Belgium – Brussels – Day 2 of 2

Today I woke up at 8:00am and had some coffee in my room before venturing out to explore more of the city.

First stop was Hôtel van Eetvelde, which was sadly under construction so I couldn’t get any good pictures of it. Hôtel van Eetvelde is a town house designed in 1895 by Victor Horta for Edmond van Eetvelde, the administrator of Congo Free State.

Second stop was Maison Saint-Cyr was built in 1903 to serve as a mansion for the painter Georges Saint-Cyr. The façade is about four metres wide, and is rich in finely worked ironwork that forms a set of lines, curves and geometric figures. Each balcony has a railing with different patterns.

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Third stop was Stoclet Palace, after a few quick photos of some various things along the way. Stoclet Palace was built in 1911 in the Viennese Secession style by architect Josef Hoffmann. It was built for Adophe Stoclet, a wealthy industrialist and art collector.

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Fourth stop and fifth stop was Arcades du Cinquantenaire and Autoworld. Arcades du Cinquantenaire is a triple arch in the centre of Brussels and is topped by a bronze quadriga sculpture group with a woman charioteer, representing Brabant raising the national flag. Autoworld is a substantial collection of vintage vehicles in extremely well preserved states.

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The sixth stop was the National Basilica of the Sacred Heart, a beautiful Art Deco church that was completed in 1970. Construction began in 1905 in Neo-Gothic style, but only the foundations had been completed before World War 1 broke out. Construction of the actual basilica began in 1919, with the architectural style changing to Art Deco, and was not completed until 1970.

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The seventh and eighth stops were Mini-Europe and Atomium. Mini-Europe is a miniature park that was started in 1989 and represents over 80 countries and 350 buildings. Atomium was designed and constructed for the 1958 Brussels World Expo by architect Andre and Jean Polak. It is 102 metres (335 feet) tall and has nine 18 metre (60 foot) diameter stainless steel clad spheres which are connected by escalators and stairs. 3 metre (10 foot) diameter tubes connect the spheres. The central tube had the world’s fastest elevator at the time; allowing people to reach the summit in only 23 seconds at 5 metres/second. The Atomium, was designed to last a mere six months and was slated for destruction after the 1958 World Expo, but due to its popularity it made it a major element of Brussels landscape. A weird piece of history about Atomium is that SABAM, Belgium’s society for collecting copyrights, claimed worldwide intellectual property rights on all reproduction of the image via the United States Artists Rights Society (ARS). There are numerous censored images circulating the internet, but finally in 2016 there was a bill enacted to allow pictures to be legally distributed.

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I then stopped for dinner at the same restaurant I stopped at for lunch yesterday; Tonton Garby, before heading to get a new power adapted, because I somehow forgot mine at home. After getting a power adapter I visited the Brussels Comic Strip Museum, and then went to Beer Planet and picked up a few authentic trappist monk beers that were recommended to me.

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I went back to my hotel room to edit photos and write my blog before heading out to take some night time photos of Atomium.

Vietnam – Day 5 – My Son Sanctuary

Today I woke up at 5:00am with an alarm. Why so early? Well today I was heading to My Son Sanctuary; about an hours drive away.

The My Son Sanctuary is a cluster of abandoned Hindu temples that were constructed between the 4th and 14th centuries by the kings of Champa. Champa was a collection of independent Cham societies that extended in roughly the same area that today is central and south Vietnam from the 2nd century until 1832, when Vietnamese Emperor Minh Mang absorbed and annexed it.

The temples at the My Son Sanctuary are dedicated to the worship of the god Shiva. Some of the temples lay in partial ruin. Restoration began in 1937 by the French and ended in 1943. Unfortunately many buildings were again destroyed in the Vietnam War in August 1969 and the surrounding area became dangerous due to unexploded land mines. Restoration began again since being recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site in 1999, with the majority of the money being funded by the Italians and Japanese, as well as some money from the Ministry of Culture of Vietnam.

I had rented a motorcycle from the villa the previous night for 110000 Dong ($6.85 CDN). I set off around 6:00am and stopped at a local coffee shop close to the sanctuary called Café Que Huong (Liberty Café). I had coffee with the owner and took a selfie together. After having the coffee I continued towards the sanctuary.

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Parking at the sanctuary was 5000 Dong ($0.32 CDN). After parking I ate some hand pulled noodles in a chicken broth at the restaurant at the entrance before walking to the electric tram that would drive me to the start of the ruins.

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I explored around the ruins and it was pretty quiet until about 10:00am, when the tourist groups started showing up. I finished walking around the site at around 11:00am and was hungry again so I decided to have more noodles at the restaurant before getting my motorcycle and heading back to the hotel.

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The ride back to the hotel was very hot and the traffic was heavier. It took a lot of concentration and it was pretty slow going. I stopped on the way back to the villa for some more beer and some more Doritos. I spent the afternoon hanging out at the pool.

At around 6:00pm I decided to head into town for dinner. I went to a restaurant called Vinh Hung Restaurant and had the famous local Hoi An dish called Cao Lau Noodles. Cao Lau Noodle dishes typically contain pork and greens, with rice noodles that have been soaked in lye water, from a famous local well, giving them a unique texture and colour that sets them apart from other traditional Vietnamese noodle dishes. To be honest I absolutely love the flavour and texture.

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After dinner I walked around and explored the night market, before riding the motorcycle back to the villa.

Check back tomorrow as I dive head first into a Vietnamese cooking class and take a tour on a traditional Hoi An Basket Boat.

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Chile – Day 2 – Santiago

Today we woke up at 7:00am. We got ready fairly quickly and then walked to a nearby Starbucks. I had a regular drip coffee and C had a Chai Tea Latte. We then walked back to Santa Lucia Hill and explored the hill. Santa Lucia Hill sits on top of a volcano that last erupted an estimated 15 million years ago. On top of the hill is a beautiful park, chapel, and Fort Hidalgo. Fort Hidalgo was recently restored and reopened to the public and traditionally a cannon shot is fired at exactly noon.

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After exploring Santa Lucia Hill we walked over to Plaza De Armas. Plaza De Armas is the main square of Santiago. It is the centerpiece of the initial layout of Santiago and the square grid pattern of the city was laid out from here. Santiago (officially known as Santiago de Chile) was originally founded in 1541 by the Spanish conqueror Pedro de Valdivia. Santiago has a population of 6.3 million people and is home to 40% of the entire population of Chile.

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Right across from Plaza De Armas is Cathedral Metropolitana de Santiago which took 52 years to build and was first opened in 1800. Previous cathedrals stood in its spot but were destroyed by earthquakes. Chile is known to have some of the world’s largest earthquakes in recorded history, with the largest being the 9.5 magnitude earthquake on May 22, 1960 near Valdivia, Chile. That particular earthquake left 2 million Chileans homeless, killed approximately 6000 Chileans, and created Tsunami’s that reached as far as Honshu, Japan. The 18 foot high waves reached Honshu about 22 hours after the earthquake and left 1600 homes destroyed and killed 185 people.

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After visiting the beautiful Cathedral Metropolitana de Santiago we walked through the nearby Central Market and over to Centro Cultural Estacion Mapocho, which was a former railway station (built in 1913) that was converted to a cultural center/musuem. The beautiful semi-restored train station is built in Art Nouveau style architecture, which is some of my favorite architecture, alongside Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern. You can refer back to my France blog posts, among others to see some other beautiful Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture.

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We continued exploring the area and came across a hip modern area called Eurocentro, and narrowly avoided a protest in front of the University of Chile. There were about 30-40 armed military personnel with riot shields ready to pounce if things got out of control.

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After that we took the Yellow Metro line from Santa Ana station to Departamental station. Santiago is home to one of my favorite style of Metro systems; the rubber-tyred Metro. There are only about 25 systems like these in the world and I’ve been on about 1/4 of them. The rubber-tyred Metro was first applied to the Paris Metro in 1951, and is also used in Montreal, Canada. The benefits are better grip, quieter, and a better ride.

After exiting Departamental station we walked to the nearby community of San Miguel, which is a rundown lower income community with many tenement buildings. The appeal of this community to us was the huge open street market and the massive murals on the sides of the tenement buildings.

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We were getting hungry and were in search of Arepas, which is a Venezuelan & Columbian food that is fairly popular to Chile as well. Arepas is made of ground maize dough and is cut in half and stuffed with cheese, meat, tomatoes, etc. You can have it in many different styles. We took the Metro and walked to numerous places on google maps that supposedly sold Arepas, but sadly they were closed or didn’t sell them. We settled on some amazing freshly made pizza at a nearby restaurant. We ordered a Neapolitan style pizza, which absolutely delicious.

After eating we explored the rustic community of Varrio Italia, before walking back to the hotel and calling it a night. Originally we were supposed to stay one additional day in Santiago but we opted to go to Valparaiso a day early starting tomorrow.

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Chile – Day 1 – Travel Day & Santiago

I have to start of with an apology for a half month delay for this travel series. Internet connectivity was questionable at the majority of places we visited, and I was combating a very nasty flu which left me with little energy to write. Anyways, let the adventure begin!

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Today was mostly a travel day for us. We woke up at 8am, got ready and my dad drove us to the airport. We travelled from Calgary to Toronto on one of Air Canada’s last Boeing 767-300ER flights before they are retired from mainline service to Air Canada Rouge; a low-cost subsidiary of Air Canada. The flight departed Calgary at 11:45am and we arrived in Toronto at 5:15pm. After a 2 hour layover in Toronto we departed for Santiago on Air Canada’s flagship Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. The flight arrived the next morning at 8:45am.

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After landing in Santiago we went through customs, which was actually a fairly painless experience contrary to what I had read online. After clearing customs we boarded a Centropuerto Bus that took us to the city center station of Los Heros for only $3.20/pp. Once we reached Los Heros we took the Red Metro line ($1.30/pp trip) to Manuel Montt station, which was right below our hotel; the ibis Providencia. We checked into the hotel and had a quick two hour nap before venturing out into the city.

After waking up from our nap we walked along the Mapocho River, which was extremely turbid and fast flowing. The river led us to the beautiful community of Bellavista, where we stopped at the Fukai Sushi restaurant and ordered some sushi rolls. We tried three unique rolls that we’ve never had before; Guacamole Rolls, Baked Brie Rolls, and Seared Salmon with Almond Slivers. We’ll call this lunch/dinner since it was about 3 in the afternoon.

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After having our meal we walked to Funicular de Santiago, which took us to the top of San Cristobal Hill. The funicular was opened in 1925 and definitely shows its age. The views provided from the top of the hill are absolutely fascinating. We had 360 degree views of the entire city, including one of my favorite of the newest flagship building in Santiago; Gran Torre Santiago, which is a 300 metre tall skyscraper that towers over the city. Gran Torre was completed in 2013 and is the tallest building in South America. Also at the top of the hill was Virgin of the Immaculate Conception (Virgin Mary).

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Instead of taking the funicular back down the hill we opted to take the gondola across the hill and down the other side, exiting near the Gran Torre. We ended up walking around a bit before taking the Red Metro line to Baquedano station, where we got off to get ourselves some of the famous ice cream from Heladeria Emporio La Rosa. C had I both had two scoops of Ice Cream. C had Raspberry & Pineapple, while I had Vanilla & Cookies and Cream. It was starting to get late and we were tired so we walked past Santa Lucia Hill before walking back to the hotel. We walked a total of 23km today, which our feet and bodies definitely felt considering we only got 1.5 hours of sleep on the plane as well as a two hour nap.

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2018-03-19 – Barcelona

Today I woke up at around 8:00am without an alarm clock. I walked down the street to a local cafe just simply titled as “365”. I had a delicious seedy bagel with Brie cheese, smoked salmon and what I think was arugula, almond with a croissant and two Americano coffees. I needed two as one was simply not enough to get me going today.
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After breakfast I went back to the hotel room to pack, placed my bag into a locker at the hotel, and took the metro to Sagrada Família. Construction of Sagrada Família started in 1882 (136 years ago) and is scheduled to be completed in 2028. The architect Fransico de Paula del Villar started the project and Antoni Gaudi took over as chief architect only one year after construction started. Gaudi devoted almost his entire remainder of his life to the project until his death in 1926 at the age of 73 when he was hit by a tram. Construction was slow because it relied solely on private donations, and then was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War for a period of time.
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After visiting Sagrada Família I went and checked out a few other Gaüdi buildings and Barcelona’s Arc du Triumph before returning to the hotel to grab my bag from the locker before taking the R2 regional train to the airport, as this allowed me to use my 72 hour transit pass instead of having to pay again to use the Airport Express Bus. I should have just taken the train when I arrived as it was much better and cheaper than the airport bus, but hey that’s a lesson learned.
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I arrived at the airport a bit early so I had some food and a beer before hoping onboard my Joon (Air France) flight. This is a new spin-off hip airline similar to our own Air Canada Rouge, but in my opinion it’s much better as there is more leg room and the staff are nicer and presented better.
The Nomad Hotel I was staying at was a short complimentary shuttle ride from Charles De Gaulle airport. The hotel was very futuristic with a tablet controlling everything from the lighting, air conditioning, and projection television to displaying how much water I used and how much I had left. The bed was also exceptionally comfortable.
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2018-03-18 – Montserrat & Barcelona

Today I woke up at 7:00am with the help of my alarm clock. Since it was the weekend the only breakfast place that was open near me was McDonald’s so I walked there and had an Egg McMuffin for breakfast before catching the metro and regional train to Montserrat. I arrived in Montserrat at around 10:00am.
Montserrat, whose name means ‘serrated mountain’, is ideally located to play an important role in the cultural and spiritual life of Catalonia. The Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey was built on Montserrat in 880AD. Having survived two fires, and the Spanish Civil War, the basilica still stands strong, and is currently undergoing restoration as i write this.
When in Montserrat I visited the Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey as well as taking the funicular up to the top of the mountain to overlook the entire Montserrat complex, as well as complete a small hike.
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I returned to Barcelona at approximately 3:00pm, and scoped out some food since I was hungry. I noticed a Japanese restaurant called Takumi Ramen Restausant while walking yesterday so I decided to visit there for lunch. I had a spicy chicken ramen dish with vegetables, and it was delicious!
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After finishing a late lunch I took a number 24 bus to Park Güell. The park was another one of Gaüdi’s masterpieces. It’s a total shame that it never got finished.
Eusebi Güell and Antoni Gaudí conceived this park and housing complex in 1900. They imagined an organized grouping of high-quality homes, decked out with all the latest technological advancements to ensure maximum comfort, finished off with an artistic touch.
The park was built between 1900 and 1914 and was officially opened as a public park in 1926 after Gaüdi died and the project was deemed as a failure due to lack of transportation and amenities to the main city, as well as lack of oversight and funds.
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After visiting the park I decided to walk around town to discover more architecture including Gaüdi pieces of work such as Casa Calvet before stopping to have a chicken and brie baguette for dinner.
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After dinner I went back to my hotel at around 8:00pm and prepared for bed as I was fairly tired. Tomorrow is my last day of my trip and includes a trip to Sagrada Familia before hopping on a flight back to Paris.

 

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2018-03-16 – Lyon

Today I woke up at 7:00am with the use of an alarm, because I knew I had a busy day ahead of me. The day started off by taking the metro to City Hall Lyon station where I saw City Hall Lyon, Bartholdi Fountain, Place des Terreaux and picked up some delicious baked goods from Antoinette Pain & Brioche. The City Hall Lyon was built in 1651, but has survive a fire, and received some modifications and restorations since.
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My next stop was Amphitheater of the Three Gauls. The amphitheater dates back to 19AD and has ties back to the Roman’s! It’s estimated that the theatre had four levels of seats, and was about 80×60 metres in size. I then stopped at a local coffee shop and had a delicious coffee with a cranberry and chocolate chip cookie.
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After the coffee shop I walked the streets in the beautiful community of La Croix-Rousse, coming across a very beautiful stairwell called Cour des Voraces. I rode Metro Line C back down, which is a pretty unique Metro line, holding the current record for the worlds steepest metro line.
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After some walking and a quick ride up a funicular line 1 the next stop was the Ancient Theatre of Fourvière and the adjoining museum. The museum showcased the history of how Lyon came to be and why there was so much Roman influence in the city. The theatre was built around 15BC, has a 90 metre radius and could hold an estimated 10000 people!
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The next stop was the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere and the underwhelming Metallic Tower of Fourvière next to it. The basilica is actually rather new compared to the rest of the Lyon, being built between 1872 and 1884. It overlooks the entire city and is decorated with some of the most beautiful art that I’ve ever seen!

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I took the funicular back town to the community of Vieux Lyon. I had pizza and a beer for lunch at La Trattoria before walking through the remainder of Vieux Lyon, visiting the also rather underwhelming Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptist). I was quite tired at this point having walked over 20km, so I went back to my hotel for what was supposed to be a 1 hour nap, that ended up turning into a 3 hour nap.
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When I woke up I took the tram to Musée des Confluences and took a picture from the nearly bridge overlooking the museum. I then went back to the base of Fourvière and took the funicular back up so that I could get some night time photos of the basiclica and a view of the city. On the way home I stopped by Brasserie George, which was literally next door to my hotel. I picked up a Princess Pale Ale, which was a delicious India pale ale with mild citrus notes.
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While drinking my beer I booked some exhibits that I wanted to see in Barcelona as they were quickly selling out. The exhibits I booked were Sagrada de Familia, Casa Mila, and park Güell. I went to bed at around midnight.

 

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