Our Adventures in Sri Lanka

Safaris to spot leopards and elephants, swimming in the Indian Ocean, sipping tea in the mountains, and several more!

Our Nile Cruise

Starting in Cairo, we sailed to Luxor, Edfu, Kom Ombo, and Aswan.

Trouble at Sea: Our Red Sea Dive Trip in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia

The Red Sea is one of the top diving destinations in the world, but Saudi Arabia is a very restrictive country to get into. That alone would have made the trip memorable...but then things went south and the Saudi Coast Guard and a hospital got involved.

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.

Discovering Turkey

We emersed ourselves in Istanbul, explored the white travertines of Pamukkale, and traced history through Laodikeia, Hierolopolis, and Cleopatra's Baths.

Wednesday, March 20, 2002

Europe Trip 2002 Summary

Fixin' it up real nice, June 2015


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Tuesday, March 19, 2002

A quick trip to the Tate Modern

Berlin, Germany
Got a wakeup “Morgen” at 06:12 from the conductor. The train pulled into Berlin Zoo at 07:06, and I made my way to the bus terminal. The X9 bus runs to the airport much faster than the 10, and I would have waited for it even if it hadn’t arrived first. I arrived at the airport at 07:45 at the latest, and after shaving and being told I was too early to check in, I went to the market and got breakfast: Grapefruit Gatorade and a pecan roll. It’s just past 8am and already the air is heavy with cigarette smoke. As I was looking at the flights and departures, I noticed that the increments are every five minutes. It looks nicer than having them posted at all times. I suppose it’s easier to keep the flight number and departure time separate that way.

I checked in at 08:40, and the guy behind the counter said that I had to come back in 5 minutes because he had to enter my passport or something like that. Odd. I think it turned out to be just “I need an emergency contact # for you”. Basically sat around until boarding the plane at 10:30. It’s over booked by 1, and they were offering 200€ to take a slightly later flight. I seriously considered it, but I’d really like to see that Tate museum/gallery. But it would have been a sweet end to the trip. I’m due to arrive in London around 11:38, and I hope to blow through customs because I have no bags at all.

London, England
I was quickly on my way after landing, having made only a slight wrong turn while following the pack. I changed my Euros to Sterling and was standing with ticket in hand for the Heathrow Express at 12:04. On the Tube at 12:38, it figures that I’d have to take a line with occasional construction (circle) to the Tate Modern. Had to switch from District to Circle line at High St. Kensington, where I snagged a bag of Walkers salt and vinegar crisps. Addictively tasty. Got out at Blackfriars, walked across the bridge and got some fish and chips while looking out over the Thames. The Tate is just next door, I expect to have about 1.5 hours there. Sat next to an old artist who talked about painting with a colleague while I was eating.

Inside the Tate, I saw a room full of Rothkos, from his Seagrams series. They’re intended to make the viewer feel trapped and oppressed. The colors he used are maroon and black, on gray walls. First impression: “It’s the MIT room”, so he made his point. I’ve grown to like Mondrian, Matisse, and a few others, but much of the art here is past my taste. I hopped on the Jubilee Line at Southwark, changed at Baker St, made it to Paddington with enough time to get two more bags of crisps and make the 15:55 Heathrow express. While I was checking in, they made an announcement for volunteers. This time, I walked up to business class (short line…one person) and volunteered. They are looking for 17 on this flight. I find out at boarding time. I went through customs, then went shopping for a tin soldier on a horse (the English entry in my trinket collection). Picked it up at the Harrod’s store in the mall. My flight began calling up people to head to the gate. Checked in, high level security check. They swiped my boots and jacket with swabs and had them analyzed. Wild. No volunteers needed. Flight went fine. Landed at 20:34, out of airport at 21:00. All volunteer bags came out first, so that really helped get past customs fast. Caught the T and got home and went to bed.

And so ends this adventure.

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Monday, March 18, 2002

Neuschwanstein Castle

Munich, Germany
Woke up at 06:00, realized that this would be the last bed for a while. Got out of bed an hour later, repacked my bag, headed downstairs to meet Suzy and Amanda. As I went to buy breakfast, I discovered that I had no money left. The tour, drinks, and McD’s burnt it all up. My bank card was refused by the ATM. Met up with the girls and went to the station. Denied at another ATM, opted for cash advance on my credit card. (which, by the way, you should never do. It cost me far too much in fees and interest to ever do it again.) I dropped my bag in a locker (as I was checked out of the hotel already) and picked up a liter of juice to re-hydrate. The train was about 2 hours, and armed with info, we beat the crowds to the ticket booths and had a leisurely walk up the mountain. Breakfast was at 11am, wiess bockwurst in a bun. Good. We were on the 12:25 tour of the castle, with a guide who looks like Gavin Rossdale from Bush and has an accent to match. The tour was pretty short, and we walked though the unfinished parts of the castle. To save money all the jewels are colored glass and metal is brass. Lots of paintings about Wagner operas. There’s a grotto, man-made, in the middle of the castle.

After the castle, we ate lunch (potato pancakes and apfel strudel), then went up to the Mariansbrucke which overlooked the castle and a deep gorge. We then followed a sign for the Rodelbahn (mountain slide), but that just took us to the town center. Popped into the info booth, found that the last bus for the Rodelbahn leaves in 5 minutes. Good timing, but had it been any day other than Sunday, there’d have been more. We arrived at the park with no problem, then figured out where to buy tickets. The Rodelbahn mountain slide is like a metal waterslide without the water, and you ride a sled down. There is a brake handle that you can use to slow down, but there’s little reason to. At the end are plasticized cloth streamers that are there to make you slow down because they can sting if you hit them at speed. Trust me. The second time though, I ducked under them. We each rode down twice, it was really fun. A few times I couldn’t shift my weight fast enough and I thought that I was going to roll over and wipe out. The park also had a cable ride/swing thing. Having grown tired of being kids again, we went over to see what time the bus leaves. In a few minutes, very nice. Having filled out a few more postcards, I dashed to a post box, dropped them off, then got a citrus Popsicle.

We took the bus back to the Fussen station, where 10 minutes later we boarded a train back to München. The girls really wanted to get something called Spaghetti Ice Cream, so we asked at the hotel—where I noticed they have internet—and we headed out to a place called Scalatti or something like that. Dinner was Wiener schnitzel mit pommes, which I ordered whil the girls made some calls. I ate it while waiting for the U-Bahn. Again, delicious. The guy behind the counter at the gelateria spoke little English, but I saw something on a placard called ‘Spagett eis’, so we got that. I had spezi, which is a half coke, half lemonade drink. Quite refreshing. We took the U-bahn back to the hotel and parted ways. Oh yeah, spagetti ice cream is vanilla ice cream made to look like noodles, with a strawberry sauce on top.

Back at the hotel, where they have internet, I checked out the info on where to find the Tate Modern in London, as I have a 6+ hour layover. Went to the München Hauptbahnhof around 10pm, spent 15 minutes trying to find the locker I put my bag in, then walked around trying to find a store with souvenirs that was still open. No luck. The train arrived, I found my couchette, went to sleep around 11:30pm.

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Sunday, March 17, 2002

A drinking tour of Munich

Munich, Germany
I woke up a few times during the morning, which is how I found out that the guys that I had planned to meet would have never shown up. One of them was ill and they bailed. It was about 10am when I finally rolled out of bed. The Glockenspiel in the Neues Rathaus goes off at 11, which shouldn’t be a problem to see it today. I dame it there with time to spare. The premise of the show is a joust between the Austrian and Bavarian knights, the latter always winning. I walked over to Mike’s Bike tours to try and pay w/ credit card, but they’ve not set it up this season. They also gave me info on how to get to Neuschwanstein Castle and what to do when I get there.

I met up with the tour guide, Jason, at 12:30. He’s a funny character. He gave a decently informative tour, but it was more for fun. Some of the lines which were memorable:

  • The Bavaria (symbol of the region) is like an ex-girlfriend that you keep bumping into around town
  • All the Monks did their little monkey things in their little monkey ways
  • 3 Bell Games: Ring for lions, ring for attractive girls, ring for mullets
  • You didn’t choose the bikes, the bikes chose you. Functional people got functional bells. Dysfunctional people got dysfunctional bells, and are probably used to this sort of thing happening to them all the time
  • This is the largest church north of Rome, but at the end of the day, it’s still just another church
  • Lastly, Drunken show-offs who crash get no play
A long line of tourists on bikes, we toured the city and English Garden, where we broke for a liter of beer. Further touring down the Isar river, then we finished the tour and met up with some people from the tour at the Haufbrau Haus. Two more liters of lightbier and one of dark bier. Made plans with Suzy and Amanda, third year American students abroad at Oxford whom I met on the tour, to visit Neuschwanstein tomorrow at 08:51. They left after one liter. When I got up to, um, “purge my stomach of alcohol”, the other people I was with left too. It’s just as well, because this marks the third time I’ve had too much to drink. Once every two years seems to be the average. I stumbled back to the hotel, stopping at not one, but two McDonald’s for a single cheeseburger at each. Crashed into bed around 10pm.

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Saturday, March 16, 2002

From Vienna to Munich, via Salzburg

Vienna, Austria
As my watch alarm doesn’t work (I did try it again last night), I woke up at 04:40ish, then 06:03, which was right on target. I was checked out of the hostel and standing at the tram stop at 06:30. So I’m 10 minutes ahead of where I planned to be, with time to spare. I could have walked it, but the 3-day pass was still good. By 06:40, I knew where my train was, so I wrote up some postcards and got a few items from the bakery before boarding. Found a non-smoking car with a single seat facing another. Ate my breakfast only to discover 1) I had no napkins, 2) my bottled water was so cheap because it was carbonated mineral water. Once I finished breakfast and was fast at work catching up on my journal writing, more people began to board. One guy put his stuff on the rack and his briefcase on the seat opposite me, then picked up his briefcase and walked away. Two more people tried to take his seat, and with my poor German, the rest of the car became involved in telling them that a guy might be sitting there, but had gone down the train somewhere. After that, I adopted a seat-blocking body language until one of the people I’d turned away decided “We are well on our way, the guy’s not coming back”. I think she’s an art student, but I’m too tired to try to strike up a conversation.

Saw a nun that was probably only in her 20’s walking down the aisle. So far, my impression of the Austrians, mainly the Viennese, is that they are a little smaller and slighter than what you’d expect of a Germanic people. Also, it seemed that many of the middle-aged women were interchangeable with their shoulder length blonde hair, sunglasses, nice clothes, and jewelry all in similar styles. I don’t know how many were American though. Oh, and Austrians are more erratically German-looking—not freaks, just odd. I suppose that was more of a first impression than an accurate one, but I’m standing by it. The girl who sat across from me is Sigrid, and she teaches art in Linz and Vienna (She goes to Linz on Fridays). We talked about various things, she said that it’s hard living in a city with as much history as Vienna because everywhere you look, you see something historic. She also said that Vienna is very mixed, so that diversity makes it interesting. Also jobs are tight over here, too.

Salzburg, Austria
My train arrived in Salzburg around 10:30, and by 10:35 I’d managed to get my bag into a locker, head towards the center of town, and by 10:55 get lost. I hopped on the 51 bus, amazingly knowing that it would take me where I wanted to go. 1.60€ fare, which I was interpret. Made it to the town center, saw the cathedral that was bombed out in WWII which they restored in 1959. There was a weird feel to it, after the super-old churches (this is old too, just newly repaired) in Vienna. My radio was playing the Eurythmic’s Sweet Dreams while I was inside the cathedral, which added to the experience. I walked around trying to find the starting point for the funicular that would take me up to the castle, only to realize that I had walked right by it when I first started. No loss though, as it was being repaired, thus unusable. So I powered up with a Red Bull and took to the hill. The castle is fairly high up there. Nice views, otherwise very castle-like. I walked to Café Streif and got weiner schnitzel and apfelsaft (apple juice). As the ordering was done in German, I’m hoping that I understood everything. It seems like I did, even getting the large glass of juice that I wanted.

I walked back towards the river, then on to the train station, following the river up to a nice little park. The background music on my radio in Salzburg was mostly Polka. It’s just as well that I didn’t explore more of Salzburg, because to my surprise, there was a train headed to Munich at 14:36. That means I will arrive in Munich at 16:20, about twenty minutes before I’d originally planned to leave Salzburg. Which is nice, because I don’t have any hostel reservations waiting for me in Munich. It looks like I’ve got the compartment all to myself. So I’ll be munching on my Mozartkugeln, or ‘Mozart Balls’, chocolate balls with hazelnut marzipan filling that some of my friends told me to pick up while I was here.

Munich, Germany
Made it to München just fine, got off the train and was facing the road on my mini-map to the youth hostel. Found the hotel on the first try, got a bed in a 5-bed room for two nights. When I entered the room, I met Theodore from Bulgaria and Peter from Hungary and we finished off a bottle of plum brandy. They told me what I should see and also told me about meeting up at 8pm to go clubbing…probably until 4am. I took their advice, which was the same as my game plan anyways. I started at Karlsplatz and worked my way down to Isator, via Marienplatz. I’ll have more on those later, as I’m going to try and get on one of Mike’s Bike Tours. On my walking around, I had some roasted caramelized almonds, chased by a bratwurst for dinner. The area has a lot of stores, at one intersection there’s an H&M, a C&A, and a K&L. I believe the season for bus tours to Neuschwanstein doesn’t start for a month (with Mike’s tours). Fortunately, I have one extra day on my Eurail pass, and I plan to use it.

The meeting point for the night of clubbing was kaufhaus or kaufhof, which happen to be on opposite sides of the very large square. And I’m looking for 2 guys of central European decent. Talk about your needle in a haystack. After doing a few laps between the two places, 8:30pm rolled around and I decided to make other plans. While making my rounds, I overheard a few people who were clearly American. So I tagged along with them to a nearby bar, on the way learning that they mostly go to the same school…an international high school in Munich I find out later. So, given that bit of reflection: At the bar, more and more kids came pouring into our corner. Most are 18, so it’s like hanging out with college freshmen who have drinking experience. Around 11pm, we went over to a bowling alley. I was 3rd of 7, having bowled a 110 to the winner’s 135. After the alley closed, all seven of us went over to Kunst Park, where the clubs are. Lots of clubs, but the kids I’m with aren’t dressed for it. One guy was getting turned away because of his hooded sweatshirt. The funniest rejection was a girl who turned 18 on February 11, 2002. On the drivers license, it said “02-11-02”, so the bouncers said “No exceptions” because that’s 2 November 2002 to them. We didn’t get in anywhere, which is fine with me. We caught the S-bahn @2:20, the last for two hours. Got back to the hotel and went silently to bed…roommates were already back.

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Friday, March 15, 2002

A lap around Vienna

Vienna, Austria
I woke up around 7am, was the first to shower, and was done with breakfast by 07:30. I’m going straight for the Stephensdom, which is in the center of town. Because it’s so early, only worshippers are there. I can’t really describe the place as anything other than grand and intricate. And quiet. But as soon as I stepped outside, the construction noise was in full effect. The spire is under scaffolding. The area around the Stephensdom is what you’d think Old World Europe-in-the-city would look like. On my first pass, I missed the Spanish Riding School, home of the Lipizzaners. As it turns out, I’m just in time for the morning practice. I got in on a student rate, and got one of the best views in the house. I think that they were playing Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Strauss for background music. I saw them teaching one horse how to walk, but some of the horses looked like they were dancing instead. One fact I learned is that they are born gray and turn white after 8 or 9 years. I found a nice ceramic Lippizaner stallion trinket for my collection at the gift store.

I went over to the Café Hawelka for some coffee, a much needed pick me up. The Viennese are really picky about their coffee. I went with what’s called ‘melange’, a blend of coffee and hot milk. Pretty good stuff. The atmosphere is dark, relaxed, that place where shabby chic and classic meet. The waiter was in full formal attire, but the patrons are only nicely dressed. After coffee, I went for a walk around the Ringstrasse. There are lots of grand buildings and parks. It’s really sunny, which makes me sneeze. I expect someone to say ‘Gesundheit’ any moment. Tonite’s opera is Swan Lake. The only tickets available are for 140€ for nearly front row, or 9€ just to listen (I guess it’s view is blocked somehow). The Vienna Boys Choir only plays on Sunday. That completes the performance goals for Vienna. I found my way over to the Secession Building, which houses Gustav Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze and other avante-garde art. Some pieces were quite interesting, but many weren’t. It only cost 2.90€ so I don’t think they ripped me off. Being in the museum state of mind, I headed to the Upper Belvedere, where the Austrian Gallery houses their 19th and 20th century paintings. Along the way, I stopped into a grocery store and bought a bottle of ‘Red-Orange Geschmack Goût’ flavored Gatorade. I don’t know about the gout, but I was looking for the red-orange colored drink. At the gallery, I saw more of Klimt’s stuff, including The Kiss.

Daylight is slipping away, and my camera has no flash, so I was off to my last agenda item: Hundertwasser Haus. Friedensreich Hundertwasser was an artist who created a controversial apartment building. It’s controversial because it’s not really what you think apartments should look like. I don’t think I’d want to live there—too many curving lines. As the apartment isn’t directly listed on my maps, I had to go by instinct. The best I could tell, it was due east of the U-bahn station I came out of. I asked one person on the street to get oriented, then I kept the sun at my back until I found one, then the other of the cross roads. I arrived just in time to catch the sunset reflecting off the tiled walls. Back on the tram, then to the U-bahn. I realized that I’d missed seeing the Danube, so I got out at a stop near it and walked across the bridge. I sat on the banks of the Danube while I updated my journal, then went over to the U-bahn station so that I could check my train times for tomorrow. When I was sure when my train would be leaving, I went back to the hostel to see if other people were going out to dinner.

My room was filled with people, six including myself. As they were low on Euro, we ate at the hostel bar. I ended up eating a pizza, it was okay. After a few drinks, we headed out to see the sights that they missed. We walked down Mariahilfer Straße and somehow found our way to the Stephensdom. It looked fantastic the way they had it lit up, but being 11pm, it was closed. So we followed roughly my morning route, saw the Roman ruins at Michaeler Platz, which was all lit up. We then went out on the Ringstrasse where all those big old building were lit up like a postcard photo. I’d left my camera in my rooom, but I’m fairly convinced the pictures wouldn’t have turned out. Down to the Opera, also closed. The other five people I was with were only moderately interesting to talk to, save a guy from Idaho who seemed genuinely interested in the facts that I recalled from the guidebook. We headed back to the hostel where I went to sleep, after prepping my bag for a 06:40 departure from the hostel. I think that was midnight, and tow of my roommates stumbled in at 2am, waking me up. The Red Bull I had at 11pm didn’t help either.

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Thursday, March 14, 2002

From Prague to Vienna

Prague, Czech Republic
Woke up and packed for the trip to Vienna later today. I have to vacate the apartment by noon, so I’m going shopping with what little change I’ve got left. Ready to go at 08:30, early by my recent standards. I took the Metro to Namesti Trida, got another pancake, then headed towards Wenceslas Square to pick up some absinthe. On the way, I passed an internet café, but it opens at 10am. For around $10, I picked up a Red Bull and 0,4 l of absinthe (half of that’s for me, half is for a high school buddy). So it’s 09:23, and I have to find a phone that takes coins because I only need it for a few minutes (a card will be useless in a few hours). The Red Bull I had for breakfast kicked in during a techno song, and I almost want to run around the city. That stuff is great.

So I found that over 50% of the phones in the area take cards and have instructions for calling internationally-the coin operated ones don’t. But I found an example for calling France, so it was simple to change the numbers for Austria. The first time I dialed, nothing happened. The second time, it connected immediately. I didn’t do anything differently. Anyways, I got in touch with Wombats, the hostel that I’m going to in Vienna, so they won’t give away my space. 09:42, nothing to do. Thinking back to my camera problems, I think I want my next one (I think this one is beyond repair) to have a wide angle and super zooming ability, quiet, and lightweight. There were a number of times when a quiet camera wouldn’t be distracting. I’m still debating on a digital camera, since their battery life can be fairly short. I think that I might have salvaged the couple of pics in the camera when it finally bought the farm. Or they’ve had three or more exposures on the same frame. I walked back to my previously discovered internet café, checked email, and just relaxed.

On my walk back to the apartment, I used my change to get gummi bears. I’ve about 60 CSK in my pocket for lunch. Watched the news until I left for the train. I don’t remember if I mentioned this before, but the metro trains look to be of Russian design, and have wood paneling like a Calvin Klein advertisement. Also, the ‘air conditioning’ is just forced air from the train’s forward motion. Feels like a rollercoaster more than a subway. I exited the metro at the Muzeum and went down the street to the place where I got my first klobasa-I had to know if they were really as good as I first thought. It was even better than the first time. That, and 1l of Coca-cola drained me of my Czech currency.

It’s about 12:26 now, I’m at the station, and my train leaves at 14:15. There are two sub-levels, the first of which goes under the tracks. The second goes outside and also has access to the Metro below. While waiting, I read up on Vienna, so I should be set when I get there. When I got to the train platform, a song I heard in Berlin came on, Puretone’s Addicted to Bass. It’s really catchy. The train arrived about 7 minutes before it is scheduled to leave. I was wondering how you know if you’re sitting in a reserved seat. That is, until I saw the little board to the side of the door with names and numbers (of the seat). My cabin filled up with single guys. Loss. And they don’t even look like they’d be interested in talking to me. And for all my observance of the reservations, I think that I managed to sit in a smoking section. As I’m too lazy to look for a new cabin, I’ll ‘tought it out’ for the hour-plus until I change trains in Pardubice. I think it’s in the Czech Republic, but I haven’t seen it on a map anywhere.

When we arrived at Pardubice at 15:40 or so, I did find a map. But it was too localized, so basically it’s useless to me. I’ll be catching the EC173 Vindobona to Vienna (also known as Wien)…I think it’s the same one I was on from Berlin to Prague (also known as Praha). Two freight trains have blown thru the station on the platform I am facing. Unbelievably loud and very windy. The train came a little late, but we were on our way at 16:14, maybe one minute after it arrived. I snagged a single seat facing forward in a no smoking section. There seemed to be a fair number of Czech air force guys on the platform when we left. The conductor/”Chief of Train” filled in my Czech pass expiration date in addition to his punching duties. Obsessive? The other 2 chiefs didn’t care.

Speaking of other trains, this one is nice. The one from Prague was kind of a dive. When I boarded it, I noticed a sort of sweat and other smells mixing together. Fortunately, our windows opened. Well, except when we passed a farm/field that smelled like you’d expect it to. Or maybe worse. One girl had her head in the breeze for maybe 60% of the ride, seeking shelter from the farm near the end. The first town we made a stop in on the EC train was Ceska Treblova, smoke from wood fires dotted the landscape, and the people were running thru the nearby hills. The next city we stopped at was Brno, just after sunset. I had a little dessert/snack in the food cart an hour back, and I think it will hold me until I reach Wien. Passed thru customs, got a Czech stamp. Had to ask for it though. As I don’t speak Czech, I made a stamping motion with my hand after the officer gave it back to me. He took it gruffly and flipped to the last possible page and hammered the stamp down against one of the glass dividing walls.

Vienna, Austria
At the next stop, the Austrians got on, stamped my documents, and somewhere in the ruckus, my cheap-o camera fell out of my jacket pocket and hit the floor. As it’s so simple, I doubt there is any damage to it. But I’m beginning to think that I’m not supposed to have pictures from my second day in Prague. Arrived in Vienna around 19:30, figured out the transit ticket on my first try. I did not correctly guess the right tram direction (right tram, wrong way). But I was able to hop off and on to one going the opposite way at the next stop.

Now Vienna seems to lend itself to misdirection. After I got off the tram, I walked down far enough to realize that I have to turn around. Not much later, I found my way to the hostel. I was checked in and dropped my stuff at 20:50, a full ten minutes before I’d aimed for. Not too shabby. At reception, I was given a map with restaurants, etc. I ended up at Schnitzelwirt (Neubaugasse 52) where the map said “Schnitzels…the size of UFOs.” It just arrived and are they ever! One covers a standard plate, and two come per dish. Schnitzel Heaven. German potato salad, and an Ottakringer beer complete the meal. It never had a chance. In terms of eating all my favorite foods, today could only have been better if I had a few McDonald’s hash browns for breakfast.

I’ve become quickly fluent in the transportation system, as I took the tram to the U-bahn here with no mistakes. On foot however, I again had trouble orienting myself. I guess looking at a map only made it worse, because I was looking for the street that the area is named for. Tomorrow will be a full day, complete with required stops in coffee shops and bakeries. I think that I might be coming down with a cold, however. So with that in mind, I need to call it a night. But the waiters didn’t see me for another 15 minutes. Only 9.10€ for a beer and a big meal. Nice. Crashed at the hostel at 23:00. Awoke again after midnight as my 3 roommates straggled in. Two guys from Brooklyn (one of those from Brown…I guess a school with no core requirements fosters a desire to do something other than schoolwork), and a girl from South Carolina.

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Wednesday, March 13, 2002

In Prague, without a camera

Prague, Czech Republic
I tell you what, I’m getting lazy. I think I woke up around 8:30 and wasn’t ready to go until 10am. I boarded a tram just after 10, and arrived at the castle steps minutes later. I walked from the east side to the west, and somewhere around St. Vitus’s Cathedral, I noticed that my camera sounded odd. Like wouldn’t-advance-the-film kind of odd. So four pictures into the new roll, and I think my camera’s dead. I turn it off, but the lens cover stays open. It’s had a good run, but I’ve got 6 days left on my trip.

As my acquaintance in Berlin was fond of saying: “Life is solving problems.” It just so happens that there is a merchant outside the castle gates, and for 400 CSK, I not only had a replacement camera, but I can use the rest of my film (non-disposable, simple manual camera). And it came with a roll of film. I walked down the long staircase from the castle to the Little Quarter, and followed the guidebook’s suggested routes around the area.
While around the Malostranske Namesti, I mailed off the postcards I had written last night. 12 CSK per, that’s like 30 cents. I had some apple strudel in a café next to the church of St. Nicholas. A little more wandering brought me over to the riverside, where I bought a fruity Popsicle and soda. I enjoyed them next to the Grand Priory Mill, on my way back to the beginning of the bridge.

As I was walking back across the bridge, I played with my new camera a bit. I have no idea where the edges of the frame are, so they should be interesting. I wouldn’t be half surprised if I’ve been trying to be too precise with a cheap plastic camera. I boarded a tram to take me to a beer hall called U Fleku. I had some pork, bread/potato dumplings, sauerkraut, and 2 pints of a really strong, dark beer that is only available here. The waiter brought one over to me with the menu, and I started the other one right after I finished. During the meal time, an accordion was playing in the corner. Home on the Range and other classics. There’s a big clock at the end of the beer hall, I think that’s the first for a bar. For 280 CSK, I had 2 beers and a filling meal. I left while the accordion played Doris Day’s Que Sera Sera. The music was hard to hear outside, except by the window nearest the source. I walked back to my apartment thru Karluv Namesti, checking out the phones on my way. I have to confirm with my next hostel tomorrow by phone because I arrive after their check-in/reservation-holding time.

My head is beginning to hurt from the beer, so I’m going to lay down for a bit. Four hours later, I woke up and flipped thru the channels. Some in English, some dubbed well into German, some voiced by one Czech guy for both male and female roles. They also have “Who wants to be a millionaire,” for 10,000,000 CSK, I think I saw a few Russian channels as well.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2002

If it ain't Baroque...

Prague, Czech Republic
Woke up around 7am, didn’t feel like getting out of bed until 9. The shower has hot water. I think today will be spent walking/touring the Old and New Town areas, and the Jewish Quarter. Tomorrow I’ll cross the Vltava and see the castle and the Little Quarter. I went up to Mustek to get my 3-day Metro pass, and had to wait about 15 minutes for the cashier to come back. I strolled into the Old Town, cashed about $60USD at a bank.
I hit the Staromestske Namesti about 11 am, only to find it cluttered with what look like fairground booths. It kind of takes away from the impressiveness of the square. Just before noon, I picked up another klobasy, only to find I’ve either been getting progressively worse made ones, or had my fill of them. I caught the show at the astronomical clock at noon, not really photographic, just impressive because it was made and perfected by 1572.

There is a country music station in Prague that played Czech covers of Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots are Made for Walking, CCR’s Lookin’ out my Backdoor, Day-Oh, Alan Jackson’s Chatahoochee, Joan Baez’s Where have all the Flowers Gone, and Eric Clapton’s Lay Down Sally. That and techno seem to dominate the charts.

I walked all around the Old Town, then up to the Jewish Quarter. Where my camera went nuts. I had used about 11 shots, and it refused to turn off. I bought a new battery, something sounded weird in the zoom mechanism. So I tried to rewind it using the button. I heard it moving inside, and after a minute or so I thought that I had it rewound. Nope. All the film was just sitting there. While I opened it in the darkest hallway I could find, I expect it’s ruined. With any luck, the next roll will work out.
The picture that broke my camera
I strolled around the Jewish Quarter, then headed down to the Karluv Most, the main bridge you see in photos of Prague.


Wouldn’t you know it, there is some kind of production crew blocking one end, cluttering up one side, and prohibiting access to the other. One of my pet peeves: people* relaxing in front of places they know are prime tourist photo spots. My overall impression of Prague is that it’s quite nice, but the sunshine and blue skies take a little away from the “Romantic” feeling that the city is supposed to have.

Took a break around 3pm to enjoy the warm sun, cool breeze, the river, and a Pilsner Urquell.
Having accomplished everything on my list, I set about confirming my train info. I took the Metro to Wenceslas Square, a poor description of the 750m by 60m public space in front of the National Museum. Somewhere along the way, I picked up a flyer for a Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart, Dvorak concert “on the stairs” of the National Museum. What that means, I’m not sure. But I bought a ticket around 4:15 and the concert starts at 6, so I’m on my way to the train station. My train info is correct-that should save me a little time on Wednesday. I meandered to the Metro Station and took it to the Muzeum stop. Still 15 minutes before doors open, so I search for food. While I told myself no fast food this trip, I’ll let it go since I’ll be getting McDonald’s in a former Socialist country. The BBQ sauce tastes different.

The concert on the steps is just that. I sat on a cushion on the grand staircase while a violin, cello, and piano played on the landing. The first couple of pieces I was working up the nerve to take a photo (no flash), and I only adjusted the zoom during applause. When I finally took the photo, I felt like the noise from the auto-advance was ripping thru the piece, but no one nearby took notice. The concert took about an hour, after which I went back to Staromestske Namesti to see it at night. Looks kind of like a Disney World attraction. I walked down to the Karluv Most, again for the same reasons. Having run out of film, I caught a tram back to my apartment, around 9pm. I wrote up some postcards to mail tomorrow. Then watched the English news broadcast and went to sleep.

*: Ugly and unstylish people who make it look like a trailer park, you know, the ones you really wish weren't in the background of your otherwise beautiful pictures.

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Monday, March 11, 2002

From Berlin to Prague

Berlin, Germany
Well, first off, my alarm didn’t go off. I played with it a few times, but couldn’t hear anything. It all worked out though, because I intermittently woke up at 7, 07:20, and at 07:40. On my way to the shower, I ran into the hyper-talking British girl from yesterday who was just coming in. She said that she was just going to change and go back out, but changed her mind some time while I was bathing. In water that never really warmed up. I check out of my room at 08:30 or so, and recounted the night’s events to the Canadian girl I had talked with before I went out Friday night. As I stepped out of the hostel, I saw my U-bahn train pulling into the station. I knew it was too far to run, pay for a ticket, and make the train so I caught one 10 minutes later. I made it to the station around 9am, changed a $20, validated my ticket and got on board the 09:41 train.

With a little luck, I got in the right car. The conductor punched my ticket and I struck up a long conversation with Len and Casey. Len is a grad student at Brown studying German, so he’s living in Berlin. Casey is just about finished with her MBA at Georgetown, and is headed to Prague for a class project.
Casey watching the world go by
The train followed the Elbe river for quite a while, with a nearly vertical wall of rock towering behind the houses that lined the opposite side of the river. Len told us that “East German rail is notoriously bad. One time we were delayed because the train hit a deer. We all thought it was just an excuse.” Then we saw a herd of deer in a field. We had no problems on this trip.

Prague, Czech Republic
The Czech border guard didn’t stamp our passports. Just inside the border, a local kid hopped into our compartment, and told Casey that she was in his seat (or at least we think that’s what he said). He promptly fell asleep.
One of many stations we stopped at.
We arrived at Prague-Holesovice around 3pm. Casey and I split a cab to her Marriott in Prague 1. 600 CSK total, at 36CSK:1USD, I reckon that was about $9 each. We parted ways and I set about finding the Metro pass (3 days) at Mustek. While I walked there, I got my bearings. I also found that the pass will be sold tomorrow, not today. So I bought a single fare ticket, validated it, and rode the steep, fast escalator into the train platform. While I’m headed for my train, this big, burly guy approaches me and shows me what looks like an old Russian badge that the guys in east Berlin were selling. So I said, “nay, nay” and that seemed to piss him off. He body-blocked me towards the wall and said something more angry sounding. So I again told him “Nay, nay.” The only think I understood him say was ‘controller’, at which point I realized that he wanted to see my ticket, not sell me something. So I showed it to him, and he seemed a bit disappointed. I took the Metro one stop, found the place I planned to stay, rang the bell, and nothing. They are expecting me at 19:00, and it’s just past 16:00. So, I walked down to the river and sat in the sun, collected my thoughts, and generally enjoyed the nice weather. For dinner, I had 2 klobasy, and a palacinky-a crepe pancake.

I was back at the designated meeting point for the apartment, but still no answer when I rang. I waited for about 30 minutes before I strolled over to the nearest hotel-$54 per night, vs. $30 at the apartment. So I called the number of the guy I’ve been trying to buzz. He was a bit surprised that I was there so early. Huh? He showed me the room, I paid for it in cash, and then laid down to rest. That rest turned into sleep around 22:00 because last night caught up to me. I went to sleep thinking that I only had one full day to see Prague. But then my math skills kicked in and I realized that I had given myself 2 full days.

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Sunday, March 10, 2002

On the Go in Berlin

Berlin, Germany
Woke up around 7, slept in, checked out what was left on my to-do list, left the hostel at 11 am. First Stop: Jüdisches Museum. I’m not one for museums, but this is like no other I’ve been to. A few of the most interesting parts: 1) A “void” that represents lost Jewish culture cuts straight thru the exhibit. 2) a garden of exile, where 49 trees are confined in concrete towers, and all of them are in a sloping square. 3) an isolation tower, where you can see light a few stories above, and hear sounds from outside, but the overwhelming sense of smallness against the large concrete walls is what dominates.
Garden of Exile
From the museum, I headed over to Potsdamer Platz in an attempt to find a trinket for my collection. No luck there, but I strolled around there for a while, checking out the Sony Centre and it’s product store there. It made me really want a digital camera. I hopped on the train to Kaufhaus Des Westens, or KaDeWe for short, the second largest department store in Europe after Harrod’s in London. Again no luck, but I got another bratwurst for lunch. They’re so good.

My wanderings found me again at the Zoo, so I took the S-Bahn up to Alexanderplatz, and walked around there. It is so vast and empty that even the throngs of people milling about couldn’t fill it nicely.

I had found a nice little Berliner Bär appropriately enough in the Zoo station, and picked up a German flag patch in the area by Nikolaiviertel. At this point, I’ve nothing left that I would feel bad about missing.

So I hopped on a train, then onto another one going the opposite direction that I had intended to go, then onto another, much newer train. This train had the open car feature that allows you to walk from one end to another. By this time I was getting thirsty, so I picked up a big bottle (1,5 l) of Coke at the store by the hostel for 0.70 €. At 18:30 I checked my email again. Nothing really interesting. Most of the clubs start at 23:00, so I have some time to kill. I decided now might be a good time to know what the deal is for getting to Prague. So I went 2 stops away to the Ostbahnhof, asked a few questions that I pretty much knew the answers to, and got dinner. Subway. It wasn’t as good as the American ones, but I really liked the mustard.

On a totally different note, I highly recommend bringing a pocket radio-not a CD/other pre-recorded music system-because I’ve heard a bunch of songs and ads that have enriched my sense of what Berlin in. A few times, mostly train stations/museums/wide open spaces, some techno song will come on that sounds like it was made just for that place. Hollow echoes, beats, etc. Back at the hostel, I ended up talking, or should I say listening, to a girl in my room who’s been in the hostel for over a month. Basically, she talked faster than anyone I’ve met on this trip. Add a London accent and her being 25 minutes late and you’ve got yourself an interesting time. She highly recommends going out tonight, and since I slept in today, I am looking at my options. First train to Prague is at 09:41, second at 13:41. I think she said the U&S bahns run all night, so I should be good to go.

As I was getting names of places to go, a guy said ‘You want to come out with me?’ Figuring that I had nothing to do, I went along. The guy is German, I think he lived in Berlin while the wall was up. Jean Jacket, blue jeans, fashion guru he wasn’t. At 11 o’clock, we wound up at Alex Platz again, and he said we were meeting people there. They never showed, but after hunting down the hostel phone number, we were able to find them…or at least where they were. On the east side of town (I’m just north of the center). In my conversation with the guy, he’s quoting lyrics from the Who and the Stones, telling me how “life is solving problems,” and that as a Kantian, he’s never wrong. He then goes on to tell me about how he’s possibly the greatest unknown poet in Berlin. He even wrote a poem inspired by a song he heard at a football game. We just so happen to be approaching Warschauer Str, the change for the hostel, and I decided to cut my losses, ‘solve my problem’ of not going clubbing while hanging out with a bit of a loser. Yeah, I said it.

I’m on my way to partake in Club Night, 19 clubs for an 11€ multi-pass ticket. The club kid at the hostel desk pointed me to Sage Club, Red Salon, and of course, Tresor. It’s now just turning midnight. One interesting bit of the previous hour’s conversation was that, apparently, a Turkish paper said that every Turk must go to Mecca once, and also to Kottbusser Tor, which I’ve been thru many times this week.

So, back to club night. I went to Sage and happened to be behind a group of mostly Americans in the line. Something like this: Dan, from Syracuse/BC, living in Berlin while studying film; Jenny, his sister, first time out of the States; Alyssa, Dan’s girlfriend, of Minnesota doing some sort of engineering; Dan’s classmates Wendy, Kate of Ohio, Jeni (pronounced yenni) of Denmark, and Harriett of Britain.
The group at Sage
Danced a bit with Harriett, talked with her and Wendy mostly. Some with Dan. Sage is really fun. The fun started when I was able to draft in with the group of six fairly attractive girls and one guy-that’s a good club ratio.

The first room was mostly just space for chillin’, so we moved on to the main floor. I think we were dancing for about 15 minutes before pr of the group came back and we followed them to a back room dance hall. There was a fire-breathing dragon on the wall, seizure-inducing lights, and body-shaking bass grooves at the Sage Club. I had 2 Red Bulls and barely broke a sweat on the dance floor. We then moved upstairs where we watched people dance and talked a bit. I think we left around 2am. After a little debate, we hopped on a crowded-and therefore free-bus to take us to a U-bahn station that would put us at Tresor. But alas, that U-bahn line had closed for the night. So we, I mean they, decided on Matrix, out by my hostel. We arrived at Matrix, flashed the wristband, and we were in. The music was more trance-like, harder to dance to as well.

It’s nearing 3 am and Wendy and Jeni are headed home. I decided to make my break and walked with them back to the station. Made it back inside the hostel just fine, thanked the club-kid-desk-jockey who had suggested the clubs. Set my alarm for 07:30, a mere four hours from now, and hit the sack.

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Saturday, March 09, 2002

Running down Lola in Berlin

Berlin, Germany
I woke up around 7am, but decided that sleep would be more beneficial. I was out of the hostel at ten to nine. However, I forgot my film, which given that I was only one U-bahn stop away when I realized this, meant that I should go back. I only lost ten minutes. Rode up to the Zoo, where I made reservations for my only important connection—overnight train from Munich to Berlin. Miss that and I miss my flight. Breakfast was apfel taschen. The zoo was nice. They’ve got your usual big animals: bears, lions, wolves, and elephants. I exited the zoo on Budapesterstrasse, where the sun was favoring Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche for a nice photo.






I followed the guidebook’s suggested path, getting some currywurst outside of the church. I walked up to the Siegessäule in the middle of the Tiergarten shortly thereafter. For around 1 €, you can climb a bunch of stairs to gain a commanding view of the Tiergarten and further parts of the city.


I hiked down the Strasse Des 17, Juni and crossed over into the area around Unter Den Linden, where I passed into Bebelplatz—the site of the 1933 Nazi Book Burning. There is a monument here that is really interesting. Buried beneath the square, and visible only thru a small (1m x 1m) skylight/floor, is a room with empty bookshelves lining the walls.

I crossed the Schlossbrücke onto Museum Island. The downside of traveling in the off season is that everything seems to be under construction. The big (approx. 70 ton) granite bowl that was supposed to be here in the lustgarten: gone. Bodemuseum: scaffolding. The walkways beside the Island: torn up.


I bought a “Russian Officer’s” watchoff a street vendor for 22 €, haggled down from 30 €. It has the dates 1941-1945 on it, so it’s safe to say that it’s not older than that. I crossed over the Spree and into the area north of center where I started to wander in the opposite direction I went yesterday. Along the way, I stopped for a large glass of Berliner lager—not bad, a liter for just over 3€. I headed over to Hamburger Bahnhof, a former train station turned into an art museum, like the Musee D’Orsay in Paris. There is a HUGE Andy Warhol portrait of Mao that really dominates one end of the exhibit hall.
I hopped onto the S-Bahn at Lehrter Stadtbahnhof and rode it to Alexanderplatz where I switched to the U-bahn and dropped down to Gendarmenmarkt, which I’m pretty sure is the square where ‘Lola’ kept running thru in the movie Lola Rennt. Many of the places she runs thru are quite far apart, and on opposite sides of town. And so many women have that bright red hair. I don’t know if the color is legal in the US. Anyways, it’s a really nice area that has a guy playing the xylophone.
Notice the fountain and grid pattern on the plaza
Scene from Run Lola Run (Source)

I hopped back on the U-bahn and rode a few stops down to visit Checkpoint Charlie in the daylight. Not really that interesting, other than historical significance. I walked down to Mehringplatz via the Judisches Museum. As the sun is now setting, I figure that I’ll visit tomorrow.

I returned to the hostel to rest my aching feet. Also, I think the low quality pillow at the hostel gave me a kink in my neck that’s been bugging me all day. I rested for about an hour, checked e-mail, and chatted with the hostel staff about what to do tonight. The first recommended place, ‘Erdbeer’, was just off the U2 at the Rosa-Lux stop. It was a nice looking place, but not really what I was looking for food-wise. So I took the U2 two more stops out to another area that was pointed out by the hostel staff.
 Again, not what I was looking for. But it’s now about 10pm. I might also point out that I left my guidebook back at the hostel to lighten the load a little. I had forgotten until now that it has a food translation page. But as I stared at the menu before me, the meals that I recognized were all Italian. I ended up getting minestrone, Miste pizza, and a Cuba Libre. For 11.50€.

I hopped back on the U2 and rode it to Potsdamerplatz, to check out the club known as Tresor. I found it, in an old and deserted warehouse, with a guy behind a locked door. Music was thumping thru the walls, but I watched 2 sets of people give up trying to get the door open before I also left to check out the Arcade at Potsdamerplatz. Got some ice cream, window shopped, and was back at the hostel by 12:15 am.

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Friday, March 08, 2002

Tegel? My, fancy.

The in-flight movie was the edited Zoolander. I didn’t get as much sleep as I had wanted to, so I have to hope I won’t get robbed when I pass out in the terminal. The pair took a nap, but they are going strong again. We arrived in London at 06:30 local time. My flight out is so late that I don’t even know what terminal it’s in. It’s about 7 am and my journal is already falling apart. Breakfast at the Est Est Est Café, overlooking a sunny taxiway. “Traditional” breakfast—eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes…delicious. Drifted in and out of consciousness until I boarded my Berlin bound flight at 10:40.

Berlin, Germany
Arrived at Berlin-Tegel at 13:40, nothing eventful. I repacked my carry-on so every important paper is in my jacket. I hopped on the bus from TXL and went straight to Unter den Linden (€3.10) at 14:15. I consulted my book but it was raining, so my ‘direct route’ to the hostel took me through the areas north of center, east of center, Museum Island, and finally, Kreuzburg, basically Former East Berlin.


A Soviet memorial to Nazi victims in Berlin, on the site of the old Jewish Cemetery



Marx (seated) & Engels looking at the Fernsehturm
Got a bratwurst w/ mustard near Alexanderplatz. Oh so good. It was raining off and on all day, so I got to use my backpack rain cover for the first time. Checked into the hostel, Baxpax, a decent place. Rested a bit, then hoofed it down to Templehof, where it began to pour. Hopped on the U-Bahn to Checkpoint Charlie and on to Potsdamerplatz to Brandenburg Gate, which is under construction.





From the Reichstag to a U-bahn station, I picked up a new journal so I wouldn’t lose any pages. I think I fought off sleep until 01:00 copying over my journal

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Thursday, March 07, 2002

Eurotrip, 2002

In my second solo trip to Europe, I decided that I'd go to Germany, Czech Republic, and Austria. Solo traveling can be difficult and lonely, even when you're willing to put yourself outside your comfort zone and fully embrace the experience.

  • Berlin, Germany
  • Prague, Czech Republic
  • Vienna, Austria
  • Salzburg, Austria
  • Munich, Germany
  • and a quick trip into London on a layover.



Fortunately, I met a lot of interesting people on my trip...
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