planetNothing Europe Travel Journal

Ok here is the journal I said I’d type up eventually.  I updated it every couple cities when I had time.  A lot of it is just notes or shorthand and might not make sense.  I now wish I had put in dates and places we stayed at but oh well.
The flight on British Airways was great.  When we first got on we mentioned that the coach section was like a cattle car and the snooty British steward said quietly “American cattle.”  After a long customs line we can’t find our way out of the airport.
Once in London we met Alecks (someone from online) at Charing Cross and he got us used to mass transit.  He was very cool and he took us to Dover then a pub at night.  We went to the slums the next day.  That night we met up with Steve, Alan, Tony, and Kev (all from online) and Steve treated us to an awesome Moroccan/Lebanese dinner then we went to a club where we were on the guest list and met John (online) and Jen (a girl from PA) who were DJing.  The next day we went to Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Chapel, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Trafalgar Square, and Buckingham Palace then went to a pizza place in SoHo and then to a pub.  There was a crazy religious speaker at Trafalgar Square.  London is very expensive.  There are cameras everywhere and no garbage cans anywhere.  For some reason there are no camera stores anywhere near any tourist attractions.  Also nothing seems to get fixed such as broken or boarded up windows, stripped and burnt cars on the side of the road and graffiti everywhere.  Everyone is real nice and the Tube (subway) is excellent.
On route to Edinburgh we talked to a couple that were nice and didn't have too much of an accent so I thought Scotland would be like that until we found out there were South African.  Then 20 or so Scottish drunk guys get on at Newcastle with even more alcohol.  They were extremely loud and we never understood a word they said/sang.  I was then afraid Scotland would all be like them but the guy next to me told me they weren’t the norm.  Checked into the hostel.  We are in an empty room but with six other available beds so people can come in anytime.  Chat with an employee named Nicky and he takes us to an underground hip hop club (old school stuff) with awesome lounge mats/chairs/caves.  We go to Edinburgh castle which has awesome views and tons of stuff inside.  William Wallace and Robert the Bruce statues guard the gate.  All the audio tour sections have bagpipes playing which gets increasingly cheesy the longer you listen to it.  We then walked down Royal Mile and hit a couple cool old cemeteries on route to the palace.  We walked far enough out on flat land to see Arthur’s Seat but way too tired to climb up there.  Edinburgh is cheaper than London but still a little high and not so friendly mass transit (no subway) and not too much to do here so we are going to Loch Ness tomorrow.  Everyone is nice and helpful here too.
Loch Ness was beautiful and the castle ruins were awesome.  There is a great cheesy village nearby.  Locals said they have never seen Nessie without whiskey/vodka.  We have been asking people about Braveheart and Groundskeeper Willie.  Someone burned the little American flag at the hostel. (there were a bunch of national flags and I asked where ours was)  We are now taking 2345234523 trains to get to Dublin right now.  We are currently going through Wales and are almost at the ferry.
Dublin was a great beautiful city with a river down the center.  Good nightlife and busy.  Went out with three girls from Colorado we met at the hostel the 1st night.  Guinness is great here.  There are a couple cool cathedrals near the center of town.  The castle looked very modern and was built around the smaller old one.  Christ Church Cathedral and St. Patrick's were both nice, old, and big.  We went out with three Italian girls the next night.  We met a guy named Tyson from Boston and two Canadian girls on route from Dublin to Paris.  The girls taught me how to ask for two tickets to Paris in French since the border city ticket guy didn’t speak a word of English.
Paris was huge but the awesome extensive subway made it seem small.  The top of the Eiffel Tower was great.  It wasn’t as big as I thought but it was still pretty big.  We met a couple Russian girls at the top and a few girls from Wisconsin at the bottom/middle.  We walked most of the way down. (it was too late in the day to walk up it or we would have)  The Louvre and Notre Dame were huge and very detailed.  Arc de Triumph was also huge with an insanely wide road all around it where we almost witnessed multiple accidents in a short time span.  We sat in the train station in Paris forever trying to get a train to Madrid.  We finally left at 11pm and went to Iura(?) then to Palancia, and finally on to Madrid.  We arrived in Madrid at 6pm the next day.
Madrid is beautiful.  We are staying in a super central hotel for $50.  There are lots of great open areas and pedestrian streets.  There are statues and fountains all over the city.  There are also LOTS of police cars all around to keep crime down.  All of the bushes and plants are shaped and pretty and some are designed into letters but I have no idea what they say.
Barcelona was cool.  There are TONS of people there.  This was the first city were we had to resort to a hotel booking place.  Streets are mostly in grids for once!  That is except for the old city.  We saw the world’s largest church (whenever it gets finished).  There are tons of cheesy/weird stuff on it including a Jesus on a construction I-beam iron cross.  The section of town was called Gaudi so it looked like a caption on church postcards (because it looked gaudy, get it?)  La Rambla was very cool.  It’s a huge (width and length) pedestrian street with one skinny lane of traffic on each side.  I finally broke down and got fast food for the first (and last) time but only because it was the only thing open.  I got beer with my “Long Chicken” combo at Burger King.
Nice was beautiful.  Huge open areas with fountains, statues, parks, and gardens near the water.  Views are great on the beach but the beach is all rocks and bigger rocks.  Sensitive feet + rocks + ice cold water = lots of pain.  There is an awesome old cemetery on top of a big hill called La Chateau.  Great view of Nice from up there too.

Florence was cool.  HUGE street markets fill the streets in the center of town.  Lots of prices listed in USD and all the sellers know in English is “price good,” “discount,” and “Hello my friend.”  We ran into the three girls from Colorado that we had met in Dublin in the street markets.  What are the odds of running into the same people 3 weeks later on the other side of Europe when we took completely different routes?!?  We saw the David statue (replica) at Accademia.  It was very cool and much bigger than I thought.  Later that day we had out first real Italian dinner and it was awesome.

Rome was awesome.  Definitely a city to come back to.  The forum full of ruins is amazing and the best stuff was free to wander around.  The Coliseum was cool but they shouldn’t have rebuilt the famous caved in wall and they should let you go higher up in the stands.  Circus Maximus is all grass now and filled with hippies but still cool to see.  There is a huge cool City Hall or something building on way back along with Imperial ruins.  We met two guys at the train station and they came with us to Vatican City.  They wanted to walk but we insisted on taking the subway and then they were pick pocketed when we got on!  Luckily they were quick and got their money back.  At Vatican City St. Peter’s Cathedral is very cool with divine light coming in the dome.  Huge circle of columns at the entrance is cool too.  On the way back from the Vatican we saw a big castle, 2 cool bridges, tons of cool fountains, a few cool pillar things covered in hieroglyphics, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps.  We had to go back to the Vatican the next day to make the museum’s crazy hours.  Very cool art/statues through out but of course the Sistine Chapel blew everything away.  We killed the rest of the day online waiting for the train to Venice.
Venice was beautiful and serene.  It’s hard to imagine a whole city without cars/mopeds/buses – anything but boats until you’ve been there.  It’s so quiet and peaceful and the sun rise and set are amazing.  The only thing not perfect was the stinky canals in the early morning when we got there but it went away when the smell of food took over.  There are lots of weddings going on too.  We drank a bottle of wine with breakfast in San Marco square.  Lots of tourists feeding pigeons so the square is covered in pigeon crap and they spray it clean with hoses every morning.  There are easy to guide signs at major pathways telling you which way to the closest attraction.  Same thing with the WC (bathroom) signs but a lot were closed.
Zurich was cool.  Not too much to do but a very nice city.  There are insane benches all over the city – literally hundreds and hundreds of them.  We couldn’t figure out how to buy tram tickets even with the help of locals and we ended up getting fined $40 each when they checked us later that day.  The worse part is that we weren’t even on the right tram when it happened!
Munich was cool.  Huge pedestrian street with cool building in the middle.  Germany is the first place that has street signs on every street!  We are at the Hofbrahaus which is apparently famous.  There were huge long tables you shared with strangers, a live band in lederhosen, and huge liter beers.  Dauchau concentration camp was very…interesting.  It was a work camp, not a death camp.  Many people still died under terrible conditions though.  Besides being searched for drugs 4 times in 30 hours and all the cops/military everywhere Munich was very cool.
Budapest was beautiful and cheap!  We stayed in the hills of Buda. (It’s actually two cities, Buda and Pest separated by a river)  We took the subway to the edge of Pest and walked back to Buda.  There is a big contrast between the cities.  They have crazy toilets with the hole in the front and the rest is a flat part high up with no water.  We only had one day there so we didn’t get to experience the whole city.
Vienna was very cool.  We rented bikes and rode around the entire city for 4 hours and saw all the sights we could find.  At night we played chess on a huge floor board at the hostel (I won).  We met Mandy at the hostel and she was afraid to ride the train alone so we took her with us to Prague the next morning.
Prague was awesome and by far the cheapest.  There is a great mix of medieval buildings (Gothic) and wedding style houses (Baroque).  There is a great big castle on the hill that was all lit up at night along with the old town square.  Main courses were all under $3 and beers were 25 cents.  All amazing food.  At night we went bar hopping with 5 girls.  Mandy (girl we brought from Vienna), Elizabeth from Seattle, and 3 girls from Michigan.  We asked the bartender at the last bar where all the locals went and she made out a makeshift map on a napkin.  After about 20-30 minutes of wandering around with no clear destination in sight one of the Michigan girls decided she was too cold to keep looking so all the Michigan girls left.  The remaining four of us found the place 5 minutes later and it was an awesome club by Charles Bridge with 6 floors.  There was a live concert on the bottom two floors and the other floors were all different music types and they were all full of people.  We stayed an extra day to indulge in food.  The next day we went to check out the super packed cemetery in the Jewish Quarter.  It was closed but we could see in at some spots.  Headstones were crammed in everywhere in all directions.  There are 20,000 graves within 1 block.
Berlin was cool but since it’s always changing there weren’t a lot of old buildings.  There were hundreds of cranes all over the city above the buildings.  We went and saw the remaining block of the Berlin Wall and walked down the 2-cobblestone-wide path that traces the old wall.  Right by our hotel was a church that was bombed but they left it untouched as a memory of the horrors of war.  The last surviving Berlin wall gate was covered in a tarp. :(
Sundsvall was beautiful.  I totally expected tons of snow and igloos since it’s so far north.  It was daylight 24 hours a day.  The sun went “down” around 12am and came “up” around 3am but it never got dark.  Pete (another person from online) took us out to his summer house on the water and it has such a great view.  We also went out to where he grew up and ate at a great restaurant on the coast.  We’ll see Pete again in London next week.
Copenhagen was pretty cool.  There were huge long pedestrian streets that sprawled the whole city center.  On the pedestrian streets there were lots of street performers and a funny comedian that was ripping on Danish people.  We went to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not and Guinness World Records.  Also went to Christiania, the old military barracks that was taken over by hippies in the 70s.  They declared it a “free city” and drugs are legal there.  When you go in there is a sign saying “Now leaving the European Union.”  There are a bunch of booths with miscellaneous hippie-gear and a good restaurant in the back.  It was all dirty and stuff but still cool to see.
Amsterdam is great.  Everyone is relaxed and friendly and everyone speaks English.  Tons of people, including us, wander around at night in the Red Light District just taking in the city.  It gets a little uncomfortable at 4am when it is just us and bums out and everyone is stopping us asking for money.  I got the city flag which is red and black with XXX on it.  They supposedly represent windmills.  We went to the Van Gogh Museum and Anne Frank’s House which were cool.  We’ve been sleeping all day and going out all night since we have a hotel with a great location.
I didn’t have a journal entry for Brussels so here is a summary I’m writing right now.  We split up for Brussels because he wanted to go meet someone else from online that I didn’t know in the middle of nowhere and I decided to stick with the big city.  In Brussels last minute hotels are discounted so I got a great room with a balcony really cheap compared to what it should have cost.  I asked the front desk to circle some good dining areas on my little book map.  I headed out and found a great church buried behind some buildings and then another huge one that I was looking for.  I didn’t realize when I had gotten to the good food area because it’s kind of hidden.  There are skinny alleys about 5 feet wide with restaurants on both sides and of course both sides have tables in the alley too so you literally have to walk in a single file line with other tourists while each place tries to lure you in.  I finally settled on the least pushy place and ordered.  While eating I met 4 girls that were studying abroad in Paris from Emory University.  We merged tables and ate together then walked around a while chatting.  Just when we were heading to the bars I felt sick and went back to my hotel for the night.