Saturday, December 30, 2006

Europe - Brussels

(Previous Stop: Outbound Travel)

It had been four years since I had seen my high school friend and roommate (from boarding school), Harjoth. The big change was that he had recently got his first hair cut. He's from the Sikh faith where the boys dont cut their hair or shave their beards and let it grow out and then wrap it in a turban. After 25 years, he finally decided to cut it. It was definitely a big shock. There'll be no pictures of him, cause he's requested that (scared of the inter-web). Instead enjoy pictures of picturesque Brussels.

A typical street in Brussels: buildings close to each other, one way traffic jammed with cars and nice stores.

Graffiti in the subway. I found it strange that their subway system is based on an honor system. You don't have to go through a little gate to get to the platform, you're just expected to have paid for a ticket. If you're free-riding and get caught, it's a 50 Euro fine.

Brussels was loaded with old fancy buildings, which are great to photograph...

Kids in front of a chocolate fondue fountain... mmm...

There were lots of 'walking traffic only' streets and even being winter, there were lots of tourists around.

This statue of a little boy pissing and holding his pecker is a symbol of Brussels... WTF?

Street band next to Grand Place

Small street lined with little restaurants

Children's choir from Estonia in front of St. Catherines Cathedral. The Estonia tourism department was putting on a little fair.

St. Catherines

They had this awesome looking ride at the Christmas Market for kids with dinosaurs, planes, ships, etc... oh what fun to be a kid again...

The view from the top of the ferris wheel, which was freezing cold (looking down at the ice rink and the stalls surrounding it).

Awesome sculpture near the EU Parliment building (Brussels is the administrative capital of the EU).

A Classic Mini in the same color scheme as my MINI. I would totally get one of these if I lived over there.

A cute looking Fiat

An odd-looking vending machine (quite different from the ones in the States).

"God is coming in 2012"

Another fancy looking building

An oyster shop

Even being winter, I saw tonnes of motorcycles around - die hard riders.

An old Citroen 2CV

Either someone was very drunk or they really didn't like their umbrella...

The very informative subway signs showing where the trains are at and how long before they arrive.

Grand Place. This is the highlight (no pun intended) for a tourist in Brussels, which is lit up quite nicely around Christmas time.

Happy 2007! New Years Eve dinner at Melita's.

Heading to the club... Francois (Harj's friend) leaning on the subway door that has a 'do not lean' sticker on it. Rule breaker.

Heading to the Havana Club to ring in the New Years

Midnight at the Havana Club

And he was supposed to be a designated driver for the night!

Re-freshing at 5 in the morning with some Red Bull n Vod for me and some Stella Artois for Melita.

"Europe - straight ahead" at the train station continuing my journey.

(Next Stop: Heidelberg, Germany)

Friday, December 29, 2006

Europe - Travel Outbound

A trip to Europe for skiing.... hmm, sounds expensive. But not if the flight is half the price. On my ski trip last year to Canada, I volunteered to take a later flight and got $400 Delta Dollars to use towards a future Delta flight within a year. This made a trip to Europe as expensive as one to Canada, so this had to be the year.

And I wasn't going to go all the way to Europe just to ski for 2 weeks, I had to visit my good old friend Harjoth (from high school) in Brussels and Stephan (from Texas A&M) in Heidelberg, Germany. Since I would be using Delta's airline partners (Air France and Alitalia) for this trip, I would be flying into Paris, traveling south through the continent and then flying out of Milan. Since my ski resort in the Austria Alps was close to the Italian border, I figured a quick stop in Venice would complete this trip. And it worked out that New Years Eve 2007 was going to be in Brussels. I was very excited leading up to this trip.

A map of my two week journey through the continent.

I've broken up the trip report into the following sections. You can click ahead or follow through chronologically.

Outbound Travel
St Anton, Day 1 & 2
St Anton, Day 3
St Anton, Day 4
St Anton, Day 5
Venice and Milan
Inbound Travel


Outbound Travel

If you've seen my other posts, you'll see that I'm a little of an aviation enthusiast. I've always loved the concept of air travel since I was a little kid and it grew a lot stronger once I started flying internationally for work. Much credit needs to be given to for fueling my passion.

Now we all know that the American carriers aren't the best in the industry when compared to international carriers, and I love to fly new carriers, so I booked the trip on Air France to Paris from Chicago and then Italy's national carrier, Alitalia from Milan to NYC back to Chicago.

Having studied French all through school and college, I was eager to use my Francais on the flight. However the Flight Attendants couldn't understand my French and were maybe tuned in to listening for English. Oh well. But they did live up to their image that might precede them of being stylish and curt. They were generally older, but they dressed sharply and exuded style, some even smiled. I was very impressed with the food. I polished off the whole tray and then enjoyed the ensuing food coma.

In hopes of getting over jet lag quickly, I had to sleep the entire 7 hour flight that left at 6 pm due to Europe being 7 hours ahead of Chicago. The food coma put me out and I arrived refreshed.

I had a Eurail Pass and would be taking the extensive train network throughout Europe back to Milan. The only bothersome thing about my trip was my luggage: huge ski bag and huge boot bag. I packed all my clothes around my skis to protect them and also reduce the number of bags. This made it akward to carry, but it had to be done.

The International Terminal at Chicago's O'hare Airport

Christmas decorations still up over the check-in area

My Air France Airbus A330-200

Crossing the bridge over the airport road

Fantastic airline food. Appetizer was Smoked Salmon on cous-cous with a main dish of Salmon with rosemary potatoes and veggies, which was excellent. And then they had some bread with nice French cheese, yogurt and crumb cake. I was stuffed.

The economy cabin in flight. I didn't get to use the in-flight entertainment system much since I slept quickly, but I did enjoy the camera in the nose during take-off and landing.

Landing at an overcast and wet Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.

Some other interesting birds at the airport: South African Airways, Gulf Air and Thai International.

We had to park at a remote stand (probably due to the collapsed Terminal E) and wait 30 minutes for a bus to take us to the terminal. On the ride to the terminal, I finally got my first look at the Air France Concorde that's on display.

(Next stop: Brussels)