Sunday, September 30, 2007

Baluga the Magical (and excited) Dolphin from Oslo

Ryan air is a budget airline in Europe that has extremely inexpensive flights. We found a cheap flight to Oslo, Norway and booked it without question. We soon learned that Oslo is one of the most, if not THE most expensive places, in Europe, not to mention the world. After some investigation we found that the cheapest hostel beds were $40 per person (the usual price is 13ish). To save budvars, duckets, chochkeys, or NOKs as they are called in Os, we signed up for a movement called Couchsurfing is a phenomenon where kind souls allow backpackers and travelers to crash on their couches au gratis. Sounds a bit sketchy at first but in reality it really is an amazing network. We received a reply from a local Scandinavian, Terje Lingaas, a journalist student and fellow wandering soul. He told us we could crash on his plain, comfy, white IKEA monsters the first night and then the last two nights of our 5 night stay.

Off we went to Oslo. But actually we landed in Torp, 120K outside of Oslo, that's what you get for a 0.01 flight. A dirty trick, as you have to pay your life savings to take a bus to get into the city of Oslo. We quickly found out how expensive Oslo was as it took $8USD EACH to ride the local bus the 15 Kilometers to Terje's apartment. This was only 3 stops outside of the Oslo city limits. I was missing the MBTA, even with their fare hike.

Terje's Apartment + Not bad for a student, ehhh!?

After spending 40 times more to take a bus to Oslo than the flight we just took to get there, we got off at a dark bus stop and waited for no longer than 30 seconds before a tall dark figure come around the corner and waves to us. "Hey, you must be Terje!" I said. "Well, close enough," he responded. His name is pronounced Tee-ara, who knew!? He took us to his 5th floor loft apartment, an immaculately decorated place where the "IKEA is slowly being fazed out", according to Terje. The Salvation Army thrift store was the new decor designer of choice. We talked for 2 hour and became good friends instantly.

Terje's roommated, Alek, arrived home from work at the "old folks home" and sat and talked with us for another couple of hours. "I work at the old folks home. How do you say it in English?" That's exactly how you say it in English, I replied!

A little tired from our long days journey and hours of talking, we made our bed....or couches, rather. The comfy white IKEA monsters!

The next day.....

Terje told us a story about a rather embarrassing incident that took place in the Fjord of Oslo:
Once upon a time (a couple of years ago), an unidentified Norwegian man spotted a frolicking porpoise in the Oslo Fjord and decided to be friendly and join HIM for a swim. The innocent swimmer learns that the porpoise is a HIM when he becomes starry eyed and hearts begin to erupt from his head (see diagram). The happy porpoise gets excited from the man's petting and becomes erect. The porpoise's erection becomes lodged in the unwilling swimmers shorts (what are the odds of that happening!?) and is dragged down underwater to his near drowning. Luckily the man was able to get his shorts off before he met his death and swim, naked, gasping and violated, to shore. The man's name was published in the local newspaper and the following diagram was created to show eager minds what had taken place between the unaware swimmer and the sexual offending porpoise. WARNING: Explicit cartoon rendering!

Forsøkt voldtatt av kjærlig delfin
"Dolphins are considered to be amongst the most intelligent of animals and their often friendly appearance and seemingly playful attitude have made them popular in human culture." - Cited from Wikipedia, a reliable source, but not in this case!

"Its beautiful in its in any language."
-Terje Lingaas

Friday, September 28, 2007

Scheiße (Schizer) happens in a room, on Hamburger St, in Hamburg

Hamburg, Germany.
We may be some of the only backpackers who are traveling around sans a "lonely planetesque" book, so when we show up in a new city our background information on aforementioned city is limited. This was the case when we arrived late at night in Hamburg. As we walked to the closest hostel we were shocked at how dead the town was for a Friday night. The first hostel informed us that they and every hostel in town was booked solid for the whole weekend. Two young Australians who had arrived just before us were getting back on the train to Berlin, but they directed us to two other travelers who had information on a place to stay. We were directed to a hotel above a strip club, but were assured that we should not be afraid. Off we went and a few lefts and rights later we found Reeperbahn. To look for the one hotel above a strip club would be impossible, for there were strip clubs as far as the eye could, even if it didn´t want to, could see. Every other bar was a bar/hotel. Some of which you could rent by the hour, one which was aptly named "one night stand". Peter thought staying there would be a good way to save some money if we only sleep for 7 hours. This plan was quickly squashed. We booked a room in a hotel behind the bar of this smoky little place where EVERY time we left the same people were drinking (1 am, 5 pm, noon when ever}. Out to explore the town. One could write a book on all you can see on Reeperbahn St in the St. Pauli section of town. So you will get the cliff note version.
-Everyone in town goes out here, young and old.
-People drink and are drunk for 24 hours a day. Sometimes when you are out at 10 am you have to step over men and women passed out in the street in their own vomit.
-Hookers are everywhere. They all wear the same thing: Big puffy pastel colored jacket, tight jeans with no ass pockets, a fanny pack for money, white platform sneakers, and their hair pulled back into a tight pony tail. If a man is outside by himself they will link arms with them as they walk by, as they did to Peter more thank once.
-Strip clubs galore. But while the Germans are liberal with the sex trade, they are not so open to the sexes mixing in the clubs. No women aloud, there are even streets that women can´t go down.
-Drinking out in public is legal here and EVERYONE partakes in this; young, old, preppy, professional, goth, Nora and Peter, English tourists in their 50s, students. EVERYONE 24 hours a day rain or shine.
-While the worst debauchery happens on the streets, don`t try to pee in a dark alley. Peter did this, he thought the location was fine since there was a local man doing the same. The German police officer did not agree with this logic. He began to reprimand the two boys, but the German pissor would not have it as he started to argue loudly and passionately with the cop and disgustedly threw his cigarette down to the ground and stormed off. Here is what we translated his argument to be: "Put some damn public toilets in if you don´t want people pissing on the streets, schiezer!!!! Peter just stood there acting innocent. The cop in a very unamerican way just told the boys, "No pissor" to piss some where else.
-We watched a parade of young Germans singing to Beastie Boys "Fight for your Right to Party" blaring from a van. This parade was lead by two happy cops talking and smiling with the local revelers.
-Sauerkraut is really good and extremely cheap here....and comes in bags!
-Zee Germans sell shirts that say "Don`t Hassle the Hoff."
-When German people step in dog poop they actually yell "Scheiße!!!!" Really, we saw it with our own eyes and almost Scheißed our pants with laugher!
-Hamburg is beautiful outside of this one section of town. A port city with fascinating architecture and an international feel.
-This city shows you the best and the worst of human society. It makes you understand drinking laws and regulations. It shows you how all people from all walks of life can happily coexist.
-Seeing a bum with 5 teeth in his mouth open a bottle of beer with his strategically placed opposing teeth is both shocking and awing at the same time. It would be a great party trick, but it was his survival technique.
-Sleeping on Hamburger Street in Hamburg in a hotel attached to a smoky bar is not that bad, as long as you have ear plugs!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

HUNGARY for some more!?

When I am tired,
I sleep fetal style,
Being awoken numerous times during the night,
does not make Peter smile {: (

That's a little ditty I wrote aboot when I am tired. Nora says I curl up like a baby in middle of the bed, like a cat....a tired cat....without the fur....although I did look a little scruffy now.

I conversed with a very friendly Aussie bloke (Americanically named Dallas) about life and lifestyle. I'm sorry Dallas, Austin is a much better city (but it is still in Texass). We were very much on the same page with the topic of enjoying life and not being a slave to work, or the "Dallas" Man. Nora's grandfather, a brilliant man in my opinion, was once quoted, "Any fool can get up in the morning and work."

Homemade hostel

So the day began by departing the quaint Home Made Hostel and taking the metro to Nepliget station, where one would catch the international bus back to Bratislava....if one could figure out from where the bus departed!!!! "Left by the planetarium" we were told. What kind of bus company uses an unmarked parking lot in front of a Planetarium!? I guess all of them in Hungary, never mind, I answered my own question. After walking length of the Central Park-sized common looking for the bus, we took the metro back to see if we would catch a train to Bratislava. A lot of run around we finally headed off to the main train station (ironically next to the train tracks!) and as we were exiting the metro were stopped by ticket enforcers who demanded to see our tickets. Here is how the train system works in Budapest: you buy a tickets and every transfer you make, you must buy an additional ticket. However, there are no ticket kiosks where you transfer. Thus, trickery!

"You must pay fine" the lady with the little black book told us. "5,000 Forints." Telling her there were no ticket kiosks to buy new tickets was no use. We had to catch a train in 15 minutes so to get away we had to pay the fine, but one problem, we didn't have 5,000 Forints (don't worry, it is really not that much money, don't let the zeros fool you!). Nora was taken away while I was told to stay there. She was frightened because she didn't know where they were taking her, maybe to the Hungarian slammer, or a torture chamber? I don't think they cane in Hungary, do they?! The destination was the ATM....

Train not Bus we were running to catch the train back to Bratislava. Nora went to buy tickets for the soon-to-depart train. "Forget about the tickets, let's just jump on the train" I told Nora. One would assume you could buy tickets on the train, right? It was like a scene from Gone With the Wind, the train pulling away as we are running to get aboard. I don't really know if there in a scene like that in the movie, but you get the gist. Dramatic, just like the beginning of our day had been thus far...and would continue to be. I asked the conductor if we could buy tickets after the train was moving and he told me "no problem." Relieved after the frustration of terrible signage and hidden international bus stations ("station" is a loose term in Hungary.
That is, until the conductor tried to sell us tickets. The tickets would be more expensive on the train, that was to be expected, but he went into a explanation in Hungarian which we were not able to understand. Two tickets came out to 58 euros. I paid the remainder of the Forints I had left and the rest in Euros. He kept telling me that it was "business". Over the euro bill be kept making the universal sign for half by trying to cut the bill in two. Do we need to give him more money? Does he think that the bill is fake? We are unsure.

What passes as we bribe the conductor As most conductors do, he asks us where we are from, we explain we are from the US an get ready to show him our passports since it is an international train. No need. Once he find out that we are American, the "business" becomes more frequent. He takes our euro bill and signals to us that he will be right back. When he returns to our cabin he gives us the half of the 50 euro bill not from his train money belt but from his own personal wallet that he went to fetch. He then pockets our money. At this point the meaning of "business" becomes a bit clearer to us. When we inquire about where our actual tickets are he says "No. Business" and in very broken English says that he is the Hungarian conductor and he will talk to the Slovakian conductor about our "business". We just paid off a Hungarian and it was sealed with a handshake. We were a bit tense the rest of the ride, since once you cross an international boarder there is a new conductor that boards the train and asks to see your tickets. We were not sure how to explain our lack of tickets and the "business" to the new authorities. As it all turns out we were asked to see only our passports to the Slovakian conductor and passport control officer.

This is how business is Hungary!

It was like a day at Disneyland, fun-filled and action-packed, like a Chuck Norris movie (by they way, Chuck Norris is very popular in Eastern Europe, we have seen him spray painted on the wall and his movies all over the sub-titled TVs!). And the day had not even ended yet.

We waited impatiently for the bus to the airport and knew we were cutting it short. It took a very, very long 30 minutes to the Bratislava airport. The flight had closed, as we rationally deduced, but didn't really believe. "You can pay 75 euros to take the next flight" the unhelpful Ryan Air lady said to us after she was done playing on her cell phone. Screw that, we didn't pay that much for the original flights combined! "Thanks, we'll take the train." I replied. So, back on the crappy bus we went into town. We stayed in the Possonium Hostel (remember, where the movie hostel took place), met an American from San Francisco, and played with the enormous, snorey hostel bull dog who was recovering from an illness.

A run through the historic town and some piwos ended our action-packed-like-a-Chuck-Norris-movie day.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Turkish Baths are steamy!

Turkish Baths are steamy! With the baths being a staple and communal meeting point of the city, we had to go and take a dip...and heat, ice, steam and sauna ourselves to have a real Hungarian experience. The entrance fee to the main bath in the central park was about 2,200 forints (roughly 9 euros) and if you leave within two hours, you get 400 back, after four hours, 200 back and so on. After changing in the locker rooms with curtains as doors and a friendly Hungarian chamberman who locks your belonging up for you, gives you a tag different to your locker number and says "remember locker number!", we walked into the rooms of various temperatured pools containing many different mineral contents, water clarity and big burly Buda men in speedos. They didn't even need the speedos, their hairy bellies covered everything anyways. Not to be neglected were the rotund Pest babushka women. It was difficult to tell whether the some of the pools were murky because of the strange characters in them or because of the strange sulfur smelling minerals. When in as the Hungarians do and disregard the strange smells and murky waters.

So, we must have visited at least 10 different types of baths, ranging from -16 Celsius to +38 Celsius (Arctic cold and scorching hot for you Americans who only know Fahrenheit--like being on the moon and the sun!), rubbed ourselves wit ice shavings, beared the packed sauna and sweat our weight in liquid, showered by the outdoor fountain pool, steamed the sweat we lost back into our bodies in the steam room, propelled by the jets in the whirlpools, and made our skin glow with youthfulness. It was like the Waterworld of Disneyland without Kevin and Walt. The main outdoor pools were used as meeting points for business men to talk and play chess (yes, also in the pool was a chess board). A novel idea, these Baths were. Nora and I couldn't understand why they had no caught on in the States, or why it costs an arm and a leg to go to a "Day Spa" in the US while even the poorest people are visiting the Baths in Budapest.

The extreme temperatures of the baths left us drained, exfoliated and rejuvenated. We even received 200 forints back for leaving!!! A high recommendation if you are ever in a Turkish influenced place.

Mind the big, hairy, burly men in Speedos.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

I SURVIVED BRATISLAVA!!!!....but not Budapest

Big Plazas and

small cakes.

Milano to Bratislava.

We arrived in Milan and waited nervously for the bus to leave

for the airport. We did not have very much time to make the
flight and the airport was about 30 min. outside of the city.
While waiting we watched a incident/fight/confrontation/deal
gone bad between an mid-twenties Italian and a Irish bloke.

While they were speaking English it was difficult to understand
what the problem was--it was sort of like
watching a soap opera, drama-filled, especially the Italian
("Noooa, don'ta goa, we cana work-it-outa!).
The Irish guy wanted to get on the bus and to the airport, but it
seemed that he owed the Italian some money or that he had taken
something from him. The best I could figure out was that it was a
"Medi Controller"? I have no idea what this is, maybe some device for
PlayStation 14 or something? Things started to get tense as the
Italian was coming on the bus to try to stop the Irish guy from

leaving. An older Italian gentleman on the bus told the bus driver
to call the Caribinary, he appeared oblivious to the situation.
The Irish bloke's friend appeared and they both ran on the bus,
followed by the passionate Italian. The Italian continued trying to

get them off the bus and saying he was going to follow them to the
airport and stop their flight from taking off. The Irishmen seemed
to be wetting their knickers while the Italian seemed to enjoy the
passionate interaction. To make a somewhat long story short, it was
an episode of As the World Turns with an international twist.
We were the last people to check in for our flight. "FLIGHT CLOSED"
the flight Nazi yelled, however, I think the Dolce&Gabbana fashion
Slovakian (you can picture it, can't you!) was able to get on after
putting on some sad faces. As we went though security they stopped
Peter and questioned him about his three Belgian beers. No

liquid! They also took the nutella and the corkscrew. Peter was
very upset they took the bier, as they were a prized treasure of
Belgium and he was just supporting the national past time. It still
hurts him to think of the security guards, drinking his beer and
eating nutella on toast.

View de Italia

We arrived in Bratislava and got mugged!!! No, just kidding, that
would have been a good story though! We were

happy to see the Slovaks were going
GREEN as it was "a day without
cars" and all public transportation was free! Free transportation
is awesome, especially when you do it legally and don't have to
pay big fines for getting caught without a ticket (that story to
come). We ran into two Aussies, Kathy and her son Matthew, who
missed their flight and had to find accommodations for the night.
The 4 of us walked around Bradislava to find a hostel. There were
only 2 beds left at the Possonium hostel, (where the slasher film
HoStEl took place, oooohhh!) and as we were leaving 4 Northern
Englanders came over to us and said they had reservations but they
were trying to get to Budapest that night and were pretty sure
they would not be staying. We waited around for the final decision

and the boys decided they were off to Hungary, so we had secured a
place to rest our heads.

After a day of travel, we wanted to move so we went for a late night run.
Ran around the city in 56 min and sadly enough really saw everything
there was to see in Bratislava in those 56 min.
The next morning we decided to give it one more shot and were not
impressed. But we were amused by the constant onslaught of American
music. As we were shopping among the traditional canned meat and
fish products we were humming to "that's the way love, goes...
it goes". We, too, decided to go and on the
advice of the Northerners and took the late night train to
Budapest, Hungary.

Erzsébet híd (Elisabeth Bridge)

We arrived late Monday night to the Pest side. After all the history
classes I have sat through and taught, I am a bit embarrassed to admit
that I did not know that Budapest is made up of two sections. The
Hills of Buda and the modern city side, Pest. We had made reservations
at the Unity hostel, because they had beds for 10 euro and that is so
in the budget. We easily found the street the hostel was on but
turned right and not left. On the right side there are many bars that
host the "ladies of the night". I was beginning to rethink 10 euro

a night deal. Not Peter, though! Ladies of the night and 10 euros
a night, what a combination! When we readjusted our compasses we
found ourselves in the correct area, where we discovered a lovely hostel
in an old weathered eastern European building (On a side note if you
are ever in Budapest you should stay at the Unity Hostel, it was
amazing and the people who work there and own it could not have
been better). It was late so we decided to sleep and explore in
the morning. We loved Budapest! It is a beautiful city with amazing
character. We walked around in the morning, got some gourmet
finger sandwiches of caviar, salmon, egg and Greek salad. Things in
the city were so inexpensive that we were living like a king
and queen. Peter found an shop off the main street that sold
accouterments from small villages around Hungary. The owner of the
store would go to these small villages and buy things like old wool
jackets, communist army medals, family antiques from people's attics.
We felt like we were back in time looking at all these old relics
and wondering at what price they were able to part with their
keepsakes and family heirlooms. Over homemade cakes and
cappuccino we decided that one day was not going to enough to
explore the Buda and the Pest. We went back to the Unity got a
room for another night and then changed our flight to Thursday. We
got some peppers in paprika, the traditional spice in Hungary, and
made some yummy pizzas for dinner.
We chatted it up with our Canadian roommates, the ever-talkative

Brandon and Eric. As the night went on we enjoyed the company of
Huw and Ben from England. Laura, another Canadian from Saskatchewan,
and Ken from the good 'ol USA (aka. The States, America, that Big
Place that controls everything). We all enjoyed the night,
comparing trips and home countries. Peter, Brandon, Eric, and
Laura ventured to the 0-24 store to get more pivo. They walked
the wrong way and ended up going on a pivo chase. 0-24 is an
interesting concept, not 24 hours, but 0-24. The universal would
be "Never Closes".

...through the looking glass of a leather tote

The hills of Buda.
Tuesday, September 25th. Walked around the city more. Over the
Danube to the Hills of Buda. We went up into the park around the
citadel and enjoyed a picnic in the grass. The view from the hills of the
river, the castle district and the city itself was worth the hike
up. We went back to the small shop and purchased more things,
Moscow Olympic pins, Communist medals and boxes. I love what we got,
but part of me wonders where it came from and if it was come about
in honest ways. I do like that we did not shop at a tourist spot
though. We were found ourselves Hungry in Hungry and wanted to find
some traditional Hungary food. We located Csulok Csardo or Pig's
Foot in English. A small restaurant down stairs. It was dark,
smoky, it was full of long wooden tables and benches, one fat
man behind the bar who took your order and brought your food.
It was perfect. Peter decided to go the very traditional route and
ordered the Goulash. I had the chicken and in mushroom sauce. We
also ordered a plate of homemade pickles. The meat in the Goulash
was so tender that Peter cut it with a spoon. And the mushroom
sauce was to die for. I am pretty sure there was entire stick of
butter in that bad boy but I licked my plate clean. Butter be dammed.
I am a pretty huge fan of picked anything but these were the best ever.
While I love the picnics in the park and will never tire of bread and
cheese, there is something nice about treating yourself to some
traditional food. Our stomachs were somewhat full after that large
meal so again we did the Hungarian thing. Got some Unicum, a
liqueur made of herbs that is good for digestion and enjoyed it
on the walk home.


Wednesday. We were unable to stay at Unity hostel, but they booked
us down the street at Homemade Hostel. A very cool and fun
ky place,
that is decorated in non-traditional ways. Suitcases for book shelves,
etc. Again we tried to be responsible and purchased some bus tickets
back to Bratislava for
the morning since we had to get a flight to
Bremen. We have not yet been to a museum where you had to pay
admission but we decided to break that streak for the Terror Museum.
It is housed in the former Nazi headquarters in Budapest. When you walk
in the first thing you see elevated to eye level is a huge tank
sitting in a pool of motor oil. The oil is dripping down and off the
platform into the basement. You are st
uck at how similar it is to
blood. The museum is dedicated to the "dark" part of Hungarian
history under the Nazi's and then the rule of the secret police.
The museum on a whole was the most disturbingly creative place we
have ever seen. You start on the top floor and are attacked by angry,
loud German metal music. You listen to this while viewing images of
survivors speaking, bodies being loaded into mass graves
and children saluting Hitler. You make your way th
rough offices and
rooms of leaders. In the basement you see the cells and the torture
rooms. This part of the building had to be recreated from the
memories of survivors since the original was destroyed in an attempt
to cover up what happ
ened here.
Overall a very powerful Experience.

It is the journey that counts not the destination

We wake up in Annecy. At breakfast John, who had been so vibrant the night before, walks in places down a plastic bag off food in front of me and says the only words of the day, "this is for you". I imagine that while he was not much inspired by the French countryside he is inspired by alcohol and was now SUPER hungover. But I love free food so I am not going to complain. We make it to the train station with no time to actually buy tickets to Milan so in desperation we board the train and hope that the French conductors will take pity on us. They do and are in fact very helpful. However they can only sell us tickets to border and we need to get tickets again at the first Italian station.
When the train pulls into the Italian station there is really not a lot of time to get tickets. We again board the train with out actually paying for it. Right before this I ask the conductor who's name seems to be PL592, if we can buy tickets on the train. He tells us to get them from the bar. No problem PL592.
As the train is chugging down the tracks there seems to be a problem. When I attempt to get the tickets I am told they are "finished". I am not totally sure what this means, but I have a general idea. This is the point of the trip that I perfected the "Help!" look. A very kind Italian man sitting at the bar told me that there were no tickets left for this train. I was not sure what to do with this information since, we were on the moving train. He then proceeded to tell me that he did not think that it was too much of problem because if it was then the police would have already kicked us off. Oh.
So it was PL592 to the rescue. He came over sold us some tickets, even though they were finished. He even pretended that we got on at a stop an hour down the line and gave us a discounted price.
The very kind Italian man who spoke English, along with 4 other languages, and who was enjoying a drink with his friend told us all of this. He and his friend had come down from the Mountains, where they are building chalets for tourists, to do some shopping in town. His friend who did not speak English was excited to show us some of this shopping and pulled out a huge, some what bloody, steak from his backpack and seemed very proud of his purchase. They decided to buy us some drinks and we take up them on their offer. In talking with them we learn the traditional recipe for Genepi. You take 40 flowers, make sure they are the large male ones, combine them with 40 sugar cubes, let it sit for 40 days and then you drink it! We were enjoying our time with them and were sad to see them go. We never even got their names.
They were soon replaced by a young Australian girl and her father. They were on family holiday from Melbourne, she was happy to be missing school. The teacher part of me took over and we all chatted about school. She was a very well spoken young girl and her father was fine company as well. One of the best things about traveling is talking to others. Where else could I have talked to these two very different groups of people in the span on 2 hours. The only thing we all have in common is that we managed to obtain tickets on a train that was "finished."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Benji the drunken Frenchman

Annecy, France, 20-9 to 22-9.
Though we love Chamonix and Rickey dearly we decided to explore more of the French countryside. After an amazing brunch of leftover curry combined with eggs (between Peter, myself, Rickey, Simon and Kathy we ate a grand total of 35 eggs, one was broken when we bought it so we did not complete the 36 as planned) and a day filled with relaxing, window shopping, running and writing we boarded a train to Annecy, France. I thought that I would be clever and look up where the hostel in Annecy was BEFORE we went to avoid the aimless wandering a la Brussels. We arrived late in Annecy, but fear not I have directions to the hostel!
Up the hill we walked, sweaty sweaty sweaty we became. On the way up up up we came across large groups of young people going into town. Good sign, I thought, the hostel must be up ahead. I soon found out that that it was a BAD sign because the large groups going to town were nothing to compared to the enormous group of high school aged children running all around the hostel. The two tour buses parked in the lot were also bad omens. The was no room at the inn and as luck would have it, this was the only hostel in town. The man at the desk gave us a map and some circled areas where we might find some inexpensive beds.
Down the hill we went. I must admit that at this point I was a bit frustrated and tears did happen. Peter, on advice of some of my Beaver friends, decided the best solution was to break out a beer called Adelscott. It is the BRILLIANT combination of beer and whisky. On a side note I have no idea why this is not happening in the US.
So we ask at many a hotel and they are all far beyond our budget. We see ahead of us some French youth who have indulged too much in the vin pulling large sheets of cardboard out of the trash and beating each other with it. I am none too keen on walking by them, but it can't be avoided. As we approach all but one enter an apartment building. The one left behind comes over and asks us a question in French. We kindly explain to him that we don't speak French. This seems to anger him.
"Oh I don't speak French!!!! Well all I asked for was a light!!!"
We then told him that we don't smoke. Again this seemed to cause him to get upset.
"Oh!!!! I don't smoke"
At first he seemed very in our faces. I, who have never been in a fight, wondered if this is what happens before a French man starts to hit you with huge sections of cardboard. He was spouting that maybe we think we are better than him? Maybe we think that we don't need to learn other languages? etc.
Over the whole course of our interaction with Benji we convince him that while we are in fact Americans, we don't hate French people or the French language. We just were never taught how to speak French and there is nothing wrong with the language. He was trying very hard to not just come out and say that he hates Americans because I think we confused the stereotype a bit buy not being rude to him. In the end he was just drunk and wanted to debate and not beat us with boxes.
Finally we come across the Alexandria. They offer us the price of 50 euro. We must not have looked too happy at this because they quickly told us that this price includes a shower and a tv in the room. Peter explains to them that we don't watch tv and can we get a room with out one for less? They must have found this amusing because they gave us the room for 45 euro.

The morning was much brighter. Annecy is often called to Venice of the north and it very much lived up to this name. We ran in the morning along the lake and Peter reminisced being there with his father a few years ago. We both agreed that a long the lake it looked very much like Lake Tahoe. We were just in Tahoe visiting my brother Eamon so we do have a right to make that comparison.
We enjoyed a very French morning of picnicking along the canals. Enjoying fresh croissants and treats still warm from the Le Delilce Royal (not to be confused with a royal with cheese). We were sitting near a large group of parked motorcycles. About 5 min before the noon church bells began to sing out we noticed that all the drivers of these bikes began to appear and start them up. We then noticed they were all the same bike. In talking to one of the drivers we learned they were all English bike shop owners who had been flown down to Italy to pick up the new model and then drive it back to England. Not a bad deal if you ask me.
We knew that we had to get to Milan tomorrow to get our flight to Slovakia, and went to the train station to do some investigating. We knew that there was a bus from Chamonix to Milan that left the next morning @ 9:30 and this would get us to Milan with plenty of time to get the flight. It was also much less money than the train. So we looked up when the trains left that night to Chamonix. Great there is one that leaves at 7:57!!! We can go back to the skiers refuge in Chamonix to spend the night and then catch the bus in the morning. (now I will award 50 bonus points to the first person who can see the FATAL error we are making here)
Off to enjoy a nice day on the banks of Lake Annecy, eating some more stinky cheese, sipping some vin, enjoying the sun and the company. The sun goes down.
Time to catch the 7:57 train to Chamonix. Go to get tickets. FATAL ERROR REALIZED HERE. Europe uses military time...(who gets the 50 points?), so there is no 7:57 pm. only am. We are stuck in Annecy and the early train in the morning gets in too late to catch the bus. We deduce that our only option is to take the train to Milan and hope that we can make our flight.
up the hill to the hostel. There is plenty of room for us tonight as the tour buses had pulled out. We meet John West, in the lobby and he treats us to some beer. John is a painter from Australia who is over in France trying to get inspired. He told us that frankly the only thing he really saw here that made him want to paint were some red roofs. I guess France just did not do it for him. But he was a very lively jovial man who enjoyed sharing travel stories from his youth along the hash road. While he was not taken with France you could not help to be taken with his love of life and things beautiful. The unfortunate travel mistakes still did not make Annecy any less beautiful to me. Peter told me that I would love this city and I did, in fact at one point during our breakfast I turned to him and said that I could sit on that one bench all day and be happy.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Tour de Mont Blanc

So the last post is what happens when I, Nora, go to bed early with a nasty head cold and Peter stays up too late drinking pivo in Budapest. We will get to Buda and Pest later.

Last week, the 19th which I think was Wednesday?, Ricky, Peter and I decided to break the bank and take the tram up Mount Blanc to Aguilles De Midi, 3842 m, over the glacier and into the beginnings of Italy. The rain clouds had finally blown out and unfortunately so had Simon and Kathy. We were hoping they would have stayed to enjoy the day with us. Up we went! With each second the view became more and more spectacular. I believe that 5 min into the trip we all agreed that while the price was dear, it was euros well spent. At Aguilles De Midi we were treated to the sight of folks much hardier than us who were mountaineering out on the glacier. Some were setting up tents in the pristine blanket of white, swhile others were climbing up rock needles simply because they were there. Ricky pointed out the Matterhorn to us, some mountains he had run up previously on his trip. We could not have asked for a better day. We marveled at the French will and engineering that went into building this place into the side of a rock spire on the top of a glacier. Seeing those who were mountaineering also made us question whither you should have to work for a view like this. Have humans ruined the mountain by building these structures and trams? Our doubts were somewhat put to rest by seeing all the 70-80 year old ladies smiling next to the fit 20-somethings covered in ropes and goretex who were smiling as well but at their most recent conquest.

We then boarded a smaller 4 person tram, or suspension over the abyss, you know what ever one wants to call it. Our breath was taken from us. I think that our/Rickys pictures will do a much better job than I at explaining this trip.

When we got over to Helbronner, 3462 m and a cold 4 c, a small station that straddles the boarder between France and Italy. We walked down the stairs that warned us of the imminent danger ahead and out on the glacier itself. I am happy to report that I can cross, standing on a glacier, off my things to do in life list. We opened our bottle of 1 euro wine and combined with the lack of food and excess of altitude, all felt quite cheery. A nice Spanish mountaineer took our picture before he was off to conquer the Mont, not the -pelier kind. On the way back we poured some wine out for our hommies, Simon and Kathy who could not be with us on this trip.

Back to the Skiers Refuge for a HUGE curry dinner and Rickey was kind enough to treat us to some Mont Blanc beer, which is made with eau from Mont Blanc. Though I am pretty sure in Chamonix that just means tap water. We discussed politics and world events with two other travelers, Michael from Oregon and Jason from England. We must have all left something on the Blanc since it was an early night for us all.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

a dreary day in still heaven

Tuesday the 18th was a lazy day. The weather was dreary, and the bodies were equally. We sat on the porch and watched the rain come down. A terrible day in Chamonix is still a beautiful day--beautful, relaxing; one in the same.

After heading out into the rain for a run with Rickeyand Nora, Nora didnt seem to keen on drudging up a mountain in the pissing rain. We ran up a mountain (at the base o Chamonix, keep in mind!) where, eight feet in front of you, the trail was at eye height. What is that, 25%-30%? Whatever it is, damn steep! In a a few minutes up the mountain, the view of Chamonix was birdseye! Rickey ended up doing a 2 hour 45 min run above tree line and back. That is like hell and back, but the other direction.

The hightlight of the day was the dinner. We met a brit named Pete and combined food to make a fabulous meal of pasta with multi-veggie sauce. The French wines were aflowing as well.

We talked, drank, ate chocolat with liquor of genepi, star gazed and made some great friends.

That consists of a lazy day in Chamonix. Wait until you hear about the eventful day!


P.S. That is a Cuban cigar in mi mano. I didn´t inhale!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Belgium Bier, Swiss Chocolat, and Frech Vin

Where did we leave off last!?

Bruges, Belgium, that's right! That is where we were on the internet at the Tourist Info Centre for three hours. No one told us to get off, so it was OK, right? It was a pain in the posterior trying to type on a Belgian keyboard that replaced the A with the Z and the M with the ; They must have been drunk when designing that keyboard! You wouldn't understand how difficult this is until you are actually deleting every second word. A 10 minute entry took an hour, so we really only were in the internet for 30 minutes. It made you feel like you're taking crazy pills! So, after a long night of loud Brits next to us in the Charlie Rockets hostel, I (Peter) decided to go out for a run around the city--it's really a small city, some american SUVs are larger--and came across 4 huge, couple-hundred-year-old windmills. A spectacular sight; like being a mouse looking at a couple of General Electric fans without the guards on them.
There is a ring road that encircles Bruges and I just kept the hugh tower in the Grande Place, directly in the middle of the city (it's so difficult to get lost when you have one gargantuan tower guiding you!). When Nora finally got out of bed we went out in search of a way to get to Ouvernne, Switzerland for the World Mountain Running Trophy race the next day. We became a little frustrated and so we did what any good Belgian would do...have a beer for breakfast. We sat along the canal, drank Leffe Radieuse (only 8.2% ABV--not too strong for a morning drink!) and watched all the fat American tourists get escorted around the small and highly walkable city by boat. Ummmmm, are we not walking because we want to maintain our robustness, or is it that we are just trying to solidify the stereotype!? We have no room to speak, we are drinking a wine strength beer at 10 in the morning. You may call us connoisseurs but don't call us lushes!
We walked around the small city with the tiny red brick houses. One would think that tiny hobbits or tommy knockers lived there with the insie size of the doors and houses. We managed to find a bottle of the best beer in the world in 2005, a Trappist Brewery called Westvleteren. No label, just a bottle cap identifying it as Westvleteren 8 with the words "TRAPPIST BIER" embossed into the bottle. And not cheap. A bottle goes for 9,50 Euros, about $15 US. We found it for 5,50 Euros and it will be savored like a 20 year old Italian wine.
After Nora went on a plane ticket-buying-rampage (4 separate flights in under an hour, she's talented!) we further explored Bruges, the Belgian equivalent of Venezia, Italia. The ticket from Milan to Bratislava, Slovakia in a week was 19 Euro, then the flights to Bremen, Germany; Oslo, Norway; and Frankfurt, Germany (for Oktoberfest!!!!) were all 1 cent each! Top that JetBlue!
We found an amazing little hostel, De Passage, which looked more like a four star hotel than a 14 Euro a night hostel. To enter the hostel one had to pass through a long, narrow alley, or passage, before finding Guido, our host. Guido told us there was free Belgian beer with a purchase of a meal and showed us some real Belgian hospitality. We hadn't eaten a proper meal since we had the Indian feast aboard Air India a week before. Our meals now consist of bread, jam, muesli, laughing cow cheese, chocolate and beer; breakfast, lunch and dinner. All the food groups accounted for!
(Nora has just taken over writing as Peter's strive for perfection makes the writing process slow. I, on the other hand, have no regard for any of the rules in the english language. I am sure that many of you will find my spelling and grammar mistakes amusing.) We went up to our room and found Emilie, a demure young woman, and Jerome, an innocent young man. They were both law students from Quebec who are taking a semester abroad to study in Belgium. We also met Peter Martin a happy-go-lucky Aussie from Perth (on the WEST SIEEEDE!) who is a traveller jaunting around Europe for a few months. Peter-from- Perth is soon heading for the east coast of the US and is very much looking forward to seeing our grand country. If anyone would like to show him around Boston, New York, DC or Virginia, please contact us and we will pass on the message. We are sad that we are not there to show him around Boston. The 5 of us decided to go hunting for sustenance. We figured that if we all went then there would be no one left in the room to steal our belongings. The first place we went did not have any food, only beer, so it was not the place for us (just Peter). Peter-from-Perth had his Bruges map for young travelers that had the amazing foresight to point out where you can get a bowl of pasta for 3 euro. Off we went. While standing in the street deciding where it was exactly, we encountered Maciek from Melbourne, he is flamboyant, outspoken, intellectual Eddie Vedder-look-alike who is studying law in Paris. We all decided to eat and drink at Medard, a family owned restaurant housed in a building that has been a family bakery for 5 generations. The current family decided bakers have to get up too early, so it is now a restaurant. There was only seating outside, which suited us just fine. We enjoyed heaping bowls of pasta and beers with the appropriate serving vessel. The conversation centered around politics, american (Hillary or Obama?, good bush/bad bush), australian (state care, or lack thereof, refugees, shitty Aussie beer, the PM, and Borat, who is universal--THAT VEEERY NIAACE!!!) and french speaking canadian (can Quebec survive on its own). The three former British colonies were well represented. The conversation was heated at times, but it was all in good fun. We shut the place down and got the owners autograph, since his photo was on our map. "My wife is the boss, I am just the humble servant" he was quoted saying. We wanted to show them the Garre in the De Garre alley to have a Garre. On the way over Maciek ran into one of his friends from college, Monika and her friend Daniel, both Australians or POMEs. Our expanding group was too large for the tiny Garre, we would have overrun the place. The next stop was 't Bruges Beertje. Very crowed, but room was made for us in the champagne room. Remember: none of that is the champagne room! Fire codes do not exist in Belgium. Either that, or the fire marshals were all drunk! The heavenly beer and happy conversations continued through the night. We had a Trappist Achel Blond and Bruin. Peter tried a bit of Jerome's Steendonk Wit, mainly for the name, and it smelled and tasted like prosciutto. We felt warmed by the good company surrounding us. Since we had to catch the 5:30 am train to Brussels we walked back to the passage with Peter-from-Perth. It was a Belgian day.

Saturday morning 5 am came very early. On the walk to the train station we passed some Italians walking home from a drunken night, who exclaimed they wanted their beds; we felt their pain. This was the beginning of an extremely long day of travel. Off to Bruxells, to catch a flight to Geneva. I slept when ever I was seated. Once in Geneva we caught a train to Martigny, where we waited for a bus to Ovronnaz, Switzerland. Unsure of where the bus stop was, we asked the bus driver and he motioned that it was up ahead. The stops kept going by us and soon the bus stopped in Sion (SEE-yaun, as Paul Low says) and everyone got off the bus, end of the line? We asked the bus driver again where Ovronnaz was, he seemed shocked that we did not get off the bus and at Laytron to catch the bus to Ovronnaz. Bus transfer? When did anyone tell us about this? We found that Switzerland's policy of neutrality also applies to helping travelers. He did take pity on us and told us he would bring us back, but we had to wait an hour in Sion until he drove back to Martigny. We walked around the town and back on the bus and finally in Ovronnaz to see the trophy race. When we arrived we found that all the races were held that day and, in fact, the mens race was not to be held on Sunday as we were told by the sleep deprived Paul Low.
The awards ceremony was going on at the finish line and we hiked up the road and followed the sound of cow bells and horns to find it. There we spotted Paul, Kelly, Rickey, Simon, Chris, Nancy, Laura, and the rest of the USMRT. They all where happy to see Peter as the trophy race does not seem to be the same with out him. Down the hill we all went, to get ready for a pot-luck. Dinner was lovely and as the race was over the wine and beer was aflowing. After dinner we all walked back up the hill to check out the after party. The word on the street was they were charging 25 CHF for supporters to get in. To avoid this, the team lent out their jackets to us all and the size of the team doubled for the after party. There was much dancing, music, melted cheese, proscuitto, gherkins, salami and drunk junior runners from all over the globe. All the teams were trading their gear and Peter tried to trade his Nike jacket that he put a small usa patch on. He was offered a Slovenian jacket, Mexico jacket and track pants by a drunk Slovenian junior, but he wanted to hold out for the Irish jacket. I must have inspired him to love the motherland. All were in good cheer and it was good to see everyone.

Sunday: Where is Rickey? We were planning on traveling with him but no one knew where he was. We said good buy to Simon, Kathy, Anita, Mike, Chris, Laura and her family, Rachel and her very generous parents (Thanks so much!!) and Paul and Kelly. Paul and Kelly were kind enough to take some of our Belgian glasses and abundance of clothes back to the states. Their willingness to do so made them both my new favorite people and I was so happy that I actually almost cried. We both decided that our packs were too heavy and we wanted to unload some of it. I think that we got our pack weight down to half of what it was. We may have less outfits but our backs will thank us later. But again, where is Rickey? Peter went off and found him sitting in his room, hungover, way past check out, just in foreign sweatpants, drinking coke and eating Swiss Pringles. He claimed he was sitting around waiting to be kicked out of his room, as he had been out until 5 partying with the young 15 year old runners. Peter helped him pack up the backpack bomb that had exploded in his room. The three of us decided to follow Simon, Kathy et al to Lukerbad. We missed the car ride that left at 9:30 so it was bus, train, bus for us. We arrived in Lukerbad and Peter and Rickey went off to find a place to stay or Simon and Kathy, which ever happened first. I stayed back in the sun and watched the bags. The boys convinced the Weisses Rossli Hotel (White Horse) owner to give us a reduced rate. I am not sure what they offered the owner, but they seemed pleased with their barganing ability. The view from our balcony was spectacular. We were up on the third floor looking at rooftops of old houses and churches and all around us were the jagged peaks of the Swiss Alps. Happier we could not have been more. It may be the most perfect place in the world. Inspired by the beauty, it was off for some running. The boys scrambled up a 25% grade trail, across some glacial run-off and ran along the breathtaking trail far above Leukerbad. I ran up toward the glacier on a trial that lead me to a metal walkway bolted into the side of the cliff, suspended above the glacier river. The walkway turned into a suspension bridge and brought me into a waterfall. I stood in the wonder of it all for awhile wondering how this could be my life. After the run we met up again the Kathy and Simon who were relaxed from the thermal baths and all enjoyed some fine Swiss wine. We treated ourselves to a dinner out and all went to bed early. It was the most packed our bellies had been since we arrived in Europe.

Monday: The boys were up early and Simon took them to the trail head of Gimmi bahn for some Gimmi-Running. Up they went, or so I am told. Rickey reached the top in 38 min, while Peter came in at 53 min. It was 3.8k of sheer uphill running. At the top they met Alekseev Alexander a russian runner who was coaching someone at the trophy race. He offered them some of his special russian energy drink, orange juice (with a little vodka) and lit up a thin cigarette. You know the usual thing one does after running up a mountain... Peter was enjoying an endorphin high that has been missing from his life for 2 years. It must been all the good Belgium beer that is the cure for what has been ailing him. Simon and Kathy were kind enough to let the three us pile in to the Fiat Panda and catch a ride to Chamoinx, France. We felt a bit like like sardines in the small car and Rickey had to strap his orange backpack to the top, so we could all fit in. The drive over the mountains was again amazing, (I need to come up with a better phrase) and we were all taken aback a bit with the first glimpse of the glacier at the base of Mont Blanc. The peak itself was hidden behind the clouds but the view was a treat none the less. We checked into the Ski Station hostel, and by that I mean put or bags on beds and left a note for the owner, and went of running and food shopping. The night was spent over a homemade meal of pasta, chicken, beans, bread, stinky cheese and numerous types of French bon vino. The cheese smelled, the wine was dry and the company was happy and content. Laughter lasted much into the rainy night. We talked to an English hiker who attempted to climb the mountain and turned back because of the weather. He then heard that 20 min later two Italian hikers, who did not head for home, sadly died on the mountain. It happens here often but it is still sad to hear.

Today Tuesday 18th! Are you tired of reading yet? We enjoyed a lazy day watching the rain in Chamonix, hence the time to write this book. Not sure of where we will end up next we fly out of Milan on Saturday so that will be the general direction. We hope all is well at home with all of you. Miss you!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

London to brugge via zdam

Since our last post.......we have done a lot. We left bloody expensive London and took a ferry from the coast of Harwich aboard the Flying Dutchman. Not only did it serve as our transportation, it also served as our lodeging. Aside from the sea-sickness that Nora felt, we had a dutchoven of a time and stocked up on the most amazing museli and a sorts of other foodstuffs that we could eat for many future meals to come. Took the train to Amsterdam and lugged our bags around the red light district waving at all the very friendly, half naked women in the window. We felt like we were still on zee boot the way our heads were bobbing und weaving...and it wasn´t due to the coffee shop we visited. We found a great Belgian cafe, fittingly called Cafè Belgique, where we met a Jeff, a Northwest employee who was out having a beer before having to fly back to Detroit. Thanks for the La Trappe Dubbel, Jeff.

After spending some the day in the ´Dam, and feeling woozy, we took the train to Brugge...well, that´s where our ticket was supposed to be to, but we had to get off in Bruxells. The conductors sat with us and told us restuarant to visit, beers to try and places to see (one would think they would need to work). Probably the nicest people I have ever come across in my life.

Due to time, here`s a breakdown:

Bruxells - couldn`t find any hostels that were clearly marked on the map, but toured the beautiful city and met a couple of Canadian´s (eh), Jason and Jen and with the two powerhouse countries working together we found one--booked. They found us a hotel at a hostel price, but we couldn´t find the hotel, as there was no sign - Belgians must have been drunk when it came to ordering a sign. The old man who ran the place had to come out on the street and find us...
The next day we visited manneken pis, he was dressed to the nines in a tux. Dont fret he was nude again at night. We then started the first of our many 8-12% beers of the day at Poechenellekelder, a bar which offers over 150 beers. Over all that day we sampled 9 of the finest beers the country has to offer. Only 682 to go. We were treated to a light show put to classical music in the grand place, a european square everyone should see. We tasted many chocolates too. My personal favorite was the chocolate beer, Floris Chocolat. The next morning it was off to Brugge.

Brugge. Amazing. Lots of beers, a brewery tour, belgian fries with curry catchup. We ventured down a tiny ally to find the only place in the world where you can have Garre beer. So we had a Garre at de garre in the garre. One of the coolest places ever. We can now check that of the things to do in life list. We just finished purchacing $.01 tickets to Oslo, Bremen, Frankfurt and Bratislava. We havz tons more to write but the europeqn key boqrd is jqking ,e crqwy. off to have a beer.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Foggy London Towne

Brilliant! We have made it to the other side of the pond. After a pleasant flight aboard Air India (grand curry) we arrived early in the morning, 2 am our time, 8 am london time. Though after four time zones in the last month I guess it does not really matter after a while. We promptly went to the hostel near St. Pauls and took a nice napper on the couch. Peter had to force me to get up and actually spend some time walking around the city. I'm glad that he did. We browsed the Dalis and Picassos at the Tate, cheered on the fish mongers at the hay galleria, walkled across the mellinium bridge and the tower bridge, we strolled past the globe and gave Will some pointers on a play, enjoyed a picnic and a shandy on the Thames River (one for dinner as well with pint cans of John Smiths). Today we saw Big Ben again and again, Griswald style, had a picnic in Picadilly Circus that consisted of food stolen from the hostel breakfast, things are really the opposite of cheap here. We are looking now for flights/ferrys to Amsterdam. Enjoy and keep in mind that we had a pint for you!