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.