Wednesday, March 31, 2010


To anyone who follows this blog, I am moving to Thanks.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Euroblog, Take 9 - Italy, Round 2

The second half that I wrote back when I returned from Italy, but never got around to posting until now...

After Bologna came a parting of ways. Chris left for Rome to fly back to the States, while Steve, Carly, and I went to Florence. Carly's super generous father got us a hotel there as well, which we found eventually after going seemingly every direction but the right one. It was the Golf Hotel, which seemed like a rather pointless name, since the only thing golf thing about it was the key chains, which had a golf ball attached to them. The restaurant of choice was a nearby pizza place that was the European version of Little Caesar's five dollar pizza deal.

Apparently, Florence is so full of art that there is a related medical condition that has been identified. It is known as Stendahl syndrome, where people basically start to uncontrollably flip out after seeing too much high quality art in too short of a period of time. The effects range from euphoria to depression to perspiring, rapid heartbeat, and/or stomach pains, to feelings of omnipotence and/or persecution. All from an art overkill. Our group had seen so much art up to this point that we had kind of an opposite reaction along the lines of, "Oh man, more priceless art. Next." For some reason, a few of the exhibits don't allow photography. I don't know why they try, since people snap pictures right and left anyway while the poor officers run around futilely trying to stop them. Florence also had some impressive displays of architecture, including the aforementioned cathedral and the Piazza Vecchio and Ponte Vecchio, supposedly the oldest bridge in Europe, lined with numerous shops. The statue of David was also much more impressive than we had originally imagined. We thought we'd check out the Pitti Palace and so went looking for it. I kept asking where it was, expecting something visibly impressive. A solid American tourist moment occurred when I asked this one Italian women where it was, to which she replied, "Is that good enough for you?" and pointed right across the street. It was a large, rather plain building, which it turned out was the Pitti Palace. Apparently, its appeal is the galleries inside and Boboli gardens behind.

While in a Florence pizza joint, Steve discovered a bulletin for - of all people - Mike Jones, a rap artist from Houston, Texas. It turned out that he would be performing while we were in Florence. The irony was too great to pass up - in one of the most renowned cities in the world for the classic arts would be performing a modern rap artist from my home state. Even if he was the worst rapper of all time, and he probably is, I felt I had to go. Steve and I went, while Carly passed on the opportunity, although not missing the chance to plead with us not get lost and/or roughed up by Italian hooligans. The event took place at an outdoor club on the outskirts of Florence. Probably 80% of the 250 or so people there were American. It cost 20 euros for the event and one drink. The system was that you received a ticket upon entering, but paid when you left. It was quite possibly the worst musical performance in recent history, if you could even classify it as such. Mike Jones did about 5 of his original songs, a few top 40 rap hits that weren't even his, and then it degenerated into him, his cronies, and some girls grinding on stage. The whole thing lasted a little half an hour, and we observed from a stairway to the right of the stage. There was a patio slightly above the side of the stairway, and drunk people kept climbing over the railing to get to the dance floor, nearly falling all over themselves in the process. One continuing side-story was this poor white guy on the outskirts of the dance floor who kept trying to dance with whichever girls came by. In the end he did end up hitting off with one girl, although most of their dancing consisted of her laughing at his ridiculous dance moves.

Feeling like we definitely did not get 20 euro's worth of entertainment, Steve and I were considering sneaking out of the place. The issue was that they had security guards by every exit. We did notice that the security guard by one of the exits would at times briefly wander down into the crowd. Keeping an eye on him, the next time he went into the crowd, we tried to slip out. I went first, but as soon as I walked out the door, a extra loud siren went off. Having already walked through the door, I had a split-second decision to either turn around or take off. I took off. I was running almost as fast as I could as my jeans did their best to stay on. However, I had an uncanny feeling that someone was behind me. Also, the further away I got, the more guilty I felt for not paying, even though I felt payment was mostly undeserved. So I stopped and turned around, and I saw this little African guy booking it right towards me as fast as he could go. I waited for him to catch up, and then went back and paid, much as I would have rather disappeared among the Florence sidestreets and left Mike Jones without compensation for laying that huge egg of a performance. I learned from Steve later that as soon as the alarm went off, the little African guy went tearing up the steps, fell all over himself, got up, kept running, totally took out the white guy who had finally found a girl who liked his dance moves, and ran out the door. Steve returned to the hotel and got back before me, but didn't have the key. He went down to the reception desk, got a key, propped open the door, and went down to return the key. Carly, meanwhile, woke up and walked over to discover the door was open, and shut it. Steve then came back to find the door shut and locked again. Fortunately, Carly was still awake to hear him yelling and knocking, and let him in. She was then horrified to learn that the last Steve had heard from me, I had run off and disappeared with security chasing after me.

The train ride from Florence to Rome was not without another dose of ridiculousness from the shady Italian train system. At first we thought there was a fire in the forest nearby. But we along with the other passengers in our train car soon realized that there was no way there could be a fire of that size with no visible smoke on the horizon. Apparently someone had thrown a cigarette into the bathroom trash can, so a couple guys shot it up with a fire extinguisher. Everything seemed fine until smoke suddenly began pouring out of the air conditioning vents. This was followed by the train being delayed half an hour while the mess was sorted out by Italians running back and forth and congregating next to the train. I assume they fixed the problem - we had already moved to a different car far away from the one full of smoke.

Eventually making it to Rome, we were provided with yet another hotel by Carly's super generous father. This offered us another opportunity to find our hotel without taking at least three wrong turns and asking at least three different people where to go. Didn't happen. But we quickly discovered why Rome is so popular - there's as much to do and see there as any city to which I've been. What surprised me most about Rome was it's size. Almost all of the major sites in Rome were within a 20 minute bus ride of each other. We hit the Colosseum, Forum, Pantheon, a few of the piazzas and fountains, and the Vatican City. The Sistine Chapel was incredible. I did find it somewhat humorous that the officers there kept shouting at everyone to be quiet, sometimes over a loudspeaker. We had our worst lunch in Europe that day at - ironically enough - an American diner. It was like the poor man's version of a tv tray dinner. We had a couple bites of our 10 euro ($15) meal and left. Rome did possibly have more street vendors than Venice... whenever it rained there were always suddenly eight Romans trying to sell me an umbrella.

It finally came time for me to catch my flight back to the U.S., and I left in the middle of the night to catch my early morning flight. I was planning on taking a bus, but after getting a taxi ride to the bus station, I discovered that the bus was inaccessible. Unfortunately, the bus station was the opposite direction from the airport, so then the taxi ride to the airport cost even more. But having stayed up most of the night, I was able to sleep most of the plane ride, which I find to be pretty effective in fighting jet lag. I arrived in the U.S. with an indigent handful of dollars to my name, but the experiences were of course easily well worth it. I'd recommend travel for pretty much anyone who has the chance. If you do, perhaps keep in mind an accurate piece of advice I heard from a comedian the other day: if you look really American but still want Europeans to embrace you - pretend to be Canadian.


Carly accidentally kicks over a bunch of street vendor statuettes.
Carly: I'm sorry...
Street vendor: No, five euro!

Me: You're always flailing.
Carly: You're right, I am a failure.

Carly: I never understood the diaphragm. It comes from your... stomach.

Steve: I didn't really think there were Romans anymore.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Euroblog, Take 8 - Italy, Round 1

Wrote this back when I returned from Italy, but never got around to posting it until now...

Italy carried with it the prospect of having to rough it for the first time, which considering how well we'd had it so far seemed like a bit of a foreign experience. But we were actually in a foreign country. So maybe it was inevitable. As it turned out, Carly's super generous father came through and got us a hotel in Venice.

Venice is definitely in a league of its own. To begin with, I've never seen so many girls wearing aviator sunglasses. No one drives cars there - if you don't like sailing or walking, forget it. Here are a few rules by which the Venice urban development council abides:

- ordinary neighborhood blocks are forbidden. I have never seen so many randomly situated streets. The Google Maps team must have broken down crying trying render the place. I looked up top 10 things to do in Venice, and one of them was getting lost in the maze of streets.
- no two buildings can be the same color. The Rainbow City.
- there must be a pizza restaurant and a tourist street vendor within 100 paces, no matter where you are.
- nothing can look modern. Which isn't a bad thing, necessarily.

It was a great place to visit - very culture rich and a lot of impressive architecture, especially in St. Mark's Square. There is no way I could live there, though. I have to be able to get places fast, and your odds of doing that in Venice are slim to none.

While in Venice I tried to buy a purse/bag as a gift. It seemed good to Chris and I at the time. But when I got Carly's opinion while we were on the train later that day, I realized otherwise:

Me: "So, what do you think of this bag?"
Carly: *blank look followed by flustered demeanor* "It's nice... It's... woven..." *runs fingers over it while offering me a fake smile that would put politicians to shame*

So there went five euros down the drain as I discovered that I had bought the revolting bag in Venice. This was also a continuation of the running joke that being called "nice" is actually an insult. Let's be honest, no one want to hear about themselves: "He/She is... nice." or "He/She is... cool."

One thing we were introduced to in the Venice train station was an LG commercial for one of their new phones. It became a theme throughout Italy - every major train station was full of flatscreen LG monitors replaying this one minute commercial ad infinitum. It was the most Euro commercial I've ever seen. A guy stands in a circular room, and to the tune of an alto opera voice, is covered in some black substance. He then explodes and reassembles as an LG cell phone, still to the tune of alto opera.

Next up was Tuscany, where Steve had a gig to write a review of the newly opened golf course of a five-star resort in Saturnia, in return for a free couple nights' stay with amenities. The only problem was that the resort was expecting two people, while our group was comprised of four. It was agreed that Steve and Carly would go for sure, and Chris and I would do our best to get in also. We went through about ten different versions of plans for how that would work, which included various versions of us trying to sneak in after Steve and Carly had checked in, and possibly sleeping on the golf course Donnie Darko style if that failed. It turned out the resort sent a taxi, so in order for Chris and I to remain in cognito, Chris and I were at first planning on taking a bus to the resort after Steve and Carly got situated. We ended up all cramming in the taxi though, since the driver wasn't associated with the resort, and thus probably wouldn't report anything. It was fortunate (or so it seemed at the time) that Chris and I caught the taxi, since the resort was out in the middle of nowhere. We got out of the car looking like the bums we were, while immaculate butlers bustled around us. It quickly became apparent that they weren't going to be cool with Chris and I staying in the room, and trying to find somewhere to sleep outside was becoming less and less appealing. That, and Carly was terrified of us getting wrecked by random Italian hooligans if we slept exposed out of doors. The only problem was that it was now dark, and we were in the middle of nowhere with the only lodging being a five-star resort starting at $300 a night. Which was about all the money I had to my name at this point.

Chris and I, with the help of the hotel staff, managed to charter the same taxi to the nearest civilization - a small town of a few hundred people. We arrived late in the evening with no place to stay, and wandered into the hotel to which our taxi took us. In rural Italy your chances at finding an English-speaking person go way down. The hotel clerk spoke almost no English - it took a good 10-15 minutes to find out how much a room cost, if the front desk would be open all night, and where the bus station was (we planned to take a bus in the morning to Bologna, where a family friend of Chris lived). About two minutes into the attempt at communication she went and grabbed an English-Italian dictionary, and we did our best trying to find the right words to trigger an understanding for whatever it was we were trying to say. Starving and thirsty, we walked over to the nearest restaurant, where we consumed two pizzas and two bottles of wine and decided that we definitely were not paying anything for lodging, even if it meant sleeping on a park bench.

Leaving the restaurant, we happened to meet up with one of the chefs, Leonardo. After hearing our predicament, he offered us to stay at his place for the night, after he went to what turned out to be a going away party for a couple of his friends. We took him up on the offer, of course. The event was in and around a small square with a bar opened to the street, and a buffet laid out nearby. We ended up meeting a guy from Georgia who had married an Italian girl from the town and was there to visit. His Italian father-in-law, who spoke no English, continually motioned for Chris and I to go have part of the buffet, but unfortunately we were too full from dinner. We met a few of Leonardo's friends, and hung out late into the night - a lot of fun. There was one girl we talked to who it turned out was going to the same college in Scotland that two of our friends from LA were going to also. Another girl I never saw or spoke to except when she would randomly bring me these strange European alcoholic drinks. One thing I found surprising was how up on American music everyone in this remote Italian town was - several of them were playing pieces of classic American rock songs on their guitars.

Eventually, things began to wind down, and we headed back to Leonardo's. We stayed in his loft, which was decorated with numerous Egyptian papyrus paintings. I felt a strange connection to this Italian family, having bought one of those myself while I was in Cairo. I left the bed for Chris and slept in the wooden chair, which was good enough for me. Chris thought the bed was Leonardo's and consequently slept on the floor until he woke up in the night and discovered Leonardo still wasn't there. In the morning, we got up early and eventually found the bus stop, only to discover that the next bus wasn't for four hours. The combination of pizza, wine, and strange European alcoholic drinks had left Chris feeling sketchy, so I went and found food myself. I found what I thought was a great deal on pizza and bought an extra large, only discover after it was cooked that the price was per kilogram, not per pizza. Screwed. We had taken up temporary residence at an outdoor restaurant across from the bus stop, but I went across the street to eat my pizza after the owner hollered at me for eating other food at his table. As I sat across the street eating my pizza, I heard someone saying something right behind me. It was some mumbling which turned into, "DA, I don't feel so good. I think I'm going to throw up." I turned around just in time to see Chris throwing up into a gutter behind a tree next to the street. I must admit I was a little incredulous as to why he would walk over to me while I was eating and throw up right next to me. It turned out he had unsuccessfully tried to several times in the bathroom, but was tired of asking the increasingly agitated owner for the key to the bathroom. Eventually the bus came and we made it to a larger town that had a train station.

Ironically, that whole time Steve and Carly were busy reclining by the pool, relaxing in the spa, golfing, getting massages, and eating thousands of dollars of free food. Chris and I finally met up in Bologna with Chiara, his family friend. It being one of Chris' last days, Chris and I decided to try to go to Florence for a day. Unfortunately, we had to rely on the horrific Italian train system. We had throughout the trip been warned about the severe lack of punctuality of Italian trains, and now it proved true. Our train was delayed for about a couple hours, and then didn't show up at all. We finally managed to get to Florence, but by the time we got there, the last train back to Bologna left in 45 minutes. Determined to see something cool, we quickly looked at tourist maps at the train station and discovered that Florence's most famous cathedral, the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, was only a few blocks away. So we ran through the streets to the cathedral, walked around and took pictures, and rushed back to the train station and left. I think that might be the record for shortest tourist trip to Florence, where people spend weeks visiting everything. Later, Steve and Carly arrived in Bologna, where we all were able to stay with Chiara and her family. They literally redefined hospitality. We were served the most lavish home-cooked Italian dinners that took quite a good while to prepare. There was one interesting night where we all slept in the same room, Carly, Steve, and I on the same mattress. Up next was Florence, and then finally (for me), Rome. Yes, my road led to Rome. Coincidence, subconscious influence of the phrase, or some mystical hand of fate... who can say?


Chris (seeing a street musician): That's an awesome song and I feel like someone should give that guy some money. But not me.

Carly: Why do you downplay everything I do?
Chris: Ah, a little girly vent.

Italian girl: I went to an American baseball game and no one watched the match. Why?

Me (when a train didn't arrive): That train just disappeared, like into another dimension.
Chris: The dimension of inconvenience.

Me: Carly, did you see a yeti taking a shi shi in the bidet? (inside joke)

Steve: I sang a few notes on key the other day, and I got chills. I was like, "Is that what that feels like?"

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Euroblog, Take 7 - Austria

After getting whatever we wanted at Greg's apartment in Stuttgart, we arrived at the Alpenland Sporthotel, a 5-star resort in the Austrian countryside, courtesy of Steve's step dad. It was a super nice place and we were very grateful to stay there. However, we were in for a slightly rude awakening: whereas everything at Greg's place was free, almost everything at the resort cost money. Fortunately, the spa and ping pong table had no cost involved, which equaled us spending most of our time there when we were at the resort. We did get nailed with a $50 internet bill and a $40 laundry bill - for four loads. But this was more than offset by the first-rate views, the accommodating facilities, and some sweets sent by Tracy which disappeared after they were set in the middle of the room.

We spent a marathon day seeing everything in Salzberg, which turned out to have a lot more to offer than I expected. There were a couple castles, a couple rides up nearby mountains that offered killer scenery, a river tour, and a couple sites dedicated to Mozart, among other things. One of the castles - the Hellbrunn Palace - was built in the 1800's by a monarch who also apparently was an extravagant practical joker. He had a running water system installed throughout the castle grounds, and also constructed several various rooms with contraptions designed to interest any of the guests to his castle (these included fountains, a cave/room with a bird theme, and a small mechanical recreated version of Salzberg). The catch was that as guests were absorbed with site seeing, he would trigger jets of water set up throughout the castle grounds and would brutally spray them down. The tour was no different, as the guide mercilessly sprayed all the tourists along the way. This castle was also supposedly the location of the gazebo from The Sound of Music. Here we had perhaps our dumbest moment of the trip. We wandered around the grounds trying to find the gazebo, and came upon a circular slab of concrete with a couple stone benches on it. Not seeing anything else promising, we assumed that the gazebo had been destroyed and that the concrete floor and the benches were all that remained. We spent about 5 minutes there taking various pictures and videos before another couple came by and laughingly pointed us in the right direction.

At this time we were joined by Chris Riboli. The joke now became that poor Carly now had a dad and not one evil step-brother, but two. At this point I also was joined by a terrific case of swimmer's ear. It developed suddenly during the day, and by evening I could barely get to sleep. That night I was awakened every hour that night by Steve and Chris snoring and by what felt like a knife being stabbed into the side of my head. I may or may not have then woken up Carly with some choice words. In the morning I decided I had to get a prescription before my ear swelled shut, but it was the beginning of the weekend. I called back home and eventually got in touch with a family doctor who agreed to call it in. However, the drugstore closed before he called, and so they sent me to another drugstore, which I discovered closed at the same time as the other one. I was now ready to be screwed and not sleep for the next 48 hours and have my ear fall off. That was until an Austrian woman stuck her head out of a small window in a similar way to the crazy guy at the gate to the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz. After a struggle of communication I eventually got what I needed.

Random moment award goes to one evening when were eating in the small restaurant at the resort, only to be suddenly interrupted by someone singing opera loud enough that I thought my glass might shatter. Turns out a somewhat famous tenor from Spain was staying at the resort, and was so charmed by the waitress that he decided to sing her a piece of an opera. At full blast. I guess he enchanted the waitress too much, as she stood us all up later that evening after agreeing to take us out on the town in her car.

There is almost no end of scenic places to go in Austria. We visited a gorge with a built-in path inside it next to a river that led to a waterfall. Nearby was a field with some mountains in the background, so we thought we'd try to recreate the first scene from The Sound of Music. Carly wanted to just skip down the hill, which I thought was pointless since the goal was to recreate the scene, in which there was no skipping at all. I tried to do it with Steve, and told him to just walk normally down the hill, but for some reason he ended up running down the hill singing as I chased after him with the camera. But in the end I think we got some solid footage. We also visited the largest ice cave in world, which was a good ways up in the mountains. Chris decided to do it in a short sleeve shirt, which didn't really seem like a big deal until we were standing outside the cave watching people in full winter garb exit shivering and rubbing their hands together. I gave Chris my hoodie, thinking it might be fun to rough it, but the guide graciously gave me a jacket. We were first in line, and when the doors were opened to the cave, we were completely smashed by a 40 mph gust of below-freezing wind. I couldn't breathe for 10 seconds, and most of my aspiration to rough it fled away pretty quickly. We hiked up several thousand steps and did end up seeing some pretty eye-opening ice formations.

After Salzberg, we took a short trip to Vienna, which only increased my admiration for Austrian towns. There was a square downtown set up with all types of ethnic food available, a palace with incredible gardens, and sandy beach along part of the Danube. Outside St. Stephen's Cathedral there was a guy who looked like he was asleep while posing as a statue of a soldier. Carly timidly walked up to take a picture with him, but as soon as she got next to him he suddenly turned and shouted. She screamed and ran about 20 feet - it was one of the funniest things I've seen. The evening was great - the night was another matter, as Steve was snoring especially loud that night. I tried to sleep on my side with one hand propped to cover my ear - but to no avail. Eventually I nodded off, but awoke in the middle of the night to both Steve and Chris snoring in tandem so that there was hardly a moment of silence - when one was breathing out, the other would snore, and vice versa. Early in the morning I awoke again to Steve, and I had had enough. I kept getting out of bed and hitting him (not hard, okay..), and he would stop for a few seconds. Finally, there was a long enough pause and I got back to sleep. In the morning, Steve revealed to my incredulity that he had hardly slept at all because Chris and I were snoring, and that in order to get to sleep he was trying to make disc jockey-type rhythms in his head out of Chris' and my snores. And apparently he had finally gotten to sleep when I began hitting him. Chris slept the whole night without a problem, of course.

We decided to take a night train from Vienna to Venice. It started out on a shady note, as I was in the train bathroom trying to wash my hands, when someone busted in on me (apparently, the lock didn't work). I pushed back on the door and knocked them back out, but then they turned right around and tried to bust in again. Not believing it, and I again pushed back on the door and knocked them back out, this time keeping my foot in front of the door, while trying to reach the sink, which left me in a strange position. I came out half-expecting to fight someone, but there was no one to be found. Speaking of washing hands, I'm reminded of a previous train incident when a fly hit my face, and Carly insisted that I use a wipe on the area. She then proceeded to wash her own hands, the idea of a fly landing on me apparently being so gross that it became too real for herself. Later I used the bathroom later to change, which several girls in the aisle by the door seemed to find humorous. I guess transitioning from jeans to red Jordan shorts is pretty comedic stuff in Europe. It was also established around this point in time the Murphy's Law of riding on a train: as soon as you stand up, the train will swerve, and you will in all likelihood fly into other seats, looking stupid and uncoordinated. Things were going great until the train was inundated after midnight, and the two extra seats in our six-person room were taken. There was little ac, and so it soon felt like we were being taken away to a concentration camp. But we made it to Venice all in one piece and ready to take on Italy.


Steve (to a German-speaking person): Do you sprechen sie English?

Carly: I'm always afraid that when a train comes a pebble will shoot up and hit me in the face then I would die. It's my biggest fear.
Me: Then you'd be a minotaur. I mean cyclops.

Carly: That mountainside is beautiful. If I were a bird, I'd live there.
Steve: That's cool.
Me: If I were a person, I'd live there.

Carly (looking into the distance): I need a stethoscope so I can see that better.

Steve: If you removed "stuff," "crap," and "thing" from your vocabulary, you'd be a mute.
Me: I say all kinds of stuff.

Carly: Germs to me have ugly faces. They have mean expressions, and they're wrinkly, kind of like a raisin.

Carly (looking at her cards of the same suit): I have the runs.

Chris: The reason it sucks to be a girl is not pregnancy or a period, it's not having sword fights.
Carly: Okay, I've had all the testosterone I can take right now.

Steve: I have too many character flaws: I sweat and I snore.

Chris: It's 11:11, make a wish!
Chris: Was that kind of girly?
Silence from Steve and me.
Carly: No, that's cool!!

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Euroblog, Take 6 - Quotes: German, Swiss, Dutch

Carly: Do you think it's coincidence that there are black squirrels in the black forest?

Carly: Are there any yetis in the Alps?
Steve and I can't help laughing.
Me: Yeah, they had an incident last year.
Carly: Ok, ok, but is there anything like a yeti up there?
More laughing.
Me: My great uncle lives up there.
The officer comes to check our tickets and Steve and I try to get further directions.
Carly: Good job, you guys really looked helpless.
Me (calling after the officer): Sir, are there any yetis on the Matterhorn? Will this train get attacked by a pack of wild yetis?
Steve: Will the characters in Monsters Inc. show up?
Me: Is there a portal to the Monsters Inc. world on this train?
Carly: I'd rather hang out with the yeti than with you two.

Swiss pastor (in all seriousness): All the Swiss pastors go to America to buy clothes from Hollister.

Carly: Do you think there's caramel in that chocolate?
Me: I don't know, could be.
Carly: You look like a terrorist.

Me: In a C-section they take some of your organs out.
Carly: Do they put them back in?
I can't help but laugh.
Carly: I mean they important ones. Like, you don't need your appendix, your gall bladder, and one of your kidneys.
Me: Yeah, they usually try to keep those out if at all possible.

Carly: If you want to prevent pregnancy do you have to block your Ethiopian tubes?

Carly: Dave, talk to me like I talk to you.
I talk loudly with lots of inflection.
Carly: Steve, defend me.
Steve (unaware of the situation): Dave, stop talking loud and obnoxious.

Carly: A bunch of people are doing the 300 workout.
Me: I'd want to do it.
Carly: Do you think you could?
Me: Well, three hundred people did it. I think I could.
Carly: You think that three hundred people can do it?
Me: The three hundred people in the movie did it.
Carly: Is that what the movie is about?
Me: Yeah, the movie is about three hundred guys who try to see if they can all get buff before the Persians come kill them.
Carly: So the movie is about people working out?

Carly (trying to hurt me): I'll pinch you in a pressure spot. Didn't that hurt?
Me: I don't think you've ever managed to make it hurt.
Carly: I'll do it when you're not looking.
Me: Why don't you just punch me in the face when I'm not looking?

Carly: So we're going to Amsterdam, but our host lives in the Netherlands.

Steve: I wish I could sing.
Carly: You can sing.
Steve: Not very well.
Carly: You can make a joyful noise.
Me: You know you're bad when someone busts out the "joyful noise" line.
Steve: It's like having your opponents cheer for you: "Yeah! Good try!"

The Euroblog, Take 5 - German, Swiss, Dutch

You might think that being spoiled in Paris is not the best prep before going to stay with an army officer. And normally you'd be right. From the villa in Paris took a train straight to Stuttgart, Germany, where we were able to stay a week with Greg, a major in the Marine Corps. Thankfully he was not the Captain von Trapp sort that ran his house the same way he ran the army. Plus he had a super nice apartment. I felt like I was in Hollywood when I stepped inside - floor to ceiling windows everywhere, remote control blinds, extra-modern kitchen, a bidet in the bathroom, etc. A very gracious host, Greg let us pretty much do whatever we wanted.

Arriving in the public square after stepping out of the train station, I knew for sure it was Germany, and no longer France. In Paris, the public musicians play the accordion mostly, and occasionally other various instruments (one guy had a harp - I'm not sure how he lugged the thing down into the metro system without damaging it). But in this German public square, some musicians had assembled and were playing what I thought sounded like hell's national anthem on some cellos that were bigger than the musicians themselves. I half-expected Hitler's ghost to be summoned forth or for Rammstein to come play along and call up a giant demon from the depths. But then after they left it seemed like a nice, pleasant town.

We first went to Balingen to see my freshman roommate Rob Miller play soccer in one of the German professional leagues. It may have been one of the lower professional leagues, but Germans take their soccer, excuse me, futbol, very seriously. Several hundred people showed up, which was a good percentage of the town, and most of them were pretty adamant fans. One player would make a run, and you could feel the excitement. Another player would make a bad pass and there would be a collective "Aaaiii!!" (pronounced "I"). Then I'd hear some older guy mumbling to himself in German something to the effect of "What in the world are these guys thinking!?" Germans don't really cheer like cheerleaders though, which Carly discovered after she whooped for Rob and everyone around just kind of looked at her. Rob had the equalizer goal, and they ended up winning 2-1. Carly was filming during one of the goals, but unfortunately she was filming the mascot running around with some of the little children. After the game, a good amount of the fans stayed around to eat sausage and drink beer right outside the complex. I can think of few things more German - go yell at a soccer match, then eat sausage and drink beer. We hung around the town a bit and took some pictures. It was a little awkward when I asked Carly to take a picture a certain way, and she responded by yelling, "Stop being such a picture Nazi!" - in the middle of the German town.

Greg took Rob and us to see the black forest and what supposedly is the world's biggest cuckoo clock. I'll admit, if I had the choice to look at the world's biggest anything, I don't think cuckoo clock would be super high on the list. But in the end it was kind of neat, and the black forest was very scenic. Black forest initially sounded kind of ominous, like the kind of place you'd find hags and werewolves. Instead it turned out to be the kind of place where you'd expect to see Snow White and her little creatures running around. Greg took us their in his BMW via the Autobahn, which we discovered doesn't have speed limits and some points. We'd be going 130 mph and get easily passed up. One thing about Germany is the average car is pretty nice, and quite often a Mercedes or BMW - even the taxis. In fact, Germany in general looked more modern and developed than the rest of Europe. The engineering talent that was there for so long looks like it's been making a comeback. I think I have a better picture of Germany building up in the 1920s and 1930s like they did.

We decided to take a day trip to Jungfraujoch, which was nearby in the Swiss Alps and is apparently the highest you can go in Europe without doing some hardcore mountain climbing. It took about half the trip before we were pronouncing the name right. The only issue was that the most efficient way to do the trip was to leave one evening and spend from 1 am to 6 am in the Interlaken train station, before continuing the ascent. Of course, we naively packed like one jacket and froze to death outside of a bar while trying to sleep on some of the outside tables. We did meet a couple of English guys who were on their way to Paris after travelling through Eastern Europe. When asked why Eastern Europe, they said it was because they wanted to do something that few people do. As it turned out they were more fleeing to Paris after a nightmarish experience. We wanted to tell them that there was a reason why few people toured Eastern Europe - it's a generally sucky place. At one of their stops, they got back on the train in half an hour after seeing packs of dogs roaming trashy streets on top of terrible living conditions. At other stops, a creep came into their room in the middle of the night and stood there for over an hour, a beetle fell on one guy's face in the middle of the night, and one guy misused his 3-minute shower token and had the shower run out on him right after he was all lathered up. And then there they were freezing overnight in a train station. Maybe they were bad luck for us. But in the end Jungfraujoch did feel like being at the top of the Alps, and there were some pretty extraordinary views to be had. The building on the side of the mountain and the Sphinx Observatory at the top were some impressive feats of engineering.

On another trip we went to see a couple of castles in Bavaria in southeast Germany. It was going well until we got off the train in a tiny German village to catch a bus. Apparently this town had no concept of or didn't care at all about maintaining reliable public transportation. After an hour waiting for the bus to show we were trying to hitchhike. The question arose as to whether the thumbs up is the universal hitchhike symbol, but we tried it anyway. People on bikes then became the theme. Steve tried to call to a girl on a bike to see if she spoke English, but she just zipped right on by. I thought it was pretty funny, but Steve was too irritated by that point to see it. Later, I was trying to ask a lady about the bus schedule, when I heard a child cry out, immediately after which a bike with a wagon attached driven by some kid flew by just a couple inches from me. I tried to arch by back forward so the edge of the wagon wouldn't hit me, but in doing so, my head went backwards and got wacked by a wire with flag on it that was stuck on the back corner of the wagon. A little while after that, Steve and I looked up to see a woman riding toward us on a bike. She looked like she was twice the size of the bike, and from a distance she looked pregnant. But when she drove by we realized that she was just unbelievably anatomically blessed. We finally got back on the train to try a different spot, only the train was slow as molasses for while. I looked out the window to see a biker passing up the train. I questioned my $1,000+ rail pass at this point.

We eventually made it there, and it turned out to be the most scenic place we'd seen yet. There were two castles situated on the side of some tree-covered hills, with two large lakes nearby and the Swiss Alps in the background. The castles were very ornate - in Neuschwanstein the king's bedroom was covered in intricate woodwork that took 14 woodcarvers 4 years to complete. A common theme in castles seems to be to have the door to the king's bathroom be a secret door the blends into the wall. Unfortunately, our schedule had been thrown off, and this resulted in our not being able to catch the right train and having to sleep in the Munich train station for several hours that night. Carly had been having a tough time, and who can blame her, but we had to laugh when the song "You Had a Bad Day" started playing in the Munich train station. We stayed in the overnight lounge, where I've never seen rows of benches more perfectly designed to prevent sleep.

We finished Germany with a trip to the Netherlands, where we were graciously hosted by Ewout van Rhee and his new wife Jess. Amsterdam is of course generally known for it's dikes/canals and legal drugs/prostitution. I've never seen so many pimps - and interracial couples - in one place. Carly had a nice moment when she stepped on a syringe in one of the trains. Fortunately, the needle part was already gone. But even if you're not there to lose yourself and your mind in the Red Light District, there's a good part of Amsterdam that fits a more generic tourist profile. We might have gone there, but my memory of my time there is kind of hazy. Not really.

Austria looms. We'll see what happens next.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Euroblog, Take 4 - Paris, Round 2

You might think a little diversity in the menu is desirable. And you're right. But that only works in Paris if money is no object, and for us, "money is no object" can quickly take on the sense of having no money at all. Which I object to. Thus we essentially only ate three things while we were in Paris: pizza, sandwiches, and a third meal that will become obvious if you further read this. Incidentally, I have to wonder which is better: a French waiter saying "bon appetite," or an English butler saying "what can I do to help you, sir?" Take into account the accents.

To get back to Paris from Geneva, our only ride to the train station left in the morning, while our train left in the late afternoon. That equals seven hours in the train station coffee shop. Fortunately, they had comfortable furniture, so I put my feet up and went to sleep. A couple hours later I was awakened by high-pitched harsh-sounding French not too far away from me. I groggily looked up to see the waitress staring right at and just going to town on me in French. I tried to tell her I only spoke English, but it didn't phase her one bit. After she had ranted to her satisfaction she sped off and left me there to wonder what I had done. I learned from a nearby customer that she objected to me just sleeping in her coffee shop. So I bought a sandwich to appease her. Then I went back to sleep.

We got back to Paris around ten in the evening not having eaten anything since lunch. There was a legit Italian restaurant a few blocks away from where we were staying that we were hoping against hope would still be open when we got back, because nothing else would be. Now, I would first like to say that our hosts were very fun and very caring people and we had a great time with them. But we were mortified of having to eat at our hosts' place because they would always offer us was the flattest tasting lemonade I've ever had and stale French bread that you would have to rip at like a caveman if you want to have a bite. Sometimes I wondered whether they only bought that bread because of the fancy French wrapping it came in. What made the food issue worse was the fact that they were very controlling people, so they would get out the stale French bread and the flat lemonade and insist that we have some - and we couldn't say no. On top of that, since they were both controlling people, their relationship consisted a lot of the time of them having to explain to each other every solitary detail both of what they wanted to do and what each of them thought we should be doing with our time there. At times I would sit there with there staring at my stale French bread and flat lemonade listening to them discuss how dishes should be put into the dishwasher and I would just want to tear out every last hair that I had. So maybe now you can see why we thought all our hopes of not going to bed starving rested on this Italian restaurant.

We went by the house to drop off our stuff, and Carly promptly started to get into a conversation with our hosts. I quickly ended it for her and we ran off to the Italian restaurant. People were still eating when we walked up, and when we asked the waitress for anything edible... they were closed. We walked back towards the house as depressed as we've ever been on the trip. But then what seemed like a miracle happened. A guy on a motorcycle drove by us with what looked like a large stack of pizzas on the back. We flagged him down and it turned out he was in fact a pizza delivery guy. I got the phone number for the place and we had renewed hope. We called the place looking for anything edible... they were closed. At this point I was wondering what the next cruel twist would be - was I going to discover a frozen pizza in the freezer only to burn it black in the oven? Fortunately, our hosts came through in the clutch and fixed us a bunch of spaghetti, of course accompanied by the the customary bread and lemonade. Perhaps the whole thing was a test of character - we definitely could have told the pizza guy that we had ordered it, paid for it, and run off with it. And in the end we got a providential meal.

Having yet to actually visit the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, those were next on the list. But first we visited some street shops. We had thought about buying a weird hat that whoever was the last person to say something stupid would have to wear. Carly found a potential candidate, but I apparently upset the shopkeeper by putting in on and trying to take a picture of myself to see what it looked like. I slowly became aware that he was angrily addressing me as "woman" and signaling me to remove the hat from my head. Guess what? He got no business from me. We had another typical American tourist moment at the Louvre. As soon as we got in, we rushed to see the Mona Lisa. Now, the Louvre is tens of thousands of square feet of world-renowned paintings and architecture, but after we had spent five minutes at the Mona Lisa, we turned to each other thinking, "Now what?" The Eiffel Tower was of course legit. We made it all the way to the top, courtesy of some tickets from some older English folks who didn't want to stand in line, or "queue," as the Europeans call it. One thing I thought was interesting to see was that from the top of the Eiffel Tower you can see the actually curvature of the world. Perhaps if the motivation behind the Tower of Babel hadn't been so wrong: 1) we all could still be speaking the same language, and 2) the western hemisphere would have been discovered earlier because people wouldn't have been afraid of sailing off the end of a flat world.

We also visited the palace of Versailles, which was the most ornate place I've ever seen. The front was nothing too gawk at, and you probably wouldn't expect much based on first impression. However, the rooms toward the back and the gardens behind the buildings were incredibly lavish. The walls and ceilings of the rooms were covered with classic paintings, intricate woodwork, plush materials, and decorations made of precious metals. The gardens weaved back for probably a quarter mile before ending in an amphitheater. The palace of Versailles has the personality of a mullet - business in the front, party in the back.


Steve (while visiting the Musee d'Orsay and the Louvre): I've never seen so much human anatomy in my life.

Helen (to Matt, after he messed up a line from Pride and Prejudice that she taught him): I taught you that sentence for you to be elegant, but now you look like a fool.

Carly: When I was young I read a really scary picture book.

Steve: You ready to leave?
Me: I really like Napoleon.

Helen (several times after we taught her the word "fruity"): That's so flowery.

Next we head over to Stuttgart in Germany. We wonder if there are any Nazis left. Are we typical Americans? Possibly. We'll see what happens next...