16 – Milan, Paris, Amsterdam, Prague

Milano, Italia – 16 Ottobre 2008 – “My second Home”

So I’m beginning to think Milano Central (Milan Central Train Station) is my second home. I’ve been here almost every weekend in some respect for almost the last month. Although this one tops it off. While most of my journey has just taken me through the station as a stop to another destination, this night we “slept” in the station. You heard me. I was a homeless bum for a night. Well maybe not a night; really just 4 hours. We took the latest train leaving Castiglion to head north to Milano to catch our plane to Paris; arrived around midnight and where to catch the bus from here to the airport around 4 AM for our 6 AM departure. Not to bad really. We found a cozy spot out of the way of most of the airport activity and even bumped into a few other stragglers attempting the same trick – so cold as hell; we all gathered our stuff to make a mound and slept tight around it. The station got really empty; but construction never stopped. Made it difficult to sleep. I don’t think I really slept at all and gave up after a bit and read my book. We made it to the airport ok and to Paris with no problems. We got our flights for at 50 Euros when you add the 10 Euro checked baggage fee and 5 Euro check-in fee. Ridiculous all these add-ons. But still not a bad deal.

Parigi, Francia – 17th to 20th Ottobre – “Finally feel like a foreigner”

Well its finally hit me; I’m a foreigner. Being in Italy has been much fun; but knowing the language has made it really easy. Easy to navigate, negotiate, find things, and get what I want. I forgot what its like to be abroad and not know the language. Most of the places outside Italy of yet have been easy as most everything was written or everyone spoke English. Paris – I think they could care less for the rest of the world. Nothing is written in any language but theirs. Even at the museums! I really don’t mind – but it took a bit getting used too after being spoiled in Italy. We got to our hostel after taking the bus for 2 hours through awful traffic. The crap part about taking the cheap airlines is you go to these remote airports that are far from the city and have to pay even more just to get to the city. But all in all its still relatively cheap to travel this way. Our hostel was cramped and a bit funny. There was a restaurant in the courtyard just feet outside our door; and the bathroom and showers where in the courtyard as well – kind of funny walking through a crowd in just a towel. Their problem – not mine, lol! Another plus to this hostel was the baguettes. People weren’t kidding; the French really do walk around everywhere with baguette in hand. The hostel, in its communal kitchen, had a boxes of fresh bread. So for our days in Paris this is pretty much all we ate. Packed it up for our days trips, bought cheese and a tomato – and had a feast per say. Great for the budget. In summary here is what we saw.

Day 1 – Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomph, and Champes Elysees

The Eiffel Tower was great as always. Although it looked bigger the last time I came here (but then again I was only 14 so I’ve gained some height and seen a few big buildings since then). Went to the top – tried walking as much as we could but they only let you go so far – before they make you pay for the elevator. I would have walked it. We made it to the Second deck in 7 minutes. Pretty fast I think. The Arc I had never seen and always wanted too. It was huge – making the Arc’s of Roma’s victories looked like toys. Europe I think has an infatuation with making marble monument to try and say “Mine is biggers than yours.” This is what the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and Monumento Vittorio Emanuelle in Romas are in reality! Last we walked down the Champes Elysees to head back to our hostel. This is the street than the Tour de France finishes on and is one of the most famous aves in the world. It beautifully lined with huge hedge trees and ending into the Louves Gardens. Traffic is outrageous and I can only imagine that during the Tour de France the bikers reach speeds that no car every will on this strada.

Day 2 – The Louvre & Notre Dame

I’ve finally been there, and seen it. The Louvre. Just as great as I envisioned. The walk to its entrance through the garden leading from the Champs Elysees is magnificient. The scenery is so stimulating – great time of the year to come with all the leaves changing in Paris. The square containing the famous glass pyramids is at least worth 15 minutes of gaulking. We sat down and had some of our baguettes like real Parisians. Inside was even better; so many famous pieces – and great not so famous pieces. The Mona Lisa was awesome. The picture really is not that astonishing, but her grin really is so mysterious. It looks so real she its seems like its slightly moving. A major eye trick. I also saw some pieces by Picasso – I really like abstract art. Then probably my favorites there were the landscapes of urban cities back in the medieval and ancient periods. Gives you a glimpse into what they saw! Especially when they choose a famous city square that you’ve seen yourself. There were a bunch of really interesting ones of Venezia in the 15 & 1600’s. Another favorite was a painting of famous paintings, sculptures, and buildings. I thought it was so cool because on this trip I have seen so many of the pieces they included in their review of art/architecture history! After the louvre we ran quickly to Notre Dame to see it before it closed. We caught it at the perfect time. First as we hit the square the bell towers were ringing. Then as we entered we found a major ceremony, oddly enough I think celebrating Spain & Mexico in Spanish; but they had the incense and candles lights all going and really gave a cool ambience. When these things are lit up with candles, especially Notre Dame it really does seem like you slide back in time. They guys all agreed they thought this was their favorite. I really like it too – but they all are just so different – and can’t be compared. But the smell an lighting really did make it quite impressive and memorable. We hit up the Moulin Rouge at night; didn’t go in – not paying that much money to watch a cabaret – but fun to walk by. Found a disco and danced the rest of the night.

Day 3 – Chateau’ de Versailles & Eiffel Tower Light Show

Did Versailles today. One of the three things I had on my list to see; that I missed when I came last time. About 13 miles out of town we took a train to get there. They aren’t kidding this place was huge. Definitely a must see. Although the inside sadly was not as opulent as we all were envisioning and was a bit of a downer. I think if you go; skip the inside and just hit up the garden – its FREE! The garden is enormous, gorgeeous, and any other word ending in…..ous. Endless acres of shrubbery, landscaped trees and flowers, ponds, fountains, and sculptures. You could stay there for hours. Definitely will be bringing my wife back here sometime in the future. I’m sure it’s a great Parisian escape for the crazy city-life. Again – tree colors are making it all perfect. Europe in Fall – two years in a row I’ve been here for this period – definitely the best.

We returned rather late – so we just regrouped at the hostel shortly to leave for this Piano bar we found near Notre Dame and to watch the Eiffel Tower Light Show. Ended up spending a bunch of time as we were leaving after I bumped into two girls I met on a train going to Monaco. Caught up on adventures. Found out they ending up going to Interlaken from Nice on my suggestion and were thoroughly thrilled with it! I should write a travel book – me the next Samantha Brown – Passport to Europe has nothing on me; just kidding the Discovery Channel is where I got all these ideas and tips. The Eiffel Tower lights were amazing. It has a constant blue ambiance which make it strike out across the sky in a way that can’t be described by words. It does this twinkle things for like 5 minutes then it’s over. We got of the metro a minute into the show, ran to the gardens to catch the last 2 minutes. So cool. We walked towards Notre Dame (about 2 miles). Paris is another one of those special cities where you can just walk and walk and you keep bumping into amazing architecture and famous buildings. The piano bar was bust. Some rude French guy at the door tried to tell us a company booked it for the night; but proceeded to hound any girl who walked by for free drinks and entertainment – toolbag. We ended up finding a pub with NFL football and played Americans for a night – watching ex-Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell tried and keep the Redskins great season alive. Also found out from some Bills fans, from Sorrento Cheese in Buffalo (small world man) who told me about their impressive 5-1 season so far. Who knew – the Bill are making a comeback.

Day 4 – Train Frustrations

Trains in Europe are really tricky and hard to find any serious or final information about them. Some you need tickets, some you buy on board, some you need reservations, some you don’t, nobody is really sure which, they have lots of workers at the station who claim to be “helpers” but they just direct you to a mile long queue line that has only one window in a line of 20 open. And every different train company has a different queue so you have to wait in them all if you plan to take a few different trains. They don’t seach cross systems; and they desk people barely know what the actually price is. We got told ranges from 80, to 140, to 13, then 180, then 95, 55, and 114 each, until finally settling on 18 Euro for 3 tickets together. Insane. There were seats, then they were gone, and back again. So after leaving 4 hours later than the first train we were hoping to get; we were off to Amsterdam!

Amsterdam, Holland – 20th to 23rd Ottobre 2008 – “Relaxation & Waffles, Waffles, Waffles”

Amsterdam has been a nice change of pace from Paris. After spending 3 days of running around in Paris; Amsterdam had no special places on our schedule. This was my 3rd time there; and I already had done the Anne Frank house, canal water rides, etc. So we just hung out. Our hostel was awesome – above a bar with really comfortable beds and blankets, good views, better breakfasts (that we continued to make stretch the rest of the day) and good music. We actually got some work done. Spending the morning on our projects at a bar with free wireless internet – a rarity on this continent. Spent the evenings watching soccer games at the pubs and eating these amazing “Waffles.” I’ve heard of Belgian Waffles before but these things were to die for. Probably one of the best foods I’ve ever eaten; and I’m a big fan of food. I think the secret is to use a ton of brown sugar in the batter; then drizzle them in freshly melted milk chocolate and sprinkle with crushed peanuts and some other sort of sugary nutmeg flavored treat on top. I’m going to figure out how to make these when I get home. That’s going to be an awesome day of experimenting in the kitchen. I’ve had so many great foods here in Europe; when I get home I’m making a recipe book so I don’t forget them all. Mom; Christmas day we are going to eat these all day. I’ve been trying to be so frugal and not eat out – but these things rock. I had probably 5 while I was here. Can’t even describe just check out the pictures – heaven on earth?

Left early in the morning on the 23rd to take the train all day to Prague where we will meet up with Megan from the MBA group. Her mother is so nice and providing us with another hotel; and also when we go skiing on the end of this trip. I’ll stay there until midnight Friday when I catch a train to go to Venezia – to begin prepare for the marathon! Can’t wait!

Prague, Czech Republic – 23rd & 24th Ottobre – “The Eastern Bloc”

We’ve entered it – the old “Iron Curtain.” You can definitely tell; but not in a bad way. Prague is absolutely gorgeous. Fantastic multi-colored buildings in baroque style on mosaic sidewalks, mixed with this intensely rich medieval culture with black stone, shingles, and mysterious spires; looking almost Hogwartsish, if you have seen the Harry Potter Movies. Our time here was short. We arrived from Amsterdam late because of a late connection making us miss our train to Prague by only 3 minutes. But that’s the train life. We made it there by 9:30 PM and met up with Megan from Auburn; who snuck us all into her hotel room after a little coercing. We quickly showered; changed, and went out for a night of dancing. Eastern Europe well known for their techno discotecas and I was definitely not going to miss out on that; and we were not let down. We hit up a 5 story techno club playing a range of style with lots of laser lights and fog machines; it was AUsome. We made it home late and through the freezing cold. Europe is starting to get cold – but I really like it. The crispness in the air reminds me of New York and the smell is even better. I’ve begun playing a bit of Christmas music – you all may think it’s early – but after living in Alabama; once it’s cold its close enough to Christmas for me.

We slept in the next day from our late night; but also because for once we were actually staying in a hotel room; with a real shower; and a real bed – many thanks to Megan’s family. I woke up earlier than everyone else as usual and took my last prep jog before the marathon. Hit up about a 1 hour 15 minute run taking me around the city and up onto the castle mount. It was a great run, felt really easy and made me really excited. The view of the city from the Castle top was wild because the entire city was rolled with fog and all you could make our were the spire tops (Prague is called the “City of 1,000 spires!”). It was really funny on my run because I just had my split-leg running shorts (which are pretty short; but they’re for running) and a sweatshirt and beanie – I think Czechans are not very accustomed to this type of dress in the winter because I got so many stares, pointed fingers, and comments. Post run I hit up a breakfast at the hotel that offered much more than just the hostel toast and coffee; so of course I consumed a few platefuls – you’ve got to take it when you can get it. Took one of the best showers yet in Europe and packed up my stuff to leave at midnight for Venezia and the Marathon.

The afternoon we spent hitting up the famous Prague Cathedral and Castle. I really liked this cathedral because of how much stained glass they used and for the dark stone they built the church with. It makes it look really different from the rest of the European churches. And of course because of all the stained glass they had to make a ton of buttresses which just adds to the mysteriousness of its appearance. The inside was very simple again; classic for Gothic style churches. We were still very tired from our travels and decided to nap the rest of the afternoon; which worked well for me because I’m on “taper” for the marathon. It was funny getting to use that word with my friends here after being on the other end for so many years on the swim team. At night we went to dinner; I just hit up a Gyro stand; by far the cheapest food in Europe and ate for about $2.50. Then I met up with everyone else at an authentic Czech restaurant; very Bohemian in look; underneath the building in a cellar/cave like room. The dishes were goulash and pig’s knuckles and legs; quite interesting to watch them eat this; but they assured me it was good. Afterwards we napped a bit longer until I left around 11:00 PM to catch my trains to Venezia.

Oh yah…..I also finally remembered to buy a patch from the city I visited; I’d been meaning to do this the entire time I’ve been in Europe but always forget. I guess earlier is better than later. I found a really cool one with the Czech crest on it! I guess I will have to find the past cities on Ebay.

Responses

  1. Great trip, story, and especially photos! Thanks for taking the time to share.


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