Belgium – Bruges

Today I travelled to the wonderful cute city of Bruges. Before we dive into that lets recap my evening from the night before… The power went out at around 11pm last night and I wasn’t sure if it was just my room, or the entire building. I was on the 5th floor, which oddly didn’t have elevator service so I had to walk down a narrow and winding staircase to the 4th floor. Unfortunately there was no emergency light and my phone wasn’t bright enough so I fell down an entire flight of stairs and messed up my shoulder. I made my way down to reception to conclude that the entire block was without power. The power eventually came back on a few hours later.

I woke up at 4:30am in immense pain and ended up talking with some friends until it was time to check out and take the train to Bruges. I ended up checking out at roughly 7:00am and walked about 1km to the nearby Brussels North train station. I purchased a ticket for roughly $20 CDN to Bruges. The train ride took about 1.25 hours and I got to enjoy the beautiful view of the countryside.

Upon arrival in Bruges it was slightly raining, but a very fine misty rain. I started to walk towards the old town center where I was greeted with a ton of amazing architecture. My first stop was St. Salvator’s Cathedral; a beautiful church originally built in the 10th century, but destroyed by a fire in 1116 and rebuilt in 1127. It has undergone numerous renovations since.

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The next stop was Church of Our Lady Bruges, a gothic style church built in 1280 with various additions made since.

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After that I decided it was time for some breakfast so I stopped in at The Old Chocolate House and had a butter and sugar waffle adjourned by a decadent white chocolate mocha with lemongrass, ginger, and various other spices. It tasted like a garden in a cup.

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After fuelling up it was time to continue exploring the city. I visited “Markt” the town square, which houses Bruges City Hall, Basicilia of the Holy Blood, and the famous Belfry Medieval Bell Tower. I ended up coming back to that later on to climb to the top, but more on that later on.

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It was roughly noon at this point in time and I was starting to get sleepy, so I made my way to my hotel; Hotel NH Brugge, which is a superb 5 star hotel which I received for free on an Agoda.com voucher for stays in previous Agoda properties. The cost of this hotel is roughly $300 CDN/night. I decided to nap for a few hours before continuing on my adventures.

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I decided to venture back to the Belfry Medieval Bell Tower to climb the nearly 400 stairs to the top. The cost was €12 ($17.50 CDN). The views at the top were absolutely stunning!

After climbing Belfry I walked across the street and picked up some chocolate bars and some boxed chocolates from Godiva to bring home to my friends.

I then walked across town to look at the old windmills along the banks of the river, with a quick stop at a grocery store to get some food.

On the way back I took a few beautiful pictures of the autumn colours along the banks of the canals.

Belgium – Brussels – Day 1 of 2

Today was the start of another travel adventure. This adventure involves Belgium, Luxembourg and Czech Republic.

My first stop was Brussels, Belgium via Amsterdam. I boarded my KLM Airbus A330-200 flight to Amsterdam at 2:20pm. The flight departed on time at 3:10pm. Flight time was roughly 9 hours gate to gate and went quite smoothly. There was free WiFi in the flight so I ended up chatting with a few friends. The flight arrived at 7:30am the following day.

I was supposed to have a quick 50 minute layover before boarding my next flight, but it ended up being almost 2 hours due to a technical fault. The original plane (an Embraer ERJ-190) was swapped for a Boeing 737-800. Flight time was roughly 45 minutes gate to gate.

After landing in Brussels I caught the train to the inner city for €8.90 ($11.70 CDN). After arriving at Brussels Central Station I visited St. Michael and St Gudula Cathedral, a Roman Catholic church in Gothic architecture style. The Cathedral was started sometime in the 9th Century but wasn’t completed until 1519.

The next stop was the Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert, a spectacular covered alleyway built by architect Jean-Pierre Cluysenaer completed in 1847. The gallery includes shops auditoriums, cafes, restaurants and apartments. I decided to visit Maison Danboy, a renowned bakery chain, where I ordered some delicious lemon and ginger cookies.

Next up was the Grand Place and surrounding Grand Square. The history of the Grand Palace started in the 11th and 12th Century, when a building was built on Coudenberg hill to house the Dukes of Brabant. Over the next few centuries the building was rebuilt, extended and improved to align with the increased prestige of the Dukes of Braband and their successors. The complex was destroyed in 1731 by a large fire and was eventually rebuilt in 1775. During this time excavations of the site unearthed various remains of different parts of the original palace as well as surrounding town. The monumental vaults still remain under the square and can be visited.

Next stop was a quick stop at the Brussels Stock Exchange, a beautiful building designed by architect Léon-Pierre Suys. The building was completed on the site of a former butter market in 1873 and housed the Brussels Stock Exchange until 1996. The building has since been transformed to a museum.

I then stumbled upon the Brussels Les Halles Saint-Géry, a former covered market that was completed in 1881. The market now houses Brussels Vintage Market, which is a collection of 40 vintage and second-hand merchants and more than 20 designers.

At this point in time I was starting to get hungry so I started to seek out some food at the well renowned Tonton Garby, but more on that in a minute. On my way to Tonton Garby I stopped at a famous fountain of a young boy peeing called “Manneken Pis”. Okay now onto Tonton Garby; the best way to describe this place is it has the most delicious sandwiches being served up by one of the funniest people I’ve ever met in my entire life. I was recommended this place by numerous blogs and YouTube videos, so I figured it had to be good; I was not disappointed. While I was eating my sandwich I met a wonderful couple from the Rochester area in the US. They had just recently gotten married and are travelling the world together. We chatted for a bit before going our separate ways.

Next up was a few other sights before visiting the Place Royale and Royal Palace. Place Royale, also known as the King’s Square, is a historic neoclassical square in the Royal Quarter that was completed in 1782 as part of an urban project.

The Royal Palace is situated in front of Brussles Park and was designed by multiple architects including Chislain-Joseph Henry, Charles Vander Straeten, Tilman-François Suys, Alphonse Balat, Henri Maquet, and Octave Flanneau. Construction started in 1783, but wasn’t completed until 1934 when the new facade was finally completed. The impressive facade is 50% longer thatn that of Buckingham Palace in Great Britain, but it has less than half of the square footage of Buckingham Palace.

My energy levels were starting to dwindle so I walked towards my Hotel; Hotel Retro, a cozy mid-range boutique hotel. Before checking into the hotel I checked out the beautiful Le Botanique conservatory.

Check-in was very seamless. I was placed in Room 501, a penthouse room at the top with wonderful skylights overlooking the city. I decided to take a 3 hour nap before continuing on my grand adventure.

After waking up from my nap I was feeling much refreshed and ready to do more exploring. I walked to the nearby Metro station and boarded a train to the University area where I took a bunch of pictures of some beautiful buildings; one in particular caught my eye; Villa Empain. Villa Empain was built in 1934 by swiss architect Michel Polak in the Art Deco style. As many of you may know from reading previous blog posts of mine; I’m a huge sucker for Art Deco.

It was time to get some dinner so I walked towards Flagey square, where there was a beautiful building and somewhere I wanted to eat called Frit Flagey. Unfortunately at this time is when a group of men tried to rob me, but I managed to escape through some alleyways. Never in my 38 countries of travel have I had an attempted robbery. I’m a fairly careful person but they surrounded me so quickly as I was trying to take a photo of the Art Deco style Flagey building.

I walked around for a bit and came back to Flagey square about 45 minutes lated to eat at Frit Flagey; I was not disanointed. I then obtained some beers from a local beer store called Melting Pot. The gentleman recommended me a few beers to try.

I then took a bus back to my hotel where I enjoyed my beers, edited photos, and typed up my blog.

Be sure to check back tomorrow when I explore Brussels in further detail!

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Vietnam – Day 8 – Ninh Binh

Today I woke up at 5:30am. I’m still struggling with this persistent jet lag, a whole 8 days later. I packed my bags and got ready, before heading down for breakfast at the buffet. After breakfast I walked about 10 minutes to the Hanoi central train station.

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There’s a few ways of obtaining train tickets; you can buy right at the station, or you can buy online from a third party which charges a small booking fee on top. Unfortuneately foreigners can’t book online through the REAL Vietnam Rail website unless you happen to have a Vietnam bank card, which I presume almost everyone won’t. Also one thing to note is that there are a lot of fake websites in Vietnam, and other parts of SE Asia for things like trains, airlines, museums, etc. You need to be extra diligent and do your research as they mostly all look the same. I read multiple travel blogs to ensure that I was picking the appropriate websites. Anyways, I chose to use the third party website called Balou, as it came the highest recommended. I only paid about $2 CDN more to book it online through them than just showing up, but it was a nice piece of mind knowing everything was taken care of beforehand.

The train departed Hanoi station at 7:30am and slowly crawled its way through the city before picking up speed. About 15 minutes into the train ride I realized that I had made a bad mistake… I forgot my passport and US cash in the safe back at the hotel. I called the hotel and explained the situation, gave them the passcode for my safe, and told them that I’ll be back tomorrow evening to pick it up. Phew, disaster averted.

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The train arrived at Ninh Binh station at around 10:00am. While exiting the station I booked a GRAB, which happened to be waiting right out front. It took about 15 minutes to drive from Ninh Binh train station to my accommodation in Tam Coc, called Tuan Ngoc Hotel. The fare was 76000 Dong ($4.35 CDN). After arriving at the hotel I dropped off my bags I decided to rent a motorcycle from the hotel for two days for a cost of 110000 Dong/day ($6.25/day). The motorcycle didn’t include gasoline so I had to find a gas station before I ran out of gas, as they had drained all the fuel out minus a few drops.

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First stop was Hang Mua viewpoint, about a 6km ride away. Something to note here is that you don’t take the first parking spot that people try to flag you down to because you’ll end up paying way more, and have to walk a fair distance. If you can drive past all the people standing in the middle of the road you’ll find yourself with parking right at the entrance for only 10000 Dong ($0.55 CDN). Unfortuneately despite reading this there was an extremely persistent group of very angry sounding Vietnamese women that wouldn’t get out of the road and pretty much forced me to park in their parking spot for 25000 Dong ($1.35 CDN). Obviously we’re not talking about much money here, but the fact they were so pushy left a sour taste in my mouth. Picture down below of where NOT to park.

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After a 15 minute walk from the very end of the road I came to the entrance of the Hang Mua Viewpoint, which had a nominal entry fee of 100000 Dong ($5.50 CDN). There is a small cave at the start of the steps up to the viewpoint with a tiger statue and some offerings from the locals.

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After viewing inside the cave it was time to start the hot and strenuous journey up to the vietpoint. 500 steps and about 20 minutes later I was dripping in sweat, but looking at an absolutely fantastic view of the karst sceneries of Tam Coc, as well as the Lying Dragon ontop of the mountain. I spent some considerable time up here getting the photos that I wanted to get, before heading back down so that I could get some lunch.

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After walking back to the bike I rode back into town to get some lunch from a restaurant, which I unfortunately forget the name of. I had some beef pho soup, but it wasn’t very good and the service was quite slow.

After having some lunch I rode a short distance away to Bich Dong Pagoda. The parking attendent wanted to charge me 30000 Dong ($1.65 CDN) but I ended up negotiating down to 20000 Dong ($1.10 CDN). I crossed over a bridge through some temple gates, walked a short while to the Lower Pagoda, before ascending 100 steps to the Middle Pagoda, which is built half inside of a cave. There are roughly 20-25 steep steps to the Upper Pagoda, which is fully inside the cave, which is also filled with bats. Bich Dong Pagoda was built by the two monks Tri Kien and Tri The in the early 18th century.

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It was starting to get extremely hot as it was mid afternoon, so I rode back to the hotel and hung out in the pool for a few hours.

For dinner I rode to the Bia Minh Beer Garden, which was just down the street. I probably could have walked but I was feeling lazy from my hike up all those stairs earlier today. For dinner I had a Hawaiian pizza, and a pork Banh Mi sandwich, along with a mini keg of fresh beer. I’ve never seen anything like it before; it’s a combination between a growler and a keg. This was some of the freshest beer I’ve had in SE Asia so far. During dinner it started to pour rain. After dinner I rode back to the hotel in the pouring rain and ended up going to bed at around 9:00pm.

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Be sure to check back tomorrow when I explore more of Ninh Binh before heading back to Hanoi.

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Jasper National Park

Two weekends ago my girlfriend and I took a little weekend trip to Jasper, Alberta. Jasper is situated in Jasper National Park, which is located in the Canadian Rockies. Jasper was established in 1813 as Jasper House and was a fur trading outpost for the Hudson’s Bay Company on the York Factory Express trade route. Jasper National Park was established in 1907. The town of Jasper saw the arrival of the railway in 1911 with the railway siding being added by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (now CN Rail).

On the drive up we stopped numerous times to take photos along Highway 93 North (Icefield Parkway). We also stopped at Athabasca Falls, Sunwapta Falls, and Columbia Icefields.

Our stay in Jasper was fulfilled by Sawridge Inn, which has a day spa, pool, hot tub, and sauna. They went above and beyond to accommodate us and we really appreciated the hospitality.

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2018-05-25 – US Route 66 Day 9

Today we drove 295 miles from Flagstaff, Arizona to Las Vegas, Nevada. We ended up staying at The Hamptons by Hilton. Today was the final day of our trip. We will fly home tomorrow. We saw the following sights today:

  • Museum Club, Flagstaff
  • El Pueblo Motel, Flagstaff
  • 66 Motel, Flagstaff
  • Hotel Monte Vista, Flagstaff
  • Du Beau Motel, Flagstaff
  • Pine Breeze Inn, Flagstaff
  • Harley Davidson, Bellemont
  • Park in Pines Café, Parks
  • Twisters Soda Fountain, Parks
  • Grand Motel, Parks
  • Rod’s Steak House, Williams
  • Pete’s Gas Station Museum, Williams
  • Red Garter Bed & Bakery, Williams
  • Grand Canyon Railroad & Hotel, Williams
  • Grand Canyon Hotel, Willliams
  • National Bank, Williams
  • 9 Arizona Motor Motel, Williams
  • Desoto Salon, Ash Fork
  • Delagillos Snow Cap, Seligman
  • Route 66 Gift Shop, Seligman
  • Copper Cart, Seligman
  • Historic Sundries, Seligman
  • Black Cat Bar, Seligman
  • Supai Motel, Seligman
  • Truxton Ghost Town
  • Hackberry Store
  • Anatres Art Gallery
  • Route 66 Motel, Kingman
  • Beale Hotel, Kingman
  • Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner, Kingman
  • Powerhouse Vistor’s Centre, Kingman

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2018-05-24 – US Route 66 Day 8

Today we drove 330 miles from Grants, New Mexico to Flagstaff, Arizona. We ended up staying at The Marriott. We saw the following sights today:

  • Ice Cave & Volcano, Grants
  • Tomahawk Bar, Previtt
  • Continental Divide
  • Denny’s Original Diner (now Avalon), Gallup
  • Blue Spruce Lodge Sign, Gallup
  • Lariat Lodge, Gallup
  • Giant Yellow Kachina, Gallup
  • El Rancho Motel, Gallup
  • El Morro Theatre, Gallup
  • Giant Muffler Map, Gallup
  • ARMCO, Gallup
  • Giant Teppee, Lupton
  • 1931 Car, Holbrook
  • Painted Desert Indian Centre, Holbrook
  • Bucket of Blood Street & Saloon, Holbrook
  • Rainbow Rock Shop, Holbrook
  • Joe & Aggie’s Cafe, Holbrook
  • Holbrook Inn, Holbrook
  • Wigwam Motel, Holbrook
  • Globetrotter Lodge, Holbrook
  • Plainsman Restaurant, Holbrook
  • Geronimo & Petrified Log, Holbrook
  • Jack Rabbit Trading Post Signs, Holbrook
  • La Posada Hotel, Winslow
  • Cottage Gas Station, Winslow
  • Standing on the Corner Park, Winslow
  • Delta Motel, Winslow
  • Two Guns Ghost Town
  • Twin Arrow Trading Post, Twin Arrows

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2018-05-23 – US Route 66 Day 7

Today we drove 350 miles from Vega, Texas to Grants, New Mexico. We ended up staying at The Super 8, which was a horrible hotel. We had no working air conditioner, no hot water, bed bugs, and no fire alarm. We saw the following sights today:

  • Route 66 Motel, Tucumari
  • Cactus RV Park, Tucumari
  • Tee Pee Curious, Tucumari
  • Town House Motel, Tucumari
  • Blue Swallow Motel, Tucumari
  • Motel Safari, Tucumari
  • Vista Gas Station, Tucumari
  • La Cita Flowers, Tucumari
  • Odeon Theatre, Tucumari
  • Quality Tire, Tucumari
  • Restored Gas Station, Tucumari
  • Route 66 Sculpture, Tucumari
  • Route 66 Museum, Tucumari
  • Ruins, Newkirk
  • Cuervo Church, Cuervo
  • Blue Hole, Santa Rosa
  • Joseph’s Bars & Grill, Santa Rosa
  • Club Café Sign, Santa Rosa
  • Comet II Restaurant, Santa Rosa
  • Musical Highway, Albuquerque
  • Premiere Motel, Albuquerque
  • Nob Hill District, Albuquerque
  • Route 66 Diner, Albuquerque
  • Triangle Substation, Albuquerque
  •  Kimo Theatre, Albuquerque
  • Dog House Drive In Signn, Albuquerque
  • Old Town, Albuquerque
  • San Felipe Church, Albuquerque
  • Monterey Non Smokers Motel, Albuquerque
  • El Vado Motel, Albuquerque
  • Westward Ho Hotel Sign, Albuquerque
  • Dead Mans Curve, Laguna
  • Cemetery, Budville
  • Old Town, Cubero
  • Gas Station, Cibola
  • Santa Maria Mission, San Fidel

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