21 July 2009
But as far as the end of my trip goes... Amsterdam was amazing. I didn't do much during the day because i went to two nights of an electro festival going on there. But nights were completely mental. First night was Diplo, Boy 8-Bit, and Fake Blood. The second night was Simian Mobile Disco, Does it Offend You, Yeah?, and Zombie Nation. I also tried to find the Tattoo Museum, but the guy at reception in the hostel said that it never really opened, which is a shame.
Then Paris was great. I had one very chill night in Poitiers between Amsterdam in Paris, then took the train up to Paris and stayed with Caroline and Asia. It was mostly just hanging out, but we did wander around the city a bit, hanging out in parks and along the Seine. It was great to see them again before I headed home.
And that's the jist of what i have to say for now. Stay tuned for photos once I upload them all and my reflections on the trip once I know how to articulate them.
14 July 2009
Riga: Europe in Flowers
Tallinn: View of the Old TownTallinn: Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Helsinki: Inside Suomenlinna
Anyways, after I got settled in I wandered around the old town. The architecture is so nice! I seriously think that just about every single building in the old town is impressive. I spent a few hours admiring the buildings and went into one free museum that ended up being a museum about currency. They had currency from all throughout history and from all over the world, including a $100US that was printed in Fishkill! After the museum I wandered around the Royal courtyards, but they weren’t that impressive. The guards all had giant machine guns with bayonets though, that was a sight. After that I wandered around the more modern city center, which was just a lot of shopping and a lot of people. OH, yeah. Everywhere is so crowded. I mean, I expect there to be a lot of people in capital cities during peak tourism season, but there were so many it was tough to move at points. That wasn’t very enjoyable. Also, Stockholm is all about 7-Eleven. 7-Eleven in Stockholm is like Starbucks in NYC. Okay, maybe not that bad, but I was surprised to see one, let alone a billion.
After wandering around for a few hours I came back to the hostel and took care of some stuff online (woo, free wifi!), then I got to talking with this Candian girl, Mira, and we ended up going to a bar with a German girl named Julia. That was in what Lonely Planet calls the “alternative culture” part of town. It wasn’t very alternative…American Apparel, H&M, and other big name shops were all over the place. The bar was decent though, but we left pretty early. There were so many cops out – 3 vans just outside the one bar. There are also tons throughout the city. It doesn’t make any sense. I know cops are “supposed to make us safe,” but seeing a high police presence just makes me more anxious and nervous (though, I’ve never been big on The Man).
Today I got up and wandered around again. I saw some of the places I didn’t see yesterday, and went into a free museum on Theatre and Dance. I tried to find a statue of a boy staring at the moon because Caroline told me to look for it, but then it started to downpour and I gave up. I grabbed some lunch, then walked to the Kulturhuset (Culture House), and checked out some of the things they had there. There are a couple of galleries, some models of the city, a medieval museum, and plenty of other stuff. After wandering around for a few more hours and being fed up with the weather I came back to the hostel. I don’t know what my plans are for this evening, but I may just take it easy.
At any rate, I’m off to Amsterdam tomorrow afternoon. Updates from there!
Also! Be prepared for a special photo update coming shortly!
13 July 2009
That night I met up with a whole bunch of people at a kebab place/bar before we went to a park to hang out. A couple of the people I had met the night before, but mostly I met new people and I even got to speak in French for a while because there were some French people in the group! It was more French than I had really spoken during my last semester in France since we had the strikes and all. I ended up trying to go to bed early (well, early for me) since I had to catch my Ferry to Helsinki at 7:30 in the morning. Yeah, that’s right, leave at 7:30. It was brutally early, and I couldn’t believe how many people were drinking on the ship when I got on.
At any rate, it only took me two hours to get to Helsinki. Right away I was amused because I saw some kid (I couldn’t tell if it was a guy or a girl) dressed as an anime character. I’m talking cloak, a fake weapon of some fantastical sort, and spiky anime hair. I thought I might’ve been so tired I was hallucinating, but as I wandered around I saw more people dressed up like anime characters, or in animal costumes, or in other crazy get-ups. Helsinki quickly became my favorite city to people watch. In addition to the outrageous costumes, there were plenty of guys with hearty beards (and oh how was I jealous), tons of metal-looking people, and a bunch of punks with gigantic died Mohawks. I didn’t find out until later that there was an anime/sci-fi convention going on, which explained the costumes.
I was pretty exhausted, but every day is a new adventure, especially when you only have one night in a city. So I had some coffee and went out exploring with Antti, a Finnish guy. He told me I needed to see Suomenlinna, the old sea fortress, so we hopped on a boat and went out to the island. (Well, actually, when we got to the harbor we had a half an hour wait, so we wandered around the Central Market while we waited for the boat.) I was so glad we did, because it’s a cool place to explore and a cool place to hang out. Antti told me that he and his friends would sometimes just go there to hang out, and that a lot of people in Helsinki do that. There are also a bunch of museums (which we didn’t go in), and plenty of tunnels in the fortifications to explore (which we did), and people actually live on the island as well. The views on the coasts were pretty excellent, and I had a great time there. We hung out for a few hours and then hopped on a ship back to the mainland.
We split up there because he was also exhausted and I walked around for about an hour or so before I met Elina, a Finnish girl now living in Helsinki. I was invited to hang out with her and her friends for some cake and hanging out and potential partying, and despite being tired there was no way I could pass that up. It was my only night in Finland, so I had to make the most of it! So it ended up being a couple of us hanging out, and then Antti, Elina, Marjaana, Katri, and I went out to a club. Well, it’s not actually a club, but a movie theatre that opens the terrace for dancing at night, but only until 2am. It was free entry (WOO, something free in Helsinki…I’ll be talking about money in a moment), but my hopes of a free evening were dashed when I walked in and they told me that my super tiny day pack was too big to bring in and I had to pay 3€ to check it. Oh well, I was in and the club was a lot of fun. The dance floor was kind of weird – it was cluttered with tables and chairs in such a way that you would think they didn’t want you to actually dance. That just meant that in addition to dancing on the floor and the speakers, people were up on chairs as well. It was so much fun, but ended too soon (we had to wait on a line for a while before we got in), so then we went to a different bar. After being in central Europe and the Baltics, bar prices in Helsinki had me floored. Oh well, I knew the cities in Scandinavia were going to be the most expensive ones I visited on this trip. But I had a great time hanging out, chatting with everyone, and staying up way later than I thought I would when I got in.
The next day I slept in a bit for some much needed sleep, then Antti and I went to a park for a free outdoor festival that was going on. We went a little while after it started, and the two bands we heard weren’t that great so we left to get some lunch before parting ways. I went to the city center and explored parts that I hadn’t seen the day before. There’s not a lot to see in Helsinki (it’s not really a touristy city, well not to the extent of other European capitals at any rate) and everything is pretty close together. After walking around with my backpack on for a few hours, and hopping into two free museums for a brief time, I sat in the Esplanade Park and enjoyed the nice weather before having to catch my ferry.
And now about money: I cannot believe how expensive Helsinki is! I feel like I’m in an airport! Even groceries are outrageously expensive. If you want a cold beer from a convenience store it’s over 3€ a can. Yeah, 3€. Forget that. And if you want a drink in a bar, forget about it. My Lonely Planet says the best place to go out to bars is in a working-class neighborhood which is where I was staying, but since we were in the center and that’s where all the clubs and everything are we had to pay a bit more. Talk about a shock for my wallet.
And that’s about it for now! At the time of writing this I’m on my way to Stockholm. I’ll hopefully update you from there!
(I’m On A Boat – The Lonely Island [hilarious, but some strong language, so yeah, consider yourself warned if you don’t want to hear that kind of thing])
(I Am A Viking – Yngwie J. Malmsteen)
See, these songs work because I’m on a ship to Sweden that operates on the Viking Line (Yngwie J. Malmsteen is a Swedish musician.
When I booked this ship it was the only website that would let me book anything. I had no idea I was booking a CRUISE SHIP, so you could imagine my shock when I got on bored. I have a pretty sweet room all to myself, and food and drink on the ship can be less expensive than in Helsinki, so that’s a plus. I’m exhausted so I’m probably going to bed early (and by probably I mean definitely), but I did watch some people do karaoke. There’s so much one could potentially do! (It’s my first time on a cruise ship, there’s a lot of novelty value in it for me even though I’m not going to shell out my money.) I’m amused. (But at the same time not down with all the high prices for things.)
Okay, now for real, I’ll update you from Stockholm!
10 July 2009
The weather was terrible while I was on the bus, but I’d rather it be that way than terrible when I got into Tallinn. The bus ride was uneventful, except for one passport check where I don’t think the custom’s guy believed the photo was me (he didn’t say anything, but compared every detail on my passport to those on my titre de sejour) but it was fairly uncomfortable. I had to sit next to this fat guy who took up more than one seat, so he was partially on mine and I just had no room. At any rate, I got into Tallinn in the early afternoon and then I was off exploring. I was excited to get out and move around after being on the bus and I had heard that Tallinn’s old town is really nice. Well, that’s no joke; I think Tallinn has one of the nicest old towns I’ve seen! Unfortunately I forgot my camera, but when I go out today I’ll get some photos. I wandered through all the streets in the old town, checking out some of the sights and some of the panoramic views. I think my favorite bits, though, were the little streets with nothing on them. They’re small and colorful and just really pretty. I went into some cathedrals and churches, most of which were a lot more impressive from the outside. In the town center there was a market set up selling different handicrafts so I wandered through that for a bit. You could tell it was set up for tourists because all the vendors were in traditional costumes. There were a couple of cool courtyard-type streets, one of which had really old tombstones on the wall. All in all my wanderings were very pleasant and I can’t really put it into words. Y’all will just have to wait for the photos! When I was done wandering I went to a café in the town center that my Lonely Planet suggested and says it can make people never want to go to Starbucks again. That’s not too hard for me, I think Starbucks coffee is kind of crap to be honest, but I do love a good cup of coffee. The verdict: not the best I’ve ever had but still really tasty, tastier and cheaper than some of the cafés I’ve been to in France.
In the evening I met up with Sven and his friends – all Estonian’s living in Tallinn. We had an excellent night hanging out listening to music, I tried some dark Estonian beers, and we watched some videos on YouTube. That, and they showed me a hilariously crude TV show that I had never seen or heard of called Testees about two guys who are human guinea pigs for a company trying out different chemicals. Check it out!
That’s all for now. Not sure what my plans are today – probably an art museum and then snapping some photos in old town. Tomorrow morning I head to Helsinki! Next update soon? Hopefully.
08 July 2009
I got into
As always, I’ll update again when I can! Hope you’re all doing well and enjoying these updates.
When “planning” out this trip, I knew I wanted to check out the Baltic countries. My friend Timbo had been traveling around and told me that Vilnius is a nice city, so I thought “Cool, I’ll start there, and then work my way up to Riga, then Tallinn.” The old town in Vilnius is apparently one of the largest ones in Europe and it is really nice. When I got into the city after that long bus ride (during which I hadn’t slept much because the girl sitting next to me kept kicking me. Instead of putting her stuff overhead, she had everything under her legs and then kept putting her feet on my footrest and leaning over towards my seat. It was not very comfortable, but whatever.) the sun was shining and it was pleasantly warm out. I thought to myself “Wow! There are a lot of people out for 7:45 in the morning, and my bus was an hour and fifteen minutes early! Cool!” Turns out I’m an idiot and didn’t realize I changed time zones. Oops. So I went for a walk into the Old Town and just wandered about for a bit before I got settled in.
I met Gintare, who studies in Vilnius, and after some coffee and chat we went out into the city. We went to the contemporary art museum to see an exhibit called “Big in Japan.” Part of it was cool, but part of it was crap to be honest. In the main hall and entrance of the museum there was a display set up on urban landscapes that used toy cars and trucks, tracks as roads, Styrofoam mountains, and toy cranes building up new infrastructure. That was really cool. There were also some cool portraits that made the people look albino and all kind of look similar, but if you looked closely you could see the differences between the people. While there, we met up with one of Gintare’s friends (and I’m terrible with spelling names, so I’m just not going to even try) and we walked up to the top of the castle hill and hung out there for a bit. The view was excellent. While we were there, Gintare’s flat mate met up with us and then we wandered around a bit more. We went into two churches, one of which hasn’t really been restored at all so the interior looks really old. After that we went to the artists’ district called The Independent Republic of Uzupis where they have their constitution posted on a wall in several different languages. It’s pretty funny, with rules like “Everyone has the right to be happy, everyone has the right to be unhappy” and “Everyone has the right to take care of the cat.” We then wandered our way up another hill where we were joined by Eva, who absolutely loves Uno. So we hung out there for a while, playing Uno and chatting and having a relaxing day, which is what I wanted because I was pretty tired. We went to a vegetarian restaurant where I had an awesome vegan calzone and then I called it an early night.
The next day was the national holiday for Lithuania in commemoration of Grand Duke Mindaugas’ coronation. I wandered through the town a bit, mostly to find the world’s only Frank Zappa statue, then I watched some of the festivities taking place. There were so many people around it was hard to move. There were some speeches that took place and a parade with people dressed in traditional clothing and some bands playing national songs and whatnot. That evening there was a concert to celebrate the holiday that was free and outside. There were so many people on stage! There was a chorus, then orchestra, and then the chorus came back on. And everyone in the crowd new the words to the national songs and you could just feel the positive energy everywhere. I was hanging out with a large group of people and they would translate the lyrics for me from time to time, which was nice. There were people dancing everywhere, parents tossing their children up in the air and catching them (I saw one baby that was the happiest baby in the world during that festival) and just all around merriment. It was a great time. We followed that up by continuing the celebrations at Gintare’s flat. It was an all around great day.
(Sorry for the lack of photos as of late! I want to put some in, but I’ve been updating from other people’s computers or public computers so I don’t have my photos available when I’m updating. Probably when this trip is over I’ll upload all my photos worth uploading and post the links.)
04 July 2009
Anatole and I got in, and hung out for a little while before getting to where we were staying. After we got settled in we went out with Michal, a Polish guy, and Marija, a German girl, and Vega, a Spanish girl, all of who live in Warsaw, to this really cheap bar. Being in Poland I had to have some wodka. Normally I’m not a huge fan, but it wasn’t too bad. On the way to the bar we walked through the university campus which was pretty nice, and walked along the royal way. One thing we noticed was how there are so many different styles of buildings in one area. You have some soviet style block buildings, some classic looking buildings (a lot of which were rebuilt after the war), and now huge skyscrapers. It’s a weird mix. After the bar we wandered around the city and saw the sights at night. We walked through the Old Town then hung out on one of the old city walls for a little while. The night was pretty low-key – we went to a couple of places then hung out with Michal and Marija until we went to sleep.
The next day Anatole and I grabbed some Polish lunch, and wandered through the city during the day. There aren’t too many sights, so we wandered around and saw all we wanted in just a few hours. This was our last day traveling together since Anatole was headed back to Berlin in the afternoon. After he left I wandered through the New Town and saw some churches, of which there is no shortage. Speaking of religious things, I have to say that I have never seen so many nuns or things dedicated to the Pope. I know he’s Polish, and I know this is a really Catholic country, but I think it’s going a little overboard. That’s just me, and I just won’t get into my issues with it. At any rate, I enjoyed my walk, and saw plenty of things including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It’s a cool little monument, but I feel bad for the two guards that have to stand completely still next to it all day. What a boring job. The weather was nice, so I spent a little bit of time in a park. In the evening I met up with Michal and we went to a concert of traditional Indian music at the Ethnographic museum. Parts of it were not really enjoyable, but other parts were amazing. The performers had their roots in the Rajasthan region of India and they played their traditional gypsy music and did some dances. One of my favorite bits was when one of the guys had a heavy pot of water on top of a cup on top of his head. He eventually stacked it up to 4 cups and danced around, it was unbelievable. There was a woman dancer as well, and her coolest trick was bending over backwards and picking up a folded 20€ note with her eye. After the concert we went to another cool bar, then to a park with Christiana (I think that’s how it’s spelled) from the Ukraine and Dinah from Germany, both of whom have been living in Warsaw as well. After the park, Dinah left, so Michal, Christiana, and I went exploring in an abandoned Jewish ghetto building. It was so cool; I absolutely love exploring abandoned buildings. We eventually went to the Praga district of Warsaw, which wasn’t destroyed during the war and has a lot of places for alternative culture. We went to a club that had an awesome electro DJ spinning, but it was kind of dead. It was crazy going in when it was really dark out, and coming out when the sun was up. It was a great night full of good conversation and good times. We met up with Marija and Vega at the bar, and another Polish guy from Warsaw named Adam. The people I’ve met in Warsaw have really made my time. After the club we decided to stop at a shop and pick up some food to have a breakfast picnic. I didn’t go to bed until about 6:30am, which is normal for me when I’m not traveling, but it’s the first time I’ve done that in a while.
Today Michal showed me an awesome park. We went and just chilled out there for a few hours by a lake. It was a nice lazy day, and we had some good chat. I love that – going to new cities and meeting people that you know you could have a friendship with and just chatting about n’importe quoi for a while. After the park, Michal showed me a beach called “La Playa” which was also in the Praga district. It was a cool little place, but the music changed to something terrible soon after we got there so we left.
And that brings me up to the present. I had some things to check and do online before I get on my overnight bus to Vilnius, Lithuania. I’ll update again when I can!
02 July 2009
First he showed us the Jewish quarter of the city. We checked out the synagogue, then made our way to Wawel Castle. We didn’t pay to go inside the castle and see the exhibits (we were way too exhausted and probably wouldn’t have retained anything) but we did walk around the grounds, which were really nice. After the castle we walked to the main square in the middle of town. In the center of the square there is a big market set up, so we walked through that. We took a look at some of the churches in the city, saw the 14th century city gate that was still standing, and then checked out the Jewish Cemetery. The cemetery was huge, and it was crazy to see headstones that are now like little walls because the Nazis tore them down and used them for other things during the war.
Oh! We also ate at an awesome vegetarian restaurant. You could get 4 portions for less than $5! Eventually Pawel left us in the center, and Anatole and I just kind of hung out and people watched for a little while since we were so exhausted. Later we met up with Pawel and Kasia, who also lives in Krakow, but it ended up being an early night, which was exactly what I needed. It was so nice to finally get some sleep.
The next day, our last full day in Krakow, Anatole and I went to Auschwitz and Birkenau. I was excited to go, but not in a “HOORAY” sort of way. It was an intense day – there was a lot of information to take in and it was weird being at a site known for being one of the worst places that ever existed. Each country that had people deported to Auschwitz had their own display block, some of which were set up better than others. Of course I have always learned about World War II and the Holocaust and Nazi-ism in history classes, but being there makes it so much heavier. The most intense exhibits were the found objects and the human hair. There was a display case taking up an entire wall that had so much human hair that was found there afterwards. My jaw just dropped; it was unbelievably intense. There were also displays with piles of eyeglass frames all jumbled up, and shoes, children’s shoes, brushes, pots and bowls…it was definitely moving. It was also weird to see Auschwitz now, as a museum and tourist destination, with really nice landscaping and people taking group photos and “toursity” shots.
Birkenau is still set up like how I imagined Auschwitz to look. Cabins everywhere, fences, the railway lines going through the center. It’s huge. The extermination chambers were destroyed, but the piles of rubble are still there. The whole day was intense and moving.
After we got back to Krakow, we had another low-key evening, cooked some food, then went up a mound overlooking the city near where Pawel and Kasia live and had a bottle of wine. It was nice, and the view was great.
Now (at the time of writing this) Anatole and I are sitting on the train on our way to Warsaw, which will be our last stop together before we head our separate ways. It was excellent traveling with someone from home for a few days. It made me realize how long I’ve actually been gone and how long it’s been since I’ve seen anyone in real life. It was similar when Nicole came to visit in December and when Caitlyn came in January; I thought it was a long time then but now this is 6 months later. I’m having a great time, but it will be great to see everyone again.
Okay, that’s all for now! I’ll update again when I can.
The next day we left Mary’s flat (by the way, did I mention that her flat is incredible and has an amazing view of the city?) with all our stuff and walked down to Checkpoint Charlie. The museum was a bit expensive but definitely worth it. There was so much to see and take in, although it did repeat itself from time to time. I was really excited to see the models of the wall built by the woman who married the Eiffel Tower (Erika Eiffel – if you haven’t watched that documentary you should because it is really interesting. It’s about women who only fall in love with inanimate objects like walls, buildings, archery bows, and carnival rides, among other things). After the museum we went to check out parts of the Berlin Wall that were still in tact, which was definitely an interesting thing to see. On the streets in Berlin there are bricks in the ground to mark out where the wall used to stand, so after we saw the part still standing near the Checkpoint Charlie museum we decided to follow the bricks for a little while to see other pieces. We had the intention of walking down to the river, but with our stuff it was a little much.
On our way to the museum we ran into Étienne, a guy I know from Canada who was studying in Poitiers this past semester, on the street. That was cool and unexpected, so we met up with him after walking around for a little while and hung out by the Gendarmenmarkt until we had to part ways. We then made our way to the worst train I’ve ever been on in my life.
When we got to the train station we saw a massive group of Irish students hanging around near our platform. We were hoping that not all of them were going on our train, but luck was not on our side. There were actually 100 of them and most of them did not have a reservation (I found this out from one of the girls who was in our compartment on the train) and the train was already completely booked. It was so uncomfortably hot on that train and the number of people just made it worse. Most of them were loud and obnoxious and would walk back and forth in front of our compartment all the time. Then they started drinking, which didn’t make things any better. It was going to be a long twelve hours. After a while I realized that with the noise and the heat there was no possible way for me to get to sleep. (And I thought Americans had the reputation of being the obnoxious travelers.) I did eventually start to doze off, but whenever I did something woke me up. It wouldn’t have been so bad, not being able to sleep, if I was able to move around the cars a bit and stretch my legs. Well, since there were so many Irish students without reservations they resorted to sleeping two-by-two down the corridors making it impossible to move. Now, you might think that’s the worst of it, but no. At around 3:00am, when a lot of the people had fallen asleep or packed into other cars with their friends to try and sleep on the floor, the train shook so violently that I instinctively yelled “JESUS CHRIST” (probably prompting a glance from the nun in my compartment) and I thought we derailed. No joke, I thought we derailed, and so did most of the other people, because what else would you think happened when your train shakes super violently and then stops moving. At that point everyone piled into the corridor and started trying to guess what happened. I started talking to an Irish girl who was not only woken up by the shaking, but by a suitcase falling and hitting her on the nose. It was not a fun situation, and after that no one was really sleeping, so the noise started back up again. We were stationary for about a half an hour or so before we finally started moving, which I guess proves we didn’t derail. I have no idea what happened. But we made into Krakow alive and were greeted by beautiful weather!
Check out the next update to find out about our adventures in Krakow.