OK, so from here on out, I'm going to just do written descriptions, and then will make one entire post dedicated to pictures. Sorry for the shift in philosophy.
Day 7- Paris City Tour
After waking up early, we bussed into Paris and went to a perfume museum. In addition to smelling of a smorgasbord of different perfumes, it wasn't really that cool, but we did see a random female tennis player shooting a commercial or something for her new scent.
We bussed around the city with a guide, first stopping briefly at the Eiffel Tower for pictures. We continued on and saw a lot of the major sights. We ended at Notre Dame and had plenty of time to roam around. After lunch at a roadside café, we visited a small, cool bookstore that sold mainly books in English. We then walked back to Notre Dame and toured the inside, even stopping to sign the guest book.
After Notre Dame was the Louvre. We didn't go inside but took pictures outside and explored the gardens. At the end of the gardens, we walked down the Champs-Elysées to the Arc de Triumphe. It was much cooler in person than anything I had seen before on TV or in books.
We then decided that we had to go to the Eiffel Tower again and go to the top. It did not disappoint. That was a view that I will never forget. We were very lucky that we got a mostly sunny, beautiful day.
After that we took the metro home and got dinner at a local pizzeria. We finished off the night with another trip to the Bloody Mary bar and headed to bed.
Day 8 - Versailles
This was my favorite day in France, and it had nothing to do with the Palace itself.
We had another early morning and bussed to the Palace at Versailles. Upon arrival, we were told to go look at the gardens while our tickets were purchased for the Palace. In my head, I pictured these gardens as small patches of flowers and shrubbery, something that we could easily see in the ~30 minutes we were given. Boy...was I wrong.
I walked through an archway into the "backyard" and....WOW....it was like something straight out of a movie. The most expansive garden you could ever imagine. Recall the front yard in Richie Rich and multiply it by 10. That's the garden at Versailles. Massive lakes, labyrinths of hedges, incredible marble stairwys....it was almost too much. You could even rent golf carts to get you around the whole thing...that's how big it was! I really did not want to go in the Palace after seeing that. I hope to one day go back to Versailles and spend an entire day in the gardens. I could get lost in there and would not be mad.
Onto the actual Palace. It was incredible. Gold was used exhaustingly throughout. It was, like Windsor Castle, more than you could ever need. It was hard to imagine living in a place that big. Again, not as cool to me as the outside, but still awesome.
We then bussed back to Paris and planned on going to the Louvre. We ate cafeteria-style and carried on to the museum. Being fairly short on time, we made a point to visit the major things - the Mona Lisa, Aphrodite, etc. - and get out of there. After fighting our way through the crowds to see the Mona Lisa, which is encased making it hard to get a good picture, we headed back to the hotel for a nap.
After the nap, we took the Metro to Montmarte and Sacre Coeur. The view at the top is incredible. People lined the hill and street performers were everywhere. It was a cool, picturesque place. If I lived in Paris, I would go to Montmarte every night. We snacked on bread and cheese and had wine, enjoyed watching some of the street acts, and then went into Sacre Coeur. Mass was being held, in French of course, so we had to be reserved with our tour, but it was an incredible church. Pretty common feeling throughout the trip about the churches.
We took our last glimpses of the Eiffel Tower, took the Metro home, and hit the hay. We'd be travelling in the morning. Overall, I used a lot of French while we were there. And while I didn't remember everything, I knew enough to get by and felt I could have gotten around by myself if I needed to. I think the locals appreciated my efforts, as well.
Day 9 - Brussels and Amsterdam
Guess what? Another early morning. Guess what? Another bus. Stopped in Brussels for lunch and visited the Mannequin Pis. For those who don't know, the Mannequin Pis is a statue of a little boy peeing (water) into a font. Occasionally, locals will dress him up for games, etc. Well on this day, there was some sort of festival. To this day, we don't know what it was for. But there was a band and lots of people and a keg of beer. We received cups of said free beer and contently carried on.
Next on the agenda was to get some authentic Belgian waffles. Boy was it like heaven. I got mine covered in whipped cream and strawberries. That was the best waffle I've ever had, even if it may have been the most fattening. With I could have that every morning.
We went in search of lunch, but ended up stopping at a beer emporium instead. We purchased a few bottles of previously-suggested beers and got some Belgian chocolate. We were short on time, as we had to get back to the bus, so we scrambled and got some pizza and some frites (both of which were awesome) and headed back to the bus to continue our journey.
Next stop: Amsterdam. Upon arrival, we headed to the Anne Frank house. Without sounded insensitive or anything of the sort, it was really nothing special. It was crazy, however, to see the dire conditions in which they hid/lived. Starving, we went on the hunt for food. Knowing there was a Burger King at our hotel, we headed back. Little did we know it would be closed. So, we ordered food from the hotel bar/restaurant. After a true fiasco in dealing with the bartender there, I went without eating until much later in the night. We then hit the town, stopping at a couple bars and trying some new drinks.
Day 10 - Edam/Volderdam
In the morning, we went and visited a cheese and wooden shoe making place. There were a number of cheeses and I was pretty liberal with my free samples, as they were all very good. The wooden shoes were actually pretty comfortable. I would never wear them, though. Not really high fashion. After the factories, we went for a leisurely bike ride through Edam. We visited a marina, rode past a windmill, then lost a group of stragglers, including my father, for a good 20 minutes. After the found their way back, we went to the seaside for lunch. I bravely tried the fresh eel, and found it to be quite good. After bussing back to the hotel, we went back to Amsterdam. We had dinner at some Indonesian place, which was decent but not great. After that, we tried more new, local foods and carried on our way to a canal tour. After the boat tour, we headed to the Red Light District and found a bar. The District is really as surreal as you expect it to be. It takes "window shopping" to a whole new meaning. After a while, we headed back to the home on a bus that really "hauled ass" as Michael put it. Amsterdam was a great part of the trip.
Day 11 - Cologne/Heidelberg
Slept on the bus for most of the morning as it was still very early. We stopped in Cologne for lunch. The cathedral there was massive and quite beautiful. Some of the group climbed the tower, but we were hungry so we headed to the train station and got some food. We continued on and went for a cruise along the Rhein river. The weather was perfect. David stole a cake. It was a good time.
On the way to Heidelberg, we played a bunch of games since we were all bored. Contact, catchphrase, madlibs, and others helped pass the time. In Heidelberg, there was a pre-arranged dinner that Shannon, Kristi, my parents and I did not partake in. I settled for the German specialty Spatzle, and it was actually pretty good and apparently better than what the organized dinner got. We headed back to the hotel, had some drinks and played some games, and went to bed.
This was a long post, so I'm going to break it up. Next up, Switzerland.