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.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

La Rambla

Warning: This post is more adult themed than usual; it also only chronicles about five hours of my trip, so you won’t miss much if you skip it.

Background: La Rambla is a pedestrian walkway in the middle of a boulevard in Barcelona. It runs in a straight line for about a kilometer from the docks area into the heart of the city. The walkway is made of masonry laid in such a way as to give an optical illusion of a sort of wavey pathway if you look at it at just the right angle. La Rambla never sleeps; you will soon understand why I know this.

I left Madrid (Madrid post soon to come) late in the evening Friday and decided that I would simply stay up all night Friday night in Barcelona rather than book a hostel to simply sleep in for six hours before catching my train to Montpellier. Like most of my trip, I had no plan for when I got to Barcelona. I checked my bag into a locker at the train station and set out for La Rambla as it was already eleven at night and I figured I would go someplace where other people would be--also the train station closes from 2 AM to 5 AM (as does the Metro--why? I don’t know). I ate a gyro, drank a San Miguel, and set out for La Rambla.

The first thing of note besides the tourists, was the vendors and peddlers. I suppose maybe this happens in some large cities in the US, but I can’t imagine it happens on nearly the same level as it does here in Europe. Basically middle aged men, usually of Southern Asian decent, peddle just about anything and everything. It starts with these incredibly annoying almost like turkey calls that you put on your tongue. They make a really loud shrill noise, and for some reason unbeknownst to me, everyone sells these things by blowing on them until they must be deaf. When the sun goes down, the whistles go away and are replaced with these sort of cool helicopter like thingies that glow in the dark. You sling them into the air with a rubber band, they go up about fifty feet, and spin to the ground gracefully. I actually kind of want one of these things. The funny thing about this particular merchandise though is that La Rambla is surrounded by trees. I saw at least a dozen of these thingies stuck in the branches of the trees. The activity for the next two hours of course becomes trying to shoot the stuck thingies down with other thingies. I did not witness a successful thingy rescue. Around midnight, the thingies go away (as most people out at this point are over the age of someone who would actually want to buy a thingy, except for apparently me) and are replaced with cold beer (specifically six packs of Estrella), the only thing that I’ve bought from a peddler. This is when the peddling takes on a stroke of genius. It is not exactly legal to drink on the streets of Spain, but when you are caught, you simply need to throw away your drink. This of course means that it is not exactly legal to sell beers on the street either. I seriously wondered how they kept the beer cold and hidden when the police walked by. The answer is that they hide the beer in manholes, the sides of trashcans, and other Easter egg like hiding spots. It sort of reminds me a bit of the stash houses in The Wire. Speaking of The Wire and stash houses, beer peddlers also indiscriminately peddle hashish, marijuana, and cocaine when they hold the beer out in front of you. We’ll say that beer peddling begins around ten or so and overlaps by about an hour and a half with glow in the dark helicopter thingy peddling. Around three, the beer peddlers dwindles by about half and are replaced by suppliers of meat filled pastries--okay, so I may have bought one of these also.

Overlapping with the beer peddling time (not with thingy peddling time though), the prostitutes appear on La Rambla. There are probably somewhere between one and two hundred, 99% are from West Africa. I guess it was my Irish rugby jersey that gave it away, but they only propositioned me in English. They are also very aggressive about it. First they make clicking noises, then they try to walk arm in arm with you, while discussing activities and rates and what not. There is no way to avoid them. Even if you are in a group or with a girl, they still come up to you. That is unless you’ve refused them on several occasions (I was in La Rambla a long time last night). One came up to me and literally just held a normal conversation for about ten minutes with me in between propositioning about a dozen other guys and girls. She was actually really nice. Eventually she walked off.

The last group of native people on La Rambla are the pickpockets. I met one of them as well around five as I was walking back to the metro. He was initially very nice, and then he almost grabbed my wallet before I realized what he was doing. I made fun of him for being a bad pickpocket. He was somewhat sheepish about it, but then he asked where I was from. I told him the states (he didn’t speak any English, so apparently my accent in Spanish isn’t too horrible). He accepted that for about a minute, and then he turned. He asked if I liked killing Iraqi babies. Then he began to slap me, starting jokingly and eventually becoming almost full-on slaps, while his friends got closer and laughed. He very much wanted me to throw a punch. Instead I threw a few Spanish curses at him and walked into the metro station while getting showered with Estrella cans by his friends.

There are many great things about Spain--I love the laid back culture, the food, the fact that everything (lunch, dinner, bedtime) is pushed back about five hours from typical American times, the public transportation (they have free rideshare bikes!!!), most of the people in general, but I have several grievances as well. The one example I have is that there is an entire industry of cleaning the streets and sidewalks every night. EVERY night they wash EVERY street and sidewalk with fire hoses because people pee anywhere and everywhere. There are also thousands of street sweepers--people with brooms and dustpans--because people drop their trash everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, I love that they realize how important city beautification is to tourism, but the fact that it is in their culture to simply accept this as a fact of life dumbfounds me. Do they not realize that they are paying an incredible amount of taxes because they can’t hold it until they find a real urinal or trashcan (which are everywhere)? It also has to kill the economy. I’m certainly not a neocon or anything, but having tens of thousands of government street-cleaning jobs has to be one of the least economically efficient things I have ever heard of (except maybe our handwritten census).

OK, so I’m on a train going though Western Spain and Southern France and I haven’t slept yet (it’s 8 AM). Thanks for reading my tirade, and I promise happier posts to come about Madrid and France.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Spain Part 1

On my flight from Dublin to Barcelona, I made friends with a very, very Irish couple and a Canadian girl. We were probably the youngest people on the plane, and the Irish couple were easily the most fun. We exchanged phone numbers and promised to meet up. Alas, only the Canadian girl and I ended up out later. We walked around the streets of Barcelona aimlessly for about five hours. The parks in Barcelona at night are really incredible, and I’m pretty sure most of the people there do not sleep, ever. We strolled through las ramblas until about five in the morning, Easter morning. This was a mistake as I wanted to wake up and go to mass at la Sagrada Familia. Turns out, as it’s still being built for the next fifteen years, they don’t hold mass there, so I had to go to the old cathedral instead in the gothic quarter of town and listen to a mass in Catalan (not Spanish).

My hostel in Barcelona was pretty nice and pretty far from the city, so I ended up spending a lot of time there (also there was free internet for the first time in a long time--so I caught up on the office and how I met your mother). I also had a room to myself, so (shocker) I slept a lot. When I did make it out in the city, I saw Park Guel, a park designed by Gaudi with a couple of houses in it--one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. I also eventually made it to La Sagrada Familia. While the outside is probably what it’s famous for, I think the inside puts every church (probably every building) in the world to shame including St. Peter’s in Rome. It’s designed like a forest on the inside with each of the columns being like a tree. The column then breaks off at the capital (the capitals are made to look like knots) into several branches to support the ceiling which (you guessed it) looks like palm fronds. The whole building is filled with the perfect amount of light, and the colors are simply amazing. If you ever make it to Barcelona, you have to, have to go here.

One bummer about Spain is that they take la sagrada semana seriously. So, since I arrived here at the end/ after holy week, not a whole lot was going on. Most people are still recovering from what I can tell. This means that this is probably among the least exciting times to be out at night in Spain. Take for instance Zaragosa where I went after Barcelona--the place was literally dead on Tuesday night. I went out to grab a beer with a couple of English guys that I met at the hostel (cleanest, best hostel ever). Nothing was open except a couple of Irish pubs and this one place with a lot of music and dancing. We decide to immerse ourselves in the Spanish culture and went to the one with music and dancing. Turns out, it’s the Colombian bar in Zaragosa. So, we immersed ourselves in Colombian culture for a night. It was pretty ridiculous.

Zaragosa is a pretty neat town. It has nothing on Barcelona, but it is far enough off the beaten path that nobody speaks English there. Not even the information person at the tourist desk. Not even the train ticket salesman. Nobody. From what I could tell, the city has been around since Ancient Rome. There are a ton of preserved Roman ruins all over the place including an almost entirely intact amphitheater. Then, there are a ton of castles, palaces and churches from the middle ages. Then there are a ton of ridiculously modern buildings to boot. The patchwork give the city a very ADD feel, but it’s still a beautiful city regardless of even if it has trouble deciding who it is.

Now I am in Madrid. I came for el clasico and to see my friends Brooke and Gerald. More to come on Madrid.

Side note on the pictures. The cathedral with the bridge is in Zaragosa as is the pig head. The market in Zaragosa was out of control awesome. There were about a thousand meat/fish/vegetable vendors. It was the best farmers market ever, well not for the pig...

Saturday, April 23, 2011


As you may have surmised from my last post, I didn’t sleep a whole lot in London. Thus, when I arrived in Dublin, I was pretty exhausted and looking forward to a good nap or two. I will leave Dublin tomorrow a much more rested man. I took naps pretty much every day, sometimes out on the quad while attempting to read A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man (I’m sure my mom is scoffing at me, but it’s actually not too bad, I’m a third of the way into it so far), sometimes in the morning, sometimes on a train. Ireland really is a good country to sleep in.

In Dublin, I’m staying with my friend Stephen (we’ll call him Steve from now on, as that’s what he’s called in Ireland). He’s getting a masters at Trinity College which makes him kind of a big deal. He’s also a good connection to have, because besides his being a “baller” (a term they don’t know here), he has some legit digs at Trinity, in the heart of Dublin. Trinity is where the Queen is coming next month and Obama the month after. In addition, Steve also has some okay friends (even in their names are spelled really weirdly, Aoife and Niamh--just try to pronounce those and then look them up on google), and aside from writing his thesis which he hasn’t started yet, he doesn’t have that much work to do and can instead spend all of his time showing me around the city. As if that weren’t enough, he gave me an old phone and, perhaps more crucially, a much needed, much forgotten towel.

The days and nights have kind of run together here in Dublin, but I’ll try my best to give a semblance of a chronological account of what I’ve done here. After a long nap, the first night Steve and I ate a very Irish meal (think sausage, potatoes, gravy, and cabbage) and then went to Temple Bar, a really touristy bar in the Temple Bar area of Dublin. The place was packed with tourists and a pretty good Irish band was playing drinking songs and ballads. We met a few people there, including a naval officer who bought us drinks (American servicemen and women are the best people ever to run into abroad).

The next day we went to the Guinness storehouse, where Arthur Guinness took out a 9000 year lease on the property, 250 years ago. It’s a very cool spot, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone if you make it to Dublin. We learned that the Irish government recommends “21 drinks a week with a few days off.” I’m pretty sure in America, it’s more like ten…Steve and I also took in the Kilhearney Gaol where most of the rebellions in Irish history were quelled, and the Book of Kells which is housed here at Trinity and has been for the last 400 years.

Trinity is a pretty great place. Aside from the Book of Kells, the really old, protestant university (yeah most of the nice things in Ireland are actually protestant--a lasting effect of so many years of English rules) is beautifully organized around the quads that you’re not supposed to walk on, but everyone apparently does anyways. At the back of the university, is the university pub, called “the pav” that has a plaque of all the captains of the soccer team for the last couple hundred years. The pav is situated around a massive cricket pitch and a rugby field. At the front of the university, there is a giant oak front door that you have to knock on after hours to be let in after midnight.

A side note on rugby, since I mentioned it’s one of the two fields that they have at the Trinity campus. It is so well loved that when we congratulated one guy who had just passed his final boards to get his medical degree, he said “expletive that, did you hear that we beat UCD (University College Dublin) by nine points today? I hate those expletives.” Granted, he may have been a bit “pissed” (drunk), but you get the idea. On my last day in Dublin, I went to visit Lansdowne Road, one of the oldest rugby fields in the world. It was the home to the Irish rugby and soccer teams but was demolished a couple of years ago to make way for a 400 million Euro--Aviva stadium. I decided to take a tour of the stadium, which was pretty cool, and I made my first big purchase of the trip, an Irish rugby jersey.

My second to last day, I decided to let Steve get some work done, and I jetted off to the coast. Specifically I went to Don Lougharie, a port town, just outside of Dublin. The weather was perfect and has been for my entire trip, typical. The weather was so perfect in fact that people were swimming in the North Sea. Not just jumping in but swimming for awhile. Don Lougharie is a pretty small town, but it has a small castle like tower at the end of it where Joyce spent a weekend with some friends and based the opening scene of Ulysses. Now it’s a museum.

Alright enough of the boring stuff--the nightlife in Dublin is a blast. The Irish really know how to throw down (note the 21 drinks a week). We frequented a bar called Dicey’s because of the deals, which pretty much reminds me of a really nice and several acre Bourbon Street (mostly because of the clientele). We also had a night at temple Bar, and a night with the continentals for a birthday party which was pretty epic. We even took our night off for the Lord (everything closes at midnight on Holy Thursday and stays closed through Good Friday, I suppose so that you can “let him in”).

Like every place I go, I am going to attempt to over generalize about an entire culture and country based on an infinitesimally small sample size (my science teachers are disowning me right now). The Irish are many things, but here are a few that I’ve noted and been told. In an attempt to regain their Irishness, the Irish are trying to bring back Gaelic (this has been going on for 100 years now). They are also not as religious as I thought they would be, although everything shut down for Good Friday. Dublin is incredibly expensive. Other than that, I loved Ireland and the Irish. They look like Americans for the most part, but their self-deprecating humor and laid back attitude are fantastic. Also the weather was pretty epic (n.b. the fact that it rained only once on my road trip through the US, and has rained for no more than an hour so far on this trip). My last humorous observation is that there are so many phrases here that we don’t have in the US. I can’t understand most of the slang, and that combined with the accent, makes it remarkably difficult to understand the language. For example, Steve and I were walking back to trinity one night and we came across a scene in which a bunch of teenagers were crowded around an ambulance and some cop cars. We asked somebody what was going on, she pointed to some blood on her shirt and said that there had been “murders.” Steve and I were shocked to find out that “murders” doesn’t in fact mean murders but rather just beating someone up. I’m a little relieved that’s the case though. More to come.

Monday, April 18, 2011


Emirates Stadium



King's College

King's College

Let’s see, I left you all on the train to Cambridge. Well Cambridge is really cool. It’s like a really, really dressed up college town crossed with a medieval walled city crossed with a Disney World ride. After I arrived and checked into the hostel, I went to a pub called the Eagle. A few notes on the Eagle. 1) It is located about half a block from King’s College (possibly the single most famous school in the world--think John Maynard Keynes, Alan Turing, and Salman Rushdie). 2) It is more than twice as old as the United States and has been in continuous operation since 1525 (that’s not a typo). 3) During WWII, RAF and USAF squads on R&R would meet here and write the names of their fallen comrades on the ceiling in the back room. You can still see the names today. 4) And the only thing I knew about it--Watson and Crick went therefore lunch six days a week for two years as they hashed out the structure of DNA, and it was in the Eagle where they first announced that they “had discovered the secret of life”.

I talked for a couple of hours with some air force pilots in the back room, and turned in relatively early, as all of the pubs close around 11, whereas the “social clubs” stay open later. Most of the students appeared to be dressed up in ridiculous costumes for I guess socials or something.

In the morning, I alit from my hostel to see the college and town. The town is nothing too special--a couple of plazas here and there--but the university is amazing. It’s located on what seriously looks like a fake river (the river Cam). The river is incredibly picturesque, maybe because it was actually sunny for once. It runs through most of the colleges, and I guess provides a large source of income for the students as everywhere you go, you are accosted by them to see if you want to go “punting.” I did not “punt” the river, and instead, I just walked around and took a nap in a quad (I am incredibly sleep deprived--hostels have been somewhat hostile to my sleep patterns--I think every night so far I have been woken up at 3 or later by either a neighbor or a roommate).

I rode the train back to London and by the time I got back to King’s Cross, I had roughly 13 hours to kill. I decided to go to Arsenal, and see if I could catch any of the “football match” (you’re welcome Billy). Note: soccer talk begins here, read at your own risk if you don’t know anything about soccer or just skip to the next paragraph. The fixture was level at nil-nil deep into the second half when I got to the stadium. I walked around the stadium and found a pub about a block away, where you could hear the stadium noise at about the same time in real life as on the tv. I hadn’t realized that this was kind of an important game for Arsenal. They are in second place in the league, down seven points to United with six games left. They basically had to win the game, but if they did, they would only be down four points with five games left including one with Manchester at the Emirates. So, there was a big injury in the second half which set up for 8 minutes of stoppage time (preposterous). Then in the 7th minute of stoppage time, Arsenal got a penalty kick after one of their forward was tripped in the box. Place is going bonkers. They take about a minute and a half to set up the shot and eventually score. Place is going more bonkers. 9 minutes into stoppage time at this point. Liverpool are desperate. They drill the kickoff at the goal almost goes in. They get the ball back, drill it in one last time. They draw a free kick on the edge of the box--last kick of the game. It get deflected by the wall, and in the scramble for the ball, an Arsenal player falls on top of a Liverpool player--PK. Liverpool score and the full time whistle is blown. Tie. It’s as though the queen just died. People begin to file outside the bar, all in shock and dismay. Let’s hope that Madrid-Barcelona is this exciting next Tuesday when I’m in Barcelona.

I spent the night in the Luton airport as my check-in time for my flight to Dublin was 5 AM. A miserable night, and I am even more sleep-deprived than I was yesterday. I am in Dublin now though awaiting the first friendly face in a week in my friend Stephen. More to come.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Day 3/4 (Let’s see how long I can remember the day count)

Letter from George VI to Churchill about their Presence on the Beaches at D-Day

London Eye--explaining how to use my camera

Reflection of Tower Bridge in Modern Building

Big Ben/London Eye

Cabinet Room

I’m really glad that I am traveling by myself because if I weren’t, any traveling companion would have surely killed me by now. Ill start by telling you where I am now. I am literally departing from Platform 9 at King’s Cross. Wait for it…yep, not quite 9¾, but pretty close. Where am I going you might ask? Cambridge is the answer to that. What’s in Cambridge? Other than a school, I have no idea. Why am I going to Cambridge then? That is a good question. Basically it boils down to me being an idiot and thinking that I was leaving for Dublin tomorrow, when in fact I don’t leave till Monday morning. I only had three nights booked in hostels though, and by the time I realized that fact this morning when I checked my flight time, there were no more hostel rooms available in all of London (thank you London marathon and apparently all of Europe that gets two weeks off for Easter and decides to go to London). So, I decided to think about other places in England I might want to see. Oxford came to mind--no hostels available. Stonehenge, too difficult to get to my ridiculously small airport tomorrow. So, I settled on Cambridge.

I’m going to backtrack now to talk about what I did today/yesterday. Yesterday, I woke up pretty early and Geva, my Israeli friend, and I decided to do a bit of a walkabout. We set out for The Tower of London. Then we saw the price of admission to the tower and quickly scrapped that idea. Everything in London costs an exorbitant amount except for the two most impressive things, the British Museum and the National Gallery which are naturally free. So, Geva and I just walked another two hours or so through London, got lunch at Dominoes, and went back to the hostel. The rest of the day was also pretty chill, more simply walking around, but this time with the Basque girls (they corrected me from Spanish). Turns out I didn’t need my sister’s surely excellent wingman skills (thanks for offering though, Court).

Today was a little more adventurous, even aside from my spontaneous trip to Cambridge. After checking out of my hostel, I decided to go to the cabinet war rooms. This is where Churchill held his cabinet meetings during WWII especially during the Battle for London and the subsequent V2 shelling. It’s faithfully restored with a lot of the original furniture and gizmos including a map with what must be millions if not tens of millions of holes from pins tracking the movement of allied ships and troops. Adjacent to the War Rooms is a Churchill museum which is really just as cool. Pretty much every event of Churchill’s life is chronicled in excruciating detail--from where he took tea on a given day during the war to letters between himself and King George VI, who apparently wrote better than he spoke.

After the War Rooms, I decided to do the London Eye, which unbeknownst to me, is an all-afternoon affair. From the time I bought my ticket to the time I got off of the Eye, three hours had passed, i.e. people who go in tomorrow morning will have gone about 60 yards through the “queue” in the same amount of time that it’ll take the winner of the London Marathon to go 46,112 yards. The view from the top is pretty cool though, and I’d say it’s worth the money if not the time.

Now, I’m traversing the English countryside as the sun is about to set. The scenery is pretty incredible. Also, for the football fans in the house, I just passed by Emirates Stadium. More to come.

Friday, April 15, 2011

London Continued

Easter Island

Rosetta Stone

Rosetta Stone


Wedding Preperations

Changing of the Guard

Double Decker Bus, Telephone booth, and Ron Paul
Day 2

Every tube stop, the voice over the loudspeaker tells you to alight for this or that at this stop. I really like that word, so I’m going to start using it more in these posts. So, I awoke and alit for I didn’t know what, but I had the ultimate goal of making it to the British Museum. I got off at a pretty random tube stop and decided to try to find my way to Buckingham Palace. When I got there, there was a really large crowd--I didn’t know why they were there, but I figured I would file into the crowd as well. After about fifteen minutes of standing and looking aimlessly about, I overheard someone talking about the changing of the guard, which apparently only happens once every other day at exactly 11:30. I had gotten to the palace at about 11:10. Ten minutes earlier and there might not have been a crowd to stop me.

The changing of the guard takes place in several stages, and if you don’t know what is going to happen, it can be kind of stressful. First the bugle and fife corps comes in--I thought that was going to be it, so I moved in to watch the action. As soon as I found a good place to stand in the crowd, the large band came down the street, which I missed because I was watching the first action that consisted of a flag-bearer and a man with a sword walking back and forth (pretty boring). Then on top of it, the horse-guards trotted by. Finally the elaborate ceremony started to happen for real. The band played a few songs, the guards changed and everyone marched out. It was pretty neat, but it looks like they were building a grandstand, which will be great, to perhaps watch it in the future (or maybe it’s for some wedding). Speaking of the wedding, you can already see preparations being made all around London. Flags are going up, flowers are being planted, it seems like it might be a big deal.

After the changing of the guard, I alit for the museum. I didn’t really know what was in the British museum, but I had a sneaking suspicion that the Rosetta Stone and the sarcophagus of King Tut might be there. Well, I was one for two. As soon as you walk into the Egyptian room, there’s a small crowd gathered around this big black thing about the size of my torso or so. It was incredible. The writing is so clear that it sort of makes you lose appreciation for the translators. In addition to the Rosetta Stone, there’s also this thing called the Parthenon which is there. Who knew? I thought it was in Greece. The entire frieze (another great word except that Yankee fans use it way too much) is housed in the British museum is a room shaped like the Parthenon. I’m thinking about doing something on this later. All in all the British museum is incredible, I think that I’m going to go back tomorrow.

After the museum, I made my way to a new hostel in Piccadilly Circus. This area of town reminds me a lot of Times Square, except much like the rest of London, it’s not as crowded or tight as New York. You don’t get the feeling of claustrophobia that you do in New York. I met one of my roommates, an Israeli who was only here for a night, and we decided to go grab some dinner and a beer. We found what seriously looks like the quintessential British pub. Like, if there were a bar that Cheers and every other tv show based in a bar in America was made, this would be the equivalent in England. Everybody looked British, they all spoke British, and the food was very British (you guessed it, fish ’n chips). We went back to the hostel and plotted our night, which consisted of a couple of clubs, where we met some Spanish girls who were very cute but spoke incredibly little English (why oh why don’t I remember any Spanish). We hung out with them most of the night as well as a few folks from our hostel who were from all over the world (New Zealand, Texas, and…Lesotho?). A good day. More to come.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Day 1
The jet stream that makes the trip from San Francisco to Atlanta about an hour and a half shorter than the opposite trip affects flights across the Atlantic as well. I’ve never really noticed this phenomenon before because normally I sleep on these trans-Atlantic voyages. I don’t know if it was excitement mixed with a twinge of homesickness that kept me awake, or if it was simply being in the middle seat that did it to me, but I stayed awake for the whole seven hour flight (it seriously only takes seven hours). It was morning when I arrived in London (6:30 to be exact--two hours before I would normally wake up or 7 hours if I were stateside). I didn’t quite realize what a bad thing this was at the time.

I navigated the tube (I love the tube by the way--I love most public transportation, but seriously, the tube might be even better than the NYC subway system for going anywhere and everywhere you want to be) to the hostel that I booked about ten minutes before I left home. When I arrived at the desk, they told me that I couldn’t check in until 2 PM, but that I could leave my bag, so I set out on my first completely blind adventure of the trip. I found a Starbucks and a free map of stuff to do. The map navigated me to the National Gallery. The art was seriously amazing. The art was organized by century’s. So on one wing, you had Giotto and Cimabue while in another Turner and van Gogh clashed. There were about ten or so paintings that I had seen in books, that I just happened to walk into. Including the van Eyck’s Arnolfini whatever it's called, van Gogh’s Sunflower, and Turner’s Rain, Steam and Speed. I lost track of time, but my body did not. I almost fell asleep on my feet a couple of times. Unfortunately it was only noon. I walked around London for another couple of hours and returned to my hostel at 2 to crash not knowing that a tube or something runs right by my window. Regardless, I was able to sleep about an hour.

I woke up and met one of my roommates, a Lithuanian girl who was interning at a hotel in advertising and hated her job. I began to feel self-conscious about my language skills as she spoke six languages fluently and routinely used words like cliché and chutzpah that she had no use knowing in her non native tongue. I went downstairs to the dining room and met some Danes who invited me to play Risk with them, since I was the only person with dice (thank you Settlers of Catan). They were pretty hilarious and pretty bad at Risk (after the first turn around the board everyone had a continent and about eight men total). They kept critiquing the game--Denmark is in Northern Europe in the game instead of Scandinavia--and my Risk skills, by saying that obviously I would beat them at a game based on war since I was American ( I did, probably because I am).

After the game I went to supermarket down the street from us, which is seriously almost the size of a Walmart Supercenter. I bought some sandwich fixings and some beer at the advice of the Danes. After dinner, one of the Danes bought some cards so that we could play drinking games. Suffice it to say that we did some damage, but they apparently held back since they had gone out the night before. We taught each other games (I learned an awesome version of ride the bus--get ready friends who know what I‘m talking about), but surprisingly the games were remarkably similar although the numbers meant something different in circle of death as the rhymes don’t quite translate the same.

My only overarching observation so far is that Americanization is alive and well. I’m writing this while listening to a local radio station which has already played REM and Rebecca Black’s Friday (it’s Thursday), and I’ve heard Justin Bieber mentioned at least ten times so far (granted he’s Canadian, but come on). Also, within two blocks of me, there is a KFC, a Starbucks, and several SCRE4M billboards--at least they picked out the highlights of our culture.
More to come.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Prepping for Europe and beyond

As of today, I have exactly seven full days left in the town that I have called home my entire life--shoot, the house I have called home my entire life. For those of you that don't already know, I will be taking off on "the grand tour" of Europe as a neighbor called it, in about a week. As part of my deal with myself when I deferred entering med school for a year, I decided that I would travel both in the US and abroad. I did the US part last year, and now it is time for the abroad part. My plans are certainly not in place yet, but what I do have so far is...

1) A plane ticket to London (April 12)
2) A return plane ticket from London (June 1)
3) A Eurail pass (including a map of European railroads) good for 1 month (hopefully that means 31 days...)
4) A place to crash in Dublin
5) 1000 Places to See before You Die (World Edition)
That's about it.

Now the much longer list of things that I need to do in a week to prepare for a trip to Europe and a subsequent move to Virginia.

1) Pack?
2) Find a place for a really big couch and chair that I sort of want to keep, but my mom understandably wants out of the garage
3) Teach a postdoc how to run the computer program I'm running in lab
4) About 60 hours of labwork
5) Probably about 20 hours of tutoring
6) Say goodbye to many good friends (sort of awkwardly, because I don't really know if I will see them in June or not till some undetermined time in the future)
7) Plan a trip to Europe?
8) Paperwork for med school

That's all I can think of right now, but I'm sure there should be much much more on that list.

In addition, to fill my readers in on what I've done since my last post. I have visited a bunch of civil war battlefields, I went to New York, I went to Hawaii for two weeks (nbd), and I bought a ticket to Bonnaroo.

Sorry, this is a pretty boring post with no pictures and really no substance, but I wanted to make sure I remembered my blogspot password and how to post blogs, as well as get your appetite whetted for what hopefully will be the ensuing epicness. "But that will be when our program continues. Stay with us."