he told me how much it would be for a two hour disposable chip card (3.50). So went to the machines and figured out they had a touch screen which could be chosen in English. Yay! So got my ticket and raced down to the train. Two minute wait so not so bad. Got to Leuvehaven and then had to race down to the river. It was 14:03 at this point. Saw a sign for the cruise so was racing down and saw the boat so headed for that. But then I had to go back to buy a ticket! Gah! But it all worked out in the end and made it with a couple of minutes to spare! Phew!

So the cruise was very peaceful and relaxing. Met a couple from Australia (Debbie and Gary) who were living in England. So sat with them and chatted the whole way.

When we got to Kinderdijk we went up to the shop and they had bikes for hire! 2.50/hour! So we all hired a bike! Best. Idea. Ever. So we biked up the canals and looked at the windmills and all the gooses. Very very cool.

Got back to the boat quite hot from lots of cycling.

Continued chatting all the way back to Rotterdam. A lovely afternoon.

Got off and walked up to see the "cube" houses. They were pretty cool.

Then I thought I walk through the markets. But everything was being dismantled. In fact apart from cafes nothing was open, it being after 6pm. So kept walking, following the crowds and eventually the signs to the Centraal station.

And back to Amsterdam.

Got back and did my washing - it takes *forever* to wash and dry. Got some falafel and salad from the place downstairs and ate it in my room. This hotel/laundry are certainly conveniently placed! A very late night again :(

Distance covered on the GPS: 211.3 km
Steps walked: 15594
Photos on the Canon: 194
Photos on the Sony: 122
Videos: 3
EUR Spent: ?

Alarm went off just after 5am this morning. After a late night this was not welcome. I was barely functioning as I got ready. Headed off a bit before 6am, and hopped on a train to Brussels. I partly dozed but didn't get any sleep. Stoopidly (again) I got an aisle seat. But the train was mostly empty so I took the window seat next to me. Why even bother asking for preferences on seating if you're not going to pay any attention to them??

So got to Brussels Midi and went and dumped my suitcase in a locker (4 euro, but if I'd gone to the place across the way it'd have been 3.60 .. doh!). Then went to figure out how I'd be getting to Amsterdam. Then to go get a Metro ticket. You can get an all day pass for 6 euro which turned out to be really great value (since individual tickets are 2 euro each). Brussels' Metro is a lot smaller that Paris, and generally much better organised and user-friendly. So had no problems figuring out my way around. They have these funky indicator boards that show where all the trains on the line are at (forwards and backwards).

Hopped on a train and headed up to the Atomium! Except for some reason I thought it opened at 9am, when it actually opened at 10am. Doh!

Didn't want to wait an hour there so headed to the Koekelberg basilica. Something like the fifth biggest church in the world or something. This area was completely devoid of any tourists which was a little scary. Walked up to the basilica which was supposed to open at 9am, but there were no signs anywhere. Eventually I found an open door and went in, but it looked like they were about to have a service, so I just took a picture or two and walked out again. I didn't bother going up the dome because it was too hazy.

From there walked down to the "Don't Trip!" sculpture. The walk down had even less people around, and lots of guys just standing around by themselves. So that was a lot scary. But made it safely through.

Then on another train back up to the Atomium. This thing was built for the 1958 World Expo, and it was so popular they kept it. The view from the top would have been great on a clear day, but as it was it was a bit of a waste. But walking and escalating up and down through the spheres for the exhibitions was pretty cool.

Back into town again and straight out to Jubelpark to see the arch. You can actually go up the arch (and it's free!) via the military museum next to it (you just need to cloak your bags). On the way back out, I went and had a look at the hall of planes which was pretty cool.

Finally into the old town. Got off at Centraal and walked down. Saw a sign for Manneken Pis (translated: little man peeing) and then it was just a matter of following the crowds.

All up and down the alleys here are chocolate shops and waffle shops, as well as the souvenir shops. I got a waffle with brown sugar for 1.80. I have to say I preferred the paris waffle better - this one was quite a bit *heavier*. Also bought some Belgian chocolates .. oops :)

Continued on to the Market Square which was surrounded by beautiful buildings.

And down to Delirium Cafe, which I'd read online had a decent range of Belgian beers. Had an Affligem and a Trapistes Rochefort. Yum.

So headed back to the Midi station feeling slightly merry, and off I went again to Amsterdam.

Three hour train trip, I don't think I slept either :/

Got to Amsterdam and walked down to the hotel. After all the TripAdvisor reviews I'd read I was terrified it was going to be awful. But I ended up getting a room with a shower (I'd paid for a shared one). Yes it's super tiny, but seems relatively clean. And got some help with the suitcase on the super steep steps. Only main problem so far - the window doesn't actually lock :/

Headed out again to find some dinner. There's a laundromat directly opposite the hotel which is super awesome. And a fries and mayo place next door. But I wanted something with salad for dinner, so went for a wander. Walked down a lane that was full of south american grill cafes. Found something there (had chicken schnitzel though not steak).

And then kept wandering. There's such a lot of life going on here. Be better if the sweetie was here ....

And now it's 11pm. How does that work? Will attempt to sleep in... maybe... I was orignally planning to go see Anne Frank's house which opens at 9. Will see how I go. As for the rest of the day, I need some suggestions. What are *must dos* ?

Distance covered on the GPS: 581.1 km
Steps walked: 26891
Photos on the Canon: 207
Photos on the Sony: 67
Videos: 0
EUR Spent: ?

Well I can say I've done Paris. And have no burning desire ever to return. It's big and noisy and overcrowded and full of rude tourists.

And the metro system is painful. From line changes requiring walks of hundreds of metres to lack of signage.. give me London any day. Today I entered a station only to find that that was the entry for one platform only. To go to the other platform would have meant leaving the station and using another ticket. In the end I just got on a train and swapped directions at the next station down. And several times I've come to an intersection in the maze of tunnels only to find no Sortie (exit) sign anywhere. At one point the only way I could figure out how to get out of the station was way off in the distance there was the little green man for your standard fire exit sign. And just for fun the little carnet of tickets you buy don't get "eaten" by the machines when you're done. So you end up with these things that you can't tell if you've used or not. Some of the machines print a date/time on the ticket, but others just a bit of purple.

But mostly it's the crowds and people that turned me off. Rude people that push in, push past or just stop in the middle of narrow footpaths. Queues for everything. Blah. Having said that I did meet some nice people too, like the group from Sao Paulo Brazil, or the lovely couple from Brisbane (the only other Australians I heard in the whole city were at D'Orsay today).

So where was I?

Yeah so had an easy day today. Only 24000 steps, down 14000 from yesterday's 38000 ..

Was hoping to have a bit of a sleepin, but got an SMS at 7am which woke me up.

Up, blogged yesterday, got ready, breakfast at the Scottish Restaurant.

First item on the agenda was St Chappelle. Probably about a fifteen minute wait to get through the security check, then fast track into the church. I was in a weird mood, a bit over Paris, so yes it was very pretty and all, but didn't fully take it all in. Didn't spend much time there, and they were restoring some of it anyway so a quarter of it was covered off.

It was blue skies and sunshine at this point, so I wandered around the back of Notre Dame to get it in the morning light, then trained it over to the Eiffel Tower. Sat in the park and had some chocolate and pondered the tower for a while.

Then trained it back to Concorde.

First up, the Orangerie. Eight big Monets in two rooms upstairs, and a bunch of stuff downstairs.

Then over to the Musée d'Orsay. I wandered through the majority of the museum and saw about three paintings I recognised. Call me uncultured but I'm just not an art person.

So both museums do visual bag searches, but then force you to cloak backpacks (so why even bother searching them??). Both have next to no descriptions in English. Both are relatively quick to enter with the museum pass. Both I was pretty meh about.

So on another train up to Pigalle then a short walk (I could have switched trains and gone to Blanche but switching trains is always a pain) past all the sex shops to the Moulin Rouge. On the way I walked down the middle of the street which is a tree-lined walk way. Would have been nice except for all the creepy guys just sitting there watching, waiting. Yuck.

Got a couple of photos, then walked back the way I came, and continued on to Sacre Coeur. I was tired and initially didn't think I'd bother going up. But decided to anyway. One of the most crowded places so far. Decided to go into the basilica. Not too long to get in (it's free entry). Like Notre Dame you kinda just go in and around in a loop then come out. But no photos allowed in this one. Afterwards decided to go climb the dome (6 euro). More steps, I must be mad. But the view was pretty spectacular (aside from it being hazy and grey) and it was remarkably uncrowded. So very glad I did it.

Came back down, then walked back to the hotel.

Read some news feeds while it rained (the rain sounded lovely outside the window). When it let up I went for a wander to find some dinner. Wanted french fries since I hadn't actually had any since I got here. So got a steak and fries. Well the steak was nice, but the fries were these soggy things that I wouldn't have called fries. Oh well, frites avec mayo await me in Brussels and Amsterdam.

Back to do photos, blog, and figure out what I'm doing tomorrow. The dodgy hotel I got in Amsterdam charges 4 euro/hour for internet, but I think that is by the minute, so might get away with just one hour for the whole three nights.

Distance covered on the GPS: 23.2 km
Steps walked: 24364
Photos on the Canon: 135
Photos on the Sony: 83
Videos: ?
EUR Spent: ?

Pretty overwhelming day today.

Got up early and headed out of the hotel, grabbing some takeaway breakfast on the way, and off to St Pancras. I thought I'd left myself plenty of time, but as I was walking through St Pancras I looked at my watch and realised checkin closed in like a minute! Slight panic and a bit of a run, but made it just in time. Through security and passport control and into the Eurostar lounge. Had about a minute there before they opened the train. Sadly I got an aisle seat, and the girl beside me slept the entire way - #grunt. Apparently further back in the train there were *heaps* of seats. Le sigh.

So two and a quarter hours later arrived at Paris Gare du Nord. Pretty good time for 490km!

Walked to my hotel - it's like two minutes from the station - best location ever! Tiny little room, but perfectly adequate. Luckily I was able to check in and dump my crap.

Headed straight out again because it was sunny, and decided to travel light so wouldn't have to lug my backpack around.

Gare du Nord is *huge*. And the automatic ticket machines only seemed to take coins, but I wanted a carnet, which I didn't have enough coins for, so queued to buy tickets. Fifteen minutes later .. hrmm. Eventually got my tickets, and eventually found where to go to get the train I wanted. Paris' metro signage is not nearly as user-friendly as London's :(

So into town I trundled.

Got out of the station and it's freezing cold and cloudy. WTF?? And of course I didn't bring my jacket, because it was *sunny*. Le sigh.

Anyway, got out at Notre Dame. Had a look, but the queue was all the way back along the plaza in front of it. So just wandered up and down the Seine having a look.

Continued walking along the south bank. Came across a bridge that was covered in padlocks. And realised how much I missed the sweetie :(:(:(

Eventually was opposite the Louvre so went across and had a look around. The queue for people *with* tickets was all the way across the plaza. I don't even know where the people were that needed to buy tickets.

Headed west, walking through the little arch, and through the gardens to see the obelisk which is the pair of the one I saw last week in Luxor.

Kept walking up Champs de elysee or however you spell it. It was nice through the park section of it, but then the shops hit and it was crazy crowded.

Finally got to the Arc de Triumphe. Crowded. So crowded. I couldn't remember if this was covered by the museum pass or not, so just decided to do it, since I was there. Fifteen minutes queueing later.. hrmm. I think it was actually on the museum pass, which if I'd had I could have walked straight in. Le sigh.

Went up and the view was pretty good. 194 steps in the sprial staircase to the first layer, more after that to the upper layers.

Came back down and it started raining.

Then it stopped, so kept walking.

Headed south-west and had a look at the Eiffel Tower from the north west side. There was sun for a while, but not when I was in a position to photograph it. Le sigh.

Went under the tower. They were setting up for a concert or something so couldn't stand in the middle and look up :( Why do I always seem to have crap timing for these sorts of things? Sussed out the queues. There's a lift broken so you can't buy tickets in advance (I tried when I was still at home - they were sold out til like June - now they're sold out til July). The lift queue looked *insane* and the stairs queue was like an hour and a half long. :(

I'd had enough at this point so headed back to Gare du Nord. Really don't like the signage here :(

Found a semi user-friendly cafe and had some veal and veggies (I'd been craving meat and veggies since had too much doughy stuff today).

Then back to the hotel. The sweetie was still up after his last day at his Japanese school, so we had a skype chat which was pretty emotional for me. Have I mentioned how much I miss the sweetie?

I can't find my Euro electrical adapter. I had it in Cairo but it's gone now. Will pull apart all my luggage to see if I can find it. Gonna be a pain if I have to buy a new one :/ Also realised this morning that the camel bone letter opener I got in Egypt was smashed in my suitcase :(


Distance covered on the GPS: 490.3 km on the train, 13.5 km walking around Paris
Steps walked: 26692
Photos on the Canon: 213
Photos on the Sony: 51
Videos: 2
EUR Spent: 43.80

Let me start by saying that if you are any kind of Harry Potter fan at all, you HAVE TO do the Making of Harry Potter tour at Leavesden Studios. It's that awesome!!

So after breakfast I trotted out to Watford Junction (express train from Euston). Outside the station on the left there was a small bus interchange, so walked down there and the first bay had a sign saying Harry Potter shuttle bus. Waited for the first shuttle of the day (9:20) to arrive.

Arrived at the studio a bit early (I was paranoid about getting there late and missing out entirely), but that gave me plenty of time to get some photos, get my guide book and have a look through it, sign into the free wifi etc.

My ticket was for 10:30 so in I went.

First up is a bit of an introductory film.

Then into another room for a big screen introductory film.

Then they lift the screen and there are the doors to the main hall! Which they open to great effect and in you go. So fricken awesome!!

As it turns out, they actually moved the entire set from its original location in an old hangar to the current location in a purpose built building for the tour. Same with all the other sets they have there.

After wandering around the great hall, you go off into the "interior sets" room, which has several sets and *heaps* of props and costumes. There's the Gryffindor boys dormitory, Gryffindor common room, potions, Dumbledore's office, Hagrid's hut, the Burrow and the Ministry of Magic in this room. The place is packed with stuff from the movie, and have to make sure to LOOK UP! Because there's all sorts of things way up high. I think I spent probably two hours in this room. And it was surprisingly uncrowded - I was expecting it to be like it was in Sydney. Which incidently had some of the same things that were here now, like Hermione's Yule ball dress. There's multiples of costumes. I know in Sydney Snape's vest was actually purple, but it was black in all the ones here.

Next you go outside to the "backlot", which has an outdoor area where they've gathered a few things, including one of the Ford Anglia's and one of the motorcycles, both of which you can sit in, Tom Riddle's grave, a Knight Bus, the Privet Drive buildings (two of them), the Potter Cottage, the covered bridge, and some chess pieces.

Then it's back inside for some displays showcasing the work of the art and effects teams.

First up is the creature shop, with some videos hosted by Warwick Davis.

Then you get to walk through Diagon Alley.

Then you get to see some of the concept art and models. Amazing stuff. I loved the paper models. You get to walk by a whole heap of these.

And then the finale - the 1:24 scale model of Hogwarts Castle. It's spec-fricking-tacular! Absolutely enormous and intricately detailed, including hundreds of lights. The room cycles between night time and day time so you can see both. Amazing, just amazing.

Lastly you walk through some of the boxes of wands. Apparently they made and labelled something like 17000 boxes of wands, and they're labelled with the cast and crew.

Out through the shop of course. Everything was crazy expensive though (like £24.95 for a scarf or £24.95 for a wand or £7.95 for a chocolate frog - I don't think so!!). T-shirts were reasonably priced (£14.95) but I didn't really find one I liked.

And so I left. I was there for three and a half hours after 10:30, but could have stayed longer if I'd spent more time in the effects rooms. Hopped on a shuttle bus back to the station and straight on a train back to Euston.

From there I walked down to the museum and spent the rest of the afternoon there. There is SO MUCH STUFF in that museum it's ridiculous. I walked through the majority of rooms, but you could easily spend an hour or two in each room alone. I think if I lived in London I'd spend like an hour a week just exploring one room at a time (it's free entry so it'd be easy/cheap to do).

At this point I have £2 left in my purse. Which probably would have seen me through, however then I remembered I needed to do washing tonight. So went looking for an ATM. Now I've walked past like a thousand ATMs in this city, but the moment you start looking for one they all disappear (the exact same thing happened to Campbell yesterday). Ridiculous. Walked for like a kilometre around a few blocks trying to find one. Stumbled across Covent Garden at one point, but was super hungry and tired and grumpy, so when I eventually did find an ATM I just got money and went back to Earl's Court. Picked up a Subway and a beer and chilled out for a while. Headed out again to do the load of washing then back here to blog.

Distance covered on the GPS: 51.2 km (plus the trip out to Watford Junction that didn't record)
Steps walked: 16323
Photos on the Canon: 586
Photos on the Sony: 20
Videos: 12
GBP Spent: 35.36

Busy day in London today, but on paper it doesn't look like all that much.

Breakfast was super late today - 8:00!! I woke up at 5:23, so got up and spent some time organising what I'll be doing for the next three days.

After breakfast I headed into town and out to Elephant and Castle to walk down to Old Kent Road to add to my Monopoly street signs collection. I walked a good way down the street before I gave up and headed back (it seems this place suffers from the same problem as other places - they don't label the main road, only side streets). But then on the side of the overpass was a sign! Yay!

Headed for Tower Bridge, getting there around 10am. And there was sun! And the Tower of London wasn't behind white sheeting.

Thought I'd go rephotograph The Leaky Cauldron mark II before heading for Monument. But on the way I walked past the London Bridge Experience. It was on the todo list for another day, but it was just there and there was no queue out the door, so decided to just go in then. I had no idea what to expect. I guess I was expecting more of a museum. So the "experience" was all a little ridiculous. And the "tombs" was kind of like Inifinity on the Gold Coast, except with "scary" stuff, and guys running around yelling boo essentially, but with far too many sudden loud noises for my ears. You have to put your hands on the shoulders of the person in front and trundle through in a little conga line. Silly silly silly. I'm glad it was "free" on my London Pass otherwise I'd have been pretty disappointed. And it wasted an hour of perfectly good sunlight :/

Went and got my photos of the Leaky Cauldron, then walked across the Southwark bridge, and went and found Monument. It was getting a bit cloudy at this point :( But climbed the 311 steps anyway. Took some photos and continued.

Walked up to Leadenhall markets to get a photo I missed last time of the area of the first Leaky Cauldron.

Headed for Bank station, but it seemed like all the lines through it were shut down for the day. Decided it would be easier to walk back to Monument station. Except then I waited and waited for a train to High Street Kensington. So gave up on that idea and decided to go to Gloucester Road instead.

From there walked up to Kensington Palace. Got to walk through the big front gates this time (last time they were working on the gardens and the entrance was closed and you had to go around the other side behind the garden). Going in was a little confusing about where you had to actually go to get in. But got in, and the things you see are all off one central room. So went and saw the Diana exhibition (just a few of her dresses not seen on display before), then the "King's State Rooms" which were the most impressive, the "Queen's State Rooms" for Queen Mary II, and an exhibition called Victoria Revealed which had a whole lot of memorabilia from her life. There was a lot of stuff there and you could have spent ages looking at it if interested. And the best thing: you can take photos of it all!!

Decided I'd walk through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park rather than taking the tube so that I could go up Wellington Arch, which closes at 5pm. I got there at 16:32. Guess what time the place *actually* closes? 16:30. So the buttplugs wouldn't let me in :(:(:( And the place isn't open the next two days, so I missed out completely :(:(:(

So I did the only thing a sane person would do - got depressed, gave up on the day and went back to the hotel. Via KFC.

Distance covered on the GPS: 25.2 km
Steps walked: 26027
Photos on the Canon: 189
Photos on the Sony: 57
Videos: 1 (?)
GBP Spent: 5.58

Last time we were in the UK I was completely devastated to find out that Legoland Windsor doesn't open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for certain parts of the year. So as well as the Harry Potter studios, Legoland was at the top of the priority list to do this time.

So off I trundled today.

And what a glorious day it was!! Mostly sunny with the odd cloud or two, thickening a little in the afternoon. Totally made up for last time.

Firstly let me tell you that getting to and from Legoland by public transport is a major pain in the butt. I had to take three trains and a bus each way. Not only that but Windsor and Eton Central station is completely un user friendly and information on how to get to Legoland is nonexistent once you're there. But I don't have a car so I had no choice.

OK so I started by getting a tube train to Paddington. No problems there, just one train from Earl's Court.

Now I'd read somewhere online that you could get a "combined" ticket to cover the train, bus and entry to the park. Well the dude I talked to wasn't too sure about that, but he did sell me a train ticket, as well as a ticket for the bus and park entry. £46.90 all up for return trips. OK so far so good. Checked at an information desk to make sure I was setting up to do the right thing. The idea is I'd go from Paddington to Slough on the express train, then hop on a train from Slough to Windsor and Eton Central, and then I'd have to go hunting for the bus stop. The ladies told me to go out of the station, turn right and head down the road a bit. OK, this should work.

So got on the express. Had to hunt through the train to find a seat that wasn't reserved. It left at 8:21am. Been on the go for half an hour now.

The trip to Slough is actually very quick - only about twenty minutes or so. At Slough you change to what seems to be a shuttle train that just goes between Slough and W&E Central. It was there on the other platform so just walked across and hopped on. Easy.

When I arrived at W&E Central, things started to go downhill. They're doing station works, and there's all these shops and arcades around the station, so it's really not clear which is the actual exit of the station. I found an opening that faced the castle so hoped that was it. But there's no signage *anywhere* for Legoland. It's like noone ever tries to do the same thing as I was trying to do.

So I got out to the castle and turned right, but really had no clue at all if I was going the right way. I eventually came across a bus stop and found some tiny print on one of the timetables on the bus stop something that mentioned buses from Legoland. From. Ok, so I thought I'd go cross the road and see what the other side said. OK so there was an A4 sized sheet about the Legoland shuttle. You can take a 191 or a 200. First departure: a 191 at 9:38. It was 9:10. OK so sat down to wait.

Clearly the lack of signage is not just me imagining it. Several other confused tourists came and asked me if this was where to catch the Legoland buses. I said "hope so!!"

The bus was a little late, but did come, and my ticket worked. Yayy!

Arrived at Legoland around 10:05. But then I had to find someone that would convert my train/park entry ticket into a park entry ticket the machines would understand. The regular gate people couldn't do it so had to go to guest services. Luckily the lady there knew all about it but said they don't get many of them.

So at 10:15ish I finally enter the park!!! Only took two and half hours.

The place is pretty huge. And the map is more of a guide than an accurate map. So it was crowded but the crowd was very spread out. So the queues were generally pretty good. The exceptions were the little train that goes around - it spent as much time in the station as it did going around, and the Laser Raiders. This took 45 minutes to get through the queue, and it wasn't even that good! You sit in these little carts and fire lasers at lights that pop up for points. Except I was by myself in a carriage so had noone to compete with. That's 45 minutes I could have spent doing other things :(

I went to the roller coaster first up and got straight on it. And a couple of other rides too. Late morning I passed by Miniland and it was *shining* in the sun, so went up and got my big camera out of the locker (£1 each use) to photograph it. I went on the pirate ship twice (it was *fun* !) and the roller coaster twice. They have a Star Wars miniland experience, which is a scene each from all six movies. Didn't buy anything (except a hotdog for lunch) cause it was crazy expensive and I can get stuff cheaper on the Lego website.

Six pm and it was time to leave.

Went back to the bus stop and caught a 200 at 18:10. Very heavy traffic coming out of the park and through the streets, and the bus was full of very tired kids and a couple of screaming babies. It was a *very* long bus ride :( The 200 bus stops at "Theatre Royal" first, which is where everyone else got off. But I wanted to go back to where I started so I wouldn't get lost. Turns out the "central" stop is just one stop along, and the Theatre Royal stop is in between the two railway stations. W&E Central goes to Slough then Paddington, and W&E Riverside goes to Waterloo.

I *just* missed the 18:47 train, so got a juice and then got the 19:07 train to Slough. Fortunately the express was running a few minutes late, so up and over to go catch that, and didn't have to wait nearly half an hour for the next one. Back to Paddington, back on the tube, and arrived back in Earl's Court at 20:00.

After all that travel and walking you'll have to forgive me for just getting a cheeseburger from the Scottish Restaurant at Earl's Court on the way home.

Last night just after midnight, I get this phone call, presumably from reception, asking something about my 9:00 wakeup call. ?!?!?!?!? Certainly hope that doesn't happen again tonight. I was in a deep sleep, so was completely disoriented. I thought I was still in Egypt. Took me a minute to realise where I was.

Three days in London before Harry Potter. Will come up with a plan of attack when I wake up at stoopid o'clock tomorrow morning.

Distance covered on the GPS: 101.8 km
Steps walked: 21445
Photos on the Canon: 417
Photos on the Sony: 113
Videos: 0 (?)
GBP Spent: 65.29