Day 7: Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam

Another early morning greeted us as we boarded the bus to head to Brussels. With several hours of driving ahead, almost everyone fell back asleep.

We stopped at a Texaco in Belgium for a rest. This was my first encounter with pay-toilets in Europe; it cost me €0.50 to use the restroom. In the store, I discovered that six-packs of Chimay were available for sale. Unfortunately, I was not awake enough to realize that I wanted to buy some.

A while later we arrived in Brussels. Jamie took the group on a walk to the Grand Place and Manneken Pis. After being amused by the statue, Harris and I decided that we would have some Belgian waffles. I had a waffle with whipped cream and chocolate. Although it might have been the messiest meal I’ve had in a long time, it was also one of the most delicious (and for only €3!).


Jamie had offered to take everyone to the Delirium bar, so we met at the Grand Place and walked over. I decided that I would have the namesake of the bar, Delirium Tremens (which was delicious). Harris had a glass of Chimay Triple. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to have more than one glass before getting back on the bus.


We arrived at our hotel in Pumerend, a suburb of Amsterdam. After staying in the terrible hotel in Paris, this was a very nice change. A large room with normal beds and a normal bathroom made everyone happy. The only downside to this hotel is its distance from Amsterdam: a 30-minute bus ride.

Jamie offered to show everyone how to use the bus, so we journeyed to Amsterdam. Harris and I again got middle-eastern food for dinner, which was also pretty good. We then walked over to the red-light district to see what it was like. I was very uncomfortable with the crowds and furtive nature of some of the people, but we eventually decided to go into a bar and have a drink. As it was getting late by the time we were done with our drink, we decided to head back to the hotel.

Getting on the bus back was relatively uncomplicated. On our ride, some of the girls discovered that the bus had free wifi. A local helped us verify that we were on the correct bus and seemed happy to interact with (American) tourists.

Day 6: Paris

Today we woke up and got on the bus to Versailles. After a reasonably short ride, we arrived at this huge palace.


We were able to get into the building and grabbed some audio tour devices. The palace was extremely crowded, but we were still able to see most of the rooms. Oddly, there was some strange modern art on exhibit in the rooms disrupting the period art.

After finishing the audio tour, we went into the gardens, which are huge. We were only able to walk in a small part of it (to explore the whole gardens, you would need a vehicle), but it was really pretty.


We returned to Paris and most people got dropped off downtown to go shopping in the Champs Elysees. Harris and I continued on the bus until the hotel as we didn’t really see any need to go shopping. As we were hungry, we left the hotel and explored down the street to find food. We ate at a middle-eastern place on the same street as our hotel; the cooks were very excited to learn that we were from California.

Following lunch and a nap, we left to go to the Eiffel Tower. I think this was our longest subway journey yet, but we made it in reasonable time. Because only one elevator was operational, the line to get tickets for the Eiffel Tower was quite long; it took us an hour and a half to get in. While we were in line, we were entertained by a person performing in the middle: he would interact with passers-by to the crowd’s great enjoyment.


We got inside the bottom of the South Pillar (Pilar Sud) and got on the top level of the two-level elevator. I’ve never seen another one like it: since this elevator goes up the leg of the tower, it must travel diagonally. The car consisted of two sub-cars, each with its own sets of doors and operator. The top car slid across a track on the bottom car so that the offset between the cars can change as it rises or falls. It was also strange in how it operated another way: I believe that it is a pulley elevator, but there was not a traditional counter-weight. Instead, three seemingly hydraulic cylinders were set in the ground and rose as the car descended. This elevator stopped at the ground, first floor (restaurant area), and second floor (cafeteria and shop).

Counter-weight mechanism of the lower elevator in the Eiffel Tower
Counter-weight mechanism of the lower elevator in the Eiffel Tower

Once we had reached the second floor, we got in line for the second set of (traditional) elevators ascending up the center. This was a much faster line and faster ride; soon we were at the top of the tower. We took in the sights and took lots of pictures. A diagram was mounted around the ceiling of the enclosed area comparing the Eiffel Tower to other tall buildings; unfortunately the Space Needle was not shown.


By the time we were able to get down from the tower, we were both hungry for dinner. We each went to different vendors on the street, but I was able to get a crepe and was happy. We walked over to the park where the Euro-Cup was being shown on a jumbotron.

We left the Euro-Cup viewing to go to the Arc de Triomphe. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that it closed at 11 and we were too late to be able to climb to the top. As we sat at the base, it became apparent that Italy had won the game and there was much celebration in the streets. Several groups of police vehicles came around the Arc de Triomphe with their sirens on (probably returning from the viewing area).

We left to go home but had trouble finding the correct platform and I was coerced onto a regional transit train. We arrived at another station and were able to transfer to the correct Metro line to our hotel.

Day 5: Paris

We woke up this morning and went downstairs to breakfast, which consisted primarily of bread and not much else. Following breakfast, we met outside and walked to a Metro station for our inaugural ride on the Paris Metro.

The Paris Metro is in some ways very similar to the Tube and in others very different. Both systems seem to be very extensive with frequent trains and separate platforms for each line (unlike New York where many lines share platforms). This makes it easy to navigate around the city and not worry too much about getting on the wrong train, because the sineage is fairly clear. Unlike the Tube (and most other train systems), some Paris Metro trains run on rubber wheels. From getting on the train at the beginning, I was able to notice the difference in smoothness of the ride and the difference in how quiet the train was while operating. It did produce a racket comparable to traditional metal wheels when cornering, which makes me wonder whether the wheels are connected by a straight axle or if there is a differential (as in cars, trucks, etc). Overall, I’m pretty impressed with both systems.

We got off and visited the Fragonard Parfumeur. I guess that we went there to appease the large number of girls in this tour group; none of the guys seemed to be very interested.

Once the whole perfume experience was done, we hopped on our bus and were taken around the city while listening to a tour guide from Paris. We got off at a few locations including a view-location for the Eiffel Tower and in front of Napoleon’s tomb.

Napoleon's tomb
Napoleon’s tomb

Our tour guide left us halfway through the Notre Dame cathedral, so we had the rest of the afternoon free. A group of nine went to lunch in a random Parisian cafe in the Latin Quarter (which was very good for not very much money). We then left to find a gelato shop and eventually make our way to the Louvre.


At the Louvre, we saw the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, and the Code of Hammurabi. We stayed for about an hour and a half (not really seeing all that much else) and got on the Metro to go to Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart) cathedral. Walking from the Metro stop to the top of the hill was definitely a workout, but the view from the top was phenomenal. We had dinner on the steps there.

Mona Lisa
Mona Lisa
Venus de Milo
Venus de Milo
Code of Hammurabi
Code of Hammurabi


We made our way back to the hotel and had just enough time to get ready for the evening’s activities. Fourteen people signed up for the optional excursion to the Moulin Rouge, so we met downstairs and made our way over. The show was…interesting; it reminded me of sort of vaudeville mixed with something else. Surprisingly, my favorite parts were the juggler (who was more talented than any other I have seen), the two acrobats (balancing on each other), and the woman who was immersed in a tank with three pythons. Three and a half bottles of champagne for a table of seven meant that I had a pretty good night by the end.


Since the Metro was closed at 1:30, Jamie (our tour guide from AESU) arranged vans to take us back. Our driver spoke no English, but it was very amusing to watch him gesture to all the other drivers on the road.

At the hotel, I ended up drinking about half a liter of water to make sure that I wouldn’t regret anything in the morning.

Day 4: London, English Channel, Paris

This morning started out with three wake-up calls at 5:00 AM. After the abrupt wakeup, we went downstairs to the lobby and grabbed our boxed breakfasts. A relatively short bus-ride (on which everyone slept) and we were at the Port of Dover. There was a slight mix-up with departure times, but we ended up on a ferry only half an hour late and said goodbye to the white cliffs of Dover.

The white cliffs of Dover
The white cliffs of Dover

The ferry ride was uneventful, but the actual ship was fairly large (9 decks, carrying people, cars, and even 18-wheelers). In an hour and a half we arrived at Calais.

Calais, France
Calais, France

We met our bus-driver and were aboard the most comfortable tour bus I’ve seen (comfy padded seats that recline almost flat).

Along the way, we stopped for some food while the driver rested (European commercial driving codes are more strictly enforced than in the US). The ATM at the rest stop was out of cash, so I was not able to obtain any Euros. However, we were able to use credit cards at the restaurants there, so I had a chicken sandwich which was pretty good. The bread it was on, though, was amazing.

We finally arrived at the hotel in Paris after some truly impressive maneuvering by our bus driver, Carmena. After checking in, we discovered that it is one of the strangest hotel rooms I’ve ever stayed in: bunk beds (full on the bottom, twin on top), separate toilet and shower (neither of which have locks or even actual door-closing mechanisms), and a shower-head that points straight down (rain shower-head?). The lack of basic amenities (clock/alarm and phone) and the general poor quality of the finishings make me a little dissatisfied with the accommodations. However, it is only for three nights and then we’ll be gone.

Shower head in Etap Hotel, Paris
Shower head in Etap Hotel, Paris

Everyone was able to get dressed up and we went out for dinner at a French bistro. The meal was a bit unsatisfying (seemed burnt) and the wine wasn’t anything special, but it was fun nonetheless to go to a restaurant with everyone. I ended up drinking most of the wine at the table, which put me in a pretty good mood.


Following the dinner, we left for the bank of the Seine river for a tour/cruise. The actual tour was pretty bad; since they were providing pre-recorded segments in six languages and the boat was moving at a good clip, there wasn’t much depth to anything they were saying. However, we did turn around and see the Eiffel tower lit nicely. Everyone took ridiculous numbers of pictures to try and capture what it looked like.

Eiffel Tower with Richard and Harris
Eiffel Tower with Richard and Harris

Returning back to the hotel, I was finally able to obtain some internet access and start posting the first pictures.