A Travellerspoint blog

Prague

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semi-overcast 14 °C
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On the morning of the 5th we leave for Prague. I booked Ruaridh and myself a hostel that seemed nice called the Czech Inn, and we are pretty excited about getting a glimpse of eastern Europe. The lesson for today: pay the extra 8 euro, reserve a seat. We ended up spending the last 4 hours of our train ride standing next to the doors, or trying to sit on our bags. Unpleasant! But soon after we arrive, we find our hostel and think we are mistaken- from the outside it looks like a hotel. We go in to the lobby area and pay 12 euro per night for a dorm room. Next to the lobby is the hostel bar, which will be the starting point for many interesting nights. The guys at reception are really nice, and recommend an Italian place for us to go get dinner. After settling in to our dorm room, we meet Anthony and Colin, a couple of our roommates who we end up hanging out with most nights- really nice guys. We drop off our stuff and head down the street for dinner- the food was excellent, and we talk about how long it's been since we've allowed ourselves a real dinner. Our bill came out to 577 Kn- about 30 dollars. Another big reason to go to Prague- it's affordable. Something I will miss sorely, as we are now on a train to Interlaken, Switzerland. After dinner we head down to the bar and meet some cool people, but ultimately decide to stay in - it's been a long day.

Monday morning, we decide to take a tram ride through Prague and up to the castle. It's really magnificent, as is the Cathedral nearby. We spend most of the day walking around and admiring the centuries-old architecture from a city that has been lucky enough to avoid bombs. We make our way down to the bridge next to Charles Bridge, and see the brightly colored t-shirts of all the tourists snapping pictures of the statues. The bridge, I think, is much prettier from afar, especially since we aren't being herded like sheep. We end up back at our hostel pretty early, and meet a few people at the bar. The beer served at the bar is Urquell's, similar to Guiness in Dublin- it's pretty much the only thing you can get. They also have the local Budvar in 4 variations, which is stronger than normal beer (we find that our pretty quickly.) I ended up talking to two other guys, Keith and Kindler, who end up being pretty cool (originally from jersey, of course.) One day I plan on being as travelled as they are, maybe even live and work somewhere for a year like Keith did in South Africa. Anyway, us, them, Anthony, Colin, Sarah and two Swiss girls our age decide to go out to the famous 5-story club at Charles Bridge, called Karlovy Iazne. It was a blast- it's been so long since I've been out dancing. We spent a lot of time on the retro floor, playing songs like Come On Eileen and songs from "Grease." It was already late, so when it started dying down we went to another place called Bombay. Long story short, we had to leave, and the group of us wandered around a dark, empty Prague, talking and laughing, before going back to the hostel.

The next day we get a pretty late start, but go to see the Old Town Square, the Astronomical Clock, and more wandering. We go back to hang out with the friends we've made over our first couple days, and after a 3-hour long legendary game of Quarters, which ended up involving half the bar and breaking 3 glasses, I decide to skip the clubbing and go to bed "early" around 12:30AM.

Wednesday is our last day in Prague, and we take care of some practicalities and enjoy the company of our dormies, including a girl from South Korea named Nel who just moved in. After sewing up a few holes in my jeans, we head into what I suppose is the commercial hub of Prague, just after the Old Town Square. I get a new pair of jeans since all the thread in the world won't hold mine together for much longer. We get some excellent, cheap Czech food (despite the location)- cabbage soup in a bread bowl and some sausage-y stuff. Note: If you are a vegetarian, good luck in the Czech Republic. And Germany. So it's our last night, and we return to the hostel to hang out with our friends before we all depart in the morning. Keith, Kindler and Eric missed their flight, so they are back to party with us as well. A new group of girls from Nevada showed up, they were kind of annoying, but came out with us for the first part of the night. Before leaving the hostel around 12, we all had a glass of absinthe (the proper way) and then hit the road for a long night ahead. Long story short (and sparing the parents reading my blog) we had a lot of fun, went to a lot of clubs, and got in around 6. Needless to say, the group of us in 201- me, Ruaridh, Anthony, Colin, and Nel, all slept in past check-out, and missed our first train. We eventually drag ourselves to the station- the guys are also headed to Berlin. The train ride through the Czech Republic was not what I expected- some was stereotypical Eastern Europe, gray, dilapidated and graffitied, but some looked like it belonged in a story book- one city we passed, Usti, had these beautiful, ancient looking houses atop rolling red hills over a river. After a few hours, we arrive in Berlin and say our good-byes to the guys and exchange information. We are actually staying in Potsdam with (drum roll) a friend of Ruaridh's dad- after this, we are on our own until my family in Lisbon.

Posted by rwills89 13:26 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (0)

Munich

For what else but Oktoberfest!

rain 11 °C
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Munich was short-lived but interesting. The most memorable part was, of course, Oktoberfest, and not within the fairgrounds but throughout the entire city- it was electric with excitement. Everyone was dressed in traditional attire- families in dresses and laderhosen, even groups of college kids our age, with intricate traditional clothing, singing German songs throughout the train and metro stations. We made our way to the extortionately priced hotel (a couchsurfing arrangement fell through) and spent the rest of the day relaxing, after Ruaridh had to fight with reception to give us the room we paid for. We went back into the city center in the evening, and I tried a beer-lemonade - very different, heh. Beer should probably be left alone. Sidenote- something I will soon learn about Germany, lots and lots of Turkish food. Why is that? Anyway, we got in early that night because we wanted to secure seats in a beer tent- ha! Maybe if we got there when it opened. It was a rainy, cold day, and one of the last of the festival. We pushed our way onto the subway to Therenswiesee (that's really wrong but I'm close,) the fairgrounds where Oktoberfest was held. It was worse than rush hour in the city- at all hours of the day, throngs of people crushed like sardines into these subway cars, which ran every 15 minutes. It was pretty crazy, but nothing compared to what was on the other side. Germans stumbling around in their laderhosen (yes, at 11AM) mammoth carnival rides in all directions (many of which are banned in the US) and the smell of beer and cooking meat thick in the air. The beer "tents" we more like huge warehouses, all of which were packed to capacity with several hundred more wishful thinkers waiting outside. The dark clouds above the glittering lights of the fairgrounds we pretty threatening, so we tried to find someplace for shelter. We made our way into a beer garden, which would've been really nice if the skies didn't open up. We both bought a pint of Paulaner's wheat beer, it was pretty decent. I expected that beer was flowing so freely here that it would be inexpensive, but it was 7 euro for a pint, so we didn't exactly go crazy. How could these guys afford to get drunk before noon? It was beyond me. After having some schnitzel and getting Ruaridh a ridiculous Oktoberfest hat, we decide to make use of our last day and see some of the real Munich. It was pretty, unfortunately not enough to distract us from the sheets of rain, so we headed back to the hotel. Sunday morning, we leave for Prague, which I consider the most memorable city in Europe so far.

Posted by rwills89 13:24 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Amsterdam

If you are going to do something stupid...

all seasons in one day 11 °C
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you could do it here. But I'll get to that. Anyways..

We awake to cold, wind and rain- typical Dutch weather from what we hear. We take a train into the city center, and decide to walk around for a while anyway. Everyone who isn't Dutch seems to be an American tourist- I don't know why. We walk around a while since the rain lets up, and end up going through the Red Light District in the daytime- very..interesting? We work our way out and into a small concentration of streets, reeking of marijuana. All of the cafes that offer marijuana are called "Koffeehaus"es. It's so strange, mixing such a beautiful city with so much vice. An interesting mix, refreshingly honest. We head into a place called The Paradise something-or-other and go for it. The weather continues to suck, so we head back to Abcoude shortly after.

The next day, we decide to do some actual touring, so we take a boat tour through the canals. Something we soon realize about mainland Europe- now we are foreigners, and people will try to rip you off. Ugh. Mostly by not giving the right change, but we got smart on that after the first time. The tour was in 4 different languages consecutively, which made for a very noisy trip, and they actually overpacked the boat- some people who got on late didn't have seats (another example of ripping off tourists.) Still, it was a really cool way to see the nice parts of Amsterdam, and we got to see the Anne Frank house. Afterwards we went into a coffeeshop and got a milkshake, which we hear is legendary, and it was. Some women, who look like they could be our mothers, go into the smoking room below us, and we watch them talking, laughing, sharing a joint. That was different. We still have a few hours before we want to head to the RDL, so we catch a movie at one of these Pathe movie theaters. This place looks like a club- there is even a bar in the lounge waiting area. We see tropic thunder, and I keep catching myself trying to read the subtitles instead of listening to the English. Afterwards we go to see the Red Light District in all its glory- it was nuts. Yes, there were some seedy Dutch guys walking around looking for business, but it was also fun to see middle-aged tourists walking around just to get a kick out of it. Many of the girls looked like they were my age, which was pretty depressing. Guys on the side of the street kept trying to make eye contact, or call us over- technically hard drugs aren't legal in Amsterdam, but they flow pretty freely anyway. Guys casually walk by us offering cocaine. It's just a totally different world. We head out of the area to a really cool little bar called the Green Light District that has hookah and cheap drinks. It's not a coffeeshop, but people are smoking it anyway- you can legally smoke pot anywhere in Amsterdam, and the people clearly make sure they cover all bases. We head back, planning out our last day in Amsterdam.

It's October 2nd, and we are scheduled to leave on a night train to Munich, quite out of our way, to catch the last couple days of Oktoberfest. We go back into the city one last time to pick up some souvenirs and a couple more books at the American book center. To avoid buying bongs or wooden clogs, which is the major base of souvenir sales, apparently, we get some sew-on patches and head to the bookstore. It's in a nice area of town- we pick up a Europe Travel book to save some money (we've been buying books city-by-city) and the next two installments of Meg, a suspense-thriller that I got Ruaridh hooked on (hooray!)

The night train to Munich, well... we won't be taking night trains again, most likely. The train is about an hour late, which is no big deal, but we get on and see exactly what we paid $450 for- three bunked matts against each wall, with enough standing room for me and Ruaridh, and just enough room to slide in your bunk and sleep. We are shortly joined by a couple from Brazil, and they are incredibly nice. A short, fat woman with short grey hair walks past us, and shouts something in German, motioning us back into the cramped space. She then says in english "stay in until I come check tickets" so we hang around for a bit, talking, trying to shove our bags somewhere. She comes back, and when we ask her if the train is stopping anywhere she ignores us and walks by. She graces us later when she walks into the dining cabin, making a scene about how we were sharing a bottle of wine the Brazilians brought, and made us leave (even though the other woman said it was OK.) We give up and try to sleep, but I end up staying awake all night, because we stopped abut every 20 minutes to load and unload passengers. At about 3 or 4 in the morning another person came in our cabin, and another around 6. We were walking dead on our feet when we got to the train station. Ok, lesson learned- no-more-night-trains. And, time to invest in a Railpass soon.

Posted by rwills89 13:20 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

Abcoude

Mostly naptime

rain 10 °C

After more mindless traveling and trains and getting lost trying to find the house, we arrive, a little soaked and tired, at Cor's house, one of the last places we can take advantage of Ruaridh's dad's connections. His daughter, Anna, opens the door for us. She towers over us, and soon we realize that the rest of the family will follow suit. They are all incredibly sweet, and we have a fun time trying to understand each other. In this little town outside Amsterdam, called Abcoude, everyone and their mother is on a bike. There aren't parking lots really, it's all bike lots. Although this town is adorable, with all of the little dutch houses and canals, I'm pretty comatose the first day. Tomorrow we will head into Amsterdam and see what all the fuss is about.

Posted by rwills89 13:18 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

London

In retrospect - finally back to the blog!

-17 °C
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So it's actually been a few weeks since I've been in London... things definitely picked up since we left Scotland, and I haven't been able to bring myself to sit in front of the computer for an extended period of time. But luckily, now I'm in an enormous HI hostel above the Rhine River, surrounded by a blanket of fog so thick that I can barely see the water or streets below us. I guess I have some time to catch up!

The first couple days of London gave us typical London weather- gray, rainy, and cold. We decided to see the big museums and indoors-y attractions, hoping the weather would clear up after a while. On the 23rd we saw the British Museum- it was more expansive than I'd imagined. You could easily spend a week in there. First we saw the Rosetta Stone- just barely because of the swarms of school groups and aggressive tourists. We decided to see the Hadrian exhibit, featuring newly discovered information and artifacts. It was actually really cool to see the kinds of things they had uncovered. At the end, we were interviewed by a woman who presumably wanted to see if we were shocked by the information on his homosexuality. We told her it was nothing new and moved on, trying to narrow down a sliver of the museum we would want to focus on. That wasn't too hard- British Museum means lots of mummies! I think for a while that museum and the one in Cairo were the only ones with uncovered mummies on display. Not surprisingly, they were pretty grotesque, but very interesting. We even saw a mummified cat. After that we went through the Greek/Roman section, which is always fascinating- kouros sculptures, old coins, huge amphorae with gods and goddesses and mythical scenes painted on them- always the most interesting section (for me.) After the museum we had some overpriced sushi and went to the British Library, but only to the artifact room as we were running out of time. We saw everything from ancient maps to original Shakespeare publications to original lyrics by the Beatles. We spent quite a while there as well. After that, we dragged ourselves (and our swollen brains) back to Gail's.

The next day was also pretty rainy, so we made our way back into the center of London and decided to see the aquarium. Honest opinion? Camden is much better. It was still a relaxing way to kill a few rainy hours. Afterwards we head to the Tate Modern, and I realize I simply do not have an appreciation for some modern "art." We went in with an open mind, following the crowds of visitors and being tailed by a very English girl- "I KNOoooww, don't you just Loove it here, I could spend the whole day, just OHHLlll these TOUURrrists..." at this point me and Ruaridh realized there is nothing more annoying than a posh english accent. We get to one of the floors, and some of the art is actually something I would consider art. Picasso-esque. Some things disturbing, some photography, but I'm still steadfastly denying the fact that most of it is crap. We get to one redeeming room with some really beautiful artwork, but then move on to- my favorite- the minimalist stuff. A painted canvas. A misshapen rectangle of white paper. A block of metal. Poorly attempting to stifle our laughter, me and Ruaridh leave, deciding that Tate Modern, if anything, gave us a good laugh. We get back to Rayne's Park pretty early, so we decide to head next door into Wimbledon and find a bar or a cafe or something. We have some great wine- a Rioja Crianza. After a bit my stomach starts to bother me and we head back.

London, what a place to come down with food poisoning (or whatever I got). I spend the entirety of the 25th in bed, with the exception of running to the store and getting some fresh air and Powerade. But the next day we are both antsy from boredom and end up doing quite a bit- we take a trip up the London Eye in the morning, and get some great views of the Parliament building and Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, the Thames, etc. We walk along the Thames to the Tower Bridge (really amazing in person) and see the HMS Belfast and some other cool stuff, including Shakespeare's Globe- I book me and a reluctant Ruaridh some standing tickets for Timon of Athens on the next day. We cross the bridge and decide to tour the Tower of London, which was really fascinating. They still have the ravens on the ground (they bite.) After seeing the crown jewels, we take a bus into Piccadilly Circus, and walk around to Regent's St. until it's well after dark. London seems like it must be a blast at night- I wished we had more time, but at this point we have 2 more days until we leave for Amsterdam.
Saturday I'm not feeling too great again, but we make it out to see Timon of Athens, a play of Shakespeare's that hadn't been performed during his time because of it's harsh criticism of the aristocracy of his day. It was really fun- even Ruaridh admitted to enjoying it! (Gasp.) I get pretty sick midway, so we leave at intercession, and I explain to Ruaridh that the second half is classical Shakespearian tragedy. After eating a bit, we walk around a lot and I feel a bit better- we head to Trafalgar Square and see the National Gallery. Some original works of Da Vinci, Michaelangelo, etc. We move past the vast amounts of seriously religious work into some beautiful landscapes, but have to leave as the gallery closes.

The 28th arrives, and it's our last day in London. Tonight we take an overnight ferry to the Hook of Holland, and then a train to Amsterdam Centraal. We miss the changing of the guard in the morning, but head into St. James Park to see the Palace anyway. The park is really beautiful. Lots of fearless squirrels, ducks and swans (captive?) There are even- no joke- Pelicans. From a bridge over the lake you can see the London Eye. We walked up to the Palace- only 2 guards on duty. The palace is pretty huge, but the surrounding area, the fountain and the gates are much more attractive. We wander the park a little more and then head back to Rayne's Park to pack- our train from London leaves at 8:30PM. The train ride seems to go smoothly, and the ferry we are on is really nice. Me and Ruaridh are giddy for our next adventure, and run around the ferry like hyper children. The set-up of the ferry reminds us of the boat we had in Greece senior year, with all our friends. We have a drink and head to sleep, and 4 or 5 hours later we get our obnoxious wake-up call and head to our next train.

Posted by rwills89 09:17 Archived in England Comments (0)

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