Monday, September 29, 2008

vee germans don't do comedy, vee do beer.

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 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 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 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).

Saturday, September 20, 2008

"it's a caravan"

Yesterday on the train was the first chance I had in days to write in my 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 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 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 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 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.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

paris, je te'aime

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!

it'll be hilarious a week from now.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


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.
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?'
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, 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 (, 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.