zondag 28 juni 2015

Sat 13/6 - Chicago-Saint Louis: 2x Bottle Rockets... Amtrak train

woooooooo!!! honkinggg
okay no matter what from here, I’m in the Amtrak TRAIN and its HONKING hahaha wooo!!
Ok but we came here to see the Bottle Rockets so lets hope for the best.
This is a “highspeed” train wonder how fast we will go.
I hope the train will go a bit faster than this.

woke up early due to jetlag, and stayed in bed feeling very confused, anxcious, and feeling sorry for myself and wanting to go home, (I feel a bit better at this moment)
We took a cab back to the Union Station, it took a bit longer than the one yesterday, maybe tourist-detour, or maybe he avoided the traffic? Anyway, we saw a bit of the town, I always loved Chicago and enjoyed the views of the river, the lake, the old buildings, the old bridges. And loved the beautifull churches.
dont you just wanna jump aboard of trains with such names, no matter the destination?

As you know I’m a train geek and that took over as soon as we entered the building again. We were way too early, and went to get a bite. Only two things open at 6.30 am:
mac donalds and dunkin doughnuts :-P but the last one sold fruit! waiting for the train we saw something interesting called “reversable escalator” :-D

 We all had to wait inline inside the station, then show your ticket and then walk on the platform and directly go on the train unlike at home. It was a bit of a dissapointement that it looks just like a European train on the inside. This is more spacy though, and comfortable. Plenty of room for our bags. The feeling is the same as at home (like the wobbling :-) ) but the constant honking  makes it pretty clear that we’re in an American train :-) I wonder if I will be sick of the honking by the time we’re in STL.

"you are here" :-)

and here are poweroutlets next to your seat and we’re suppose to have wifi but it stopped as soon as we left the station.
we’re going at a good speed now.
there’s a café on the train (unlike at home) so we wont starve nor are we forced to eat stroopwafels for lunch.
ok now thats a good thought that just came up: if we’re not going to be able to see the Bottle Rockets (or less) we’re going to enjoy the trip in a different way!!

we’re passing old real cute looking american towns.
Joliet! Blues Brothers :-)
Conductor is chatting outside with some train-spectators. I just keep telling myself “they have a calculated time to stop here and its not time to leave yet” but I also keep thinking LETS MOVE.
teehee funny conductor “ladies and gentlemen please take a moment to check your cellphone. If you’re not in the possession of your cellphone, I may” :-)
weird trainjunctions here
We just found out the train honks for every crossroad.
Beautifull Illinois on my right hand, endless fields of green with typical american farms and phonepoles. Last time we saw this everything was white (very pretty too)

we heard so many dreaded things about American trains always being delayed, (Brian even told me about a 11hr delay on Chi-Stl, thanks!) that we were a bit nervous, but then I looked on the amtrak website and it said the train was running 20 minutes too early?!
well, so it was. I asked the conductor and he said “this is the first time in a while we’re not too late. Its the first time in 6 months we’re early, but we’ve never been 20 minutes early, and I dont know why”
I’ll tell you why, its because of us, we attrack crazy shit :-D
when we were almost there, all of a sudden everyone on the opposite side of the aisle grabbed their cameras and started clicking away. I knew what was going on, grabbed mine and joined them; a spectacular view on the Arch and the skyline!

How great it was to see it, we MADE it, we were back, and we’re in Saint Louis!!
Robert joked that it would be funny if the train would stop on the bridge and make 11hr delay. Brian later told us that was exactly what happened with the 11hr delay he told me about earlier :-D :-D

It was hot and humid in Saint Louis, just as we were warned. Felt like walking into a bathroom where someone just took a shower. Trainstation was tiny but modern, nice and clean, and also a Greyhound station. Very clean bathrooms (as everywhere)

Marcia and Steve came to pick us up in their bright orange car. So good to see them again, and so super good of them to pick us up! Nice ride to the house concert. I just couldnt believe I was in Saint Louis. AGAIN.
Also: I was so relieved that we made it!!! No matter what from now, we would at least see two concerts.

Ricks house was in a very nice neighbourhood. As soon as we walked in, I recognized it from many pictures of previous house concerts. Rick is a very nice guy! we brought stroopwafels, and other guests brought food too and it was like a horn of plenty, mmm... we met some nice people and we had some food. I was so tired, I probably introduced myself to the same persons 3 times. I already noticed the band was in the backyard so it was about time to go and say hi.
The moment I longed for for 1,5 years, and feared would never come again yesterday!!  just fantastic to see them again. We didnt bothered them for too long and went back inside (also because it was brainmelting hot outside)

We picked a nice seat and around 2 the concert started. Rick, who is a very creative guy, made a “spin the bottle rocket” wheel of fortune that determend the choise of song catogory. Spin it clockwise baby :-D

several guests were invited to spin it, and he asked me either first or second!! I felt a bit embarrassed as I looked and felt overheated (and still in my travel clothes) but gave it a good swing. cant even remember the catogory it went.
several other out of state guests spinned it too, there were people from chicago and Washington state!

I enjoyed the show, but was a bit overwhelmed with being here and also so tired. I’m glad it was seated. Loved to watch and listen. Watching John Horton getting a laugh attack is almost worth the trip alone :-D

One of the highlights was when Eric sang a Neil Young song (might have been Long May You Run)
Only bad part was the gig ended too soon, but I was happy and gratefull, also to be here at Ricks house, that I saw so often on pictures of other shows.

We gave away more stroopwafels (we were determined to get rid of them the first day) and several people brainstormed with us about how to get a car for us. As it didnt work, we even went as far as asking the band for a ride (to Wisconsin, we could take train or bus from there on), but they said we wouldnt fit in as they were packed already. I felt bad for asking it, because I know bandvans are a special sacred space for a band. Also, I dont want 4 men to have to hold their farts for 7 hrs :-D

theres a long story with this picture ;-)

we joined Marcia and Steve and went to the lovely Angela, their friend, who opened her house for us in between shows. More people were invited and we enjoyed good food, great company and a wonderfull place to hang around and rest a bit. And two cute doggies!

although I feel realy sorry for the flowers, this caused me a laugh attack I really needed.

enjoyed the deck with the view on the big garden with all the trees.... it was just so relaxed sitting there.
we also discussed what to do when we dont get a car and have to stay here untill monday (and take the train back to Chicago) it looked like that was going to happen.

after some wonderfull hours we got back in the car and went to Off Broadway. It had changed a bit since last year, now there was a very nice patio to sit outside and have a drink. We met a whole lot of people and familiar faces, great seeing everyone! Robert had a"belgium style" beer :-D

First artist of the night was Jimbo Mathus. We've seen his name around but didnt know the music, and we were in for a nice suprise!

Next up was Eric Ambel with his own band, that now consisted of Jimbo on guitar, Bottle Rocket Keith on bassguitar, and ex Brandos Phil Cimino on drums. what was a bit weird for us. We were looking at two ex Brandos sharing the stage with a Bottle Rocket :-D anyway, great music. Eric was playing the guitar he swapped with Brian Henneman. (the one in the back on this picture)

although I was enjoying the evening, I got more and more exhausted with every minute. We've been to quite a bit of stress the last two days and only slept for 3 hrs or something. I feared for the Bottle Rockets show. I was so wrong :-)

I had a nice spot right at the front this time and the show was fantastic. They opened with Alone in Bad Company, "my song" and nothing could have been better. It was just perfect.The Bottle Rockets in front of that red curtain. I was back! The unbelieveable adventure of 2013 was continuing into the next chapter... it was just really, really happening.

I felt a bit weird the whole show, like I was inside a movie. Not watching one!
the new songs are great. It was a bit weird to hear "Monday" as new song as we already heared it back in 2013. Expetations for the new album are high!
Anyway, it turned out in a superb show, I was enjoying every moment and couldnt stop telling myself i was looking at the Bottle Rockets again.
Unfortunately I had a minor breakdown when Eric joined the band in the end for Cortez the Killer and I had to go to the back and lean to a wall.

Meanwhile we were meeting a bunch of old and new friends. One of them was Johns wife Liza. She asked what was going on and I told about our transportation/credit card problems.
Aaaand.... she spoke the fabulous words "what if you take Johns car? It will be standig still for 5 days otherwise anyway!"
I coulnt believe it. Was this the answer? Does John want to drive it back from Chicago? What about insurance? What about 1000 more things?
after the show we discussed this with John and it seemed like it was going to work!
John just gave us his car!
we were so happy!
Phonenrs and adresses were exchanged and we were just totally excited.
meeting up with Janet... and someone needs sleep! :-)

Back home with Marcia and Steve, who live in a nice house in the middle of beautifull nowhere with a cute dog called Rocky. (the kids were not home)
we slept so well!

zaterdag 13 juni 2015

Friday 12/06 Brussel-Chicago: airplane

Not sure if I ever wanna be remembered of this day but I’l write it down anyway.
Flight to Chicago was smooth and ok, we even had a free upgrate to Business Plus, wich meant we were sitting behind a “wall” and had a lot of room. (no view, though)
with a slight delay we landed at o’Hare.

First stop; immigrations, witch can take very long, but now they have COMPUTERS to let you in the country. It was a bit unclear but with some help Robert got accepted real quick. Then me... uh oh, computer said “theres is a problem because your passport will expire within 2 months, error error error, you’re not ok”
WAAA!! I thought I would fall on the floor, but the girl who helped us said “the computer doesnt understand, but you’re ok, you’ll have to see a officer at the window” (like it used to be) I kept on asking “but I’m ok though, right???”
I specificly looked it up at home because of the short expire!! (also, my passport passed several hands in Brussels)
So, the officer did let me in the country :-) we did have a small conversation about the Bottle Rockets :-) it all went VERY fast anyway, and we waited for our suitcases. That took sooo long that we started worrying. Finally with suitcases, we had to stand in a ridicilous long line for customs, and finally we made it outside.

next problem: the number we had to call to be picked up by the rental company didnt work. But after a few minutes we saw their shuttle bus anyway so we got in.
Dollar rentacar was located in a... shack, with people and suitcases bulging out of it, with unhappy complaining customers (2 in dutch) a long line that didnt move, and 4 employees behind desks with a look on their faces that said “I dont wanna be here”  (and last time we delivered our car here they were also very unfriendly. No more Dollar for sure)
Finally Roberts turn, and I stayed with our luggage. At some point he called me and shook his head, the woman that was helping him was very agressive with pushing extra insurances and when Robert said “no” she got really unfriendly.
Long time later he called me again and said the dreaded words “they dont accept my credit card”
Disbelievfe. First moment of total disbelieve in a long line.
Lady just said it didnt work. Didnt wanna try our debetcards. Didnt wanna think about another solutions. Next in line!
she was pretty rude and totally swept from our feet we went outside and tried to call Dan who we were supposed to meet. He was on his way to a gig so not in the neighbourhood.

we went back to the airport and tried our creditcard at starbucks... no problem!! I was so relieved! still, we didnt know what to do. and we were so tired!  we couldnt get online, but we were able to call some people for advice but didnt really work out either and we just didnt know what to do anymore. Robert wanted to go back to Dollar to try again, what meant another long line... we saw the driver of their shuttle bus and he said it wouldnt work because they can only try once every 24hr. He said “do you have one of those fancy phones? go online, book a car at Hertz and try there” we didnt have no fancy phones :-) but a laptop but we couldnt get online because the only option was you had to buy a monthly plan!! :-S
so, either getting a monthly plan to go online on american airports or just doing a “walk up” to Hertz!
we choose the walk up (most expensive option) because we just didnt know what else to do and we were just so-mega-tired and jet lagged. we felt so lost. I felt like I was about to start screaming.
We hopped on the Hertz bus. What a different does Hertz make from Dollar. They had an office, not a shack. They had seats for people who were waiting. They also had quite a line, but they hada bunch of smiling people behind desks waiting for us. Pretty quick it was our turn. It felt kinda cool in a way to just walk up to a Hertz desk in the USA and go “we want a car”  ooh living on the wild site :-)
the woman was very friendly, took the credit card, swiped it and proceded.

WHAT!! Robert and I looked at eachother and crossed our fingers. Did she already see it worked? she didnt try to sell us a bigger car, extra insurance, toll passes, and adviced us on several options in a way that was cheaper for us. We ended up with a 650 dollar car for 5 days, but then... The credid card was declined.

But she didnt go “next in line”, no, she tried to help us, going through several options on how to get to STL, or what we should do, or how it was maybe possible that it did work at Starbucks. She adviced us to go to the “bus shuttle” on the airport. Back to the airport. Feeling so unreal and wanting to go home. Discussions on what to do. So tired. Trying not to get a fight or hysterical breakdown. Found a sign for “ticketing” so we followed it and found the ticket desk for United. (we assumed that Lufthansa dont fly to STL) Still, again, for some reason its just excited to slap your creditcard on the desk and go “we need to go to Saint Louis asap”
we could still make it to a flight but as we were “walk ups” we had to PAY. So it be, sigh. but, credit card declined. And no ma’am, sorry we dont take cash...
we went “ok, bye” and left. To the “bus shuttle” what ever that may be...

Dan advised us to “take the blue line into town and take the amtrak”
But how, when, where,..... does the Amtrak takes cash? does the Greyhound take cash? (if the Greyhound didnt take cash... ) more running around (thank the lord that we packed SO LIGHT)
about to give up. Buss shuttle was only regional and said “take the blue line to the city”
more running around, so tired, and that super surreal feeling. I said to Robert “right now I just wanna go to sleep and wake up at home” and he totally agreed.
We went to the subway and had to ask help to buy ticket and where the amtrak was and squeezed ourselfs in the tiny seats. I must say that no one made a problem of our luggage.
we knew it was quite a ride into town. I just stared outside and wished I was home.
After maybe an hr we were there and the moment we left the station I just felt better!
we found the station without getting lost. Its pretty big and impressive.
“Union Station” thats just... cool :-)
And now the 1000000 dollar question....
“do you take cash?”
“yes we do”
next question: we need to go to STL asap!
we just missed the last train :-(
Next one was 7am, arriving in STL around 12.30.
He advised us check Greyhound also, what we did.
Bit complicated, but they had a night service, (and they take cash! some faith in humanity restored) and Robert didnt wanna sleep on the bus (maybe better) so we went back and bought tickets for the train.
Just to try Robert gave his creditcard... worked perfectly for 104 dollar.
We asked how to get info on hotels in the neighbourhood and she send us to the service desk. Long, long line. We were thinking about going online and check booking.com but we didnt do it.
Its just so hard to make the right decision when you’re so tired and stressed out.

went to get a drink and the chatty girl at the check out said I would fit in perfectly in Wisconsin with my accent :-D I dont know if its true or not but I think its funny because of the cheese connection :-D

Guy behind us in line came all the way from Los Angeles by train!! and missed his connection because of delay and we assured him trains in Europe are just the same.
Turned out we were at the service desk where they only help stranded Amtrak traveleers. I think we looked so desperate, she made some calls for us anyway (thank you) when we said we’re from Belgium she went “how on earth did you end up here?!” well, thats a long story :-)
she called two hostels (every single hotel in the neighbourhood was completely full, and she wondered why) and the last one had a private room free. she said “they’re from Belgium and they’ll take a cab now”

Huge line outside the cabs-curve so we walked back to the subway. It was very complicated because we didnt know where to go so we gave up, went back upstairs got a cab. we feared the worse with the rate but it was only 15 dollar.
Lincoln Park looked like quite a nice neighbourhood. We feared the room would be gone but it wasnt. On first sight the hostel looked nice, but our room was a bit overpriced. But we had a bed... no bathroom though (quite a walk to find one) and it was a bit dirty. we probably caught bedbugs :-P
We went back out to find something to eat and ended up at Mac Donalds and Subway. I just couldnt speak anymore at Subway but they took it kinda cool and asked where we were from and what was going on and we explained. Then “is there Subway in Belgium too?"
yes, there is! Turns out there is one in Bulgaria too and it looks nice. Good to know.
Salad was wayyy to big, i was so hungry now I couldt eat anymore (ever had that?)
Robert got mayonaise with his fries. WOman didnt even blink. Times are changing.
Back in our room; sorted somethings out and then BED, fantastic BED. The sheets were clean and the bed was better than it sounded :-D and we did get some sleep... but woke up at 3. But we knew that would happen.

vrijdag 15 mei 2015

Hasselt, B > Calais, Fr > Dover, UK

more and way better pics are coming!

friday 15th Hasselt - Calais - Dover

todays plans: work :-D drive to Calais, take the boat to the UK (Dover) as footpassengers, and stay the evening in Dover.

slept a good three hours. Off to work at 8am. I felt very surreal because of the lack of sleep second night in a row, but was able to get everything done like it should, and went back home to re-pack and get ready. We planned to leave asap, as its a bit of a drive. We assumed the traffic would be smooth because most people are off today. well we didnt really had problems, but it was very crowded with people going to the coast. Also from the corner of my eye I saw a warning that said something with “15km traffic jam” and “antwerp”
So, did we have to avoid Antwerp, or make a detour to Antwerp? confusion. Traffic info on the radio sorted it out, you had to avoid Antwerp as there were huge, huge trafficjams because of roadwork. Never thought of that! (and so glad we were going via Brussels)
Things got a bit silly after that because we’re so tired, but we got in Calais nice and smooth.

At home we looked up where to park, but ofcourse in real life it was way different. We found the only left over spot on the free parking, so we parked and got ready. Robert went for a walk and noticed something alarming: all the cars around us were damaged one way or the other. Slashed tires, broken windows, missing mirrors, everything! we didnt feel safe anymore and decided to check out the paid parking. More confusion, so we asked a staff member and he said “just get your car and park here” so we did. We’re right in front of the terminal in plain view so I hope they leave us alone!

not much excitement going on here at te moment. We’re at the gate waiting for the bus to the boat. Security check was kinda cute. Then funny passport control: first you go to the window for the french passport control, then you walk 10 steps and there’s the British passport control.
It has been 7 years since we went to the UK this way. I’m just as (happily) nervous :-) Sea is calm.

16.15 CET - big boat :-)

“not very crowded here” we thought when we walked on board, but 5 minutes later busloads of a) young children (very quiet) b) screaming german teenagers c) screaming English teenagers d) screaming random teenagers (ok I’m overreacting) and also Spanish tourists. Lots of people doing quick naps on one of the many benches (quite comfy if you wear earplugs!)
the boat is filled with screaming 16 year olds :-S (still better that a SINGING CHOIR)
and there are some serious waves too apparently. We found a starbucks corner (the slowest ever, but we got a discount)
When we left the harbour, we had a very nice view on Calais with its churches, the superpretty belltower and the white lighthouse.
View on Dover was just as nice as the view on Calais, but the cliffs were remarkable whiter. Thats probably why its the white cliffs of Dover and not the white cliffs of Calais.

there were about 10 footpassengers, and finding the way out in Dover was complicated at least. How many times can you run up and down the same stairs? (and everytime you run up, you have to fight yourself a way trhough busloads of teenagers)

21.00 UK - Dover.
So far so good! enjoying the day. Dover isnt very charming but has a very big castle on top of a hill and the people are all friendly. Our BnB isnt expensive, but ok! very friendly owners. Tiny room though with miniature bathroom, not suitable for big or tall people! went into town for a walk, didnt feel very safe at all times. Shops were all just closed as we arrived, bummer! only one we could see was ofcourse a thriftstore. Theres so many of them in the UK! some nice houses in the city center and some impressive old buildings. Sun started shining and it wasnt as cold as expected.
only really bad thing is crossing the road here!! you have to look to the right first, feels so weird and un natural. We’re tired and we just grab eachother and look all around us, even behind us and up :-D :-D I’m glad they’re used to some confused mainlanders here.
we found a street (the Highstreet out of town) with lots of small local restaurants, and some indian restaurants (at least two of them were called Taste of India) so we chose one. I had a supertasty meal with lamb and tomato sauce, and Robert managed to choose the Atomic Chicken Special again!!! (and it wasnt even hot according to the menu. There were also dishes “hot” “very hot” and “extremely hot” ?! )
He did finish it but the tears were almost running down his face.
Visit to the local supermarket was planned, to get some fruit and veggies and chips (i mean cripspsspsps) and sweets. ASDA and Morrisons were next door to eachother. I had the feeling ASDA was cheaper so we went there. Regrets! though the staff was friendly, I didnt like the shop at all and just wanted to leave. Back to Morrisons, were Robert sat down and I had some extatic 15 minutes running around looking at snacks and food, and giggling about signs and words. Esp “crisps” ( = chips) and “everyday biscuits” I wonder where the fancy biscuits were! so many cool english stuff like crackers for cheese and crackers and 100 types of marmelade and lemoncurd (drooool) and so many cookies that looked so different than at home. And cakes and rolls too! and oatmeal bars (flapjacks) and toffee and caramel and, and, and. I managed to leave the shop with only carrots and water for me. (and crisps for Robert)

Help! Freak Show, Essen, Germany, 14-5-15

Help! Osnabrück, Germany 15-5-15