Thursday, June 24, 2010

Summer Trip - Day 12: 6 Countries in 1 Day

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

I woke up by my alarm fine and got all my stuff together and headed out to the train station to start my long day of travel back to Maastricht.  When my parents came and visited me, we drove from France to Belgium to the Netherlands and discussed how many countries we had gone to in one day (deliberately… not counting layovers etc).  The answer for all three of us was only 3 countries, so I’m planning on breaking that record; I have planned my trip from Geneva to Maastricht, going to 6 countries total: Switzerland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium & the Netherlands.  I plan to at least step out of the train station in each country and maybe go to a store or something, before continuing my ~15 hour day of travel.  

From Switzerland I took the train to Strasbourg, France.  I was there for about 45 minutes so I walked around a bit… nothing much to report there at all.

I then took the train to Saarbruken, Germany where I had a layover of 1.5 hours.  I walked around downtown for a bit, had lunch... went into the McDonalds expecting to get some internet time for a quick email-check but they had just opened and hadn’t set up the network yet.

Next was Luxembourg… I had already been to Luxembourg City so there wasn’t much new I could see in the hour I had there, but it still counts right?  I walked to a McDonalds because I wanted to check my email and figure out where I was staying that night (I had run out of money on my phone by this time), so I didn't really see all that much in Luxembourg.

Then I went to Liege, which I had to do anyway on the way to Maastricht.  I met some Canadian exchange students who had been there for a year and are leaving in a few weeks.  I talked with them for a bit about their experience/Liege and might actually go back tomorrow for an end-of-school party.

After that: home sweet home in Maastricht. My total travel time from leaving the apartment to where I was staying in Maastricht was from 6:45am to 12:30am... 18 hours.

(Side note: I told the guy whose apartment I stayed at that I would find another place to stay, as he told me his place was unavailable… I’m still unsure whether or not to tell him that I actually did spend the night in his room.  I’m also nervous that, because he always leaves his room unlocked, if he happens to get robbed between now and the time he gets back from his trip, I will be the one to blame.  I guess there’s nothing to do about that but hope for the best.) 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Summer Trip - Day 11: Interlaken & Geneva, Switzerland

Monday, June 21, 2010

When the sun came up I did what most people go to Interlaken for: I went for a hike.  I originally planned to go on a really big long hike up to the top of some hill but that was a little too overzealous because from my big bag weighing down and my lack of sleep catching up to me, I turned around in about an hour.
I took the train to Geneva where a couchsurfer told me that I could stay at his place.  He lived in a one room dorm-style apartment with a common bathroom/kitchen etc.  He was actually out of town for the week and apparently never locks his door so as long as I could get into the building (just wait for someone walking in/out) I could stay in his room.  This is one of the best examples of the trust of couchsurfers.  I think it’s a great network and was very surprised by the trust that he was extending to me; someone he had never met before.

After taking a 2-hour nap in his apartment, I woke up to find a good place to watch the Switzerland/Chile football game.  I asked a local if there were any public-viewing areas and he said there was one by the Genevan stadium but he didn’t know exactly where and couldn’t tell me how to get there.  I took a tram to that general area and knew I was going in the right direction when I saw about 50 people walking decked out in their red & white.  When I got to the big screen, it was more impressive than I expected.  A huge enclosed complex with tons of bars & restaurants were set up around a plaza with a big screen.  The newspaper the next day said there were over 10,000 people viewing the game there.  Despite the result there was so much energy, it really made it a special time.

(Side note: what I was most impressed with when it came to Geneva was the level of internationalism in the country.  Before the Swiss game started there were so many horns honking, flags waving, people cheering, as thousands of Portuguese fans took the streets celebrating their 7-0 win over North Korea.  One would never have guessed they were anywhere but Portugal at the time.  The same was the case for Spain; after their win there were more Spanish flags, jerseys and supporters than I had seen for any country in my last week and a half of travel.)

After the game, I found another McDonalds to check my email and was unhappy to find out that my original couchsurfing offer to stay at this guy’s apartment was withdrawn, as the guy forgot he promised his room to another friend who needed a place to stay.  As soon as I read this, I immediately sent out a series of new couchsurfing requests and went back to the apartment to 1) clean up, in case the friend were to come soon and 2) take a nap and get as much sleep as possible, for the possibility that, yet again, I didn’t have a place to stay at night.  I slept until the Spain game, then went down to a local bar to watch the game (and unfortunately forgot to bring my camera).  I then went back to the McDonalds to check on my couchsurfing requests and figure out my itinerary for the next day(s).  I didn’t get any positive couchsurf answers so I was just going to hope that the apartment was free when I got back and, if not, have to stay up all night before my 7:15 departure the next morning.  I originally wanted to stay in Geneva an extra day but the combination of me not having a place to stay and not wanting to be traveling during the US game made me decide to go back to the Netherlands a day early.

I got back to the apartment finding it empty (I’m guessing the friend wasn’t coming until the next day).  I was luckily able to shower and get a few hours of sleep.  Just like before most tests in college… if I stay up to a certain point and know I won’t get a decent night sleep, I fear that I won’t wake up the next day so I decide to stay up the entire night instead.  I tried to do this for a while, but by the time 4am came around I cared less about missing my train the next morning and just needed to sleep a bit.

Summer Trip - Day 10: Buchs and Zermatt, Switzerland

Sunday, June 20, 2010
Because I was only going to be in Milan for less than 24 hours, just for the game, and now I was going to miss that, I decided to nix Italy all together and make today all about traveling around Switzerland.  So I continued my original plan of going to Buchs and then walking to Lichtenstein and back.  I then started to make my way to Interlaken.  On the train ride I met a group of girl-scouts from the ‘states.  Through conversation one of the girls told me that this trip to Europe was the first time this girl had been on a subway, train or plane.  I couldn’t believe how sheltered some people are!!

I was planning on going straight to Interlaken but fell asleep on the train and missed the stop.  I woke up for the next stop but that was already 2/3 the way to Zermatt.  I decided to go up to Zermatt and check out the Matterhorn.  I took the train up there (which, unfortunately, wasn’t covered under the Eurail… but oh well) and walked around for a bit.  I took a hike up into the wilderness.  It was definitely beautiful and a very adventurous town; every store/shop had to do with skiing, backpacking, climbing and other outdoor activities.  While I wasn’t able to take advantage of the environment for just a few hours, that is definitely a place I want to come back for a more outdoors-specific trip (although it’s rather expensive).

After Zermatt I took the train to Interlaken which arrived at ~10:30pm.  When I got there I was trying to scope out places to sleep and the train station seemed like a good place; it was warm, there was an outlet so I could continue my blog and watch a movie or so, and it would force me to wake up early to start my day the next day.  So I walked around Interlaken for a bit… found a McDonalds (which has become my best friend on the road, given that they all have free wireless).  It closed at midnight though, at which time I started walking around Interlaken to see as much of the city as I could, given the fact that I was exhausted and it was night.  I made my way back to the train station and of course! it was closed.  It was too late to find a hostel so I decided to try to sleep outside at the train station.  Well I underestimated how cold it was because I ended up putting on about 8 of my shirts, three pairs of shorts, two pairs of socks and was still cold and couldn’t get to sleep (of course, I tried for about 2 hours).  I eventually walked around and found a hotel where the receptionist let me hang out in the lobby until morning.  He also gave me the password to their internet (and as anyone who knows me at all would tell you, with an internet connection, or at least with Google Reader/News/Chat I could stay up for as long as I’d ever need).

Summer Trip - Day 9: Ljubljana, Slovenia

Saturday, June 19, 2010

I had breakfast at the dorm with Scott & Rene.  I was the first one to leave because I wanted to catch the train to Milan.  On my way walking through the city I passed by a group of Dutch guys all wearing jerseys watching the very start of the Netherlands/Japan game.  I decided to join them and watch the game, which made me miss my train.  The game was a lot of fun to watch and I walked to the train station after to try to figure out my options.  I could either take an overnight train to Milan at 2am, or an overnight train to Zurich at 9pm.  Well I really needed to be in Italy the next day because they play a game at 4pm.  So after going into a McDonalds and looking at the different trains I could take, I figured out my plan:  Take an overnight train to Zurich, get off a few stops early in Buchs (the nearest Swiss city to Lichtenstein), walk across the border to Lichtenstein… then take a train from Buchs to Milan in the morning… just in time to catch the Italy soccer game.  Well, I actually have no idea what happened but somehow the train (which said it was going to Zurich) went through Germany and it was already 10am by the time I got into Switzerland… which was way too late to catch my train to Milan.  

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Summer Trip - Day 8: Rijeka, Croatia & Ljubljana, Slovenia

Friday June 18, 2010

This has by far been my most interesting and eventful day… definitely a fun one.
After being exhausted, to say the least, from having not gotten a decent night sleep in the past two nights, I meandered around Rijeka for an hour or so in the morning while waiting for the bus headquarters to open.  I asked them if anyone had returned my wallet and after getting the expected response of “no” I gave them my email address in case it turns up.  I then went to the police station to do the same thing.  At the end of the day I 1) don’t believe my wallet will actually be returned. 2) Even if it is returned, don’t think that I will be emailed about it. 3) If I do happen to be notified about them getting my wallet, I don’t know if I would be able to return to Rijeka (unless it were very soon) because I’m leaving the city in a few hours.  And 4) if I did happen to come back here to pick up my wallet, I don’t think that any of the money would be left in there…. So I did lose my driver’s license and student ID but I guess that’s a part of life.  One of the unfortunately things is that now, while traveling around Europe, I’ll have nothing to identify myself as a student so I might not qualify for the many student-discounts that are available.
I then walked to the train station where I waited for my train to Ljubljana (the capital of Slovenia).  I slept the entire train-ride and because it wasn’t crowded at all, I had a room/booth all to myself and was able to lay down and actually rest.

The train arrived about an hour before the game was to start so the first thing I did was take my American flag out and wrap it around my neck & backpack as I walked down the street.  I quickly went to the hostel I was going to stay at, put my stuff down and ran to the river where there were going to be plenty of public-viewing places.  I arrived within the first 10 minutes of the game and just made my way through the crowd to get a decent view of the tv.  I, of course, got plenty of looks because of my American flag.  The whole scene was very fun and the energy was unbelievable when Slovenia scored their goals… even more so than in Germany.  During the first half a woman approached me and asked if she could ask a few questions… she was a reporter from a local newspaper and was wondering (along with everyone else) what an American was doing in Slovenia, as well as my thoughts on the game.  I kept on looking out for any other American fans but didn’t see a single one.

At one point during the game another random guy (Rene) was videotaping the scene with his iphone and wanted my comments on the US losing by 2 goals.  We ended up talking and hanging out the rest of the game.  Toward the end of the game I saw a couple other Americans and chatted with them for a bit; one was a guy (Scott) traveling on his own for an entire year.

Short backgrounds:
  • Rene is 26 from Belgium and had been in Slovenia for 2 weeks for a film festival. He is the absolute most outgoing person I’ve ever met and talks to every single person we pass.  He would ask for directions even if we knew exactly where we were going, and then try to chat up the person… he would insist on telling some non-relevant story to strangers all the time (so through the time I spent with him I heard the same stories at least 20 times).  It is a good quality but he was very very over-the-top with it.
  • Scott is 23, recently graduated from Texas and is not traveling the world for 11 months.  He started in Hawaii, then went to China & Nepal, now he’s in Europe for a few months and his next flight scheduled is from South Africa to Brazil, in November so he’s doing a combination of hitchhiking/rideshare/couchsurfing/backpacking until then.  After Europe he’s going to go down the East coast of Africa also with nothing booked/scheduled.

Right after the game ended, a news reporter asked if he could interview one of us Americans about the game.  Rene answered for us Americans and told him to interview me.  The clip was live, so I had my 15 seconds of fame on Slovenian tv.  There were a fair amount of people giving us some jeers and a few middle fingers, but it was pretty passive and all in good fun.  On our way out of the city center we were walking along the street and passed a couple bars, all which had TVs outside and a bunch of people at… Scott and I were proudly cheering for our country, as all of the locals were either chanting for Slovenia, or “fuck USA”.  Well I thought it was all in good, cheerful fun but I guess I’m too optimistic about the power of the World Cup, because before too long a few guys walked up to me and tried to grab the American flag from my hands.  I was a little too prideful for my own good because I refused to let go, until there was a decent commotion and the guys (who were very drunk) got pushy and physical. 
Eventually a bunch of other people came over to try to ameliorate the situation and help us out.  These guys told us to get away from the situation and wait down the street while they retrieved the flag.  The majority of people were very friendly and we were offered to go into a bar and have a few beers, to show that the bad few don’t reflect the whole country.  Even though I was probably dumb by holding onto the flag for so long, it was a matter of principle to me opposed to actually caring about keeping the flag (which cost 4 euros).  The police also came over after the altercation to ensure we were okay.

We walked on to that same hostel Rene was taking us to, on the way Rene convinced us to stop at this museum/exhibition for some free drinks, because Rene had made some friends with the people who worked there the day before.  While we were having some drinks outside in the courtyard, we happened upon a kid’s birthday party.  Rene started talking with some of the parents, then the kids, and before I knew it we were all playing soccer with a bunch of 7 year olds.  The teams were us 3 guys against about 20 kids… all of whom were adorable.  We let them beat us 6-5 and all the parents were so grateful that we tired all of the kids out that they gave us some cake and the rest of their (alcoholic) punch for the road.

Finally we made it to the hostel (I’m still confused as to why we were going there in the first place) that Rene insisted we check out.  We ended up making some friends there and playing a pickup game of basketball with some guys there, and eventually got on our way back to my hostel.

Rene invited Scott and I to stay at this apartment of his friends who was out of town where we could stay for free.  I had already checked in to my hostel so I was going back there to see if I could cancel the reservation and get my money back.  After some haggling, the manager gave me ½ of my money back and again, us three were on our way walking.

On our way to the friend’s apartment (which happened to be a college dorm) we passed by an opening of a wine-store and, as always, Rene started chatting people up and next thing I knew we were being handed glasses of wine, champagne, cheese, mini bottles of champagne to-go.  We talked to the people there for over an hour… I met a couple who lived in LA for years and now are back in Slovenia.

Finally we were on our way to the dorm and yet of course… Rene had to talk to a group of kids hanging out drinking outside in a park.  Well in the conversation, he introduced Scott and I to these kids, telling them that I’m from California and Scott was from Texas.  Well they happened to point out that a guy standing on the other side of the group also happens to be from Texas.  Well if this day wasn’t crazy enough, that other guy from Texas happened to be Scott’s good friend from college and was the reason he was in Slovenia… to try and meet up!  Unreal day.

We finally got to the dorm and I got to shower and do much needed laundry.  We hung out with some other kids in the building for a bit and then I got my first sleep in a real bed in a while.

Some general notes about Slovenia: I was very impressed with the amount of English that everyone spoke.  With a few exceptions, people of all ages spoke English really well… much more so than any of the other cities I’ve been to recently.

Summer Trip - Day 7: Budapest, Zagreb & Rijeka

Thursday, June 17th 2010

I took the 6:30am train from Budapest to Zagreb.  As usual, I was wearing my Cal hat and as I was walking down the train to stretch my legs I got a “Go Bears” shoutout yet again.  This was from an older couple (my parents age) who had both gone to Berkeley.  I ended up sitting with and talking to them (along with another couple) for most of the train-ride.  It was fun to share stories of Berkeley from back in the day and now.
My original plan for Croatia was to meet up with Kyle Delbyck in Zadar, and that was the main reason I took the earliest train out of Budapest (so I could get to Zadar earlier rather than later).  Well when I got to Zagreb (at around 1:30pm) I found out that the earliest I could possibly get to Zadar, through bus/train would be 4am the next morning.  Well that didn’t exactly work for my plans so instead I decided to take the 5pm train to Rijeka.  This gave me a few hours to walk around Zagreb and check it out (so I took a number of different trams and walked around to see the different parts of the city).  I think I liked Zagreb the most of any Eastern-European city I’ve been to so far (not necessarily on sights & things to do) because everyone seemed to be happy.  A bunch of locals were sitting out in cafes drinking and socializing… all these bars were playing the World Cup games on TVs outside…. It was just a really good vibe.  Also, I bought a beer at the grocery store as a refreshment and as I was walking around town I was looking for a place/ledge where I could open the bottle.  As I was thinking about that… and man sitting on a bench called me over and opened my beer for me.  Gotta love the hospitality.

I slept almost the entire train ride from Zagreb to Rijeka and as I was taking the bus from the train station to my hostel… I realized that I lost my wallet (still unsure how exactly that happened).  I then went to the Continental Hotel (where they had free internet) to try to figure out my credit cards and logistics.  Well by this time it was already getting pretty late and I could either 1) pay for an expensive room in the Continental.  2) Search around for an ATM (because I didn’t have any local currency anymore), then try to find a hostel and sleep there for a few hours. Or 3) stay up all night for free and use the internet outside the hotel all night.
Well I’m choosing to do #3 and that’s where I’m writing this from right now.  Because the hotel knew that I had lost my wallet, an employee was very nice and brought be some food & water and put the cushions back on the couch outside so I could hang out here all night.  I also wanted to stay up to follow the Laker game and them winning the NBA title J

General notes: very few people spoke English and I heard 0 English-speaking tourists.

Summer Trip - Day 6: Budapest, Hungary

Wednesday, June 16th 2010

Today was my only full day in Budapest so I was hoping to make the most of it… Unfortunately I was woken up in the morning by thunder and it was pouring really hard.  After procrastinating going out into the rain as much as possible, I took my stuff and went to my other hostel.  This new hostel was nice inside… but the actual apartment building was ridiculously rundown.  Very very sketchy.

I then put on my Spanish jersey (don’t want to talk about the game) and started walking around the city in the rain.  I did what I usually do… just get a general idea of where I want to go and what areas/buildings I want to see and then just set out and start walking.  I ended up hiking up to the top of a hill on the other side of the river, which gave me a pretty good view of the city.  After walking around for a few hours, I went back to the same park as the night before to watch the Spain-Switzerland game.  I then made my way back over to my hostel to take a nap.  My train out of Budapest the next day is at 6:30am so I knew I wasn’t going to get any sleep that night.

In the evening I played poker (and won) with some other guys at the hostel, and then… to pass the time… went to go explore the nightlife of Budapest.  I made my way to a nightclub that Elan (who studied in Budapest throughout the semester) had recommended and ended up seeing a bunch of people from my hostel the previous night.  I also met a bunch of other people from around the world (including a bunch of Spaniards, who were easy to recognize wearing their football jerseys).

I then went home to collect my stuff and continue my journey.

Summer Trip - Day 5: Vienna, Bratislava & Budapest

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I wanted to get to Bratislava by the time they played their soccer game against New Zealand, so I got an early start in Vienna and walked around for a few hours before taking the train.  I liked Vienna and thought it was a rather pretty city (despite what my Dad said).  One thing I noticed: so so many of the local boys (ages 12-15) wore capris.  I almost started laughing in front of them when I saw the ridiculous fashion for these Euro-boys.
I took the train to Bratislava and the city was pretty much exactly how I expected it: really bad.  The whole city was run-down… graffiti everywhere, old buildings & buses etc.  I made the decision on the spot that I wasn’t going to spend a night there; I’d be in Slovakia for their game, and then train out to Budapest.

Unfortunately, the game was also a completely letdown.  I took 4 buses and was in Bratislava for a decent amount of time and saw only 1 person wearing a soccer jersey.  I got off the different buses hoping to find a local bar where a bunch of people would be watching the game but found that almost impossible.  I ended up finding a bar next to the train station where I watched the game.  There were more people sitting outside than inside (where the TV was).  I saw more American soccer fans in Cologne, and even more Brasilian soccer fans in Vienna than I did Slovak fans in their own country.  I guess I was rather disappointed in the city as a whole.  I then took the train to Budapest.  I met some Americans who had just spent the last year in Andalucia.  I got charged for the train ticket on the way from Bratislava to Budapest because I completely forgot that Slovakia wasn’t on the Global Eurail pass.  It wasn’t that much and the conductor on my way into Slovakia didn’t even say anything about it.

I ended up going to the hostel those other Americans were staying at.  It nice and really social (I met a ton of people from all over), but a tad expensive (not that anything in Eastern Europe is all that expensive) so I knew I was going to just book something through for my next night.

Soon after arriving at the hostel we went to a big park to watch the Brasil/Korea game.  They were showing all the games from a big public screen, which is exactly how football should be watched!
After the game we went to a bar to socialize with the rest of the hostel kids, then I came back home.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Summer Trip - Day 4: Munich & Vienna, Austria

Monday, 14th of June

I spent a few hours downtown in Munich, walking around seeing the sights/people.  There were a ton of people around (more American tourists than I’m used to).  I met up with Jacob Venzor, who has been in Munich since last fall, for lunch and we sat outside in a beer-garden where they had a tv setup outside to watch the Netherlands soccer game.

I then took another 4-hour train ride into Vienna, Austria (the trains, pictured to the left, are rather luxurious).  I had set up a couchsurf in Vienna, and my host told me the general direction of his house (metro stop etc) but I didn’t get all the details… I figured I’d just call him when I was there to get the actual address.  Well my host’s phone wasn’t working when I got to his neighborhood and after I tried calling about 20 times, I just started to look at every single apartment building and hope that his last name was on one of the doorbells.  After about 30 minutes of doing this I found his place and everything worked out fine.

Summer Trip - Day 3: Munich, Germany

Sunday, 13th of June

I left Cologne in the early afternoon and took a high-speed luxury train to Munich. (The picture to the right, by the way, is of the train station in Cologne.  Gotta love Europe!).  The train ride was about 5 hours but it gave me some time to catch up on sleep and my blog.  Sebastian (the boyfriend living in Munich) picked me up from the train station and drove me to his apartment (which they had just moved in to this weekend).  I then went to a very typical German restaurant/bar to watch the Germany/Australia match. 

The whole environment was great (especially because Germany won 4-0).   Everyone there was very drunk and happy… I couldn’t have pictured a better place to watch the game.

Summer Trip - Day 2: Cologne, Germany

Saturday, 12th of June

I walked around on my own for a bit… then went back to my hostel to watch a soccer game.  In the afternoon I took a short train-ride to Monika’s house (just outside of cologne).  We then went back into the city… climbed up to the top of the Cathedral (great view).  Did some more walking around… had dinner and then went to the local American bar to watch the England-USA game.

Whenever I travel I like to meet Americans  and see where they’re from/why they’re in Europe etc.  Going to an American bar during the US soccer game made it that much easier.  Two people even recognized my Cal hat and told me they went there.  I also got a “Go Bears” cheer when I was walking up the Cathedral steps by someone on his way down.

After the game a few of Monika’s friends met us to go out to another bar.  In conversation I mentioned I was going to Munich the next day.  Well one of Monika’s friend’s  boyfriend is living in Munich for the summer so within 3 minutes they got me a place to stay.  (This is EXACTLY what I was hoping for when I came on this trip... I love connections and being flexible and meeting people from all over.  The social network around Europe is amazing.)

The clubbing in Cologne was definitely a lot of fun.  Overall: a great way to start out my trip.