Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Iceland - Our Final Stop

Okay, let me get this started by stating that Iceland is absolutely amazingly cool. At least from what I have seen online, in videos, magazines, etc. But our stay tonight in Iceland has been limited to the waiting area of the airport because everything in the entire country outside of this airport is closed during the night and even though it never gets dark (I'm typing this at 2:30 am and it is still light out) there is no way for us to get to the city or anything else interesting. So we are stranded here at the airport. So our night in Reykjavik is less then stellar so far. Now I have thoughts of maybe going on a bus or something out into the city as soon as they start up again around 5 or 6 or whatever, but I'm not sure. We shall see. Just have to make sure we would be back here and ready to go for our flight comfortably before takeoff at 10:30am.

On the bright side, there is a trophy here stating that last year this was voted the best airport in all of Europe. Even though it doesn't really seem to be in Europe. Hooray!

Iceland Air has really awesome planes too. Tons of leg room, these cool TVs on robot arms that come up from under your seat that are touchscreen and have a great selection of free movies, tv shows, and music and stuff, most seats (not ours... boo...) have USB charging docks, just good stuff. Makes the long flight home in the morning a bit more optimistic!

So we were really bored and made a little video thing. We ran outta steam very quickly. Here is Europe in review!

Europe - The End Live From Iceland!

PS: Garrett, I hope there was enough star wipe in there for you this time.

See everyone real soon!

Amsterdam Episode II: Return of the Dutch

Today we had our second day in Amsterdam, and after checking out of our hostel and storing our bags in the hostel bag room for the day we started off by taking the free walking tour about the city. It was really good and kind of sad because it was our last tour about a city. We covered things and saw the sights, so here for the last time is my tour sum-up bullet list:

The Old Church The Red Light District (Briefly, obviously yesterdays tour was more in depth in this area...) The Jewish Quarter The Royal Palace The Jordaan District The Anne Frank House The Begijnhof Covent Hidden Catholic Churches Masterpieces of Dutch Art Multatuli's Giant Head The Marihuana Museum (naturally) Looked at the strange leaning buildings The Manttoren The Dutch East India Company

After the tour we got lunch at a place with the tour group called Boom Chicago, and I had a traditional Dutch meal called... Stampot? Stempot? Something like that I think. I wasn't really paying attention. The only Dutch meal on the menu of a place called Boom Chicago, and it was like potatoes, carrots, little bit of apple all mashed together with gravy and a sausage. It was good. Then we made our way slowly back to the hostel, wandering around the city and stopping in stores and such. I've got a patch for every country we have been to that I'm going to sew onto my backpack when we get home (I stole the idea from Dave I have to admit, he has been getting them all along to put on his jacket he got in Dublin)

Then we headed back at the hostel just to pick up our bags and head on out to catch a train (our last train ever in Europe...) to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. Then after a little time killing in the air port, it was time to catch a 2 hour flight to Iceland, and from there we have 11 hours layover in Reykjavik during which time hopefully we can squeeze in something cool to do and see. See everyone real soon!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Amsterdam day 1 - Our Final Mainland Country

Well today we arrived in Amsterdam in The Netherlands - our final mainland country on the trip. Leaving only our brief stay in Iceland left before we are back in the states!

Now as I mentioned last time I was starting to feel a bit under the weather last night. Well over night I got to be very sick, and spent most of the night awake, you know, being sick and all that. So when morning arrived I was not going to be sticking to the plan of going out to see some last things in Brussels before we left like the Chocolate Museum, Comic Strip Museum, etc. So instead we just kind of all hung around the hostel until check out time at 12:30 and I spent that whole time horizontal. Still feeling quite sick, we left at 12:30 and got ourselves a 1:18 train - our final country to country train ride - to Amsterdam. The train ride proved to be all the difference, and those last 3 hours of rest had me feeling much better by the time we got to Amsterdam. I'm still not 100% but leaps and bounds better, phew!

So we navigated our way to our last hostel, The Bulldog, and it is a pretty cool hostel. We have a 12 person room but I don't really know our roommates yet, it is only 9:35 as I'm typing this and I'm the only person in the room. After dropping our stuff we grabbed the New Europe pamphlet as we are so apt to do in countries they are available in, and found that they were running a Red Light District tour about an hour from that time, so we decided to do it. We got ourselves some Japanese along the way, which was actually really good so finally good Japanese in Europe, and met up with the tour.

The tour guide, Ryan, was real good and funny and we took our tour throughout the district. We saw a lot of girls standing in windows, and yes there are red lights on in windows all about. I also did not take any pictures of any girls in windows, because I don't need no guys coming out and smashing my camera. But it was a real funny tour and a good start to learning the city, now tomorrow morning we will take the full city walking tour and get to know, ya know, the rest of the city.

Oh and a funny thing I almost forgot to mention - On one of the streets we walked down in the red light district, right smack in between some open windows, was the Shelter Christian Hostel. Thought it was a really funny place for it to be located.

I'm not sure how blogging will be working out for these last 2 days... I will definitely be able to post something, but I don't know if pictures will be working... But I will try my hardest!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Brussels, Belgium - The capital city of Europe!

Weird, right? Why Brussels of all the cities in Europe? Got me...

Anyway today we left Munich at 9:55 am headed for Brussels. We had to get out at Frankfurt and wait for about 20 minutes, so for 20 minutes we got to be in Frankfurt, yay! Then it was back on the road and finally at 4:30 we arrived in Belgium. We got out and took a metro to where our hostel, Hello Hostel, was located. Which is just a few doors down from the Godiva Chocolate headquarters. Pretty cool.

Our hostel looked like a tiny piece of crap on the outside, but once we went inside it was actually really big and nice. We got situated and got ourselves some maps and headed out to explore the city while we could. We first headed to around about the center of the city (for what we could tell on the map) and had a few goals in mind - Eat fries, since they were invented here, and eat a real Belgium Waffle. Just 2 or 3 minutes after getting off the metro we found a big fry place (there are a lot of fry places marked all over our maps) and got ourselves some fries in mayonnaise (the drown em in that...) and they were delicious. So good. I don't know how the others feel but I think they may have been the best just strait fries ever.

So from there we took the short walk to see Brussels' most famous landmark, the Manneken Pis. It was... small. Like really small. Like maybe a foot and a quarter tall. But it was still really cool to see the real thing in person. Apparently they dress him up for all kinds of holidays and events, and a poster nearby had all kinds of costume images it was funny. Right by the Manneken we spotted a few waffle stands, and we got ourselves some Belgium Waffles. I had one that had sliced strawberry and banana on top drizzled in chocolate. It was real good. Nothing mind blowing, but definitely good. After that we continued to walk.

While exploring we went to the national library and the really cool area around it, with these cool gardens and fountains and steps. Then we went to the Royal Palace where Albert II is currently staying, then to the Palace Park, then saw the Parliament building where the EU is headed up, and finally saw the Gothic Cathedral. After that our wandering was done, and we got on the metro to see our final sight seeing destination for the day.

We got off the metro and there right in front of us was it... The Atomium. It was so cool, and just totally massive. It is a giant structure erected in the 1950's for the World's Fair and is a gigantic structure of an Iron Atom (I think, if I remember correctly. Something like that if not.) and inside each giant ball is a room with exhibits in them and each connecting beam is an escalator (or elevator in the center I would imagine.) It was closed for a few hours before we got there so we couldn't go in, but it was so cool to see in person from the outside. I can't imagine the inside being more impressive.

So after that we metro-ed our way back to Hello Hostel and crashed for the night. One other quick note, just thought I would mention that I caught whatever Jen got in Munich and throughout the course of the day have gotten really sick. Throat is real soar and inflamed. Damnit, so close to finishing the trip without getting sick. Here's hoping for feeling better in he morning!

Pat out!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Munich 3.0

Today for our final day in Germany we took tour trip out to Dachau, one of the largest and most intact concentration camps. We took a tour of the camp and it was a very strange feeling. First of all it was a beautiful sunny day which contrasted in a weird way with the mood of the camp, and then of course there was the fact that it wasn't exactly a pleasant or fun day, but it was important and I'm glad we went.

Dave and Jen actually went earlier because they wanted to do the audio tour on their own, and we went later because we wanted to do a guided tour and sleep in a bit (remember, the two of us did climb a mountain yesterday). So we met up with our guide, which was trickier then we expected because there was this sort of race going on around Marienplatz and we had a lot of trouble locating and then getting to the tour start. We finally did, and then it was off on the metro and then a quick bus to Dachau.

I don't really have too much to talk about, I'm not going to describe every aspect or relay word for word the tour but basically there are some original buildings, some that were damaged and fixed up, and then there was a barracks that was completely a recreation because the US soldiers completely destroyed all the barracks once all the prisoners were out. Each room in the barracks had a recreation of what the beds would be situated like in each of the three time periods of the Third Reich. They basically got progressively more cramped and such.

There was a building that just had rooms of sort of exhibits set up in it. There were like artifacts, stories, propaganda, punishments, showers, the toilet facilities, etc. There was also a building we didn't get to nearby that had jail cells that were so small a person could only stand and not sit in that was used for punishments.

Past the barrack recreation were around 28 large rectangle foundation-like spaces that were where each of the original barracks were before they were destroyed, to give you a sense of scale and help visualize how everything was set up. Behind those were memorial structures to the major religions that were killed in the camp - Jewish, Christian, Protestant, and Orthodox.

But past all of that, through an open gate in the still-standing barbed wire gate, was a small bridge (which was built for the exhibit and would have just been fence and a trench with bushes you could not see through from the camp) that led to the crematorium and gas chamber. Dachau was not an extermination camp but when the so called "final solution" was put into place every camp had to install a gas chamber (pictured with this paragraph), and when it was installed it was of course used. The prisoners were told that they were moving to a new barracks and then told they were taking a shower, even so far as to label it shower and put fake shower heads in the room. Then 2 cans of gas were put into little hatches that would go down chutes into the room. Right after the chamber was the crematorium. 2 weeks (I think it was 2 weeks) before the US soldiers arrived the camp ran out of coal so by the time the soldiers got to the camp they found piles of dead bodies around the crematorium.

So that was uplifting, eh? After we got back into the city and met up with Sarah who was in Munich for an audition (lives just outside the city of Frankfurt) and we got lunch at a really good place called Schnitzelwirt. I had this really good German dish that is sort of like a mixture of little potato dumpling like things and egg noodles in a creamy cheese sauce. I think it was called Spatzle or something like that. I didn't write it down. It was good though! After we walked back to the train station talking with Sarah and then she headed back home on a train and we headed back to the hostel.

So that is it for Germany, we had a blast here. Awesome country. Tomorrow, to Belgium!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Neuschwanstein Castle (and more Munich!)

Today Sharon and I took a tour out 2 hours away from Munich to the foot of the German Alps to see Ludwig II's Neuschwanstein Castle - the most amazing castle in existance. We took two trains to Fusen, and then packed into a waaay over crowded bus to the base of the alps to start our tour and our hike up the mountain.

At the alps we had to take an easy hike up the mountain for a ways. It was a consistent incline the whole time, but it wasn't steep and it was either paved or gravel the whole time. So after completing the bulk of the hike we all met up again at a split it in the path, and from there headed across to Mary's Bridge.

Mary's Bridge (named after Ludwig's mother, not the Virgin Mary, making it the only thing named Mary that is not named after the Virgin Mary in Germany) is really cool. it is a small wooden bridge, reinforced by iron, that stretched across from one alp to the other almost 100 meters above a small waterfall and river. And looking out from the middle of the bridge you get the most amazing view of the castle. And a word about the bridge itself... obviously it has not collapsed to date so it can handle the weight, but it was really cool feeling and even seeing the wooden planks of the bridge bow and bend with everyone walking on it. It just felt like it could collapse at any time, it was awesome.

So we walked back to the path split and headed along the edge of the mountain around to the other side and took the path up to the castle itself. The castle is so exactly like fairy tale castles, you can see how they are all influenced from this single castle. We walked into the courtyard through the main gateway and listened to the tour guide some more until we got into the castle itself. Unfortunately you aren't allowed to take any pictures inside, and while I got one picture at the beginning they were very strict about it. But trust me when I say, the inside of this castle is amazing.

The rooms (that are finished, there are many rooms just not finished because they never finished the castle) are so ornate and intricately detailed. For example: It took four wood carvers four years to finish the woodwork in his bedroom alone. The inside of the castle was just breathtaking.

So after finishing inside the castle, we headed back down and then took the more scenic path back down to the tour meeting point. We got back on the bus, then back on the trains, and then back to the hostel. We met up with Dave and Jen again and then with two Canadian girls they were hanging out with in the hostel while we were gone and we went back to the Hofbrauhaus to watch the USA World Cup game and eat dinner. I had a vegetarian mushroom soup meal with bread dumpling things. It was awesome. And the US team played like garbage and lost. That was not so awesome, but it's okay because I don't really care. So after that we came back to the hostel, and now it is off to sleep because tomorrow we are heading out to Dachau, the concentration camp closest to Munich.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Mmmm... Munich!

Welcome to Munich!

Today we arrived at 7:30am to Munich on our overnight train. We got off the train and together with Ian and 2 guys who were in on the train and also looking for our hostel and we headed out in search of it. Our hostel for the next three nights here in Munich is the Wombat Hostel. We had trouble finding it because all the streets we needed to be on were not labeled on the map. But we found it after a little back and forth and it is a really awesome hostel. We dropped our bags and Ian did as well and we headed into the hostel's breakfast. It was a really awesome buffet breakfast and even had a panini maker, wow!

After breakfast we headed over to a short walk to Marienplatz, the center of the old town, right under the Glockenspiel. We hung out for a bit and then headed out with the tour. Our tour guides name was Kevin, and he was pretty cool. We did a lot on the tour, but to be honest it was the least enjoyable of our free tours so far. I don't know why, the tour was fine and I enjoyed it but... maybe we were just tired from the lack of sleep on the train all night. We did cover a good amount of stuff on the tour. Bullet list time!

  • Glockenspiel, the famous "dancing clock" of Munich. It was pretty cool I guess. Kinda small-world-esque to be honest.
  • The New Town Hall (which is older then the Old Town Hall due to the old one being burned down and rebuilt)
  • The Old Town Hall
  • Church of Our Lady (and the legend of the Devil's Footprint)
  • Another cathedral that I don't remember the name of... started with a T... haha stupid German names...
  • Memorial to the German Resistance (Gold brick path along the alleyway they avoided the Nazi checkpoints with)
  • Origins of Oktoberfest
  • Hofbrauhaus (famous beer garden and great hall)
  • Viktualienmarkt
  • St. Jakobsplatz
  • Mary's Column
After the tour we went to a nearby place to get some good German food with the tour guide, as they often offer after these tours. We went with a small group of people from the tour, and we ended up hanging out with most of them for the rest of the day. Lunch was good, and we hung out there for quite some time. We were hanging out with Emmett and Justine from Canada, Kathleen from Australia, and of course Ian was with us still as well. It was really cool hanging out all day.

After lunch we went back to Hofbrauhaus and hung out inside. And everyone else got their German beers, regulars of which were these giant 1 liter glasses. We hung out in the beir garten and just had fun for like an hour or two while the football game was on in the background and the crowd was freaking out on and off. After that we headed back to the hostel very briefly just to get our room situated and our bags moved up, then we headed to a bar/restaurant nearby the hostel called Agustiner Brau Mundhen. We hung out there, I got this awesome beef gulach soup, and we just hung out talking and stuff for a while more. We then went back to the hostel and hung out some more in the open air courtyard common area in the center of the first floor, as the end of the football game played. Ian left for his overnight train to Paris, and then everyone else left to get some sleep since they are all leaving in the morning as well. We had an awesome time today with our little Munich Posse that formed, and it is too bad tonight was the last night for all of them in Munich.

Tomorrow, Sharon and I have a day at Neuschwanstein Castle planned, and it shall be excellent. Heaps of fun to be had! Good night all!


Post about Berlin yesterday...

I love Berlin. This city is so choice. I want to visit here again. I don't know, it is just the vibe I get. There was nothing in particular that was so amazing, I just really really love it here.

Today we spent the day exploring the city. We got up and got breakfast at a nearby cafe. We then got on the metro (got a day pass) and headed to the Brandenburg Gate to meet up with the New Europe free tour. We took the tour, our tour guide was a kiwi named Stephanie and she was really awesome, and we saw a ton of stuff. This tour in particular had the most sort of history lesson type of things and interesting stories, and it was really great. We saw so much, it was the longest free tour yet (3.5 hours) including... (excuse my bad spelling, I'm sure I will butcher some stuff)

  • Brandenburg Gate
  • Reichstag
  • Memorial to the Murdered Jews
  • Site of the bunker Hitler killed himself in... now a nondescript dirt parking lot. Suck it Hitler.
  • Checkpoint Charlie
  • A Standing segment of the Berlin Wall
  • Bepel Platz
  • Hitler's Opera House (rebuilt like 4 times)
  • Underground empty bookcase, memorial to the 20,000 books burned by the Nazis
  • Memorial to the New Watch
  • TV Tower, known as the "Pope's Revenge" because all the crosses were taken down in Berlin but the sun reflects off the TV Tower in the shape of a cross.
  • Museum Island - island formed by the river running through Berlin with multiple museums on it.
The tour was totally awesome. After we wandered around a bit on Museum island, then headed back towards our Hostel meandering around, and then stopped at a beer garden called Prater Beir Garten. We hung out there for a while, got some German food such as brotwurst, and watched some world cup. We then stopped into some stores and fooled around, looking at various things for sail. Caption for the picture of me with the big fake revolver: "I have THIS!"

After we headed back to the restaurant from last night and got another strudel. Sooo good! Then we headed back to the hostel, grabbed our bags, and headed to Berlin Hbf station.

We were waiting for our over night train and met a guy named Ian from Michigan who had been living in Vienna for the past 6 weeks for school and was now traveling for the next 10 days before going home. We hung out for a little while on the train and decided that we would all hang out the next day in Munich and go on the tour together. Then there was the overnight train... which was seats and not beds. Woah... that sucks. So we had to spend all night sitting in the train. Yuck. Oh well, Berlin was awesome and Munich now!