Great American Western Road Trip: Summer 2018

4 weeks, 3 kids, 1 van, 16 different lodgings, 5400+ miles, 12+ National or State Parks and Monuments adds up to 1 Epic Adventure.

American Southwest Family Vacation 2017

We followed historic Route 66 on our way to see the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, the Painted Desert, plus much more in New Mexico and Arizona.

End of Tour Summary: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Here are our stories from two and a half years of living in Saudi Arabia while exploring the region.

Excursions to Oman

On two different trips, we strolled Muscat, hiked Wadi Shab, and sailed a dhow through the fjords of Musandam.

Our Expedition to Jordan

Highlights included tracing the steps of Indiana Jones into Petra, following Lawrence of Arabia into Wadi Rum, and floating in the Dead Sea.

Thursday, January 14, 1999

Europe Trip 1999 Summary (E99)

Ever had to change your plans for a trip to Europe at the very last minute? Here's what happened when I had to. Overall, a pretty good save.

Musee D'Orsay
Notre Dame Cathedral
Il Duomo in Milan
American Cemetery in Normandy
Omaha Beach

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Getting out of England awake

Oxford, England
Since the bus was due at 6 am, I ordered a cab last night for 5:30. I planned to wake up at 5-5:15, using my watch alarm and Coates as a backup. I laid all my stuff out to make things fast. However, when 5:30 rolled around, I woke up to the cabbie ringing the doorbell and scramble to get packed. I lost a minute or two to the front door (needed a key to get out, there were like 15 keys on the chain).

The cab was quick, and I had 10 minutes to wait for the 6 am to leave promptly. Arrived at Gatwick just before 8. When I was loading my bags on the bus, I had to decide between North and South Terminals. Since most people were loading their stuff into the South compartment, so did I. So when most of the people got off the bus, so did I. And it worked.

I had to repack my bag in the terminal...I had simply stuffed stuff into it when the cabbie arrived. Boarding begins at 10:15. I have to stay awake until then. I walked around the little gift store area, just the usual stuff. 10:46am...on the plane back to Boston...good night.

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Wednesday, January 13, 1999

On to Oxford!

Paris, France
Since I've got so much time to kill, I'll try to remember what I learned this trip:
  1. While not everyone speaks your language, be nice to those that do. 
  2. Platform, direction, time, non-smoking 
  3. Pretend like you know what you're doing, especially if you do 
  4. McDonald's are best in the USA 
  5. The guys with the fully automatic machine guns are your friends (almost goes without saying) 
  6. Know what's to be seen on the way, position self accordingly 
  7. Sleep never know how long until you rest again
So, on that note, I was kicked out of Gare du Nord around midnight (I was huddling there for about four hours...not too shabby). So I threw on some extra layers (slicker, polartec vest, long sleeve shirt, long sleeve t-shirt, and a short sleeve shirt, with khakis and sweats) and hit the town. I figure anyone who's out mugging in this cold deserves the pocket change I'm carrying.

So I finally got up to see Sacre Coeur-it was obviously closed. So I decided to hike on down to the Louvre. I saw the Opera and some other stuff. So I turned around at the Louvre around 2am. It was time to look for a bar, 1)to sit for a while and get warm 2)get something to warm me up. I ended up at Le Grand Cafe Capucines ordering a Campari Orange. It was ok, but it was served as a red liquor and orange juice. I had no clue if I was supposed to mix them or alternate between them. One thing I did know was that I was gonna try to milk that bad boy until 3am. So I whipped out my journal and started to write.

You should have seen all the odd, nearly mocking looks I got walking into this, um, Grand Cafe with my pack, slicker and sweats. Admit it, you'd laugh too. But I was tired, cold, and thirsty. So I used up the last Francs I had. Not a bad trade. Paris at night really isn't that bad as long as you stay near downtown. The area around the Sacre Coeur was sketchy, but that's why I high-tailed it down some well lit streets. Anyways, my dining companion is a backpack strewn with clothing. The restaurant is pretty cool. Like stained glass ceilings, mirrors, and marbled woods.

I feel kinda chumpy and out of place, but hello, it's 2:45 am and I'm walking around Paris alone. They're playing that song from Pulp Fiction "You never can tell"--you know, 'se la vie...truly loves the mademoiselle'. I can't believe I paid like 8-10 bucks for this drink...but I guess that's what I get. The light shades here are like unstained glass snails. It looks like I picked a good spot to kill some time. The chill is gone now. I hope that the train station opens around 5ish. That would be ideal. Odd, but I feel this is a somewhat fitting place to end my travels. I've got about 7 minutes left to soak it up. I just noticed a rather drunken man sit down at a nearby table. It's times like these that I wish I knew French...To hear him ramble. His intonations are pretty funny, as are his mannerisms. He's playing "not drunk". Oh wow...Blondie's "The tide is high" is playing in the background. This is my cue. I must leave at the end of this song. Oh yeah, people here are quite sloshed now.

On my way out, I got half a block away and noticed my wallet had fallen out of my jacket. Went back to the Grand Cafe; marched in and picked my wallet up off the floor. The maitre de had a "Why are you back here?" look and I flashed my wallet. "Oh", with that semi-surprised, semi-apethetic French accent. Walked back to Gare du Nord and arrived around 3:30 am. La dee da. Now I'm just waiting for the gates to open so I can sit down and get warm and go to sleep. My right foot has been hurting since the day before I left Boston. 4:30 am-Inside!!!

Two security guards and a dobermann. 0434 I was back inside the warm waiting room, two hours to go. At 5:46 they powered up the joint. Not much more time left. Got on the train, fell asleep. The sunrise is orange and white, there's snow on the ground. 0920, rolled into London. Some construction delays, and at 10:15 I'm in Victoria coach station waiting for the 10:30 X90 to Oxford. I think the mounted officers just passed us on their way to the changing of the guard. It's the stereotypical London-foggy, damp, and overcast.

Oxford, England
We (the bus) arrived in Oxford and I found out that they have buses running straight to Gatwick. That's what I'm talkin' about. But since they run every even hour, and my flight's at 11:15am, I was advised to catch the 6am X80 bus. Fair enough. I found Matt Coates' apartment, hopped the wet wooden fence, and still found myself locked out of all but the foyer. I dumped my stuff there around 12:30 and went in search of food and a bathroom. Fortunately, the apartment is above a mall of sorts, so that was short work. I got fish and chips at a place called Cagney's. I picked up a liter of OJ at the supermarket. It tasted kind of odd, actually too sweet and gave me a headache. After I just couldn't take it anymore, I looked at the bottle to see what it could ahve in it what is so bad. Turns out, I was supposed to dilute it by four parts. ughhhh.

Charley came by after 5:30 pm...five hours of lying in the cold. He lent me his bed as he's staying away tonight. I played playstation (Tekken version-1.0? weird) while I waited for Coates to return from crew practice. We cooked up a good size meal for him, a third roommate (Matt) and me. We ate and watched BAT 21/Patriot Games/Eddie Izzard on the telly as we drank a case of Fosters. I could only manage about .75 litres, but they did around two-three times that. Went to sleep around 12:30am.

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Tuesday, January 12, 1999

D-Day Beaches

Bayeux, France
My hotel key is one of the old school kind, like what you would use in a cabinet. I woke up at 9:30 am, out at 10:30. A brief hailstorm on my way to see the Bayeux Tapestry. Lots of viking-norman stuff at Bayeux. The skies are bright, yet stormy. There is a St-Exupere something nearby the Eisenhower monument. I'm the only one in this museum. Kind of odd, but then again, it's not a hugely popular town unless you want to invade across the Channel. (The tapestry was made for the French 'winners' by the English 'losers'.) Bayeux was the first town liberated in WWII, also not damaged. I was joined by two textile people from Westport, CT in the tapestry room. I could almost read the Latin story. The Bayeux Cathedral looks to have been built in 1077. The stormy weather has made it cold inside, and the gargoyle drainspouts are spitting at me.

The sun just came out, but the sky is still gray/black. A bike mailman just rode by. Toured with two Aussies and two Americans... one of whom was a brother of  another MIT classmate who is friends with some of my friends at MIT. But I digress. Omaha Beach is amazing.
Omaha Beach, Looking Down
It's cold and windy, with about 100 feet of breakers. The hills and bunkers are intimidating. It's rather soothing, yet surreal. On the way up the hill, the sun was peeking through the clouds directly about the Big Red One monument.
Big Red One D-Day Memorial
The cemetery was also inspiring. "Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known but to God."  
Omaha Beach Cemetery

We then went on to Pointe du Hoc, which has been preserved as a battlefield. The bunkers were heaps of concrete and steel, and the crater holes marred the area. You can see in the picture below how high the cliffs that the Rangers had to climb were (in the background, by the horizon), and imagine it taking three days of fighting to get from the cliff edge to where I'm standing.
Pointe du Hoc
We then went to Gold Beach and Longues Sur Mer and saw how different the landing zones were. Gold=flat, Omaha=hills.  
Omaha Beach, Low Tide
I think the casualties were ten times higher at Omaha. We also saw what's left of the artificial harbor off the coast of Gold Beach. During the invasion, they had docks and stuff to drive trucks out on to unload the ships. It was used well after D-Day too, to supply the front lines.

Paris, France
Caught the 1722 to Caen, switched to a nonstop to Paris. Arrived at 1937. Hopped on the Metro, hit the ticket counter. So I'm in Paris now. I went to get a ticket on the Eurostar...the next one is tomorrow morning...nine hours away. I got the ticket and again went to McDonald's. Hey, it's cheap, nearby, relatively safe, and no one seems to mind if I have my pack on. Which is kinda funny since as I was walking down the stairway of McD's, I must have missed a step or my foot caught somewhere, but next thing I know I'm, on my knees staring at a support column at the base of the staircase. D'oh. So now I'm back at Gare du Nord, sitting in a reasonably comfortable waiting room, on modern benches made of steel. My English skills have dramatically decreased since this trip began. But I'm also looking forward to using them again.

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Monday, January 11, 1999

My invasion of Normandy at Bayeaux

Marseilles, France
5:30 am. I think the Quick Food for lunch yesterday made me ill. Quite ill. Anyways, I checked out of the hotel around 7:05. My train is waiting at the station. We leave at 7:32, it's a TGV. Oh, the early morning patrol of the two police officers and three soldiers with full auto-assault rifles were doing their rounds. I timed my visit here well, since it is now drizzling, but it was nice and sunny yesterday. The train ride is other-worldly.

I don't know if I'll see the sun today. I think we are parallel to the Rhone right now. It's wide and smooth. A bridge spanned it and looked very picturesque, but I didn't get a picture. There are hills with snow to the west. The clouds are literally coming down and touching the river. We passed a nuclear energy plant. Snow is covering the ground. It's 10:04 and a winter wonderland. I can't tell where the hills stop and the clouds begin. 10:24 and the snow's all gone. Looks wet outside, but it's cleared up. We went under a bridge, the snow came back. 10:40, no mo' snow. The sun is glowing behind the clouds.

Paris, France
I drifted in and out of sleep until we arrived in Paris at 20 past noon. Used the Metro to get across town, to Gare St. Lazare. Checked train time, got McD's cos I was famished. An old woman next to me was drawing portraits in the basement of McD's. Went back to station and studied the time chart. Paris-Bayeux was definitely at 1600. But Paris-Caen was at 1420. Caen is apparently a local hub of sorts and trains go straight to Bayeux from there. So I have to change trains instead of sitting for 90 minutes in the cold, open air station. Hmmm, I think I'll go sit on the 1420 train to stay warm while I think about it.

A case of the stupid foreigner (me): A woman on the train made a big announcement in French, then stopped at each seat. She didn't look like a train worker, but I showed her my ticket anyways. She was just a beggar, as I found out... because someone else gave her some coins and she nodded. The moral: everyone wants money.

Looking out the train window, I actually forgot I was in France. We passed a grass airstrip and lots of industrial/suburbs. The only reason I realized this was because the woman next to me is writing notes in French. There was one section where the grass was bright yellow-green and what looked like cliffs in the background. As I leaned forward to see if there might be a coast, another train blew by, no more than two feet from my face!

Saw some French hunters in a field...even heard the gunfire. I didn't see if he got it though. Switched trains in Caen...I think I'm on the right one. I've kind of given up trying to plan anything, and to try and just be highly mobile and know what to look for. There are a few people standing outside by the car in front of me and using sign language with someone inside. That's kinda cool.

Bayeux, France
Got off at Bayeux, and right there was 1) a cheap (100F) hotel and 2) Normandy tours. So I checked in (apparently there is a hostel but it's 1) not convenient and 2)probably not worth the five bucks I'd save there.

While I wanted a tour tomorrow morning, I'll have to settle for the 1 o'clock. Which gets me back to town at 6:30... to Paris around 9pm...London around midnight? Oh well, there's no way around it. This country is nuts about dogs. There's a TV in this hotel and all the commercials and stories have pooches. Bayeux is an old-country kind of town. Sidewalks were an afterthought. There is a "strip", but off of that it's just winding alleys. Smells like fireplaces.


Sunday, January 10, 1999

Along the Med to Marseilles

Genoa, Italy
Woke up just before my alarm at 7:30 am. I tried to get more of the Big Fruit candy at a supermarket, which besides being closed, was also in a "bad part of town". But I was told by the hotel desk clerk not to worry because I'm big and it's early morning. I found the candy at a coffee store. It was 8:30 when I arrived at the track for the 0854 train to Nice. I got a non-smoking, non-cabin seat; today I found it preferable to sitting with up to 5 strangers in complete silence for 4 hours.
 The train ride from Genoa-Nice: the Mediterranean is on the right and hills/mountains with snow are on the left. Oh, I'm also facing backwards. The sun is quite low, so not only is it coming in one window, it's reflecting off of the other. There are frequent tunnels. So I keep wanting to take my sunglasses on and off. The sky has been blue since yesterday afternoon when the dark clouds rolled out to sea. Speaking of which, it seems like the sea is coming right up to the tracks at times. There is a beach with sand and breakers, and on the other side, snow covered mountains.
The sea is a blue that is almost more intense than the cloudless sky. The houses are quaint, stucco-like. This is Albenga. Passed a good deal of what look like vineyards. There's a small dome like island within swimming distance. I switched sides of the train so that I'm closer to the sea. It was kind of annoying to let the sleeping guy miss the view. This stop is Andorra, but I think it's only a town here. I'm trying to take a few pics of the coast, and either my camera goes dumb, or something gets in the way. I think I figured out that my autofocus camera was hung up on the glass/distance disparity. I took one more picture with the camera, then put it away. What's the point of getting the perfect shot if I miss everything else? Like the surfers. Or the palm trees.

Monte-Carlo, Monaco
Pretty sweet area! The flag is red on top, white below. Castle on a hill on a peninsula, right by the train station. Seaside mansions. The high hills fall straight into the water. Into Nice at noon, changed trains (conveniently located on the same platform. Out of Nice at 12:03. Nice was nice. The sea is shades of teal through navy blue. Now I can see the water and mountains simultaneously. Passed through Cannes, didn't have time to catch a movie. The cliffs have turned red (from gray) and the sea is still blue as anything. The plants are all a rich green. The houses are white or cream colored. The sky is still crystal clear. What a feast for the eyes.

Saint Raphael has a church that looks like it's Persian. Anyways, we've turned more inland and there are hills on either side. I'm kind of glad I can see this stuff with out much exertion, since my feet are getting the worse for wear. I think I'm in a vineyard region now (the train's final stop is Bordeaux). It kind of reminds me of Northern California, with lots of farms nestled in a valley. The rock is back to gray/white, and it looks like California, except for the castle ruins. I think Europeans smoke to hide body odor. I was, um, kind of borderline in the acceptable smell range earlier today, but now my shirt smells like smoke. No clue how, as I've been in the "non-smoking" section all day.Passed through Toulon, more mountains, pinkish clay tile roofed houses. Back to the coast. And Marseilles.

Marseilles, France
Met two girls from Alberta at the ATM. They warned me about robbery on the trains to Paris. Took a half hour to orient myself, got onto Rue de Paridis. More like Rue de Big-long-hill. Not a walking city. Especially since I've been walking 2 hours to find the hostel closed. The book read 01/02/99 reopen and even the sign has both (02/01/02) dates. Bastards. Into town. Had dinner at a "Quick Food" joint. No wonder McD's is popular. This stuff was low quality.
On the bus now, inbound, getting off with the crowd. The problem with the bus: ATMs only gave out 100 Franc increments. The bus was 9Fr. I need change, so I had lunch. Took public transport back to St. Charles train room and map at the Hotel Beaulieu Glaris. So far I've walked 13"x2.54, or around 26+6, so roughly 32 cm. That's around 4km...too much! So the only really annoying thing here is that I walked too much and spent too much for a room. I'm just ticked that I didn't just hit this hotel first. Time for night life!

The "take bus back to town" idea was a foot-saver. Plus side of the hotel vs. hostel (were it an option): location. I'm right downtown and next to the train station. I walked up and saw the Verdun memorial and some Joan of Arc statue at a church... I was shoe'd away by some caretaker before I could read it. Walked up to Palais de Longchamp. Pretty cool, but I didn't have my camera. The black night really contrasted with the golden-lighted Palais. Went to a Monoprix--French for Wal-mart. I picked up 2 bottles of wine, cheese, twix, soda, and bread for around 89 Fr. Nice town, wish I had more time and my feet weren't wearing out. G'nite.

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Saturday, January 09, 1999

Out and about in Genoa

Genoa, Italy
Slept in until 8:30-9am. It's around 14C and misty...still before sunrise. I walked to a bakery, ordered and paid in Italian. Walked to the Acquario di Genova, where I saw Harbor seals, Med monk seals, sandbar shark (squalo), Angel shark, South African fur seals (they have ears!), moray eel, Green sea turtle, nurse shark, sharks in eggs (that was weird), horseshoe crabs, electric eel (700V), and chameleons. The boat shaped building was part rainforest, part coral reef. I saw pufferfish, rays, Asiatic rock pythons, and boas. A guy was feeding squid to a shark and turtle. Saw Humboldt (Peruvian) and Adelie Penguins. The Adelie male chooses a stone and places it in front of the chosen female. If the female accepts the offer, she will pick up the stone and both will begin to build their nest.

I left the aquarium , got lost, and stumbled across Casa Christopher Columbus. Then I wandered into Piazza de Ferrari-it has a very grand scale.
I strolled down a modern shopping street to the Piazza Vittoria, where a small market was set up. Further strolling found me at the shores of the Med, stopping for Pizza. After lunch, I wandered back back into town, down back roads, stairs, the stuff not labelled on the map. The air was fresh away from the roads. A note though: walking into town or out of town involved a hill.

On the way back from checking the train schedule, I saw another alley to explore. In retrospect, it was probably a slum. Everyone looked rather ragged, except for this tall, well-dressed, reasonably attractive woman. As soon as I made eye contact and she winked, it then dawned on me why she wasn't so out of place. I looked straight ahead and walked on.

I chilled out in my room until dinner to let my feet rest. I'm pretty sure my pictures are of Piazza de Ferrari, S. Andrea Cloister (i think it was next to Casa Columbus), and maybe the Palazzo Tursi e Municipio. But that's about as detailed as my map was.

Random grotto viewed from an alley
View of the alley from my room
I strolled down the block at a little past 7:38pm to Trattoria le Maschere, and ordered Ravioli and rosso vino with gelati semifreddo al torroncino. The ravioli was good, and the wine was ok. I think the desert was coffee ice cream. I fell into bed contentedly full.

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Friday, January 08, 1999

Milan, the Fashion Capital

Bern, Switzerland
Woke up around 7:15, checked out at 7:45. Breakfast was bread, hot cocoa, and juice. Basically everyone I talk to says that Milan's a pretty rough place. I'll be on the 0843 train from Bern to Milan, via Thun and Spiez. I'm going to see if I can get a locker and ditch my mugger-target (backpack). I walked a bit when the train came into Bern to make sure that I was in a non-smoking car. I overheard a conversation that was distinctly American, so I went to say hello.

One was 19, in the Army, and stationed in Germany while the other was her 24-year old brother. They were headed for Rome, so we chatted a while. We had to move up a car to stay bound for Milan, and we had a little compartment for the three of us. The seats reclined and it would have been a great naptime if the view wasn't fabulous. There was an island with a fortress in the middle of the lake. Blue skies until we reached Italy.

Milan, Italy
Milan was overcast. I walked and got lost a lot. I hit the downtown region rather thoroughly, the Duomo was amazing. There were random ruins at every turn. I think I saw two dozen churches. I got lost, but it was ok. I had nowhere to be. There was a restaurant that was all over Milan: McDonald's. As much as I wanted Italian food, there were simply no places open and serving. I'm gonna try to catch the 1810 train to Genoa. 

Well, they tried to change tracks on me, but I actually understood the announcement in Italian. I verified with the board and I was right. More on Milan: While I was in the Duomo plaza, I'm pretty sure these guys were giving out birdseed (there were hordes of pigeons) so that they could pick my pocket when the flock came.
See those two guys with plastic bags? Pickpockets.

Overall impression of Milan: Lots of people in black, and a surprising number were Asian. I bought an AC Milan jersey at a store that only sold AC Milan (red), Juventus (white), and Milano (blue).

Genoa, Italy
I've been pounding down the miles on foot, and they've started to rebel. I'm guessing five blisters per foot by the time I'm done. I "talked" to some Italians on the way to Genoa. Funny how there is always one bad city/hostel experience each of my trips: Genoa hostel is closed until February 1, 1999. I should point out that the hostel listing said open: "1-2-99" which I interpreted according to the American convention "Jan 2, 1999" rather than European "1 Feb 99" because I though my book was American. I discovered my error after the cab left. I wrote down the names of some places listed on the "We're closed" notice, and thought about crashing outside.

There was a light on in the basement and the door was open. Normally, I'd go check it out, but there was an eight foot fence between me and the door. So I started writing down names of the other places when out walk two people. "Hello, the hostel is closed". Well, um, obviously. I was asked if I wanted to come with them into town (the hostel is at the top of a winding hillside road) and not to be foolish, jumped at the chance. The bus came right then, so we all ran. I have a feeling that I was supposed to have a ticket, but who cared then? The person who helped me was the daughter of the hostel owner. He's in Alaska. Anyways, she pointed me out to a few hotels, and I stayed at the 'mini-hotel'. They have this great gummy candy called Big Fruit. The room is spacious and centrally located.

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Thursday, January 07, 1999

We don't need no water, let the Swiss capital Bern!

Paris, France
Woke up at 5:45 am, got ready, snuck in breakfast and walked 8 minutes to Gare de Lyon. I'm taking a TGV (fast train) from Paris to Lausanne (Western Switzerland) and passing through Dijon, Dole, Mouchard, Frasne, and Vallorbe. I'll switch there and get on a train to Bern.
Santa takes the train to let his reindeer rest
The train went through a tunnel with a banked turn in it. It was weird how the lights on one side were above the window, and below it on the other side. It's 8:08 am, and the clouds are just now turning red in the rising sun. Which is no longer visible due to the fog we just entered. Dijon-totally fogged in. The trees are like shadows on the white background. It cleared up sometime while I napped. There was a passport check, and now there is frost and snow outside. A ticket check, by the chief of the train. I stepped out for a bit in Lausanne, just your average quaint Swiss town. Foggy though.

I'm waiting for the 1202 to Bern. It's much colder here than Paris. I'd guess mid 30's. I'm now on the train to Bern and it's different than the TGV for a few reasons: 1) many more face to face chairs. 2) the car is divided into smoking and non-smoking by a glass door. I sat in the smoking section by accident, but was too lazy to move. I also can't nap this time as the train doesn't terminate in Bern. The ticket checker had green bangs. The fog is so thick here I can only see thirty to forty feet past the window. It seems all railways are plagued by graffiti, but Switzerland has very skillful ones (I saw Einstein on a bunker!). Fog's gone, not a cloud in the sky.

Bern, Switzerland
At Bern, it took me a few minutes to get my bearings. I dropped my stuff off at the hostel, and went to check on my ticket for tomorrow. Turns out, all I need is the Europass and I'm golden. So I toured Bern. One main street is a mall, but in a setting that preserves the medieval feel of the town. Cobblestone streets, with an occasional statue right in the middle.

A few nice churches and clocks. The bear pits had two big bears just sitting there eating the stuff people threw to them.

The Aare river is quite tranquil. Right now (16:30) I'm waiting for the reception to open. The hostel's much better than the one in Paris. There are 8 bunks, but only 3 people (so far). I finally got to change into some clean clothes.

For dinner, I went to a small bar/grill and ordered veal and Gurten, a beer. Mutze Bugler 50 cl, 5% alc. vol. So I watch countless women walk into the back of the restaurant (they're all around 40-50). Then two come back out and discuss with the waitress about tables or something. Then the women pour out of the back and fill up the seats behind me. My meal consists of fajita-sized strips of veal in mushroom sauce, with hashbrowns (more or less). It's good. Restaurant Zum Untern Juker (Einstein Haus), if you're curious. Went to sleep around 9pm.
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Wednesday, January 06, 1999

Paris in Sunlight

Paris, France
Slept well. I tried to stay quiet for my roomies, but the shower door is only 3/4 of the doorway. Privacy, but not from sound. Breakfast at 7:30. By 8:50 am I had TGV reservations for Bern, so the day can now begin. Cobblestones are pretty, but hurt when you walk on them.
I came up to Notre Dame at 9:35, peeked around it. At 10 o'clock I ran into Penina outside of ND. Petit Monde? I saw her walking down the street, so I leaned up against a lamp post until she was within an arm's reach and said "How's it going?" While still in Boston, we had planned to get in touch with each other for dinner, but it was just coincidence that she'd just arrived in town only 15 minutes before now. I'll be meeting up with her and the people she's staying with.

I walked to the Musee D'Orsay, where I stumbled upon the Monet I have a poster of in my room. There was an art tour in French discussing it. I'm now more or less lost in the D'Orsay when I pass by Monet's Le pont d'Argenteuil, my favorite painting of his. Just my luck to be tired and weary and get to rest here. Saw lots of stuff here. Saw enough Rodin to justify skipping his museum. Got lunch (smoked salmon sandwich) at a nearby cafe around noon.

The sun is weird here. It's noon, but only 30 degrees off the horizon. Long shadows everywhere. Hiked from the Invalides to the Trocadero, then on to the Arc de Triumph, then down the Champs d'Elysees as far as the Concorde when my blisters went nuts.

On the Champs d'Elysees, I stopped into Sephora and got my mom some perfume for Valentine's Day. That place was cool, if slightly outside my comfort zone. After the shops, it seems like nothing here is paved. It's all sandy dirt. I'm sitting at an octogonal pool on the side with everyone facing the setting sun. Eight white statues are between me and the Louvre.

As I went about getting ready for dinner, I took the Metro down to the stop that Penina told me about. Again with the "sounds like" game. I walked down Rue de Reuilly and missed Rue de Gare de Reuilly. I got to the place at the appointed time, and we (Penina, her friend, and I) went for dinner at Zygomates...We were too early, as Parisian dinner is eaten at 8pm. Her roommate and roomie's boyfriend met us there. It was interestingly cozy, and my lamb was good. I went to sleep back at the hostel after dinner.

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Tuesday, January 05, 1999

Navigating Paris at Night

London, England
I arrived in London, blew through customs, and caught the 0850 Gatwick Express to Victoria train station. The express ride was scenic...lots of greenery. I got McDonald's for food, since it was early for them, but late for me, and I needed nourishment. I hopped on the Underground which took me to the Eurostar departure station (Waterloo, if you care). This was kinda of interesting. The Eurostar people
  1. Don't take mastercard, so I had to put it on the AmEx (thanks Dad!)
  2. No Youth Passes until 1643 or something like that. Which means no arrival in Paris until 2000 something which means no Louvre.
So I decided to suck it up and get my Europass validated early and save some money (pass holders pay like 50-60% of the full fare). I was killing time just sitting around Waterloo station, remembering the last time I was here with Micah. On the train, I sat next to a girl from London who is studying/teaching art in France. It was nice to talk to her (I knew that good conversations in my language could be quite scarce for the next week). Two old guys behind us were talking about all sorts of stuff, even that tribe in Africa that communicates usings clicking sounds.

Paris, France
Gare Du Nord is a madhouse...and quite a large one. The Metro is easy to understand, but sprawling nonetheless. I tried to find the Sacre Coeur, but the map scale was off, so there were streets that didn't match up. It was much bigger than the map would lead you to believe.

The hostel  (Auberge Internationale des Jeunes) I arrived at rather easily, but I lost the deposit for my travel companion since he decided last minute not to come along. It's around 1816 monday right now, and I've been up since 0200 saturday here, with just a few naps.

I went out to find the What's Up Bar, but it turned out they were just watching some non-subtitled movie. My hostel roommates appear to be from Argentina. It's amazingly warm outside now. Time to find food. I walked up to Le Bistrot de Peintre (116 Av Ledru Rollin). My meal consisted of roast duck (about 69 FFr), and a glass of wine to go with it. The Bistro is Art Neauveau and I had a seat in the corner where I could watch the scooters go by. It's pretty surreal and everyone seems to be wearing black. I feel like people think I'm introspective when I'm writing in my little journal. Ha! That'll learn 'em.

There was a little white Cockapoo at the other table staring at me. People here dig dogs. The waiter brought the dog a bowl of water and when the dog jumped on another patron, the guy didn't seem to care. The ashtrays are an inch and a half deep. The duck with potatoes and cabbage is quite good. Bread, wine and water rounded out the meal. It's very cozy in here, and the voices of the other patrons form a background music of sorts as the pedestrians provide visual entertainment. Except for the lack of language skills and money, I'm pretty chilled out after the dinner hit me.

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Monday, January 04, 1999

Winter Break in Europe

Boston, MA, USA
Since January is the independent activity period at school, I'm taking a trip to Europe to be actively independent. My itinerary is:
  • Paris, France
  • Bern, Switzerland
  • Milan, Italy
  • Genoa, Italy
  • Marseilles, France
  • D-Day Beaches, France
  • Oxford, England
The trip begins with a flight from Boston, MA to Gatwick International Airport, London, England. My original plans were to to hang out in London and Paris with a travel partner, who was on MIT crew with me. He bailed out of the trip on 01 Jan 99, two days before "Go Time." I wasn't about to hang out all by myself, so I threw together a quickly revised travel plan to see some other countries. Without a map.

The Virgin Atlantic flight is scheduled to depart at 2020. Boston is misty right now, and as I left the house, the brisk air was heavy with the scent of fireplaces and burning wood. I ran into my fraternity brother Ed Essey at the airport, he was just returning to Boston from Christmas break. We chatted until the shuttle bus came to my stop. I checked in and hung out in the gate area. The airport monitors have an oscillating image, which more or less reminded me of a space invaders game in text mode.

The more I watched it, the more it seemed like a hallucination and I started to wonder if there was something I had forgotten to bring. On the plane, it was pretty sweet. Personal LCD TVs for every seat. The meal was a Ricotta crepe with chardonnay followed by a rocky road cheesecake. I declined the rum and Irish cream. It was reasonably spacious on the plane. On arrival, the sunrise was in sharp contrast to the rainy, foggy, generally wet stuff below. It was 12 C, which is about 55 F and a welcome change from the chilly Boston weather.


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