Dresden: Tuesday

I am utterly defeated. I hurt everywhere and I’m so tired I want to die.
I had a great day though, and Dresden was gorgeous.
I am at the airport waiting for my plane to London now and don’t really have the energy to type up yesterday or today’s posts, so hold on a bit! (I know you can barely stand the suspence)
Tonight I’ll be in London, with people who speak English, and supposedly a private room where I intend to get down to some serious, serious showering and doing nothing. I think I might end up taking tomorrow completely off. Maybe find a place that does foot massage. God my feet hurt.

Anyway, till then check out the pictures of Dresden. They’re awesome.

Berlin: Monday

Today in Berlin was wonderful. I love this city. It’s perfect and I want to tell you all about it and all the great things I saw in detail but I’m not going to. I have to go to bed. I have a train to Dresden leaving at 5:12am tomorrow and it’s already 12:42am. That was the only train I could get that would get me back to Berlin in time to catch my flight to London.

Tomorrow is going to hurt.

Why do it? I saw everything I wanted to see in Berlin today. I walked the entire city. I don’t want to do it again. It’s nice here, but I don’t need another day as a tourist. I want to see Dresden very much. It comes highly recommended and hell, just sitting on an air conditioned train for 2 hours each way sounds like heaven right now.

I will relate a quick little story, or two.

I bought two beers and two waters on my way back to my room just now. I put them in a bag provided by the grocer. I opened one of the waters and it’s carbonated. I hate sparkling water. Whatever, I shook it till the gas was gone and sucked it down. So then I’m walking and my bag rips and one of my beers shatters on the ground. I swear to you, I almost cried.

I get back to the hotel and ask the receptionist (male) if I can get a wake up call. He responds with a string of German. “Sprect English?” I ask and he says no. So then we went through a highly humorous pantomime session resulting in me, hopefully, getting a wake up call at 4am. I had to tilt my head and pretend I was sleeping to get “wake up call” through and then remember my high school German to get the numbers right. I think it worked.

“Zitter… uh… nine!” “Fier… hours!”

I wish I had the video tape.

Talk to you all about Berlin tomorrow. Probably from London.

Oh, I did upload lots of pictures from Berlin. Check em out.

Berlin: Sunday

I feel like some part of me remembers Germany. Which is silly. The only thing German about me is my name but as soon as we got into Germany I fell in love. The land is beautiful. It’s just like the tiny towns I’ve seen in Pennsylvania that I always loved so much. It’s all green, rolling hills with little old towns tucked into valleys. Perhaps that why so many German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania.

Today was pretty boring. Basically a full day of travel. I took the high speed train Thalys from Paris to Cologne, Germany and then the high speed train ICE from Cologne to Berlin. The only thing exciting that happened all day was there was a huge fight in the station in Cologne. Can you guess what it was about? A woman! No, I kid, of course not. It was about the World Cup. I guess two rival idiots decided to have at it right in view of about 200 German police. By time the police broke it up some old lady had been KNOCKED down the stairs and several guys were standing around with torn shirts. I hope they get to spend the night in jail and miss the game.

Let me tell you something. There are a LOT of police around. I guess for this very reason. I’m assuming that it’s not like this all the time but there are just tons and tons of them.

Anyway, I left Paris at 10:55am and arrived in Berlin exactly on time, to the minute, at 8:48pm. There was an hour layover in Cologne so it was about 9 hours of train time all told. Still, it was nice. The trains are very fast, quiet and there’s plenty to look at. At one point the ICE train was doing 235 km/h which is almost 150 mph. Pretty sweet. The ICE shows it’s speed now and then on a display. The Thalys is kind of old school and doesn’t show shit.

Berlin so far is awesome. The station is brand new and it’s very nice. The tourism booth was still open so I managed to get lots of information, a train pass and a new hotel reservation. I had booked two nights in a hostel just to make sure I would have a place to stay but when I got here I found a really nice 3 star hotel for EU 45/night. Can’t beat that. The hostel was going to be EU 22/night and that was for a 8 bed dorm with shared bathroom. It’s really nice to have a place to hang up your clothes and know that they will still be there when you return after a day of sightseeing.

My hotel is about 600 meters from the Zoological Garden station (ZOO) which is the center of the shopping district. It’s really nice. My hotel is on a side road right off a road that looks every bit as nice as 47th through The Plaza.

The room itself is interesting. They seem to keep getting smaller. And I have a Murphey bed! How cool is that? Not very cool, I admit, but still. I’ve never actually seen one. Since I didn’t do anything cool today except ride the train I’ll try to upload some pictures of the room. My Internet access is pretty spotty. I’m “borrowing” it from someone. Who knows who.

So far everyone I have run into speaks very good English and they are very polite. Nice change from Paris. Signs are sometimes mixed, sometimes not, but once you get the basics it’s not too bad. The train system seems to be really nice. There’s a “snelltrain” that runs just between the major stations in the city, a above ground tram that hits most of the bigger stations and then an underground subway which I don’t know anything about yet.

Oh, the first thing I ate when I arrived in Germany was a giant soft pretzel. That kicked ass. Place selling them for EU 0.60 just as I got off the train.
I continue to eat everything I’m presented and I’m telling you, it hasn’t been easy. I got a toasted ham and cheese sandwich while on the train today and it was completely slimed in mayo. So nasty. I ate every bite.

I probably got off pretty lucky in Paris. I never did figure out how to successfully sit down at a table at a street cafe but if I had I think I may have been presented with a giant bucket full of slimy things in shells. That seemed to be the chow du jour.

So that’s probably about it for Sunday. I am going to clean up and then hit a bar or two out on the main street I think. I hear Germany has beer. I’d like to drink some. I also need to finish watching The Godfather. My battery pooped out like 20 minutes from the end. They had just blown up Mike’s hot, new Italian wife.

Oh, one last cool thing. Most of the places I’ve been in Europe have these really nice faucets on the showers. They are marked with temperatures and presumably the water that comes out is that temperature. They also lock at 38 celcius and you have to push a button to go hotter than that. Which is good. That’s too hot. Anyway, I like mine to be about 35.

Oh, there’s one more last thing. You know how in the US when you get a soda from a soda machine it drops like 20 stories into the bin at the bottom but somehow when you open it it doesn’t explode? That’s cause they keep the nice and cold. In Paris everything is warm. When you buy a soda (or in this morning’s case, an Orangina) and open it it blows a geyser a mile high and all over you. This happened to me over and over and I never learned.

‘Night!

Paris: Saturday Night

Took a stroll down the strip; I’m not going to bother trying to spell French names any more 🙂 The night life was fairly tame but there were lots of clubs with large men standing in front blocking the door to keep filthy people like me out. I came back pretty early and am heading to bed as soon as it cools off enough to sleep. I’m ready to leave Paris. Like I said earlier, maybe another time with more money. And fucking air conditioning. In April, or October. The heat and stink is just unbearable. Here’s to hoping it’s cold in Germany!

I put up some night time pictures of Paris and from the top of the arch. I now know why it’s called the Arch de’ Triumph (or something spelled something like that). You feel triumphant when you reach the top of the 284 stair circular stair case. It’s funny, at the top is a mass of people panting and heaving and generally dying. Me too.
The view was incredible though, and it was very peaceful and quiet.

One final complaint and then I swear I’ll go back to being upbeat and fun.
What is it about sports that makes people such complete assholes? World Cup fans are running around just being lame and starting shit with people. And not friendly shit, just shit. Two particular assholes are on the subway and decide to light cigarettes. You can’t smoke on the subway. Some old French guy tells them, nicely, that you can’t smoke on the subway so they both light up while staring at the guy and then blow smoke in his face. I look over to see what’s going on and they start to get in my face. I’m staring them down thinking I’m going to end up in a fight in a foreign country and the train stops and they get off. Then they stand outside the door flipping me off until the train leaves.

Gooooaaaaaaaaaaalllllllllllllllllllll…

Goodnight Paris, you stinky bitch.

Paris: Saturday

In the future, when I think back to my time in Paris I’ll think “I wish I had had my nose amputated in Brussels”. Paris is beautiful but she stinks. Everywhere I go except in the most swanky areas there seems to be the constant smell of body odor and shit. Maybe when you’ve got this many people and this much heat that’s just the way it is, but none the less, it stinks.

I woke up this morning feeling a lot better, but still pretty bad all told. I was out of clean shirts and both of my pairs of jeans had seen a few days of walking around in the heat so it was time to go laundry hunting. The guy at the front desk told me there was one just 300 meters down the street so I put on one of my dress shirts (so I could wash all my t-shirts) and headed out. It may have been 300 meters, or it may have been 900. Meters are meaningless to me. Everyone uses them though. Stores are “just 50 meters from the station!” and hotels are “around the corner and 100 meters”. I just think of it as football fields.

Laundry was as exciting as you might expect it to be. I ended up trying to find other places to be because the laundry place itself smelled like shit and there was a guy in there who just absolutely reeked of body odor. I could smell it out the door. So instead of sitting there basking in it I went hunting for medicine.

I found a pharmacy and went in and asked if they had cold medicine. It’s not like in the US where you go into a Walgreens and there are 200 different cold medicines in different flavors and strengths and colors. She had one. I was hoping for something with Psuedephadrine in it so my damn nose would stop running but no luck. I asked and it turned out she had just regular Sudafed so I got that instead and popped one dry.

Note to meth manufacturers. Come to Paris. EU 1.60 for a box of 15 Sudafed.

I then found a bakery around the corner and snarfed down two pastries. I hadn’t eaten anything in almost 24 hours and I was dying. Then back to the laundry to get my nice, clean clothes and it was time to start the day.

I didn’t really know what I wanted to do today but I did need to start thinking about tomorrow. I did some research on flights and trains and hostels and decided to go to Berlin next. It was my cheapest option aside from going straight to London and it was too early for that. So I waited in line at the station to buy a train ticket to Berlin. It was expensive, but it’s going to be fun. I’ll take the Thalys to Cologne and then the ICE to Berlin. Both high speed, luxury trains. It cost me EU 172. Getting into Paris was easy, and pretty cheap. The options for getting out weren’t very good.

All that out of the way I finally had time to do some sight seeing. I headed for Notre Dame and visited there for a while. I’m running out of superlatives so I’ll just say it was great. That does it no justice at all but how many times can I say beautiful or stunning or gorgeous. It was all of those and more. Every gargoyle and belfry is a work of art, and there are hundreds.

I had kind of wanted to take one of the red bus tours but they stopped taking passengers at 4 and it was already getting close to that so I decided to just make my own tour. I rode the subway out to La Defense which sounded cool but I had no idea what it was. It was indeed cool. A giant, giant arch made of what looked like a hotel and lots of nice shops. It’s on the western most part of Paris, over the outer loop of the Seine. I’m not really sure what it’s all about still. I need to read about it.

Then I was off to Trocadero which was another thing that sounded cool. Aside from the historical significance (of which I know nothing, and need to read) there is a beautiful view of The Eiffel Tower and a plaza area.

It was getting unbearably hot so I decided to head back to my room for a siesta and to do some more research for tomorrow. After a lot of reading and browsing I decided to stay in Berlin for two days and hopefully make one of the days a quick trip to Dresden by train and then I’m flying to London where I’ll finish the week, and the trip. That will have put me in 5 countries and 7 cities. Not bad for my first try. I booked the flight to London and a hostel right in the center of Berlin.

Now it’s about 8pm and I’m just waiting for the sun to set. Tonight I’ll see Paris by night. I’d like to go to the top of the Arch de Triumph and also see some of the night life.

I’m finding that I was completely unprepared for Paris. I don’t know the city’s history or enough about it. I know I missed 99% of it and I feel bad, but I’ve also really enjoyed my visit, so that’s okay. I saw a lot of the big attractions, and while my visit was pure tourist I don’t know what else I could have done without a guide.

I think I’d like to come back to Paris as a specific vacation. I think this city is probably better seen on a real budget, instead of a shoe string one like I am keeping. In Amsterdam it seemed like cheap Amsterdam was young Amsterdam. In Paris it seems like cheap Paris is poor Paris. As with everything else on this trip, and in life, I think it would be more fun with someone.

Make sure you keep reading below. I finished yesterday’s entry that I couldn’t finish from being sick. And check out Flickr for new pictures from today.

Paris: Friday; Retrospective

Paris: Friday; Retrospective

Friday morning I woke up sick as a dog. I had been feeling kind of shitty Thursday night but I thought it was just a headache from getting drunk in Brussels. Not so. I blew my nose and blood came out. Not really a good thing. I lazed around as long as I could before I had to check out of my hotel, finally took a shower and got moving. All I wanted to do was lay down.

I hit the tourist information booth in the train station to try to find a cheaper hotel or hostel. They gave me information on a place just down the street that was only EU 45/night so I booked it for two days. That’s where I am now. I’m finding that these tiny, cheap hotels may be old, and small but they take care of them. All of my rooms have been cleaner than I expected. Just as clean as a nice, big hotel. Just with less “stuff”.
I also got some maps, tour pamphlets and a 3 day pass for the transportation system.

Paris’ streets are insane. I have a very nice map the tourist information booth gave me but I get lost two or three times trying to find anything. I walked a good mile and a half getting to this hotel just to find out it was right around the corner. I’ve gotten really good at reading maps so it’s not that I am stupid. The roads just don’t line up!

Once I got checked into my hotel I rested for a bit and decided to set out for Paris. What I really wanted to do was lay down and sleep all day, but I didn’t want to let a cold or something lame like that ruin a day of my vacation. I went back to the station and stood there looking at the metro (subway) map for about 15 minutes before some nice guy took pity on me and asked me where I was trying to go. I told him “The Louvre” just to have something to say and he told me which trains to take. It was non-obvious but now that I have spent some time on the subway it’s pretty clear.

When I got off the subway at The Louvre it was the first time I had seen Paris, really. Words really don’t do it justice. You are utterly surrounded by majestic buildings that look like something out of a movie. Probably because they are. The architecture is stunning and coming out of the station for the first time is just amazing.

I didn’t really have my bearings very well so I started walking towards the thing that looked like it might be important enough to contain the Mona Lisa. I walked into a square formed by some large buildings and finally saw the pyramid of The Louvre. The giant glass pyramid seen in my pictures is the entrance to The Louvre. Having no better plan for the day I bought a ticket to the museum and headed in. I have to admit, I’m a little burned out on museums but there were a few pieces I thought I should probably check out 🙂

I’ll spare you all the details. The Louvre is incredibly large and every single room is like a work of art itself. There are masterpieces just laying around everywhere. I most wanted to see Venus de Milo and of course The Mona Lisa. I did, and they were both beautiful. I wish they could have come up with a way to let people get closer to The Mona Lisa though. You are separated by a good 10 feet and you can’t really get a good look at the detail. I understand, of course, but still, maybe they could just use a few more layers of bullet proof glass and let me get closer.

I’m sure a true art aficionado could spend his entire life on just a single floor of The Louvre but I say if you’ve seen one ancient, classic Italian masterpiece you’ve seen them all. I blew through the whole place in about 2 hours.

I wanted to see The Arch de Triumph (I know I’m spelling it wrong, and I don’t care) and it didn’t seem to be too far by the map so I started walking. The area between The Louvre and the Place de la Concorde is all gardens and fountains. It’s very beautiful but the main walkway is all just sand. Poor choice. It was blowing around and being miserable. I walked and walked and walked and eventually made it to… the sorbet stand! What a relief. I had lemon and raspberry, if you were wondering.

After the garden section comes the main “strip” in Paris. The Avenue Des Champs Elysees. This is a huge road with all the major Parisian shops along it that just goes on forever. It ends at the arch. I’d say it took me a solid hour or more to walk from The Louvre to the arch. Once there I wandered a bit, and took it in. All of the major 12 streets of Paris meet at the arch so you get a great view of what’s going on. You can climb to the top of it and see all of Paris but I thought I’d like to save that for night time so I skipped it.

Once I had had enough of that I figured I might as well try to go to the Eiffel Tower to top off the day. I consulted my trusty map and made a plan. I would get lost! And then go back and forth on the same train several times! My plan worked out perfectly but I did eventually make it to the tower.

The tower is about a half mile walk (563 centiliters) from the nearest subway station so I headed towards it. Not exactly hard to find. It kind of sticks out. Once I got there I located the statue of Eiffel cause I wanted to sing to him. There was quite a crowd around so I kind of sung under my breath but I still think he appreciated it. I then got in what seemed to be a Disneyland style line for the tram to the top of the tower.

I waited in line for about 1.5 hours just to find out you couldn’t buy tickets to the top. Too crowded. You could only go to the second floor and then if you wanted to continue to the top you could buy another ticket there and head up. So I did that and stood in line for another hour but finally I made it to the top and it was worth it. You can see from the pictures. I had no idea Paris was so large and you can of course see every bit of it from the top of the tower. It’s just amazing, and it’s so white. It’s like the entire city is built of marble, and probably a good portion of it is. Very pretty.

I was feeling absolutely miserable by now so I headed back to my room as fast as I could. It’s three different trains from the Eiffel Tower and about an hour altogether. By time I got back I just wanted to die and that’s when I wrote the earlier post you may have seen. I laid down just planning to sleep for a few hours and feel better but didn’t wake up until almost midnight. I was still feeling terrible and just decided to call it a night and stay in.

My first impressions of Paris are that it’s too big to understand. You could easily spend your life here and never find all of it. I feel like I know most of Kansas City after 10 years but there are still places I wouldn’t be able to find on a map if you mentioned them. In Paris I feel like that about even the tiny neighborhood I am staying in.
The language barrier is also much worse. No signs are in English and a lot of people either don’t speak it or pretend they don’t. I’m doing a lot of pointing and hand waving 🙂

Paris: Friday

Pictures are up from Paris today. I’ll put up a real post about it soon but for now I need to lay down. I woke up sick as a dog this morning but I didn’t want to waste the day in bed. So I went to The Louvre, The Arch de’ Triumph and The Eiffel Tower. Now I feel like I am going to die. Paris is beautiful, and huge. I had no idea how big it was.

Anyway, more later.

Brussels, Paris: Thursday

Well, you can see from the title I’ve made it to Paris! I am completely beat, so this might be a short entry. It’s about 11:30pm here.

I arrived in Brussels around noon and was completely out of my league. No one spoke English unless asked, and then often not very well. No signs were in English. They were all in French! I guess I never realized that people in Brussels spoke French. I thought they spoke Belgian 🙂 That explains why Stella Atois always looked French to me.

When I step off the train in a new city my first few thoughts are: Where do I pee? Where do I eat? How do I move around? Where will I sleep?

Peeing was a new experience. I’ve run into pay toilets already. They are almost everywhere. You need to carry a lot of change around with you in Europe; not just for the toilets, but for everything. No one likes large bills and all the machines take the coins. Don’t forget you’ve got coins in EU 2, 1, 0.50, 0.20, 0.05, 0.02 and 0.01. I empty my pocket at night and I’ve got like $30 in change in there. Weird.

Anyway, this was the first toilet that had a little old lady who you had to pay. I didn’t know if I had to pay her before, or after or what. I sitll don’t, but I tried it both ways and she didn’t seem to care.It took me quite a while to get my bearings and figure out the tram system. I finally figured out how to get into the city center and headed there. I really didn’t know anything about Brussels except that I wanted to see it, and drink some beer. I stopped at a tourism office and asked about lodging. She told me about a cheap hotel and also gave me a “Young Belgium” booklet that had information on hostels, bars, clubs and other youngish type stuff. One of the things right in the front was the Delerium Cafe which claimed to serve 2004 beers. I figured it couldn’t be a coincidence that Delerium is a Belgian beer and there was a cafe named Delerium so I planned to head there. I took a little tour of the city finding it, but I finally did. It was down a tiny little alley and was very dingey looking but it had an awful lot of beer signs so I went in.

The bar was down in the basement, and man, they had some beer. The bar was nothing special, except the tables were old beer barrels (see pictures) but the beer was awesome. I had a Delerium Tremens and headed out to find a place to sleep that night.

I started walking towards the hostel I was recomended. I should have learned more about the trams and rode. It was a long, long walk. And it was full when I arrived. That kind of cemented my plan to not stay in Brussels. I already wasn’t feeling like staying and that helped make the decision. I found the tram and headed back to the station to come up with a plan. I finally decided to drop my backpack in a locker, go explore Brussels till I was sick of it and then go to Paris.

Brussels turned out to be nice, but not really great. I’m sure there’s a ton of things to do but without better resources and more time I limited myself to seeing the Grote Markt, or Grand Place. It’s a large square surrounded by these incredible old buildings and cathedrals. And bars! I wandered around for a bit and then settled down to drink some Belgian beers! I first had to learn how to get served

Aparently in Brussels, and maybe in Paris you just walk up, grab a table and wait until the waiter comes. There’s all these outdoor restaurants and that seemed to be how they worked. Once I got it figured out I had a Kriek Mort Subite, which was awesome. Very tart, light cherry Lambic. Then I had a Kriek Something Else which was great, and a little more sweet. Then Chris the Austrailian tour guide sat down next to me and we got to chatting. He had all kinds of great travel information for me so when the waiter came I bought us a round. This time it was a nice Stella Artois for me and a Kriek for him. I finished up with a Framboise lambic and headed out this with my head swimming.

Tram back to the station, quick dash to make the next train to Paris and I was off! I took the Thalys high speed train to Paris and it was very cool. Super fast and comfortable. I thought it was going to be a three hour ride so about 40 minutes in I took a little nap. About 20 minutes. When I woke we were approaching a huge city and I thought “I didn’t think there was a big city between Brussels and Paris” and then I looked further north and saw the damn Eiffle Tower! I was in Paris already!

Unfortunately all the tourist info in Paris was closed. I couldn’t find a map, or get a hotel or hostel or anything. I was starting to get frusterated so I just left the station and started walking. I stopped at the first hotel I saw and took a room. The room is very small, and kinda crappy, but it feels like heaven to me. I really need some rest and a shower. The maitre d’ hotel (is that right?) was also very cool. He gave me a good map and said he’s put some good information together for me tomorrow. And I have free Internet access! Can’t ask for much more than that.

So, I’m off to bed. Check out Flickr for pictures of Brussels and Paris, so far. Tomorrow I’ll hit the tourism information, find a cheaper hotel or hostel and start my visit to Paris.

???: Thursday

I’m sitting in the train station in Roosendaal, The Netherlands waiting for my Sneltrain (Fast train) to Brussels, Belgium. There are two types of trains. You’ve got your Sneltrain, which is my personal favorite which has very few stops between your origin and destination and your Stoptrain which stops everywhere. Kind of like a subway.

I’m starting to run into less and less English speakers, and no one speaks English to start with. In Amsterdam, and less in Breda I would be greeted in English now and then. Here I have to say something, or stand there with a stupid look on my face before we can get down to serious buying of food and tickets.

I’m learning a lot of words, but not enough to really help. I recognize words now, though, when people are speaking and on signs. It took some time before my mind associated the things I was reading with the things I was hearing.

I escaped work pretty early this morning so I’m getting an early start. It’s only 11:45am and Brussels isn’t far away. So, I’ll have the better part of the day and the night in Brussels, which I think will be enough. I will try to see if I can get a train ticket to Paris for late tonight and preferably sleep on the train instead of getting a room. Although two or three hours might not be enough sleep 🙂

My hope is that I might be able to do Paris in a day or two and still make it to Germany I really want to go to Germany. I know that one or two days in Paris isn’t nearly enough but it will be enough time to see the major sites and walk around the city for a while. I enjoyed how much I got to know Amsterdam but I really do want to see many places so I know where I’d like to come back to 🙂

Today my adventure really begins. Up until today most things were somewhat planned out. I had plane tickets, places to sleep. I had to fend for myself a bit on getting around but it wasn’t too bad. With the language barrier getting worse it’s exciting, and a little scary. So far everyone was at least willing to speak English to me. I don’t expect that as much in Brussels and I hear the French can be real assholes about it. In the worst case I can play my panic card and buy a plane ticket to London 🙂

The train should arrive in a moment so I’m off. Talk to you tonight, from Brussels, or perhaps France!