Europa 2006 Travel Blog

Friday, May 26, 2006

The day after (The actual final post?)

Good morning everyone. I'm now in Red Deer and my body is like "hey, it's noon! get out of bed!" So, yeah, I'm up at 4:30am. Journey home was without incident, so nothing to really talk about there. Came home to a pleasent collection of 7 CD's on the fundamentals of CAT diesels, drive trains, etc that need to be finished before I get there.. is this some kind of joke? I have less than a week! Oh well, I might be able to charm my way out of having to do them (assuming my teacher in Illinois is a member of the aformentioned Swedish Bikini Team). Hey, you know what's great? My parents totally had their guesses ready for the quiz when I met them at the airport! Nick, you're the man.

So, back to the stories of the trip!

So our train rolls into Munich. When we decided to book a hostel for Munich, our usual criteria of "do they have 4 bed rooms?" morphed somewhat into "can we party there?", somewhat to the consternation of one member of our travel group. However, this ended up working out quite well in the end (well, perhaps not for the other poor sap from Brazil in our room of 6, but I'll get to that). So we walk about 200m from the train station to the Wombat Hostel (nominally Australian themed, but actually "cute girl" themed). They greet you with a ticket for a free beer in the bar! How great is that? So, did the usual "move all the crap upstairs to the dorm room" and then headed down to the bar. But something was different.. the people, they weren't 14! And the music.. wasn't the Black Eyed Peas (Queens of the Stone Age, anyone?)! And the beer.. was awesome! So, our introduction to Munich had begun.

The first night was actually quite low key. Ran into a guy that Micha, Sarah, and myself graduated with in Mechanical Eng named Jeff in front of our hostel, which was hilarious! He's cool. Also ran into a bunch of other people from Edmonton and had the usual "why are we in Germany when the oilers are doing a cup run?" conversation that we were getting quite good at. So, turned in decently early with plans to take a Free Walking Tour that started right at our hostel!

So, we hop onto this walking tour. The business method that they pursue is that they are confident enough in their guides that they believe they will get tipped more euros than they would have made had they sold tickets. I believe it too, this guy was awesome. Now, the importance of this tour is twofold:

1. See the sights in Munich. These include the worlds biggest Glockenspiel (animated clock), the beer hall where Hitler first proclaimed "the national socialist revolution has begun!" and then promptly got arrested, a visit to a church that has the outline of satan's foot in a tile near the door, and the front steps of the palace where the phrase "What lola wants, lola gets" was coined.

2. Meeting Montreal girls. Okay, I'm smiling now after just typing that. I'm such a softie.

Well, there were these cute Montreal girls (oh, the accent!) at our hostel that also came on the tour. So being perfect gentlemen, Nick and I decided to enquire about their well being. Funny story, while I was talking with Isabell, we walked through Hitler's beer hall. We were inside for about 4 minutes and I forgot to look around. I seriously don't have the foggiest idea how big it was, what it looked like, or anything. I just wasn't paying attention. I'm lucky I didn't get walked off a cliff or something like a lemming. Anyway, I think it's funny.

"Oh, so you visisted the most famous beer hall in the world, eh?"
"Yeah, I had a great time!"
"Really, neat! What was it like inside?"
"Ummmmmmmmmmm... "


Okay, moving on. So after a promise to meet up with the girls again at a pub crawl that night, we went to the (in the words of Lonely Planet) most important science museum in the world, the Deutsches Museum. Even though I was pretty much "museum-ed out" (read: sick of museums), I enjoyed it. They had a mining exhibit in the basement that took about 30 minutes to walk through in a windy path. That's huge! And I wasn't stopping to read anything because it was all in German! I have no idea how far I walked down there.. it was dark, spooky, creeky, and awesome.

That evening we went on a pub crawl. For a small 15 euro fee, we got as much as we could drink right at the start and then we were brought to some beer gardens, some other beer halls, and then "home" (to the starting point, near our hostel). At one of the beer gardens, you could only purchase liter beers. How awesome is that? Anyway, that promptly knocked Sarah on her ass (she finished hers, I didn't), so Micha had the adventure of taking her home. I will let them detail the exploits of that adventure. So we're down to two + M.G.'s. Nick and I, and the Montreal girls.

Then Nick and Gabriella and myself and Mirelle followed the crawl onto a tram that was taking us to some beer halls. Nick and G also jammed out at this point, as did the rest of the Mirelle's friends. We didn't really notice it at the time. So, we found ourselves at some random beer hall in Munich surrounded by people we didn't really know, but it was cool. I did get a look around, in contrast to the more important one earlier in the day. Long story short, while I was waiting for mimi in the bathroom, the bastards left us.

"Alright, time to leave! Get up!" - pub crawl guy
"I have to wait for a girl. Where are we heading?" - joe
"Oh, we'll wait for you outside"

Yeah, right.

So, anyway, I need to get a sick girl back home to her hostel and I don't have the foggiest idea where the hell I am. So... hmmm.. time to think of the little bit of german I know.. well, hoptbahnhoff is train station. So, I went up to random people and posed the only word I knew as a question. Was it {left hand direction} or {right hand direction}? Luckily, it was about 15 minutes in the {left hand direction}. Got her home safe and then went and had a chat with a few others in the lobby before turning it in. Good times! Woke up at 5am pretty chatty before Micha sternly told me to go back to bed. Sorry, other guy in our room.

It was a night of good, honest, Bavarian fun.

The next day we went to Dachau, which is a concentration camp that was just outside of Munich. As expected, it was equal parts informative and depressing as all hell. Some of the stories from the audioguide were just terrible.. so Nick and I would hand it off to each other when we couldn't handle it. Gas chambers, torture, the whole bit.

The next day we met up with Nick's friend Sara in a town about an hour from Frankfurt. She was cool and was very happy that we were able to locate the german word for "bag" in her english-german dictionary, because she kept going to the grocery store and not getting one. But she had to go to work the next day, so we headed out the next morning for lovely Frankfurt.

Frankfurt was pretty low key, and the only funny story that comes to me right now is getting invited by some local kids to a demonstration where we would "totally get to fight with some police!". I don't believe they entirely understood what the riot was for, because there sales pitch was based entirely on the fighting of police, but I genuinely appreciated the offer. That was funny.

Well, that just about wraps it up for me. Thanks for reading my random thoughts about my trip. If I remember anything else blog-worthy, I will be sure to add it. Take care of yourselves.


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

We don't have an engine -- I ask the conductor he said, "You know 10, maybe 30 minutes"

So Venice was next. Joe mentioned most of it, principally the over population of tourists, the perfectly sleazy gondoliers (O sole mia!) and the actual charm of the city by evening. One thing he didn't mention were the pigeons. Now, we've been in a lot of European cities, and a lot of them have big squares with people eating, and as a result there are lots of pigeons to pick up the crumbs. Nothing compared to St. Marco's in Venice. Not only are there cafes, there are pigeon feed vendors. Now, believe me when I say there were a lot of pigeons. Remember the rats in the Venice crypts in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? No? Well, there are more pigeons than rats in the sewers. In addition, these pigeons are brave. They just kind of walk out of your way as you come by, and will actually land on you if you have food. However, the wicked thing about these pigeons is that they are absolutely terrified of jackets. If you throw your coat in the air, a thousand pigeons will just take off and fly away. It was awesome. The tricky part is that often the pigeons are standing on those people's shoulders who are feeding them, and you kind of freak the tourists out when the pigeons scatter. I may have done this accidentally to a small 6-year old girl in one of my pigeon scattering fests. Oops. I got the evil eye from her mom. Other Venice stuff: a small daVinci museum, a nice boat ride at night, loud bells in the bell tower, the palace of the Doges (most important place in Europe for like 400 years!), mysteriously walking down random streets and ending up where we had been the day before and accidentally walking in a big circle after an hour of wandering. Also, booking a hostel in the Bronx of Venice and not realizing it, and the sketchiest train car ever between Venice and its Bronx.

After Venice it was off to Florence. We had fun finding the hostel, which basically turned out to be some guy's house. What made it particularly fun was the fact that we were doing this at night, and in Florence, businesses are labeled by red street numbers, and residences by blue/black street numbers, and the two aren't really coordinated. We ultimately just kind of rang this doorbell that seemed right, and thankfully it was. The next day we hit three attractions and a bunch of lines -- the science museum, which kind of sucked but we got to see Galileo's finger, the Uffizi gallery housing Botticelli's Birth of Venus, and the Accademia gallery housing Michelangelo's David, which was stunning. Also, exactly as it was on the Simpsons. No really funny stories that I can recall, mainly because we weren't there long enough.

From Florence, we went to Rome, which Joe has blogged pretty well. Rome was boiling, but cool. It was fun to see the ancient Rome stuff around the Colosseum and the Forum, walk just behind it to see the Renaissance aged Capitol Hill, then down the steps of the hill to the monument to both the unification of Italy and the unknown soldier from the 19th and 20th centuries. Only about 3000 years of history there. Cool stuff off the top of my head: Julius Caesar's cremation site, both the Emperor's and the Vestal Virgins' boxes at the Colosseum, typical Romulean homes at the Palatine Hill (no not Romulan) "Gladiators" in front of the Colosseum who you can get a picture with (for up to 100 Euro!), whistle guards at the unification of Italy monument, the hole in the roof of the Pantheon so that scientists could figure out what it was made out of, the Trevi fountain, non-stop line into the Vatican museum, St. Peter's basillica (and Michelangelo's Pieta sculpture inside) - holy crap!, the Sistene Chapel, and climbing the Vatican Wall like Tom Cruise in M:I:III (no, not really). But we should have climbed that wall after Joey lead us in the wrong direction. Now, Rome wins points on public water fountains, but, as Joe mentioned, loses points on public transport. So, after seeing Rome and the Vatican as detailed by Joe, we take a self-guided Thursday night walking tour through Rome, which was quite nice. (Note: Just before that, some street performer made fun of me, and apparently implied that I was some sort of caveman. He wasn't very funny.) We ended up at the Spanish Steps around 11:00. Joe and I felt like going out for some food and a drink, while Micha and Sarah decided to head home on the subway. Now, two funny things. As Joe and I are eating our dinner around 11:25, we pop out the guidebook, which says that the subway, that takes us from the Spanish Steps right to our hostel, by the way, closes at 11:30. Crap. As Joe has detailed, it also turns out that you can't buy bus tickets after 11:30 for the night buses (which are infrequent to boot). Further, one of the two subway lines (how can there be only two lines for all of Rome?!) actually closed at 9:30 because of "construction", though I think they were just getting home early for their "strike"-induced long weekend. In any case, Micha and Sarah ended up having to walk from the Steps to the central station where they caught a subway, while Joe and I had to wander with incomplete maps around 1:00 in the morning. I felt sorry for any pub crawl people
who expected to take a subway home, however. The next day was really lazy. We kind of just hiked our bags to the central station since public transport was on strike and hung out in Rome's (unspectacular) Central Park. Also, I wanted a Rome souvenir, but do you believe that they don't sell them at the train station?! Crazy Italians! Then it was a night train with the junior high kids off to Vienna. Though I got made fun of for being a caveman again, the train ride wasn't that bad. The highlight though was being stopped in either Florence for about 15 minutes and hearing the train attendant speak the title of this entry to the other English speaking passengers in our car. How does a train not have an engine? We were in no rush, so it was no big deal (and ultimately meant more sleep, yay!), but that line was hilarious. It's even better when Joe says it with his New York italian voice. Also, Joe reading his sci-fi novel out loud with that voice is pretty sweet. That's it for the lazy Italians. Next, Austria and Germany.


PS: By the way, here's Sarah's food verdict on Europe. Pizza and gelato are great in Italy. Pasta is not as good as it should be, unless you get it with seafood. Curry is done fantastically well everywhere. And those are pretty much her rules.

Final blog by jöe

Hey! It's been a few days, and it's just about time to drag my sorry ass home. Constant travel has destroyed my immune system and everyone around me is convinced I am mere minutes from death. Hanging out in an internet cafe in boring Frankfurt ("Bankfurt") at their expansive train station. Let the story telling commence.

So, I think the last time we talked was when I was waiting for everyone elses laundry to wash in Rome. You know what sucks? Dragging your ass out of bed, carrying two garbage bags and a backpack full of clothes for 5 blocks, touching everyones gross clothes, and then coming back to the hostel to find them... sleeping!! ARGG!! Nah, I guess I wasn´t that mad. I did proceed to get us seriously lost just outside the huge Vatican walls (future note, TURN LEFT - NOT RIGHT) and walk up a huge hill in the hot sun. I fell off of my high horse on that one. One of the major attractions in Rome, and not a "hey dumbass, turn around!" sign to found. Or maybe the signs have been printed and are just waiting on a shelf somewhere for an industrious Italian to take charge and put them up. Anyone gather where I'm going with this? :)

Vatican stuff was awesome. The Basilica (the catholic church that holds 95000 people) was absolutely amazing. How do you get the money and people together to plan and build that kind of thing? It just doesn't make sense.

So, on our final day, we woke up to the lovely news that the Rome transit system had gone on strike because it was a Friday and the drivers didn't want to go to work. Anyone notice a pattern yet? So, having walked back to hostel the night before because it was physically impossible to buy a ticket to take a bus

(can only buy tickets from machines and tabacco shops. At 11:30 pm, all the tabak shops are closed. So.. lets go try the machines. Okay, there about 8 machines scattered around the bus terminal.. nope, these are all broken too. And you can't buy tickets from the driver. Well, our map is terrible and doesn't actually extend to the area of town where our hostel is, but it is possible to kind of guess the direction to go by the subway stops we will pass.. so, throwing our safety (intelligence?) to the wind, we're off! Didn't have much of a choice. Strange how the only open place we passed was a 24hr flower shop, for those times when you are walking home just a little too late and need to surprise the wife with flowers. What if you need milk? 7-11 just doesn't fit the paradigm)

we did the walk during the day with our backpacks. Not cool, but not as unpleasant as expected. Did a pretty low key final day of eating gelato and sitting on some grass we finally found. Yay! Grass!

So, after grabbing a final blissful drink from a local water fountain, it was on to the night train. Rather than being populated by the Swedish Bikini Team (which I "dibbed" early on just in case), it was full of Austrian Junior High kids. Expected it to be a lot worse than it was. Eventually, the room to room slamming of doors and being general idiots cooled off and we all fell asleep. Also, my "all Italian trains take twice as long as they are supposed to" estimate was proven wrong. Our 12 hour train only took 14.5. Not bad!

So, then we're in Vienna. Time to do a "Austria in one day tour". Went to the Hapsburg Palace (like Versailles) and did a hedge maze out back that Micha and I figured out but was considerably harder for the other two. Being totally sick of roof paintings, we didn't actually go inside the palace. They did have a cafe in the garden out back with a wind instrument band though, so that entertained me. That evening we bought bizzarely inexpensive nosebleed tickets to see an opera at the famous Opera House. I had the honour of running Sarah back to the hostel because her flip flop sandals just don't fly in establishments of that nature. The opera was in Italian but a helpful display screen in front of most of the standing room seats we had gave an english translation. Powerful singers and a wicked orchesta, and also a neat ending where the protagonist commits suicide by stabbing herself. Strangely, opera people come out from behind the curtain to get applauded like 5 or 6 times after the show. It was hilarious. I can understand twice.. but on the 4th "stage entry - stage exit" cycle, you had already clapped for these people so many times! Nick compared it to the credits of a movie, which I agree with. But only the credits were one screen long and kept showing the same 5 people. :)

Down to 7 minutes, and the cigarette smoke is killer, so I'm out. I will try to post again soon and talk about the epic pub crawl that occured in Munich. Damn those one liter beers!

That's cool?! That's f§$%ing cool?!?!

All right, monster post time, seeing as how we are now in Frankfurt, and getting set to head home tomorrow. Crazy! Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, Nice.

So, after our first evening in Nice, we decide that it would be a good idea to go explore Monaco for the day. We got some advice and were told that we should visit this medieval town called Eze on the way. So we did that, and it was very cool, and very medieval. However, our clearest memory from that day was being in line at this sandwich shop, behind these four retired tourists from Florida. Now, bear in mind that we (that is, Joe) were very hungry. After complaining about the 2.40 Euro fries, they make their order, which comes to about 7 Euro. One of them then pays with a 20, meaning that he should get 13 Euros in change. Now, like us, Europeans have 1 and 2 Euro coins, and no bills smaller than a 5. So the lady at the till returns a 10 Euro bill, and both a 1 and a 2 Euro coin. Honest to God, they couldn't understand that the coins were worth three Euros. There are only two symbols on all these coins and they are a number (eg. 1) and the word Euro! But they start mumbling about getting the right change, and how expensive the fries are and arrgggh! It was le frustrating. Mainly because we were starving and irritable. Anyway, after that, we headed to Monaco. It was pretty cool -- as Joe said, they were setting up the F1 course, and you could see the track, and the red and white curbs on the ground. Also, very cool cars. I also went into the Monte Carlo casino, and was highly tempted to put 20 Euro down on red at the roulette table, but decided against it, since I really don't have a good grasp on casino etiquette, especially at the most posh casino in the world. From the casino, we went to see where the royal family lived, which was kind of cool, and then headed back to Nice for the evening. And that pretty much brings us to quiz #2. You see, night two in the hostel was just about as interesting as night 1, so let's see how you guys do on this quiz. For added ambiguity, FSU student #3 may or may not be the same as one of the FSU students from the previous night. Good luck!

1. One of us turned in early, before about 10:00.
2 and 3. Two of us met Jo (British and female, if that's not clear) and John (Canadian), who were a couple traveling from Cambridge. Group members 2 and 3 spent an enjoyable evening talking with them, and headed to bed between about 1:00 and 1:30.
4. The last of us also spent a fair bit of time talking to Jo and John, but also a handful of the FSU students hanging around at the table. At about 1:30, member 4 said that they would be in the room 5 minutes after member 3 left. It turns out that member 4 actually ran off with FSU student #3, and didn't show up in the room until about 4:00 that morning.

Have fun with your guesses!

All right, so that's it for quizzes for now. The next morning we planned for a beach day, as Joe mentioned. We trained it to Cannes, where we saw the preparations for the film festival, and tanned on the nice sandy beaches. Micha gave himself a wicked tan, by only sunscreening one handprint-sized section of his back. We have pictures, and they are hilarious. The water was salty, I bought a frisbee for beach fun and the day wasn't half bad. After that, it was a night train to Venice, which I'll get to after I post this, and hope it doesn't vanish on the interweb.


PS: A story from The Hague that I forgot. So Sarah's being all snooty lying down at our hostel, and I'm trying to crack a smile out of her. After my initial efforts failed, I turned to the ever popular move of threatening to pour water on the other person's face. Except I didn't have any water, but I did have a nearly empty bottle of Fanta. So I do kind of a half-hearted tilt of the bottle over her face, but she doesn't flinch, and so I tilt the bottle a little bit more, still no flinching. I hope you all see where this is going. Eventually, I'm right at the point where the liquid Fanta is just about to come out the spout, but she still hasn't reacted (possibly because she was sleeping). Just then, an earthquake shook the room, and I may have poured a little bit of Fanta in Sarah's ear. For some reason, she then yelled at the top of her lungs for about 60 seconds, causing Micha to recoil in terror. But, long story short, Joe and I thought it was hilarious. And now, Sarah can tell people that she has been Fantaed.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Greetings, my name is Person X, to whom you were introduced the evening prior. Also, QUIZ TIME!

Well, Nice was fairly rocking, I must say. Sarah gave the details about how we got to our hostel, which has appropriately received the distinction of one of the Top 10 hostels in the world. She did leave out a few things about our entry. First, we arrive at the hostel to see a long line of about 12 girls and 4 guys from Florida State University (FSU, home of the fightin' Seminoles!) who are basically on a 5-week, $6000 tuition + two nights board per week, drinking course. They were all taking rocket science, er, hospitality. That means that if you're good you get to manage hotels -- if not you get to wait tables at them. While waiting in line, Joe and I ran down to the free internet computers, discovered that the Oilers had just won in triple overtime, came up screaming to Sarah and Micha, and promptly got shushed by staff. The hostel was actually quite beautiful, very much like a villa. In fact, it was a former monastery, and comes highly recommended by all of us (Villa Saint-Exupery). It also happened to be populated by predominantly Canadians, as evidenced by the number of people who recognized my Nordiques shirt, and who would talk about the playoffs without hesitation. This counts a few people from Sherwood Park trying to get into Engineering, a Calgarian (boo!) a cute girl from the Faculte St. Jean and plenty of others. Now, as Sarah mentioned, alcohol was quite cheap. We are talking basically a pint of beer for 1 Euro. As you might imagine, there was a fair bit of drinking that night, and it didn't help that the FSU students were reasonably social and put forth their fair share of drinking games. In fact, this coupled with the universe referring to itself a few days later prompted the (R-rated) catch phrase, "Do you know 'Fuck the dealer?'". It's up there with "Qu'est ce que c'est le deal?" and "Do you speak English?". Anyway, I promised a quiz a while ago, didn't I? Since no one seems to be reading my entries, it doesn't much matter, but here goes. It is a game of association. Each of the four of us had moderately different evenings -- you have to guess who did what. Answer in the comments if you feel like it. Here goes:

1. One of us had an early night and turned in before midnight.
2. One of us found the only classy person in the entire place and had a pleasant conversation.
3. One of us chased after FSU student #1, only to strike out as things were winding down, and went to sleep.
4. One of us chased after FSU student #2, only to disappear for an extended period of time and not return until the hostel was shutting down for the night and everyone was turning in.

Good luck! There will actually be a second quiz for the second day in Nice, oh and maybe I'll talk about what we actually did during the days. Running out of internet time, so that's it for me.


Swiss miss

So I guess I went through Switzerland without blogging, didn't I? Which is interesting, since I did my last entry from Nice, which we hit after going through the country that doesn't take Euros! All right, so Joe gave a brief rundown, but here's what I remember.

Zurich first:
1. Running to the bathroom after crappy train passengers hogged the train bathroom, then not having Swiss francs to pay for it, so Joe had to go run and change some currency while the rest of us waited uncomfortably.
2. Switzerland is expensive, plus you get sticker shocked. First, a Swiss Franc is basically the same as a Canadian dollar, but Europeans treat Euros more or less as dollars (ie. a can of pop is likely to run you a Euro). Unfortunately, the Swiss also treat a Euro as a dollar, though in fact, as slightly less than one, because they are rich. As a result, a Big Mac combo costs in the neighbourhood of 11-12 Swiss Francs. As a result, we were hungry in Switzerland.
3. (Nearly) naked guy at the Zurich hostel desk. The hostel itself was really nice though -- the best of the trip to that point, and a nice change from the junior high camp one from Paris.
4. Kind of boring Zurich bus tour but we saw where Tina Turner used to live. Also, okay clock museum tour -- mystery clocks are fun.

And Geneva:
1. Nice walk through the city the first day. Very Canadian, like Joe said. It was awesome having cars stop for us at crosswalks, when we weren't already standing in the middle of the street, threatening to scratch their paint with our dead bodies.
2. Simultaneously cool and hilarious tour of the UN, due in large part to the group of tourists that Joe mentioned. As Joe mentioned, poor Anna. But more so, poor Deborah who was watching the tour so that she could lead her own, very first tour the day after, and getting to see what she was in for, probably multiple times a day. What Joe didn't mention is that they held us up by being very slow in the narrow corridor of the final room, so we ended up following them through the UN back to the entrance. However, they weren't following anyone, because they were slow. So we end up following them down a staircase, which I was not in favour of, because we had initially come down these stairs from the floor above, but Micha and Joe felt confident in the leadership of the tourists we had been making fun of all day. When we hit the dead end room with 1000 file cabinets, we hustled back up both flights of stairs, and saw the tail end of our tour group, simultaneously losing our old leaders, who were enthralled by file cabinets, I guess. So we made it back to the entrance, and hung out for a little while planning our steps, when guess who shows up with a UN guard escort. Amusing, to say the least. Slightly evil I suppose too. But what are you going to do?

So that's all I remember about Switzerland. Like Joe says, it's very Canadian.
That means that there's fun stuff to do, but a lot of it is outdoors, and you need a more concrete plan and a few more days to execute. Joe and I really wanted to bike around Geneva one day, but the 100 Swiss franc deposit to the two sketchy guys in the hut seemed a little off. Also, in Geneva we learned that there was an Albert Einstein exhibition in Bern, a city that we completely passed over because we didn't think that there was anything to do there. Le boo! In Joe's words, we got Berned. So that's Switzerland, next up, the French Riviera, where the stories are slightly more exciting.


PS: I missed this about Paris, but when we were at the Louvre, we were in a pretty big line waiting to get in just before it opened. Then, as the line started moving, our section of like 200 people, about 5 or 6 people wide, got escorted off to a side entrance to make things easier. Apparently this is quite normal. But as we are walking to the back entrance, about 500 metres away, this group of six or so, retired-aged people tries to cut into our line! What's up with that? So there is some grumbling up ahead, and then Joe, Sarah, and myself kind of start with the "Le boo!" chanting, which was joined by a number of others around. About this time, the first of the line cutters has made it through the 6 person wide line, and appears to be continuing down the sidewalk, shortly joined by the rest of their group. So they weren't cutting in line after all, they were just slightly elderly people, walking around in Paris near the Louvre, who we all booed. Except Micha -- and let me tell you, he's been on his high horse about that ever since.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Part duex (this is joe, by the way)

Oh yeah, I need to jump back in time here a little bit. In Geneva we went and toured the european UN (aka League of Nations from way back in the day). Pretty interesting, especially because of the things that happened that had nothing officially to do with the tour. Favorites:

1. We were joined on our tour by a group of 20 or 30 individuals who were very interested in India's role in the UN.. and how much India contributes to the UN's operating budget.. and how many windows are in this room.. how big is that painting?.. and why isn't India on the security council.. and why don't you know how much India contributes? Maybe I'll just keep asking until you tell me a number..

What the hell, where did all these kids come from? And why don't they control them? I swear we ended up with more kids than we started with..and this may just be a cultural thing, but do big red barriers and signs that say "don't go here" in every concievable language mean "Go For It! Get that Photo!" to some cultures?

Truly Hilarious. Can you guess where they were from? Major props to our tour guide Anna for not jumping out a window.

2. The super-important meeting that was taking place at the UN the day we toured was the Symposium on Single-Pane Glass Usage for Residential Home Usage. It was an amazing feeling to know that such an important meeting took place while we there. I mean, one day we'll look back in history text's on such a monumental day! :)

3. And, the most UN-esque sign witnessed all day:

"Smoking Discouraged"


Alright, so then we did a beach day in Cannes, which is the only place in the french riveria with sandy beaches because they trucked in a bunch of sand (not unlike the lovely Gull Lake in Alberta). It was nice to just sit and do nothing, but I wouldn't have classified the day as a "warm one". Lots of propaganda around for the Da Vinci Code movie (including a giant Louvre-esque pyramid taking up some very expensive real estate next to the boat parking), which is premiering at Cannes.

We then hopped on a night train to Venenzia (Venice), Italy. Our scheduled sleeper car was attached to the train, but it appeared to be condemned and quickly earned the monicker "sketch train". So, standing outside of it and waiting for the door to open was somewhat disheartening so we went and asked an official-looking guy in a red blazer (who else would wear a red blazer unless they were at work?) and he told us to go to a different car... that was awesome! And new! 4 beds in a room! No randoms!

Venice was difficult by day (as warned by all travel books mostly due to all the cruise ships that pull up next door and drop off floridians) and truly beautiful at night. With no people around, the most charming european city yet. Also, the gondoliers (the singing guys who paddle the romantic boats around the canals) we're cool, although we didn't go on one because this isn't a four person honeymoon. They were just the right amount of in-your-face-Italian-sleazy that I found delightful and really authentic. No ads on their boats, no identification cards, sliding cost scales, striped shirts and cigarettes, it was awesome. I hope they never clean up their act.

We then went to Florence and saw some pretty wicked art. Michelangelo's "David" has earned it's reputation as the best known sculpture on the planet. Wow. I mean, it is just huge... and, perfect. It was worth the 1 hour wait in the sun. Also went to the Uffuzi Gallery which has the greatest collection of Italian art anywhere, like the "Birth of Venus" painting (I'm sure you've seen it, just do a google images search) made famous by a Simpsons episode and for it's artistic merit.

Just about done washing.. exciting stuff!! I know you're all rooting for me.

So, like I said before, we are now in Rome. But first a note on Italian trains. Wow, the warnings were true. They are crap. After trains that were perfectly on schedule in Germany, Holland, France, Belgium, and Switzerland, it was somewhat strange to be stuck waiting for an hour on a track in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of increasingly agitated italian people without anyone going around to tell you why you were stopped. If anything, the staff in the dining car were even madder than the passengers. Maybe they get paid by the trip or something. So all of our 1-2 hour train rides have essentially doubled in length here.. So, our 12 hour night train to vienna is probably going to take.. you guessed it.. 24 hours! You read it here first.

Micha went to the Vatican for Pope Day and myself, Nick and Sarah went to do all the ancient rome stuff. Considering it is only May, i'm shocked this city doesn't empty out in the summer due to the shear heat. It is _really_ hot here. But, guess what! Water fountains! Everywhere! Hoo-ray! Went and saw the Forum, Palentine Hill, the Colleseum, the Pantheon, and the Trevi Fountain. Neat stuff! Apparently, the Italians used to be an industrius people that enjoyed working and building things. Now, ... not so much.

Oh yeah, how about those Oilers, eh? Man! Going to the western final! But I'm sure you all already know about that.

I left a lot of stuff out, so look forward to (hopefully) some posts from my friends sooner rather than later.


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

wowza - it's been a while - part 1

hello everyone. i'm going to do this entire post in lower-case letters because the keyboards at "MAIL WASH LAVANDERIA SELF SERVICE AD ACQUA & INTERNET POINT" are not known for their shift-key.. umm... "goodness".

so, we haven't dropped off the face of the earth (hi mom and sarie and little will). we are all fine except for our complete lack of clean clothes, which i am going to deal with shortly.

when was the last time i posted on this thing? well, the series of events after paris is kind of neat. We went from paris to zurich, then to geneva, then to nice/monaco/french riveria, then to Venenzia in Italy, then to Florence, and here I sit in lovely rome. The last leg of the trip will be a night train from rome to vienna that is guaranteed to be a catastrophe (more on that later), then to somewhere else (can't remember), then to munich, then back to frankfurt to fly home.

so, interesting things to post on the blog about the places we have been start... now.

Paris was awesome. Nick summed it up nicely, and I agree with what he wrote. So much cool stuff to do, an amazing public transit system to get places, and some decent meals. Plus, we had nick's french, which made our travels about a thousand times easier.

Switzerland was like Canada (at a crosswalk, the cars actually stop for you instead of aim right for you) except way more expensive. Zurich (aka "best place in the world to live") had lots of public water fountains (which i miss a great deal), but it also had a ton of ornamental fountains, and there weren't exactly labels differentiating the two. Sooo... i stayed thirsty, lest i be busted drinking out of the dog bowl, so to speak. All of the cool stuff to do in switzerland like sliding down glaciers and yodelling take place outside of the major centers and cost a great deal, so we kind of missed it all.. plus, I don't know if it helped win Zurich it's prize, but it sure seemed like there were a dis-proportionate number of sex shops around. I mean, we've seen quite a few large european cities over the last month.. but these people really love their escorts. There were more ads in the Zurich Tourism Guide for escorts than anything else (destination tourism?). Yeah, so still not sure about Switzerland - bunch of perverts, if you ask me. Great dairy though.

We then went to the French Riveria, which I enjoyed way more than I thought I would. The highlight for me was all of the "super-villian" houses carved into the mountains overlooking the ocean. There was more money around there than I have ever seen. In Monaco, where rich people move because there is no tax and because everyone there is as beautiful as they are, the cars were insane. I'm not really a car guy, but.. man! There were lambougini's and bentley's parked in front of the casino and just sitting there.. with license plates! As in, people's primary mode of transportation around town! it was kind of surreal - "yeah, i think i'll just drive my $400,000 car over to the grocery store and buy some milk" - yowza. Plus, they were getting ready for that monaco grand prix thing (a car race through town past the beautiful people), so you could see all of the stuff being set up and could picture cars taking 90 degree turns at 100+ mph.. Oh yeah, our hostel was pretty great too. $1 beers and all!

Because of nick's previous nightmare trying to post, i'm going to try this in two parts..

Friday, May 12, 2006

Do you speak English?

All right -- no deleted post this time -- on to Paris!

There are really two parts to our Paris trip -- the fantastic time we had in the city away from our hostel, and the less amazing time in the hostel itself. I will start with the latter. So we arrive in Paris around 9:00 in ze evening at le sketchy Gare du Nord. Most of the European train stations have been fairly clean and relatively classy, but this one, not so much. It didn't help that there was basically a soup kitchen line outside the main entrance. Micha turned down the possibility of playing garbage soccer with one of the patrons, fairly wisely, I suppose. After figuring out how to dial a Paris phone number (they are 10 digits!), we made sure our hostel had room then jumbped in a taxi to get there. And by taxi, I mean random French guy's car (more or less). But he got us there, there being the d'Artagnian hostel, which sounds nice, but inside not so much. Among its chief problems: crappy breakfast (don't even think about taking two bowls of corn flakes!), poor shower facilities, internet that eats my blogs (grrrr!) and crazy fighting people one night. But the greatest problem by far was that the 400-bed place was overrun with 12-14 year olds on their junior high school trip. Now, that in of itself is not so bad, but the fact is, these children were totally partying it up in the hostel bar and dance floor, and basically making the place a very creepy place to hang out. Think Barry-T's, only much worse. However, a shout out to drunk dancing 12 year-old, on whom Sarah has a big crush, and One Man Band guy, who appears to live at the hostel. We did meet two nice Quebec girls at the hostel, who we are supposed to meet today in Nice. How visually punny. So that's more or less the hostel story. As for Paris proper -- it was fantastic. Everything seemed to work out more or less fine. We started with Notre Dame and the Saint-Chappelle, went off to Versailles, had Kronenberg beer (aka Molson Canadian) in the Jurassic Park themed palace garden cafe, took a number of innappropriate pictures with garden statues, did the Eiffel Tower at night which was pretty and non-crowded, the Louvre the following day, which wore out the other three, then a death march from the Louvre pyramids down past the Place de La Concorde, up the Champs d'Elysees where Micha and I got Bosnianed, then to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. Our final day in Paris was very relaxed (after some inadvertent heavy drinking the night before) where we checked out Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde's graves, and went to see M:I:III. "Tu es ma poule" means "You're my baby", at least when spoken by Ving Rhames. Also, "Tu dechires" means "You rock!", or some equivalent. That night, we caught a night train off to Zurich (where they don't use Euros!) which I will talk about when my carpal tunnel syndrome wears off.


PS: I hope you've all been paying attention to the blogs so far, because there will be a test soon. A little game of association to see how well you know the players, so to speak. You'll see when I get to the French Riviera.

Qu'est ce que c'est le deal avec les sandwiches? Take 4!

So this will be the fourth time I try to post on Belgium and the first part of our trek through France, because of various internet problems that are really starting to drive me insane. For the moment, we are in a very nice hostel in Nice that has already provided a number of funny stories, but for the moment, my thoughts on the last week of activity.

After leaving Joe's 40-something relative, Sarie, and her two kids in Utrecht, we headed for Brussels. Brussels was fairly nice to look at, but not a great place in which to do things. For instance, if you are ever going to Brussels, and want to take a bust tour of the place, make sure you choose to ride the green bus line, not the Red and Blue bus line. You see, the Green bus line actually owns buses with which to tour you around the city, while the Red and Blue bus line kind of just pretends that they are a competent business. Anyway, not much to say on Brussels besides the fact that they have cherry beer, which was quite good. So, in a nutshell, that was Belgium -- I'm going to post this now, just so I don't lose my work for the fourth time, then back for France, Part 1.


PS: Why must I miss all these insane Oilers games? Parents -- if you had tickets to that 3OT game, I will be le not happy.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Free Internet

Nice in France is wicked.

So after Paris came Zurich and Geneva. Both very calm places that I would love to live in but not too exciting to visit. They don't really have the rich history of Berlin or the beautiful buildings of Paris. Zurich apparently has a lively nightlife but being the tired backpackers we are with a tight ship to run, we didn't get a chance to stay up late. The bars open at 11 and close at 4. Crazy Swiss.
In Gevena we toured the United Nations building. Quite informative and cool to see that big giant conference room you see on TV. I'll leave it up to one of the guys to explain the amusing time we had with our fellow tour group members.

Yesterday was spent on a train for 8 hours going from Geneva to Nice. I have to say that I am in love with the south of France. There are palm trees! It looks just like the photos in magazines with the clusters of terra-cotta roofed houses on hills and beautiful beaches. I am very excited to get some sun today.
In order to get to our hostel yesterday, we needed to catch a bus to the local footbal stadium. First, it took forever for the bus to arrive and once we got on the bus, the driver was super rushed and yelled at us to get onto the bus faster. Once on the bus, the driver drove like crazy. Usually on Edmonton buses you can get away with not holding on unless the bus is stopping or starting. On this bus I was holding on for dear life! Once I got the hang of riding the bus it turned out to be quite a fun ride up the skinny winding roads of Nice. After we found our bus stop, we began following directions we got off the internet to get to the hostel. About 5 minutes in, a white van comes down the road, stops by us, and the guy driving shouts "get in!" and of course we just blindly get in his car. But don't worry, it was actually the hostel shuttle bus that we were somewhat expecting to come get us. Again, more crazy driving but ending with a safe arrival at our hostel. The hostel is a converted monastary and is just amazing. All of the alcohol is 1 Euro! Crazy cheap. We ended up staying up quite late last night enjoying the hospitality of this place.

We might spend the entire day on the beach today or maybe take a day trip out to Monaco. So tough to decide.

I have seen my Golf in every country we have visited. It makes me feel happy that my car is well loved by Europeans.

Life is good.


Free Internet

Nice in France is wicked.

So after Paris came Zurich and Geneva. Both very calm places that I would love to live in but not too exciting to visit. They don't really have the rich history of Berlin or the beautiful buildings of Paris. Zurich apparently has a lively nightlife but being the tired backpackers we are with a tight ship to run, we didn't get a chance to stay up late. The bars open at 11 and close at 4. Crazy Swiss.
In Gevena we toured the United Nations building. Quite informative and cool to see that big giant conference room you see on TV. I'll leave it up to one of the guys to explain the amusing time we had with our fellow tour group members.

Yesterday was spent on a train for 8 hours going from Geneva to Nice. I have to say that I am in love with the south of France. There are palm trees! It looks just like the photos in magazines with the clusters of terra-cotta roofed houses on hills and beautiful beaches. I am very excited to get some sun today.
In order to get to our hostel yesterday, we needed to catch a bus to the local footbal stadium. First, it took forever for the bus to arrive and once we got on the bus, the driver was super rushed and yelled at us to get onto the bus faster. Once on the bus, the driver drove like crazy. Usually on Edmonton buses you can get away with not holding on unless the bus is stopping or starting. On this bus I was holding on for dear life! Once I got the hang of riding the bus it turned out to be quite a fun ride up the skinny winding roads of Nice. After we found our bus stop, we began following directions we got off the internet to get to the hostel. About 5 minutes in, a white van comes down the road, stops by us, and the guy driving shouts "get in!" and of course we just blindly get in his car. But don't worry, it was actually the hostel shuttle bus that we were somewhat expecting to come get us. Again, more crazy driving but ending with a safe arrival at our hostel. The hostel is a converted monastary and is just amazing. All of the alcohol is 1 Euro! Crazy cheap. We ended up staying up quite late last night enjoying the hospitality of this place.

We might spend the entire day on the beach today or maybe take a day trip out to Monaco. So tough to decide.

I have seen my Golf in every country we have visited. It makes me feel happy that my car is well loved by Europeans.

Life is good.


Nice, France

The French Riveria is lovely - lots of palm trees. Don't really have much else to say because we haven't really done anything here yet - rolled in last night and then hit the 1 Euro beers. Mr Micha is definetely agitating for us to quit dragging our asses and hit a beach.

The hostel we are staying at is clearly the hostel from the movie Hostel. If you've seen the movie, you'll know what I'm talking about.

Just spent two days in Switzerland, which is pretty and nice and clean and all that but waaaaaaay too expensive for four goons in backpacks. There is fun stuff you can do in the mountains like sliding down glaciers and jumping out of planes which start at about 400 franks. We came up with the "divide by two" rule to make sense of all the food and drink prices, because the swiss frank is just about on par with the canadian dollar. This makes the 12 frank mcdonalds combo and 30 frank spagetti at a normal restaurant make sense. Truly a case of "sticker shock".

Current plan for the remainder of the trip is stay here for a bit, then hit Venice, Florence, Rome for a while, Vienna, Munich, and then that's pretty much it.

Truly a "BBQ Sampler" (as nick lovingly coined it) of most of the cool places in western europe.