[Dear reader: Please read the blog entry describing this journal before going ahead to read the text. A fair amount of what I wrote twenty-three years ago bothers me today. The video camera footage I refer to can be found at YouTube.]
Lyon, France 05:00, October 4, 1994
Of course I’m scared about leaving! I continually see my body being hauled out of some East European ditch or my stuff being ransacked by some [nationality]. But if I constantly harp on that fear it will only grow, so let’s change the subject!
This morning I leave for this biggest adventure I’ve ever attempted. It’s good that I should do so as I may never return to this continent. What I’ve planned includes a large number of cities, but actually even this number has been trimmed from the original list. The current itinerary is as follows: Freiburg, Munich, Prague, Berlin, Krakow, Budapest, Vienna, Venice, Rome, Florence, the Alps / Lyon, Barcelona, the Loire Valley, Paris, and London, from which I will fly home (if I haven’t already bailed out!).
The time I’ve allotted to this is not long. I’m leaving now and intend to finish by the end of November so I can finish a scholarship application which should await me.
In particular, today’s schedule looks tough from the outset. Probably at 8 or 9 I will leave via TGV for Paris, and two hours later I will arrive, drop off two suitcases, and will leave that afternoon by a train bound for Basel, Switzerland. A connecting train will bring me to Freiburg, where my friend Shelly will be waiting for me. In total, all should be a mad dash with some very heavy bags.
So wish me luck! Who knows? Maybe I’ll learn something!
Freiburg, Germany 01:52, October 5, 1994
I started by learning some German while waiting for Shelly at the train station. Every German to whom I’ve spoken seems able to communicate at least informationally in English, but I know that won’t necessarily be true as I pass further east. Each added bit of language background is a plus right now!
Today was very hard on my body. I can’t count the muscle groups calling for massages! Hopefully I’ll be able to walk without a limp tomorrow (and I can leave my baggage here! ☺) as I begin exploration of Freiburg, Germany. My first impression is of admiration; the Germans I’ve met have all seemed well-educated and amiable, and the town (thought I’ve not seen it in daylight) seems cleaner than what I saw in France. More tomorrow!
Of course, it’s always nice when a friend seems as glad to see you as you are to see her. Shelly’s just been beaming! It’s good to be starting off the voyage on the right foot.
Freiburg, Germany 01:17, October 6, 1994
The city is everything I thought it to be! The little canals running down the sides of the old streets of the rebuilt medieval town were just as charming as the little shops themselves. I saw a sweatshirt, though, that said, “the Americans have Bob Hope, Stevie Wonder, and Johnny Cash. The Germans have no hope, no wonder, and no cash!” Somehow I think it slightly overstated whatever economic problems may exist here.
When I saw the Münster cathedral, I was stricken by the frilly decorations covering every square inch (sorry, meter) of available space. It truly was Gothic in that regard. The spire was really high up, but I have not yet ascended it to look around. The Black Forest suddenly bounds upwards to the east of the main square! Shelly says the best view of the town is from there.
There’s a system of streetcars running in tracks encompassing the area, too, but it was horribly expensive by single tickets (3 DM ≈ $2 US). I’ll be walking tomorrow if my muscles are enough healed.
I really think Fodor’s made a mountain out of a molehill when it said the Martinstor (medieval gate) was indelibly scarred by the McDonald’s sign. Really, it was tastefully done, if you’ll pardon the pun. The other one, almost identical, was no less scarred by the modern trafficway passing nearby.
Some of the buildings near Münsterplatz were really remarkable for their fantastically decorated façades, like the house of Erasmus’ exile with gilt highlights. The smaller religious building near Münster was charming without being so gaudy as the more famous cathedral.
Freiburg, Germany 00:09 October 7, 1994
Today I tackled three museums within the space of an hour! I saw the interesting collection of the culture museum (showing ways of life for groups the world over except, interestingly, those in Freiburg). In the same building was a minor collection of rocks and stuffed birds and other animals. Finally, around the corner was a museum of contemporary art from local sculptors and painters. Perhaps nicest was that all three were free!
Then Shelly and I regrouped for a quick lunch on the Münsterplatz. We explored the cathedral interior again together, but we elected to skip climbing the spire.
Instead we hiked up the Schloßberg hill to the east of the old town. The view of Freiburg was a nice one, particularly of the Münster.
Finally, we walked back into town to do some shopping (I purchased a new backpack) and check on train tickets.
Then this evening, we took a walk around the lake to the west of town among the student dorms. Though it was cold, the view was really first-rate from the observation towers.
After a full day, we simply crashed and talked away some hours. Where I’m going, I’m sure to miss conversation.
Freiburg, Germany 00:36 October 8, 1994
Today was fairly relaxed. After Shelly and I did some shopping, lunching, and filming on and around the Münsterplatz, we came back to the apartment and packed for each of our trips (she’s headed to Paris tomorrow).
Then this evening, some friends came by and we sat around to watch TV in German. We heard news via CNN that American forces were preparing for war in Iraq again, though it was unclear exactly what had caused the new crisis. To us, this war will mean a heightened value to the dollar, supposedly, but of course we’re curious about the reasons behind restored tensions.
But tomorrow morning I head east toward Munich (my final destination for evening). So I transferred the remaining fragments of my Missouri Scholars Academy keychain to my newly purchased hiking bag, thus consecrating it.
I will miss being constantly surrounded by 20-year-old females. ☹
München (Munich), Germany 23:46 October 8, 1994
I don’t even want to talk about today, but such a lot happened that I’d better if I ever plan to remember it!
I rolled out of bed at 4AM to catch an early train to Augsburg, and Shelly got up to say goodbye, which was very sweet of her in my estimation. But that hug was the limit for warmth today!
The train eventually became an hour delayed in reaching its eventual destination, but I didn’t mind so much because it gave me the chance to speak with an intelligent German businessman who agreed that the very destructiveness of World War II was the force that enabled Germany to modernize so rapidly after the war. By Freiburg’s destruction it was able to be rebuilt in a better way (though that’s a bad example– little or nothing was changed in its layout, unlike other cities).
The second leg of the trip, from Augsburg to Buchloe, seated me near a man who knew no English apart from a few names and a lot of Elvis lyrics; he continually quoted, “let’s go. Let’s get a move-on.” Weird!
The final leg moved me from Buchloe to Füssen, the site of the Mad King Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein Castle, upon which Disney’s castle is based. I just missed the bus going to the castle, so while I waited I walked around the tourist trap of a town and fumed about the baggage storage procedures. Then I took the next bus to the foot of Neuschwanstein’s mountain. The climb with some other American tourists took almost 30 minutes, and then we were standing in front of the world’s most glamorous castle. The tour, following almost an hour in line despite the freezing (I saw snow) weather, was okay but short because most of the rooms were unfinished. I learned that 1.5 to 2 million people visit the site each year. Whew!
So I rushed down the hill, missed the bus anyway, and hitchhiked back to the train station. I was here by around 8:30 PM.
Munich has been difficult so far. I’m okay on the subway, and I really liked the giant videoscreen cartoons while waiting.
I nearly went into shock, however, when I saw how much currency was required to stay (20 DM deposit, 22.50 for fees). Ouch! So I went to the train station’s bank for traveler’s check exchange, and there I heard a Britisher say to the bankers under his breath, “Don’t you remember ’45?” I was shocked, but I understood being peeved.
So I came back here and dealt with the ridiculous bureaucracy of the hostel only to discover my door wouldn’t lock. It didn’t leave me happy. But now I feel better having written all this down.
But I’d still like to go back to Freiburg to flirt some more.
Train to Prague, Czech Republic 06:44 October 10, 1994
Shortly after I wrote the above, two biker/hiker German students in their mid-20s came in and deposited their things. I had to share the room.
As I left the hostel yesterday morning, I ran into an American from California. Her name was Sonya, and she was about to start college at UCLA. So I accompanied her to Schloss Nymphenburg, which was a beautiful old Wittelbach estate (family of kings) in the West of Munich. Then, as my legs nearly fell out from beneath me from exhaustion and tissue damage, we stopped at the train station because she was headed to her temporary home in Hamburg. But we exchanged addresses so maybe we’ll be in touch again. I hope so! She was nice to talk to and was pretty, to boot!
After seeing her off, I went to the main pedestrian mall area and saw the sights. It was pretty, and to partake of the great tradition I ate a real German Breze (pretzel). I swear it was the best I’ve ever had. Then I simply killed time until my train left at 23:12. Hopefully I will be able to save some cash by being here!
Happily I ran into another American (well, two… but the other was Canadian) with whom I staked out a train car. It wasn’t the comfiest of sleeps.
Prague, Czech Republic 07:23 October 11, 1994
What a change since Munich! This beautiful and ancient city has, by some quirk of government, acquired an exchange rate making any Westerner instantly feel rich beyond his craziest dreams. Prices are as much as three- or four-fold below any other country. The amazing part is that Prague is as much as twice as expensive as other areas.
So I will have the chance to rest in one place for a while. Shortly after I wrote yesterday’s entry, a group of students climbed onto the train and sat in the train car with us. One, named Linda, suggested that I could stay a few nights in the student dorms for nothing! So I went with her through the city to the university housing (a mile out of town center, perhaps) and put away my things. Then I went with her and her friend Pavlina to their first class: 5th year German for Czechs. It was embarrassing when the teacher called on me! Afterwards, Pavlina and I went walking around the city to do some errands. Beautiful. And cheap. Last evening I went with a new friend to see “The Flintstones” for $1.16 and had a nice time.
It is illegal for me to stay in the dorm. The guys in this room are risking their room by allowing me to stay, but at the same time they seem anxious that I remain here! If it seems too risky for me to stay, I will instead rent out one of the private rooms offered by locals in the train station (“offered” isn’t quite right– the locals accosted me to rent from them).
The poverty here is evidenced by the frustration of the locals at the “high” costs created by tourism. This dorm room, a triple by U.S. standards, holds six bunks.
Incidentally, the subway was also built as a nuclear fall-out shelter. The guys told me of their fear of U.S. nuclear weapons from early life. It is strange to see the opposite side of the coin.
Prague, Czech Republic 18:31 October 11, 1994
Today I visited the National Museum of Bohemia (the Czech Republic consists of Bohemia and Moravia), where both historical and natural sciences are showcased. I saw every skeleton in existence, surely! They even had a wombat! Unfortunately, all labels were in Czech.
From now on I will feel the need to spell “sandwich” as do the Czechs: “sendvič!” I saw this at one of the local McDonald’s. And I explored the K-Mart further. It is five stories, all told, and it includes a grocery store. Nestled in the side is a Little Caesar’s Pizza (where I had lunch today) with an eat-in area. In Europe, it is not uncommon to see counters without chairs rather than sit down tables. Really, it doesn’t take much adjustment to them ’til it seems natural.
I want to point out that Czech young women are hot. I can’t recall thinking that about any other European nation. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that Prague is a very wealthy city (99% employment, with 97% in the surrounding country). Whatever, it’s nice.
And some of the escalators to the subways here are very, very fast. I noticed it on one that heads downward maybe a hundred feet. The subways also seem much faster than others I’ve ridden. They seem much more like suburban trains from Munich or Paris.
Public transport here gets heavy use. Yesterday, Pavlina and I were nearly crushed as the 2 o’clock lunch rush struck, and the subway became packed literally wall-to-wall. I could hardly breathe!
The pollution in Prague is hard to believe after all that recycling in Germany. The photographs from today will show the haze that makes it unclear to see anything at a great distance.
I fully plan to spend at least two more days here. I still need to stop walking everywhere! Public transport is available, and I’ve paid for it!
I still catch myself thinking about people at home. It will be soon, I know. Today I sent two post-cards and a letter.
Prague, Czech Republic 08:59 October 13, 1994
Yesterday I got some business done. In the morning I went to the train station to buy my Eurocity ticket for Dresden; I’ve decided to leave Friday morning. The amazing part is that even with the extra Eurocity hike (131 crowns) the total cost of the ticket was only $12 American! With prices like this, I’ve decided to stay at Bratislava in Slovakia while day tripping to Vienna.
At 12:45 I met Pavlina at a bridge, and we went to the castle and cathedral overlooking Prague. Beautiful! This Gothic creation is what Americans imagine when Americans think “cathedral.” The view from the castle was breathtaking, as well.
During the afternoon I sought and eventually found the Bethlehem chapel through the maze-like streets of old Prague. After I toured the building (actually a new building including some old pieces), I learned that I would have to wait to buy concert tickets until an hour before that evening’s concert, so I went to K-mart and grabbed dinner (the Czechs, incidentally, require all shoppers to have a shopping cart or basket before entering the store).
The following concert was okay, but clearly is was music designed to attract tourist dollars, pounds, and deutschmarks. The chamber orchestra was not paying attention to the conductor, and I even caught him stomping the beat on the stage (I had a front-and-center seat for arriving so early). The music was Vivaldi’s “Spring” and “Summer” with Mendelssohn’s Concerto in D-minor followed by Mozart’s “Einekleinenachtmusik.” As an encore, we heard a J.S. Bach aria, though I could have sworn it was an adagio. So I did the required Prague music thing.
A word about bread. French bread has a normal lifespan of one day; after this, it becomes incredibly hard and dry unless placed in a plastic bag, in which case it becomes mooshy. German and Czech breads are very dense and dark, and time doesn’t seem to affect them. French and Czech breads are cheap.
Prague, Czech Republic 19:46 October 13, 1994
I would rate my last day in Prague a good one. Before I describe it, though, I want to make some comments.
Firstly, two people have spontaneously said that I seem or look Czech. Perhaps I have at last developed some talent at blending into my surroundings, or maybe I simply have some Eastern Europeans genes in me.
Secondly, I want to make mention of the commercial exploitation of tourists at the expense of the native populace. Outside of touristed districts, prices drop as much as six-fold on some items. It is now impossible for Praguers or Prahaites to shop at or eat in any of the establishments in their own city. A friend (Pavlina) told me that an average sort of salary here is the equivalent of $4800 American. (oops! Movie is starting)
Train to Dresden 09:13 October 14, 1994
As I was saying…
Yesterday was a very good day. I started by shopping for a new coat (though my old one is quite serviceable).
Then I went to the South end of town to find a cathedral my friends had pointed out. Unfortunately I could not go over to it, though I did see it from afar. From the South there was also a nice view of town, although I was standing between two major building complexes.
Then I went to an observation tower built on the highest hill in the area. The view of Prague and the surrounding area was magnificent. I rolled some film there, to be sure. At the base of the tower was a house of mirrors where I just played for a while. The walk downhill was quite nice. There were threes all around, and I think I discovered the best makeout spot this side of the Danube!
Afterwards, I went Norther to the old Jewish sector of the town. In the cemetery here, an estimated ten layers of graves were built through five centuries of a ghetto.
Then I found a second-hand clothing store and almost bought a trench coat with some small stain, but I refrained.
Finally, I went to see “True Lies” (with Czech subtitles). At the end, I had only thirty minutes to navigate by two trains and a subway back to the dorms. I made it!
When I entered the room, one of the guys said, “I have a message for you. You are to go visit the girls!” So of course I climbed the three flights of stairs to their room. They gave me a vĕtrník, or a pinwheel, because the name of the university dorms was Vĕtrník! We talked for a couple of hours, and then I left (my train left this morning at 8:47 AM).
I will miss Prague. Being with people my own age is wonderful, and I really miss the feeling when I am away from my peers (especially cute peers, like Pavlina and Linda).
Dresden, Germany 20:35 October 14, 1994
After doing some initial exploration of the town and settling into a cozy but less expensive hostel on the hilly outskirts of town, I’ve formed a tentative plan for the new few days. Tomorrow I will museum hop, maybe grab some groceries, and then get a good night’s sleep (start early on this). Then I’ll take the morning train to Berlin, see the Wall and the Brandenburg Gate, and finally, I’ll cruise to a town on the border between Germany and Poland by an evening train. I just don’t want to spend a lot of time in some large, foreign, expensive city! From the border I’ll go by Polish rail (much cheaper) to Krakow.
So, what did I do today? I got an initial idea of the city’s layout and feel, not to mention seeing some of its outdoor attractions.
Dresden’s split by the Elbe (Vltava) River, and as a whole lies on a North/South axis. While there’s not a subway, the city has a pretty good tram and bus system (actually, the system’s great, but the map could use a little work). Since I’m living in an out-of-the-way place, I have a hefty bit of public transport to endure every time I want to go somewhere (at least a half hour because of this darn hill).
If I had been expecting a grungy, dirty, gray closet, I was sadly mistaken. Dresden has wide open spaces, modern buildings and roads, and also some really picturesque monuments– some of them unintentional, such as the ruins of the Frauenkirche, destroyed in 1945 bombings. The total effect is of a very modern, efficient, and yet historical city-in-motion.
The weather could not have been better for my visit, though I could have been in better shape to do it! The fall colors on the train ride up here were fantastic, and the river Elbe (which is “fed” by the larger Vltava) is smooth and relatively clean (always a bonus). Strangely, it feels warmer here than further south. Perhaps I’m starting to feel the water effects from the Baltic?
Dresden, Germany 12:09 October 15, 1994
Another strikingly beautiful day! Come to think of it, the only bad bit about the weather I’ve seen so far is the bitter cold (which wasn’t even that bitter) while I was further south.
Daytime confirms it. Dresden is a nice place in which one can simply stroll around. I’ve meandered the stretch between the hauptbahnhoff and the older buildings just before one reaches the Elbe twice now, and I may just do it again. The altemarkt (old market) is interesting, and the penniless bands playing on the sidewalk only make it better.
Instead, though, I think I will explore the Green Vault, an area of a museum here containing such items as Ivan the Terrible’s drinking bowl and the largest green diamond in the world! Otherwise I’ll just relax and hang out. The atmosphere is good for it. Maybe I’ll try the observation tower again.
Dresden, Germany 22:43 October 15, 1994
Actually, I did more nothing! I bought a cold bokwurst and a postcard to Tom (actually meant to send one to Gen, but I can’t without her address), but otherwise I merely meandered. Finally on a whim I tried to get to the top of a tower at the top of the hill to the east, but it was a TV station and was closed to the public. But I met some friendly people who tried to help me find a good photo opportunity on the city (without success), not to mention a nice East German girl and a cool computer guy from Spain (who had never met an American before!) with whom I talked about everything.
There are three Americans here, too, but one of them was an intolerable, snooty, spoiled brat. Well, maybe he would eventually be okay with time, but he seemed too name-droppish about Georgetown and Harvard (from / to which he was transferring).
Tomorrow will hurt. ‘Night.
Wrocław, Poland 19:13 October 16, 1994
Whew! Roughie, this. The weather this morning was as foggy as could be, so I elected to skip Berlin (today is also their national election, so there are other good reasons). Instead, I went with a new friend I met on the tram to the border town of Görlitz where I found myself out of deutschmarks (almost) and on a Sunday (which meant all the banks were closed). At the train station, my friend asked about the next train to Krakow, and she was told that it would be late this evening. So I was left to wander around Görlitz for the next few hours. I snapped a photo of the river separating the two countries (Poland from Germany), and then I got lost. While wandering, I met a professor of English who told me that it would be a lot easier to leave from the train station on the Polish side of town. So I hiked across the bridge (the guards waved me through) and wandered until I got lost again, discovering in the process that (A) Germans in Poland can’t help and (B) Polish people don’t speak English. I could not believe the incredible poverty evidenced by the sheds I saw in droves there. The apartments, too, were dismal at best.
So I found the train station by using what German I know. Once there, I was again amazed by the run-down and dying facilities. No computers, no nice digital clocks, only a woman at a desk with what looked like movie tickets. And I was without złoties (local inflated currency). Needless to say, visa and mastercard were to little avail here.
Suddenly, a man came in. I asked if he spoke English, and of course he didn’t, but to my surprise he did speak semi-cogent French, and together we learned some answers. Trains to Krakow? Yes! There was a ticket available for 164,000 złoties (less than $8). I had no money? No problem! I just had to go to the money changers at the border (I had side-stepped them earlier) and work from my eight deutschmarks. So we went there, chatting amiable in French, and so I got some Polish cash. Not quite enough, though, so SURPRISE! the cashier made a donation to me of 50,000 złotties (> $2). Then, as we hiked back to the train station, the man suggested we stop by his place for some food. I was not in any position to say no, and so had home-cooked buttered potatoes and some mushrooms and his wife packed a cooked chicken sandwich for me and some candy as my train was about to leave. Then, as I left, the man gave me another 50,000 zł and helped me carry my bags to the station. Two other points of interest: (A) They had MTV, and (B) his 17-year-old daughter spoke English! RAH!
So I took a 2nd class ticket to Wrocław, and now I’m en route to Krakow, though I may be sleeping in the train station tonight (no money [or very little] and I arrive at 23:25). But I’m going to get there, and the train ticket apparently cost me only 116,000 zł (less than $6)! (actually 164,000)
What a day! I go first class from now on, though. 2nd is crowded and cruddy, too. My earlier train was diesel or something!
Krakow, Poland 19:15 October 17, 1994
Where do I start?
I arrived without anything too remarkable happening other than my being placed in charge of three kids en route and my new acquaintance with some 16-year-old women on their way to class in Wrocław (pronounced “vroe swaff”) who actually knew some English.
When I was at the Wrocław station, though, it got somewhat more complex. My ticket did not make it clear where my next train would go from or when. My French-speaking friend had mentioned an 11:00 train to Krakow, but there was a 19:25 train I could take, too! I asked several people until I found one who knew some English, and she said my ticket specified in Polish only that it was to be used within two days. Apparently, I had some latitude.
I hopped the 19:25 and found myself in a 2nd-class compartment across from a very beautiful 16-year-old studying economics and three or four other people. As we moved from stop to stop, we gained and lost people until finally it appeared that only I and the cute person would be left. WRONG! In the door popped five college students who proceeded to smoke (out in the corridor, thankfully) and chatter. Actually they turned out to be a lot of fun, and I shared a box of chocolate candies that the woman from Görlitz had given me (a day filled with many kindnesses, surely).
Then my train stop came, and I descended to the platform amidst a cloud of cigarette smoke. Panic struck.
It was midnight exactly, and I was in a strange town with little local currency. My resolve to sleep in the train station dissolved. Krakow’s was not much of which to speak. As I wandered in full regalia (two overfull backpacks), a man hissed at me from the door of a mail station snack shop. Curious but very concerned for my safety, I came closer. He called me into the eating area, and I went there, buying a bottle of water. He told me how dangerous it would be to sleep in the rail station, and he told me he knew of a place I could sleep for around $5 US. Another man (from the Ukraine, who could speak no English or French) was also looking for a room. The seedy little man from Portugal who had signaled me to the shop led us in a roundabout way to a hotel (You can imagine that my heart thumped when his path crossed itself). The hotel, miraculously, accepted Visa and cost around $25 for a double room (I agreed to split a double with the Ukrainian). Then the seedy little man begged us for money, and I gave him the equivalent of $2, an amount that seemed to make him very pleased. The adventure turned out okay; the hotel was the Dom Turisty, mentioned in Fodor’s!
The adventure was not entirely over, though. The Ukranian and I went upstairs and unpacked somewhat. I’m all for understanding foreign cultures, but it was one AM and I had traveled since nine AM that morning.
But Georg the Ukranian wanted to be social. He poured me some Russian vodka from a plastic 2-liter that should have held a soft drink. With a heap of misgivings, I drank the few sips in the glass, feeling it burn all the way down. He tried to give me more (several times, even when I had crawled into bed and was trying to sleep), but I refused. Then he gave me some bread and some stuff that at first glance looked like cheese with salt crystals on it but turned out to be more like coagulated, fermented potatoes! Finally, he gave me some bread with some red hotsauce that was like non-tangy salsa. I did not encourage him, and after sampling this much I got into my sleeping bag (with my valuable stuff except the camera under the pillow). He rumbled around for a bit and then turned in, himself.
My first experience this morning was to hear the Ukranian struggling to evacuate his bowels. When I left the hotel, he was still at the room.
I hiked to the visitor’s information center to learn they knew nothing and could do nothing other than give me a cold shoulder, so then I walked two miles to the half-service American Express office, where I got some cash off my traveler’s checks and then walked some more to the youth hostel, where I snagged a room (good thing, too; it’s full tonight!).
Then, having dropped my big bag at the hotel, I marched downtown and continued my cultural blitzkrieg, running from monument to fourteenth century marketplace. I even summoned up the courage to haul out both cameras and fire off a few shots. The museum in the ancient university was my favorite. It contained anything Kopernik (Copernicus) had ever touched.
Then I stopped in a McDonald’s in the old city. The downstairs was built in some caves, so I ran down there with my food. It was crowded, so I sponged a seat with two nice 16-year-old economics majors (I swear that there are just a lot of them in Poland!), and we tried very hard to chat (they’d had one year of English).
Then it began raining and then hailing on me as I came back to the hostel. It’s cold here!
Train to Budapest 10:33 October 19, 1994
The hostel room was a strange place! In order to shut the door, the four people sharing it were compelled to either lock it or stuff paper in the jamb. The room, happily, was limited to four people, unlike the rooms I’d had for seven or eight in Germany.
The strangest part was that all of us natively spoke English, though we hailed from three different countries. The Australian had recently finished his military service. While I was there, he finished reading The Name of the Rose and passed it on to me. We started a tradition of writing our names and nationalities in the cover. Perhaps this book will circle the globe!
The South African had recently finished working for eight months in the Golan Heights, and he was headed for Lithuania, where he intended to take up employment.
The American was an 18-year-old out to find a good time by hanging out in Europe. He was something of a slug, actually, but he took pride in it. [I recall, 23 years later, that he showed me a coil of barbed wire that he had taken from Auschwitz.]
So in the company of these fellows, I passed the night on the thinnest and hardest mattress in my memory (3″ thick and about a 7 on Mohs scale of mineral hardness).
I arose early, bought water and a hat, and ran to catch the 8:30 bus to the Auschwitz concentration camp. On the bus were almost 20 Americans and 5 Poles. One might call it tourist central. So I stayed with these new friends through the course of this day, providing what historical background I knew from my undergraduate class in literature of the Holocaust and at the same time keeping them from becoming lost (they were hopeless and couldn’t even follow the map!).
We toured Auschwitz I and then walked the two miles to Auschwitz II (Birkenau), which is substantially larger and less museum-like. There I witnessed the sites where many of the scenes from my Holocaust lit course had taken place: the unloading dock, the crematoria, the dorms, the gas chambers… and the lake into which ashes from the crematoria had been poured. It was green with algae and had a greasy layer floating on it.
The camps were also swarming with 14-year-olds, there on a field trip. They giggled, pointed, and yelled for all they were worth. During the years in which the museum has been open, thousands of graffiti signatures have been scored in the stone and wood, obscuring an otherwise sacred place.
In its reality, Auschwitz without the people who had toiled and died there was not Auschwitz. It was merely a collection of buildings that had once witnessed the obscene. I would compare it with a box of raisins. One can get a much better concept of a raisin by reading a detailed account of someone eating one for the first time than he could by exploring an empty box which once held them. In the same way, the horror of the Holocaust was much more evident to me in reading accounts by people who survived it than it was by visiting the camp itself.
So yesterday evening at 21:05 I stepped onto a train for Budapest. The car in which I was sitting didn’t have working heat, so I was moved to a different wagon. The heat stopped working there at about midnight, and it dropped to near freezing as I slept in my sleeping bag, wearing my sweatshirt. It was really cold, but of course there was no wind, either.
I and the other Americans had heard rumors about the dangers of train travel in these areas. Further south, train compartments have been chloroformed by thieves who steal away in seconds what travelers have lugged for weeks.
In addition, rumors of gypsies who throw babies at a person and then steal stuff while you catch the child are rampant. Everyone is pretty freaked out about it!
Budapest, Hungary 22:54 October 19, 1994
After a fourteen-hour train ride, at least we arrived in Budapest. As usual, my first steps in the new city were tinged with worry and uncertainty. After all, I had no local currency and no idea where next I would lay my head. Furthermore, I was working on six hours’ sleep.
I decided to take care of money first. I took the metro (on a ticket a new friend had bought me) to a downtown square where my book had reported an American Express office. The first news to strike me was not positive; the German mark was soaring, so of course the dollar was down about ten forints. But I changed a bit of check over anyway, and then I decided to tackle my transportation problem.
I had been told that the metro was cheap, but that hardly summed it up properly! I paid slightly under $5 US for a week-long photo-ID pass to all but the town’s buses (never have liked them)! In Munich, I remember paying 15 deutschmarks for the equivalent of six trips!
In the process of getting the pass, I met a local college sophomore who had spent the last two years in America who was, of course, cute. I have this problem of asking the cute ones my age if they speak English…
Then, working from a tip I’d received at the American Express office, I went to the Tourinform office around the corner and asked for hostel information (the central hostel office, strangely, was closed). They supplied me a brochure for something called the Ananda hostel, and the more I read the more interested I became. The hostel focused on cleanliness and security, so I took the metro out to the hostel (which was next door to a shopping mall ☺) and liked my visit so much I put my stuff down immediately (at $6.50 a night). Then I hit the mall.
I went out to every point along the second metro line (at the end of which I was staying), and I saw something remarkable. The Budapest Parliament building is one of the most– I almost go ahead to say the most–beautiful building in the world. It seems part cathedral with all its spires and towers! I’ll leave it to the pictures to describe it until I’ve actually seen the inside.
Wow. Then I went for some $1 mall pizza (always a frightening experience, but this time pretty okay).
Then the strangeness of the day set in. Also staying at the hostel was a group of men from Turkey, and the leader quickly adopted me and began answering questions about his culture. It was clear he was well-educated, and he acknowledged that he was missing only his dissertation for his doctorate in international affairs. We spoke of common motifs in Christian and Islamic literature as well as in everyday things like my name, and that was interesting. Since he and his group are going to Prague tomorrow, I supplied what information I could about the place, including hostel addresses, etc.
When I described where I had stayed, he got decidedly weird. He started asking really personal questions which I answered truthfully in the negative.
So he delivered a long lecture about the necessity of… um… shopping around before the big going-out-of-business sale. I had honestly though that Muslims were bigger prudes than even I am, but I was sadly mistaken. What was this man telling me for? I was just this guy he’d met in a hostel, after all. Then this evening he told me (he spotted me writing in my journal) that he had seen two Australian girls writing like me, and he had asked if they wrote about him. Apparently they answered negatively, and he said something to the effect that he could do something to them that they’d never forget. When I had fished my jaw up from the floor, he started asking why I’d cringe so much at his statement. To him he’d said nothing out of the ordinary; at a basic level, men still consider sex as a basic function of women even with legal equality in Turkey.
Not to crawl on a soap box or anything, but I think that Western tact is properly placed in this area. But I’d agree that scum rings every bathtub. Turks still need visas to go anywhere in Europe, incidentally.
Budapest, Hungary 22:31 October 20, 1994
It wasn’t a very productive day, touristically. I didn’t go more than three metro stops from home, and my big outing was to do some grocery shopping!
Upon looking at what I wrote about the Turks yesterday, I feel some pangs that maybe I was being too close-minded or culturally insensitive, but today many things happened to discourage me further.
While I was in the grocery store, I watched one of them be escorted from the store by a security guard! I still don’t understand why. And tonight the group wouldn’t let me simply read (I’m exhausted; have I mentioned that?)– one guy kept coming in and singing Turkish songs. Then he would compel me to sing to him, though it was obvious I had other activities in mind. Finally, the leader of the group learned I was exchanging travellers’ checks and asked if I would like him to change some of them on the black market for me. While the sentiment was nice, it made me somewhat suspicious of him and his group, as if the surrounding context hadn’t already!
I met another South African, this time a really nice young woman who is a fan (surprise) of Bill Joel. We’ve been talking and it’s [break in text]
Budapest, Hungary 22:50 October 21, 1994
Well, we started talking again! What can I say? Helen and I struck up an interesting chat about any number of topics.
Finally, approaching one in the morning, we each headed off to sleep since she had a train to catch this morning. My first memory of this morning is when she briefly held my hand in parting. I miss her now, though we only met each other briefly.
Today, I shamelessly did nothing but buy some groceries, do my laundry, and finish In the Name of the Rose. It turned out okay, though I wouldn’t say it was as interesting as Dune.
The Turks are still here. They’ve run into visa problems and have elected to fly into Prague, thus circumventing troublesome Slovakia. I will not be displeased at their departure, though that’s awful of me to say.
There’s a New Yorker here, too, who’s been denigrating the Turks in whatever conversation he enters. Today I initiated a conversation with him (otherwise he’s been very quiet).
He responded with a vast lecture about American and why inherently it’s the best, about culture and why ours is more significant, and about all sort of similar patriotic blather.
Then he began lecturing me on what a horrible hostel I’d found for myself and why hadn’t I tried for the one at the top of the hill with arguably the best view in the world as cited in Frommer’s and Let’s Go and why didn’t I more carefully consider what books I used for my planning?
So, regardless of my intent, today was a very full and sometimes annoying day.
Tomorrow resumes Cultural Blitzkrieg 1994.
Budapest, Hungary 07:47 October 23, 1994
Yesterday I went with my two German friends Bettina and Albrecht up to the castle complex on Buda’s tall, thin hill. The view from up there was nice, but honestly the city is just not so attractive as others I’ve seen when looked at from above. There are fewer landmarks, and though the Danube was quite nice, the day was very grey and overcast.
But we walked around the castle, and it was pretty but nothing to write home about, and then we walked north to the fisherman’s bastion and an old church which had witnessed coronations. It was pretty, but Gothic really wears on a fellow after a while.
Then we saw a house where Ludwig Van Beethoven had lived, and that was pretty, and then we searched for a cafe (not difficult in these lands).
Then I became very tired, all of a sudden. I can’t explain it, because I’d slept eight hours plus the preceding nights and the day before had seen little activity. But I went back to the hostel and ate some lunch, and then I went shopping on the town. having found nothing, I resolved to buy my train ticket, and then I discovered it would cost a minimum of $21. So I had to change more checks over (no one accepts visas but touristy places).
So now I plan to leave Budapest on Monday morning to go directly to Vienna, skipping my intended stop at Bratislava.
I don’t know how best to describe this stay. I’ve done little tourism, though I’ve done an okay amount of walking around. Budapest seems to be a nice city for resting up, and my hostel has been a good choice for seeming homey and relaxing.
Except for the Turks and the obnoxious New Yorker– last night he brought me another newspaper article to show that Turks were nomads, and according to his interpretation, couldn’t have created anything by themselves. What a bigot! He seems entirely unable to see any positive value in them as human beings! I’ll say this; I’d rather to speak to ten Turks any day than one bigoted man from New York.
Last night I unintentionally fell asleep at 7:30 PM, so I’ve slept for the last twelve hours. Am I more fatigued than I had imagined?
With one day left to this leg of the journey I now intend to visit Hero’s Square. Oh, today is the anniversary of the 1956 uprising, I believe! Maybe I’ll see something!
Quick point of interest! All of Europe (except the U.K.) is in one time zone. The sun has been setting each night before 17:00.
Budapest, Hungary 23:03 October 23, 1994
My final day in Hungary was excellent! Bettina and I spent the day together. We elected to take the Metro (the oldest on the continent, second oldest in Europe) to Hero’s Square, and upon our arrival there we saw the end of a marathon being held on this holiday (anniversary of the 1956 uprising). It was crazy! The monument was surrounded with people, and the memorial tomb’s two soldiers seemed to enjoy the extra hoopla.
Then the two of us walked behind the tower to the city’s park, containing a zoo, an amusement park, and some castle-like buildings. We simply walked around and enjoyed the view at first, and then we ducked into a shop selling old Soviet paraphernalia and looked around. Then we stumbled across a flea market, but it was so packed we only grazed the outskirts. We reached the edge of the zoo, and then we found an amusement park entrance. It was wonderful fun! We took a ride on the Ferris Wheel and snapped photos, then we found an old wooden roller coaster that would never meet safety regulations in the States. The car didn’t even stop to let us on; we had to jump in while it was still moving!
Then we ran over to a new ride, where I discovered a plastic hill one could ride a carpet down. It reminded me of one I had enjoyed thoroughly when I was a kid on vacation.
Finally we left the park and went in search of what Fodor’s suggested may be the most beautiful McDonald’s in the world. After some determined looking, we found this miracle in pink and green outside an old train station. Then Bettina told me she had never eaten a hamburger. Imagine my shock. She ordered a Big Mac Menu, and I did, too! We had fun laughing at each other trying to eat while laughing. As we left, she snapped a photo of me in the entrance. Oh, the tourist’s life!
Then we went exploring the heart of the city, namely two buildings where Liszt played organ. It was nice, and the church was entirely vacant except for us, another tourist, and a practicing organist. It was a good run. Then we got ambitious and resolved to climb Gellert Hill, which looks down on the Castle Hill, which looks down on Budapest. After some cajolery and shaky footholds, we made it to the top, where there’s a tall column with a woman holding some loaves on it. The view was very nice but showed Budapest as a living city rather than a tourist postcard.
The two of us then stumbled down the hill and bumped into two men selling hand-crafted chessboards. I made the mistake of actually looking at one, and the chase was on! I had very limited money on me, and so I argued one man to 650 forint ($6.50) for a small set. Bettina bought one in black while I brought a brown one, leaving myself to Ramen soup for this evening.
Finally the two of us went down to the Danube across from the Parliament and talked about our lives. It was very peaceful there.
At last, we returned to the hostel, and I taught her how to play chess.
My last punchline from Budapest came when the guys from Turkey came back! They said it was too cold in Prague. But my train leaves at 6AM, so I can’t be bothered!
Vienna, Austria 23:00 October 24, 1994
Oooh! Rough day today. I awoke at 4:30 and made it to the train handily, and then I heard only chatter about Hungarian railways for three hours (I, of course, wanted only sleep) among three Magyar RR representatives on the way to Austria. Strangely, the passport check was a nothing; the officers simply glanced in to see if we were carrying things that looked like passports.
The train station in Wien (Vienna) was a nice, modern creation, happily. I could feel Western Europe around me. But of course I worried about what the cost would be, and rightfully so! Without too much delay I found the hostel and checked in, paying directly with a traveler’s check (although I lost a bit on rate, there was no commission fee). The hostel was at least twice the cost of my place in Budapest, and that trend has shown true in a lot of things; even McDonald’s prices are double here!
I stashed my bags and rushed out the old city as quickly as I could. Well, rushed is a bit too strong. I walked the two or three miles to the old town, noticing a very nice shopping district all the way there.
Once at the historical area I walked by the museum complex and immediately began touring the imperial palace. Its recent restoration ensured that everything shined nicely, and I was beginning to think all would be peaceful here when it started to rain. It wasn’t heavy, but my being outside through the course of four hours or more of gentle droplets caused me to be a very cold, soggy, and foot-sore David!
As I went through everything Fodor recommended in its story of the old town, I found myself appreciating most the churches to be found on many corners. Here they somehow seemed lighter and more colorful. The one on Karlsplatz was particularly nice, which is good because I collapsed inside from exhaustion and hunger. I went shopping for cheese and bread and rediscovered my Visa card! Useless for my Eastern Europe weeks, it could at last support my dwindling traveler’s check supply.
Stephanskirche in the old town was a brooding and dark cathedral with too many tourists. It’s hard to feel a place’s mystery with crowds elbowing and flashing cameras at every moment.
I had a moment when I visited the house where Mozart wrote his “Marriage of Figaro.” I simply stared up at it for a while, though that increased the rain in my face.
The Opera House looked, for all the world, like an opera house. How was I to know that this was the greatest operas in the world? I cared more about the grocery store across the street corner!
But the palace entrance was breathtaking. The statues were very dramatic, as was the plague memorial.
Tomorrow evening I will take an overnight train to Venice. It may be a frustrating experience as I’ve changed no money to lira yet!
Vienna, Austria 19:32 October 25, 1994
Eleven km (seven miles) later, I feel I’ve developed a good feel for Vienna, which is good as I’m leaving by train to Venice this evening.
I met a guy named Kelvin from London this morning, and together we toured Schönbruun Castle in southwestern Vienna. In contrast to yesterday, the sun was brilliant, and only a few puffy cumulus clouds crossed the sky. It was gorgeous! The castle itself was a sight, with a nice lemon yellow color.
The gardens around the castle were manicured to perfection, and the fall color complemented the castle nicely.
So we sat outside and chatted away. It was nice, but both of us were starving, so we headed back to the hostel en route to the old city, where we were very happy to discover again the grocery store accepting Visa.
Then we meandered about the city, taking photos as we went. Unfortunately the plug adapter for my videocamera battery charger had snapped a pin, and my main battery had drained too much for use, so I had only limited camera time.
We stopped again at the Mozart house, and this time the museum was open, so we went inside. It was pretty miserable as far as museums go, but it was still neat being in a place once occupied by a great composer.
Then we played chess twice.
I’m very concerned about going to Venice. It looks hard to navigate. Tonight I plan to call home and chat with the parents about the cooperative opportunity I’ve applied for in Chicago for the start of 1995. Maybe we already know whether or not I’m accepted!
Venice, Italy 12:56 October 26, 1994
I called home, and sure enough, Mom and Dad were both there. We kept it short because my departure phone call may exceed $40! We had a good conversation, though it was short, and I learned that I have been contracted by the Monsanto Corporation as a scientific applications programmer! I’d been getting somewhat moody, but this news cheered me up. This trip won’t throw me into the red after all!
Shortly after the phone call I got on my train to Venice, an overnighter with some class. I really felt comfy in the five and a half hours of sleep I got in the course of a ten-hour train ride. The rest of the time I was speaking with other passengers. Three who sat in my compartment for a while were in an orchestra together. Elke, who will finish gymnasium in May also studied French (and needed work in English), and so we spoke for a while [interruption]
Venice, Italy 22:21 October 26, 1994
So finally enough people had left that I could stretch out my sleeping bag and doze off.
I awoke in Italy, and soon the train passed onto the ocean. It was magic; Venice simply rose out of the ocean before us. Really, there’s no division between the sea and the buildings. Where the Adriatic ends, Venice begins.
At the train station I grabbed a free map and went in search of the youth hostel that a guy in Vienna had mentioned. After walking too far, I doubled back and found it (call me lucky).
Then I went exploring, my trusty tour guide (Fodor) and my new map by my side. The St. Mark Plaza was really cool, though the tower top was obscured by its scaffolding.
The Doge’s Palace was certainly a different sort of castle than I had seen in Germany. It looked rather plain aside from the arch vaults and Gothic window arches. It was like a brick wall made of pink rock above supporting lace!
And of course Venice itself is full of its unique charm. Where else can you find exclusively pedestrians and boats? The streets are all very narrow, and many are blind dead-ends. Even with a map it is nearly impossible to consistently go in one direction, but happily the city is small enough that walking the entire length takes less than half an hour.
It is so romantic here! The smell is not even so bad this late in the autumn, and today the weather was unseasonably nice.
While I was out exploring, I found three Americans wandering aimlessly, with no clue what side of the Grand Canal they were on! I agree to guide them around, and they bought me an ice cream cone.
After an afternoon re-exploring what I’d seen in the morning, I bid them farewell and walked back to the hostel, where I met two Canadians with no clue about this city or what to see here. So I provided what information I could, and we all went out for dinner, where I had a genuine Italian pizza. Wonderful, but Pizza Hut is still better, I think!
Venice is, of course, full of tourists. I understand why, too. This really is a magical sort of city, perched out on these islands. The boats drifting lazily along the rii (little rivers) add some serious charm, especially when a man in contributing some accordion music!
All my fears about visiting a tourist trap, though, were unjustified. Venice draws people because it’s Venice.
Venice, Italy 21:03 October 27, 1994
In approximately two hours, I will leave this city, perhaps forever. Only two days ago I was concerned that two days here would be too much. Even though I mostly wandered in the course of this day, I found myself enjoying the ambiance without any sort of plan or goal. It’s peaceful here (in the off season, at any rate).
I caught some magic moments today. Only a couple of hours ago I was standing on a bridge at the end of a dead-end street when a gondola passed by in which a man was singing Santa Lucia to accordion. I was swept back to a cartoon of “Tom an Jerry” that had been set in Venice. That same song, sung now, carved a little niche in my heart. Perhaps this will not be the last I see of this city…
The train I’m in now is to go all the way to Napoli (Naples) by tomorrow morning. After I day trip to Pompeii and possibly Herculanum, I will try to spring back to Rome (this train will pass through it) in time to get a room at the hostel. But really I’d rather have a whole day to accomplish that. Should I go directly to Rome, skipping the ancient preserves? We’ll see. If all else fails, I can bed down in Naples and buy a student ticket to Rome for not too much.
Incidentally, I went to an exhibition of Salvador Dali works today. The man was a little whacked, methinks. But I liked a lot his drawings for Don Quixote.
Rome, Italy 21:57 October 28, 1994
Where was I? Oh! I was in Venice last night. Honestly, it’s becoming impossible to remember anything but the past beyond the last couple of days– memories seem to crystallize only after they’ve had some time to congeal. I must apply effort to remember what city I’m in. What will I be like after the entire trip? At long last I’ve reached past the midpoint, and now my stay in each country should be somewhat longer, except for Spain.
My train last night left around 10:55 PM, and I did not have good luck in traveling companions. The first man was unable to say anything too complex in English and was traveling with a huge dog which stunk up the compartment even though the pair only rode with me for ten minutes.
Next door to me were two Canadians who had tried hitchhiking across Europe except for a scary incident which they didn’t describe (as both were female, and this is Italy, I don’t have to think too hard to fill in the details). I was frustrated with them; they seemed unable to think even five minutes in advance and hadn’t prepared at all for traveling (one was porting a hairdryer and a vat of skin lotion).
My next traveling companions stayed by my side ’till 6:22 AM in Rome, and none of them spoke English. I should have known it would be awkward when the first man asked me to move so he could stretch his injured leg out across the compartment. The others were a pair that alternated sleeping with one’s head in the other’s lap. Four people trying to sleep in an area that can bed two is bad (see diagram).
So I took the train through Rome to Naples, arriving at 9:20 AM and gathering maybe six hours’ sleep.
Once in Naples, I found a group of South Koreans, Australians, and Americans heading, like me, over to the site of Pompeii. Since I seemed to be the only person with any clue how to get there, I gave some advice, and we all arrived in one piece without missing items (Naples is a haven for pickpockets).
Pompeii itself is really large. The ancient city was just too big, in fact, for me to fully explore it in the two hours’ time I gave it. But in that space I managed to get a good idea of its layout, feel, and look. And I picked up a photo-filled book/map combo that described it all in good detail.
Then I sprinted back to Naples, rescued my luggage from the storeroom, and barely caught a train at 2:05 PM to Rome, three hours later.
Unfortunately/fortunately, this is a holiday weekend (All Saints’ Day), so the hostel I was pointed to by a man in the train station was filled except for one single room at 45,000 lira (around $30). I took it after exploring the surrounding area for dormitory housing.
The social atmosphere here is really warm, and everyone has been good at giving travel tips, etc. If I haven’t mentioned it before, there’s a network of rumor (more a vineyard than a grapevine) among travelers spreading tidbits about good hostels, bad hostels (more than one person has lambasted the Munich hostel I stayed in), danger of overnight trains in Southern Italy (☺), and other distorted trivia.
Strangely, though, I’ve been unable to find more than a person or two who is going my way, and certainly not for more than a single city along the way. Does no one try to go this far, this quickly? Believe me, it’s going to be long, if not too long, enough for seeing what I sought. I may miss the full knowledge of one place, but often I pick up more feel for a place in a couple nights than others get in a week (of course, I’m not spending my evenings drinking myself into oblivion unlike many others, but that’s another story).
So I took the single room, and I spent the evening watching MTV and eating licorice, cheese, and bread. This diet, though helped by vitamin pills, is causing me some problems. I’m getting some signs that my digestive system is getting out of whack.
I don’t like hostels. They’re noisy, and while I like meeting people, running through the halls yelling with people I’ve met only minutes before doesn’t appeal. The dirt is depressing, too (though no one could accuse me of being a neat freak).
I think I want to be at home ASAP. Of course I’ll try to finish the tour, but I may speed it up as much as I can. I should be home by Thanksgiving– maybe even by my 21st birthday
Rome, Italy 14:56 October 29, 1994
I’m on the verge of a breakdown. I’m spending money very strangely– I’ve bought a belt and a book for Tom, but I try to buy as little food as I can. I splurged for a nice room last night, but I wouldn’t go to a restaurant to save my life!
And though I’m now sitting near an overlook of ancient Rome, I don’t have the energy, will, or desire to walk over and look! This bodes badly.
To make things worse, I’ve discovered I was robbed, probably on the train to Rome from Naples. Nothing of much value was stolen, thankfully, but my Polish hat, my scarf, and my Pompeii book (also for my brother) have disappeared. I had stuffed these three things into the top of my backpack on top of my videocamera. I’m glad the latter’s still here!
I don’t want to tour anymore, but I feel compelled by my purchase of those ten days of rail to keep going. I’m sure it will be much easier once I’m staying with friends.
Rome, Italy 21:42 October 29, 1994
I made it back to the hostel without major incident. I feel better now…
Today, of course, I explored Ancient Rome. I started at the Colosseum, and really I had thought it was larger! The inside was in poor repair, with lots of weeds growing even in the old walls. And of course there were tourists crawling everywhere. Then I walked to Constantine’s Arch, built after he won the battle which convinced him Christianity was okay.
Then I took a walk near the ruins of what had comprised the business sector and political heart of Ancient Rome including the Forum (actually, the forii) of the civilization and a basilica from ancient times and a slew of shops and other stuff. It was fascinating, but having seen so much of Pompeii and Lyon I was spared some of the “wow, that’s so old” shock.
And on Circus Maximus, children were playing soccer.
So I went back to the hostel and then stepped out briefly to a local supermarket for two loaves of bread, a block of cheese, some sausage, some peanuts, and some pretzels. Is that enough to keep me alive for a while? I hope so. Tomorrow is Sunday, and All Saints’ Day will quickly follow, closing all the stores.
Then I found some cool evangelical girls at the hostel, and they invited me to come to the Trevi Fountain to do my journal (so that’s where I’m writing this).
I found a 16-year-old guy from Holland who seemed quite anxious to speak English, so we talked for a bit, and he told me about the Dutch “coffeehouses” where use of “soft drugs” like marijuana and ecstasy is tolerated. Sounds like they have a drug problem– the police have given up some of the battle as hopeless…
The Trevi Fountain, incidentally, is gorgeous. I don’t know if I will return (I’m supposed to throw a coin in if I want to return here), but it is a nice hang-out place.
Tomorrow I go to St. Peter’s! FREE DAY!!!
Rome, Italy 22:35 October 30, 1994
I got out of bed this morning ready to conquer the world! I showered and ate as quickly as I could, but my Vatican museum exploring friends were much tardier. As a result, by the time we arrived at the museum, a line perhaps a km long and six or seven people wide had formed to take advantage of this, the Vatican Museum’s free day. We stood in line for a while, and then we went scouting up to the front to see what sort of wait we faced. Some Italians saw us looking at the line and instantly assumed we were line-jumping. An angry shrew sent her husband over to tell us to get out of there (we were standing on the street near, not in, the line). After I explained that we knew where the line was and that we were looking only, he continued insisting that we needed to go to the back. I said, “we know!” in as many languages as I could muster, and he kept hollering and then he said, “this is not America! In Italy you start in the back.”
I just yelled some obscenities and dragged my started, naïve evangelist friends away before he started in on them. Clearly he was just being the stereotypical hot-headed Latin, insisting in his own point of view.
Instead, my friends and I went to the cupola of St. Peter’s and climbed all the way to the top. I hadn’t realized what a truly huge building it was until i looked down at the floor from the inside of the dome. Just awe-inspiring. Then we climbed up to the top of the dome and took in the fantastic view of all Rome it supplied.
I was frustrated with my new friends because it was clear they knew almost nothing about the papacy or had the slighted inkling of the effect this building’s inhabitants had held on the world.
When I suggested we go to the dome, in fact, they asked if there were a painting up there to see. Throughout the tour, they continued quoting little bit of religious dogma (for example, when we saw the reliquary that is purported to be St. Peter, they started a tirade about how the Bible says all Christians are saints). I really could have enjoyed the Vatican better solo, but they learned some things in the process and said so.
And we saw Michelangelo’s Pieta, without even needing to stand in line! That was a nice break. But my friends have never heard of it or seen a photo of it. Erg.
Walking through the crypt of interred popes could have been a very powerful experience, too, but my friends only thought of it as some sort of cemetery, even though many of the sarcophagi we walked by had been built under Roman emperors.
In total, I was dissatisfied. At the same time, I had begun feeling extreme pain from my legs, and so we went to a sit-down restaurant of the cheap variety. Then we went to what members of this hostel have begun calling the “bone church.”
On the eastern part of old Rome is a church in which a bizarre crypt can be found. It holds the bones of 4,000 Capuchin monks, and the remains have been assembled carefully into some beautiful Baroque patterns, each chapel describing some Catholic tenet.
It was morbid, surely, but it was fascinating at the same time. Imagine my chagrin when one of my friends began singing a hymn. Erg.
As exhaustion claimed me, I parted from the girls and left them to their own adventures. Perhaps they will remember me as a bitter or critical after today, but I felt a lot of frustration from all the silliness that came in step with my tour of the Vatican.
This evening I had take-out Chinese in an effort to cheer up my insides. I feel like I drank oil.
Rome, Italy 08:55 October 31, 1994
On the whole, a very bad morning. I woke up feeling like I’d been hit by a milk truck, and in the shower I only had warm water for a few seconds. I was getting up early, you see, so I could go to the Vatican Museums without facing the crowds (and the museum closes at one or two in the afternoon).
So I got ready and left in a hurry, forgetting my cheese in the hostel’s refrigerator. Then I bought a metro ticket and rode to the train station to leave my big bag in storage.
As I tried to leave the metro, however, a huge crowd had gathered on the platform to do exactly the same.
I had fought my way to the front of the crowd, but when the next train came, people surged past me like I was standing still (well, I was). Then the people in the already crowded car pushed back, and maybe three people from the platform remained in the train as the doors snapped shut.
Romans are even more aggressive than the Czechs when it comes to getting on the train. I always thought the Lyon metro was busy when there weren’t any seats left! Wrong.
So I marched out of the metro in agitation, and now I’m stuck on the east side of town, horribly short on cash. Bad sign, this is. My train leaves at 10:30 PM, but my back is too sort to allow walking all day.
Florence, Italy 19:26 November 1, 1994
So what did I do? I walked from the train station to the Pantheon, which was beautiful. Then I walked to the Vatican and tried the view first from the Castel Saint Angelo, the fortress where the Pope fled during raids and then from points in St. Peter’s square that caused the surrounding quadruple colonnade to seem a single row.
Then I hiked north to try one last shot at the Vatican Museum. It was still too packed to allow me to get in before closing.
Then I walked to the Spanish Steps and munched on some more bread and cheese plus peanuts. I directed some people from Seattle to the Bone Church and then hiked over to the Trevi Fountain, for which I’ve gained a fascination.
From there I hiked to the Tiber and then once again to the Spanish Steps with some Italians I met who spoke very good English (Isabelle and two guys named Peter).
Then to Trevi again. Finally it was late enough that I could go to the train station and board my overnight train to Milan(o).
I was surprised by how many people had already arrived! I had to walk a long way down the platform to find a car with an open, empty, unreserved compartment.
Then another guy came in and sat with me. His name was Antoine, and though his English was bad, I’m pretty sure he was trying to come on to me. He brushed his fingers against my knees and kept telling me I was nice and even tried to rub my neck when I said I was sore.
I was relieved, in short, when more people came in. In fact, the car filled up with six people, the compartment’s maximum. More kept arriving, and some were forced to sit in the hallway. Apparently the holiday (Nov. 1) had drawn a lot of people to go visiting!
Needless to say, I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night, and the train was early by a half hour pulling in a Milano.
I waited for a bit until the Information Office said they didn’t deal with tourists, and so I struck out on my own, my Fodor’s guide before me.
I took the metro to the center of town, and there I visited the local Duomo (cathedral), which is huge, and then I walked down the glass covered Galleria and then down a street where Verdi, Volta, and Puccini had all once lived. At the art museum I met a guy from Philadelphia who told me I really shouldn’t skip any of the Florence art museums, and then I went to the Milan Castle, which was fantastic! It houses both a sculpture museum and a painting gallery as well as a collection of antique furniture, and all of it was free!
I would have moved more, but my legs were simply killing me, and I was in real pain when I left the museum.
I had a bit of a scare getting on the metro. I skipped the hassle and expense of buying another metro ticket at first, and the guard suspected me of reusing an old ticket, which I had. So he sent me back out, and I had to buy another anyway. I was rattled, to say the least.
Then I saw a train headed to Salerno via Florence, so I grabbed it! Once here I grabbed a bus to the hostel, and I’ve hardly stirred from my bed since.
I can hardly think, but most of what’s crossing my mind is of home, not Europe. I think, “Pizza Hut, Meat Lovers,” and I go gaga. At this point I’m half-starved and I’m facing monument burnout. Considering that I still have the Alps, Barcelona, Tours/Loire, Mt. St. Michel, Paris, and London to go, I’d better cheer up in a hurry!
At least this hostel is nice. It’s out on the edge of town, on a walk through some trees. Maybe I can regain my grip here. Ugh.
Florence, Italy 22:00 November 2, 1994
Today, after a rousing breakfast of one roll at the hostel (which, incidentally, is built in an old family palace– even though you’d never know from the furniture). I walked to the bus stop, missed my bus stop and ended up once again at the train station! So I retraced the bus path and began my search for the information office, which turned out to have moved five years ago to a spot different than the book’s map said. But I found it, darn it, and soon I had a proper map of the city. I walked into the Medici Palace, although I skipped the expensive museum, and then I looked over the Duomo, the city’s long cathedral. Surprisingly, it was rather plain inside, though the façade was very decorate, as was the bell tower. From there I went to another old church where I saw the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, and I believe Dante as well. I snapped a photo of that one and ate some of my favorite bread and cheese.
From there I hiked to the Arno River and checked out the bridge-cum-gold-market. Then I popped over to the Pitti Palace before collapsing in pain from my abdomen. “Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!” I cried. Then I inched over to the house where Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning lived. The pain was bad, so I headed back toward the main part of town when I stopped in at the History of Science Museum. I was intrigued, so I paid my five bucks and went in. It was cool! The museum had scientific instruments from all over the world in many time periods and dedicated a whole room to Galileo (they even had his middle finger in a jar!) with the lens he used to view Jupiter’s moons. Other gems included lots of teaching demos for electricity and other concepts. Despite myself, I enjoyed the museum thoroughly and invested almost two hours poring over its two floors (16 rooms) of exhibits.
Then I went to a square and filmed a copy of “David.” I don’t think I’ll force myself to pay the admission to see the real thing. Could I tell the difference? No.
I bought a scarf on Visa. I’ll need one in the Alps!
When I came back this evening, toting a few inches of highly-spiced sausage, I got really confused using the buses. It’s well-nigh impossible to navigate, and there are no maps on board the vehicles!
Tonight I decided just how I could wend my way to the Alps for the day-after-tomorrow with a night train to Lyon at the end so I could sleep at “home.” It took half an hour of gawking at the time tables, but I got it! I’ll stop at Pisa for an hour and a half (perfect!) and at Chambéry for five hours (great for seeing an Alpine sunrise). I’ll be at Bourg-St. Maurice for almost six hours (to gawk at Mt. Blanc), and then I’ll be in Lyon at 8:38 PM. Good plan? Perhaps. It will be a very full day!
Florence, Italy 10:25 November 3, 1994
I verified my plan with the train station information office, and the times I quoted were right on (within 2 or 3 minutes) with their schedules. Yay me!
I spoke with some students from Lyon on the bus, and once again I felt bilingual. My chat with a French Canadian had been frustrating– I couldn’t understand him!
In the end, I’ve decided I rather like the dirty jade-and-white striping of the Gothic ribs in Florentine churches. It’s bizarre, but it’s still nice. And so many famous people in a single town! Of course, Rome has more, but in Florence all were concentrated in a single era. I can’t imagine the atmosphere when Cosimo trumpeted his desire to rule the cosmos within a few years of when Galileo was providing new evidence of Copernican theory even within a few years of Michelangelo was carving his David within a few years of Da Vinci revolutionizing engineering and other fields! This town lives and breathes Renaissance.
And today it breathes motor scooter fumes. The Romans and the Florentines both seem to adore motor scooters, and those who ride them have become quite a nuisance. They ride in whatever space is available, be it the other lane, the sidewalk, or the median. It’s dangerous to walk near the road here! And of course they adapt the very Italian mentality that if you’re in the way, the motorist must have right-of-way.
Tonight, though, I will leave Italy, so I won’t harp on the vexations of this culture any more!
Lyon, France 20:17 November 4, 1994
To complete yesterday will take some ink, as will writing today!
I walked over to the church with all the Renaissance tombs again, and there I ran into a girl from the Rome hostel. She recommended a view from a fort to the south of town, so I hiked a bit of distance and walked up a nasty hill– but it was worth it. The view [interruption].
Lyon, France 12:26 November 5, 1994
…from the fort’s balcony was quite remarkable. Afterwards I meandered for a few minutes, and then I went to the train station, although my train wasn’t to leave for another four hours.
While I simply sat in the waiting room, I met a nice South African with whom I chatted amiably for the remainder of the time. She told me about some of the customs difficulties she’d faced as a South African, and then we went to Burghy, the Italian version of McDonald’s and had dinner with our remaining lira (since we were both leaving Italy that night).
Then I took the train to Pisa, where I found a group of American college sophomores freaking out because the train to Paris (the same one I was taking to Chambéry) had only full sleeping cars and couchettes, or six-to-a-car bunk beds. In other words, no seats. Meaning I technically needed a reservation to board.
So I walked with the guys past various street thugs to the mighty Leaning Tower of Pisa, which in the first place I’d come to see, and sure enough, it was leaning.
Then we hiked the half-hour back, and I met more Americans hoping to take the train to Paris. When it actually came, I was pleased to discover they accepted a traveler’s check for the supplemental fee, and I was happy that they gave my change in francs, for this was a French train!
So I slept in relative comfort (and relatively expensive comfort) to Chambéry, where I switched to a train for Bourg-St.-Maurice, deep in the Savoie range of the Alps.
I had thought it was closer to Mt. Blanc, but in the end it was simply pretty and nothing was open since ski season hadn’t yet started. So I was bummed and took a connecting route to Lyon through Aix-Les-Bains.
In Lyon, however, I was to find many problems. I first changed a big lump of money since dollar rates are plummeting, and then I said my hellos at the lab, where I found some serious clumps of email awaiting me. But when I tried to go to the apartment, no one was there to say hello, so I sat outside and waited. In going to the apartment, I double-used my Metro ticket (something I hadn’t done while living there) and got fined $30 for it. Err…
Finally, Yann showed up, and he seemed somewhat tepid about my being there. Tonight I may not be allowed to stay there, depending on the response of the new roommate! So I was surprised at the cold shoulder and mad at the subway fine as I slept last night.
Today, as I went to the American Express office (never made it), I passed through the train station, and there I found a German ranting and raving against the French in utter frustration. When he saw that I spoke English, he nearly embraced me.
He was the owner of a semi-truck, and his cargo of grapes was required in Munich tonight at ten PM. His truck, though, was out of gas and when he’d used his ATM card it had declined the transaction. Since today is Saturday, nothing is open in Germany, and so he was stuck in Lyon and would surely lose his contract, a very necessary and lucrative one for him.
He needed badly to fill his gas tank to go at least to the border, and after he gave me his name, address, bank account number, passport number, his photograph, and even his car key I changed two traveler’s checks for him. We agreed to meet at the Columbus monument in Barcelona at noon on Tuesday or at the McDonald’s on Plaça de Catalan at 6PM if we missed there, for him to repay me at least 500 DM.
This is the riskiest venture I’ve ever taken part in. Right now I’m simply acting like I’ve lost $200 and yet I plan to go to the rendezvous. He exhibited a clear knowledge of the cities of Barcelona and Munich, and he mentioned Barcelona even before I had said I was going there. But it would be too easy for him to simply not show up on Tuesday. I can’t stage an international manhunt. Perhaps I did it because I saw the possibility to regain the money I lost in subway fines, sort of a throwing good money after bad sort of thing. I feel very devil-may-care about money right now. The closure of this trip is not going smoothly. We’ll see what happens in Barcelona.
But then it started raining cats and dogs, and I am locked out until 8PM! I am writing this from Lyon’s tourist office.
Barcelona, Spain 12:43 November 7, 1994
I still feel ill at ease about the loan to the German man. Right now I’m sitting at the Columbus Monument where in less than 24 hours I will be waiting for our rendezvous. now I see images of him pulling a knife or gun. This is all so frightening! Perhaps all will go smoothly and there’s nothing for me to worry about.
In any case, Saturday afternoon I went to the lab and worked on my email account (lots of mail had accumulated). I saw my friend Patrick Pernas there, and he invited me to dinner at his apartment, so that evening I stayed there instead.
Then yesterday Patrick, Martina (his girlfriend of 17 years), and I went out to a castle/abbey in the tall hills to the west of town. It was a beautiful drive that reminded me most of similar scenery in Missouri’s Ozark Mountains. We had a wonderful time despite the knowledge that he and I would not see each other again in all probability. I’ll miss Patrick. He was hilarious, but I’ve never known a more dedicated worker.
And then I was at the train station along with a group of soldiers going on a week’s leave (remember that France has required military service for men). Luckily I was able to swing a seat, and at 5:30 this morning I switched trains to arrive at approximately 8:00 AM. I’m really tired, but I’ll still try to see as much as I can today as tomorrow will likely be filled with frustrations.
I began Fodor’s suggested walking tour, and I’ve made it here to the monument, but there’s still another pass down the pedestrian street and Montjuïc to go!
Barcelona, Spain 15:14 November 7, 1994
In a good frame of mind after a lunch of sausage and sausage. I’ve stayed clear of backpack cheese since the food poisoning, and so far no problems have resulted. Of course, yesterday Patrick cooked the most incredible omelet (Spanish is “tortilla”) of potatoes, onions, and eggs. Yum. Yum.
But to further brighten things, I’ve looked at some really intriguing architecture from Gaudi and friends that really spruces up some façades around here, especially in the “Block of Discord,” where the modernists had some sort of competition. It’s like the fusion of past and future; mushrooms are juxtaposed with neo-Gothic in this bizarre stretch.
But that’s peanuts compared to Gaudi’s last creation before he died. The Church of the Sacred Family is just as exceptional as anything I’ve ever seen. It’s the weirdest set of spires, façades, cubism, and bizarre symbolism that I’ve ever seen. Too bad that it wasn’t finished!
On another tack, I checked at a local travel agency to learn possible costs of my flight home. I’ll be going by again to learn about the results of the agent’s calls to the company offices. I would not mind knowing these figures when I meet the German tomorrow (the exact figure he owes me, stupidly, was not settled. But he did say 500 DM. That I remember).
Nice, France 08:41 November 9, 1994
Of course he didn’t show up. And in waiting for him, I lost a day of tourism, my cheerfulness, and my ability to go to Tours (for which the train left an hour too early). There was, however, a train bound for Rome via Nice, so I elected to visit the Côte d’Azur.
It’s pretty nice here, honestly, and if I were in a better mode for travel this would be great. But instead I’m sore all over, my knees, ankles, and feet being the worst, so I’m heading onward to Avignon this afternoon. Tomorrow night I’ll go to Paris, drop a bag, and then I’ll spring for Mt. St. Michel, hoping to return the same day (Friday).
But the warning signs from my stomach, back, and legs should make me more prone to kicking back and investing some food money.
Yesterday I picked up the price quote for my flight home. 189 pounds is a pretty sweet deal! Granted, it’s perhaps more than $300, but that’s all the way to KC, too!
Incidentally, it cost me almost a dollar to send a postcard to the States today! Wow! Hopefully, baguettes are still cheap.
Paris, France 12:01 November 11, 1994
In the end, Nice put me back in a good mood! I headed to the old part of town, and there I visited a church and then crashed on the nearby beach.
It’s hard to describe why lying on those pebbles is so relaxing, but it was really peaceful. The water makes a chuckling sound on the stones, and the birds had enough sense to stay away. There’s something otherworldly about the blue color of the water, too.
Then I climbed the chateau hill and looked down on everything. Nice. I learned that the town’s name comes from the Greek goddess of victor, or Nike. Then I trudged down the North slope, explored the monument-filled graveyards and made my way to the modern art museum, housed in a bizarre but beautiful cool collection of four towers linked by galleries.
And it was free! It was a wild but fascinating collection, and at the end of the visit, one can run along the rooftop terrace, where there are arched ramps connecting exhibition platforms at the top of each tower. I loved it.
Then I marched to the train station, hopped the train to Avignon, and settled down for a nap. After dozing on and off, I heard the announcement that we were arriving at Marseille. The train ride had been a strange one, displaying the weirdnesses of the French. A woman who failed to get off the train in time had been running up and down the length of it screaming, “Je veux descendre” and waking everybody up (that means, “I want to get down!”).
And this couple of 20-somethings had been making out loudly. Everybody in the train car had been giving them icy stares, but to no avail. Disgusting.
But back to my story. We were pulling into Marseille, and I found myself saying, “what do I care about Avignon? I can see the palace from the train.” So I jumped off the train there, made a TGV reservation for the next train to Paris, and within a half hour I was accelerating to 150 mph.
So my Europass got a workout. For a single day of use, I had gone from Barcelona to Cerbère, to Nice, to Marseille, and finally to Paris. But I was exhausted, and when I called my friend Diana’s apartment from the train station she wasn’t there. I became concerned, and until she answered the phone a half hour later I was thumbing my hostel guide for finding a place to stay.
Unfortunately, Diana was planning a trip to Venice for the weekend, departing Friday night. I would be compelled to see Paris in only two days!
So yesterday I went to Notre Dame, passing the Eiffel Tower by RER (suburban train). I breathed the air at the cathedral’s top and took photos, of course, and then I ran to the Louvre and cruised until exhaustion from hunger struck me.
Of course I saw the Mona Lisa as well as all the fools using flashes with their cameras (not only is it destructive to the painting, it’s futile as the work is behind glass). But perhaps my favorite part of the collection was the Winged Victory of Samothrace, where few tourists were collected (except for climbing the staircase of which the statue is guard).
Exhausted, I trekked to the Musée d’Orsay and climbed to the top to view all the fantastic Degas, Monets, Pissaros, Seurats, Van Goghs, Monets, and you get the idea. It was cool, but the museum itself was not as simply laid out as the Louvre, in my estimation.
Today I don’t have a solid plan. It’s a holiday, so nothing’s open. Perhaps I’ll walk to L’Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel. Maybe.
[End of 1994 text]