Sunday, October 3, 2010

Photos from Italy

This huge batch of photos was all taken on my excursion through Italy. My favorite country I visited in Europe. It's taken me a while to get them up here because a) there are a LOT of photos and b) I'm just a little lazy.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Photos and Videos from Suise-land

Switzerland was one of my favorite places to visit in Europe and one I definitely want to return to. Enjoy the photos and videos if you dare. I'm going to be putting the rest of my photos and videos up today or tomorrow, now that I'm finally over being sick, which I will also post about.


Interlaken and Brienz

I think this was taken on my way to Interlaken from Bern.

The great paragliding adventure! So yeah, if you didn't read before, I went paragliding in the Swiss alps and it was awesome. Here's some video from that and some very special photos with my pilot, Richi. Switzerland is beautiful.

Actual paragliding video with my actual real life camera that is real. Fun!

Richi taking video of us flying!

Landing, no that's no me, that would be magic if that was me and I was filming me from the ground. Magic has no place in Switzerland.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Apparently my traveling equals pretty good!

Travel Map
I've been to 43 cities in 9 countries
Christina is an explorer that:
likes popular destinations
likes a bug-free bed and hot showers
likes a little risk
Travel cred: pretty good
I rank in the top...
1% most cities visited - Luxembourg
8% most cities visited - Switzerland
13% most cities visited - Netherlands

Awesome! I'll eventually get around to updating with more photos, I've just been so busy with other things, then I found this, because Facebook is crazy addictive.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Europe Post Mortum - Part 2

After almost two weeks of being back in the States I feel that part of me has truly changed. A lot of stuff has suddenly upturned in my life and it's been hard to deal with all of the change coming in one big rush.

When I moved back to Oregon I didn't really have a lot of time to adjust to being here, although I definitely felt and feel happier now that I'm here. I acquired a relationship, reconnected with old friends, had some time to sit, think and relax while I waited to leave for a long trip that I needed to take.

The say the least I felt really stuck in Minneapolis.

Upon coming back to the States it became painfully evident that my job was over, and I dreaded the idea of going back to being unemployed. As I think about this point my confidence melts away and it's been a constant self struggle to keep it pumping me forward. Yesterday was not a good day for that, but the day before was better, it is an up and down struggle.

I have no illusions that I don't have the worst of the world's problems in my lap, in fact I'm doing pretty good. It's just been interesting seeing the low hit me as I remember my trip and look forward to an uncertain future in employment. I feel beaten down by the months of unemployment I had, and right now would be game for just about any job I can take. I know millions are in the same boat as me, and that is a bit of a comfort, although sad fact to think about.

My biggest frustration is not seeing the self confidence I now have for traveling bleed over a bit into job hunting. Positive self talk does a lot, but I think it'll just take patience and time and optimism to get me there. Recessions certainly don't last forever, and I think the one we're going through now world wide is a wake up call to how the financial markets we have in the US are not in a balanced state and need some fixing.

I encountered a lot of Europeans who think that American's are greedy, and self focused to the point of ridiculousness. And I think it is a problem that we're not more community focused here, I think it's one of the reasons Americans are pretty unhappy, unhealthy people. We don't get enough time with our families and we're obsessed with work. Striking the balance between that and keeping out budget balanced is hard. Doing good for others makes you feel good, and it's something that we don't focus on here enough, and I frankly think it's ridiculous to find someone, somewhere who would think I am somehow advocating communism, or that socialism is communism in disguise, etc etc.

One of the reasons that we have so much violence here is theorized to be from two factors, one is economic stratification, and the other is our lack of a homogeneous communities. These are again only theories, but there is evidence that the fear of the stranger and living side by side with people that do not look "black", "brown", "green", "white", "fuchsia" can have an affect on us. We're hard wired to fear the stranger and it's a struggle to untangle that and get rid of our xenophobia, because deep down we're all human, despite what's on the surface, and we all have the same needs.

I am optimistic that this will change, it will be painful and slow, and is already changing, but it takes constant love and attention to get it going.

America is truly great because here our xenophobia has melted somewhat, in Europe it is much more evident that you don't see people that look different everyday, even other white people that look different, thus the staring by children and adults alike at the strange American mutt who's strolling through your Swiss town to her Hostel.

In conclusion, my trip was wonderful and transforming, and coming back to reality has been a bit hard, but also a welcome relief from the intensity of constant travel. I am a healthier, happier person. My eyes are more open and so is my mind. I hope to travel again soon, I'm planning a trip to Japan that I can hopefully take next year.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Paris Photos and Videos

All the photos I took in Paris are now up and available here. Paris is definitely not my favorite city, but it is quite beautiful, especially at night. Look and enjoy at your leisure!

This video is of me taking the train to Gare de Nord in Paris from London. This thing was really moving fast. It was kind of scary and awesome at the same time, check it out:

Coming into Gare de Nord. There was a lot of graffiti everywhere in European train stations and also often in cathedrals and other monuments. You can see some on the walls here as I rolled into the Gare.

Up the Eiffel Tower parts 1 through 4!

Friday, August 20, 2010

London Photos and Videos

Here are the set of photos I took whilst in London England on my trip, more flickr updates to come soon.

Also a video of some street performers who I saw along the river Thames my last day in London. I think they were from Jamaica, and they were basically amazing. Check this out.

Changing of the Royal Cavalry in Westminster

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Europe Post Mortum - Part 1

I've been back in the States for about five days and recovering from jetlag. I've been thinking about my trip and about how my perspective on the US has changed, how I am definitely a different person now and how it's been a bit of an adjustment being back.

The flight back into the United States was a bit hard to handle. 17 hours of travel does that to you. Two things were a bit of a shocker to me, one was hearing English for the first time, everywhere, and with an American accent, and the second was the perspective of seeing how unhealthy us American's are about taking care of ourselves.

Europeans would go wide eyed at our portion sizes and our lack of exercise. And now that I'm back, I'm noticing it as well. I lost weight while I was over there and am just now noticing it as I put on clothing that now fits me better then when I was over there. I feel clearer headed, more peaceful, calmer, more energized. I feel more confident in myself and more self assured. I am now a more extroverted human being in general, chatting with and meeting people overseas was one of my favorite activities. The cultural differences between introductions in many European countries as opposed to here are also becoming clearer.

Here it is easy to make an initial connection with someone, but hard to become friends. In many places in Europe it is the exact opposite, people are cold to you, but they also welcome and smile at American's who want to chat and fast friendships re warm, inviting and unassuming. Basically they don't assume you have an angle for talking with them, or have the inkling thought that you might be an axe murderer.

I miss the small espresso cups and the tiny spoons you use to stir them with. I miss having a digestif after every meal. I miss the public transit, I miss the food, I miss the people. I miss seeing ancient things mixed with a swirl of modern life; old buildings with a Starbucks shop sticking out of the bottom area like a fancy boutique.

It feels good to not be in such an intense situation everyday. I distinctly remember touching down in Minneapolis for my first plane transfer and feeling a breath of fresh air. I was home.

I think I basically am having a bit of the post mortum blues, and a bit of a culture shock bump.

Things I appreciate about America now:
- Air conditioning
- Wide roads
- Hamburgers
- Clean toilets with toilet paper in them
- Friendliness
- Our government, even though it has it's own horrible problems

Things I miss the most about Europe:
- Espresso
- Ancient ruins, cathedrales, buildings
- Italy
- Train rides and public transit in general
- Having really walkable cities
- European cheese
- Seeing super model hot people everywhere
- Being able to change in the middle of a park/beach/store and have no one caring or staring
- Feeling safe just about everywhere

Pictures and a few untold stories will be posted in a while. Hopefully after I'm feeling a little better and less culture shocked.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Noordwijk Holland

Noordwijk Holland is a relaxing sea side town where you can go to the beach, eat some nice food, or take a train into Amsterdam to enjoy what the larger city has to offer. For the last few days I have been mostly relaxing in relative solitude, reading a few books and enjoying my last few days here with serenity and no real sense of urgency. 

A few days before this I spent a night in Dem Haag and visited the M.C Escher museum there. The museum was quite stunning, especially since I am a big fan of Escher's work. I bought a few posters, one for myself and two for other people who will recieve them when I get back into town. 

Yesterday I spent the majority of the day sitting on the beach here and reading a book that Ali gave to me from Aydin called The Luck Factor. I was a pretty iteresting read and talks about some quite practical advice actually on how to bring more fortuitious things into your life. It also explored a lot of theories and ideas about what luck is and how people have attempted to control it with religion or superstitious means. 

I saw a number of famiies on the beach with their kids. The beach was not a nude one, but in Europe you just change wherever you are, so you see people naked all the time anyway. There were some people sun bathing, others swimming or flying kites. 

I just sat on my sarong with my crappy little umbrella and read for the whole day. I unfortunately didn't cover all of my lower legs with sun screen though and recieved some rather nasty sun burns on my ankles and part of my calves. 

There were a group of young men who were playing soccer who I watched for a while, partly because they were pretty, and partly because I was genuinely interested in what they were doing. Some of them seemed pretty talented with a soccer ball, but what do I know, I'm an American. 

After this I went to a Chinese restaurant since I was feeling tired of European food and had some mediocore food, but also some rather delicious lychee wine and a dessert of ice cream with banana slices in it. It was good!

Today I started reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which so far I am really enjoying! The setup has been rather exciting and well put together. 

I've been thinking a lot lately about the different opinions I've gathered about the United States and what other people regard us as around the world. I talked to a man from Cosivo today who said he was so grateful to the US for helping them out when they were at war. He was a fan of both Clinton and Bush for this reason, and it felt educational to just listen to him and absorb. I asked a few questions, but mostly just wanted to hear what he had to say. 

I think one thing some European countries do that is rather interesting and I think is beneficial to a community is to require someone when then end high school to either participate in community service or join the army for a short period of time. I talked with this young man from Dusseldorf who said that volunteering with the mentally disabled as his form of community service was life changing. It made me wonder how and if a similar system would work in the US and if it might benefit our society at large. 

Another difference Europeans have is their attitude towards guns. They believe they should be banned out right, and many are shocked when I mention that both my parents and my boyfriend own firearms. I mostly stay silent on this topic because I can understand both points of view, but edge on the side of letting people own guns, I just want it to be regulated. For instance, no guns for people who have a certain kind of criminal record, and we need to do our best to keep them out of irresponsible hands. I tried to explain once that the second amendment in our constitution is there for a reason and was confronted with the fact that the time we needed them has passed. I wanted to go on to mention a what if, but stopped. More interested in understanding their ideas about gun ownership. 

Europeans look confusedly at us Americans with our big cups of coffee and huge inefficient cars. They applaude us for electing Obama and for being a country that is a melting pot of culture and with a unique form of government the world over. I don't know how I feel about my government right now, in many ways I think it's stopped being fully functional at the moment and we have a huge problem with corruption. 

In many places in Europe the governmental problems seem to spring from xenophobia and centralized power. Like the various laws that discriminate against Muslims in France and Switzerland. Or the problem of possible governmental collapse in Denmark, since 33 percent of the countries jobs are government based. 

We have a huge problem with poverty, the majority of Europe does not. I saw a few homeless people in Paris and struggling immigrants from Africa, but nothing else. People here eat better and exercise more, which probably accounts for the large amount of super model hot guys and gals walking around wherever you look. 

I think discounting Europes societal models isn't being fair, there are plenty of flaws, but from what I've gathered, there are certain things they do a lot better then we do in the US.

Anyway, I think I will return to my book and trying to get over this cold. See you all in a few days when I'm back in the states!


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Amsterdam days 1 and 2

Amsterdam is a city that is as much fun as I think a European city can be. Which in others words means it's fantastic! I've been here for only a few relaxing days, but I'm glad I came, there is tons to do and see, as well as a lot of relaxing places to sit and just chill out.

The first night we got in from Trier we stopped at Schypol Airport where our hotel was, a place called Citizen M. When Sherry was making the reservations for it all of us were raising eyebrows about the strange placement of the shower and toilet in each room. Mainly that it was a glass cylinder in the middle of the room with a sunflower shower head and changing lights. 

Amsterdam was ridiculously full during the time we needed to get a room, so it basically looked like the only available option. We went along with it hoping it wouldn't be too weird. 

When we got to Schypol and exited the airport we walked into Citizen M just down the road. When you first walk in your surrounded by slightly disorienting red tinted glass and then you come to the check in computer kiosks where a representative takes you through the rather inefficient method of signing yourself into the Hotel. Then they give you your room cards and point you down the black, white and red hallway toward the very rectangular elevators that take you up to your floor. 

You simply press the keycard over the door handles sensor pad to unlock door and then you step into a very tiny, very odd room. The toilet is inset slightly into the wall and wrapped in a shield of fogged glass, and the shower is slightly up and to the right of the toilet in unfogged glass! Both have strange rave-like area lights above them that sort of beam down a colored fog of light. The best thing about these lights, you can change them with a universal remote for the room while someone is peeing or taking a shower, much laughter ensues. 

The bed is by the huge shaded window and also inset into the room, and huge! It was also a dream to sleep on, I kind of want one like it. 

The universal remote controls the TV, lights, shades over the windows, and the rooms tempurature. It was a totally different world compared to the hostels that I am so used to now. And I can say that having air conditioning was really wonderful. It's something I will never take for granted again. 

If anything I'd say that Citizen M is the most charming and in your face modern hotel I have been to. Despite the somewhat awkward lack of privacy, fast Internet and free movies plus all the sparkly electronics made my stay there worth it. Well that and Alison, but that's just a given because she exists and is somewhere nearby to where I exist. This often equals a good amount of fun and laughing, which we both agree is a good currency to exchange between us.

The next day Alison and I went to the Sex Museum in Amsterdam to see if it was worth it. It was slightly skeezy and a little more like an amusement park in some ways rather then a museum, but there were some really cool pieces of ancient sculpture and art in there. You just had to keep walking past all the pornographic photos and pretend that you were maybe learning something.

We then went to a coffeehouse and... well... had coffee, yes..... coffee. Nothing illegal and yet readily available was ingested! Stop looking at me like that! Okay, I'm a bad liar, but it's something you do in Amsterdam, and pot is pretty fun on occasion to me. How many times in your life do you get to get high and then go chill out in a park with a bunch of other publically high people? Not many says I! When opportunity knocks, you answer. 

We walked around for a while before heading to the park and grabbed some food and just relaxed. 

At the park Ali and I relaxed and did some drawing. There were plenty of worthy subjects, but the most worthy of all was what I think was a great blue heron that once I started taking pictures of it, coasted down and landed very very near to Ali and I as we chilled out in the park. I filmed it for quite a long time and then did some quick drawings until it scampered off again a little later. It then reappeared sometime later on a favored roost on a nearby tree, which I then used to do more sketching. 

We were going to go to the torture museum, but sitting in the park pretty much won out on fun. We heard and saw a number of people there on their guitars singing English songs, and a bunch of people simply relaxing in the park. 

Today I'm staying temporarily in Dem Haag, and tomorrow I will be going to Leiden to stay on the beach at a Hostel that Ali reccomended called The Flying Pig! I'm excited to basically just go there and get some good sketching and relaxing done, as well as do a few touristy things in Amsterdam itself.


An Ode to Bathrooms!

In Europe, every bathroom is different, and they're all special in there own ways. In America we tend to be very very obssessed with toilet cleanliness, but in Europe, especially the mainland, that concern is not so great.

The ways to flush a toilet are as varied as the shapes and sizes of toilets that exist. Some have buttons on the wall, on the floor, or on the top of the toilet itself. Others use pull ropes, levers or touch pads.

And some are just holes in the ground with no recognizable place which you can either clean your special areas or your hands.

I have been on trains that just dump whatever you gave them onto the tracks, and others where they smell better then any other part of the train.

Some bathrooms you pay to use, others are free but a public donation of fifty cents is expected. On the trains you cannot drink the water, everywhere else the tap water is fine.

Some bathrooms are literally a small cage in the middle of the street, others are cylinder shaped modern boxes that are sprinkled throughout the city.

You may think it's strange for me to make a small post about bathrooms, but it's one of the more intimate experiences of traveling and one I think is fun to share.

Trier Germany

Trier was a nice rest from the huddle and bustle of the majority of my trip through Europe. A small city with a few very interesting ruins and some good company made the experience of Trier a notable section of my trip. 

While there, we visited the ruins of some Roman baths. They were originally ordered by Constantine in the fourth century but remained incomplete for a number of centuries until another Roman emperor finally ordered there completion. The whole area seemed more complete and walkable then much of the Roman forum in Roma. You could walk along the old water ways where aquiducts had once carried water there to be heated and used. There was a large open field for games and a number of baths who were now is disrepair. 

Apparently during the middle ages the Roman empire was not very appeeciated or respected, and so not a lot of effort was made to preserve their ancient ruins, and it some cases the ruin area itself was either mined for stone like a quarry, or it became a city trash dump. Poor Romans. 

We went to a number of interesting restaurants and had a long search for the fabled Currywurst, a delight and hark back to the childhood of Alison's parents. We finally managed to find some after a few days of searching, and I must mention that I enjoyed the rather unhealthy trea quite a bit. Wurst with curry sauce is a good invention indeed. 

The Hotel we stayed at in Trier was called Hotel Christophel. It contains a restaurant on the bottom floor and then rooms the next four floors up. The staff were very friendly and hospitible, but the lack of thick glass on the windows and the Hotel's proximity to the street meant I was laying awake listening to the majestic sounds of traffic horns, screeching tires and internal combustion motors as people cruised by. 

I did manage to get some sleep the first night I was there. And with Ali getting over a cold and her dad Mike in the midst of one, we were quite the zombie crew heading out to seize the day. We ended up coming back very soon that day after going out to take naps. I can't really sleep during the day, but I had a good rest despite this. 

We visited Luxembourg and Bitburg the next day. In Bitburg we retraced The footsteps of Ali's parents as they attempted to find their old stomping grounds in Bitburg where they first met! We went to the airbase there, which unfortunately had changed quite a lot and tried to get in to see all the old housing places people who were military dependants stayed, but we needed an ID card to get in and the very gracious air force personnele unfortunately had to turn us away. 

Next we visited Viendan in Luxumbourg to see the restored castle that Mike and Sherry had played around on when they were young. It was quite castley and cool. apparently it had been in ruins before 1978 when restoration started to bring it back to what it used to look like before.

We saw a few falconers and some dancing and a craft show inside the castle itself. It was a nice little tourist attraction. 

On the way out we ordered some roasted nuts, which were most definitely a rip off. I suspect the guy knew we were American and automatically raised the prices of things. It's just what they do here, I've pretty much come to accept it. Unless you make a good clean effort to speak Italian, French, German, Spanish, Dutch, etc, the prices on souveniers you buy WILL go up. It's just the way it is, especially in peak season.

Despite the heart attack inducing price of the roasted nuts, they were quite delicious! We munched on them for the next few days as we walked around Trier and hung out at the Hotel to relax. 

The night before we planned to part ways again I was about to head down to Munich. But when I looked at the time it would take me on the train to get up to Amsterdam from there I just about fell over. The shortest train was 13 hours, and the longest was 22! I had no desire to spend most oft precious time on a train through Germany, so I decided instead to head directly to Amsterdam with Ali and her parents, and although I was sad about not getting to see Munich, I was ultimaty glad that I went along with them to Amsterdam. 

I have been in Amsterdam for a few days now and am having a nice low key and relaxing time here. Tomorrow I plan to do some sight seeing, drawing and writing, but my posts for Amsterdam the last few days will come soon.

I am now staying in Dem Haag, a city about an hour away from Amsterdam by train. The city is quite quant, and one where I would like to do some shopping and site seeing tomorrow if I have the time. 

They have an M.C Escher museum quite close to my hotel and a few parks and things. Tonight I plan to get some Indian cuisine and relax in the lobby of my Hotel with a book. 

Amsterdam is awesome.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Strasbourg France

Strabourg was an unexpected surprise. I traveled there because it seemed out of the way. And ask beceause I met a nice woman in Paris who lives there names Catherine.

I got into town after a short ride over from the Basel train station, and proceeded to walk through some areas od construction as I trekked to find my Hostel. The name of the Hostel was Ciarus and it was by far the best place I have stayed on my trip! There were tons of rooms, the inside was edgy, modern and sleek, the staff were friendly and they even had a restaurant built into the Hostel itself. 

At first I didn't think much of Strasbourg's site seeing prospects. The first night I was there I didn't much except go out to a local market to buy some fruit, visit the Plaza de Republique and take a few pictures of churches, the Place de Justice and some very pretty canals lined with lovely colorful trees. 

When I got back I sat down in the lobby, waiting to be able to check into my room. I ate the enormous amount of snap peas I'd just purchased and relaxed. Since I was sittingat one of the only tables in the lobby, a young asian man sat down on the other side. We exchanged a brief smile and then I asked him where he was from. He was from a smaller city near Shanghai and his name is Yifu. We ended up chatting for quite a while. He had been studying for a year in Germany and had just finished and decided to travel for a short period of time. 

I checked into my room where I found that my dorm had it's own shower and bathroom, something incredibly rare for most Hostels! The room was on the top floor, and although the windows didn't open all the way it suited me just fine. When I arrived I found one of my Hostel mates was napping. She was also Asian, and once she was awake I attempted to ask if she was okay and if I had been disturbing her at all. She informed me that she had a headache and I asked if she had any ibuprofen. She smiled and said yes, but that it wasn't working. 

Later after I'd settled in some and she was more awake we had a wonderful and thankfully successful attempt at having a conversation. I learned her name, which I unfortunately forgot, and that she was from South Korea. She was incredibly sweet and we laughed as we attempted to communicate with each other. I told her that I had made Kim Bop at one point and she got incredibly excited! She gave me a  small bag of Korean rice and asked me if I would make Kim Bop again someday! 

I decided to use that night to catch up a bit in my paper journal and have some quiet time. Before going to dinner the nice Korean girl handed me a peach that was delicious as a random present. I then ran and gave her back a nectarine in return! We both laughed and said many thank yous as she left to go eat with some friends. 

I had dinner at the Hostel's restaurant and recieced half a chicken that I'd mistakenly ordered in my attempt to bumble my way through speaking French. 

The food wasn't great, but it was sufficient.

The next day I wandered down to see Yifu on his computer with a long list of things that he needed to do. I met a friend of his from Australia named Denise. We introduced ourselves and then I proceeded to tag along with her for some site seeig for the rest of the day! 

We visited the local Notre Dame Cathedrale and saw the presntation at noon of the astronomical clock! A moving mastery of Swiss clockwork with many paintings, animatronics and impressive time keeping. A piece of machinery that is really ahead of it's time. 

After this we took a boat tour of Strasbourg's many canals. There were two lochs that brought our tour boat up and down through the canal work, which was a really interesting part of the tour. I learned that there had been a torture bridge that in the twelth century had been used to torture prostitutes and unfaithful wives. The audio tour to go along with it was so emotionally neutral though it was hard not to laugh simply from the discomfort of how passionless the voice was in mentioning this. 

There was a church that had burned down where apparently a fat monk had blocked the only useable exit with his girth, causing the death of twenty people, as well as an architect who was beaten because the spire of the church he'd worked on had a very funny shape to it. 

The European Houses of Parlimant reside in Strasbourg. They're these lovely glass buildings and an interesting constrast to the other older buildings inside the city proper. 

Strasbourg being on the border between Germany, France and Luxembourg make it a great location and a symbol of peace to the EU. 

The next day I trekked out on my own to visit Le Petite France and climb the cathedrales steps. I found this Notre Dame cathedrale to be much more impressive then the more famous cathedrale of the same name in Paris. It's larger and the gothic architecture was much more intricate that any other cathedrale I have visited thus far. 

I then went back to my Hostel to do some more writing and take some time to reflect some on my trip so far. I had a few painful moments of homesickness, but it passed fine. 

That night I had a few very irritating girls from Canada in my dorm room though. They were going into their second year in college and for some reason seemed to think that my traveling alone was strange and that I was somehow below them for some odd reason. They didn't like the French shower in the Hostel either, which I found both irritating and really funny to hear them bitch about. 

For the unknowing, in many places in France they have showers with push buttons that pump out a finite amount of water with each use. I think It's a smart idea because it saves water and makes it easier to shampoo your hair and condition. They thought it was the most awful thing in creation. 

They would alternately be condescending to me and then ask me all these questions as if I knew everything about the Hostel I'm staying at.  The next morning they forgot their keys to the room twice and I had to let them both back into the room. 

The night before I had a much better room mate, a woman from the south of France who did not speak any English. Using my iPod as a tool and piecing together words from my language guide we managed to have a very basic introduction and conversation about our professions, journey and how warm the room was. 

There was a lot of laughing and patient use of time as we slowly figured out how that talk to each other. She had either traveled or was traveling to Nepal to build houses and trek the mountains. She had a cell phone that was powered by a mini solar panel and a flashlight and you crank to charge the battery and use. I exclaimed my wonder over these objects with simple noises and facial expressions, since I have no idea how to say WOW in French, which ilicited more chuckling and hand gesturing. 

The next morning I excitedly headed out from the train station into Trier Germany to meet up with Ali and her parents and have a few adventures and a more relaxing journey as my trip starts to wind down. 

More to come about Trier soon. 

Saturday, July 31, 2010


My stay in Luzern was relatively quiet and uneventful with the exception of heading up to the Jungfraujosh (Virgin Saddle). The Jungfrau is a huge mountain peak that you must take a bus and then two cogwheel trains to reach the summit.

The day I got into Luzern it was raining and I had for the first time a use for my raincoat. I walked from the train station into town, trying to find my Hostel. After some time walking up and down the boulevard called Zurichstrasse I ducked into a middle eastern eaterie to grab some lunch. I had my card out and the guy behind the counter said very kindly that they don't take card, only cash. I responded with a surprised "OH!" which he laughed at and then attempted to perform charades to figure out where a bank was. He directed me down the street and was kind enough to let me keep my bags there while I ran to get some money.

Typically at Swiss bank machines they give you very large bills. I asked for 100 Francs and recieced a 100 Franc bill! I immediately went over to the teller and asked if she could break it up for me.

I had a good lunch at the restaurant and asked the guy behind the counter for directions to my Hostel. He invited me to the back area where there was a computer and kindly pointed me in the right direction, using google maps. He did not speak English too well, and it was fun playing and making gestures about where I needed to go.

At the Hostel I met a friend randomly who I had Hosteled with in Paris! Her name is Bonnie and she is from Toronto Canada. Although she lived in Chicago for a few years to finish her masters degree.

She invited me to go to the Jungfrau peak with her the next morning. I said I would think on it. We decided to then go out to diner and a walk around Luzern's little city center.

We had diner at a place called The Fondue House. And of course had some truly amazing and artery clogging fun sucking down cheese dipped potatoes, mixed vegetables and bread. It was expensive, but the food itself was well worth the money.

The next day we got up early and headed to the Tourist Office inside the Luzern train station. It was raining pretty hard and I was very hesitant about buying my ticket up the mountain with a tourist service. The expense was not cheap.

I bought it and Bonnie and I went and waited under the awning across the street by the McDonalds. For about ten minutes I vascilated on my purchase. And then ran back to the tourist office to see if a refund was possible. They said I could get half back since the tour itself was already on it's way to pick us up. I decided to go, and am very glad that I did!

The bus arrived and Bonnie and I entered. We were greeted by our tour guide, a loud, flamboyant man from Laos who just told everyone he was Thai. His name is Kid, and he was by far the best tour guide I have had in Europe thus far.

The bus weaved through the alps, going up down, around, and in and out of long tunnels. I believe our driver was from Italy, as his name was Mario and he drove like he was from Italy. I avoided looking over the side of the bus at the lack of guardrails and the rather steep drop into valleys and rivers.

We arrived in Interlaken, a town I am very familiar with for a quick break. Kid noisily and charmingly herded us all into a local tourist shop. Bonnie and I took the time to walk a bit and have a coffee and a strawberry tart at a local Cafe.

After this we hopped back on the bus and rushed up to the train station to catch the first cog train up Jungfrau. It was a nice ride, and the incline going up was quite steep as it climbed up the slopes and in and out of tunnels carved into the mountain.

We stopped off at several viewing points and the air become thinner and colder the higher you climbed. My heart started to work harder as the air thinned. My mouth became dry, as well as my eyes.

At the top in the Sphinx, a look out tower and tourist area at the top we went to the outside look out tower first. There was a group of Japanese tourists, teens who looked to be on a school trip. One of them, a young man, had his shirt off and was running around on the steel grating as people took pictures or his classmates laughed and threw snowballs at him!

We then went to the ice palace and Bonnie and I felt at home shuffling across the ice and practically flying past everyone else. One good thing you pick up in Minnesota is the ability to easily walk on ice without help.

Later still we headed to the Indian Buffet they had at the top. It was neat being the only white person in a restaurant. Interlaken is an area that apparently you go if you've made it in India. And there were many many people from that area. Also a lot of people from Hong Kong and Korea.

After that we went to the souvenier shop and then headed back down to catch the train to Grindelwald. The ride down was relaxing as well as the bus ride back to Luzern.

Kid was a fabulous tour guide and just so much fun to talk with. Bonnie gave him a nice tip at the end, and although I wanted to i had zero Francs left to give at that point.

We returned to the Hostel and then left the next morning for Basel, where Bonnie and I parted ways. Me heading to Strausbourg, and her staying in Basel to meet up with some friends.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

On Traveling Solo

One thing that has been interesting about my trip around Europe is that many people are amazed that I have been traveling alone. I can now say though that it has been the best decision I could make for myself.

Of course it has it's downsides, everything does, but that fact that it is such a challenge and forces you out of your shell has for me been a godsend.

I think everyone suffers from a degree of self confidence issues, and traveling alone in a foreign country is no picnic. At least not until you jump that initial hurdle and take a few risks to test your wanderlust out and give it some really legs.

For a long time I felt like i have been stuck in a bubble concerning myself and how I feel and my life situation. With nearly a year of hardship in trying to find work, five years of being single and living my days out in the Midwest where my heart told me I did not belong, i wasn't exactly feeling great about my self as a person. I felt directionless and depressed for much of it, and felt that in some way that there was nothing I could do to change it. And that moving would nor help, and perhaps would worsen my problem and make me feel isolated, hurt my dignity and pride in being independent, and provide me more problems then solutions.

I was so very wrong that it's comical.

I could not have made a better decision to move back home and from there to make the preparations for going overseas.

Traveling alone gives you something new; a fresh sense that you can truly conquer the world and that despite every crisis, everything will always be okay. It teaches you to trust your gut. To wander. To know you are a unit and whole in yourself.

I feel now better about myself as a human being. Traveling alone is like having an inward dance with your darker parts and then showing them the light. It is crushing feelings of inadequesy and thoughts of woe and fear of the unknown. It is intensely personal and a raw emotional shake down of the sagging bits of your soul that you must discard in order to survive and keep going.

It's in your face. I love it. And I would reccomend it to anyone the world over.

Italy: Rome, Florence, Pisa and Siena

Italy is a beautiful country. Tuscany's rolling hills are a dream. Vineyards grow unirigated on stocks of twisting tree branches, there are rustic houses, restaurants and hints of the old country in every corner that you look. And the people are open, friendly and inviting, proud of their language and happy if you attempt to speak to them in it.

Florence's art museums are world class, especially the Medici collection in the Uffizi Museum next to their palace. Botticelli's 'Birth of Venus', one of my favorite paintings ever is housed there. I nearly teared up upon seeing it because it's so much more beautiful and overwhelming and huge in real life. I hope to come back to the Uffizi museum someday to bare witness to it again.

I think out of all the cities that I have been to, Venice and Siena are my favorites by far. The ancientness of both just breathes beauty, history, and culture. My favorite thing to do when visiting a place now is to go later and look up some of the history of what made this area possible. Taking audio tours of certain areas is wonderful because you really absorb the history of that place in a way you can't without really sitting, looking, and listening.

In Siena a spent the last part of my second day there getting lost in the midevael hills that make up the cities interior. The ground is paved with zig zagging cobble stones, and the streets are petite and sometimes just narrow enough for two people to pass through shoulder to shoulder.

The architecture is an organic free flowing, confusing web, that meets in certain Piazzas and city centers like Il Campo in the middle of Siena. The weather is unforgiving and steadily hot, but a slight breeze will give you relief for your trek through certain areas.

From the Siena train station I walked all the way to my hostel. I basically left without knowing where I was going and picked a direction into the city and went with it. I stopped off at a local Pizzeria and accidentally ordered a marinara pizza with a few sprace olives, which means there is no cheese. Italian food is delicious and beautiful in its simplicity, and different from what I think you get most of the time in the US.

We have so much stuff in our Italian food, and here it is a basic sauce, just enough food and usually mixed with one other ingredient to give it some zest. I like it.

Siena is a city built on a high plateau with areas that weave up and down in height as you move around the area. Som buildings look like they are built sideways amd some roads are so steap you pant as you trek up and down. Even with well made expensive sandles my feet hurt for the first time since my trip has begun only after a few hours of walking around.

At an Italian eatery my first night I met these wonderful Italian girls. If a table is open, typically the waiter will seat you with complete strangers to save some seats for larger groups. We got to chatting, ate some wonderful Tuscan pasta with mushrooms, then talked about our different countries and about differences, thoughts, politics and other things.

They gave me the typical friendly greeting there, which is a kiss on one cheek and then the other. I laughed, still not used to it, but exchanged the custom eagerly, interested in this very interesting difference.

The Duomo (Chathedrale) in Siena, there are marvelous works of art. It is by far the most beautiful gothic cathedrale I have visited in Europe, I think it even beats out Notre Dame in Paris for beauty and interesting art, architecture and history. There are frescos that cover the floors that tell metaphorical stories from the bible, as well as the story of Siena itself and it's relationship to the myth of Romulus and Remis and the first Roman Emperor, Octavian (formerly Augustus before he was crowned Emperor).

Despite Pisa being a city with a neat leaning tower, it wasn't much to look at beyond that. I went, took a picture, walked back to the train station with my friend Kyle, almost got squished by a Vespa, ate some gelato and that was that.

My first evening in rome getting on the train station, I again trekked out with no idea where I was going, and with only a small map as my guide to find my hostel. The hostel has a ridiculous name "Happy Hostel Days Roma", but the Hostel itself is great. Tido, the guy who runs the Hostel is full of energy, flirty, funny, and a totasl character. It is worth it to pay for a few nights here just to have a few moments of fun chatting with him and watching him interact with wonderful sarcasm with the other guests. When I first checked in he said "Oh, we have no beds for Americans here!" I laughed and said "Do I have to sleep outside?" He laughed and tried to hand me a one hundred dollar bill, despite me not giving him any money, which also made me crack up.

Last night I met these very nice young men from Dusseldorf Germany, Andy an Stefan. I ended up talking with them for a while and then heading out from some pizza and beer. We ended up having wine instead, pizza, and then spent a long time talking about politics. We took the tube there and back, somewhat stumbly and full of food, but happy and content.

Today in Rome I spent the day in Vatican city seeing the Museo Vaticana, which includes the Sistine Chapel and some absolutely stunning sculptures, modern art, and rennaisance era paintings. I managed to sneak a few photos of the chapel itself aside from it being forbidden, and didn't use a flash of course, since it degrades the paint and tends to darken oil paintings over time.

I then went to Saint Peter's Basilica, which is the place where the Pope greets people in the square every Tuesday at 11am. I felt lucky to be there went mass was happening and was able to witness the ceremony from afar. The basilica itself is huge, huge beyond huge! And going up to the cupola (dome) is great. You see the wonderful overview of Rome itself.

Tomorrow I think I will be going to the Colliseum and maybe one or two other places.

I have experienced culture shock in waves. When I write about Italy it is with a smile and a dreamy state of mind. Italia is by far my favorite country in the EU that I have visited so far. I wish I could go to Napoli, but alas, some other time when I visit Italy. I am in a few days I meander my way back north through Switzerland, France and Germany to my fly out point in Amsterdam.

This trip has given me a very new perspective on life in the US and what our country is all about and how we are different from the diverse cultural stew that is Europe. I hope this trip will be one of many return trips to come.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Italia mon ami

Italy has been an adventure in so many ways. Here are a few small moments I want to share about my experience here.

While in Pisa, walking back with my friend Kyle, I was nearly run over by a Vespa, as the drivers here are usually crazy and not looking where they're going. The guy literally turned the corner looking back over the bridge he had just crossed over. Kyle was about point five seconds away from kicking the oblivious jerk off his bike. Big guys from Australia are good for that.

In Siena at my Hotel 'Fonti di Pescaia' the very nice woman who checked ne in did not speak a lick of English, nor me Italian. It was fun try to fill out my sign in card and signing where I should have wrote my address. I picked up a few words from her amazingly enough. In order to get me to pay my bill she had to knock on my door after getting a piece if paper that had 'please can you pay the 81 Euros now?' written on it.

Asking her where a bank was was a laughing fest in itself. If you don't know what to do, gesture wildly and act ridiculous, it's fun to play charades.

I can now order in Italian pretty well. I know how to say please, what small, medium and large are, and can desern numbers pretty well.

People in Italy are not in a rush to get anywhere, will not notice or move for you if you're in a hurry and stroll instead of walk, all while talking in their beautiful sing-song manner to each other.

At a restaurant my last day in Siena I was greeted by a grumpy waitress who kept repeating a greeting to me that I did not understand. It was only later that I realized she was angrily repeating "Good evening!" to me, the dumb American who looked like a confused sweaty deer in head lights, and responded with 'Una?' (one) holding up one finger as she half growled and gestured to my table outside on the patio.

You know you're going through culture shock when you want to punch the children who stare at you because you're American.

Will update more tomorrow. For right now, sleeping.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

My public photo album on the net, take a look!

For anyone who wants to see some photos from my trip. They are going to be here. Take a gander :)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Beautiful Country

Italy is full of wonder. Taking the train down underneath the alps into Milano and then to Venice I felt a magical connection to this country almost immediately. People answered their phone with a soft and elegant "Pronto." People are warm and inviting and the countryside here is beautiful.

The air conditioned ride under the alps was interesting. Going through the tunnels here your ears pop almost constantly from the change in air pressure. My friend Cassie was smart to bring gum along for our ride to Milan.

I sat across from a woman who did not speak any English, but with whom I managed to have an amusing few moments with. I helped het move the fold out table in front of her. She made a sarcastic gesture about me putting my stuff on the floor and we had a laugh when I realized that she was joking.

When she got up to leave the train in Milan, she started talking in Italian and the only word that I caught was "chocolate" as she reorganized and repaired her strangely wet bag into something that she could take off the train with her. Out came three wrapped bars of Swiss Chocolate and the lady broke off a large chunk for Cassie and I, which we both refused to take until it was then planted in front of us. She also gave some chocolate to the gorgeous itailian woman sitting next to her and across from us. The young woman and Cassie and I chatted the rest of the way to the Milano Cle Station and shehanded off the chunk of chocolate that shehad been given as well.

When we got off the train in what we thought was Venice, there was a blast of humidity and heat unlike anything I have experienced before and I immediately started to sweat like crazy. I was coated in sweat in probably around ten minutes. This was at ten at night when the sun was going down and the heat continued into the night unrelenting and harsh.

Cassie and I wandered into a place called the Hotel Plaza to grab a map and get out of the heat for a little bit. We found out that we were still on the mainland at the station Metre and that getting out to Venice meant waiting about 45 minutes for the next train, or taking the bus. We waited in the miserable humidity, wanting to just find somewhere to sleep. There were plenty of expensive hotels that we could not afford, but we managed to find a Ostello (Hostel) on the island of Guidecca, the lovely little wave shaped island on the grand canal, across from the Piazza di San Marco on the larger fish shaped islands.

We had to take a boat to get anywhere in Venice, which was pretty awesome. They have boats there that are basically buses on the water that do regular routes around the city and the canals.

Venice, despite the suffocating heat and drinking over two litres of water a day to stay hydrated, is a beautiful city. You can turn any corner and have a picturesque scene with which to capture in a photograph.

I took around 120 pictures the first day I was there and exploring the city.

The waters of the Mediterranean are a curious and beautiful teal color, unlike any other water I have seen. I suspect this is due to mineral content, but I do not know exactly why.

I visited a few sites on Venice, but quickly found it borderline ridiculous trying to navigate the city itself. Twisting narrow alleys like a complex web span all the main islands and tended to make real site seeing hard.

In Europe they mark streets either with often ambigous plaques on the walls, or not at all, or sometimes a block down the street will jog to the left and be a different street halfway through. Very confusing, but also a little charming in it's somewhat disfunctional system.

The night before I was due to leave Venice, there was a festival due to celebrate the city itself. During the day you could watch people meandering into the city by boat, bus and train. There were a few boats blasting Michael Jackson, some sort of rap techno tunes, or something that was definitely European pop music.

People young and old were out in bathing suit style! Women wearing teeny bikinis and men typically in speedos. A string of goldenrod lanterns were set up to either side of the grand canal and sailboats were crammed in and tethered to the walls of Guidecca and San Marco, or parked like sardines in the middle of the main canal. Everyone was set up and waiting for the fireworks and then a long night of partying out on the town.

The fireworks were breathtaking and lasted for quite a long time. Police boats with their gently flashing blue lights circled the fireworks area to clear boats out from the middle of the canal, so they wouldn't be set on fire from the show. I sat absorbing the light show and watching beautiful young men walk by, there faces something out of a painting or sculpture from the Rennaisance.

Something I tend to notice is the destinctly different facial features of every country I go to. People in Switzerland tend to have squarer, flater features and fairer skin. People in France are slim, sharp featured and finely boned, men and women both. In the UK there are a variety of facial structures and features, all with there own unique charm.

The festival in Venice lasted long into the night, and was cut short by a blast of refreshing cool air and wind from an intense thunderstorm. Lightning rittled the sky and the intense wind and cold air turned a night of sweating bullets in bed in my undies to pulling on a blanket and welcoming the howling blasts of wind and they brushed away the heat of the day.

I got up briefly to watch the thunderstorm and saw the chopping waves and noticed that the goldenrod lanterns covering the lights from the festival hung jittering, broken and torn off the line completely by the intense wind. Sailboats that had been parked were now heading back home with the help of the petite police boats. They were brushed south on the waves, facing into the wind.

From Venice I headed to Florence, a city that was mostly leveled during WW2 and lost the majority of it's highly rennaisance age architecture. Cassie and I said our goodbyes late that night and without sleep I stumbled out of the hostel in Venice at 6:30am to catch the boat to the train station.

It was still raining and windy from the ongoing storm. I nearly lost my umbrella in a few rather strong breezes, and managed to wet my feet in rather unsavory and fishy smelling mixtures of sea water, mud and beer. I went to the wrong boat station at first, just missing the boat that I needed out to the train station. And then sat the waited for the next one, all the while being stared at and oogled by some older Italian men who appeared to be hung over and taking refuge from the rain in the boat station, with no intention of actually taking a boat anywhere. They were all wrapped in blankets and taking quietly in Italian and laughing.

The boat ride to the station was a moment of amusement. It felt much needed since I was now alone again and feeling a little tired and uncertain and homesick.

There appeared to be a few groups of young Italians on the boat who were exhausted from a night of partying. Many were napping, some had literally fallen asleep. The boat was stormed by a mob of ticket checkers, and there was one young man in his seat who was out cold. The ticket guy tried shaking him, talking loudly and even opening the window to let in rain from outside to pelt this guy in the face. That said it was pretty hilarious and everyone was either snickering or rolling in laughter as this kid wouldn't wake up.

Finally at his stop he snorted and woke up, babbling in slurred italian as it appeared that his friends were going to just leave the boat without him. The ticket issuer tried to hide his amusement and merely patted the young man on the back and helped his stumble off the boat. I think he was still drunk from the night before.

In Florence I have seen a few of the sites, and made another friend named Kyle, a very nice young man from Newcastle Australia. We traveled out to Pisa and Lucca for a day and enjoyed hanging out and talking over a traditional Italian dinner at our Hostel.

I will update more about Florence hopefully tomorrow. My hostel here has Internet for free, so it should not be a problem. I miss everyone terribly, but I am also having a blast and am in love with Italy and it's people.

Caoi for now!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A quick update from Spiez

I am sitting in the station in Spiez Switzerland, updating from the computer terminal here. I am traveling with this super fun and cool girl named Cassie to Venice today. Switzerland has been wonderful, I have really enjoyed my stay here. It has only been a few days and verz expensive, but also a lot of fun.

I have only 14 minutes left on this machine so I have to be quick in this post.

Yesterday I went paragliding in the Alps at a town called Interlaken. It was an amazing experience, and something I will remember for the rest of my life. My pilots name was Richi and he was this older and very nice guy who has been paragliding apparently for about 18 years. I asked him if he ever gets sick of it and he said no. The flight was onlz ten minutes or so, but it felt like it went on forever. I took a video that I will eventually post, once I can find a decent internet cafe in Europe.

Cassie and I also went swimming in the teal, minerally, cold water of lake Brienz. I got an epic sunburn on my shoulders and my back, which is slowly healing up, but it kind of feels like my skin is crackling at some points.

Swiss people are much more corgeal then people from Paris, although they do sometimes give you long, somewhat alienating stares, which is a little unnerving and odd to me. You can sit across from someone and stare at them and they just stare right back and do not flinch or talk or smile at you.

The mountains here are truly holy. Tall beyond tall. At Interlaken, a town near where Cassie and I were staying, you can see the Jungfrau, one of the tallest peaks in Switzerland. We meant to go up it today, but it was raining and so the weather is not exacrtlz permitting.

In Bern the last day, we went floating in the river through the middle of the city, which was also a rush. The current is really strong and so you need to be able to grip the areas where you can get out really well, otherwise you can get swept downstream into a dam.

People here really love the phrase "yaya". It`s something I can`t help but crack up at, because it often sounds really weird and ridiculous. There was one man on our train back to Brienz who said at one point "YAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYA" and Cassie and I were about seconds from losing our composure and bursting out laughing. Luckily we didn`t and it was fine.

There are a few other points I would like to update about, but I am losing time on this machine. So guten tag for now! Miss everyone and I hope you all are doing well!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bern Switzerland

For the last few days I have been in Bern Switzerland, taking in the sights here. It is the Swiss capital and is a sleepy little city nesstled into the mountains of the Alps. I love it here, it is much more friendly and much more inviting and beautiful then Paris.

By my last day in Paris I was about ready to pull my hair out by the roots. I was so sick of the city, there was nothing left to see and I wanted to just be gone. I did visit an area that made my heart swoon though, a place called the Jardin de Luxembourg (Garden of Luxembourg) on the south bank. It is a place where the Parisians go during the weekends and after work to relax, and I could really see why, the area itself was beautiful.

The weather was also permitting and it started to rain softly as I made my waz back to my Hostel. I felt like I had finally caught a glimpse of the Paris that I had been hoping to see. The gardens were a site, and I sat for a while to do some doodling.

The next day was not so lovely. I got up at 5am to head to the train station and catch the train out of Paris. But I was told, in contradiction to what I had been told the day before that I needed a reservation no matter what to get on the train there. I was upset, had no sleep, and so I went to the reservation desk to see what was up. The woman there treated me with anger, saying no matter what that I needed a reservation to get on the next train. They then said that I could take a train at 3pm to Bern, I did not have sleeping accomidations at the time and did not know what would happen, since I was now due to get there around 10:30pm. I started crying, and they seemed to now feel some sympathy and even brought me some tissues so I could wipe myself off.

I sat in the train station, too jaded by Paris to really go out agaibn, when I spotted this women I had met in mz hostel to daz before. Her name was Wendy and she seemed as equally confused and angry and upset as I was. I called her over and we talked some. By that time I was laughing at what had just happened to me and Wendy told me about her hellish morning, where the taxi driver scammed her out of money, yelled at her and dropped her off at the wrong train station. I asked if she wanted to come to switzerland with me, since she had missed her train to Prague, and she said yes, so off we went, talking and laughing and taking comfort in each others company.

Upon arriving in Bern, our cabbie and the people here are much more open, warm, friendly and helpful. I did not experience too much rudeness in Paris, but what I did made me snarl a bit.

The next day we went to the post office here, had lunch, and then walked around the area. I went to the house that Einstein had here in Bern, the place where he actuallz developed the theory of relativity in 1905. The house was purprisingly quant and small. I saw some of his original writings and watched a video, in Swiss German that told all about his life. I picked up a few words and dates from it, but not much else, although it was fun to pretend to be Swiss for a small amount of time.

I then walked up to the botanical gardens here, which were pretty. You can see the whole city scape from there. I sat and drank it in for a good while before I noticed a thundercloud off in the distance approaching rapidly and decided it was about time to go.

As I meandored down the sloping tiny streets, watching people power up the steep inclines or whirl down them on bikes, it started to softly rain, eliminating the scorching heat of the day for a small period of time. I managed to make it back to mz hostel here before it really started to pour. It was nice to get a bit wet though, I rather enjoyed it.

At dinner that night I met a young woman named Cassy, and todaz we will be heading to Brienz Switzerland. I will probably go bungie jumping at Interlaken, and see a castle inbetween. Today I want to go to the Bear Park here in Bern (pronounced Bearn) and the Einstein Museum.

Speaking of, everzone here assumes I'm German, and thez pronounce my last name as Bear-duh instead of Beard. I think it is rather interesting. Maybe I'm more German that I thought I was.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Paris, Bastille and the Catacombs!

 Today in Paris was a lot more fun then the last few days. I wandered down to this area of the city called Bastille. The monumen there commemorates the prison that once stood there, which was destroyed during the French Revolution. The area is great for markets and shopping and eating and the touristy crowds are no where to be seen.

I've encountered a number of ugly Americans while i've been here. Not ugly as in unattracive, but ugly as in ethnocentric, loud, rude and having no desire to try and immerse themselves in the culture here, try the food or really make a connection with Parisians. People go to the Louvre and then eat at the McDonalds there, I think, you came thousands of miles to eat at a gross fastfood chain? Sure the good food here is expensive, but is also worth the money.

Speaking of food, today I tried this lovely French restaurant in Bastille called Le Petit Bofinger for lunch. The food was lovely, scallions with tomatos, olive oil, side of salad greens and some weird but delicious stuffing, the beginning of the meal started with some bruschetta and bread, which was also excellent and filling. The server I had was this very nice woman who I manage to ask in French what I should try. She then talked to me rapidly in French and we had a laugh when she realized asking her what to have in French was about the best I could do.

I finished off the meal with some sparkling water and a delicious apple tarte and a scoop of ice cream. She seemed very pleased that I really enjoyed the food. It was expensive, but really worth the price. I will remember that meal for quite a while.

While on the Metro here I saw a very cute little African baby and her daddy. She kept touching my pants and this of this nice French woman and we both played with her a little, she was very smiley and ridiculously adorable. After this I wandered over to this area to see the catacombs, a labyrinth on tunnels underneath Paris that houses hundreds of thousands of bones of the dead. For a while down there you don't see much, it's very cool and dry, which is a relief from the heat of the city.

Then you turn a corner and bam, bones are stacked to either side of you lining the walls. The have thigh bones and rows upon rows of skulls. There was a small wishing well in one area that was much like a shallow cavernous pool. Stairs spiral down roars on and the water was minerally, a soft tourqoise green.

I wandered through the area with a Danish family who were in Paris on holiday. They were very friendly and nice and fun to wander with for an hour or so. They said thehy were one of he northern islands of Denmark, but I forget if they told me which one. Their children had both studied in the USA, and they would be going to school soon for college.

I wandered over to Auslitz train station here to book a ticket to Barcelona but the only thing that they have available is a day train ticket on the tenth which will take 15 hours to get there, with many small stops on the way. Ali has also not reccomended Spain, and so I think for this trip I'm going to scratch it off of my list of countries to visit, it's just too much of a hassle. I also checked Ryanair's website to see if there was a plane I could catch, but they too were booked full.

I'm smiling and taking this as a not so subtle hint to head to Switzerland instead. And maybe Dom there down to Italy for a few days to see Florence and Rome, and maybe a few of the towns inbetween. Italy is hot this time of the year, worse now with global warming, heat waves causing heat stroke for some, especially in the last few years. I'm hoping it will mayb rain while i'm there, but I do not know, we will see what happens.

The best advice I can give to people visiting Paris is to go where the locals go and try and be humble and polite, because what you sow is what you reap here. Europeans do not judge you based on your natonality but rather how you treat them and their ways. It's just different here, neither good nor bad.

One thing I've found frusrating is that I can't seem to find an Internet Cafe here... They're supposed to be on every block, same with laundromats, but I have not seen ONE! Maybe I'm just barkig down the wrong block, but seriously I can't find one, tomorrow that and the Arc de Triomphe is going to be my two stops, and mostly the Internet Cafe. There are several things I need to arrange tomorrow and make decisions on.

Okay I know this is a stereotype on France, but seriously, the men here are smoking hot. They all smell good, are trim and beautiful and are wonderfully polite and direct. I could man watch here all day and be a happy camper. Also, a tip for blendng in in Europe, don't wear shorts! Khakis are fine, but shorts peg you as an American. I cannot count how maybe times now I have been mistaken for being French here, and it's probably because I wear pants, it really helps you blend in. Well that and looking distinctly European, which apparently I do.

I've been getting a surprising amount of strang bruises on my legs, probably rom walking so much. At fist I wasn't Jed to it, but now i can walk several miles a day and it doesn't phase me at all. I think my muscles are slot adjusting and bruising as they get used to the strain, but I havn't been feeling it at all for the last few days. I should take some photos of my more interesting bruises, some of them are really rather interesting shapes and colors!

Other then that I've been feeling pretty good. I of course miss everyone back home, but I am habit a grat time here, despite my last post being a bit dreary! Bonne nuir!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Paris is overrated I think...

Maybe it's the time of year that I'm visiting, but I think that Paris is a little overrated. I think so far London is winning out in terms of awesomeness. Today the Eiffel Tower basically took up the majority of my day. Waiting in line to ride up on a huge monument kind of spoiled the experience for me overall. But I did take some cool pictures, but the crowds drove me a bit bonkers.

I then bumbled my way onto the RER out to Versailles to see the chateau of Louie the XVI and Marie Antoinette, but I arrived too late in the day to really have a decent experience there and so I decided to wander into the local tourist shop and buy some tickets for tomorrow. I plan to get up super early and head out there in the early morning on the train. The chateau from the font was beautiful beyond compare though, despite my bad mouthing of it.

I think tomorrow if I have time I'll try to visit the Mussee D'orsay. And then maybe grab some Opera tickets if they are cheap and there is something that I would like to see. I am having a problem with trying to be frugal here. Paris and London are both pretty expensive and I feel like my money is burning a hole in my pocket. Hopefully I will be able to see everything and still have some money led over for other things. We will see, I need to do some budgeting to see have much I have been burning through and how much I will have left to spend.

On the way back from Versailles I met another woman traveling alone named Hidemi, she lives in Honalulu Hawaii and was just the nicest person. We chatted a little about traveling and about where both of us have been in and outside of the US.

There are a lot of immigrants here from various parts of Africa, it's heartbreaking to see so many of them strugglig with work and obviously poor. Many coming to France and hoping for a better life. Catherine was telling me the other day that Nicholas Sarkozy is of the mindset to send all of them back to Africa, since many of the workers are undocumented here. It reminds me of the very similar problem going on in the US. You see them here at the tourist sites selling water, souveniers, cheap plastic goods and other things. Their activities are illegal but no one really tells them to stop or arrest them, since really they are just trying to get by.

I had my first really day yesterday of feeling pretty alone. I was weird, it's definitely an interesting experience being in a country where the primary language spoken is not English. I heard once that to non English speakers that English sounds a bit like quacking, which I think is hilarious and probably very true. You really do feel like you're in a bubble, but hand gestures, facial expressions and an effort to understand breach the language barrier just fine. Most people in Paris speak English anyway, so getting around is easy.

Right now I'm unsure wether I want to go to Spain next or Switzerland. I know that Spain will most likely be ridiculously hot, which is not fun at all. But Switzerland and the Alps might be a great next visit, with which I can then descend into Italy and hit Rome and Florence. I also want to visit a few of the towns in between to see what they are like.

Hope everyone is good back home, bonuir!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Bonjour! I am now in Paris and have been here happily for the last few days. The people here are wonderfully polite and helpful if you make the effort to try and speak a little French around them. I have already made a few friends here, and yesterday I visited the Louvre with one of them by the name of Clementine. She's from Hong Kong and just the niecest person to run around with.

My last night in London a few days ago was mxed with so sadness and exhiliration for moving on to a new city. I realy enjoyed my stay there and fell in love with the city, the people and the glimpse of the culture I witnessed while over there. Paris I'm happy to say though is equally wonderful. People here don't deserve the posh stereotype they are often stuck with. I haverecieced nothing but polite helpful responses to everything that I've had a question for.

If you make the effort to be humble and try to speak a little of the language people here warm up to yu and really do appreciate the effort and curiosity to know more about their culture. I really love how French feels to say. Two cultural differences I've noticed here are that people do not offer fake polite smiles wherever you go, I think the reasoning being that faking politeness is, well, rude. Another difference is people here stand a little owed to you more comfortably then in the US.

When I got of the train at Gare de Nord here in Paris is was a bit like walking into a different world. A little overwhelming but also a lot of fun. Most signs here havr an English subtitle and so moving around isn't that hard. Almost immediately after getting off the train at Gare de Nord a very cute Frenchman greeted me and asked me where I was from and where I was going. I replied that I Medes some help finding y hostel and he offered to hel and swung me into a local hotel.

The receptionist there very kindly pointed me in the right direction and off I went. This same guy then asked me to get a drink with him, for my phone number and a kiss. I laughed and said sorry I'm spoken for at the moment. He then insisted, hey, no boyfriend, this is Paris! I turned him down and he kindly thanked me and moved on just fine.

When I got to my hostel, called Le Village near Montmatre and Sacre Couer, which is a church on a very high hill. Sacre Couer means Holy Heart in French. I met this lovely and very polite French woman called Catherine, pronounced Cat-reen. And we became friends pretty much instantly. She informed me after a few minutes of talking that she was going to go grab something to eat. I asked if I could maybe join her and she laughed and said yes.

We visited Sacre Couer and walked around the lovely neighborhood of Montmatre we then stopped off at a lovely cafe nearby and got some crepes for dinner and talked a bit about our lives. Catherine is a teacher and lives in Stratsbourg France, in the NE near Luxembourg and Germany.

After this we went back to the Hostel, I asked Catherine a few questions about how to ask things in French. What some words meant, et. Etc etc! At the hostel I met this young lady from Hong Kong named Clementine. She was so very cool and funny and we also became instant friends. I have met a surprisingly comforting amont of women here in Europe who are traveling alone. It's been a blast meeting them all and I hope to make even more cool friends as my trip persists.

I can already feel myself changing immensy while I am here. The sense of resolute iron clad self confidence is wonderful. I feel now that I can handle any problem that comes my way and I'll be able to figure out how to get whatever I need to survive over here.

It's a little sad and weird to see things like McDonalds here in central Paris. It makes me want to go vomit on there doorsteps more precisely. The architecture here is beautiful and the showers are small, energy efficient and the water Berne is much much softer then in the USA. It doesn't tend to dry out my hair like it does in the US. The food is also naturally more filling. Also, people here are well dressed, healthy and slim, because everyone here walks everywhere instead of driving.

The Metro system in Paris is to die for with how efficient it is. Althouh one needs to watch out for pick pockets on the Subway.

Yesterday I visited the Louvre with Clementine and we spent literally the whole day wandering around the Museum. I got to see the Mona Lisa and a few other very famous works of art. Whoever said that the Louvre was huge really was not kidding. I spent eight hours in there and felt like I missed about 50 percent of what's there!

My camera ran out of batteries about halfway through the museum, which Iaughed at. Then afte seeing the Mona Lisa Clementine's camera did the same thing. Later we took a river cruise down and took a very quick witness of all the sites. I think today I am going to go visit Notre Dame, the Mussee D'orsay and the Eiffel Tower. Perhaps I'll also buy some ticket to an Opera later this week if they're not too expensive.

Wish me luck all, au revoir!