Today I have embarked on cleaning out my closet, which is turning out to be a larger feat than anticipated. There are boxes and boxes of stuff; old diaries (which are hilarious...'dear diary, why can't I get a boyfriend?'...as if that were the most important thing in life), varsity letters, math tests that I actually did well on, notes from friends during class, photos (from the days that we actually processed FILM...
...how do you just throw things away that meant something to you once?
I've been home for a little over a week now...after the initial excitement of seeing my family, my dogs, and my very own closet with my old things, it became a little bit strange. My room was the same as it was in high school (because I haven't really lived here since then), but with a new window (thanks, Dad!) and everything in boxes from being moved out when the floors were refinished. So, not only did I have my bags from the past year, but all my dresser drawers had been emptied, and had piles of boxes waiting to also be unpacked. This was not something I was willing to deal with 3 days before Thanksgiving, so I did what I usually do when I don't want to see something in my room...I put it in the garage. Those boxes are still there, still not ready to be dealt with. Throw out? Keep? Give away? I'm not ready for this.
Per my mother's suggestion, I decided to redecorate my room, for my new beginnings. Paint was bought, colors were tested...and then everything sat in the center of my room for a week...except for the one wall I managed to do while Charlie was here. See photo. It was depressing. Still on Australia time, I couldn't fall asleep until 12 or 1 in the morning, couldn't wake up until 10 or 11 (for those that know me...not my usual pattern). After that Thanksgiving excitement had worn off and everyone in my family went back to work, I couldn't get out of bed in the morning. I would wake up in the middle of my room and not feel like doing anything except go back to sleep. I wouldn't go so far as to say I was depressed, but was feeling extreme listlessness and intense sadness. In the span of a week and a half I had gone from having something going on everyday, some place to be, people to see, to having nothing. No job, no friends available (because they have jobs), and a very messy room. Or maybe what I was really sad about was that it was all over, and I was left with fond memories and no plans or goals.
Today my mom woke me up at 8, brought in the paint cans, and we both finished painting my room. My furniture rearranged, a new bedspread in place, and some quality time with my mom really made me feel much better about my new life and the possibilities it holds. 'After' photos to follow.
I wrote this entry in my journal while I was sitting in the Singapore airport 5 days ago. I'm glad I did, because now, I wouldn't have any idea what to write or what I've even done the past week or so.
Malaysia was an interesting place...I'm glad to have gone, but don't feel the need to go back anytime soon. It's fascinating how 3 different cultures co-exist almost seamlessly...or so it would seem when looking in from the outside.
After going to the tea plantation, we headed for Kuala Lumpur for a couple days. I think I had in my mind that it would be a much more glamourous city than it really is. It's pretty much the same as any other large city. We stayed in Chinatown right were the night markets are held. The market stalls all sold essentially the same things- designer impostor goods, pirated dvds, fake rolexes, etc. I find shopping in that environment (i.e. bartering for everything) very exhausting, so I really didn't do too much shopping.
The next day, one of the girls, Andrea, and I went to the Petronas Towers to get tickets to go to the sky-bridge. We then stopped in Little India, then got epically lost trying to find our way back to the hostel. Eventually we gave up and took the train 1 stop because we simply could not figure out which way to go. The towers were impressive, but there was this cheesy video when you go in, boasting how these towers are Malaysia's symbol of success to the world, and how great the Petronas c ompany is, and blah blah blah. It felt like brainwashing.
We spent the following day heading to Melaka, which was extremely hot. It was the kind of heat that makes you not want to do anything except sit in front of a fan or in a swimming pool. We attempted to sneak into a hotel pool, but lost the courage when threatened with being kicked out and/or fined. So we spent the afternoon at the guest house until it was time to be picked up by the trishaws...which are like bikes with sidecars decorated in an outrageously tacky manner with fake flowers, twinkle lights, and assorted plastic toys (ours had crabs). Our guide, Kamal, was lovely and took us to a couple temples, taught us about Malay history, and gave us plant spices to sample.
Finally, the next day, we headed to Singapore, the final destination. We had a nice dinner and attempted to have a big night out, as it was our last all together, but Singapore is extremely expensive, and when drinks cost as much as they do, we all lost the motivation to be out rather quickly. The following day we went to the Singapore Zoo, which is world renowned, and with good reason. It was probably one of the nicest zoos I've ever been to.
We collected our bags from the hotel and relocated to different hostels, as some people were staying in Singapore for a few extra days. I had to say my goodbyes from there, as I was heading to the airport to spend the night there. I think I'm becoming desensitized to saying goodbye, maybe because I do it so much, or maybe because I get so excited about the next chapter of life that I'm eager to get to whatever will take me there. It was interesting to be around a bunch of people whose journeys are, really, only just beginning. All the girls in the group are heading to Australia within the next couple months and plan to stay there a while. I find myself feeling almost jealous. On one hand, I wish I could just stay in Sydney (it's the best time of the year...summer is coming!), but, on the other hand, I just spent the past 6 months before heading overseas ready to get out.
Now I'm back in Australia and just had the nicest few days I have ever had here. The weather cleared up for some beach time, a few of my really good friends happened to be in town, and a bunch of my family came down to see me off. It was such a lovely weekend, I find myself feeling apprehensive about going home. But, I know myself well enough to recognize that I always feel anxious and apprehensive when my life is about to change. My body shuts down (I have a fever right now), I get very moody and emotional, and I try to make excuses why I shouldn't leave. I never thought I would feel so strange about going home...I've been so excited about it for months...but it's that great unknown (how will I feel, what will I do, where will I live, how will I be different) that makes me nervous, but I know I'll be just fine. I always am.
It's come to that stage in the travel game where I have absolutely no idea what day it is, what the date is, or what a real shower feels like. To be fair, I have loved it all.
When we arrived back in Bangkok, we met up with the new people for our journey...all girls. 3 girls from North Ireland (which means they're technically British...I never knew!), and one girl from England, another girl from Scotland..leaving me to be the only non British person. Sometimes in places we've been where people ask where we're all from, I tell them in my blatantly American accent that I'm from Ireland. I just feel kind of left out. We also met our new tour leader, Rachel, who's from Sydney, so at least she and I have some common ground.
From Bangkok we traveled south to Khao Sok National Park on a night train that wasn't nearly as nice as the previous two. It was essentially the same setup, but with no air conditioning and lots of bugs. We all woke up sweating. Cute. At the national park we stayed in little bungalows and went tubing down the river in big black tubes, which had some funny moments with people getting hit by tree branches and getting stuck between various rocks. After that we fed monkeys at a temple, which was funny and scary at the same time...I remembered in India when my friend Erin had a bag of chips, and a monkey came up to her making scary noises. She wound up just throwing the chips on the ground and running...which seemed like the logical choice at the time.
From the park we traveled across to Krabi province for some beach time. Our hotel was right next to the beach, which was beautiful, but we couldn't go in the water...apparently there's jellyfish. The boxed kind. We did go swimming in a different area...we saw other people in the water not getting stung, and the water was so inviting, we decided to take our chances. It was well worth it. The following day, myself and a few of the other girls headed for Kho Phi Phi (pronounced "Pee Pee") on a ferry to spend a day and a night on the main island. The day we arrived, the weather was beautiful, we spent the whole day at the beach. We stayed in the cheapest hotel possible, which, appeared passable at a glance, if you didn't look too closely at the sheets. And I'm pretty sure they bought the beds at a prison garage sale...solid as rocks. We all went out to a bar called Hippie Bar that night and watched a fire show, did some dancing...at one point I decided it was a good idea to go swimming with my clothes on (I blame the rum). The next day it rained and rained until our ferry at 3, then rained some more. That was disappointing, but at least we got some beach time in. The thing about beach hotels, though, it most of them only have cold showers. Which wasn't very nice when you're cold from having been rained on all day.
After returning to Krabi, we had dinner with the rest of the girls, and the next day headed off to Penang, Malaysia. It was a long travel day consisting of being in vans for 10 hours, but they were very nice, and the day went very quickly. Crossing the border was kind of funny...we got our passports stamped as we departed Thailand...then had to walk about 100 metres before getting stamped as having arrived in Malaysia...so for those 100 metres, where were we? Malaysia is an interesting country...it's a fusion of Indian, Chinese, and Malay cultures, and is predominantly Muslim, so we have to have our shoulders and knees covered. Except at the beach. We were excited to be able to wear bikinis at the beach the next day...we spent most of the day there, a few of us went on a banana boat, jetskiing, parasailing...I'm a bit sore today! In the morning we had taken a tour of the city, our guide Steven was very informative and took us to the city's larger temples. Next to our hotel was a Muslim mosque, which means that every morning at 5:30, they ring bells and play a recording of a prayer...very loudly. We left Penang this morning and got on the dirtiest bus I've ever been on...it was a coach bus, but it was old, outdated, had a crazy driver, and little cockroaches everywhere. Apparently that's the worst of it, according to Rachel. For here on, the buses are much nicer. Now we're in the Cameron Highlands, it's raining (surprise!), cool (yippie!), and tomorrow we're going to a tea plantation. Tomorrow afternoon we're off to Kuala Lumpur, then Melaka, then it's over! Then I'm off to Sydney, which I'm really looking forward to! A bunch of my family is coming from the Gold Coast to see me off, so I'm very grateful that I'm getting such a big send off.
We had a guide in the hills, Sangsung, that would always use that phrase. It sounded so funny in his broken English, but, when you really think about it, there's a lot of value to those four words.
Thailand is incredible...which I don't really think is enough to describe it, really, but it'll have to do for now. I've just spent the past 12 hours on a train, and am feeling neither fully conscious nor creative. So this entry will probably be pretty bland.
I met the girls with the tour group (yes, all girls) at the hotel 2 days after I had been in Bangkok. All are really sweet, mostly from the UK, and one from New Zealand. We had a nice dinner all together, then went out on Khao San Road (it's like the Strip of Bangkok...all bars and clubs, neon lights, sea of tourists) for some buckets of cocktails...but that's a bit of an exaggeration. They were more like sand pails. The next day we went to the markets to check out the local produce with our tour leader, Dong. I had sudden flashbacks from the time I was in Chinatown when I was 8, and became traumatized by the dead animals hanging in the windows. If I wasn't already vegetarian, I would be now. There was just hoards of raw meat everywhere, chicken feet, ribs, and parts of animals I didn't even want to hazard a guess. Although, the nice thing about Thai cooking is they use all the parts of the chicken, so it's not as wasteful...although I couldn't get too excited about eating chicken feet, even if I did still eat chicken.
That day we also went to the Grand Palace, which was beautiful, I took about a million pictures. Because of the strict dress code, I had to wear a wrap skirt to cover my calves, and a shirt to cover my shoulders. Come to find out later, they don't wash those shirts after each wash. It was hot...and I was sweaty. And I assume the person before me was sweaty. Gross. But, I'll post pictures of the Grand Palace, and you can see how grand it really is. Later that day we boarded an overnight train up to Chiang Mai. For some reason, I had this idea in my head that the train would be really dodgy, but, actually, it was the nicest overnight train I had ever been on.
In Chiang Mai we dropped off our things and went on a bike tour of the city with a special guide, David. He took us to a temple, a 'rehabilitation center' for people with leprosy (sounds glamorous, doesn't it?? apparently it was used more back in the day when leprosy was more prominent), had lunch, then stopped at the Thai version of a crematorium...which was essentially two cement blocks with a gap between them large enough to fit a coffin, which was outdoors.
The next morning we packed 3 days worth of clothing into our small backpacks and headed for the hills for the hill tribe trek. This is where we met Sangsung, our guide. He had the most infectious laughter, and had all kinds of funny catch phrases like 'oh my buddha!', and 'no money, no honey'. We spent the day hiking, and arrived at a hill tribe village later in the evening. We got to enjoy some COLD showers, followed by some amazing food cooked for us by one of the village men. We stayed in a one room hut with mats on the floor and mosquito nets overhead. Very basic, but good enough for sleeping. The village was really quite adorable...all the livestock lives under the raised houses, so there were lots of pigs, buffalo, chickens, and, where there's chickens, there are usually roosters. So, we were woken at 5, 6, and 7 in the morning. But, it's all part of the experience!
The next day we packed up and headed for the next village. We hiked up 'mama hill', and some other hills for about 4 hours, until we arrived at an elephant camp. We got to feed the elephants, and then took a ride for about an hour. The elephant we rode on was quite listless, but the other girls had some very naughty elephants, that would throw leaves and dirt onto their legs. I hadn't laughed that hard in a while. It felt good. After the elephant ride, we walked another 20 minutes (even though Sansung told us it was a 5 minute walk...a common occurance) in the pouring rain to the next camp. We put on the bikinis and bathed in the river, which didn't really do much for a felling of cleanliness, but was good enough. We made spring rolls, which tasted AMAZING...I'm not sure whether it was because we were so exhausted and hungry, or if they actually were that good. Probably a little bit of both. We sat around talking for a long while, talking about Thai culture, and travelling in general. I think I've learned quite a bit about it.
Early the next morning we packed up yet again and boarded a bamboo raft, which looked a bit dodgy, but was surprisingly sturdy. It was raining again, so it was quite a chilly ride, through some pretty calm rapids, but was enjoyable none the less. After that and a bumpy 2 hour truck ride later (we rode in a truck that had benches in the bed...novel, but not the most comfortable transportation option), we were back in Chiang Mai for our last night with Dong and a couple of our tour mates. Yesterday I did a Thai cooking class, where we made Pad Thai, Tom Yum Soup, Green Curry, and a sticky rice dessert. My mother is very excited for my return home so she won't have to cook every night. Now we're back in Bangkok, and tomorrow it's another overnight train to Khao Sok National Park. I need a good night's sleep now.
I am happy to report that I only have 2 more flights to endure before I am home. Thank goodness...I really hate flying. And, by the way, I do have a return flight home, it is November 24th. I get home around 10:30am...mark your calendars.
Manchester was a lovely and relaxing time...mostly Anchal and I just ate and hung out, which are essentially two of my favourite things anyway. I wish I still lived with her, she's so good to talk to. Maybe in another life! The weather was mostly cloudy and rainy, so it didn't really inspire activity anyway. We did go shopping on the Saturday, which wasn't really the best move, as it was, obviously, the weekend, and EVERYONE AND THEIR MOTHER was out shopping. It was just a little too hectic. If I didn't already have agoraphobia, I probably do now. I'd hate to see the Christmas season.
I headed back down to London to spend a few days with Theresa and see her new place. All my friends in Europe are intellectuals, meaning they're all getting their M.A.s and making me feel like a slacker. Theresa is getting her M.A. from Kings College, lives in an awesome flat in Maida Vale, and has hilarious flatmates. We went to a concert on the Tuesday at her school, a band called Those Dancing Days. They were quite good, even though Theresa, myself, and Tres' flatemate Kristina were the only onces dancing. So it goes.
The other days were spent eating (I need to start running again, this isn't funny anymore), going out for coffee, one day I went to the Tate Modern museum, the National Gallery, and the National Portrait Gallery. I think London has figured out how expensive it is as a city, so they've made it a little easier on those of us on the bad side of the exchange rate (meaning, the rest of the world) and made most museums free, which was nice.
Saturday morning I left for Bangkok, which was not pleasant in the slightest. I got about 2 hours of sleep (because I will never learn), got to the tube, which was stopped indefinitely due to a faulty train at another station, had to catch the bus to the train station, arrived at the airport to find that my flight was overbooked. They offered me a later flight on a different airline, flying via Kuala Lumpur rather than Bahrain. I agreed to it to help them out and take them up on the food voucher, but really, they didn't do me any favours. I had a middle seat, which I absolutely abhor. I haven't been feeling very well the past few days, which proceeded to get worse as the flight drew longer. I arrived in Bangkok, found my hostel, eventually, and took a 3 hour nap. My eyes still burn, but I've got to go see these weekend markets that everyone tells me about.
In spite of everything, I'm so excited to be here! My hostel is really nice, and, judging by the accents I'm hearing, mostly Austalians again! Tomorrow the first thing on my agenda will be a massage, as that backpack is killing me.
The chunnel refrained from catching fire, Virgin trains abstained from being difficult, and I made it to Manchester very easily, and relatively quickly. Surprise! Anchal must have known how much I miss Mexican food, because she took me to a burrito place on the way out of the train station. It was good. Not great, but better than nothing.
It's hard to explain how good it is to see Anchal. I didn't even know where to begin in terms of catching up, but it didn't even matter. It was just plain wonderful to be sitting across from her, eating burritos. Having seen her, Sarah, and Forrest leads me to believe that home isn't really a place, it's a group of people. Being around these people made me feel like I was home again.
Anyway, I've finally uploaded some photos from the trip so far. You can see them here and there. It's just a sampling, but it's really just to prove that I am, in fact, not making all this up.
Confession: I used to love NSync. I was a multiple concert attending, Lance Bass loving, poster displaying fan. Embarassing, but true. This is going somewhere, I promise. So, in Rome, Sarah and I were in search of a particular restaurant recommended to us by our friend Rick Steves, when we heard a loud obnoxious American accented individual saying "speak ENGLISH!". Independently of each other, we both turned to give this person a dirty look, when we realized that it was Joey from NSync. Sarah was walking in front of me, so I hissed "Sarah!! "..."I KNOW!" she replied. We were then flooded with 15 year old memories. Hilarious.
Anyway, where were we? Italy?
Venice was lovely, but crowded and pricey, as expected. We decided it was worth at least a day though, because, like Rick Steves says: "it's a medieval cookie jar, and nobody's looking". It's charming in its own dirty, crowded way, but it's the kind of place you could arrive in the morning, say you saw it, and be out before you can say 'gondola'. And €30 doesn't buy much in the way of accommodation either. It buys a bed and a pretty crappy shower. We walked in, and, being a bit tired, wondered "...why are there shoe prints on the ceiling and walls?". Later, upon closer inspection, there were also tons of dead mosquitos on the walls...clearly having met their demise from said shoes. Lovely. But, we had a nice dinner, went for some nice walks, and got some souveniers, so, it was a nice time.
The next day we headed to Rome. We arrived, got lost trying to find the hostel (this is a trend for us in Italy), attempted to check in, only to find that our booking was for the next two days, not that day, and, no, they didn't have free beds for that night. Angry at ourselves and on the verge of a nervous breakdown, we asked if there was anywhere else we could stay. Luckily, this wasn't Berlin, and the nice boy at the desk found us another place 10 minutes away. Thank goodness. After dropped off our things and partaking in the free pasta, we opted to go for a walk, as there is much to see in Rome. We found our way to the Trevi fountain (it was on the top of Sarah's list), which really is incredibly beautiful. We found spots amongst the tourists and sat for a while; basking in Triton's glory. The experience was somewhat soured, however, by the handfuls of ,en trying to sell tourists random crap that nobody needs. No, I don't want to buy 3 roses or a clay funny face that moulds into 20 different expressions...I want to enjoy the fountain in peace.
The following day we headed out for Vatican City, as we heard it was best to do either early or pretty late. We waited in line for about an hour, got inside, and began to go through what is apparently 4 miles of art leading up to the Sistine Chapel. There would be a sign saying "Chapel this way" and we would turn a corner, walk through a hallway, turn another corner, see another sign...by the time we got to the actual chapel, we were exhausted. And it was kind of disappointing, after all that lead up. And there were all these guards repeating "sshh!!!" and "NO PICTURES!!". But, it was a very impressive museum, and something you should see once. After the museum, we headed for St Peters Basilica, which I found to be much more fantastic than the museum, and it was FREE. Later that night we found the Pantheon as a landmark for where we would have dinner, thus the Joey story. The dinner was very good, inexpenisve, and the waiters had funny things to say about Sarah's choice of pizza topping.
The following day we headed for the Colloseum, which was...big. And the forum ruins, which were...ruined. And got gelato, which was...delicious. I could go into detail, but its really not that interesting. We went to a bone crypt, which was interesting in its creepiness, Sarah and I were both accused of not paying the 'recommended' €1 at the door (which we both paid, by the way, because who tries to cheat a church??), and we went to the same retaurant for dinner. We went to a bar later, and were approached by two guys who heard us speaking English, and have a guess where they were from? L.A. Go Dodgers.
The next day we headed up to Florence, the final destination to get lost and pay for a hostel in. And, man, did we get lost. The directions were terrible, and no one would help us. After asking several people, to no avail, we bought a city map, found our street, found our hostel, and grumpily dealt with the lack of internet or kitchen that the hostel claimed to have on the website. 'Tomorrow will be better', we thought. We left the hostel in the morning, found the streets to be packed with demonstrators (I'm seeing a trend, here...), protesting something about budget cuts in the university system, from what we could gather. We decided it was a good day to go to Pisa, as it is only an hour away, and we still had Eurail passes. Saw the tower, which was cleaner than I thought it would be...looks like they've been doing a lot of renovations on it...got some more gelato, did some shopping, and headed back to Florence.
The next day we spent shopping...until later in the day when we caught the night train back to Paris. Florence actually is quite beautiful, it would have been interesting to see it at the beginning of the journey, rather than the end when we were tired of museums, tired of hostels, tired of the crappy exchange rate, and probably a little tired of each other, as well. Perhaps someday I'll go back with fresh eyes and a rich husband.
Now we are back in Paris, which is almost like being home. Thursday Sarah heads home, which will be really sad, she's been an amazing trval buddy and partner in crime. She' so easy to be around and has such an amazing heart. She also has incredible patience, as I know I'm definitely not the easiest person to deal with sometimes! Thursday morning I'm off on the infamous chunnel to London, then Manchester to see Anchal. I'm so excited to see her!! We lived together for 2 years in LB and she is in MAN getting her Masters. I haven't seen her in a year, and have missed her ridiculous amounts.
The Simpsons is playing in French at Amélie's. I've kind of missed t.v.
First of all, let me just say, that it is impossible to attempt to make mexican food anywhere in Europe. Sarah and I have made more than one attempt, and the ingredients aren't available, or just don't taste right, or oranges are disguised as limes.
I have also come to the conclusion that I never made very many Australian friends in Sydney because they are all in Europe...particularly in Germany and Prague.
We spent a good few days in Leipzig with Forrest, and he showed us around the town. We took a lot of fun pictures of the run down buildings that used to be factories and now have trees growing inside them. There's a really cool area that used to be factories but now have been turned into a bunch of art galleries. We went to a restaurant called Acapulco hoping to have some burritos, but, come to find that 'Torillas' are just warm tortiallas with cold salad inside. And the nachos were crap.
We left Leipzig and headed to Prague, which started off a little rocky. First, we were on the train into the Czech Republic when we were told that our Eurail passes weren't valid (we were sure we had seen on the website that they were...). Luckily, new tickets weren't too expensive. Then, we arrived in Prague, circled the building 3 times looking for the tram stop on my directions, only to conclude that we were at a different train station. Some bum tried to help us, but we knew he only wanted money. But he did a good job of pointing to where we needed to be on a tram map. We finally found the tram to our hostel, a drunk man fell on me, and we ate chinese food. That's pretty much the sum of our first evening in Prague. I also made a bunch of Australian friends. We had to transfer the next day to another hostel that we had booked into months ago, which was a bummer, because we really really liked the first one we stayed at.
Second day in Prague we spent wandering around seeing all the things that Rick Steves reccommends...the Astrology clock, the Charles Bridge, the Lennon Wall. I think the vast majority of my pictures from Prague are of the Lennon Wall. It was so interesting. We then found a cafe that served 'American Style bottomless coffee', which is unheard of in this part of the world, so we got postcards and sat there for a while, drank 3 cups of coffee each, and made our way back to the hostel to search for some dinner. This was our first attempt at making burritos. But, the people in the grocery store were very unhelpful, and we don't understand Czech, so that idea was scrapped.
Third day in Prague we found our way to the castle, which has some lovely views of the city. The cathedral is lovely and has some of the prettiest stained glass I've ever seen. We also found the Fred and Ginger building, which is designed by the same guy that did the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain, and the EMP in Seattle. Got some good ice cream, had some falafel for dinner, met up with some more Australian friends at the hostel for a few drinks...the rest is quite boring.
The next day we headed for Italy via Vienna...we didn't have the time or energy to explore Vienna, so we just booked our night train to Venice and sat at the train station, eating...you guessed it...falafel. We decided not to book the sleeping car because we were tired of paying so much for transportation, so we booked the regular car with the logic 'you sleep sitting up on planes all the time'. Come to find that not many people take the night train from Vienna to Venice on a Saturday night, so we had the car mostly to ourselves, aside from a creepy man that showed up sometime around midnight and left sometime before 8. I didn't notice him much, being asleep and all, but sarah was very bothered.
Arrived in Venice around 8:45...and I'm almost out of internet time, so that will be all for now! Ciao! More from Rome later.
If I were to describe the beginning of my German experience in 2 words, I would choose these: beer diet. It has died down a little bit, but not much.
We arrived in Koln in the evening and were met by Forrest's friend Daniel, who then escorted us to another part of town where some more of their friends, Maren and Julia, were waiting. Maren lives in Koln, so we went to put our things down in her flat. Went down the street to get dinner, where I some delicious falafel...it just may have been better than the so-claimed "best falafel in the world" we had in Paris. It's possible. After that we proceeded to start what would be a very long night of drinking and bar hopping...as you do on a Friday night. All drinks seem cheap to me after spending the year in Australia, where they charge $7 for a Corona (it's not even a very good beer!), so I was fine to put in the effort. One bar played an outstanding selection of music including "California Girls" by the Beach Boys. Amazing. Forrest's friends were really nice, we had a really nice time talking to them. They all claimed that their English wasn't very good, but I thought it was fantastic.
The next day Sarah left to go to Stuttgart to meet up with her friend and former roommate, Anja. Forrest and I spent the day in Koln, where there was some sort of anti-Nazi demonstration. Apparently, the Islamic community wants to build a mosque in the city of Koln, but there were some extreme right wing groups not wanting this to happen (this is Maren's explanation to me), so thousands of people were sitting in the streets, blocking the entrance to the meeting place for these right wing groups as a way of protesting their presence. It was interesting...needless to say, there were a lot of police wandering around the city, wearing some very intimidating outfits.
Later, Forrest, Daniel, and I went to Daniel's hometown to stay with his family. The next day he drove us to Aachen, a cute little town with typical German architecture and impressive cathedrals. They're also famous for their ginger bread, so that was sampled as well. Back at Daniel's house, his parents made us a big German lunch (I refrained from the beef, obviously), and then we headed back to Koln to catch our ride.
Germany's train system is ridiculously overpriced, so someone had the brilliant idea to create mitfahrgelegenheit . This is, essentially, a registered hitchhiking website, where you select where you're coming from, and where you need to go, and you get a list of people that need to go to the same place. The people list their cell phone numbers and license plates numbers, you call, establish a pick up location (usually the train station), and at the end you pay something like 20 euros, as opposed to 60 or 70 euros for the train to the same place. After being assured by Forrest's friend Anna that this was very safe, I agreed as long as Forrest was with me. So this is how Forrest and I got to Stuttgart. We got in quite late to Anja's boyfriend Dennis' house, and headed right to bed, as the next day was an early start going to Oktoberfest.
Anja and Sarah took a 7 am train to Munich (it takes about 2.5 hours...Anja gets a discount, and Sarah used her eurail pass), and Forrest and I had an 8:15 ride. Eventually, after getting a little lost (why we didn't follow all the other people in lederhosen, I have no idea), we found ourselves on the showgrounds, which, can I say, was amazing. It was so much bigger than I thought it would be...it was like Disneyland for grown ups, except instead of spending $70 on entry, you spend $70 on litres of beer and giant pretzels (I only spent $30). We had no idea where Sarah and Anja were (they were going to text Forrest with where they were, but we never received the text), so after wandering for a little while, we randomly selected a tent. As we were walking along trying to figure out where to sit and how to get a beer, who should appear but Sarah! Of all the massive tents, we somehow picked the one they were in. It was meant to be.
The next 6 hours were spent, clearly, drinking aforementioned beer and eating aforementioned pretzels, as well as other German food. We sat at a table with, wouldn't you know it, some guys from Texas and a couple of their English friends. I don't know how the time passed so quickly, but at 5:00 we were asked to vacate our table, as it was reserved for other people after that time. We couldn't find anywhere else to sit, so we collected Forrest, who was off sitting with some new friends he had made, Anja and I rode a roller coaster, we got some more food, and then headed back to the Munich train station. Sarah and Anja caught the train back to Stuttgart, while Forrest and I waited for our next ride. We had phoned him 30 minutes prior to the pickup time to make sure he was still coming, and after confirming with him, we proceeded to wait. And wait. And wait. We then called him again to see where he was, and it was then that he told us he wasn't coming. So we were stuck in Munich. Left with no other choice, we shelled out the 50 euros each to take the train back. I was livid. But, we eventually got back to the house, and slept in the next day. Spent a couple more days in Stuttgart,spent some time with Anja and Dennis and his lovely parents, then headed to Berlin.
Well, Berlin certainly was interesting. It started catastrophically with Sarah and I arriving, finding the hostel that Forrest had recommended, being turned away at this hostel because they had no room (no, we didn't book anywhere in advance, due to our logic that Berlin wouldn't be busy on a wednesday in the middle of september...which was clearly not the case), proceeded to be turned away from 2 more hostels, then sitting in an internet cafe looking for places and wondering what the hell we were going to do. I was about ready to throw in the towel and just get on the next train to Leipzig, where Forrest was, when Sarah took a chance and called a hostel on the list. Lo and behold, they had only 2 beds free. Thank God for Sarah and small favors.
We arrived at the 'Generator' Hostel, which looked like a really big hotel from the outside. The inside, however, looked like a college dorm on what I imagine an acid trip would be like. Blue fluorescent lights lining the hallways, music playing from all directions, strange industrial decoration motif...bizarre. The rooms themselves were nice enough...basic, free of smurf lighting. After putting out things down, we decided we were in much need of a drink, so we headed downstairs to the bar. Looking around at the other people staying in the hostel, we suddenly felt as though we were at some sort of Fake I.D. convention, as everyone around us couldn't possibly be over the age of 16. Yet there was also the odd sprinkling of out-of-place looking 50 somethings as well. Hm.
The next day we had to find a place to relocate,as the hostel/rave party had no free beds for that night. We found a nice, more modestly decorated hostel on the other side of town, (called the Berolina Backpacker) so we got on the train, walked up an down some stairs in a lost manner a few times, and finally found it. We then decided it was time for exploring. Berlin offers free walking tours (done by the same company as the Amsterdam one, New Europe ), so we decided that would be a good way to get a sampling of Berlin history. It was a very well done tour, taking us to the major historical points of the city and giving a broad explanation of each. It was really interesting to see the section of the Berlin Wall, as that part of history happened in our lifetime, which is so shocking when you really think about it. The tour took the better part of about 4 hours, so, before going out to sample some of Berlin's famous nightlife, we went back to the hostel and took a power nap. Being very tired after getting little sleep over the past couple weeks, we decided we couldn't be bothered to take finding a place to go upon ourselves, so then we did something rather embarrassing. We went on an organized pub crawl. Now, in my opinion, the only thing more embarrassing than going on a pub crawl, is being 24 and going on a pub crawl. But, we did it, went to some cool bars, met some nice people (mostly Australian), and actually had a nice time (you don't say?!).
The next day, after minimal sleep, we checked out of the hostel and headed to Leipzig to stay with Forrest for a few days. He's living here for the second year of his M.A, has an awesome apartment, and it has been a welcome change to just chill out for a little while. We've wandered around the city, which is really developing quickly considering how badly it was bombed in the war and how it was affected by East Germany politics. It's becoming a popular place to live, so it's an exciting place to be.
Wednesday we're off to Prague for a few days, which I am thoroughly looking forward to.
Oh, and I changed the settings on this blog so anyone can comment. So feel free to comment away! (or criticize... I've got broad shoulders, I can take it).
Yesterday on the train was the first chance I had in days to write in my journal...so Sarah and I put our heads down and just wrote for nearly the entire train ride from Amsterdam to Köln, Germany. This entry filled 13 pages...so I'll try to condense it.
In Paris...where I left off...
We finally found Forrest (a really good friend of mine that I met in San Luis Obispo during my brief stint there...he currently is pursing his masters in Germany) the day after we arrived in Paris...it was quite the challenge! But we had a very nice dinner with him and Amelie at her flat, and could finally relax a little after trying so hard to come together and get organized.
The next day (my birthday), we met up with Stephanie and Daniela (two friends from the gym I worked at in LB) and hung out in the garden of the Louvre for a good portion of the day. It was cold and cloudy, but that didn't stop us from being outside anyway. We then met up with Forrest and went out to a nice dinner in Theresa's old neighborhood...I remembered the place from when I was in Paris last year, and I remembered the food being really good. Lots of cheese. They looked at us very oddly, probably because we were there at 6, and I guess Parisians don't eat dinner until at least 7. It was a very nice day, but for some reason, it did't really feel like my birthday. Maybe the whole foreign country thing and not talking to my family. But I did get lots of lovely emails/messages, so thanks for that!
The next day we met up with Steph and Dani again and did the boat tour of the Seine. I always avoided it because it seemed like such the typical tourist thing to do, but even Amelie recommended it, so I figured there must be something good about it. It was actually pretty nice...the weather was good and we had the opportunity to see Paris from a different perspective...as well as men tanning on the banks of the Seine in various coloured thongs (oh, the French). We got off the boat at the Eiffel Tower, where we were due to meet Sarah's and my friend Beniot, who works at on of the restaurants in the Tower. As we were there too early, we decided to attempt to find the Statue of Liberty, got really lost, and Sarah and I left to go meet up with Ben, thus separating from the group. Unfortunately, this was a bad choice, as we didn't manage to meet up with them again for the rest of the evening.
Found Ben, and he took us over to the Hotel de Invalides, where Napolean's tomb was. It was really helpful to have Ben there, as he was a history major and is something of a Napolean officianado. The tomb is really quite amazing, and the coffin is massive. "It's a caravan" were Ben's words to describe the coffin, and it is something like 5 layers deep. Very impressive. Sarah went off to have dinner with Amelie, and Ben and I went out for really good falafel. It claims to be the best falafel in the world, but I don't know how you can possible judge that. I went back to the apartment hoping to find someone there (I'm really not enjoying not having a cell phone), but alas, there was no one. I was almost asleep sitting in the hall when Forrest walked in the door, and then we went out for drinks and caught up on our days.
The following day, Forrest and I woke up uncomfortably early to catch the bus from Paris to Amsterdam. I bought the wrong eurail pass and can't activate it until later in the month, so I am forced to get creative when it comes to transportation between countries. We arrived at the bus station early, only for the bus to be an hour and a half late. Because transportation can never be easy or convenient. We passed out for the first 3 hours of a supposedly 7 hour ride. We had had nothing to eat, and after going through my granola bar ration, we were getting quite cranky. About an hour outside Amsterdam we stopped at a petrol station. "Why are we stopping with only an hour left?" I wondered. And that's when I jinxed it. 3 hours of traffic and far too many strawberry jam cookies later, we finally arrived in Amsterdam. Got lost trying to find the hostel (and ran into an American couple that had a legit argument about whether the light to cross was green or red)...found Sarah...had dinner at Forrest's friend Anna's house, had an early night.
The next day we went to the Anne Frank museum, which was really intense. Sarah and I both agreed that it was difficult at times not to cry...to be in that space where thost 2 families lived in fear for 2 years, only to be captured. Heartbreaking. After that we did a walking tour of Amsterdam, lead by a guy from....wait for it...New Jersey. Yep. New Jersey. I love Amsterdam, it's such a funny little city. We went back to Anna's after the tour, where she had rounded up some bikes and we biked all over the city. Got good Thai food, got some beers, rode around some more. At first I was nervous about riding bikes...last time I rode a bike around Amsterdam, I got a little stressed out (wanting to pull my own hair out rather than spend another moment on the road with Dutch drivers/cyclists). It turned out well, though. I had an awesome cruiser with ghetto gold and purple spray paint. It was a long day...we got back to the hostel around 3 in the morning, only for Sarah to find someone asleep in her bed! For lack of any choice, she woke him up, as he had passed out on top of her toothbrush and p.js, which she had laid out beforehand in an effort to not make too much noise when coming in late. So much for that.
The following day we went to the Van Gogh museum, which was overpriced, but sort of obligatory. It was nice, but something about museums makes me really sleepy. Maybe it's the quiet atmosphere, lighting, soothing wall colors...I don't know, but about an hour in, I was about ready to crawl up on those benches they put in front of the paitings and take a nap. We all agreed it was time for coffee. After coffee we went to a market, then got our things and headed for the train station.
I've realized that my backpack is far too large, and that laundry needs to happen within the next few days.
the reason i love paris is because it feels like a familiar place, and after the ordeal that sarah and i went through to get here, it feels good to be in a place that isn't too foreign.
the beginning of the longest story starts the morning after we arrived in london. upon checking the eurostar website to book tickets for the channel tunnel (fondly referred to as the 'chunnel'), when we heard that there was a fire in the chunnel, and all services were stopped (rightfully so). plan b: flying. went to the easyjet website, and, because so many people were booking flights, there were none available until sunday, and they were 150 pounds (thats 300 dollars, pretty much). ouch. plan c (who ever needs a plan c??): ferry. the way that works is you (excuse the royal 'you' here) take a 2 hour train to dover, which is the port of england. from there you take the ferry, another 2 hours, across the channel to calais, france. from there you take another train, and 3 hours later, you get to paris.
this process was further complicated by the fact that we didn't know exactly when sarah's luggage would arrive, as united called and said it would be dropped at the hostel between 3 and 4 (poor sarah had been in the same clothes for 3 days at this point), so we had to spend an entire extra day in london waiting for the luggage to arrive. i was also due to meet my friend forrest at 11 on friday in paris(the ferry left at 2 on friday) and had no way to get ahold of him to tell him that we wouldn't be there. thankfully, he checked his email and figured it out.
getting to france wasn't difficult, just time consuming and expensive. there were a lot of lines and masses of people to deal with, since everyone was, literally and figuratively, in the same boat as we were. the most annoying things were that once we got to paris, when we had to take the local train to the city's centre...but the ticket machines only took local credit cards (which we clealy don't have) or euro coins (we only had bills). no one around had change, and all the shops were closed, as it was pretty late on a saturday night. while sarah watched the bags, i ran up a long staircase that reeked like a port a potty and knocked on bus drivers windows asking for change, using as many 'merci' s as i could. as soon as we got to paris, in an attempt to find a local metro, we randomly wound up on the street that the hostel we were booked into was on. wow, how convenient, we thought. something finally working out in our favour, we said. no no no no no. this street was loooooong. and one way, so hailing a cab wasn't going to work either. we probably walked about 2 miles with big backpacks and 2 small bags each...which doesn't sound too bad, but we were so tired at this point, and very irritable.
staying an extra day in london wasn't a tragedy, though. we went to the usual sights- the london eye, big ben, the palace, and got epically lost trying to find abbey road. we got there eventually, but it was quite the effort. no one in london gives very good directions, apparently. we had a very nice dinner with theresa, and then wound up at a bar/club called 'the zoo', where we somehow avoided the 7 pound cover, probably by being pretty and not 18 years old.
i have to say, though, that everyone we encountered on the pilgrimmage to paris were very helpful, thus making it a little less painful. of course, while making this plan c, we met two other guys who were in the same predicament, and where were they from? long beach. long beach alum, no less.
so now we are at sarah's friend amélie's flat, and thank goodness she has internet...the french keyboard is a bit different though, so it took me a really long time to type this whole thing out. the whole travel predicament process was really stressful... i need a vacation from my vacation!
I love the way travel just makes one completely confused and disoriented, even after only a few hours. I began my travels at 3:30 in the afternoon, flying from Sydney to New Zealand, which is only a 3 hour flight. In an effort to make myself tired enough to sleep on the plane, I hadn't really slept the night before my trip, so, I was a little sleepy. I was sitting in the Auckland, New Zealand airport, when over the loudspeaker I hear: 'all customers who have completed chicken should now proceed to the departure gate'. Pause. Blink. Blink. Ohhhh. Check-in. For those of you unfamiliar with the New Zealand accent, they're a bit funny with their vowels. 'I' sounds like 'U', and 'E' sounds like 'I'. Just when I thought I had the Kiwi accent figured out, suddenly I'm hearing that people completing chickens. Ohhh man.
After 25 hours, countless movies (Air NZ had an awesome movie selection, by the way), much tea drinking, and a bit of dozing later, I arrived at Heathrow. Their customs officers have a funny way of grilling those arriving to their fair country. 'How long are you staying? Why are you here? Where's your return ticket? How much money is in your bank account?' Yikes. Meeting up with Sarah was less complicated than I had anticipated, as she ran up to me as I was looking for the baggage claim. Poor thing had missed her flight (not her fault... never buy your tickets from cheapoair.com), so she had only just arrived. Turns out her baggage missed the flight though, which is why you always keep your toothbrush and an extra pair of undies in your carry-on, ladies and gentlemen. We're staying at the Palmer Lodge (http://www.palmerslodge.co.uk/), which is really awesome and I highly reccommend it. Met Theresa (my best friend since I was born, for those who don't know) for dinner at a tapas restaurant, and it was all just absolutely lovely. It's so good to be around people that I haven't seen in a year and that I love so dearly. It's almost like being home.
I spent the better portion of last week packing up the past year of my life into what will need to be further condensed into 2 bags. The process of packing always gets me thinking about my life and at what point will I no longer constantly feel the need to be packing and moving, and at what point will I be content to just stay put for a little while. Not any time soon.
It seems like everyone is getting into this thing called 'blog' lately, so, I'm thinking, rather than stuff up an inbox with my ramble, perhaps give people the option of seeing what's happening with me.
2 weeks til Europe...I couldn't be more excited than if I were being paid to go.