Sunday, April 11, 2010

European Travels, Part I

Hey my tour of Europe though brief and just a scratch off the surface of what these countries have to offer, was a great chance to see other cultures in Europe. I recorded some observations and thoughts that came to mind when staying in a few places, and I am going to attempt to go through the lists of my scribbled notes and ideas to try to recreate my amazing trip. Here goes...

Tuesday, March 30: I left Kerry Airport for London on what could have been, my shortest plane flight ever. Some wind and light rain like most days in Ireland and the UK, accompanied my entire trip. London is a massive city with 5 local airports and miles and miles of small houses that make up the numerous neighborhoods that I gazed at while journeying by train from Luton Airport to the massive train station known as St. Pancras. This station on the north end of London, was only a couple of miles from Carolyn and Matt, my cousins of my cousins who were nice enough to house me for three nights. After arriving early evening, I took the train in, found Carolyn, went to a local pub, and got some Indian take away. As it was an early night and I needed rest for the day's adventures ahead.

Wednesday, March 31: Much of my London pictures (which I will soon post), came from my first full day in London in which I walked around much of central London-in wind and rain of course-to see the major cites and tourists attractions of the city. Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, St. James Park, and the British Museum were all seen on this day. I do have to say, although I have seen Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament building many times in photographs and on TV (and Harry Potter), seeing those buildings towering over the River Thames below truly was an amazing site. All the days I spent in London were cold and rainy which although normal for London, was a step back from the previous week's decent weather I guess... Anyway, many pictures will accompany my trip on this day.

Thursday, April 1: This day also meant more walking to see the remaining cites although I did not see everything in just two short days. I decided to have a third day in London to enjoy the city and hopefully get some decent weather (April Fools, it did not happen). Such features of this trip were the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, and the Tate Modern. If there is anything to know about London is not only are there lots of things to see, but the ways in which you can explore the city are literally endless. Self-guided tours, bus tours, canal boats and even the London Eye which is essentially a giant Ferris wheel opposite Big Ben on the River Thames; all of which can give you a different perspective of the city. I made it to the Tower of London, but not in it that last evening as the clouds finally gave way and I took shelter in a local restaurant and enjoyed my fish and chips instead. The Tower, which is like an old fort, I was hoping to make back to the next day but that did not happen. However this night I joined Carolyn and Matt and we traveled further South and did a mini-pub crawl of different London pubs. At this one place (I forget the name), I think the waitress liked me despite me only wanting to eat french fries. This was a good day.

Friday, April 2: This was my final day in London but not quite a full day, as I left early afternoon for Brussels. The day before I had organized my travel methods-a(n?) Eurail Pass- which basically gave me unlimited train travel for any 5 days I chose to take the train through Europe. Easy enough. By getting this pass, I was able to take the Eurostar to Brussels (usually quite expensive, especially for the holiday weekend) instead of Paris. I was not going to arrive to Paris until Saturday night and I figured that for this trip, I would just have to forget Paris. Sorry Paris, I heard you were great. I met up with Kathryn and her sister who were also in London, and we hit up the much anticipated Borough Market. All I can say is, wow. The market was packed with booths of sweets, chorizos, burgers, fish, cheese, breads, etc. Food everywhere. I can't even remember the different things I ate, I just know I polished it off with the richest most delicious brownie I have ever had. My belly was happy.

A couple things that highlighted my days in London. First, public transportation especially with the busses and the Underground or subway system, are reliable but still takes time to get from place to place. However I did see a lady get hit by a bus and one try to get off a bus while moving. Really they were both highlights because it showed how people despite living in a very crowded and sprawled out city, continue to get upset when they cannot move a million miles a minute. Maybe it was just because I was on my holiday, but all I could do was laugh. The first lady just walked out in front of a double decker bus which thanks to a very careful bus driver, was able to stop and only bump the lady and her five shopping bags a few extra feet. The lady stayed on her feet but was so embarrassed, she ran across the rest of the street without even thanking the driver that possibly saved her life. The other bus incident, we were in traffic for a long time and did not have much distance covered to show for it. One lady with her baby in stroller and husband by her side, were starting to get aggravated when the bus driver would not let them off just feet from the official bus stop. The lady pulled the emergency exit, got off, and was in the process of pulling the stroller out when the bus started moving again. It wasn't that she needed to get off, it just was she was too impatient to wait the five extra minutes. Really, it is amazing what people will do when they get impatient, even risking the safety of their kids.

All in all London was grand, and it was sad to leave it behind but surely there were other things to see ahead of me. The early evening train ride to the mainland, on my way to Brussels provided me with the open, people-less, sunny countryside I had been longing for. Accompanied by my ipod, my short trip from London to Brussels was my favorite ever. We got in just before 9pm when the light from the sun was just disappearing.

Saturday, April 3: One thing about London and any major city, are the variety of cultures. People come from all over and speak so many different languages, you sometimes forget you are in a primarily english-speaking country. In Brussels, my previous research had informed me that a quarter of the population were minority from places like Turkey, Albania, and other Eastern European nations. My immediate reaction to Brussels was something was always happening. Granted it was a Friday night into an early Saturday morning, I got in so late and walked around so much that it took me forever to find a place to stay which ended up not being a hostel, but a somewhat decent hotel room looking over an open area that is home to a daytime flea market. Also there were men everywhere. Of course nothing wrong with this, but every pub, bar, or restaurant I walked by was filled with men. Also, all hostels were booked full for men and not for women. I am not sure I actually came across any native Belgians in my short time there but if I did, it was most certainly a man. After my hour or so trying to find a good hotel, I realized it was essential to get out early Saturday morning to get to my next location. I was out of Belgium by 8 or 9. Not for lack of ambition to be there, but Brussels like Paris, would have to be saved for another time.

Saturday was a day of travel by train. My goal, was to arrive at a small ski town in northern Austria where my friend Ophi, from whom I met in Auburn last year, lives and works. To get there I needed to take a complicated network of trains to the southern tip of Germany and then finally a bus to Kleinwasertal, Austria. I must say Germans have the train thing down. No matter where I was going, although I had to change trains in a number of stations, my wait for the next train was never too long. My trip led me through German towns and cities such as Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Mannheim, Ulm, and finally Oberstdorf. I never really got to enjoy any major German city such as Munich or Berlin which I heard loads of good things about. However, next time I make it to Europe, that will surely be on the agenda.

Another thing about Europe, is people sure do like their graffiti. It does not matter what European city you are in, from Frankfurt to Prague to Amsterdam, it is amazing the amounts of graffiti that can be found and although colorful, also represent maybe some of the internal problems European countries have at maintaining their own natural beauty. I saw a couple at the train station in Mannheim, Germany, who looked eerily familiar. I then realized this was the same touchy couple that were groping each other on the Underground in London a couple days before. It just made me realize, we truly live in a small world.

I think at one station where I actually had a small break at, I was given some wrong information. One gentleman who spoke English (although I felt like I can hold my own with my German speaking), gave me a print out on how to get to Oberstdorf. Well a couple hours later, I cannot figure where I am in relation to Kleinwasertal, Austria which is supposed to be right over the border. Well in case you are wondering, Oberstdorf is NOT the same as Oberstaufen. I asked one German for help on how to get there and realized I needed to make one more train switch at the Ulm station. She actually asked if I was Austrian. Although I feel I may have butchered anything German that came out of my mouth, it was good to not totally resembled a tourist. By early evening I made it to the small ski town of Kleinwasertal which in just a few short weeks, will be ending their ski season. Located in northern Austria at the edge of the Alps, I would soon realize that my adventures were only just beginning, and things were going to get super fun very quickly...

More tomorrow,

Song of the day: 'Beautiful Day' by U2. I am sure you can guess why.

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