Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Apparently the first thing you need to know about Budapest is how to pronounce (see title). The Magyars don't like the Anglican pronunciation at all.

When I got to the city, I once again did the subway to McDonalds shuffle, this time to find a map to my hostel, which turned out to be about 100 feet from the McDonalds (epic). My first night, I treated myself to a really big Hungarian dinner. I am in love with Hungarian food. Basically, they take meat. They fry it, and find some way to add cheese. Lots of cheese. Then they give you lots of soup and lots of beer, and then they way undercharge you. I ate better in Budapest than I did anywhere else (well at least it tasted better).

My next routine that I developed thanks to Brooke and Gerald was the free walking tour. I would do this several more times throughout Europe. The Budapest one was pretty fun though. the city, while massive is really quite charming. There is a lot to do, more than Vienna for sure. The favorite thing I did was to go to a Hungarian bath. It was so great. I spent the better part of a day in a 95 degree mineral bath, playing chess with old men. Then I saunad, drank cheap beer, sulfur bathed, cold bathed, hot bathed, got a massage. I don't know if my body has ever felt better than when I dragged myself out of the bath around 9 o'clock.

Budapest is divided into two parts. One side of the river was Buda, the other Pest, and somebody some long time ago united the two. There are bridges across the Danube, but the two sides are very much distinct from one another. Pest being the actual city, and Buda being more like the Alpharettaish rich suburb. Buda is built into the hills, and because Hungary is a very mineral water rich place, lots of caves have formed in the Buda hills. Including the "labyrinth" where people waited out bombing raids during WWII. You can go down in it. The highlight is a wine fountain. The lowlight an anticapitalist art exhibit (really weird).

After Budapest I wanted to go to Prague via the night train, but Slovakia sucks, and because that train goes into Slovakia by like five miles, and Slovakia is not an EU member or something, my Eurail pass would not cover it. So, instead I took a train back to Vienna, went to my favorite Chinese restaurant by the train station, hit happy hour up at my hostel, talked with some randos for a couple of hours, and took the night train from Vienna to Prague, which was miserable.

Basically Vienna to Prague is less than the distance of Athens to Savannah. So, there is no way to turn that into a night train, but oh do they try. The train leaves Vienna at 10 and gets into Prague at 4. As in 4 in the morning. Only one car actually goes all the way to Prague as well, so if you're not on the right car from the beginning, you have to switch cars (twice if you're me) and then the car is full except for the reserved seat that you don't know is reserved. So you fall asleep, and then a cop comes and kicks you out, because it's reserved for him, so you try to sleep standing up. Then what are you supposed to do in a city that you've never been to at 4 in the morning? Sleep in the train station is the answer, until the police wake you up and tell you to leave because they think you are homeless.

Photos of the Hungarian bath, and Pest from Buda. A photo of the wine fountain to come.


Ok, so I know this is about a month late. I've now finished my European tour, moved to Charlottesville, gone to Bonnaroo, and started working up here. Fortunately, I took notes on looseleaf papers as I was traveling, but I couldn't deal with typing any more blogs on my iPhone.

So without further ado, the rest of my European travels.

From Zurich to Vienna, I took my first night train. Apparently there is a movie about that particular train ride, but I can say that my ride was not quite as romantic or adventurous. I slept. From the train, I did what would become my routine, as well as i learned many other people's routine in European cities. I took the subway to what I thought would be the city center (there was a picture of a big church), and then I looked for a McDonalds. You might judge me at this point, but McDonalds is the only reliable source of free WiFi in Europe. You generally need to have a European smart phone in Starbucks, but in McDonalds, you just need an appetite for American, artery clogging, cholesterol--which I do. So I went to McDonalds for the WiFi to find and book a hostel. I found one near the train station; it turned out to be pretty awesome. It had a bar with a happy hour, actually that was about the only awesome thing about it.

From there I explored, what I think became the most unexpectedly nice city on my travels. Vienna has a really 18th century city center. I hadn't really thought about it until I got there, but of course it was the center of the Hapsburg dynasty and thus the Holy Roman Empire for two or three centuries. The city center has a ton of stuff to see, and it's relatively small, so you can see a lot in a relatively short amount of time. The bibliotek is really cool, basically a bunch of old books a la UDTC and the Book of Kells; it's also free to any EU student to go in and do research. Included in the bibliotek was my personal favorite, a globe museum. There is also the Winter Hapsbug palace in the city center, the Spanish horses, and lots and lots of cafe's.

This is quite possibly my favorite aspect of Vienna. I spent every morning I was there in a cafe reading American newspapers (you can't imagine how boring CNN.com international gets--they never update it) and drinking cafe latees which I unfortunately developed an addiction to over my two months in Europe.

The last two cool things in Vienna that I saw were a mass at the Cathedral with the most amazing music I have ever heard at a mass (Mozart is theoretically buried in the church, although the end of Amadeus is quite right about his body being dumped in a mass grave), and then I saw the Hapsburg summer palace, which in and of itself is not overly impressive, but the gardens are a sight.

After Vienna, I did the unfortunate thing that almost everyone who goes to Central Europe does, force a backtrack by first going to Budapest, and then having to go back through Vienna on the way to Prague. Worth it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


I know that you all have been waiting with bated breath for the next installment of Itenerance since I left you on a cliffhanger--I first want to apologize for what may appear to be laziness on my part. I really have no excuse except to say that I am in Europe, and if you wantto live vicariously through me, you first need to let me live a little. Now, without further ado, I bring you what happened to me a week ago in Zurich.
So, in Montpellier, almost a month ago now, I met these Swiss girls. One of whom, unwittingly invited me stay at her parent's house if I made it to Zurich. Well I have a Eurail pass and no plan, so I milked that resource pretty quickly, probably to her surprise, as I'm sure she was just being nice when she invited me. So, in any case I show up in Zurich (more precisely, Erlenbach) at the Nuscheler home just in time for dinner. They are seriously, as you'll come to appreciate, the greatest family ever. I only sort of kiddingly asked if they wanted to adopt me, they said yes--I might take them up on it again. Back to the story, we had dinner and about ten other kids showed up after dinner. I forgot to mention, that aside from Marlon (the model whom I met in Montpellier) there are two other sisters, the parents, and an uncle figure (Walter). All of the girls unfortunately have boyfriends, but it was really cool to see the 20 something family interaction in another country. I got the feeling that living at home was very typical (the universities dont really have dorms--the country is really small).
Well after talking for awhile, I went to sleep, tired from a day of hiking in the Alps, only to wake up at 3 AM with a stomach ache. That would compound over the next day into the worst stomach bug I have ever had. I literally did not consume anything for two miserable days. Also in that time, when my entire world was a bathroom and a bed in that order, I found out that my grandfather passed away. I have truly never been more miserable, I just wanted to be at home in bed in Athens. You'll remember my grandfather from my second post ever back in September. It's amazing how quickly things went downhill for him, but he is ina much better place, although I will miss him greatly.
About the time I finally recovered, 72 hours after I first felt a stomach ache, I had been nursed back to health by three Nuschelers who force fed me bowl after bowl of chicken bullion and tea--both of which I tried my hardest to reject. I finally made it out of the 400 year old house ( yeah their house, less than thirty feet from Lake Zurich is as old as Jamestown). Loni, her girlfriends and I went to see a chick flick. I was just happy to be alive really (ok I'm being a touch melodramatic).
The following day I finally saw a bit of Switzerland (pictures to come when I get home I promise). We walked around Zurich for awhile, ate some vegetarian food, saw the biggest numbers on a clock face in Europe, and hung out in one of the quaintest largest cities of a country in the world. I mean the swans outnumber the people. You can row into town on a skiff. And there is literally a chocolate shop on every corner. It's so....Swiss.
I can seriously not say enough nice things about the Nuschelers. They tolerated me long overstaying my welcome and nursed me back to health from the grips of death (ok I'll stop), and they spoke in English the whole time I was there just for me. I've been really blessed with the people I've met so far on this trip, and they were obviously no exception. Well, I would talk about Vienna, but I need to get on my train for Prague. So, as always, more to come.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


For various reasons that I will broach later--It has taken me a long time to get to this post, but have no fear, I hope that another two will be following shortly behind. To get you up to Vienna where I now sit in a hostel, with my laundry going, takeout Chinese food and a Tsingtao in hand, and absolutely no excuse not to write (I thought of and tried them all already), you must first go through Milan and Lake Como.
I was not all that enthralled with Milan. For starters, Italy was on strike when I got there because it was a day that ended in -y, and as a result the Last Supper was closed, naturally. Other than that, there were really only the outsides of a couple of buildings that I wanted to see. The Duomo, La Scala, and of course the San Siro (the qa'aba of soccer as far as I'm concerned). The first two can be accomplished I about two minutes, but the San Siro--well including in a few hours to wander through industrial parts of Milan--that takes a while longer. Then when you get there, it's just too big. There's no real way to comprehend it, so you just turn around. And walk back around the ginormous horse track between it and your hostel. That horse track incidentally is surrounded by a wall. What do Italians do to walls? Graffiti. How big is this wall? 3 or 4 miles long. Where is the wall? Next to the shared stadium of two of Italy's biggest three soccer teams (by far the biggest sport) who oh by the way, hate eachother. Yeah, you can imagine the epic calcio graffiti.
The next day as I was about to leave, I decided to download the latest This American Life episode onto my phone. Those of you who know me, my know about this unhealthy addiction that I have to that show, and like all addictions, there is a dirty side, that unfortunately my phone takes the brunt of. For some reason, TAL fries my phone. I don't really understand it, but this time in Milan, it actually killed my phone. All the way to the "Connect to ITunes" screen of death. Which I know you're thinking is not that big a deal...just connect to iTunes and restore. Except, read my last post and you'll see that my computer is no longer with us, or at least the screen is not. Now, you're thinking, oh well, I'm sure you'll find a computer at your next destination. Except, that the directions to the next destination are on the phone/or my email if I can access that. So there it is, easy fix, just find an Internet cafe. Except that the first one is down due to a virus. And the second through fourth are closed, because it's a day ending in -y. And I just have fifteen minutes till my train leaves, when at long last, I get the information I need at the fifth Internet cafe and sprint to the train station just in time.
I don't know what you know about Lake Como. I just remembered vaguely that Hemingway talked about it in Farewell to Arms. Well fun fact number one is that the Bellagio in Vegas is named after a small town on the lake that is pretty impressive (although this is not where Clooney lives apparently). Fun fact number two is that for 17 euro a night you can see Bellagio from about a quarter mile away in your awesome room with a view in the Mennagio Hostel. Place was legit. The first night there, the hostel cooked maybe five pigs worth of meat on an open flame outside and served it with pretty much all the wine you can drink and fresh strawberries for dessert. I met about a half dozen people there, and egged on by our fearless Belgian leader, Earnest, who has vacationed in Como some sixty or seventy times. We decided to head to Lake Lugano the next day.
Basically Lakes Lugano and Como are incredibly gorgeous. Nestled in the Alps, the best way to see them is from well the Alps. So my two days in Como were spent trying to get to the tops of mountains. Once by finestra and once by hiking. The hike was accompanied by a couple of ham and cheese sandwiches and Swiss chocolate. Either the sandwiches or the mineral water at the top of the mountain would come back to haunt me a few hours later when I got to Zürich. Photos will come when I get a chance.

Friday, May 6, 2011


Well my computer broke, so I now have a 3 pound, fragile, expensive (actually it was free, but still) paper weight to carry around half of Europe for the next three and a half weeks. Due to this the rest of my posts will be brought to you on part by the wonders of technology and the iPhone--this means that I'm not certain they will include photographs, so you might have to check back when I get stateside for photos not taken on a phone.

Let's see, I left you in Montpellier, which was, I have no idea how many days ago. After Montpellier I went to see Avignon, also known as the second Rome, because it was home to the popes from sometime around the 14th-16th centuries. Avignon is a very cool town, with four UNESCO world heritage sights all within about a block of eachother. The first is the papal palace, which is not that impressive because it's been ravaged by what sounded like a dozen or so fires. Then there is a bridge across the Rhone, which doesn't quite make it across. Apparently building a bridge across the Rhone was so difficult at the time, that the builder of the bridge was canonized (made a saint) and a popular childrens rhyme grew up around the bridge in Avignon. Then there was what I thought was an impressive view from a park above the aforementioned architecture (more on why I used past tense to come).

After Avignon, I went to Aix-en-Provence, a city known for having been the home of and subject of most of the paintings of Cezanne. By this time in my trip, I am a little tired of museums though, so I decided to use Aix more as a resting point. One interesting aspect of my trip so far has been the fact that by staying at hostels, I have made friends with a lot of tourists but not very many locals. Well this week in France, is the equivalent of SAT week, where all of the high school seniors have to take a test for the chosen field they want to go into. As a result many have to travel a few miles to their testing center and stay in hostels, so I met several 19 and 20 year old French kids this week which was cool for a change.

The first French kid I met in Aix was a soccer fan as well, so we went to watch the last leg of the Barca-Real clash despite the fact that he had a physics test in the morning that would determine his future. When I got to Nice, I met some future art students whose tests seemed quite a bit easier than the future engineer's (I guess that's reassuring). Both Nice and Aix are much bigger than I had imagined, so I was eager to get out of the town and into a smaller town in the Riviera for at least a day. This was accomplished thanks to Villefranche-sur-mer, which is a pretty awesome town only to be outdone by Eze, which overlooks it from the cliffs 2000 feet above. I spent most of the day getting sunburned in Villefranche (I always forget about sunscreen on my calves, just call me Achilles...), and then made the 45 minute walk up the cliffs to Eze. Apparently this was a very popular walk for Nietzche back in the day, and it was on this walk that he wrote the third part to some expose or something. In any case, Eze is truly incredible. It reminds me of Minis Tirith in the LOTR movies. It's built as though it were one large building wrapping around the mountain, and as you keep walking in concentric circles up the mountain, you move into the next level of the town. Shops and houses are built into the mountain like grottos or caves. And on top is a castle turned garden which offers views up the coast some 60 miles and out to sea, all the way to Corsica (90 miles) on a clear day.

Sidenote on the Riviera, I can't even really begin to describe the wealth in Provence and especially on the Cote d'azur. The yachts are all probably in the millions. The people are beautiful. And everything but the wine is very expensive. In addition, Cannes starts up in a week and about a week later the Monaco grand prix starts, and then it will get really crazy in these parts. While those both would have been cool to see, I'm glad to be in the relative relaxation of Italy now, where I can at least talk to information desks and hope to understand what they are saying. All in all, I think that I want to live in France someday, but for now, the rest of Europe beckons. Lake Como today. More to come.

PS sorry for the typos--it's a phone, people.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Under the direction of two friends back home, I was told to go to Montpellier, France next. I was under the impression from my very small map that it was on the coast, but I was pretty wrong about that. Basically, it’s a college town, home to the oldest medical school in the western hemisphere and who knows how many study abroad programs. From what I could tell the town is centered around a very large plaza or promenade about two blocks from the train station. The narrow medieval streets wind out from there into dozens of plazas and gardens.

Although, my hostel closed literally every day from 10-3 for the worlds longest sieste, I quickly made friends with Marc, a Londoner who speaks fluent French. We ate dinner at an American burger place (I know I know) with a couple of his French friends and then went to discotheque where a DJ spun well into the night. One problem with France is that the beer is very expensive, so I think I’m switching to wine. After spending way too much money and dancing with nobody in particular, we retired to the hostel.

The following day I had the brilliant idea that I was going to bike to the beach. Remember, Montpellier is a beach town, or so I thought. The town has these awesome rideshare bikes, I am a huge, huge fan ( I think I already said that in another post). In any case, Marc tagged along but was a little hungover from trying to show up the American on how to drink beer (he killed me). He was originally not going to bike to the beach, but then we ran into two attractive Swiss girls who were going to do the same thing, and he became more open to the idea. After literally an hour and a half of trying to figure out how to rent the bikes (oh I forgot to mention that May 1 was not only a Sunday but a holiday in France, so everything--bike rental offices, trams, and buses--was closed) we finally hit the road for the beach. It turns out, the beach is 15 kilometers away (9 miles). And, if you don’t initially know about the bike path that goes there, it takes a very long time to get there. Finally three hours after checking the first bike out, we made it to the beach, hungry and exhausted. After several hours of listening to the Swiss mock most things about America and trying my best to mock them equally relentlessly, we reluctantly hit the bike path back for Montpellier. All in all, a great day.

I spent one more day in Montpellier before heading out East for Provence. I am now writing from Aix-en-Provence after a day in Avignon. I will blog about this later though. Sidenote, I really wanted a Budweiser and a hamburger yesterday after I woke up to the news about Osama bin Laden, but the reaction here in France, while one of relief, is a lot more muted, perhaps rightly so. I am pretty sure that I am in love with France and really wish that I knew how to speak the language. Although, it is amazing how far you can get with bonjour, merci, au revoir, and some sign language. More to come. Photos from Montpellier.


The two richest sports teams in the world are not baseball teams, they are not football teams, and they are not basketball teams. They are two Spanish soccer teams, Barcelona and Real Madrid. They are both worth more than a billion dollars, and pay more to their players than the Yankees due to theirs. The two best goal-scorers in the world play on these two teams, Ronaldo for Madrid and Lionel Messi for Barcelona. Every time they play each other it’s called El Clasico, and most of Spain comes to a standstill. So, what happens when they meet five times in a three week span over the Easter season when most of Spain is off for two weeks? Craziness. What happens when two of those games are the semifinals of the European Champion’s League (the biggest annual club sporting event in the world)? I found out when I went to Madrid.

Another aspect of this rivalry that you must understand is that, imagine it were Red Sox vs. Yankees but New York is the capital of the US and almost everyone in Boston wants New England to break off from the United States and form their own country. Barcelona is in Catalonia. Catalonia is probably the most economically stable part of Spain. Catalans have their own language. They have their own architecture. They have their own culture. Spain considers the likelihood of secession serious enough, that it does not recognize countries that break off from other countries (ie. Spain has no diplomatic ties with Kosovo or East Timor). Now you can understand a little bit about the importance of the soccer game that I went to Madird to watch.

Last side note before I begin the story in earnest. Brooke and Gerald (friends from my days at Clarke Central) were incredibly generous with their time and Brooke’s bed and made my spontaneous trip to Madrid not only possible but legen-dary.

Ok, so we went to Gerald’s friend’s apartment in Madrid to watch the game. Basically Messi dominated. Actually, the entirety of Barcelona dominated with about 80% of the possession. So, I chose the wrong sity to watch the game in. A 2-0 loss by Madrid virtually eliminates them barring a miracle in Barcelona tomorrow night. To illustrate the sadness at the loss--every time Barca scored, you could hear groans everywhere. In the apartment building people literally pounded the walls with their fists. The city was so sad and dead; nobody went out (despite the fact it was a holiday--I think).

The next day, Brooke, Gerald and I went on a free walking tour of the city. Madrid is surprisingly small, and the tour only lasted about three hours. Apparently, the palace has an unknown number of rooms and rivals Versailles in size. As a result though, all of the buildings around it are not so grand, including the cathedral…from the palace side (the main entrance) the cathedral kind of looks like the Alamo (so as not to offend the royals), but from the back, out of view of the palace, it is pretty impressive. This prompted men to say that it is like a Spanish woman.

After the walking tour, I took my first of many siestas in a row, and then Gerald and Brooke had a bunch of friends over to go out. I reintroduced the Danish drinking game, and after a couple hours of pregaming, and a couple hours of buying beers off vendors and trying to find a discothèque, we finally found one around 3 o’clock and danced like mad till five.

The next day was not really down to do much, but I made it to the Reina Sofia museum with Brooke to see Guernica and other Picasso works. This museum is way better than the Picasso museum in terms of Picasso works (ironic). The permanent exhibit focuses on the Spanish Civil war, mostly as seen from the communist perspective (or at least the anti-Franco perspective). Some of the artwork is very impressive, but a lot of it is a little too modern I think.

I almost forgot to metion that I finally got my haircut in Madrid. My barber realized pretty early on that I wouldn't object to anything she did to my hair because I couldn't really. So, she kind of cut it like Ronaldo (you'll see picture soon). It looked ridiculous for a day or two, but now it's kind of growing on me (no pun intended, really). Thanks again to Brooke and Gerald for an awesome time in capital of Spain. I had a blast. More to come very shortly.

Picture explanation--a very fat man in a superman costume, Brooke, Gerald, and I infront of the Plaza Mayor and the cathedral respectively.