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!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Apologies on typos

Okay wow I've made a lot of typos in my previous posts. This is due to the fact that I'm peck typing these in my iPod. So very sorry for that, I know it's probably driving my lovely writers group friends pretty nuts! :)

London the day of awesome and not awesome things!

Yesterday was a very interesting day. It started out with me walking up and stumbling out of bed deciding what I wanted to do that day. After about a half hour of planning I decided to gi and check out a BigBus tour near Westminster bridge. I wandered there on foot from my place near Waterloo through some cute areas faking pictures and arrived there near noon. After a nice informative ride for a few minutes I stopped off at an attraction called The London Dungeon.

The attraction was a bit pricey around 20 pounds. But other then that annoyance was a lot of fun, very scary and informative. They talked about the bloodier history of London, including Sweeney Todd, the affect of the black plague, queen Mary, Jack the Ripper and a few other facts where picked up along the way.

While wandering in the first area I ran into a lively lady from Poland who was also traveling alone. We buddied up to keep each other company and then after the ride was over wandered through Jubilee Marketplace and into a local church.

In the marketplace Magdalena and I picked up some juice from a juice bar. You could opt to have shots of barley grass added to it, which I thought was weird, but also very fascinating. I got a kind if juice called a Zinger, it was fruit mixed with ginget root and barley grass. I actually really enjoyed it.

In the church I took a picture and was immediately grouched at by the gut running the place. Apparently I had to pay two pounds to take any photos, which I thought was ridiculous. Magdalena and I wandered inti the back area and in the floor littered about were a number of graves of different people. It felt strange and a little disrespectful to walk over them. In the sane church there wad a nook where a statue of William Shakespeare lounging on his side. The text read that I think he'd lived and worshipped at that church. In his right flhand which was closed into a loose fist were three fresh sticks if Rosemary, which I thought was a fitting and touching devotion to him.

Next Magdalena and I headed towards The Tower of London. But didn't get there in time to go in, so we headed to a small local shop and consumed sone fish and chips and a beer.

Her niece, Anya, who lives in London joined us as well, and above woman named Donna also joined us. Magnalena, Donna and I all had something in common, we are women traveling alone here. It wad wonderful to sit, chat and enjoy their company for an hour or two.

I returned back to my hostel though to find that the bed was changed and the things u had left on the bed itself wre gone! I ran downstairs in near panic to find that the booking system in the computer gas hiccuped and they apparently thought I had left. The cleaning guy had moved some of my stuff downstairs, thankfully, but my toiletry kit, towel and a few other bits and pieces were gone... I stayed positive though, laughing at the irony after having a period of time where I felt awful that this had happe
Ed after inly three days here. Luckily today I will head to a shop on Russels square to replace what was lost, I assumed thrown out.

I had a nice time talking with my hostel mates downstairs in the pub, laughing and talking about our experiences so far and our lives.

Today will be another fun adventure for sure.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

London day two and three

London has been a blast so far, this city feels magical to me on so many levels. The hostel I'm staying at here called The Steam Engine is reaaly top class, the staff are great and and beds are comfortable. Stayling in a hostel here feels like having a mini family for a few days! I've met a number of really wonderful characters and other solo travelers while bumbling about.

The underground tube system here is wonderful and London is also just a decent walking city. Yesterday I woke up running on so little sleep that my whole body felt pretty gross, but I trekked out into the city to fight off the jetlag.

I saw the houses of parliment, big ben, the London Eye and while wandering I stumbled upon the ceremony for The Changing of the Guard at buckingham palace. The ceremony itself was slow but interesting.

While on the London eye I met a very nice traveler from Australia named Marcus. We chatted for about an hour and went to a local deli to grab some lunch. I got a drink of something called Yazoo, it was banana flavored and delicious!

I miss people back home, but so far traveling hasn't been too painfully lonely, people here love chatting with American tourists, and ate curious about you as a person.

After walking for a number of hours I came back to my hostel to take a breather and figure out what I wanted to do the next day. I got sidetracked almost immediately by these three lovely old English people. I sat and talked with them for a few hours, and they even bought me two stout mugs of guiness, offered a few kernels of advice for places to visit and talked to me a lot about there experiences during world war 2. The woman, named Sybel, talked about having to camp out in the london underground while the city was ravaged by German forces. They were greatful for the help of Americans during that time. Apparently they were given food like powered milk, powdered eggs and spam.

I didn't catch there names, but apparently to them I didn't come off as a typical American. They insisted that since I was American I must hate cricket and all it's rules. I laughed and replied that I don't know a lot about cricket and griped that American football also had too many rules, but that I like soccer fine, it's more fun to watch.

While drinking I hadn't eaten anything beforehand, and so drunkness hit me hard. A man from Ireland who was probably older then my dad insisted that I fancied him and I just laughed and shook my head. I stumbled up to bed and fell asleep almost immediately after he asked if he could "rub me down", the creep factor going up about ten fold there.

I'm sandwiched in a bunk between two young men who both snore, and was awoken by the worst headache caused by dehydration i've had. After asking a kind American tourist in the pub downstairs if he had earplugs, he very nicely offered me some, and I managed to sleep for the rest if the night just fine.

Today I'm planning to take a big bus tour of the city and visit the London dungeon. Tomorrow I'll take a day trip out to Brighton and go wandering.

I haven't quite figured out how to get the photos off my camera yet, but I'm going to wirk on that today and do some uploading and posting here.

I miss everyone, bur so far this trip has been a magical and transformative experience. I've learned a ton about myself already and am uncovering more every moment of the day.

On the third I head to Paris for a week, and then after that I'm not sure, but we will see where the wind takes me.