Monday, August 27, 2007

Ciao Roma. Musei Vaticani, San Pietro, Il Coluseo, Piazza Navona, La Fontana Trevi, etc.

I woke up at 5 AM because our Korean roommate had to get off in Bologna and needed her suitcase from up top. After she got off I climbed down and looked around the train station in Bologna and the surrounding areas as the train continued on to Rome. I fell back asleep and woke up to one of the train employees handing back rail passes and passports. I watched from out of the window for the rest of the trip into the station. Everything was gold and brown, much like the areas around San Diego. The train guy came back around with breakfast and we eventually got into the station and made our way to the hostel. The place we stayed in was pretty nice and relatively close to the station. We went to check in but we were too early (it was around 9:30 AM) so we checked our baggage and grabbed a map of Rome. I waited for about 40 minutes for the girls to get ready and then we headed off to the main station again to catch the metro to the Vatican Museums.

When we arrived we found the line to be a little long. It wrapped from the museum entrance around a few corners all the way to the front of St. Peter’s square. We kept following the line looking for the end so we could hop in and after about 20 minutes of walking we found it. We got in back and stood around waiting for our turn to get in. The line looked a lot worse than it actually was. We ended up waiting for about an hour and fifteen minutes before getting to the front door. Once inside we checked the backpack and began exploring the museum. We took the long walk through all the exhibits and saw a lot of really fancy paintings and tapestries and all sorts of relics and artifacts from all around the world. The walk ended in the Sistine Chapel which was even better than I had imagined and was absolutely enormous. The thought of some guy lying on top of scaffolding and painting the ceiling is mind boggling when you see how enormous and how intricate the room is. After our tour of the museums we went back to St. Peter’s square and took photos of the church and the fountains and obelisk. We didn’t go inside the church because I had a bunch of pocketknives which weren’t allowed in and we weren’t really dressed appropriately and the line was huge. Another time I guess. After we finished up in the square we got some pizza and headed back to the hostel to shower and change clothes. It felt really gross to not shower in the morning after sleeping in the hot stuffy sleeper car and then go out into the heat and humidity of Rome and sightsee. We went back and freshened up and I consulted Rick Steves’ Best of Europe to plan a fun evening for us. We decided first to head out to the Coliseum and explore the ruins there.

The coliseum was awesome. The basic structure is still standing which I thought was amazing considering how old it is and how much other stuff has been destroyed throughout the ages from wars and disasters and other stuff like that. Parts of the coliseum were being restored so we could see how it looked back in the Roman times which should look pretty cool once it’s done. We looked around the ruins and took our photos and jumped on a taxi to Piazza Navona for some gelato and neat fountains. We spent some time in the square watching people hawking stuff and I got some tasty ice cream and we kept walking towards the Pantheon. We got some pizza by the Pantheon and took photos of the building and looked around the area before continuing our walk towards the Trevi Fountain. When we got to the Trevi we found it mobbed by thousands of tourists and lots of street vendors pushing their wares. We threw some coins in and got out before the mobs crushed us and headed out towards another gelato shop. After getting even more gelato we kept walking towards the Spanish steps where our walk would end. We spent some time at the steps and went to take the Metro back only to find the metro had closed so we ran around underground for awhile before popping back up and taking a taxi back to the hostel. We went to sleep after a long day of sightseeing and woke up continuously throughout the night because it was cold and we didn’t have enough blankets.

Being Lazy

Today we all slept in. It was our last day in Zurich and we had planned to go to the Zoo but that didn’t happen. We all got ready for the day and had planned to go with Carlo to the Zurich station and catch the bus to the Zoo but we all got lazy and didn’t get ready in time. We said goodbye and thanks to Carlo as he headed back to Bern to guard the embassies there with the Swiss Army and raided Peter’s kitchen for food. We sat down and watched Ice Age 2 while we ate lunch. After that Vanessa started to get cabin fever and wanted to leave but I didn’t feel like going anywhere so I sat back down on the couch and popped in Lord of War to watch. After 10 minutes the girls came back because they couldn’t find the train station and Debra sat down to watch the movie with me while Vanessa grew increasingly restless. She ended up going crazy and going for a walk to get out of the house while Debra and I continued to watch the movie. After Lord of War finished I put in Inside Man and started to watch that. Vanessa came back to see us exactly where she left us an hour or two ago watching movies and Peter prepared risotto for us. We ate dinner and had some ice cream and finished the movie before we had to run to the train station and catch the S-Bahn to Zurich HBF and catch our sleeper train to Rome. We got there an hour early and waited around for the train. When we finally got onboard we realized that we shouldn’t have booked a 6 person couchette because there’s just not enough room. Debra and Vanessa have giant suitcases and there isn’t enough room for them much less other people. We somehow all managed to squeeze into the small room with luggage everywhere and I climbed onto my bunk at the top and lay down. I ended up having to get up and stand in the hallway because it was way too hot in the room with the overhead light on and 8 inches away from my face. Vanessa had the same problem because she was at the top too so we ended up going to the back of the train and sitting in front of an AC vent and playing cards. After awhile we both got tired and went back to sleep in the room that had thankfully cooled down a little but since the AC had been running and the door had been closed. We went to sleep knowing we would wake up in Rome the next morning.

Luzern, Waterfalls, and Parks

Today we meant to get up early but nobody heard their alarms so we got a pretty late start on a long day of traveling. Carlo borrowed Peter’s car and planned to drive us to Luzern and Interlaken but we had gotten away too late to fit all of it in so we decided to head out and see how far we could get. We made some sandwiches with traditional Swiss cheese and meat and some fresh bread from the bakery before we left and grabbed a bottle of Coke and Fanta. We all piled into the car and headed out.

We drove down to Lake Zurich and took the car ferry to get across the lake. Once we cleared the lake we started driving through the hills and valleys towards Luzern. The drive took awhile since Luzern is a good distance away from Zurich but we were listening to American pop music from 10 years ago on the radio and enjoying the scenery. When we finally got to Luzern we parked and ran to the bathroom because girls have small bladders and then went to check out the town. We saw parts of the old town, we saw the old wooden bridge and the church, the lake, and the lion monument dedicated to the Swiss soldiers. It was all pretty touristy but it was nice regardless and we ate our sandwiches and gummi bears and chocolate bars by the lake. After sauntering around Luzern we got back in the car and decided to drive to the Trummelbach falls. The drive there from Luzern was also very scenic; driving up through the mountains and coming back down again into the valley. We saw lots of waterfalls that didn’t look like waterfalls but rather a river in freefall over the edge of a cliff. The water would fall off in a concentrated stream and as it fell it would scatter everywhere. We drove past a few that looked fun to explore and we kept heading towards Trummelbach.

When we reached Trummelbach we realized we were five minutes too late and it had already closed. Bummer. Next time I come to central Switzerland I’ll have to come back and check that out. We walked around the area checking out the snow capped mountains and enjoying the fresh, cold mountain air and got back in the car to drive back towards the other waterfalls that we had seen earlier. We stopped in a small town named Lauterbrunnen and hiked up to the big waterfall there. There is a path that leads you up the mountain side to right beside the waterfall so you could look out at the scenery and see the waterfall. It was a really nice view and everything was very green. A different kind of green than in NorCal or other places I’ve been in the US. The green here seemed more vibrant. After we took our photos we hiked back down and looked around in a cemetery because it looked really nice with rose gardens and old fashioned headstones. We saw a park behind the cemetery and went to play around inside on the swings and seesaw. After spending time in the park we began the long drive back to Zurich where Peter was making pasta for us. After eating dinner we watched Batman Begins and I made phone calls on Skype and poked around on the internet before going to bed.

(Lake) Zurich, Chocolate in 4.5kg sizes and a Ferryboat

Today we slept in since we now had a nice place to sleep and our own rooms. We got up and had a breakfast of cereal and delicious bread and butter and sparkling apple juice. After we got ready for the day we rode with Peter into Zurich and he took us to a grocery store. He bought us some good Swiss chocolate and showed us around the city. He took us to the ferry port and got us tickets to ride the ferry boat back to Rapperswil on Lake Zurich where he would pick us up and drive us back to Uerikon. He had to go to an appointment so he left us in Zurich to look around in the shops and to book our sleeper car reservation. We went into a Coop (pronounced Cope) because Vanessa needed a new purse but there was no way I was going to browse around the store with two girls purse shopping so I went downstairs to the grocery section and found a huge area set aside from Lindt and Toblerone and a bunch of other different brands of Swiss goodies. We found big Toblerone bars that came packaged with a Swiss flag and the mother load of all candy bars, the 4.5kg Toblerone bar. It cost 89 CHF and was enormous. We wanted to buy it just because it was so massive but we had nowhere to put it and that much chocolate would put us all into diabetic comas so we skipped out and went over to the ferryboat to ride to Rapperswil.

The ferry was pretty cold and it was drizzling so we sat outside for awhile before getting too cold and heading back inside to sit along the wall of the engine room to warm up. The ferry was an old steam powered paddle boat that they still use on the lake and so I watched the engine work for awhile and then we went out to the front of the boat to soak up some scenery. When we finally landed in Rapperswil I sent Peter an SMS to let him know we had arrived and we sat down to wait for him to come pick us up. My phone battery died so we called him again later from a payphone and poked around Rapperswil for awhile until he got there and drove us back to his place. We ate a big dinner of bratwurst, mashed potatoes, and bread and cheese and watched Madagascar from Carlo’s DVD collection and I got some WiFi so I made some phone calls and checked my email. The next day would be full of travels so we all headed off to bed around 1:00 AM.

There’s More Here than Chocolate and Watches

We woke up late again like usual and checked out of our hostel by 10:00. We went to the train station and sat down to wait for our train to get in. We went to a minimart in the train station to buy snacks and we came across the adult magazine section. Most of the magazines were hidden but the one that was sticking out was called 60 and Older. Vanessa opened it up and gasped and I laughed. Debra didn’t find it too amusing either. They were repulsed and I laughed. Women. I got some more Gummi Bears and we caught our train heading to Basel with a stop at Zurich HBF.

The train ride was very long. At least 6 hours. Towards the edge of Austria near Bludenz we had to get off the train and ride to the next stop by bus because the tracks were under construction. The bus was really hot and it was raining outside and they were uncomfortable and smelly and the bus ride went through tunnel after tunnel so we couldn’t see anything and it was bad all around. We got into Bludenz and got back on the train and waited a few more hours until we got in to Zurich HBF. The whole train ride this other American girl sat with us and talked nonstop about how she had been traveling for a month and a half now and it was her last summer before college and she was going to some noname college in Boston and this and that and was incredibly annoying and a complete spoiled idiot so I didn’t look up from my GameBoy until about 4.5 hours into the trip. When I got tired of playing that I pulled out my laptop and iPod and went right back to ignoring her while the girls continued conversing. I knew it was rude but I frankly didn’t care because she was an idiot not worth my time or attention and I’d never see her again. We parted ways with whatever her name was and hopped on the local S-Bahn headed towards Rapperswil to meet up with Peter at the Uerikon train station. I had never met him before so I wasn’t quite sure what to look for but we found each other pretty easily regardless so it was no big deal. He drove us over to his apartment and we began settling in.

His apartment overlooks Lake Zurich and the view from his balcony is amazing. We sat out there for awhile taking in the scenery as the rain came down on us and the sun was setting. We had a great meal of pasta and ground beef and we raided Carlo’s DVD collection and watched Cars. I fell asleep during Cars and went downstairs to go to sleep.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Berchtesgaden and the 24 Hour Cold

Today started late as we slept in a little bit and when we awoke to shower and get ready for the day we found the bathrooms had closed for cleaning. After sitting around for a few hours typing and playing GameBoy the bathroom freed up and I showered and got ready. We decided to head out to Berchtesgaden on the advice of my parents and grandparents. We had no idea what to do once there but we figured we’d head out and try to find stuff to do. We rode the train out of Salzburg for an hour and got into the town midday. We walked down the street from the train station looking for a place to eat but couldn’t find anything except a bunch of closed shops and a cable car. We decided to take the cable car to the top of the hill and look for food and stuff to do. When we reached the top we found a small place to eat and some great views. I had a giant plate of eggs, potatoes, and meat and some sparkling water before heading back down the mountain. We realized after being in the town for a few hours that having a car is important. We wouldn’t be able to walk to all the places that we wanted to see in the town. Konigsee and Obersalzburg were just far enough away that walking wouldn’t be possible but would only take a few minutes by car. We were a little disappointed that we couldn’t get very far in the town but we enjoyed the sights and the train ride. We headed back into town and went to find ice cream.

Somehow in Salzburg I came down with a 24 hour cold and had trouble breathing and seeing because my eyes kept watering up. I took some Zicam every few hours whenever I remembered and it went away after a day or so. It would have sucked to get sick in the middle of my trip but Salzburg didn’t have a whole lot of stuff to see that we could get to anyway so I guess that was the place to get sick. We found our ice cream and went back to the hostel to get some rest since we were heading to Zurich the next day.

In Transit, Salzburg, Small Town Charm

This morning we woke up late and checked out of our place in Munich. Munich was really a great city and I’m definitely looking forward to visiting it again in the future. We got ready for the day and headed to the train station and caught a midday train to Salzburg. I ran to the minimart before we left and bought a couple of Toblerones and Milka chocolate bars along with a few packs of Haribo gummy bears and a coke for the train ride. Nothing like eating healthy while on vacation. Anyway, when we arrived in Salzburg it was very humid and we couldn’t find the exit of the train station because the signs weren’t very helpful. We ended up following a large group of kids out one of the exits and got swamped in masses of teens who were apparently heading to a big outdoor festival with Tool and Kaiser Chiefs and Interpol. We couldn’t find our hostel because the directions were dependent on going out the correct exit so we asked around and eventually found the place. When we got there we saw the internet was down which was strike one against the place. No internet is no good in my book. We settled in and met our roommate who was from Sydney. After freshening up we went out on the town and ate a place that Rick Steves recommended in his Best of Europe 2005 book. After my dinner of fried chicken and French fries served Austrian style we walked around the shopping area and got some ice cream. After window shopping we headed back to the hostel and went to sleep early because we were wiped from traveling and the heat. Pretty laid back day.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Mad King Ludwig II and Hofbrauhaus

Today I woke up around 8 and got ready to visit Neuschwanstein castle. Debra and Vanessa weren’t sure if they wanted to go or not. Debra was complaining about the money and the fact that we would be gone 9 hours. They both eventually decided to go and we ran to the tourist office to buy tickets for the tour. It was 41 euros per person for the tour. This covered our train ride down to Füssen, the tickets for the bus ride from the city to the castle, and the entrance to the castle itself. It also saved us a few hours of standing in line waiting to buy tickets in the hot sun and got us an awesome tour guide. Radius Tours in Munich gives great tours. Their little pamphlets even say that they are recommended by Rick Steves. So we got on the train and began the two hour journey down, listening to our guide tell us about King Ludwig and his many castles and his erratic behavior. He sounded like quite an interesting guy and he sure knew how to make awesome castles. It’s too bad he died too soon to finish Neuschwanstein and work on Falkenstein. Anyway, the ride down was really scenic and when we finally got into Fussen we took a bus over to the staging area for both Howenschangau and Neuschwanstein. I got a bratwurst and some French fries and some ice cream for lunch and then our guide took us over to the lake and told us more facts about the area, the King, and the buildings. After this we began our hike up to the castle. We should have taken the bus for a few euros but we all were feeling a little adventurous and I had my hiking boots on so we decided to opt for the uphill hike. I’m out of shape. I’ll leave it at that. After the 30 minute hike up the hill to the lookout areas we went over to Mary’s Bridge and peered over the edge. I got a few snapshots before running back to solid ground while the girls posed and peered over the edge and hung out on the bridge for awhile. After the bridge we headed to the actual castle to begin our tour of the completed sections.

Our tour guide was great. He was the German Bill Hader. Looked exactly like him, sounded exactly like him but with a German accent. I was laughing the whole time but of course nobody else knew who Bill Hader was so I had nobody to share the joke with. The castle was really over the top and awesome. I don’t want to say gaudy because everything was really neat but it was pretty gaudy. The murals depicted all sorts of Richard Wagner operas and biblical stories and references to King Ludwig II as the Swan King. The castle was pretty amazing. We weaved through a number of rooms before coming to a stop at the concert hall. Only 1/3 of the castle was completed before he died so our tour was rather short which was too bad, but after the tour we wound through a number of gift shops and ended up back outside. Instead of going back down the way we came we decided instead to take a walk through one of the trails that passed by the waterfall and river behind the castle. The walk normally takes about 30 minutes but we ended up making it last 2 hours by playing around in the river and taking photos and enjoying the scenery on the way down. The whole area was really great for taking photos. Everything was so green; the sky was a deep blue with just the right cloud cover for dynamic photographs.

After the castle tour we got back to Munich and took a few hours break from the long day and got in some internet time before heading back out into the city to look for some food. The tour guide recommended a traditional Bavarian food restaurant and when we looked at the menu and realized what traditional Bavarian food was we reconsidered and walked a few blocks further to Hofbrauhaus. (Traditional Bavarian food was a lot of pig knuckle and haunch of pig and all sorts of different pieces of pig.) Hofbrauhaus is a Bavarian state-owned brewery and restaurant that’s world famous and operates a number of chain restaurants in the states. The tour guide told us that even though it was a little touristy it’s definitely worth checking out just to see the atmosphere and apparently the food was pretty good as well so we decided that would be our place. When we got there we realized just how massive the place was. The inside spanned two floors, a huge garden, and large halls full of tables and benches like in a cafeteria with tons of people inside eating and drinking and laughing and chanting and singing. We sat a few tables up from a large group of drunk Germans singing their favorite drinking song loud enough for everyone in the place to hear it and when they finished the whole place cheered and banging their glasses on the table and drank more beer. It was like a cafeteria for adults. I ordered meatballs and mashed potatoes for dinner. They brought out two of the biggest meatballs I’d ever seen (bigger than my fist) and a huge pile of mashed potatoes. Both were delicious but the meatballs were so hearty I could only eat one and a half. After we left Hofbrauhaus we headed back to the hostel and went to bed early since we had to wake up early the next morning and catch our train to Salzburg.

Willkommen! Dachau and great Bavarian food.

When we arrived in Munich we all felt kind of gross from sleeping in such compact quarters and having to dress again without showering. We walked to our hostel which was only a block away from the train station and tried to check in only to find our room wasn’t ready yet. We sat in the lobby using the free wifi (YAY!) and looking at things to do in Munich while we waited. This hostel was great. The room was clean and big, the beds were comfy, we had a sink in the room, keycards for access to the upstairs area and the elevator and to the rooms themselves for extra security, in room lockers, free wifi, a free tour of the city, a bar for those 2:00 AM Coca-Cola runs, and was in a great location. Well worth the money we spent. Anyway we finally checked in and decided to go visit the Dachau memorial site with a tour group. We stopped at a minimart to get some snacks (Toblerone, Milka chocolate bars, Haribo gummy bears, a bottle of Coke, and a bottle of Evian) and went to meet up with the tour group.

For something like 18 euros we got a tour guide for Dachau and our train and bus reservations and fees taken care of. It was a short ride to the memorial since the concentration camp was just on the outskirts of Munich. Our guide told us the history of the place and how it came to be and how it was compared to the other concentration camps and basically everything we needed to know about Dachau. It was a very interesting tour and not a lot of people talked for the duration of the trip. After our trip was over we asked the people at the front desk of the hostel where a good place to eat would be. They recommended a place called the Augusteiner Brauhaus about 7 blocks from the hostel. We set out to find the place but forgot the map so we walked all the way back to get another one and realized that we had turned around just one block too soon. So we walked all the way back out and went the extra block and found the place. We all got some really great food and a fun atmosphere. Vanessa and I had Bavarian steaks with French Fries and Debra got duck and horse radish. The food was the best we’ve had so far on our trip and really cheap. All of our food cost about 8-10 euros a piece for big, hearty pieces of meat. It’s worth mentioning too that this was the first good food we’d had in awhile since in Paris everything cost 10x what it does in Munich and we pretty much just ate bread and cheese the whole time we were there. After dinner we walked back to the Hostel and fell asleep early.

Five Million dead Frenchmen, French Royalty, and German Trains

Today we set out to see the Chateau de Versailles and the Catacombs of Paris. We woke up and headed out to find the doorway that would lead us underground to room after room of bones. The catacombs were way down in the southern part of the city so we had to ride the metro for about 14 stops all the way down. When we arrived around noon there was already a line of people waiting to get in. After waiting in line for about twenty minutes we got our tickets and began the descent down the long spiral staircase past the metro, past the sewers, deep into the underground caverns of the city.

When we finally reached the bottom of the steps it was very cold and the walls and ceilings were a lot closer to my body than I was used to. The first room had the history of the catacombs and why they existed and then from there we walked down a series of very long hallways that took us deeper underground into a wetter and colder part of the catacombs. Once we finished walking through about 25 minutes of dark hallways we reached the antechamber to the ossuary. We read some history of the people who were buried here and then went through the doors into the ossuary itself. There’s A LOT of dead French guys in here. Huge piles of femurs and skulls make a front wall while the rest of the bones are just thrown behind haphazardly. It was interesting to see the catacombs and to see that many bones. The catacombs are a huge underground maze and we popped back up almost half a mile away from where we went in.

Next on our list of things to do was visit the Chateau de Versailles. We had a little trouble getting to our correct train because the stops we were near were under construction so we ended up having to take a bus through the streets to a working station and then board the train there. When we finally got out there the lines wrapped back and forth Disneyland style for the palace and we heard the hall of mirrors was under construction anyway so we decided to wait for next time and visit the gardens instead. The gardens were HUGE. You could easily spend all day in there and still not see everything. It’s very scenic inside and completely over the top with a massive lake in the middle, fountains and statues everywhere, and plenty of trails to walk on. We got some ice cream and walked around the lake and saw Marie Antoinette’s house before the gardens closed and we had to leave to catch our train to Munich. The metro ride to the train station was short but the girls’ suitcases weigh a ton and are awkward size and really the worst possible luggage to carry on a trip across Europe so that was a pain. Luckily some French guys helped out and helped us carry bags up stairs and stuff. We got the train station early and played cards while we waited. When our train arrived we went to settle into the couchette car and met our roommates for the night. We roomed with three Korean guys and talked for a little bit before falling asleep. Surprisingly enough the couchette car, though cramped, was actually pretty comfortable. I had a pretty good sleep as the train rocked me to sleep.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Pie Jesu Domine, Dona eis requiem.

Today I woke up late, around 11, and was actually the first one awake. The girls woke up late because they’ve been having trouble sleeping. I’ve been falling asleep early most nights; around 10 or so. Not a whole lot happened today. We got up and ready for the day and set out to visit some of the churches in Paris. Our first stop was Basilique du Sacré-Cœur.

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart is located on a hill in Montmarte. The church stands on the highest point of Paris and overlooks the most of the city. This place was actually about 2 blocks up the street from our hostel so we didn’t have to travel far to reach it. The metro stop “Anvers” was the stop to visit the Sacred Heart and that was our nearest metro stop so we followed the flood of people that would climb out of the ground and head to the hill. You can see its white domes peeking between the alleyways of Montmarte a few blocks away from the church property. It was on this path up we found our first actual coffee shop. Surprisingly in Paris a coffee shop was hard to find for us. We found plenty of restaurants and cafes that sold coffee for an enormous price but no genuine coffee shops until now. We decided to visit on our way back and continued on towards the church.

As we approached the first set of stairs a group of black guys came up to us trying to sell us a ring made out of red, black, and green cloth. They slipped it on each of our fingers and started telling us in English why we should pay them for this. I tried responding in Italian that I don’t speak English and that I wasn’t interested but they spoke pretty good Italian too so my plan was foiled. I kept saying no thanks in Italian and after about 50 “no thanks!” later they left us alone and moved on to the next customer. We began climbing the church steps and working our way towards the top taking a moment at each break in the steps to look behind us and check out the view of the city. It must look great at night when the lights are starting to come on and the sun is dipping but sadly that view will have to wait for next time. When we finally reached the top of the stairs and had our last look at the city we headed inside the church to see the elaborate artwork inside.
Unfortunately they don’t allow any photographs inside so I have nothing to show you but the inside is pretty impressive. It seemed a tad gaudy but it was impressive nonetheless. Look it up on Google Image Search to see photos of the inside and you’ll see it’s definitely very fancy. We poked around inside for a little while and then headed out to the metro to hit up Notre Dame.

When we arrived at Notre Dame the first thing I noticed when I climbed out of the metro station was the fountain of St. Michel. It’s a pretty awesome looking fountain with the angel Michael about to cut off some guy or demon’s head. It’s pretty big too which makes it even more impressive. After taking a few shots of the fountain we headed across the street to see Notre Dame. As we approached I started humming “The Bells of Notre Dame” from Disney’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” without even realizing it. Then I heard Debra start humming along with me and neither of us could remember how the verses go; just the chorus and the ending. The city was doing something at the church so they had a bunch of it gated off and the church itself was closed so we took a few pictures of the outside and walked around back to the little park there. We walked through the French Deportation memorial but nobody really understood what was going on in the memorial (we know what the back story was and why the memorial was there, but it isn’t a very good memorial) so we left and went back out to sit along the Siene and enjoy the scenery. After getting a good amount of rest we wandered over to an English bookstore and perused the selections. Debra picked up a copy of Angela’s Ashes and we headed out to St. Sulpice.

Even though St. Sulpice isn’t as popular as Notre Dame or as beautiful as St. Chapelle, I had heard about it from The Da Vinci Code and Rick Steves said that its organ was one of the most famous in the world so we decided to check it out. The exterior was under heavy renovation which was too bad because it looked beautiful under the ugly green tarps and scaffolds. Inside was also very pretty. St. Sulpice is the second biggest church in the city after Notre Dame so it was definitely a sight to behold. Vanessa and I bought candles for 50 eurocents each and put them in front of different depictions of religious figures as a way to give money to upkeep on the church. We hung around inside until we had seen everything and headed back to the hostel.

At this point I went next door to the internet café to get some online time and post updates, check email, all the regular stuff I take for granted. Finding internet everywhere I go is like some sort of sacred quest. I’m never truly happy until I can plug back into the matrix and get the flow of information going again. The email part is ok but what I really miss is talking to some of my friends who are abroad to see how life is going for them since they’re going through similar experiences, and the readily available information I have at my fingertips ready to be read and analyzed. I especially miss having easy access to Wikipedia because I want to read up on all these sights I’ve been visiting but my time online is already so short due to having to pay for internet access and it bugs the crap out of me.

After the joys of being on the internet ended when my time at the café was up I headed back upstairs and fell asleep while laying on my bed reading. It was barely 9 PM and I just dozed off. Oh well, I got plenty of sleep for the next day.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Museum, the Arc, and the Tower

Day four started at 8 AM when the girls woke me up. We all got ready for the day and went downstairs to our free breakfast of tea, croissants, coffee, and muffins. After breakfast we went to the grocery store a few blocks up from our hostel and got some bread, goat cheese, and I got a bottle of coke for lunch later at the Louvre. We hopped on the Metro and rode out to the museum, ending up at the underground entrance.

We got inside and began touring the massive museum before us. We saw pretty much every big part although not in much detail. All the signs are in French which made reading about the different artifacts a little difficult. We saw numerous statues from all different civilizations and time periods, lots of Egyptian artifacts, a bunch of rooms from Napoleon's apartment, and the big stuff like the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, Louis the XIV's crown, and more. It was definitely the best museum I've experienced. There's so much stuff packed into the building and admission was relatively cheap (nine euros) for all the history. We went outside to the front areas to eat our lunch and then back in for more exploring. After we had seen our fair share of the Louvre we went outside and walked through the park and up the Champs Elysees towards the Arc de Triomphe. We saw a bunch of fancy shops, a Disney store advertising lots of Ratatouille stuff, and then finally the Arc. After hanging out under the Arc taking photos we hopped back on the Metro to hit up the Eiffel Tower.

The Eiffel Tower was neat to see up close but there were thousands of people lined up underneath trying to go up top so we hung around at the bottom and the nearby park taking some pictures. Here's a great example of why it's always important to check your focus.

After the Eiffel Tower we headed back to the hostel and took a break for awhile. I hit up an internet cafe for awhile to log back into the matrix and check up on various things while the girls took a nap. When I got back we went out looking for a cheap place to eat but we were not successful. We ended up back at the grocery store buying more bread. Paris is fun but would be more fun with more money. Everything costs way too much here. The weather here is strange also. Barcelona was very hot and humid and Paris is very cold, gloomy, and windy. Also there's a few ads over here with American celebs selling stupid stuff. I saw a poster with Quentin Tarantino selling some sort of Vodka while we were driving through Paris on a taxi. Europe needs way more free WiFi. It's hard to find WiFi that works let alone finding one that does and having to pay big bucks. Hopefully the rest of the places I visit have free internet so I can keep updating on a regular basis.

Tomorrow are some churches!

In Transit

This morning I woke up after about two hours of sleep to thunder and
lightning and a massive downpour. It was about 4:30 AM. I got ready
for the day and hopped on the computer to check emails and stuff.
Debra and I called for a taxi and went outside to find it in the rain.

We finally found one and asked the guy to take us to the bus station
so we could catch the airport shuttle. When we told him where we
wanted to go he began cursing in spanish for who knows what reason and
drove us there. No tip for you buddy! We caught the shuttle and rode
out to the airport through the rain to catch our flight to Paris.
Debra's suitcase weighed too much for RyanAir's baggage limit so she
had to pay an extra 112 Euros. Ouch.

When we landed in France we had to take another shuttle into Paris
from the airport at Beauvais. This dropped us off at the Palais des
Congres on the upper west side of Paris. We took a taxi into
Montmarte to our hostel and ran into Vanessa at an internet cafe next
door. We had no idea how we were going to find her and she jumped out
at us right as we were walking by. We checked into our hostel and
unpacked our stuff. We have our own room with a private bathroom
which is really nice. We went to go find some food but everything
here costs 3x the normal price so we decided to go grocery shopping
for some inexpensive stuff. We ended up with some bread and cheese. When in Rome...

We were all really tired from various means of travel. Debra and I were wiped from waking up at 5 AM and flying into Paris. Vanessa had a long flight from the States into Paris. I fell asleep at about 9 PM and ended up getting 11 hours of sleep!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Day 2 - Trying To Remember My Spanish

So I finally got some rest. Ten hours in fact. I woke up to Debra poking me yelling something about the maid coming to clean the room up and we had to leave. We packed and took off to find some food. We decided to eat at a little cafe down the street from Debra's place. I had an espresso and a hot turkey sandwhich on pita bread. It began raining while we were eating so we decided to hurry up before it began to rain harder. It wasn't super hot but it was very humid. Debra and I had our bags with us as we walked through the city to the metro. Her bag weighs a ton. Like 70 pounds. That was a huge pain to carry up and down the stairs. We had to do a lot of legwork to get to the hostel. With Debra's stupid 70 pound suitcase.

When we finally got to the right place the humidty and heat had hit full strength and my shirt was completely soaked. We checked in and changed clothing and looked around the hostel. It was old and small but cozy. Free internet on a couple computers they had hooked up. Cheap washing machine and drier. Free TV with a bunch of DVDs to watch. Debra and I had a three person room so we met our roommate. She was from Brazil traveling all over Europe visiting different friends. After getting our stuff organized we headed out into Barcelona.

First thing we did was find a place to buy something to drink. We checked a bunch of different places for water and a Coke but everyone wanted at least 2 euros for a water or a coke so we went to McDonalds for cheaper beverages. I miss ice in my soda. McDonalds sucks in the US but it's even worse abroad. Way overcrowded and smelly with gross looking food. Once we finished up rehydrating we decided to head to La Rambla to see what the hype was.

La Rambla apparently is just a crowded street with a bunch of tourist shops in the middle and a bunch of expensive restaurants on the side. There were also a bunch of stands with caged animals inside on the middle part of the street. We saw all types of birds including chickens and pigeons in cages, hamsters, ferrets, turtles, mice, and prarie dogs. A bunch of people were also dressed as statues and would scare little kids who put money in their can. Overall I wasn't impressed at all with the place but oh well. Now I can say I've been there. At the far end of the place they had a giant outdoor market selling different fruits and meats that we stopped at called La Boqueria. Debra and I got some yellow watermelon just because it was yellow and it was watermelon and then headed out to Park Guell.

Park Guell was really neat. They had a lot of wide open spaces and sculptures and stuff to look at. We got some great views of the city and of the ocean and ran around the caves they have there. The place was enormous and way too big to see all of it in the time we were there. It started to rain on us again so we decided to head back before we got stuck in a downpour and we were both pretty tired anyway. We kept seeing different places for Tapas so we decided to hit up a Tapas bar on the way back to the hostel.

The concept of Tapas is pretty cool. A bunch of appetizers as a meal was a strange way to eat dinner but that was cool with me. I got a bunch of different chicken based ones while Debra was more adventurous; ordering french fries with mayo, veal meatballs, and other strange items. After dinner we headed back to the hostel to relax for a little bit before we went back out to get some dessert. When we did go back out we went to this little place by Debra's school for ice cream, churros, and soda. The ice cream cones they have here are really good. I dont remember the exact name, something like Cornnet or something. Anyway it was really good for packaged ice cream. Then back to the hostel.

When we got back there were a bunch of people hanging out in the living room playing cards, watching TV, and listening to someones iPod on a set of speakers. There were a bunch of Brits and Aussies hanging out drinking beers and listening to Blink 182. Debra and I talked with them for awhile and one guy said he used to work out in Carlsbad for a summer and was glad to meet some more people from SD/LA. It was getting late and Debra and I both had to wake up at 6 AM the next day to catch a flight to Paris so we headed to bed. While we were trying to sleep the rest of the hostelers were yelling outside the door about how much fun they were going to have while clubbing tonight and this and that and didn't shut up for at least two hours. I got about two hours of sleep that night.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Day One - DDay

My plane left at 6:35 AM on Sunday morning of August 5th. On the night of the 4th I went to La Bella with a big group of friends and had a final going away party. I went home to continue packing and get everything arranged for the trip. At about 3 AM Andrew and Mitchell came by to drop off some GameBoy games I left in Sidney's car earlier and then left. At 4:00 I grabbed a shower and then we left for the airport. My grandparents met us there and Kylie's friend Katie came along to see me off. When I got up to the metal detectors everyone but me got all teary eyed as they said goodbye for 10 months. I waved and went through security and on down to the gate.

I flew US Airways to Philadelphia. On the flight they showed Shrek 3 which was a pretty lame movie. Then they showed some other stupid TV shows. I mostly played Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and listened to my iPod. I also started reading La Bella Figura that my Uncle gave me. I began to watch Umbrellas of Cherbourg but had to turn my laptop off because we began descending. It was a cramped ride with my giant backpack between my legs because it was too big to fit under the seat in front of me.

I landed in Philly and grabbed a slice of pizza and called my parents to say hi and let them know I got in safe. After I finished eating I jumped on the plane to Milan began to wait. We were supposed to take off at 3:25 Philly time but didnt leave until around 4 PM. We were sitting on the tarmac the whole time waiting in line for the other planes. We finally took off and began the nine hour journey across the Atlantic. I talked with a woman next to me who was headed to Sicily to visit family. We watched another crappy movie about a firefighting dog, Blades of Glory, an episode of Frasier, and some lame dolphin nature show that had to be 15 years old because it looked terrible. I got about an hour of sleep the whole time because airplanes aren't really all that comfortable. The air is super dry and stale. It's pretty damn cold in the cabin all the time. People around you are reading magazines at all hours of the night. The list goes on. Oh and also US Airways is a terrible airline. The food was absolutely terrible. The VCR on the plane barely worked and so every video they showed was full of graphics artifacts and bad sound and they needed to adjust the tracking but they were retards and didn't know how. The only real redeeming quality of the flight is that it landed safely in Milan which I guess is the only important thing but for 900 bucks one way I'd like a little but more.

When we finally landed at 6:30 AM Milan time they didnt have a gate for us so we parked out between a bunch of full gates and walked down the stair car to a waiting bus. The bus dropped us off at the terminal and immigration stamped my passport. They guy didn't say anything except "Ciao" and then I got my stamp and kept walking. While waiting for my bags an American couple started talking to me asking about what I was doing in Milan. I told them I was studying in Bologna for ten months and that I'm traveling for 18 days around western Europe before school starts. Their advice to me was get drunk every day and drink all the wine in Italy, sleep with as many girls as I could, go clubbing in Ibiza, and live it up every day. I nodded and told them that that was actually my plan all along and they laughed and took off. I got my stuff and boarded the shuttle for the Milan train station to meet up with Nicoletta.

On the shuttle over I noticed that every other car was a Volkswagen and there sure are a lot of BMWs. SUVs are about as rare here as a Lamborghini is back home. The radio started playing a dance remix of "Tell Me Baby" from Red Hot Chili Peppers. I also took note of the massive amounts of graffiti everywhere and made a mental note to avoid crossing paths as a pedestrian with Italian drivers because they are pretty crazy. Italy has a lot of really cool signs on buildings. I appreciate quality graphic design and Italy has some pretty awesome signs on what would normally be a boring office building. The streets are also filled with random giant holes that are roped off. The streets are narrow and the little cars zip around like bees.

I got to the train station and waited a few minutes before Nicoletta came running towards me. It was nice to see a friendly face. I hadn't really slept in over 37 hours and I was a little spaced out so I blindly followed her through doorways and up escalators until we reached the main part of the station. I called my parents to let them know I got in OK and we waited for our train to get in. The train station is just massive with the strangest ads. One was a guy dressed as a clown with a sad look on his face selling mini hamburgers. When our train arrived we ran to our car and I attempted to put all my luggage up above the seats but my one bag was too heavy so I had to hold it in the 4 foot wide hallway. It took us about an hour to reach Reggio Emilia and I got to see the Italian country side so it was nice and scenic. When we got off the train we met up with Nicoletta's mom and climbed into the Fiat Panda and drove the few blocks it is to her place.

I put my stuff down and talked to her mom for a little bit in Italian trying to remember all the proper agreements but screwing them up anyway and then took one of the best feeling showers I've ever had. She hooked up my hard drive and downloaded my music library to her laptop and we went out into the town to grab some food. We went to the bread shop and got some bread called Gnocco which was delicious and some erbazzione which is the same bread as gnocco but stuffed with spinach and cheese which was also pretty good. Then we went to the horse butcher and got some ground horse meat to make for lunch. We stopped to get something to drink in the town square and I remembered seeing the square when I was looking at Nicoletta's photo album a few months earlier. We got back to her place and her mom had made us lunch. We had some meats and vegetables, then some pasta with bacon mixed in, then the ground horse meat which tasted great. I cracked the obvious joke and said "Next time someone tells me 'Hey, I'm so hungry I could eat a horse.' I'll say 'Yeah I've done that. It tasted good.'" After we finished eating we had some free time so I decided to take a short nap around 12:30 PM before we went back out to get a new sim card for me. That was a huge mistake.

It had been about 40 hours with no real sleep and I think I fell asleep before my head even hit the pillow; like mid air. When Nicoletta woke me back up my eyes were swollen and I couldn't really see anything. It was all fuzzy and blurry. My whole body hurt and I had a headache and I felt terrible. We went to the mall and got a new sim card and then got 2 espressos which reversed the damage done by that one hour of sleep and then headed home. As we were driving I realized that Italians love roundabouts. They are everywhere. Sometimes even next to eachother so you have to do a figure eight to get to where you need to be. It seems silly to drive in circles everywhere but it was kinda fun so I guess it's not so bad but it's strange to get places by driving in circles. On the way home we saw another set of graffiti but this one read "Io e te tre metri sopra il cielo." Maybe two or three of you will laugh at that but for those who have no idea what I'm talking about let me explain. There's this Italian movie made I guess for the tween market called "Io e te tre metri sopra il cielo." It's about these kids who throw parties and rebel against their parents and its just like every other movie but it was still somewhat enjoyable in the guilty pleasure category. So anyway, we learned from Nicoletta that that phrase (Io e Te ...) is spraypainted all over Italy. I'm going to photograph any more I see.

We got back and tried to fix Nicoletta's router to get internet but it didn't like us so we gave up and headed back to the train station to head to Forli where my plane took off for Barcelona. On the trip over I apparently fell asleep while Nicoletta was talking to me mid sentence and now there's an awesome picture of me passed out on facebook. We rode past Bologna and I got to see where I'll be heading in a few weeks. When we got to Forli we went to another coffee shop and I ordered another espresso to keep me awake for awhile to meet up with Debra at Estacio del Nord in Barcelona. Her mom made me a sandwhich and put some of the bread we bought earlier along with it so I had an awesome meal on the flight.

Speaking of the flight, RyanAir is a really great way to travel. They fly to airports that are a little bit out of the way of the main city but the perk is that the flights are super cheap. My trip from Forli to Barcelona cost about $45. Italians hate waiting in line so everyone mobbed the gate and we ran out onto the tarmac to board the plane. RyanAir has no first class seating and no reserved seating so you find a seat and sit down. They dont serve anything on the flight except they do sell snacks (chips, candy, etc.) for a euro or two. The flight was pretty quick and when we landed the whole plane erupted into clapping and cheering for the pilots as we safely landed and began heading towards the airport. I guess they dont do the tunnel to the airplane thing here because I have yet to board or depart through one of those tunnel things. Each place has stairs and then you walk to the terminal.

I bought a ticket for the shuttle from Girona airport to Barcelona's Estacio del Nord (main bus station) and waited for my luggage. The baggage guys put all of our baggage on the wrong carousel so there was a lot of confusion and swearing and angry Italians/1 white guy which means the noise level of the aiport shot up about 30 db. 45 minutes after we landed I got my bag and hopped on the shuttle to the bus station in Barcelona. On the way over I passed a giant glowing Coca Cola sign and a bunch of other neon signs in the city and felt a little bit like Bill Murray in the first couple scenes of Lost in Translation only at least the words were still readable. He had to look at Japanese on the buildings. Anyway, half way through the trip we got to a toll booth and the bus driver didn't stop fast enough and he hit a toll booth arm. A bunch of people laughed and clapped and we sat there for a few minutes while he talked to the toll booth guy. When I got to Estacio del Nord and met up with Debra it was 1:15 AM.

It's now been about 53 hours since I last got a good night of sleep with only about 2 hours of crappy rest. Debra came running at me and we both laughed about how we're meeting up at 1 AM on the other side of the world in Barcelona, Spain. We got a taxi cab and before we could get inside some crazy woman comes running at the taxi driver screaming because he didn't pull up to the front area where they were waiting and he yells back before dismissing her entirely and asks us where to. Debra and the guy talk in spanish and the parts I could understand a little bit. Debra had no idea what the address was for the residence, just the streets its by and the general area. The old guy driving the taxi wanted the exact address but gave in when he knew he wasn't going to get it and drove us over the general area of Barcelona where we had to walk the rest of the way. I met Debra's roommates from kansas university and logged online to check my emails and what the rest of the world was up to and skyped my parents to say hi. I got ready for bed and laid down. I finally passed out at 3:30 AM after not really sleeping for 56ish hours. Not sleeping for that long is strange. I kept hearing different voices of my friends talking to me and asking me questions but they weren't there. (obviously) I also had trouble seeing and figuring out how to do random tasks on my computer. Kinda fun looking back on it but no fun at the time.

It's late, I'm in Spain, that was my day.


I no longer have my US cell phone number. Don't bother calling it because I won't be turning the phone on for 10 months.

Italian mobile: 39 320 762 8531 From Italy
011 39 320 762 8531 From the US


Skype: ianmcorrigan

AIM: ElZekk

Address coming soon.