Saturday, June 12, 2010
Bern - The capital of Switzerland! We got off the train and as soon as we walked out of the station it was a real party atmosphere. Young people were everywhere, and they were drinking, partying, blowing horns, stuff like that. We figured it was World Cup related. Unfortunately we had train issues (things were booked full) and did not get into Bern until real late compared to the plan - 7pm instead of 11am. So we basically lost our whole day for Bern, and did not get to enjoy all the fun. Too bad too, we finally found a city that was busy and open past 6pm.
Little thing I want to mention - Swiss Franks look really cool. Look at them, they are so cool! My picture is just of 20s, but the 10s are cool too. And the 5s are just real big coins, a little bigger then those old 50 cent pieces used to be. Same with single franks and 2 franks, but they are pretty small coins.
We found our way through the city to a park. In the park there were these awesome giant chess sets where the board is carved on the ground and the pieces were like 3 feet high. It was really cool, if we had the whole day maybe we would have played a game ha.
When we arrived at our hostel, it was pretty nice. We had our own room, and the place was big with a sort of gran hall dining area and common room, and it had a real cool mural on the wall outside. We got settled and then headed out. It was dark now, and we were planning on an early train to Interlaken so we decided to get dinner. We were excited because for the first time we were in a place where the dollar was stronger - one CHF (Swiss Frank) = 0.87 USD, hooray!
So we got to the places to eat and... wow... Switzerland is insanely expensive! What the hell?! I mean the dollar isn't THAT much stronger to justify spending money here. I got a super tiny (took 5 bites) salad for 10 CHF. We ended up spending about 30 CHF each on dinner ($27) and a large part was the little unexpected twist... we asked for water, and apparently Switzerland is one of those countries you have to ask for 'natural water' in. Meaning we got seltzer. Seltzer that cost 7 CHF each!. What the hell!? So that pissed me off. The meal was pretty good, but not nearly worth it. And the place looked pretty cool at least, with a waterway running through the middle of the restaurant.
So we turned in for the night. Interlaken tomorrow, very excited! Interlaken was something I was really looking forward too.
Had to post this late, did not have a chance before. Posts for Bern and Interlaken coming in the next few hours...
Our last day in Paris was a bit less eventful then the first 2 but still very good! We started by sleeping in because we were tired and not sure what we were going to do today anyway. We got up, got ready, and went downstairs to the common room to hang out. We weren't really feeling Versailles too much anymore, with the rainy weather and late day already. We went out and got some crepes and Sharon dropped some stuff off at the post office as we made up our minds. We decided that instead we would go to the catacombs since we hadn't made it there yet either. So we got on the metro and headed south to there.
The area of the city the catacombs were in was actually further south then our map went (it was not a full city map apparently) so we ended up having some trouble because of that. We found the catacombs themselves quickly though after emerging from the station so we got on line. The line was actually very short and quick (I guess the rain kept people away?) and it was a good thing too because we ended up getting in to the catacombs at around 3:35 and it closed at 4. We got our ticket (4€... it's weird but a lot of places in France list prices in this new weirder format 4€, pr 4€50 for 4.50) and went on in. We decended down and down and down, and when we reached the bottom we had to navigate our way through the mostly dark never ending corridors. Luckily Sharon had a flashlight! After walking a while under ground we finally emerged in the first opening of the burial grounds and... woah
The bones were endless! They were stacked as high as me, packed tightly, and stretched on making walls for an endless maze of passages. I'm glad they restrict where you can walk to a set path because it would be impossible to make your way through the macabre maze unguided. There were designs made out of the bones in the stacks as well. There were a number of skull and crossbone designs, and skulls were made into shapes in the pile like crosses, hearts, and archways. We explored there for a while, and at the end we had to ascend the 84 step spiral stair case to the surface. When we walked out, it was suprising just how far away from the entrance we were.
After the catacombs we decided that we should cook dinner in the hostel kitchen tonight. We dropped our stuff back at the rioom and went out to a nearbye shopping market and got some food to cook. We got back, waited for some people to clear out of the kitchen, and started cooking. While we were we met Ben fom Canada and Kristan from Australia and hung out for a while. After our food was ready, we invited Ben to join us for dinner (Kristan had left, but she came back later and had some food as well) We had chicken, rice, pasta, garlic vegtables, baguettes, strawberries, cherries, and a mushroom sauce. It was raelly good! (But not as good as our shrimp meal from Liverpool... that was awesome.)
After we ate and cleaned up Ben joined usa s we went out to the Eiffel Tower to try and see it light up and sparkle. You see, all night the tower is lit up but on the hour for 3 minutes it does this new sparkling thing and we wanted to see it at 11. We ended up getting there at 11:05. Boo. So we sat down in the grass beside it and hung out for a while until it hit midnight and the tower started sparkling, it was beautiful! After that we made our way back (via taxi, the metros were all closed at this point) and turned in for the night.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Sharon and i got our tickets (€9,50 - Dave and Jen did not want to go to the Louvre) and we grabbed a map and circled all the things that were most important for us to see. We saw lots of amazing pieces of art, including the Oath of the Horatia, 2 Vermeers, The crown of Charlamange, The Raft of the Medusa, Code of Hammurabi, a Michelangelo statue called The Dying Slave, Venus de Milo, and of course a few de Vincis, naturally including the Mona Lisa. There were a number of paintings in there that I did not know were there - like the Oath of the Horatia, and we would be walking by and suddenly I would turn a corner and be like holy crap (insert painting name) is here?! Awesome! Lots of paintings were bigger then I ever expected (including the Mona Lisa... I have always heard how dissapointingly small it is and it was bigger then the impression I was given.) Except The Lacemaster by Vermeer... that was smaller then I expected. Thing was tiny.
After exploring the Louvre for a few hours we left and phoned over to Dave and Jen to ask if they wanted to go to Notre Dame. They had just left there. So we headed over and visited Notre Dame more in depth then the passing view we got on our tour the day before. We went on in (free admission, woohoo!) And it was awesome inside (just enlarge the picture to the right - so cool!). After exploring there for a while we left and called the others again, and decided to each take a metro to the Arch de Triomph and meet there, so we did. The arch was SOO much bigger and better then the one in Barcelona. It was awesome. And at the bottom is the Tomb of the Unkown Soldier with its eternal flame, burning through the rain. We left there after a bit and headed away from there in search of food. Fun fact: The roundabout that goes around the Arch de Triomph is the most dangerous road in France, and there are accidents every day. It is 12 different roads that converge at a 10 lane wide roundabout. It is so bad that it is the only road in France that if you get in a car accident on your insurance will never cover you, no matter what.
We ended up going to a really cool looking cafe called La Flamme. It was really good. I got Muscles in a creamy sauce that was delicious. When we finished eating we headed to the nearest metro (the one back at the Arch) and got back to the hostel. We rested up there for a bit to get our energy back for our 6pm waking tour we had signed up for yesterday. But first! It was time to get another crepe! So we headed across the street to the crepe place first. I got a Confiture Fraise (Strawberry Jam) Crepe this time, it was even better then last night's. We got to the Moulon Rouge and began our tour, again with Linda.
We headed up to the Montmartre District where all the famous artists of France lived and saw some really cool things.
- The Red Light District (which is essentially just down the street from our hostel, ha!)
- Paris' last surviving windmill (With a great story behind it about the owner defending it from the Prussians when they invaded and burned all the windmills in Paris. They found it amusing and decided to make an example of him by tying him to a fan blade on the windmill and he died 2 weeks later from dehydration and starvation... but the windmill survived!)
- We saw The Montmarte Vineyard, aka Savage Garden, Paris' last surviving vineyard (which is tiny and apparently the wine totally sucks)
- Picasso's studio
- Van Gogh's house (only the outside, other people live there in fact a women came out of it while we were standing outside talking about it.)
- And went up to the top of Sacre Coeur, Paris' highest hill, to the Montmartre Church. The church is really awesome, designed with a mixture of classical styles and made of a material that when it gets rained on excretes a white substance that essentially makes the building whitewash itself every time it rains (like it did today. It was cool!)
So the tour finished up in a cafe with a free glass of wine for everyone, so whatever there for me, but we met some nice people in the cafe including a woman with this really big but super cute and friendly dog. After we headed back to the hostel, and on the way got some Baguettes to sword fight with and then eat and enjoy. We may or may not go out in an hour or two to make a run to the Eiffel Tower again to see it do it's new sparkly lights thing it does every hour and if we do we will hopefully pop by to see Henry IV with his lit up light saber, but we shall see. Either way, day 2 of Paris -
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Yesterday was our first day in Paris, and thankfully we rolled into town pretty early so it was very similar to our day in Dublin - travel all night, land in the morning and drop our bags at the hostel, and then hit the city hard and accomplish as much as possible.
At the hostel we grabbed the Paris New Europe flier and found that they did a free tour in the morning and afternoon, so we decided to walk to the nearby Moulon Rouge (literally a 5 minute walk), stop at the Starbucks there, and then grab a metro to the tour starting point. So we did just that. Moulon Rouge has a big red windmill on it. Windmills are kind of cool I guess.
So we got to St. Michel's Fountain and started our free tour. It was excellent, about on par with the Edinburgh tour (Sorry London, you tried your best) and our guide, Linda, was from Philly and living in Paris for about a year now and was really awesome and funny. We travelled to lots of locations, including:
- St. Michel Fountain
- Notre Dame
- Henry IV's stone bridge (which a funny fact is that the strange faces carved along the side of the bridge are people he knew. He had a big party and everyone at the party got super drunk and he had a sketch artist sketch them all so he could carve their faces on his new bridge.)
- Statue of Henry IV - In celebration of the 400th anniversary of his death recently, an artist gave him a blue lightsaber that lights up at night, because naturally no man is more powerful then a Jedi. I Hope to get to see him one of the next 2 nights so I can see it lit up. (Look closely at the statue to the right and you can see a line coming out of his right hand. It is actually a long blue light bulb.)
- The Louvre - It was closed yesterday so we were able to walk around it and see what it looks like reletively crowd free. Actually going to the Louvre is for Day 2
- We saw this permenant exhibition by an artist whose name (sounded like at least) Daniel Verran. It was kinda cool. But the more interesting part was this little pickpocket kid came up and our tour guide was like Oh! Stay away from this kid, he's a thief. Get away! (he stays, playing with some binocular toy. Had to be like 10 or 11 years old. Starts walking into the group again near her) No! Go away you! I hate you!. It was funny.
- An Egyptian Obelisk that Napolean took from Egypt. There used to be 2 but in more modern times Egypt wanted them back and France agreed to give one back in a meet-you-half-way kind of deal.
- Arc de Triomph (from a pretty long distance)
- I stopped into a McDonalds while we were on our break mid-tour, and yes... they do call it a Royale with Cheese. And they do drown their fries in mayonnaise. Score 2 for Pulp Fiction. Made me so happy.
After the tour the guides always say "I'm going to a nearby restaurant, come if you want cheap authentic local food!" Normally we don't but this time we did. So we followed Linda to a café and when we turned the corner to the street it was on we were greeted by metal barricades and French Riot Police that looked kinda like they were gearing up to fight terminators. She talked to them and they said it was fine to go to the café but we just had to be wary that there was a big riot going on down the street. We heard yelling and chanting and such and saw some flags bobbing up and down through the stopped cars and trees down the road in the distance. The waiter told us that we should sit inside instead of in the seats outside because the cops were shooting tear gas at the riot. I looked back and could notice smoke rising from the crowd, aka tear gas. Awesome! Viva la Revolucion!
For our lunch we had wine, cheese, meats, and croquet monsieur (this cheese and ham sandwich thing, traditional French meal). Everything was delicious and I was able to scratch off eating in a French café and eating a plate of French cheeses from my list of food to-dos. At lunch we signed up for another tour for the next night at 6 (with Linda again) that tours other areas of Paris, including Van Gogh’s house and Picasso’s studio! We are very excited for that. After eating we made our way to the Eiffel Tower.
The Eiffel tower is so. Cool. In person. It was one of those moments where you just look up at it and keep saying “Holy crap that is the Eiffel Tower! That’s really the Eiffel Tower!” Dave and Jen did not want to go to the top so they got the half way tickets (€6,50) but Sharon and I were not missing the top so we got the Sommit tickets (€11,50) and headed on up. The view from the middle (2nd floor, first is a fancy restaurant) was really awesome. It was so cool looking out the elevator window at the passing structure of the tower interior. So after hanging out and taking pictures and such, Sharon and I got on line for the elevator to the top. The first area of the top is a big round enclosed room with flags for probably every country and a city name under it, with the distance from that point to that city if you were to go straight out in that direction, so you could see all around the tower how far it is from each of these cities. (New York was six thousand something kilometers, LA nine thousand something.) After being done in there you walk up a short stair case to the actual top landing, and it was really awesome. Gustav Eiffel used to have his apartment up here, and they have part of it visible behind windows with wax figures of him entertaining 2 guests that you can look in at.
On our way down, we wanted to walk. But the stairs were closed. Sad face. So we got in line and eventually took the elevator down to the middle again where you transfer to the other elevator. Except on this landing, we saw the staircase was opened. We weren’t sure if we could go down at first, because it was a little off to the side and there was absolutely nobody near it or going down it, but there was a huge line waiting to take the elevator back down to the ground. So we just went ahead and started down the stairs. It was an excellent decision because it was so cool to walk down the tower. You could see all the insides, including the gears, pulleys, and cables that operated the elevators. Actually we even found out that the elevator has a sort of secret statue underneath it that you can only see if you walk down the staircase of an old timey elevator operator taking an old fashion elevator down with giant levers that operate it. It was cool. So we got down to the bottom and met back up with Dave and Jen and made our way back to the hostel.
We took some time to rest and such and then it was out in search of dinner. It was late (11pm) and we weren’t sure if anything would be opened, but finally… finally! In Paris we find some places opened later then 6pm! So we got some burgers across the street and our first real French crepes! I got a Nutella and Banana crepe (thanks Eunk! There is the picture I promised to the right!) and it was delicious! So good here! I can’t wait to try a new crepe tomorrow. So that is all for Paris, day 1! (aka trip day 15!)
Well, honestly there is not much to say about Madrid. We ended up getting there kind of late (12) and decided we would reserve our overnight to Paris while we were there. The train station had a giant life-like statue of a baby's head! Weird! We found that we had to take a metro to the other main station, which ended up being the north most tip of Madrid (we were in the main station basically the south most tip) so we boarded a metro and went end to end across the city and asked information about how we go about doing this.
Well... turns out we had to take a number and wait to be called in a very busy ticket reservation area. So we waited. And waited. And a little over an hour later we had our number called and went to the booth and booked our seats. The booking process and stuff took a little over a half an hour, and after all was said and done and we locked our bags in train station lockers it was 2:00/14.00 and we had to be back in the station by around 6:15 to check in for the train which left at 7. So we had no time. On top of that all the museums were closed on Mondays (Except the one with Geurnica... which was RIGHT next to the station across the city we came from.) So we wandered out into the city, hoping to see some sights, enjoy the beautiful weather, and get a good Spanish meal (something we did not get to do in Barcelona). So we walked around. The city is actually very beautiful, and has a ton of trees all around. There were some statues and stuff and I don't know about everyone else but I really liked the city itself.
But we had a problem. Everything in the city goes on siesta from 2 - 5. So all our food places we wanted to go to were closed. We kept walking, and found 3 expensive restaurants and one cheap Indian kebab place opened. So the meals we ate in Spain were Dominoes Pizza, Japanese food, and Indian kebabs. God damn.
We took a little siesta of our own after eating in a nearby park. It was nice, and this old man near by saw Dave shielding his eyes from the sun and made a newspaper hat and put it on his head, it was really funny the man was very funny. He made Sharon and Jen hats too when they came over and laughed at it. One of the only nice people we encountered in Spain haha.
After we took a different route back to the train station so that we could see some different parts of the city. It was very hot so we stopped in a little convenience store place for some ice cream and drinks. The first real plus of the day - everything was like dirt cheap! I got ice cream for under €1 and this super delicious and gigantic fruit juice drink for like €1,80 which was awesome. (Also, aside - while I'm typing that it reminds me to say that it is really weird the way they use a comma instead of a period in their money like that 1,80. Looks weird to me.)
We got back to the train station and boarded the train. It was kinda cramped but really cool. We ran along exploring and there was a dining car and a bar car. The guy told us to get reservations for a time slot to come in to eat dinner so we said 10pm and all was well. The rooms alternated man/woman so Dave and I had this guy in our room who owned a crepe place in Paris we are hoping to go to while we are here and the girls next door had his wife and a nun.
We went to dinner and for the second or third time on this trip we had a real bad experience with the Spanish people that made us not really enjoy Spain all that much. In the picture you can see how happy we were before we met our waiter! Basically the gist of it is that the waiter did not like what we were ordering. He wouldn't let me order fruit. Off the menu. I just wanted what was on the menu and he told me no. They had it, people around me were eating it. He told me in his broken English that I could not order it. What the hell? And Sharon and I were not ordering enough money worth of food to justify taking up his time and the seats so he made Sharon and I leave and put 2 strangers in the booth with Jen and Dave.
Real bad end to Spain, and quite frankly it's the first country I'm glad to leave. First country I didn't really enjoy, and it was a bunch of small things that went wrong all piled on top. The icing on the cake was how mean the people were on a few occasions. More bad then good interactions. Brighter future ahead though! Viva la France!
Sunday, June 6, 2010
Hello everyone from Barcelona, Spain! Tonight is actually our second night her in Barcelona and early tomorrow morning it's of to the train station to use our Eurail Passes for the first time to get to Madrid.
When last we left our heroes we had a long productive day about town in London, met up with Klair and Carl, and everyone crashed back at the hostel. Well the next morning we checked out and all met up at the hostel breakfast. After that it was time to part ways as they decided to spend some more time in London and we of course had to get down to the underground to get a metro train to the airport to catch our flight to spain. We got a metro, which trainsferred to another metro, which transfered to a regular train, which eventually took us to London Gatwick Airport. We checked in (with our boarding passes we printed out waay back at Michael and Tara's house) and sent our bags on their merry way down the chute and then went through security... wow. This airport suddenly turned into a shopping mall. 2 floors of nothing but food places, stores for everything from travel supplies to super cheap alchohol to designer bags, and other mall-like things.
We ate lunch at a place called the Flying Horse and I had some sort of English meat pie and it was onward and upward on our Ryanair plane. Ryanair was pretty cool, it's goal is super cheap airfare to get you from A to B as cheap as possible, and I know Carl and Klair were saying how they tried recently to make a plane that was even cheaper and just had everyone standing with hand rails like a subway train sans seats but they weren't alowed (Gee can't imagine why) but the plane was actually perfectly fine and not super cramped, but it was funny because it was choose your own seats their were no assigned seats. We ended up being one of the first few on so we were fine.
The flight was about an hour and a half and then it was hello Barcelona! Well... Sort of. We were at Gerona Airport and we had to take a bus that was around 45 minutes to the station a little ways outside the center of the city and then we metro-ed our way over to our hostel. The metro system here is extremely easy, without speaking Spanish (and remember, Spain-Spanish is not the same as the Spanish we study in America, like Mexico-Spanish) we have been able to get around... let's see... as of typing this I think I have taken 6 trips on the metro each one with one or two transfers and not really had any problems. It is clean and efficient, and while on the subject the London Tube, which was a little bit more confusing but I think only because there were so many more stations, was also super clean and effecient. I'll never be able to look at the NYC Subway the same again.
Our hostel is super nice, our room big and comfy, and we have 4 roomates who seem to only even be here late at night (last night around 1:30) and don't make any noise (but also don't speak any English, so that's no fun)
This morning much of the planning fell through. We had no early morning by any means, but it was raining a little I suppose (which stopped by the time we set out and only flared up again as a light drizzle here and there) and for whatever other reasons there may be Dave and Jen decided they didn't want to go out and see Barcelona. I was of course not going to travel all the way to Barcelona and spend the day in the hostel room sleeping/reading like that, so Sharon and I set out to see the city.
And am I glad we did! While our area is basically like any blah city, we headed to some specific areas that were a marvel to behold (basically all thanks to the genius that is Gaudi. Look him up. Or just look at my pictures then you will want to.)
We first headed to Parc Guall, also known as Gaudi Park (Guall financed the park, Gaudi designed everything) which was just phenominal. The buildings and park layout were beautiful and surreal, something kind of out of Dr. Suess (but predating him.) We explored the park for a while, which had many levels as we continued to go up, we found ourself often suddenly walking to a cliff and seeing it was the top of a large structure we were just in and there were crazy houses to explore. The center of the park was an oversized hypostyle hall with a large staircase leading up to it. In the center of the staircase were three fountains that were sort of connected and each was unique and awesome. Deeper in the park was the house Gaudi lived in, but it was crowded and expensive so we did not go in.
After we got back to the metro and headed to Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's unfinished masterpiece. He died early in the construction (but of course he had the plans drawn and most of the parts modelled already) and in the Spanish Civil War the cathedral was attacked and desecrated, with most of the models and drawings being destroyed. After the war artists and architects put the models back together and found the plans and construction / reconstruction resumed and it is still being built today, seemingly almost done in the grand scheme of things.
It was beautiful. Insane. You have to see it (especially the inside hall) to believe it. I wish it was finished because I could see what was intended and it would have looked awesome. My only gripe is that is was too windy and rainy to climb up the tower, which stinks. But that was great, and we went into the crypt which is now a sort of Gaudi museum abotu him and particularly the creation of the cathedral.
After that we headed to the Arc de Triomf and that was very impressive. It is massive and beautiful, I wish it was sunny instead of the over cast day because after getting to Spain yesterday evening we had a transfer at Arc de Triomf metro station and I saw it for a momemnt from a few blocks away and it was amazing looking in the golden evening sunlight.
After that, we metro-ed our way over to the Gothic Quarter and walked around there, seeing sights like the Barcelona Cathedral (also unfinished) and more Gaudi work.
When we had travelled all about we headed back to the hostel, exhausted, and crashed in the room for awhile. After resting for about an hour and a half we all got up again and headed out in search of dinner and planning to go to this bar called Chupitos (I think) that is supposed to be totally awesome with over 200 unique shots and each shot has a funny name and they do these elaborate things for each shot like light the bar on fire or dress you in a costume. The only place open we found to eat was a Japanese place, and I'm surprised they let us in because they seemed to hurry us up and close immediately after we left. It was real good though! Kinda heavy on the Onions, but aside it was great. No Staten Island Chinese or anything, but much better then the noodles we got in Glasgow (extremely meh.) We made our way there and it was closed, even though it said it was open until 2:30 on Sunday and people don't even start to get there until 10 (it was 11:45) and we hear how Barcelona has such a great night life (everything was closed and not many people were out by 10ish). I'm glad I didn't come to Europe hoping to party all night with drinking and clubs because everything closes earlier then freaking Walmart does at home. So we got a cab back and it is always funny to me hear how the language barrier isn't such a problem even when we dont speak any Spanish and they no English. Also humor is always still present.
Also, funny story - when we went back to rest like I said above, Dave and Jen said that we had a new roomate who was the smelliest person in the world. I didn't think much more then laughing but he came in and seriously. It was the worst smell in the universe. I have very limited experience, but it was by far the worst smell I ever smelled. We were gagging and our eyes were tearing. I don't drink or smoke or anything, so I can confidently say that the smell was the most destructive thing to ever enter my body. My lungs probably look like a 20 year chain smoker's now. It was sickening. We went down and got our room moved and then ran in holding our breath (he had stepped out and contaminated the elevator, and you could smell his... residue... on the whole first floor) and grabbed everything and bolted to our new room on the second floor. So much better now. Seriously. I had to shower after. Sickening. Hillarious now though haha.
Smelly roomate aside, Barcelona was great (for Sharon and I at least)! Tomorrow, onward to Madrid!