Monthly Archives: October 2011

Hallowe’en: Costumes and Fun

I’m not going to rehash last week’s comments on women’s costumes all being sexy or costumes being politically correct, except to say that where I work three people showed up dressed as Indian (North American First Nations) women. Of them, one woman is Arabic Asian, one is white and one is mixed blood. None of them seem to feel they’re making fun of or disrespecting the historical dress of long ago.

costumes, Halloween costumes, dressing up, gods

Kali was a last-minute creation. (no creative commons on these)

So I’m just going to go through some memories of my past Halloween costumes, with pictures. A long time ago a friend sewed me a costume out of pewter satin. It involved a cape with shoulder pads and a skirt rucked up into gathers. I wore green with it and maybe antenna and was an alien of some sort. I’ve been a witch, a fortune tell, which in it’s second incarnation involved sitting at my desk at work and having people pay .25 cents to get a fortune, like those old, glass-enclosed fake tellers. I’m big on theme parties and have done one where it was blues and therefore blue clothes, gods, bad boys and bad girls, fairy tales and a mad hatter party. The Kali costume to the right was last minute. I bought a bunch of dolls from the dollar store and strung their arms and legs around my waist, their heads around my neck and had a spare pair of stuffed arms. Really, I should have had at least another set and I should have been blue but it was good enough.

I’ve been Little Bo Peep, complete with sheep purse, and Sleeping Beauty. I’ve been a pirate, a virgin (as in the Medieval sacrifice style), and a Middle Eastern dancer (which is cheating since I do bellydance). I’ve done Bride of Frankenstein, twice. The second time I used chicken wire to pull my hair up around the frame, already having the blonde streaks. I painted the skin

zombie, Halloween costumes, horror, costumes, dressing up

Zombies are popular, with or without brains (no creative commons on these)

appropriately, used actual thread that I made into stitches and adhered with spirit gum, and cut a thread spool in half and glued it to my neck. I recycled the cheaply sewn dress into a zombie costume last year. The makeup is fairly time-consuming and can take up to two hours to do. I’ve also made up a few friends as zombies.It’s pretty each to start with white, add blue and black for shading, or even greed. I then draw blue veins over the top, and add fake blood. The good thing about being a zombie is that your makeup doesn’t need to be very precise. Splotchy is okay. Some zombies are with just white makeup and some red blood. Some are greener. It all depends on how you want to do it.

The problem for me is that I never start thinking about a costume early enough and then slapdash stuff together last-minute. This year, I was going to go as fall. I picked up a bunch of leaves of the ground (before the rain started) then dipped them, before they dried out, in paraffin wax. I was then going to sew them into a garment. Well, I couldn’t quite figure out the logistics of waxed leaves and sitting down. Maybe they’ll become a wreath.

Instead I lucked into a costume through a friend who sews for the stage and sometimes checking your local stage production groups might net you a costume for a rental and cleaning fee. I went as Marie Antoinette, and though the costume worked, I couldn’t get in or out of it by myself.

costumes, Halloween, dressing up, Halloween costumes, Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette (no creative commons on these)

My sister tells me that in Calgary some religious fundamentalist group was trying to “reclaim” Hallowe’en and call it Jesusween, saying costumes were evil. That’s pretty typical of any fundamentalist religion, where facts aren’t checked and sweeping statements are made. Hallowe’en was never a Christian holiday, though they did adopt the day after as All Saints Day. Something tells me that the stupidly named “Jesusween” is not going to catch on. I think dressing up isn’t just for kids, nor just for Hallowe’en. That’s why I’ve had theme parties. It’s for fun, when life gets too heavy. So here’s to Hallowe’en, in all its connotations, from a time to dress and forget the cares of the world, to a time when the veils thin between the worlds and the spirits step near, and a time to honor the dead who have passed in the year before.

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Traveling in Europe: Horley, England

pub, public house, Horley, England, cider, travel

Six Bells--You can see how low the ceiling is.

My recent trip to Europe began with flying into Gatwick airport, which is south of Victoria Station by a half-hour train ride. I stayed in Horley, Surrey (a suburb next to the airport) because I was only there for a day and a half. The first night, after a nap to reset my clock, I just wandered down the road to Ye Olde Six Bells. It was quite dark with inadequate lighting. I also brushed against overgrown nettles. Luckily it was just a light brush because my leg itched for about an hour.

The history of this pub goes back around 700 years, when a man named Norman Lord want refreshment to get through the long sermons at St. Bartholomew’s. A place that old has whitewashed walls, huge dark wooden beams, low ceilings and rambling rooms. I imagine that over the centuries the rooms were added one at a time, the wooden floored ones being the oldest, though no floors would be original. The first floor might very well have been packed earth and straw spread  over it.

pub, restaurant, Ye Olde Six Bells, medieval, public house, Horley, Surrey

A conglomeration of woods.

Buildings throughout the medieval era were white washed to preserve the mortaring and stonework and to add light to dark structures only lit by candles and oil lamps. Six Bells was all of this, with a note on the ceilings saying “Duck or Grouse.” Above the bar it said, “Before you ask, yes we have hit our heads a lot.” Since this seem to be the normal height for old pubs I must assume that people were shorter at one time, plus I imagine the places were time consuming and expensive to build, and space wasn’t wasted on high ceilings. It may have kept the warmth in as well.

Unlike North American pubs, many British ale houses or public houses are part restaurant and you’ll see people bringing their children. The central and oldest area is the bar, and rooms jut off in three directions for diners to sit.

The Six Bells menu is quite extensive and I had  a fish pie, since it seemed traditional British fare; a mixture of peas (the English love their peas), potatoes, shrimp, smoked haddock and cod in a white wine, coriander cream sauce, with a salad of red onion, tomato, spinach and tongues of cucumber in a simple vinaigrette. It was tasty and filling, costing around 10 pounds. I was too full to try dessert, which some British just call puddings in a generic way. I like to sample new ciders and England is the place to do it. I tried the Aspall Suffolk cider at 5.5% alcohol (higher than most of the beers on tap). This drink worked very well with the smoky taste of the pie and I think the food brought out the cider’s flavor. Aspall is a light golden color, light on the tongue (medium effervescence), crisp apple taste and not overly dry. The flavor isn’t too strong but it’s more noticeable than Strongbow’s nondescript taste. Of all the ciders I tried on my trip this one remains one of my favorites.

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Aspall Suffolk Cider

food, dining, public houses, Ye Olde Six Bells, travel, Horley, British food

The fish pie at Ye Olde Six Bells

I would recommend Ye Olde Six Bells. The rest of Horley seemed rather small. The second night I had Chinese food and though it was a simple fare of broccoli, chicken and mushrooms I found the chicken tasted old. Not bad but not fresh, and I’m quite sensitive to the change in meat flavors. It could have contributed to the stomach unrest that hit me the next day as I arrived in Amsterdam.

Ye Olde Six Bells, Horley, England, restaurants, travel, food, dining, pub

Six Bells at night: a conglomerate of eras

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Are Women’s Halloween Costumes All About Sex?

costumes, Dr. Who, daleks, racism, Halloween costumes,

A spoof on the STARS campaign by geek of the day

It seems I’ve put my travelogues on hold to comment on Halloween costumes. I already posted this week about whether Halloween costumes are racist or not if you wear one of an Arab sheikh or a Mexican farmer of 100 years ago, brought on by the STARS campaign against racism out of Ohio University. While I agree that some costumes are in poor taste, I don’t agree that dressing up as another ethnic group, in a historical, cultural context is necessarily bad nor disrespecting. Halloween is often about being what you’re not.

As I’m working on my own costume for Halloween (which could offend the French for all I know because of its historical context) I wandered into a Halloween costume shop and was a bit stunned to see what range of cheap costumes they had for women. Going to a few sites supports that the latest greatest fashion for women involves sex oozing out of every woven fiber.

Fairy tales have always been popular costumes, such as the characters of Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, witches, fairies, as well as superheroes, pirates, barmaids and fortune tellers. But something has happened to the costumes in the past few years. They’re almost all like hooker costumes (if you’re buying one). Men of course can wear full outfits but look at these following costumes, every skirt is short, stockings and garters and high heels. Tops are tight and cleavage abounding. Go to any major costume site on the internet and these images are there. The percentage varies but it’s as high as 90% sex costumes on some sites. Others might have other costumes for women but they’re still few. Really, if someone went to a prostitute some would have these very outfits for roleplaying scenarios. And I should mention that almost all superheroes are drawn with godly perfect proportions, and men and women are put into skin-tight affairs.

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Even Supergirl now has stockings and garters and cleavage spilling out.

costumes, sex, Halloween, sexy costumes, hookers

What happened to the rest of Red Riding Hood's dress?

costumes, sex, sexy costumes, Halloween, clothing, prostitutes,

Somebody chewed out parts of this queen's costume.

I’m not against sex or sexuality. Sex not only sells but it is indeed part of the human psyche. An animal’s need to procreate is strong in all creatures and we are just the human animal. However, when every costume becomes just another way to oversexualize a woman I do have to wonder. If I wear a full length costume, as I did for Little Bo Peep, am I not sexy? Should it even matter if I’m sexy? We’ve been inundated so much with the sex kitten image that we don’t even blink at it anymore and to me that’s more troublesome than if I dress up as someone from Mao’s army.

But that might just be me and in some ways, none of this is new. Way back when I was still in college and working at a local TV station as a stills photographer one of the directors had a party. It might not have been even for Halloween but it was costumed; you were supposed to come as a movie star. Well, not all the women wore sexy outfits but many of them did. Going against the tide, I donned a western shirt, cowboy hat and eyepatch. I stuffed a pillow in the shirt and practised my John Wayne voice and swagger. Even so, in the very crowded party, women would squeeze up to some man as I tried to get past  and would glare at me as if I was “stealing their man.”

Maybe it really is all about territories. I just really hope that women don’t have to be sex kittens 24/7. But for Halloween, well it really is about what you’re not so there you go, sexy outfits and with the popularity of zombies at the moment I guess some of these will become dead sexy.

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Are Hallowe’en Costumes Racist?

Hallowe'en, costumes, racism, culture

STAR's campaign against racism

If you’re on Facebook you might have seen this picture all ready, circulating all over and many jumping on the politically correct bandwagon and saying, don’t do this. Don’t be insensitive. It was a poster done by STAR (Students and Teachers Against Racism) out of Ohio.

I’ll probably get shot over what I’m going to say here. I’m very much against racism and bigotry but I believe this is a case of mixing apples and oranges. First let’s look at Hallowe’en, All Hallow’s Eve, when it was believed that the veils between the worlds thinned and that ghosts and creatures of the underworld walked the night. It was a time when the world grew dark, lands were bereft of food and animals slaughtered for the winter larders. Back far enough, primitive peoples probably wondered if the sun would come back, if they had offended it somehow. That’s why there were always festivals of light on the winter solstice, when the longest night arrived and then the days grew longer. No one knew if it was gods or not.

Hallowe’en’s Celtic name is Samhain (sow-en) and as time went by it became a time to dress children in costumes; scary creatures, ghosts, goblins, skeletons and other things that go bump in the night. It evolved to other costumes but there is a long and complex history of Hallowe’en, with trick or treating, guising, asouling or in costume. Masquerades have existed for centuries.

So dressing up is part of Hallowe’en and has been so for a long time. Now the pictures above have a child of (I’m presuming) African-American, Japanese, Mexican and Arab ethnic groups. They each hold up a picture of a cartoon or a person in costume and it says “This is not who I am and it is not okay.” The top says We’re a culture, not a costume.” And indeed all cultures are very complex.

costume, Halloween, stereotyping, racism, racial stereotyping

Creative Commons: Dutch regional costumes...is this racist?

This campaign was started to stop racial stereotyping, which is a good thing and all airports and police should really pay heed to that. Now the Arab costume has the guy wearing a bomb, as a terrorist I suppose. That is extremely in poor taste, just as dressing like the World Trade Center with a plane flying into you would be. So that costume needs to be tossed. The other pictures have a guy on a donkey, and a Geisha girl. They are indeed stereotypes. They are of earlier eras when in fact there were some people who dressed this way. It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t unusual, it was the way it was. They were part of the culture of the time. Just as wearing a dress with a white linen apron, a cap with tips out and wooden shoes was a traditional Dutch costume. Stereotypes start as types.

I doubt there are few people who would put on a costume of a sailor, or a turbaned Maharajah, or of a witch (image from here) and presume that is the way people dress now and that all of a race are like this. Yes, I add witch because branches of neopaganism (Wicca) have members called witches. While there might be a few pagans who get upset at the stereotypical green-skinned witch dressed in black with a wart on her nose as a costume, most will keep a level head and understand that people don’t see them this way.

witch, costume, racism, racial stereotyping

Creative Commons: Is wearing this witch mask racism or bigotry?

I think we need to understand that dressing up in a costume from cultural history (whether a Hawaiian hula dancer, an Aztec king, a French prince, a Viking, a Chinese Mandarin…) does not mean we presume that all people of a particular race look or dress this way. It is part of history and traditional dress used in various festivals to this day imitate those costumes of long ago. Of the four pictures above, the terrorist one is wrong, the other two are historical aspects of a culture, and the last one is what in terms of racism? A person should not be bitten by a vampire? Is it racial stereotyping of vampires or black people because vampires only go after them? I don’t think I understand that one and would it be better or the same if a white person was being bitten? Dressing as a member of the Ku Klux Klan would be very tasteless and downright dangerous in some ares, though it would indeed be scary.

So what is right and wrong here? Hallowe’en does not say to treat all costumed people as bigots or racists, nor does it support racism. It doesn’t emulate racial stereotyping. It does let a person dress up. If First Nations went as a cowboy, and a white person as an Indian, would that be wrong, or just having fun with stereotypes of old?

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Accommodations: Of B&Bs and Hotels, Part II

Umi Hotels, paying cash, travel, accommodations, B&B, hotels,

The Umi in Brighton

The last leg of my trip was in England, going to Brighton for a convention, then on to Canterbury and London. My first stop was Brighton, taking the 1.5 hour ferry ride from Calais to Dover (though the website said it was a half hour), then a 2-hour train ride into the throbbing, congested heart of Brighton. Thankfully I had a map.

The Royal Albion was where the British Fantasy convention was being held, so that’s where I headed, probably about a 15-minute walk from the train station through scores of people thronging the streets. I noticed how dirty the streets were here, permanently marred with dead gum and just generally trashy. I watched a woman open a tin of some sort of fish, toss the metal lid into the street and drain the liquid all over the sidewalk with a disregard for splashing anyone. It seems Vancouver, at least, is farther ahead on the recycling and garbage front.

The Royal Albion is no longer a grand dame even if it’s 200 years old. It’s more like someone who spent too long drinking away their life savings. Parts of the building were tatty and worn down. It took 36 hours to get an iron from them because it seems they only have one and they didn’t know who had it. The bathroom had a metal rack that heats up to dry clothes. However, there was no caution sign saying it got very hot, and was so close to the toilet that I burned my leg. There was no holder for the toilet paper so it kept falling and rolling under the rack. I had a gob of toothpaste on the wall by the sink that was there before I arrived and still there when I left. Service in the bar on the whole was friendly and many of the bartenders were very nice but others were slower than a sated slug. The one meal I had, some sandwich special was flavorless and slim to nonexistent. The Albion is very close to the beach because at the convention price of 79 pounds, it was not worth it.

Because of this I went to the Umi on the Sunday night, booking through the tourist information, which has you pay 10% up front. When I got to the hotel I paid cash (way cheaper than using a credit card in Europe and incurring extra charges at both ends). They didn’t give me a receipt and I was tired so I just went up to the room. They had upgraded me (for the 50 pound price) so I had both a double bed and a single in the room, a beach view, and air conditioning. The room was clean and the heating rack in this bathroom said it got hot. The one problem was that there was no light by the double bed so I had to turn off the light by the door and stumble to the bed. The other problem on checkout, where I was just returning the key and picking up my receipt, was that I was told I hadn’t paid. Confused, I said I’m pretty sure I paid but I paid again. Waiting for a ride I went back in and said, I know I paid because it was cash and it was an odd amount (left over after that 10%). They said they would check and let me know but I know they did not. I would only recommend them if you insist on your receipt right away. Being tired meant I got screwed.

I then went on to Canterbury and stayed at the Clare Ellen B&B. Be careful as the train I took went to Canterbury West but

guest house, Cantterbury, B&B, bed and breakfast, travel, lodgings

Clare Ellen

the B&B was at Canterbury East, which it turns out I would have had to transfer an hour or more back. Though a relatively short walk through the town, I was hot, dragging luggage over cobblestones and didn’t know where I was. I took a taxi halfway through and Clare Ellen was really about a 15-minute walk from the center of town.

The room was spacious; I’d been given a double because the single was taken (and paid about 50 pounds/night). This did include breakfast, which I partook of one day, and was the typical English breakfast, but whatever you wanted and as much:  eggs, ham, tomatoes, mushrooms, cereal or porridge.

Wifi was included in all three of these places though the pricey Royal Albion only had it in the lobby/lounge. The ISP was down in Canterbury but the B&B owner let me use his own computer so that I could book a room in London. Unfortunately, because of this and it becoming more last minute, I

Wembley Hotel, roach hotel, B&B, accommodations, London, travel

Wembley the roach hotel

panicked and forgot about some sites and couchsurfing. I booked the Wembley Hotel, which turned out to be a half hour north of London central (by the tube) and was not in a good area of town. It was very close to the station but when I first arrived I paid and they said they would give me a receipt the next day. I said no, today because of what happened at the Umi. The first room was down in the basement. There was no light in the corridor and the toilet was stained and dirty. I asked them to clean it so they moved me to another floor, through many doors and little 2-3 stair landings.

This room was small, by the tracks and looked clean enough though I pulled back the sheets to make sure. Again the floor and carpeting in the hallway were dirty, the toilet had grunge and pubic hairs around the base, the shower door looked like it had never been wiped down and there was dust and dirt in every corner. It was the type of place where I locked my suitcase when I went out. The one coffee cup (there were no other glasses) had so many murky fingerprints on it that I just used my water bottle. The basic room wouldn’t have been so bad but for this lack of cleanliness. When I had to leave the next morning at 6 am to catch my flight, I had not lights but the little table lamp, and there was no hot water, even after running it for ten minutes. The shower barely had water pressure at all. I would recommend staying far away from the skeevy dive.  It was definitely the worst place I stayed, even after the one bad couhcsurfing experience.

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Accommodations: Of B&Bs and Hotels

Part II, I suppose. I just covered the places I stayed in, in Horley, England and in Holland. In all, I stayed in Amsterdam, Delft and Den Bosch. I found I liked the smaller cities and towns more than the big cities, though there is so much to see that you have to go to Amsterdam for a couple of days.

Mabuhay Lodgings, Antwerp, accommodation, travel, B&B, bed and breakfasts, guest houses

Mabuhay's room

Originally, for Belgium, I was going to go to Antwerp, Brussels, Bruges and Ghent. I arrived in Antwerp fairly early in the day but couldn’t check into my B&B, Mabuhay Lodgings, until after 8 that night. So I checked my luggage into storage at the train station. A bit of a fiasco that, since half of the containers were out of order. I had to walk a very long ways (probably equivalent to 4 city blocks)  to the other end of the station and the other lockers. Here is where cash won’t get you far. It requires a credit card and cost me about $10 for the day.

I headed to the old quarter and spent the day going to museums and cathedrals (more on the actual cities in another post). The problem was, that by the time I was ready to go to the B&B, it was rather late and on a Sunday. There few people to ask and it was not very clear on where to catch the tram to the right area. While Holland had trams with either signage or a system that called out the stops, Belgium did not. I was at two wrong spots before I got the right one. Luckily they were all within a hundred feet of each other.

I have no problem asking for help and directions and the tram driver wasn’t sure which street was Drakstraat (three or four streets converged to one at that point) but there were both transit people and police standing at the junction. I asked them and even they had to look it up. Lo and behold, in front of us, the street going left was Drakstraat and the tram had come down it. Tells you something about how often Belgians look at their own street signs.

Art Nouveau, buildings, architecture, art, Antwerp

An Art Nouveau facade in Antwerp

Eric and Herman were the owners of Mabuhay and Eric helped me in with my luggage. Again, they were on a major street but all streets are somewhat major or minor, with cars and trams going over cobblestones. The rooms here share a spacious bathroom with a shower and a tub, complete with rubber duck, and two sinks. The rooms have a sink as well so you can do some basic ablutions or get some water when you want.

Eric was very helpful in pointing out sites to see, giving me a map and mentioning a section of great Art Nouveau buildings near by. The breakfast seemed to be toast and cold selections (meats, cheese) but since I was still not feeling well I didn’t eat one day. But there may have been other items too. This B&B was around 45-50 Euros, standard price.

I had arrived in Antwerp on a Sunday, and was going to go into Brussels the next day but many museums are closed on Mondays in Europe. I chose to just hang around Antwerp, then I moved to Ghent for two days and stayed at Het Rommelwater. This B&B is about a ten-minute walk from the train station (Dampoort) but again, you will hear cars in the morning. I dont’ think there is a place in Holland or Belgian where you won’t, what with thin insulation, large windows and cobblestones.

Het Rommelwater, Ghent, B&B, accommodation, bed and breakfast, guest house, travel

Het Rommelwater's double bed.

Reneé met me at the door and gave me some lozenges for my sore throat. I opted for the non-breakfast option, which was available, and the price was a very reasonable 38 Euros. The room was spacious and clean, with a small fridge for guests in the hall. All of the above B&Bs included Wifi. I ended up with a double bed because work was going on outside the other, single room. I have not mentioned bed comfort in any of these posts because that really depends on the person. The pillow was a bit too small but otherwise, everything was fine. There also were maps and other information available for the traveler. Het Rommelwater was about a 15-20 minute walk to the town center, along a canal.

The last place I stayed in continental Europe was in Calais. I needed to catch an early morning ferry to Dover so it was just a short stay. The Hotel Richelieu included breakfast but I again, didn’t eat it since I had to get up too early. This is a small hotel, almost a guest house, owned by a man doing the renovations by himself. The halls are kind of tatty but I obviously stayed in one of the rooms that’s been redone. The wallpapers in different rooms are representative of the Baroque and Rococo eras.  There is no air conditioning but balcony doors that help cool down the room. (It was very hot in Calais.) In fact I’m not sure any B&B had air conditioning or fans. I also booked many of these places online. If you can, bring a phone that works. Next time I’ll have to see if there is a cheap cell phone I can buy there. Next post will deal with the last places on my trip: Canterbury and London.

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Accommodations: Of B&Bs and Couchsurfing

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Turret Guest House's single room

With my recent trip to Europe I used a combination of bed and breakfasts and couchsurfing. I also booked some places beforehand and others a few days before arriving. September is still a pretty busy month for tourists and leaving things last minute can become difficult especially the more popular cities, such as Amsterdam. On the couchsurfing.org site you can list yourself for host or surf or both. People list profiles and reviews, and you choose which person would suit you best and send a request. Some hosts will just give you a space but don’t have time or are not interested in showing you around, talking with you or whatever. Whereas other hosts state explicitly “don’t treat this as a hotel” and want to interact with the surfers in some way, maybe even show them around.

Of my couchsurfing experiences, one was made last minute when problems happened with a B&B. Most of them were great, with friendly hosts willing to chat, share dinner or even show me around. One was not a great experience, the host being rude, condescending and living in a very dirty and smelly place. It was uncomfortable to be there and when more couch surfers arrived, he was friendly to them so maybe he did forget I was coming and was embarrassed by that. However, three surfers when he had said he had room for only two meant one person slept under a towel the second night because of insufficient bedding and bed space.

I stayed at the Turret Guest House in Horley on my arrival and it was basic, a little rundown, tiny with the smallest shower in existence. A large or tall person would have had trouble fitting in the shower; I could barely turn around. The towel was small and thin and when I asked for a second I got a bath mat. They talked about raising the price in the near future from 38 pounds but I think they need to upgrade a few things. The breakfast was fine and they pick and drop you off at the airport.

I eventually just went with the B&Bs because my money was working out better than I anticipated. I also worried about inconveniencing a host. Some give you a key, some won’t. In certain cases you need to be out of the place when they are and if you come in late at night, would you disturb them? My first B&B was in Delft and I had booked it online a couple of nights before. For this purpose I brought a laptop with me but I didn’t have a phone. Booking as I went actually became a bit stressful and next time I would see if I could get a cheap phone in Europe since my own didn’t use a SIM card and wasn’t compatible. When I arrived at that first B&B I waited an hour and a half and the woman never showed. Eventually I trundled back with suitcase to the tourist information center that most cities have. Luckily Delft is small and I was trying to book in the town center.

I looked up other places but had a fairly limited budget for what I could spend, about 50 Euros which is the equivalent of

B&B, bed and breakfast, Delft, travel, accommodation, rooms

98 Plantages spacious room

about $65 CAD. I let the woman at the counter know this and she found me a place not listed on any site. The owner had just returned from vacation. 98 Plantages was a short walk from Delft center. The Dutch do this thing where instead of saying 98 they will say eight and nine or eight and ninety. I thought the woman had said 89 so after no answer I remembered being told this the night before and went up to 98 Plantages.

Liesbeth met me and was immediately so warm and friendly, helping me carry my suitcase up the stairs and giving me Imodium for the tummy issues I was having. She also suggested a few places for dinner. The room was clean, bright and newly renovated. It had WiFi, a  TV, a complimentary half bottle of wine and a table. The room was about 52 Euros. Like any place I stayed in, in Europe, the buildings are centuries hold, with little insulation and large windows. Cars going over cobblestones are noisy and you’re bound to hear some sound in the mornings. It didn’t bother me too much though.

Delft, china, bed and breakfast, chocolate sprinkles

The lovely breakfast spread

The breakfast was more than enough though she thought I ate little and included spreads (salmon, pate) plus jams and the Dutch predilection for sprinkles on bread. I could have had more but my stomach was happy with this. Notice the Delftware. I stayed three days in Delft, one with a couchsurfing host and two at Lies’s. I’d recommend her place but you’d have to find it through the local tourist office as she’s not listed on a site. Of all the B&Bs I stayed at, I enjoyed it best.

Holland (and England) was a blend of couchsurfing and the B&Bs. It’s always good to find out if WiFi/internet is included, if there is a price with or without breakfast, if they have TVs, hair dryers, shampoos (if you want these things) and how close they are to public transportation and likewise, if there are a lot of stairs. People with physical problems will want to try to get lower floors or go for more expensive hotels that have lifts/elevators. I’ll talk about Belgium the next time around.

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Lessons Learned on Traveling in Europe

trains, transportation, travel, England, underground, overground

Horley (near Gatwick) Station

I thought I would write a lot while traveling, even took a laptop (mini) to do so but there were quite a few factors that made me post only once. I managed to get some gut bug when I flew into Amsterdam. It might have been caused by suspect Chinese food in Horley (but then I’m sensitive to the change of flavor in meat–it might have been slightly old or…bad) or it could have been the water, which is far softer than Vancouver’s water and maybe my body just couldn’t adjust. Still, tummy troubles didn’t keep me down but made my day a bit slower to start.

In Holland, thousands of people use bikes. If I had rented one it would have been a nuisance because I don’t just take pictures of tourist attractions but of things on the street; leaves, textures, patterns. A bike would have meant that I would be hopping on and off constantly.

I found my suitcase was in fact too heavy and I would take even less next time, maybe buying more there. However I was packing for rain and cold and got a very warm, extended summer of 25-30 degrees Celsius. I didn’t wear some of the items I brought because it was too hot. Still, backpacking might have worked but I have a few back issues that might have made it worse, but lugging anything up narrow, multiple Dutch and Belgian stairs will indeed give you a workout, and thankfully, my knees are good.

Most B&Bs have towels, though if you’re couchsurfing, check beforehand. I did a bit of both with even a hotel or two in there. I hate water splashing in my face and have always preferred using a face cloth. While these are pretty standard in any hotel in North America, you won’t find one anywhere in Europe (Holland, Belgian and England were the countries I visited this time). I brought one but might have brought two next time so one could air and dry when using the other. I had to deal with a bit of mildew even in half a day of being packed wet.

Many European buildings are centuries old and, besides having many stairs, have very high ceilings. This means the light might be faint. If your eyes don’t do well in low light, bring another light. I also brought a container for water, which was a good thing when walking around all day. In Belgium a waiter told me it was against the law to serve tap water so you’ll pay as much for a small bottle as almost for a glass of wine. And on drinking, while cider is in the veins of the British, Irish and Scottish it’s harder to find in other areas. I usually found only one bottled type in various places in Holland but it was nonexistent in Belgium.

I took cash but also brought my bank card and credit card. While cash always works, a couple of times I had to use the

stairs, travel, Holland, buildings

An example of old, steep, narrow stairs in Amsterdam

credit card, for reserving a room, or for storing my luggage at a train station because the machines didn’t take coins. I never could find out if traveler’s checks would work or not, or if there was a fee.

Trains are plentiful and sometimes hook up to trams. Many of the information areas are helpful. However, I found the rudest service in London at the booths marked for information. While different people working about the station were helpful in telling me what line to catch, no one bothered to clarify that there are trains and then there are trains in England. There is the underground or the tube, which has trains, and then there are the overground trains. They come into the same stations and sometimes your ticket transfers between the two (and buses) and sometimes it doesn’t. The underground information people were not helpful with the trains and vice versa. No one bothered to tell me the difference. At Victoria Station there was in fact a Tourist Travel Information center, which no one told me about, but they helped me figure out the overground and underground trains to the airport (after three other ties). It was also cheaper to fly from London to Amsterdam than to take a train through the Chunnel. On the way back I took a ferry from Calais to Dover, so check all forms of transportation,  and several months in advance of your trip for the best deals.

This is an overview and I did so much walking and visiting of galleries and buildings that I was just too exhausted to write in the evenings. Over the next few weeks I will do reviews of accommodation, food and the places I traveled.

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