The Trip Conclusion

I have noticed a couple of things since my return: I do not admire the world while actually living in it as much as I do during travel and the color and variety of my words have greatly diminished. Upon both of these issues I now work in hopes that I can keep the inquisitive excitement and wondrous view of the world afforded me during me trip.
We now arrive at the largest let down of the trip – the TGV train ride from gryon to paris. We had become quite accustomed to travelling by rail and came to expect certain things from it – a nice view out the window, a choice of fairly comfortable seats that best suited our situation, and conversation volume kept at a tolerable level (our railpass was for first class travel, I must note.) The TGV reaches an operational high speed of 186 miles per hour although it has been tested at higher speeds. The ride was to take about 5 hours – much shorter than the 9 it took to get to switzerland from munich!

Why was the ride a letdown? you ask. Was it that the speed didn’t meet your expectations? No, although it didn’t “feel” like almost 190 miles per hour. Were the seats not comfortable? No, actually they weren’t. The lack of space evoked a feeling of being on an airplane, however. Were there loud, obnoxious people talking the whole trip? Worse – kids all around us! Kids kicking seats, kids puking because of motion sickness, kids cavorting around like they are prone to do (I don’t handle children well, if you can’t tell). Were the windows small, offering no view? The windows were quite large, however, when we made our reservations (TGV is a reservation required train) we were (unbeknownst to us) assigned seats looking smack dab into the middle of a window pillar. The worse part had to be the large family in front of us that pulled out an entire meal and began eating it – filling the loud, cramped, poor view, high-speed chamber with varying odors of ham, mustard (we went through the city of dijon, coincidentally), and random malodorous vegetables. Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t an unpleasent journey, just not the marvel of modern technology wonder we were expecting!

Paris is beautiful – the prague of the west if you will. The thing that caught my attention most about the city was the genorous amounts of space that are reserved for pedestrians and simple leisure activities – large gardens, HUGE walkways along waterfront property (prime retail space, but not a shop in sight), and just a general leaning towards beauty and leisure rather than shopping – as so many other cities have done.

Paris is a pain in the ass. Every other city we visited did a fairly decent job of attempting english (as I noted before most are excited to have a common language to enable communication with their neighboring countries). Not the french. They are very proud of their heritage and many either do not know english or claim to not know it out of contempt for an american who could only mutter the phrases “I cannot speak french” and “do you speak english?” Even people who did not speak much english in other countries would help us out with some vocabulary when our phrase book/dictionary failed us (as it did so many times – I wish somebody would make a decent one.) I know we missed out on a wonderful meal or two because we tried to be seated at a couple of places but couldn’t muster up a strong enough conversation to figure out if there were seats available or not and ended up eating at restaurants with menus translated into english. We had low quality coffee compared to every other city we visited as well. To top it off, our hostel had a curfew. Nowhere else did we feel more unwelcomed than paris. Still, it is a beautiful city and I recommend a visit to anyone.

We took the train to the airport and when we tried to exit found our tickets weren’t valid. We walked over to the ticket counter and explained our situation (once again, very little english spoken so it was quite a difficult task. Every other city staffed these positions: ticket takers at the airport, check in people, etc. with multi-lingual people.) He said it was 50 francs each for our ticket! Incredible! We hadn’t spent that much on a ticket since we started our trip – the strange thing is public transit IN town was among the cheapest we had seen. We didn’t have 50 francs on us and I was completely out of money at this point. We had some swiss francs in our pocket leftover from the switzerland trip that he was happy to take and give us a ticket (because after we got through and some quick math, we figured out he made about $5 US profit over the advertised price, but we were glad to get through.)

It’s funny – we went through 8 countries on this trip and the only time we get hassled is when we get on a plane. Metal detectors and a multitude of questions and detailed passport checks were all rituals we had to go through to get on the plane. It is a good thing that terrorists only travel on airplanes and haven’t found out about trains yet because it could be disastrous! Somebody else could pack your bag, you could be asked to carry something, or your bags could be out of your possession and you can still board a train! This kind of rampant disregard for stopping terrorists (and child pornographers I’m sure) should not be allowed and we should shut down the train system as it exists today – think about the children!

We had a very understanding flight attendant who answered our requests for multiple bottles of baileys and beers with said drinks and a comment about not letting the others know because they are not supposed to give passengers that much liquor – but we looked like nice enough guys. The baileys really helped the plane ride go faster and we made it to chicage in what seemed like a very short amount of time.

We disembarked and went to baggage claim, because we had to go through customs – uncle sam wants to make sure he collects taxes on things you’ve bought in other countries – and we had to have our checked baggage with us to do so. This is more a ceremony than anything else as there were pretty much no questions asked of anyone but rather just a steady line of people walking past the officers only to give their bags back to an american representative on the other side. This, I will note, is the last time I would see my bag for 2 days.

We made it to the next checkpoint where we had to empty our pockets of change and place our daypacks on the x-ray belt, the whole ritual that everyone knows. I was helping erik put some stuff in his daypack (so he didn’t have to take it off his back) and he was holding stuff for me as I re-arranged everything for this false-sense-of-security procedure that millions of people go through daily when we both realized that on the other side of that checkpoint, we would part ways and head to different terminals. Twas a sad moment, but also a bit of a relief. I had grown quite accustomed to hanging out with erik every day and knew it would be strange to wake up and not instantly say “what time is it?” as he was the only one with a working watch. It was a very fun time and it was sad to part ways, but I know the memories we both have will live with us forever. The other side of security brings us to the moment that we embrace with full-on maleness: a hearty handshake and “well, it’s been fun! see you later.” and we are on our separate ways.

Thus the adventure concludes, right? Not at all. I go to the gate for my flight that leaves in 45 minutes and check to make sure everything is in order: it is. I take a seat and wait for the flight to board. About 20 minutes before we are supposed to take off, there is still no word on boarding…then the announcement comes. “For those passengers waiting on flight 4209 to board, we regret to inform you that it has been cancelled. There is one other flight to indianapolis, but it is completely full. We can put you up in a hotel tonight or you can take a bus that will depart from in front of baggage claim 10 at 715 (1915 for the euro-viewer). Please come back to the counter and let us know which option you’d like to take.”

*sigh* I’m 180 miles from home and I get stuck in chicago. If I only had a little money, I have friends I would love to visit – but my back account is overdrawn and I was really excited about sleeping in my own bed tonight so I take the bus option. I stand in line and the woman in front of me turns around and says “i guess it’s a bus to indy!” We start talking and I find out she is from puerto rico and works for eli-lilly so she comes into indianapolis every month or so for meetings. We begin our adventure together – we get moved to a different gate for checkin but are diverted to baggage claim before we make it to the front. We wait at baggage claim until 730 for our bags – hers shows up at the last minute and mine never appears (what are the chances it would have made my flight since they can’t even get it to me at baggage claim?!)

She tries to locate our bus, but cannot find any bus that is going to indianapolis (one close call, but it was going to indianapolis avenue in chicago). Finally, after other passengers have made much noise at the bag claim desk, an american representative comes out and tells us that the buses (when did it become plural?) are still here and we should go out and get on them. If our bags haven’t shown up it’s because they made it on the flight to indy and we’ll be able to pick them up there (yeah, right I think.) We are given directions to the “buses”: go out of the building, left a bit, and the buses will be on your right. Okay – we walk and walk and walk, but no buses are to be seen anywhere! We decide to turn around and head back. We finally run into the group of people standing on the curbside in front of – no, I’m not kidding – minivans. They had hired 3 minivans to drive us to indianapolis. Unfortunately, the seating did not allow maria (I found out her name as well as numerous things about her during this fiasco) and I to sit together so our conversation was abruptly halted as she took a seat in the back and I got to sit shotgun.

The drive was long, but we barely dropped below 90mph the entire time so not as long as it usually takes. I made it to the airport around midnight and called dad on maria’s mobile phone (since my battery was dead at this point) to come get me. My bag was nowhere to be seen and I got a baggage claim ticket/lost baggage form with delivery info for pittsboro. The bag should be there by noon tomorrow, I was told. Not to be – I called late the next day and they said “we don’t know where your bag is sir. We’ll let you know when we find it.” Oh well, I’ve seen that stuff constantly for the last 30 days, kind of nice to not have to look at it anymore!

The bag finally showed up. My jetlag is almost gone. My mom returned from her trip to arizona. My brother is still MIA since he now has a job and has worked every day since I’ve gotten back. All in all, things are going well. I’ve got some tech editing as well as some writing lined up and getting back into the swing of working quite well. I’ve never been on a vacation that made me want to do *something* when I got back – I usually just want to stay on vacation forever, but this one motivated me to make some money so I can go back and begin another long-winded adventure that I can share with everyone once again.

thanks for watching. If you join the updates mailing list you will know when I add more information for your perusal. The list has had some problems in the past (as current list members can tell you), but I’ve been talking to my hosting company and hopefully they will be resolved soon.

Later!

ryan

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The Trek to Gryon

We departed munich after an uneventful stay. We missed a much raved about city, but t was good to relax and take care of laundry. (London was the last washing – we were repulsive to many, I’m sure.)

We caught the train out of munich around noon and headed to gryon, switzerland…a 9 hour train ride!
Let me step back a bit and cover just how we got here. We were in london – part of the plan – when we found that it was cheapter to fly to amsterdam than take the rail to paris and start our journey on the mainland. Once on the continent, rail prices went down so we flew to amsterdam with the intention of visiting for a bit and then heading to spain.

Amsterdam was fun, but we wanted to see more of the netherlands AND see the tulips bloom. So we headed to a town called noordwijk because a hostel map on the wall in rotterdam showed it to be right in the middle of the tulip fields. We arrived at the hostel and found it to be quite sterile and unexciting. We decided to walk to the nearest town and see what was going on there. After an hour walk, we got to noordwijk aan zee (noordwijk on the sea) and found the hostel called the flying pig (if you’ve been following the stories, you have a rough idea of this progression so far.)

We moved from the boring hostel to the flying pig and had a great time and met great people. We like the chill atmosphere so much that we stayed for something like 5 days (they all kinda run together so I can’t recall exactly.)

One of the guys that was staying there was named wes. We hung out with him and others during our stay and finally decided to get out of town when wes pointed out that we should go to gryon and visit him in switzerland on our way to paris. It sounded like a great idea so we got the contact info for the hostel and parted ways.

So here we are – two weeks later and on a train to visit wes in gryon. The ride is quite interesting. If you’ve never seen the swiss alps you are missing a lot! I had heard from a friend (jennifer) that switzerland was amazing and I believed her, but didn’t really understand her enthusiasm about the place until I got there and saw it for myself.

We had a couple of transfers with about 5 minutes between our arrival and departure into stations that we were not familiar with at all that were quite hectic, but everything worked out in the end. The one that worried me was the final connection in Bex (bay) to gryon – we had about 7 minutes and the train track was under repair so we had to catch a bus that we had no idea where it departed from.

The train pulled into the station and we jumped out and half-ran to out of the station looking for a bus. We saw but one bus parked in front of the station and it looked fairly abandoned. I jumped on anyway and asked one of the guys sitting in a seat waiting “does this bus go to gryon?” To which he replied a simple “yes.” We jumped on and soon the driver showed up and we were on our way.

The trip from bex to gryon is about 30 minutes and basically a zig-zag ascent on a mountain. We were in this large bus whipping around 180 degree corners and barely missing oncoming cars in the process. I’m glad it was dark because I think I might have been rather scared – cars and oncoming traffic coupled with a sharp dropoff if the bus were to careen off the road make for a nerve-racking combo. We got dropped off in the middle of nowhere with the guy I asked about the gryon destination. It turned out he was heading to the same place so we started our (advertised) 5 minute walk to the hostel (uphill of course.)

After about 10 minutes we started to wonder if we were going in the right direction. We looked around and saw nobody and nothing really looked open except on chalet/restaurant/bar. I walked in to a room of french conversation that abruptly halted upon my arrival. I mustered my best phrase-book french and said: “Parlay voo englay?” (phonetic spelling) and was greeted with a comforting “yes, a little.” I inquired on the location of the chalet martin and was taken outside and pointed in the right direction – go up that hill past the roundabout and make a left…it’s on your right up a bit. We wandered up a little ways in that direction and found nothing – absolutely nothing!

This time it was chris’ turn to ask (chris is our new acquaintance from the bus). He found out that we were way off and had to go back down the mountain a ways before we could find it. We headed back down the mountain and found a small sign in a poorly lit location that said “backpacker hostel” on the corner of a steep turn. We headed off in that direction and finally found the place – good thing too since the snow was starting!

We were greeted with a “You guys get lost?” (we were an hour later than we said and we took the last bus up the mountain…so he knew when we should be getting there approximately.) We had, and we said as much then paid for the evening. It was quite the relief to actually step inside the warm building and know we wouldn’t be sleeping outside in the snow.

The good news is that once we got there we found the hostel to be one of the best ones we had stayed in. The place was clean, but had a strange hippy commune vibe going on. Couldn’t wear your shoes in the main area, signs everywhere telling you to clean up your dishes and wash the tables and not make a mess in the restroom, etc. Once you got used to that part though, the people were awesome and we had a great time. The strange thing about the swiss alps is I could talk about the view all day, but until you actually see it for yourself, you just won’t understand the awe that fills you when you look out.

We inquired about our long lost friend (wes) and received a jolly look and a “why yes, wes is here mate!” (the guy working reception was an aussie). We wandered around the rather small place and found no sign of the guy (he’s a big guy too! and always wearing bright tie-dyed clothing…) We resigned ourselves to a game of chess and trying to find him the next day when alas – he pops in from out of nowhere half dazed and with a rather shocked look on his face that we actually showed up! We exchanged greetings and swapped stories of our respective trips.

The rest of the visit was pretty low key and we just chilled for a while until the train to paris departed – two days later.

Sorry About the Lack of Updates

We are on the last leg. My bank account is messed up and I cannot get as much money as I would like. I will write more later because time is running out on my internet account and I can either type up more stories or eat tonight! I choose the latter. More stories coming soon – I was in switzerland and france most recently and have some cool things to say!

take care and I will be home soon!

Absinth and Hallucination

The night started strange enough. We walked towards town as we had done many times before but spotted a place we had not yet seen. The street menu looked promising – decent sounding food at decent sounding prices. When we entered it seemed kind of odd that the place was packed yet there was a large table completely empty. “Oh well” I thought as we seated ourselves and placed our order – 2 pilsner urquell’s and 2 dishes consisting of traditional czech food.
The clientele was predominantly male and we gathered that we were in a sports bar by the football (soccer for the americans) on the television – it was confirmed by the menu that proclaimed “sports bar” across the top!

Suddenly we realized why the table was previously unoccupied. We had a table of rowdy and completely pissed (excessively drunk not angry) germans on one side and a table of drunk luxembourg football players on the other. These two engaged in a friendly volley of drinking songs and snide comments as we sat in the middle trying to eat. Thus the empty table in the middle of a packed place…

Let’s start with the guys from luxembourg. They would break into song that I guess was their national football song about every 5 to 10 minutes. In between they would tell the waitress that they loved her and would ask what she was doing later. This game had been going on a while and she played along by answering differently every time. Randomly someone would start shouting a beat that I cannot recall but would start the whole table singing “Heee-eey baby I wanna know if you’ll be my girl!” and direct it at various people around the room with this crazy accent – which we later found out was some combination of french german english and some other language – the 4 languages of luxembourg).

On the other side the germans at the table (that were NOT passed out) would break into the german football song in retaliation. My german is almost nonexistant but I could understand that they were also playing some drinking game that involved counting. One person would occasionally shout “EINS” (ay-ns) only to be followed by another shouting “ZWEI” (tsvi) which is 1 and 2 and so on. Something would happen then people would laugh and drink. I have NO idea what the rules are and I doubt I will ever find out.

We finished up and left as we were looking for a quieter night. We went to a celtic bar that we had been in earlier because we knew the atmosphere was right and that they sold absinth.

The place was perfect for our mission – see if we could get the absinth to induce hallucination as it is rumoured to be able to do. We sat down and ordered round one. The absinthe process is simple but fun. Take a spoon and fill it with sugar. Dip the sugar into your shot until it is completely soaked in absinth. Pull the spoon/sugar/absinth concoction out and light it (absinth is around 70% alcohol). Watch the sugar burn and catch the gaze of those who don’t know about the drink. About the time the flame starts to go out blow it out ( this is important…you are dipping the spoon back into the alcohol…) and dump the sugar into the shot and stir. A “cheers” and a clink of the glasses is all that is left to do before dumping it all (no not the spoon. don’t be silly) down your throat. Wait for the burn and smile!

We only had 600 Koruna (allowing for a tip) between us and each shot cost 55. Since we were on limited funds and didn’t know how we would react to the drink we kept a card with our remaining money on it and marked off 110 per round – which allowed for 5 shots each.

The second round piqued the interest of our neighbors who asked what the hell we were doing! We explained and then started to chat. There were three of them from Ireland. Helen, Diane, and a name that escapes me. Helen was intrigued enough to try one but the other two resisted..but only until helen shoed back up with shots for everyone! It was about this time (shot 5 for us) that erik proclaimed “Dude I can’t see!” We continued for another 45 minutes or so our new friends left after about 30. The walk home was rough but we made it.

Absinth is a strong drink and it gives you a different kind of buzz but no hallucinations for either of us. Tis sad but you can’t always win now can you? I recommend trying it if you are into new experiences and such but it is not for the faint of heart! I suppose there is a reason it is illegal in most countries…

ryan

Happy Birthday to Me!

We arrived in prague very late after our train was delayed several times. Apparently, this is not uncommon in the czech republic. No problem because we had a reservation at a hostel (first time for everything), right? Wrong. They forgot to tell us during our rushed phone conversation (watching the time left on your phone card slowly tick away while you finalize a reservation is nerve-racking) that we needed to call the day we were supposed to arrive to CONFIRM our arrival – even though we had reserved our room only the day before. No worries, there is probably somewhere else to stay, right? I mean, it’s not like it’s a holiday or anything.
Easter is apparently a big time for prague. People come from all over europe to sample the cheap beer (around 50 cents US) and thriving nightlife. Now, we’re on the street without a room or any idea where we should try next! Sounds like a good time to start walking, eh? About 100 meters from the hostel was a shining entry-way with marble floors and huge panes of glass looking into an elaborate reception area – in other words, a 5 star hotel. We look at each other an figure what the hell, let’s give it a shot. We walk in – backpacks in tow, sock hats on, clothes that haven’t been washed in who knows how long on, and ask if there are any rooms available. The manager looks us over briefly and replies no just as the girl working the counter chimes in with yes, but only singles. Hmmmm. How much, we ask. They quote the price in deutsch marks and euros, which having recently come from germany makes a little sense but still leaves us slightly puzzled. This is obvious to our lovely receptionist who asks what currency we would like to see the quote in. US dollars, we reply. She punches some stuff into a calculator and returns with – normally, it’s this much but we can give them to you for $120/night per person. After the initial shock wore off, we realized we may not have any choice (we had called over 30 hostels the previous day and only found one that had availability) and stood around thinking for a moment. They offered to show us the room and we figured we could delay our decision a bit if we did. The room was insanely large and had a TV and private bath/shower and toilet! Erik is still getting severence pay and I – well, I had $100 US that my grandparents had given me. So we decided to do it.

So, grandma and grandpa gave me a night at a five star hotel in prague for my birthday – thanks!! The hotel is amazing, as most 5 star hotels are. We had a nice comfortable bed and privacy – ah privacy. It was so nice to just sleep in a room by myself for one night.

We went out with the intention of getting something to eat and hanging out a bit. The hanging out wasn’t going so great and we were about ready to leave when we noticed some guys at the bar getting ready to do a shot of absinthe and we didn’t know the proper procedure so I hopped over and asked if we could watch and learn. The guys were from germany and could speak english in a very limited fashion. They more than welcomed us into the fray and proceeded to show us the procedure. First, you empty sugar into a spoon. You then dip the spoon and sugar into the absinthe shot and pull it back out once all the sugar is soaked in the delightful green drink. The lighter comes out and you light the spoon. Wait until the flame goes out then dip the burnt sugar into the shot and stir…then, do what you do with every other shot in the world. The catch is that you are shooting a 160 proof, mildly hallucinagenic shot…which is bound to burn on the way down! It was fun and we learned the process for the next night where we will take in larger quantities and hopefully explore this alcohol further.

We talked to the germans all night and found out they were thrilled that everyone in the world was learning english! They could now talk to their neighbors in the czech republic, italy, france, spain wherever in europe they are coming from. I thought there might be some ill-feelings towards americans and brits since we were “pushing” our language on them, but quite the contrary – they are just happy to have others to talk to. (a side note – they were quite glad we would let them practice their english…most brits would refuse to talk to them because “their english was too poor.” Go figure) It was an exhausting night for all involved because we were translating broken english and they were translating german into english and we were all drinking and…whew – a taste of prague.

I woke up to a phone call that told me of my massage appointment – thanks erik! I got a well needed massage, got cleaned up, and headed to breakfast. (btw, I only got two hours of sleep in the most comfortable bed of the trip yet…poor planning on my part!!)

It’s off to book a train to munich now. I had a great birthday party in the czech republic! Later!

ryan

Berlin – The Borders are Mostly Gone

We spent two nights in berlin – one in “west” berlin and one in “east” berlin. You can’t really tell that you are staying in places that were drastically different just over 10 years ago. The city has done a good job of merging back into one entity.
We haven’t gotten a passport stamp in any country yet. It seems the only place you can snag one of these free souveniers is at the airport where they actually seem to care about borders and passports and such. The train from the netherlands to belgium didn’t check anything (our tickets included) and we went from belgium to germany with only a ticket check. I’m currently in prague (behind on the storytelling again) and we didn’t get our passports REALLY checked there either – I had to show the guy my passport, but he didn’t even look at it…it’s harder to get in a bar in the US when you are under 21 than it is to cross the border from germany to the czech republic!

Back to berlin. The city is happening. There is a thriving nightlife and publications that help you get around. We found everyone to be extremely friendly and helpful when we were looking for things to do or had troubles figuring out the particulars of the public transport system. On the other hand, the people weren’t sociable. We didn’t meet one person from the area the whole time. I tried a couple of times to talk to some people and we were just not succesful. They were friendly and polite, but answered our inquiry and went on their way.

I’m finding that I’m more and more interested in living in a country where I have to learn a new language to survive. It seems that the only way to truly learn a language is to be submersed in it and figuring out how to respond to the supermarket checkout lady when you hand her the money for the food you are buying and she responds in something that sounds like jibberish to you but is probably quite useful information! The saving grace is that virtually everyone can stumble their way through english and so you can ask politely for english (english, bitte) and get the question translated in real time!

The hostel scene is getting younger – schools must be letting out. When we started this trip we were surrounded by ex-dot-com-ers wandering around europe on severence packages. Now, everyone seems to be around 18. I don’t mind so much, but we are finding less and less people we end up hanging out with.