Europe Essay, Research Paper
Friday, July 23rd — Paris, France
I spent my second night in a youth hostel in Paris last night. I arrived in Paris around 6:00am local time two days ago. The flight from LAX to Orly airport was ten about hours long. It wasn’t so bad, though. There was nobody sitting next to me and a nice, elderly French lady two seats away. The charter flight that I flew on was run by a French airline, and it seemed that the majority of the passengers were French-speaking. When we were taking off from LA, all of the announcements were in both French and English, but the frequency of the English announcements seemed to decline as we got farther and farther away from the United States.
Customs was amazingly simple. I breezed right though, and emerged into the center of the Orly airport. I was a bit disoriented at first. There I was, in Europe for the first time, and I didn’t have even the beginnings of a plan. I changed some money and found out how to get into Paris (Orly is outside of the city). I rode a rail system into the edge of Paris where it intersected the main Paris Metro. After a lot of staring at Metro maps, I finally managed to figure out what station the youth hostel I wanted to go to was near, and after some confusion, managed to get there. I felt victorious when I emerged out into the Paris morning at the Republique station.
As I was looking for the hostel, a man took one glance at me and pointed across the street. Wearing my big backpack and fumbling through my guidebook, I guess it was pretty obvious what I was looking for.
It turned out that the hostel was full, but the guy at the desk was sending people to another. When I was making a reservation, he accidentally thought that I was with two Swedes who were at the desk with me. I’ve been the honorary “third Swede” ever since. Their names are Karin and Torbjorn. They are both really nice, and speak English quite well — much better than I speak Swedish, anyway. I’ve decided that Swedish is an impossible language. Not only can I not understand a word, I can’t even make the sounds you need to speak the language. In particular, in order to pronounce the word for the number “7″ in Swedish you have to make contortions with your mouth that no person should have to be subjected to.
While they are quite fluent in English, they don’t know much slang, and are delighted whenever I teach them something like the proper pronunciation of the word “cool”. For whatever reason, Karin is completely fascinated by the phrase “inversely proportional”. She keeps trying to find things that are inversely proportional to each other just so that she can say the words. Strange people, these Swedes.
Even though they speak English perfectly well, they still have this annoying habit of speaking Swedish in my presence. Whenever they do this, I launch into my best impersonation of the Swedish chef to indicate that I have no idea what they are saying. Lately, they’ve gotten even sneakier, and will insert my name randomly into a Swedish conversation (”Dee hurden beeden luden Mike, borden shdrooden”) to make it seem as though they are talking about me.
The same day that I arrived, the Swedes and I went sightseeing. According to my biological clock, it was night, but it was still morning in Paris. I figured the best way to adjust was to stay awake until local night time. We went first to Notre Dame, where I took a brilliant picture of my camera strap.
We then took random busses all over town, miraculously ending up at the Arc de Triumph. We climbed the stairs to the top for a great view of Paris. We then went to find someplace to eat. We ended up walking around an African-Parisian area, and found a little restaurant. We all ordered the Menu — a fixed price meal including entree, plat (main course) and dessert or cheese. I had a ham entree, beef tongue (yes, I ordered that on purpose — it wasn’t a language blunder) for the plat, and chocolate mousse for dessert. The food was quite good, however the restrooms were my first exposure to the lovely custom of supplying nothing but a pair of footprints and a hole as fixtures.
After dinner, we went to the Sacre Cours. It is an amazing church atop a hill and is very beautiful inside. Although I’m religiously challenged, I paid my five francs, lit a candle, and placed it in one of the candle holders. The stairs in front of the church seem to be a place where young people gather to drink and socialize — there were many little groups passing around bottles of wine. Next to the church is a square where many portrait painters solicit business. After valiantly fending off the artists who wanted to render our likenesses, we went to the base of the hill and, after having a drink at a little cafe, rode a little elevator back up the hill to the church.
Torbjorn convinced us that we absolutely had to go to an area of Paris called Pigalle. It turned out that this is Paris’ red light district. The hawkers yell at you in English as you walk bye “Come on! Good *censored* show! You will like!” I got my picture taken with some mannequins in the entrance to one of the establishments, and the hawker got angry when we didn’t go in. After having our fill of such things, we returned to the hotel via the Metro. They were working on one of the Metro lines that we wanted to travel on, so we had to detour around it. On the way back, Torbjorn was accosted by a drunk Sri Lankan, and none of our combined language skills could figure out exactly what he wanted. Finally, we got back to the hostel around 12:30. It was great to go to sleep. I hadn’t yet slept since arriving in Paris and had been up for a good 36 hours at this point. Despite my long first day in Paris, I got up at 8:00 the next morning and had the complimentary hostel breakfast. This consisted of a piece of bread, jam, and a bowl of hot chocolate or coffee. Along with my Swedish friends I grabbed the metro to the Eiffel Tower. We rode the elevator to the top. Amazing view. This tower is really, really tall.
That afternoon, we ventured outside of Paris to Versailles, stopping for lunch in a little restaurant along the way. Versailles was quite beautiful — particularly the gardens. Touring the famous interior I found quite boring, however. It was frustrating being herded around with the hordes of other people also there. The highlight of my visit was obtaining a receipt that said I’d paid my franc and a half for the priveledge of using the Versailles bathroom. On the metro on the way back into Paris, we started up a conversation with a group of French people. It ended up being a French lesson, with one woman pulling all sorts of odds and ends out of her purse and telling us the French words for them. We then took a ride on the Bateaux-Mouches — boats that go up and down the Seine while speakers blare out the sites in several languages as you drift by. Cheesy tourist trap, but fun. At one point, you can see both the Satue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower at the same time. How can this be, you say? Well, the French gave Liberty to the US, but they kept a small version at home.
We had dinner in the latin quarter at an Italian restaurant and wandered around for a while, checking out the Pantheon — Abutille Saint Germain. We rode the Metro back to the hostel, helping a couple of recently arrived Brits get their bearings along the way.
I got up at 7:30 this morning I’m about to have breakfast. I’ve got to call Mom this morning — she’s probably not sure if I’m alive or not.
Saturday, July 24th, 1993 — Gard du Nord, Paris, France
I’m just leaving Paris on a train bound for Brussels. My first train trip in Europe has already gone awry. I missed my scheduled train by about a minute. I’m taking the next one, but it will get my to Brussels a few hours late. I hope I can find a place to stay. I said goodbye to Karin and Torbjorn on the Metro on the way to the train station. They are off to Djon. It would have been nice to travel with them some more as I really liked them, but I have to take my vacation, not theirs. I got up yesterday morning and had the same wonderful breakfast in the hostel. I called Mom, but calculated the time difference the wrong way — it was 2:00am back in Saskatoon (my home town, in the province of Saskatchewan, Canada). She was groggy, but happy to know that I was ok. The Swedes and I wandered around a market for a while. A guy asked me, “Combien?” thinking that I was the vendor of a booth. It taxed my French to try to tell him otherwise, but that alone got the point across.
We then went to Place de Concorde. Torbjorn took a picture of me standing in the center of Champs d’Elysse with the Arc de Triumph behind me and traffic all around. He chickened out and didn’t let the cars get close enough, though. We had lunch at Chez Ronald (my name for McDonald’s in Paris). Quite a trip. The same old thing as in North America, except more expensive. They do sell wine, though (this is France, after all). We went to the Seine near Notre Dame and slept in the grass along the bank for a few hours. Afterward, we walked along the river past booksellers and musicians. We saw an attractive woman giving a man a massage in the grass, and I shouted, “Moi ausie!” She lookup up, quite embarrassed. Got to love being an obnoxious foreigner.
That evening, we went to Place de la Bastille. It is quite the hangout spot. There are motorcycles parked everywhere and all sorts of little bars and restaurants. We found a bumper car ride and had a blast smashing into each other. Some things are international, I guess. We had a drink in one of the local bars. Karin’s coke was 23ff. More expensive than wine! We returned to the hostel and met two guys from Edinburgh. One had had his passport, money, and the rest of the stuff in his money belt stolen the day before. They had slept in someone’s private garden the night before because they couldn’t find a hostel that had space.
Tuesday, August 3rd, 1993 — Berlin, Germany
I haven’t written anything for a while because I’ve been really busy. On our last afternoon in Hamburg, Carlos and I went back to the city center and had beer and bratwurst. We drank monk-brewed beer (brewed by the Franciscans) in big glasses and got a passerby to take our picture. The next morning, I hopped a train to Berlin, and Carlos was off to Paris to meet some friends he planned to travel with. He’s invited me to stay with him in Lisbon in September if I pass through Portugal. I just might take him up on it.
I barely made my train to Berlin — I was late, but luckily so was the train. I met two Norwegian girls on the train — Ann Christin and Charlotte. They are both 18. I ended up spending two days here in Berlin with them. The first day we got in about noon. The first hostel we tried was full, but we managed to get into another hostel out in the boonies in East Berlin. We went back into the center and went up in the TV. tower, getting a great view of the city. We then visited the Berlin Rathaus and saw the Brandenburg Gate.
We were there just at sunset and it was a very impressive sight. It was strange to think that I was in East Berlin. We went to the area around the Zoo metro station and wandered around for a while. We stopped at a beer garden and had some Lowenbrau. It was much better than the version we get back in the States. They had a live band playing and a large, drunk German woman was dancing out of control.
Afterward, while we were walking down the street, I was suddenly grabbed from behind by a guy shouting things at me. I thought I was being attacked by some crazy person, but when I turned around it was Torbjorn and Karin!! I was completely surprised and very, very happy to see my Swedish friends. I think I must have had a big grin on my face for the rest of the night. They had been to Djon, Strausburg, and Marseilles. They had randomly decided to spend a few days in Berlin on their way back to Sweden. What a coincidence that I should run into them. It turned out that it was Torbjorn’s 23rd birthday, so we all went out for ice cream to celebrate. They were meeting a friend of Karin’s the next day to go see a concentration camp outside of Berlin, so we decided to meet up with them and go as well.
The next day, before meeting the Swedes, the Norwegians and I went to see Checkpoint Charlie. The checkpoint itself wasn’t very impressive, but the museum they have there is fascinating. We had to leave after seeing only part of it and were still late to meet the others. We found them and went to meet what seemed to be half of the population of Sweden. Karin’s friend was with two other guys, and we then went to meet the sister of one of them. Then we hooked up with somebody’s cousin, and the another sister, and in the end I wound up in the company of ten Scandanavians.
The concentration camp was at the end of a train line and it took us a long time to get there. The museum was closed because it was Monday, but we were still able to walk around the camp. It was fascinating in a horrible sort of way. We saw the places where they carried out public hangings, the places where they would drop people into underground bunkers to die, the complex where they shot or gassed people and then cremated them. Particularly disturbing was a Pathology lab where they did unspeakable things. I found it very strange to know that I was standing on the exact site where all of this horror took place.
Over the course of the day, I remembered how much I liked Torbjorn and Karin. It’s amazing how close you can get to people over a short period of time when you are traveling. After returning to the city, we went out to an Italian place for dinner and then it was time for the Swedes to leave. We headed for Haptbahnhoff, the main train station, and I said goodbye to them for a second time. I feel certain that I will see Karin and Torbjorn again, either in Sweden or in California. Later that evening, I saw the Norwegian girls off to their train for Prague. I said goodbye to them and then I was alone again. I went back to the hostel and crashed.
This morning I missed breakfast because my clock was wrong and I overslept. I managed to snag some bread and cheese and headed off into the city. I went to the Pergamemnon museum, where they have reconstructed much of the ancient Greek city of Pergamemnon (a place in Turkey). They also had a reconstruction of one of the entrances to the city of Babylon. Leaving the museum, I stopped by a nearby cathedral where a brass band was playing for money. They seemed to be doing quite well for themselves. The inside of the church was quite impressive, but I’ve seen quite a few churches so far on this trip and they are getting kind of old.
This afternoon, on a whim, I went to the Berlin zoo. It was very comprehensive in it’s collection, but the conditions in which the animals were living was worse than most other zoos I’ve seen. Afterward, I went to try to get to a section of the Berlin wall that I’d been seeing a lot as I rode by on the U-Bahn (the Berlin metro). It took me a while to find a way it, but it was worth it. In once place there were three tanks stacked to make an arch. Next to it, there was a part of the wall that used to be a guard post. I went up the steps and out on the top. This was where the guards would have stood while patrolling the wall. Farther down, there was a large section of the wall that had memorials to those that had died trying to cross, painted on it. Because the area wasn’t very accessible, there was almost nobody else around.
Later, I went to Tiergarten, a HUGE park in the middle of the city. It was absolutely beautiful. After strolling around for a while (and noticing that clothing appeared to be optional), I went to Haptbahnhoff to check on the train situation. My plan was to go to Prague next. The woman at the international ticket desk spoke no English, and my German is almost non-existent, so I couldn’t manage to convey the details of my needs to her. The problem is that my rail pass isn’t valid in the Czech Republic, so I need a ticked from the German/Czech border to Prague. I’ve decided to deal with it en route, and just hop on the night train for Prague. I’m now in the station waiting for the train.
Thursday, August 5th, 1993 — Prague, Czech Republic
I met a guy from New York and two girls from Seattle in the station while waiting for the train to Prague. When the train arrived, we all piled into a compartment together. Because of my communication problem in Berlin, I didn’t have a ticket for Prague, so I was told that I had to get out at the border and purchase a ticket for the rest of the trip there. The ticket guy also said that I needed a visa for Czech Republic, but I knew that that wasn’t true — Americans don’t need visas there. We all fell asleep, and I awoke to find the train stopped. I found out that we were at the border, but I didn’t know how long we had been there. As I got off the train, a conductor made hand gestures to me that seemed to indicate that the train would be leaving soon. I ran around, and finally found the ticket office. The woman behind the counter spoke no English, but I was able to convey to her that I needed a ticket to Prague. She merrily rung up the price in Czech crowns — a currency that I had none of. To my surprise, she wouldn’t take deutchmarks.
Frustrated, I figured I’d get back on the train and deal with it when the ticket collector came by. I left the ticket office just in time to see my train pulling away, gathering speed. It dawned on my that my backpack was still on the train and that I’d better get on it as well. I ran alongside the moving train, and just as I was about to jump on like I was in some sort of action movie, I realized that it wasn’t my train! I’m not quite sure how I came to that realization, but I’m very glad I did. Jumping on the train, aside from being a less than safe thing to do would have placed me on route to god knows where in the Czech Republic at 2:00 in the morning, with my backpack bound for Prague.
I found my way back to my train, still without a ticket. I almost made it to Prague, but got busted one stop away and had to pay the collector 20 deutchmarks (it would have been 8 if I’d bought the ticket in Germany). We got into Prague at 5:30am, and were attacked in the station by people who wanted us to stay at their apartments or youth hostels. We ended up going to a hostel in a school near the city center, and have bunks in a classroom. We went and wandered around the main drag that runs through the city center.
While changing money at the American Express office, we met some girls from the States where were in Prague for a figure skating workshop. They told us about a fun place to go dancing and we agreed to meet them there that night. We went to a restaurant recommended by a tour book for lunch. The food wasn’t amazing, but the beer, a brand called Gambrinus, was outstanding.
Liam (the guy from New York) and I dropped the girls (Kristi and Dara) off at the hostel and went back out. We saw Wenceslas square and watched the famous clock strike six. The clock has animated figures. A skeleton bangs on something and other figures move around.
We walked to the Charles Bridge, where people gather to sell things and play music and such. The bridge itself is fascinating, with detailed sculptures every few yards on both sides. I saw two girls that looked kind of familiar. Just as I was coming to realize who they were, they tackled me — it was the Norwegian girls from Berlin. I talked with them for a bit, and they headed off, going to catch a night train for Vienna.
Saturday, August 7th, 1993 — Prague, Czech Republic
I haven’t had a chance to continue that last entry until now. That first night in Prague, we went out to find a place to drink. It was raining and there was lots of thunder and lightning. Wenceslas square was really cool with lightning flashing behind the old, scary-looking church. We looked for a while before we found a nice pub on the corner of the square. We went down a wooden spiral staircase into the basement. There were no free tables, so we piled in along side a guy from Boston (Desmond) and his cousin Steven, from Dublin. They had both had a bit to drink already. Steven and I went back and forth making fun of each other. He was quite a character.
We were drinking Pilser Urquell, the fine brew named after the town of Pilzen. Half-liter glasses cost only the equivalent of 50 cents American. There were a bunch of Czech guys at the next table. Desmond told us that they were street musicians. They ended up sending shots of vodka over to Kristi and Dara. The pub closed at midnight, and we hung out in front for a while avoid the rain which was coming down in torrents at this point (it was pissing, as Steven put it). Eventually, we went for broke and ran out into the rain. While stopped in an alcove for a breather, Desmond reached into his backpack for something, and when he pulled out his hand, pills of all shapes, sizes, and colors spilled out into the street. He had joked earlier about being a pharmacist and how he could get his hands on any drugs he wanted. This certainly seemed to be the case. He collected his supplies as best he could, looking rather embarrassed.
We ended up at a disco called Hollywood — the club that we were supposed to meet the figure skaters at. It was quite a scene. Liam and I danced for a while with the figure skaters. They were staying at a hotel with an adjoining skating rink, and were in Prague with a Czech woman who had defected to the US and was now their coach. She had been in the Olympics in the 60’s. We went outside with a couple of the skaters onto a big balcony. It was still raining, and we stood underneath an umbrella for shelter. Suddenly a Czech woman grabbed my arm and shouted something at me. I wasn’t sure what was going on. Eventually it became clear that she just wanted to dance. So, I ended up dancing with a barefoot Czech woman in the rain for a while. We went back inside and danced some more. I went to the bathroom and met an Italian guy. We had an incredibly meaningful conversation that mainly consisted of us saying names of Italian foods and places (Linguini! Fettuccini! Napoli!…)
We decided to leave around three, and had to wait while Kristi got a hot dog in a baguette. While waiting, Dara was approached by a guy who said he’d spent all of his money on beer and his “homey” with the rest of the money had disappeared. He wanted 100 crowns for a cab, and Dara, who was pretty smashed at this point, made it her mission to get it for him. We got back to the hostel around four. Quite a long first day in Prague.
The next morning, we got up and wet to the butcher, baker, and grocery store near us to get stuff for breakfast. Everything was ridiculously cheap. The shops in the tourist area of Prague are cheap, but as soon as you get a few blocks out of the way, the prices cut in half. We walked through the square and over the Charles bridge. I was really struck by the beauty of the city. I think it is the nicest place I’ve been so far. We walked up to Prague Castle, high on a hill overlooking the city. The castle is a huge place. We went to a few galleries. One had a collection of 20th century French painters — Picasso Monet, Rousseau, Mattisse, Renoir, etc. After visiting the castle, Dara bought us all ice cream. After finishing our cones, we had a passerby take our picture in one of the alcoves in the wall of the Castle.
On our way back to the hostel, Liam and I were waiting for Kristi and Dara to run an errand when we noticed an incredibly beautiful woman walk by. Suddenly, she came back to us saying that she was desperate to have a conversation with an American. Her name was Bianca, and she said that she was 17 (she looked over 20). She told us that she’d been born in Czech, but had gone to New York when she was 14 to model in Miami.
Later that day, we saw Dara and Kristi off. They were taking a train to Munich. We me two other girls back at the hostel, and asked them if they wanted to do something with us that evening. They said yes, but they were going to the opera (!). We decided to meet them at the clock.
Liam and I wandered around for a bit. We heard a wonderful string quartet playing. When we saw them, we realized that they were the Czech guys we’d met at the pub the night before! When the finished the piece they were playing, we went over and said hello. The only guy who spoke English, Krystof, said that he’d meet us in the pub later on. We went to the pub to meet him, but had a run-in with proprietor and left. We ended up having an expensive beer outside in the square (expensive being $1.50 for a half liter of good beer). We met the girls and went back to the pub. Their names were Michelle and Bree and they were from Cuppurtino, California. They told us that their “opera” turned out to be a two-person vaudeville-like show (guess that explains the cheap tickets…) It sounded like it was hilarious — particularly if you were expecting a full-on opera, as they were.
We met Krystof at the pub, but he was involved with some other friends, and asked if we could meet him the next night. I said “maybe”, and he replied “no, surely”. Michelle and Bree dragged us to a club called the Bunkr where a friend of theirs was supposed to be. We found the place, and descended down a flight of stairs into a dark space with black walls. Very gothic. It was mostly metal music and the place was packed with bizarre people. The whole dance floor was one big pit. I was wearing my tivas so it was kind of dangerous. I had to dance very aggressively to keep people from stomping on my feet (it didn’t always work — it’s amazing that I didn’t get any permanent damage) and to keep people from knocking the girls off of the dance floor. Liam had on big, solid shoes and was bouncing all over the place.
Sunday, August 8th — Budapest, Hungary
Picking up where I left off… Friday was spent doing laundry. Literally, we spent almost the entire day doing laundry. After a search, we finally found what must be the only public laundry in Prague. It took us at least four hours to get the job done. I ended up with clean, but wet and green (so that’s why you separate the colors from the whites…) clothes. We went back to the hostel and said goodbye to the Cuppurtino girls who were about to leave for Berlin. We went to change money and I ran into Bianca, the Czech model, again.
We found a place to eat dinner. There were no free tables, so we sat down next to two girls from Australia. We go to know them while trying to get service from a blitzed bar tender. It turned out that they were sisters. One, Jodi, had been in Europe for a year and the other, Vicki, was visiting her. They’d been living in Prague for a while. We gave up trying to get served and they took us to their favorite restaurant. It was a great little place. We sat outside and had a nice meal. You can’t complain about a good meal in a really nice restaurant for less than a dollar.
After dinner, we all went to our favorite pub for a drink. Krystof was supposed to meet us there for a drink, but he wasn’t there. We met, of all people, two Australian brothers to complement the two sisters we already had in our party. A while later, Krystof showed up and introduced us to two Czechs named Adela and Andre and tow others, Frederic and Claire, who were visiting them from Aix, France on a school exchange. We had been drinking for a while when I heard the word “Swede” in the background. I bellowed out “Jog are Svenske!”, the only Swedish phrase I knew. As dutifully taught to me by my Swedish friends it meant “I am Swedish”. Apparently my pronunciation wasn’t too bad because I soon had two Swedes jabbering at me. We switched to English once it became apparent that I really didn’t speak Swedish. After the pub closed, we wandered around with our new Czech and French friends. We agreed to meet them the next day, and Liam and I returned to the hostel.
The next morning, Liam and I were distraught to find out that our favorite food shops were closed (it being Sunday and all) and we couldn’t get our usual breakfast. While looking for a place to get something to eat we ran into a guy named Kevin from Dallas. We had lunch with him and then went and met our friends from the night before. They took us to see the John Lennon wall. This was the place where people would gather to meet before Czechoslovakia was freed from Communist rule. The wall was covered with artwork and slogans, dominated by a picture of Lennon and the song lyrics (in English) “All we are saying is give peace a chance.”
We went and crashed in the grass in a nearby park for about an hour and then had a drink in an outdoor garden. We went across the river for dinner. The place we were planning on going to was too expensive. We found a cheaper place and had beer and goulash. The waiter tried to rip us off. The rest of the group was going to accept it, but I wouldn’t let it go. We ended paying what the bill should have been and left to go see Krystof’s quartet play. We’d seen him earlier in the day. While going up an escalator in a metro station when we hear a voice shouting our names. Krystof was going down on the escalator next to us. He ran down and the back up to greet us, huffing and puffing. A word about the escalators in Prague. They’re crazy! They are twice as steep and twice and steep as any I’ve ever seen. You get used to it after a while, but it’s scary the first time you get on one. Anyway, we listened to Krystof’s group play and then went for a beer at the pub. Liam and I reluctantly told everyone that we had to leave, as we were catching a train that night for Budapest. Krystof gave me his card and an American dollar bill that he’d gotten as a tip playing that night.
We just barely made our train. When we got on, there were no empty compartments and people were trying to keep compartments to themselves. Eventually, we forced ourselves into a compartment occupied by a German woman and a Hungarian guy. We had to be very forceful at first, but things worked out in the end. By morning, they were telling us how to get around in Budapest and were giving us food and drink.
At the station, we were mobbed by hawkers from a hostel. They practically shoved us into a van and took us to their place of employment. We promptly left, and checked out another hostel. It was nice (on the top of the Citadel — a hill overlooking the Danube), but it was quite isolated and we decided to stay at the first place. On the way back, I sliced up my toe on a bit of metal sticking up from the sidewalk. It was kind of ugly — I hope it doesn’t get infected. We went to an amazing restaurant for dinner. I had goose breast in mushroom sauce. Dinner, complete with great bread, beer, and a generous tip for the waiter cost us only 300 florens (a little over $3). Incredible!
Monday, August 9th — Budapest, Hungary
I woke up in the crowded dorm room this morning and realized that I really need some time to just relax in my own place with my own shower and no roommates. I’ve been traveling “alone” in Europe for some weeks now, but I’ve hardly ever really been alone. Maybe I’ll get a hotel room for a few days in Vienna, my next stop. At least I think it’s my next stop. Liam keeps trying to persuade me to go to Bucharest, Romania with him. It’s tempting, as I’d like to see Romania, but I feel more like going west.
Wednesday, August 11th — Budapest, Hungary
Monday, Liam and I did the tourist thing and went to see parliament. There wasn’t much to see, really. Very impressive building, though. I got my picture taken with a statue of some famous Hungarian poet. We went a walled city-within-a-city and wandered around. Not much fun, but we had a nice view of Buda. I say Buda because Budapest gets its name from two separate cities, Buda and Pest, one on each side of the Danube.
We had dinner in the same, great restaurant. I had turkey breast and broccoli in cheese sauce with roast potatoes. Yum! We met up with Jean Phillipe and his friend Julie. While searching for someplace to have a drink we picked up another American. He was pretty obnoxious. He observed that when you meet two American girls traveling together, one is always the fun one and the other is the spoiler. He told us that what you need to do is execute a good old “pick and roll” with a friend. He takes out the spoiler so that you can get a clean shot at the fun one.
We found a cool place called Morrison’s Music Pub, but I was getting really tired we were planning on catching an early train the next morning, so Liam and I left. We started to walk back to the hostel, but we went the wrong way at some point and it took us forever to find our we back.
The next morning, we got up at 5:00. We had decided to visit Hungary’s large lake — Lake Balaton. We arrived at the train station shortly before 6:30. There was only one 6:30 departure listed, and we didn’t recognize any of the towns it was destined for. The town you want isn’t always listed, so we went to the gate and asked if the train was going to Lake Balaton. We were told it was, so we hopped on. A few hours later, we realized we had made a mistake. The train was indeed going to Lake Balaton, but we were on the north side of the lake instead of the south side, where we wanted to be. We ended up in a dump of a town called Badacsony. There was absolutely nothing there and yet the place was swarming with German tourists and had bad food and cheesy souvenirs to cater to them. The only interesting thing was a goofy old man selling whips. He’d swing a whip around his head and then Crack! He’d grin as he scared little German kids.
We hopped the next train out of Badacsony, returning to Budapest with out heads hung low. On the way back, the train stopped at a station on the edge of the lake. There happened to be another train there that seemed to be going to the other side of the lake. We figured that our day couldn’t get any worse, so we hopped off our train and on to the other. On the new train, we happened to run into Kevin, the guy from Dallas we’d me in Prague. He was traveling with a guy from Britain that he’d met. We all got off in Siofok. Kevin and his friend went to find a campsite, and Liam and I saw what there was to see in town. It didn’t take us long to decide that we didn’t like Lake Balaton. It seemed to be just an area for German tourists. The fact that it was cloudy and cold didn’t help any, either. We had a beer in a park by the lake, a mime conversation with an old Hungarian man, and hopped the train back to Budapest.
We got in at 7:30 and made our way to our favorite restaurant. It was packed, so we were forced to go somewhere else. After dinner we went back to the hostel and went out for a drink with Horatio, the Romanian guy we’d met earlier. The conversation got pretty intense. Horatio had tears in his eyes at one point while describing how he can’t change the way his parents are because they lived too long under communism and can’t adjust to the changes. He also told us that he’d had trouble getting a bed in the hostel because he was Romanian. I guess there is a lot of prejudice in Hungary toward Romanians. After our conversation, I decided to give in to Liam’s attempt to get me to go to Romania with him. While Czech Republic and Hungary have been fairly westernized, it seems that Romania is still much as it was under communist rule.
We went back to the hostel, picked up a Brit named Craig, and got a taxi to Morrison’s Music Pub. The place was completely packed. I talked with two Italians for a while and ended up sitting with a guy from Budapest and a girl named Sylvia who was Hungarian but who grew up in Sweden. I got back to the hostel around 4:00.
Thursday, August 12th — Budapest, Hungary
I’m now on a train bound for Vienna. Yesterday, Liam and I got up and went to take care of the things we needed to do in order to go to Romania. First, we went to the train station. The woman we talked to said that tickets would cost $63US from the border to Bucharest. That sounded ridiculously expensive to us. We then went to the Romanian embassy to get visas. The guy we talked to said we couldn’t get visas until later in the week. At this point, I pretty much nixed the idea of going to Romania. Liam planned on getting a visa at the border, but I was a little sketched about that. I’d had enough trouble traveling to Prague without a ticket that I didn’t relish the idea of traveling to Bucharest without a visa.
We went to the Millennium Monument and saw the changing of the guard, complete with goose-stepping and all. We then went to find a bath house. We found one, but didn’t end up going in as they wanted a deposit that was more money than we had on us. We had dinner at our restaurant and then Liam caught his train. I hope everything works out for him. I went back to the hostel and tried to get in touch with Torbjorn, my Swedish friend from Paris. I thought maybe I’d swing up to Scandinavia. I talked with his father who said that he was in Lulea, where he goes to school way up north. That night I crashed early and I felt good and rested for the first time in a while this morning.
Saturday, August 14th — Vienna, Austria
I’m in the Post Hotel in the center of old Vienna. It’s my third day here and I’m taking the night train to Munich tonight. The train ride to Vienna from Budapest was pretty boring. I sat between two couples that weren’t very interested in making conversation. I booked a room in this hotel from the train station. It cost me $48, but I figured I deserved a break from the hostel lifestyle. My room is nice, if small, and the hotel is really well located. I’m only about a five minute walk from Stephansplatz, where St. Stephen’s cathedral, the most famous building in Vienna, is. About five minutes from there is the imperial palace and a bit farther from there is the Rathaus.
I didn’t do much my first day here. I went to Stadtpark and walked around a bit. I bought groceries and had a feast in my room. I wandered around Stephansplatz, the palace, and the Rathaus. The Roncalli circus was in town and was set up in front of the Rathaus.
The next day, I had breakfast in the hotel and went to the Rathaus to try to get a ticket for Don Giovanni. It was being performed that evening in the Romaniche Ruin at Schonnbrun Palace (the summer residence of the Habsburgs). It turned out that I couldn’t get tickets there, but the woman offered to sell me a ticket to an orchestra concert that evening in the Rathaus courtyard. I still had my heart set on Don Giovanni, so I continued searching for a place that sold tickets. I finally found it just around the corner from my hotel, but all they had left were the most expensive seats. They were too expensive for my budget, especially considering that I don’t even like opera that much. So, I went back to the Rathaus and bought a ticket for the orchestra concert. I also decided that I was going to go see the circus, so I bought the cheapest ticket I could.
I went to the Kunsthistorishe Museum (the museum of fine arts) and saw lots ‘o paintings. It wasn’t terribly interesting. Mostly the same old stuff I’ve seen time and time again. They had some nice Bruegles, though. I went to the Staatsoper and toured the famous opera house. The opera isn’t in session during the summer, so I couldn’t see a performance, but the building itself was very impressive.
Afterward, I went to the circus! It was a blast!! My seat was in the back, but that wasn’t a big deal as the tent wasn’t that large. They had clowns, tightrope acts, swinging from ropes, juggling, horse riding, you name it. I may have missed some of the clowns humor as everything was in German, but I think most of it was pretty self-explanatory. The horse trainer/rider was a stunningly beautiful woman. I found myself wanting to run away and join the circus, but I couldn’t think of any service I could possibly perform.
That evening, I went to the concert at the Rathaus. I was a little disappointed at first when I discovered that they were a youth orchestra, but that quickly faded when I found out how good they were. Great music in a great setting. I finished out the evening by going to a downtown wine cellar. They serve wine in mugs like beer and have outdoor seating areas much like German beer gardens. I tried some of the local white wine and quite liked it.
Saturday, August 14th — Vienna, Austria
I’m at the train station waiting for the train to Paris. I had a pretty boring day today. I went to the museum of applied art and found it less that riveting. It was mostly historical furniture and bizarre art nouveau stuff. I wanted to see some paintings by Klimt, so I asked the woman at the reception desk where I should go. She told me that I should go to the Kunthistorishe Museum, but I’d already been there and hadn’t seen anything by Klimt. Oh well. I tried to find Sigmund Freud’s house, but failed. I did, however, find Sigmund Freud park.
I went to Schonnbrun, the palace where the Habsburgs spent the summer. It reminded me a lot of Versailles. Very pretty gardens. Afterward I went to a park on the bank of the Danube. It was a hot, sunny Saturday so the place was packed with sunbathers in various states of undress. I went to the Volksgarten and crashed in the grass for a few hours. I watched street performers for a while in Stephensplatz, including the required Peruvians. I’ve seen so many of them in Europe so far that I could probably join in on their songs by now. I went back to my hotel where I had a beer, packed my bags, and left for the station.
Saturday, September 25th — Paris, France
Well, they say that everything comes full circle. I certainly have. After almost three months of trapsing around Europe, I’m back where I started — in Paris.
When I went to catch my train in Bordeaux, I ran into the Swedish girl, Helen. It turned out that she was headed for Paris as well. The TGV was quite fast, but not particularly awesome. A guy could get sick watching the landscape blur by, though. When we arrived in Paris, Helen and I booked into a hostel. I’d paid for two nights before seeing the place, and regretted it. It turned out to be a residence hall that rents out rooms during the summer when many of the students are gone. There was no life in the place at all.
We had a beer and a sandwich in a local bar and then went and explored around Notre Dame. We had dinner in a nice restaurant complete with a nice bottle of wine (in Paris, gotta do it).
The next morning, I decided that even though I’d paid for another night I was going to switch to another place to stay. With only a few days left in my vacation, I can’t affored to be in a place that’s no fun. I’m now staying a Jules Ferry, one of the main hostels in Paris. It’s much more active here. I had fun getting here, though. The metro station didn’t have a ticket machine that I could find, and I was in a rush (hostels fill up), so I jumped the turnstile. It was my first time traveling without paying on the Paris metro. I’d done it regularly in other cities, but things are more difficult in Paris. Getting off proved difficult, as I had to get through these doors that open briefly when you insert a ticket and then immediately shut again. I solved this problem by following VERY closely behind a person in front of my. I just barely got my backpack through in time.
I checked into the hostel and then went to the Louvre. I didn’t really want to go, but I felt somewhat duty bound. It was impressive, but there wasn’t much I really liked except for some really nice ancient Greek sculpture. The French art was to old for me — it left off at about the point in time where I start getting interested. I saw the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. The only impressive thing was that so many people were crowded around to see the paintings.
Afterward I went to Musee d’Orsay and fell in love. What a great place! Exactly the kind of stuff I like. It was even better than usual, because there was a special exhibition of a bunch of paintings from the collection of a Dr. Barnes (don’t know who he is, but he must be rich) in Philly. Many Renoirs, Monets, Picassos, etc.
Now it was time to go souvenier shopping. I bought a T-shirt with the Paris metro on it and a sweatshirt. I bought an old map of Paris from one of the booksellers that set up along the Seine.
Back at the hostel I met some Americans. We talked about going to see some blues or jazz, but they didn’t want to go out until the next day or so. I felt like going somewhere, so I decided to walk over to a jazz club called the New Morning. I’d heard it was pretty expensive, but I figured I’d go check it out anyway. When I got there, I saw that Kenny Neal, the guitar player I’d missed in Bordeaux, was playing. I decided it was fate and that I’d shell out the steep (110ff/$22) cover. At the door, I asked a man what time it was. “Quel heure et il?? I asked, in my best French. “About 8:30,” came the response in English. Oh well, at least I tried.
I had time for dinner, so I went to a Lebonese restaurant I’d seen on my way over. As I started to eat, I noticed that the people sitting at the next table were speaking English and appeared to be from the South. It turned out to be the band! I talked with the keyboard player a bit, and finished my meal
Back at the club, I ran into the guy who I’d asked the time of. I ended up sitting with him and his wife and a friend of theirs. He was French, but his wife and their friend were from England. The show started, and Kenny could really play guitar! It turned out that he’d been on a tour of France and Africa and they were going back to Louisiana the next morning. Since it was their last day on the tour, they pulled out all the stops. Kenny played guitar, bass, harmonica, and sang well. His brothers played bass and keys. The drummer had played with James Cotton and the Steve Miller Band. It was a really high-energy, free-flowing concert.
After the show, I walked back to the hostel. I chatted with some people for a while and then crashed. The next morning, I missed breakfast by about five minutes. I went to the Center de Pompidou. It’s a really weird building with all of the plumbing on the outside. There was an architecture exhibit that didn’t thrill me too much, but it also contained the Musee d’Art Moderne which I really enjoyed. Afterward I went to the Rodin museum. It was extremely impressive. It’s located in a large house, and contains almost all of Rodin’s famous works (including his famous “The Thinker”). The larger works are located in the gardens outside, and the smaller sculptures are in various rooms of the house. The museum also had several works by Rodin’s student, Camille Claudelle, that I recognized from the movie of the same name.
After leaving the museum, I went to the famous Pere Lachaise cemetery where many famous people are buried. The most popular grave is that of Jim Morrison, and it is never without a surrounding crowd of adoring fans.
And thus my journal ends — a bit abruptly. There was a little adventure still to come: almost missing my flight back to the US due to a time change in France, spending the night in LA International Airport, and hitching a ride to San Diego with some crazy antique dealers. But by the time I had a chance to write about it, I was back in everyday “Academic Life” and couldn’t be bothered.
Hope you enjoyed my little tale,