Thursday, July 2nd (part two!)
Paris day 3: So today we went to the Louvre and the Basilica Sacre-Coeur. The Louvre was good. Third time there but every time I see a different part so it's been good. New to this trip for me was Napoleon III's apartment, which was overly decorated and furnished, and the 76 rooms of french paintings (over a thousand). I think I had seen some but they're all on the top floors and it's quite a lot. We also did the norm, Mona Lisa, Hammurabi's Code, Venus de Milo, etc. etc. We spent about 2.5-3 hours there, and then we took the metro to the Basilica. I had no idea this place existed but it is gorgeous. You have to take 174 steps to get to it (Angelica counted) but it's worth the effort. It's a giant Basilica with one huge dome and 2 smaller domes. We went inside and the decor is outstanding. See the photos. It was good.
That afternoon we went to Gard du Nord to take the THALYS train to Amsterdam. The trip was 4.5 hours or so with stops in Brussels, Antwerp, The Hague, etc. We arrived later than expected because there was a train in front of ours near the end of the trip and we had to wait on the tracks before the final station. When we got to Amsterdam it was about 11pm and we had serious problems figuring out the Amsterdam metro/tram system. We bought a metro ticket only to find out that the metro does not go where we need it to. So then we went back to the streets and bought a tram ticket. Apparently they're the same ticket that lasts for an hour but in order to use it you have to "activate" it first, and we had no idea how to do this. (I still have no idea how to do this! haha)
Friday, July 3rd.
Our hotel was very nice. It was on the River Amstel with a great view, etc. But the actual hotel was more of a hostel and it was on the second floor (3rd floor by american standards). So we had to climb two flights of steep stairs Amsterdam-style in order to get to the hotel. There was a shared bathroom and kitchen, and our room was right off the kitchen so the noise from people coming and going was a bit disturbing. Besides that it was a great hotel. There was no breakfast in the morning but we made coffee, bought food in the supermarkets, etc. The following day (the 3rd) we went to the Van Gogh museum which I enjoyed a lot. Angelica not so much because everything was in Dutch and English. They had many of his famous paintings, however not starry starry night (sorry mom). And they had it arranged chronologically, separated into the different "stages" of his life (early years, time in paris, time in arles, time in the crazy house, yellow house, etc etc etc.) Then we met up with the Brazilian girls that afternoon and took the free tour that was offered by their hostel. We started out on the English tour and we began the tour with the Red Light District. The tour guide said that the town has been trying to change the image of Amsterdam by cutting down on the sex and drugs part of the city. So she said that the red light district was now only half as big as it used to be. But we did see the girls in the windows, etc. Angelica managed to get a picture of one (it's not allowed, she didn't know), and the girl got real angry and yelled at her, "BITCH!". However still not understanding that photos weren't allowed, she turned to me and the rest of the our friends, and said, "she called me a bitch? She's the one in the window." Pretty funny. I'm going to put the photo in the Amsterdam section once I get the time. :)
We then did a tour of the town in general, with a little bit of rain. The tour took us to the oldest church in Amsterdam next, in the heart of the red light district. They said that once the church was built the district popped up because both venues serve the same clients. From there we saw a couple canals and the typical housing. The houses were all really skinny and tall with skinny staircases. Like our hotel. I took a picture of the skinniest house in the world. It is 1.8 meters across and 3 stories high. 1.8 meters is the max a facade of a building can be without paying taxes, so the owners made it this way to avoid taxes. Then we saw the old prison that was later converted into shopping, some famous artwork, and finally the house of anne frank. Well, the hiding place of anne frank I guess you could say. They have a whole museum dedicated to it so Angelica and I left the tour to enter the museum. The actual building is the factory where Anne Frank's father Otto was the co-owner of the business (they made Jam). She originally lived in Germany but left for Amsterdam before the war. A bit expensive but worth it. To anyone that has read the diary of anne frank it is real cool to see where she actually lived, the factory, the secret annex, etc. You get to go through it all, and there are videos from interviews with Otto, and one of the caretakers. They also had the original diary of anne frank on display, on loan from a museum nearby.
After the Anne Frank House we went back to the hotel to prepare for the real reason why we were in Amsterdam: Sensation! Sensation is, or at least they claim it is, the "world's largest dance party". All the Brazilians had been raving about it all semester long so I agreed to go along and see what it was like. It took place in the Amsterdam ArenA, which is a full-blown indoor stadium. In the center there is a circular platform that hosted the DJ mixing the music and extending platforms for various performers, pyrotechnics, lights, strobes, etc. Imagine crazy loud techno music with overbearing bass in the subwoofers for seven and a half hours and that's Sensation in a nutshell. There's a bit more to it, though. The DJs are "world-renowned" (I didn't know them, but then again I'm not European), and they change every 75 minutes. The music is nonstop and this year followed an almost Alice in Wonderland theme with giant videoscreens and a narrator voice thing. There is also an MC who hypes up the crowd, etc. There was one "guest" DJ who was a surprise and also a couple members of the band Black Eyed Peas made a guest appearance. While they were on stage I had Angelica on my shoulders and she was sporting the Brazilian Flag. The singer saw her with the flag and began chanting "Brazil! Brazil! Brazil! Brazil!" and the crowd went wild. It was awesome. I went to Sensation with Angelica and 6 other Brazilian girls, so it goes without being said that everyone want to meet our group (for the girls, not me haha). I mean who doesn't want to dance with a Brazilian girl? We met a whole boat load of people during the night.
This year was the 10th anniversary of Sensation so there were two days of festivities. Luckily for me we only went the first day. Sensation takes place in cities all over Europe. It was in Prague in May and in December in Madrid. I enjoyed the first couple hours, but around 3AM, and after a FULL day of touring Amsterdam I began to fade fast. I took a break and was able to manage until 6AM when it ended. We then took about an hour and a half trying to leave and get back to the hotel. The same day we got up around two PM (July 4th) and began to arrange our stuff for our trip to Prague. We took the 10PM bus that night to Prague, 14 hours. But because it was at night Angelica and I both slept pretty much the entire way. We made stops in Frankfurt and Bayern before reaching Prague at 12PM,
Sunday, July 5th.
In Prague we walked to our hotel, about 30 minutes and checked in. We are staying at a hotel called Chili Hostel, geared towards American and Brits, as everything is English and the British and American Embassies are marked on the maps with phone numbers haha. It's an old house I guess converted into hostels. The cheapest place we stayed in so far but it's been very clean and nice I must say. We're without a television and fridge but that's ok because we didn't plan to spend much time in the room anyway. We actually ended up sleeping more than we had planned to upon arrival and had to start our touring late. We found a nice place to eat (hamburgers haha) and then we started a small city tour near our hostel (view photos when they're up). I found that everything in Prague is quite cheap. But that's to be expected coming out of Amsterdam and Paris I guess. A full pizza for 4 euros is a complete bargain. We took photos of the dancing house (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dancing_House), among other things before calling it a day around 9PM.
The next day we got up early, ate breakfast in the hostel (wasn't very good) and then headed out to do our own tourism. A tour was offered, but it began at 930AM across town and we decided that was a no dice situation. So we did our own tourism with our maps and guide books. We visited the astronomical clock at 12PM which is supposed to be a big deal (big crowd), and then did the general new town city tour, following the main square (Wenceslas square) down to the jewish quarter known here as the Jewish Ghetto. We bought tickets to see all the museums and building associated with the jewish ghetto for 8 euros (good price for 6 buildings). The best part was the jewish cemetery, which had plots that dated back to the 15th century. Because of a lack of space or because the spot was popular, the following centuries were buried on top of the previous, with the gravestones lifted up to the top level. Because of this the cemetery looks awesomely cluttered. You're not allowed to take photos of pretty much anything, but Angelica snuck a photo of the cemetery (good job!). So now we have that. It's cool.
There was also the Old New Synagogue, the Spanish Synagogue, a monument to the writer Franz Kafka, among others. A lot of exhibits about the treatment of jews, and one synagogue that had been redecorated with the names of 80,000 jews that were killed from Prague and nearby villages. In total 500,000 Jews from the Prague area were killed, but they only had the lists for 80,000 as the rest had been burned by the Germans I think.
Then we ate at a restaurant for lunch, having a beef goulash and chicken with rice to eat. At the end of our meal they gave us both a shot of vodka to help with digestion I guess. The Russian influence shines through!
Then we made our way to the Charles Bridge, which is a gothic style bridge from the 16th century that for many years was the connection that made Prague a great trade route between east and western europe (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_bridge). We crossed the bridge and went to the Church of our Lady Victorious. Here is house the Infant Jesus of Prague (Child of Prague). It is a little doll that was brought to Prague by a Princess in the 1600s. Upon presenting it as a gift to the church, she uttered something prophetic and it became sacred. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infant_Jesus_of_Prague). It's world-renowned apparently. Very nice church! Very well decorated, etc. Just like the Spanish Synagogue which was also very nicely furnished.
After that we did some souvenir shopping (cheaper than AmsterdaM!) and took some more photos before heading back to the hostel. We didn't have time to visit the Castle of Prague because it closes at 4pm.... woops.
Tomorrow we leave for London at 10:30am. We are spending 3 nights in London, then 1 night in the airport, and then off to Rome!
Hopefully I can get all of the photos we have taken up today, I am having problems uploading but I will try my best!