Spain, Holland, Belgium and London

So I took this trip almost 4 years ago. I wasn’t too happy with my pictures so I had been dragging my feet in posting them. At this point it’s no longer all that fresh in my memory, so I’ll do my best but I may miss a few things here and there.

First up is Madrid. I had arrived in Spain late at night after taking the ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar from Tangier, Morocco. I arrived in the port city of Tarifa, where I hopped on the next bus to Algeciras to spend the night. First thing in the morning (actually, knowing me.. probably closer to noon) I hopped on a train to Madrid and started exploring.

The Atocha train station here was pretty cool. There was a tropical rain forest inside of it.

Lots of cool little newsstands everywhere.

Funny story time. So in America, there is a fire code that states that for all commercial buildings over a certain occupancy limit, the front doors must open outwards. Basically to get in them you have to pull, not push. Growing up with this my entire life has apparently led me to completely block out the very possibility that a door to a commercial establishment may have to be pushed to be opened. So I find a hostel late at night, ring the door bell for them to let me in, hear the buzzer go off, and try to pull on what felt like a locked door. I ring again, talking to the employee at the desk over the intercom about how the buzzer didn’t work and ask him to try again. He buzzes me again, I pull a bit harder on the doors, and again am denied entry.

This went on for a good 6 or 7 buzzing attempts, each time yanking on the doors more and more aggressively, all on a main road with people walking by all around me, probably laughing to themselves at my complete ineptitude. The guy at the desk was probably telling me to push the door, but there was a bit of a language barrier so it’s likely that devolved into calling me an idiot fairly quickly. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so stupid in my life after 1) it finally dawned on me to push the door, watching as it swung open effortlessly after all my futile attempts to violently pull on it like the increasingly-deranged foreigner I was becoming, and 2) having to walk up to the front desk of this hostel to meet the guy who was at the other end of that buzzer face-to-face.

So keep that in mind if you’re ever in Madrid.

Back out in the city, the center of Madrid was occupied by a giant and very well-landscaped park. Even in February when I was there it was lush and perfectly groomed.

Spent some time just walking around the city at night. Lots of cool shops and sights to see.

Happened upon what I gather was some kind of anti-corruption rally. I didn’t stick around to participate, just shot this in passing.

The whole time I was here it was pretty overcast, rainy, and gloomy. I wasn’t really complaining, considering it was winter and still way nicer than home.

After a few days here, I headed back to the Atocha station and waited for my overnight train to Barcelona.

At some point during the night at one of the train’s stops, an extremely drunk man got on and shuffled into my 6- or 8-bed sleeping quarters, at which point he proceeded to slurringly sing himself to sleep at the top of his lungs. I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep that night, although I suspect his morning was a fair bit rougher than mine.

Upon leaving the train station I began walking toward the harbor. The Gothic Quarter is right by there, which was where I decided I wanted to set up shop for my stay here.

This cathedral, la Sagrada Familia, has been under construction forever (Began in 1882, and just hit the midway point in 2010. It’s slated to be finished in 2026 according to Wikipedia). It’s open to the public at this point, but I figured I’d wait until it was done to go in and check it out, as the line to get in was enormous.

I believe this was some kind of architectural school.

And if I remember correctly, this is the Spanish ‘Bridge of Sighs’, named after the famous and very similar bridge in Venice.

At some point I wandered into this vibrant, flowing market around the outskirts of the Gothic Quarter. I wasn’t really in need of doing any grocery shopping, but there were a few places that had fresh smoothies for I believe 1 Euro. They were very tasty.

The whole place was pretty photogenic.

I ran into some sort of outdoor orchestral performance, with a bunch of people gathered around dancing. Was pretty cool.

After this I still had a few weeks left in my vacation, and had zero clue what to do with it all. I had originally planned to spend the entire month in Morocco, but after the last minute change of plans which brought me to Spain in the first place, I was completely winging it. I weighed my options, which included hopping on a train up to France, heading out to Monaco and then Italy and revisiting Venice and the Cinque Terre, and taking a cheap flight somewhere a train would have taken a bit too long to get me.

After careful deliberation, I bought a last-minute plane ticket and headed to the airport, off to my next city.

Amsterdam.

After the time I had been having so far on my trip, while fun, I was in desperate need of the kind of legal R&R Amsterdam is famous for.

The canals in the old city were every bit as cool as you read about.

And everything else you’ve read about it is true too.

Got some great advice on fun things to do here from a waitress I met at a bar called Teddy’s Corner. Big shout out to Josie, if you ever read this.

I wasn’t too focused on taking pictures here, more so just enjoying myself. So after a few days it was off to Rotterdam to continue my journey.

This was the view of the Erasmus Bridge from outside my hostel.

I went on a little nature walk here. Through a park..

along some train tracks..

a little canal..

and finally back in the city.

Apparently these giant, hydraulic red light fixtures are able to be moved around and controlled by passersby. Like giant robotic arms. I didn’t find out about this until afterwards, unfortunately.

Went out on my last night here to take some pictures of the Erasmusbrug.

Next city up was Brussels.

You may remember Hanna here from my trip to Thailand. I met her on a train to Bangkok and she lives in Cologne, which is only a short train ride away from Brussels. Turns out she had never been to Brussels, so we met at the train station shortly after I arrived and explored the city for our first time together.

Don’t really have much to report here. Other than wandering around the city, I wasn’t taking pictures while having most of my fun, which was mostly spent in Belgian bars drinking Belgian beers with some fellow travelers I met in my hostel.

After I had my fill of Delirium and Leffe in Brussels, it was off to Bruges to drink some more.

This is one of the travelers I met in my Brussels hostel, a Romanian fellow by the name of Catalin. We ended up leaving Brussels separately, with the loose plan of hopefully meeting up at some point in Bruges, even though neither of us knew where we’d be staying. In fact, I didn’t even know I’d be in Bruges until I had arrived at the train station and picked it out of my list of possible destinations.

So imagine my surprise when I get the key to my room at the random hostel I wandered into, get in and drop my bag off, start introducing myself to the people I was sharing a room with, when out of one of the bunks a familiar voice pops up: “Dan!?”. Sure enough, Catalin and I were roommates once again. We split off a bit during the day to do our own sightseeing, but reconvened at night to team up in keeping the local bartenders busy.

There was a temporary Salvador Dali exhibit going on at a small gallery in the city square, so I popped in to check out some of his stuff. It was mostly his B-sides, but was still cool nonetheless.

At this point, Catalin and I decided not to take our chances a second time and headed off to Ghent together.

Took a quick break from walking around.

Ghent was similar to Bruges in its photogenicness, but much less touristy.

One the way back to the train station a couple days later, all I can remember is how blisteringly cold it was. The weather in Europe was fairly chilly the whole time I had been here, but this day was like a snap cold front with gusts of arctic winds constantly blasting us in the face seemingly whichever way we were walking. Wasn’t able to do much but bundle up and walk as fast as we could.

Once we got to the train station we split ways for good, as Catalin was off to purchase a car to drive back to Romania, and I was off to London where I would be spending the last week of my trip.

A quick train ride underneath the English Channel and here I was.

As if I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I think it was even colder and windier in London. After I got off the train I zipped up my coat and sprinted towards the nearest hostel, then spent the night in the closest pub.

They were having a 2 for 1 drink night, which I promptly regretted taking part in upon waking the next day.

Got some fish and chips in a pub along the river, then came across this cool skate park. Reminded me of when I was in high school and used to skate every day. I would have spent all day in a place like this if I were a few (okay, several) years younger.

It was absolutely freezing the day before, but hadn’t snowed. This day was much more favorable weather-wise, but there was a mini snow squall for about 10 minutes or so when I got to Big Ben.

It had cleared up by the time I crossed the bridge.

The Tate Modern is a fairly famous museum, and free, so I spend a couple hours checking it out.

I don’t really ‘get’ modern art all that much, but it’s generally nice to look at.

Back downtown. Apparently Leadenhall Market was a shooting location for a Harry Potter movie?

Some really cool buildings here.

On the way to the airport to head home I found a gigantic park, with a girl feeding all manner of winged creatures by a pool.

So it was time to go back home. This had been a very different trip than all my previous trips. I never ‘plan’ my trips per se, in terms of booking hotel rooms, having an itinerary, etc. But I always do my research and have a loose to-do list of places and things I’m interested in going and seeing. I may not even get around to doing half of them, but I’m never short on ideas. This time I had no clue what I was doing, where I was going, or even what I wanted to get out of the trip.

Looking back now, 4 years later, I’m still not sure. I haven’t been oversees since, as it had left me feeling no different than when I had embarked, leading me to question why I was really traveling to begin with. I think in my head this trip was more along the lines of ‘time to take my yearly backpacking trip’, as opposed to all my previous trips where I had a genuine desire to go somewhere and was inspired to explore and experience a certain foreign land and culture. I was uninspired on this trip, and while I had fun, saw some great places and met some amazing people, I ultimately left feeling unfulfilled.

Maybe I just set the bar too high with my last 3-month trip to Asia, which I’ll probably never be able to top. Or maybe I just wasn’t in the right mindset. Maybe the travel bug had left me. Who knows. What I do know though, is that something compelled me to finally write this post after all these years. Something that had me one click away from booking another flight back to Japan just the other night. I don’t have any reservations just yet, but I’m feeling that itch for the first time in a while, and I’m really excited to scratch it.

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