Thursday, December 10, 2009
But we had a great last few weeks. We enjoyed sunny weather in Mallorca before going north to the drizzly weather of Rennes, France. We stayed with my old host family and had a very excellent time. Before I knew it, we had to get on the train and leave. If we weren't so pressed for time I would have loved spending more time with them.
From Rennes we spent a handful of days in Paris, which despite some nasty weather was a great time. Unfortunately for us (and more so for Sophie who had never been to Paris before) several of the museums were on strike. This meant the Musee d'Orsay, the Centre Pompidou, and even the the Louvre were closed. We still went to the Rodin museum and the Orangerie, which houses some impressive works by Monet. And if anything else, we can look on the bright side and consider the strike a cultural experience.
From Paris we went to London via the Chunnel, and had a short stay before our flight. Before our trip I wasn't too thrilled about going to London, but talking to people on our trip got me excited to go, and being there was even better than I anticipated. I really enjoyed our time there and could have used a few more days.
But alas, the trip is over and I'm home again. I want to extend a heartfelt 'thank you' to all the people along our way who took us in, fed us, showed us around, or provided companionship during our trek. The most memorable part of this voyage won't be the monuments, the museums, or the sites, but the people who showed us such overwhelming generosity and kindness. Thank you!
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Our last days in Prague were filled with good food and great company and before we realized it, we were out of time and on the train out. We left on the 17th, which is the day that the Czech Republic celebrates its independence from Soviet rule, which makes 2009 the 20 year anniversary of said independence. Before we left we got to see the thousands of Czech people take to the street in celebration and we also watched a bit of an outdoor choir performance. It would have been fun to stay and see the festivities, but we had a LONG journey from Prague to Barcelona and no time to spare.
Our original plan took us up to Paris and back down to Spain; a dumb course on paper but the fastest route thanks to the high speed trains. When we tried to book our reservations we found that the train was full so we had to scramble for another option. The ticket lady helped and plotted a new course that took about the same amount of time but stopped in Milan before Barcelona; giving us opportunity to spend a bit of time in Italy. I´m not going to complain about having a layover in Italy, and it was fun to be there.
After tonight though, we will have been travelling for 3 nights straight either on night trains or ferries, so I´m really looking forward to the shower I´ll be taking tomorrow (hopefully).
Monday, November 16, 2009
Today we're going on a free walking tour before heading out for a brewery tour. We have little time here and lots to do so that's all for now!
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
At the moment we're in Belgium, staying with a friend from Concordia who lives in Jurbise, near the NATO base. We just came from a week at my cousin Anna's in Aphoven, Germany near the base in Geilenkirchen, so we are getting some great time on various military bases around Europe.
I had an excellent time with cousin Anna, husband Tony, and kids Kaylee and Cassie and the time went by too fast. It was great to finally meet Tony in person and see where they've been living in Germany (though I just found out they'll be moving to Texas in a few months!). We spent a lot of time eating all sorts of baked goods provided by "adopted mom" Anna, and even had some real home-cooked meals! We carved pumpkins for Halloween, visited the school, went to a chocolate factory, a brewery, a castle, and participated in a St. Martin's parade (which celebrates kids and involves walking at night with homemade lanterns).
Here's the whole gang at the chocolate factory!
Similar to the Four Corners in the States, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands all meet up in one spot. An easy game of Twister is all it takes to be in all three at once!
Between the sightseeing and the tourist destinations, the sessions of Rock Band and the baked goods, it was nice just being with family and feeling at home even while across an ocean. I can't thank Tony and Anna enough for sharing their time with us and showing us around; I would have been happy just hanging around the house with the family doing nothing out of the ordinary. It was sad to leave and I look forward to seeing them all again soon.
Going back in time a bit, before arriving to Anna's I was in Brasov, Romania. In order to get to Germany I had to take a long series of trains, including one overnight train. I should have known it was going to be a rough trek when my first train showed up half an hour late. We then stopped for an unusually long time at the border, but things were looking up when the Romanian man across from me offered me food. And by food I mean cured ham in a plastic baggie. I graciously cut a piece off with his well-worn (read: crusty) pocket knife and tried to hand it back, but he refused and pointed to my backpack, intending for me to keep the entire thing. Speaking no Romanian and not wanting to offend, I thanked him and stuffed the salty, smelly block of meat into my bag...
Continuing on, we made it into Hungary to be greeted by a Hungarian train strike. Thankfully international trains were (slowly) allowed through, though we did make one prolonged stop to let a news crew interview passengers and crew about the strike. Long story short, I was 6 hours late for my connecting train in Vienna. Once there I plotted a new route on another series of trains, which also came late. I was forced to take a second night train and finally arrived at the station to meet cousin Anna.
This is Brasov, as seen from their very tasteful Hollywood-esque mountain-top sign. This is also where I accidentally fell asleep while trying to journal.
Also, I think Brasov could use a little help with its town slogan. A little confidence couldn't hurt, Brasov!
Before Romania was Budapest, and it's about time I get some pictures up from that too...
Hungary was in the midst of a national holiday, so there were plenty of demonstrations and displays around town. The picture on top shows some good old fashioned interprative dance atop a tank. The bottom picture is my hostel in Budapest, or rather, my hostel between two floors of dance studio. I slept in the room with the red door with a blue sign in the window.
The coolest thing I did in Budapest had to be cave diving with this motley crew from our hostel.
Unfortunately I don't have any decent photos of the riverside at night, but Budapest is also pretty during the day!
Sunday, October 25, 2009
-Arrived by train to Brasov, Romania after taking a short detour to the next town over. You see, dear reader, there are things called time zones. Crossing one while going east will skip you an hour forward. This is important to remember when trying to match arrival time with destination. Instead of thinking you have another 30 minutes until your destination, a properly set watch will inform you that you're train is actually 30 minutes late. Lesson learned!
-Checked into my hostel, dropped off my pack, and headed up the nearby mountain to the Brasov sign. It's the same idea as the Hollywood sign, only shorter because clearly, the town's name isn't so big. Somehow I was surprised to learn that Romanian hiking trails might not be clearly marked, so instead of taking the short route back home, I began a trek that took me deep into the unknown Carpathian mountains with no end in sight. I realized my mistake and turned around (eventually) but will never understand why two VERY different trails would use the exact same symbol to mark the way...
-Somehow between crawling into bed and waking up in the morning I managed to misplace my locker key provided by the hostel. They have a spare, but I sadly lose my key deposit upon check-out.
-Participated in two tours to nearby areas. The first, Bran Castle, is advertised as Dracula's Castle, or more accurately Vlad the Impaler's Castle, but is actually neither. He spent some time there locked in the dungeon, but his real castle is in ruins somewhere not too far from here. It was surprisingly small for "castle" status, but still a decent tour. The second tour was to Peles Castle a bit further away. It was one of the most insanely extravagant buildings I've seen, and they made us wear slippers over our shoes while walking inside. Taking pictures cost 6 times more than the actual entrance fee of 1 euro, so sadly I don't have any photos from inside.
I leave tomorrow evening by train and have over 24 hours of travel before arriving at the train station nearest my cousin, but I am very excited to get there so I'm sure the trip will go by quickly. Until then!
Thursday, October 22, 2009
My time in Budapest has been amazing from minute 1, and I could not have asked for better accomodations. It's not even that my hostel is cheap, but the fact that I feel like I'm hanging out in someone's living room, completely at home. As soon as I got here I was treated like a friend and was offered food, homemade wine, and sat down for several hours of conversation of what to do in the city. Hungarian as a language is absolutely incomprehensible to me, and I can't even pretend to know what's going on. My bumbling American mouth can't begin to attempt the subtle differences between the 12 different Hungarian vowels. But it's great feeling removed from the rest of Western Europe and one definitively notices a difference in the atmosphere once in the city. And as for the city, it may very well be one of the most magnificent and gorgeous places I've visited. The only thing more beautiful than Budapest is Budapest by night. I had the chance to climb the citadel on the Buda side of the river (didn't know beforehand that Budapest is actually 'Buda' and 'Pest' separated by the Danube river) on my first night of arrival, which provided stunning views of some of the most impressive buildings I've seen thus far.
My second day I was feeling quite worn out from all my walking, so I headed to the natural thermal spas located in the city. The one I went to was the largest complex, and although a bit confusing in the beginning, I got my changing cabin and found my way to the baths. I don't remember how many there were, but someone at my hostel claimed 18 indoor, and 2 outdoor (don't quote me on those numbers). I do know there were a heck of a lot, all with different temperatures and purposes. Types of pools included many regular hot tub style of varying temperatures, one for doing aerobics, one with a circular current, and a room full of baths emitting gasses and other natural elements. The outside pools were my favorite and much larger, with fountains cascading heavy streams of water to provide massages on the neck and back. They also had saunas of every variety, from dry to steam heat, aroma therapy, and light therapy. Outside of the hottest they provided cold water baths, and the very hottest had a room to massage yourself with ice. It was absolutely ridiculous and over the top. I spent over three and a half hours just wandering from bath to sauna and back again. Being the off season for tourism meant that the spas weren't too crowded or saturated with obnoxious foreigners. It seemed that most of the clientele were older Hungarian folk, relaxing, chatting, or playing chess within the pool. All that relaxing wore me out and worked up my appetite, so I didn't do much else exciting for the day except eat some food from a street vendor and call it a night.
Today my big activity was heading slightly out of town with two others from the hostel to go caving under the city. Budapest has heaps of underground tunnels in the limestone thanks to all the thermal springs, and our hostel arranged a tour for us even though they weren't scheduled to run today. It was only the three of us plus the guide, so we got a great, personalized tour through the caves. I was told before leaving that the trip can be a bit claustrophobic and that I should be ready for small spaces. I did not, however, imagine we would be crawling through some of the spots that we did. At some points the guide would have to tell us exactly how to fit through; "left arm straight ahead, on your right side, head up, push with your right leg." I would look at some of the holes we went through and think, "there's no flipping way I can fit through that!" but somehow my body flattened out as we crept through tunnels and passageways deep below the city. Several times we would reach an open spot, turn off our lights and sit in absolute silence and darkness, enjoying the peace and tranquility of the caves. It was incredible and not something I was expecting to do when visiting a bustling metropolis such as Budapest.
But sadly tomorrow I must continue on. I will hopefully wake up early enough for a free walking tour through the city (Assuming it still goes. Tomorrow is a national holiday so many things are closed) before grabbing a night train to Brasov, where I will be for a short time before reversing course and heading back west and north to my cousin Anna's in Germany. I'm having a heck of a great time travelling at the moment, but I am equally as thrilled to visit my cousin and her family. Part of me wants more time to explore on my own, and the other can't wait to be with loved ones and I'm very anxious to see them.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
From there I travelled to Utrecht, in the Netherlands. My original plan was to go south and east, so it´s funny that after a week of being on my own I actually managed to backtrack and head west... But I found someone to couchsurf with and I wanted to see a concert, so west it was. There were some complications with my train, I arrived late, never met my couchsurfing host, and other silly issues that arose. But I still saw the show and managed to have a great time, even if the city isn´t very visitor friendly (no hostels, no internet cafes, no road names on posted street maps). Today I left bright and early for Vienna, where I am currently enjoying the luxuries of a shower and a warm bed after my (mis)adventure in Utrecht.
I would love to go on about what I´ve been doing but internet time is short and I have other things to accomplish before I run out of time. But I am safe and warm and happy as a clam!
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
My plan is to stay in Berlin for a few nights, maybe add another night if I feel like I haven't seen everything I want to here, then catch a train down to Vienna. Stay a while, then head to Budapest before going east into Romania. I don't know how long I will be staying each place but I will be sure to keep everyone updated. I know it's important to let people know where I am and what I'm doing while travelling alone so I will update more frequently during the next few weeks.
But so far so good! Although I've only been in Berlin for a short time, the city seems absolutely incredible! It's a big place (3.something million people) but still totally affordable with lots to see and do. Today I'm on the hunt for a cheap haircut which hopefully will go alright considering my total lack of German. I already learned that just because a giant pair of scissors hangs above a store front doesn't mean it's a hair salon (tailoring shop). The friendly, non-English speaking lady and I played a short game of charades and she pointed me across the street to a REAL salon. Once there the very well-dressed hairdresser gave me a dirty look because I obviously couldn't afford his services. (Imagine me as Julia Roberts ala Pretty Woman wandering helplessly down Rodeo Drive). And although I don't speak German I still got the message of what he was saying, turned tail, and walked out.
I needed a break in an internet cafe, but now I'm recharged and ready to try again! I still have a lot of city to see so I can't spend all day wasting my time on the computer. I will keep you posted when I change location or if any major changes come up. Until then!
Thursday, October 8, 2009
With all that mushy business out of the way I can get you caught up on what we've been doing since I updated way back yonder in Kjolsdalen. Currently we are staying in Sweden in a place called Strandsgården with (surprise!) more of Sophie's relatives. Everytime we meet one relative, three more pop out of the woodwork. But it's very nice because everyone is amazingly friendly and more than willing to make sure we are well-fed and warm and content. Plus Scandinavians (or at least all the ones we've met) tend to have incredible English, so I don't have to worry about not speaking Swedish or Norwegian. Today we visited a local school (our third) so we could talk to the students about the United States, Minnesota, and the influence of Scandinavia at home. It is impressive to see how well they understand at such a young age and had some really good questions for us too. We've been spending our time here doing other activities such as picking lingonberries in the forest, learning to milk cows, helping out a bit in the restaurant of the b&b that the family owns, and helping the kids with their English (aka teaching them how to say things with a horrible Minnesotan accent). It's all a lot of fun!
Before we were here we spent one night in Trondheim with the American daughter of a friend of a friend or something like that. I wasn't going to ask too many questions when offered a cozy place to stay, and although our time in Trondheim was less than 24 hours we had a lot of fun with her and her Norwegian boyfriend. Scandinavian hospitality rivals that of any I've seen and everyone pulls out all the stops for us, which is far more than we could ever ask for.
Before Trondheim we were in a place in Western Norway called Eiksund staying with not-quite relatives to Sophie, but they treated us like family none-the-less. We took a good number of day-trips seeing the surrounding area, which is made up of a chain of islands. The weather may have been a bit rough, but the scenery was phenomenal regardless. We went up a mountain in Runde which in certain months is home to colonies of birds (including puffins!) but we arrived too late in the year and were greeted instead with the strongest wind I've ever experienced. I could lean into the wind, have it support my weight, and THEN have it push me backwards. It was ridiculous and fun and if it hadn't been for the drops of water hitting my face like tiny hammers I could have played out there all day! I was also given a pair of home-made knit socks by our host, which has proven to be my new favorite posession now that the temperature has dropped and we're experiencing occasional patches of snow.
That is the abridged version of the past few weeks, which I feel doesn't do our trip justice. But there's just no way I can try and explain all the great experiences we've had and all the warm generosity we've been shown in the short time my brain can focus to write a blog (and the equally short time I can attempt to hold your attention). But we will definitely have stories to tell and pictures to show when we come home in December, so I appreciate your patience with our less than consistent updates!
Monday, September 21, 2009
This is our little herd of sheep that we brought over the mountain.
Sophie and I went to see a glacier today. Here we are on the way to it, standing in front of a waterfall of melted glacier water!
We also got to watch Silje, Stina, and Kent get school photos taken and enjoyed hearing Silje's marching band play. It was an excellent time and we are very greatful to everyone we met and the great hospitality we were shown. (And perhaps we will be fortunate enough to see them all again before we leave Scandinavia)
The bus to Kjølsdalen took us through some of the most amazing countryside I have ever seen and it was like paging through a National Geographic as we went over, around, and UNDER the mountains! I was humming the Jurassic Park theme as we passed through a particularly steep valley, surrounded by waterfalls and forests.
We are now staying with more of Sophie's family in the place where her great-great-grandfather was born. It may very well be the most beautiful valley in Norway and we have been shown an amazing time and have done such incredible things. Everytime I look outside I am blown away by the scenery, and we are more or less IN a fjord (which I briefly fished in). We also had the best day of the trip so far (in my opinion anyway) when we went up in the mountains with Jostein to help him find his sheep. We found and returned home with 17 of his 90 sheep which I think is pretty good for first time shepherds. I'm pretty sure I could stay here forever; fishing and farming and sheep-herding. It's absolutely unbelievable! On top of that we are being very well taken care of everywhere we go (with Jostein and Johanne and with Sophie's other relatives we visit) and we are eating anything and everything put in front of us. It's all so fresh and tasty and the next time you see me I will most likely have a gut...
Monday, September 14, 2009
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Dublin: Easy to get around on foot and lots to see. Free tour with some crazy history about Ireland; made even cooler being where it all went down. We met lots of great people in our fantastic hostel and enjoyed some of the local nightlife and traditional music.
Liverpool: Very short stay but worth it for the Beatles museum and other random free things available.
Edinburgh: Another hostel stay since neither of us have a connection here but it's worth it because the city is beautiful and the sites are amazing. Took another free walking tour which ran 4 hours before seeing some museums and such. Needless to say we are both pretty exhausted so we're relaxing now before heading out to find some local music.
Ok, that's the rundown, I have 41 seconds left so I need to jet.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
At the end of our stay in Wales, Anwen moved to her new apartment in the coastal town of Aberystwyth where we spent our final night before taking the ferry to Ireland. At the top of this ridiculously windy hill was a frisbee golf course- perhaps not the best location?
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Steve (and Sophie)
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
For those who don't know exactly what's going on, let me get you up to speed:
Sophie Gardner (check out her blog at: sophiaineuropa.blogspot.com) and I are headed to Europe for a backpacking adventure from August 26th until December 9th. In order to keep everyone in the loop about where we are/what we're doing we've created our blogs to show pictures/share stories and most importantly, to assure our parents that we haven't been kidnapped or worse in some random European country.
We'll try and update when we can, though we won't know exactly when we'll have access to internet or the time to write, so please check back regularly. (also comments would be nice since we will be many miles away and a little 'hello' or comment would make us feel nice)
As of right now I'm getting the final preparations ready for the trip: buying useful things Sophie will appreciate me having like deodorant, toothpaste, and pants. The next time I update I'll probably be somewhere in the UK (we fly in and out of Heathrow) but before that I want to thank everyone for helping me along the way:
Thanks Mom and Brian for letting me store my junk in your basement and for helping me move. Thanks Dad for driving me around and for working around my silly schedule to spend time together this summer. Thanks Sis for taking me from Barnum and for always having a place when I'm in Minneapolis. Thanks Terri for solving my last minute car problem and letting me keep it at your place! Thanks to everyone I worked with/for this summer- with all the hours I put in I may well have gone crazy if I didn't like you all! And thanks to the rest of my family and friends for being supportive and available when I needed you. You're all great and I'm appreciative of every one of you!
Until next time (whenever that is),