For anyone thinking of a great european voyage taking the train through the Alps is a must. First of all, swiss trains are really nice, second of all the mountains are gorgeous. I felt like such a dork for telling a swiss girl the day before that she needed to see Colorado because we had beautiful mountains. I wish I had a better picture but alas.
Stepping off the train in Venice was an amazing site. The city is so beautiful and old. The thing that I’ve come to realize about Venice in retrospect is that Venice is essentially Disneyland. It is only a tourist town, I don’t think it has any indigenous economy. The other thing about Venice is that, while you could spend days exploring after you’ve walked a few miles everything is pretty much the same, amazing and beautiful but the same.
When we arrived at the Suisse border we looked at where all the trains were going and hoped on a train to Bern. Neuchatel is by there as well as Bienne. I’d heard of both these cities from a swiss friend. We got to Bern and headed to Bienne. Bienne is a town populated by prep school students from all over. My swiss friend, Cannonica, told me that lots of Canadians go there, get drunk, smoke weed and party like lunatics.
Sounded like a pretty good place to find a bed. We walked around scoping out spots to sleep and had a hard time meeting anyone. We ate in the cleanest Kebab shop I’ve ever seen with a nice Iraqi kurd. He told us that the war was stupid but that arabs were stupid. I had my Iraq’s most wanted deck of cards and he told me all those people were…uhh…”crappy.” He also showed us a picture of Condalesa Rice and revealed that he had a secret crush on her.
Since we didn’t meet anyone in Bienne we headed back to Bern. We found a corner in the train station to sleep.
We were kicked out an hour later. We found another spot by a bank and slept until 40 seconds later a security guard kicked us out. It was already 2-3 in the morning and we got to a park and slept on the benches there. In the morning we caught an early train to Venice. It was so cold in switzerland that we needed to head south.
When we were walking aroudn Switzerland Lewis and Gary asked me if “Suisse” meant bank. I was so confused at their question. Suisse is just what the swiss call switzerland. It was funny and I laughed. I’m so funny.
The area around the woods is very unassuming
In the morning we were all slow to get up. I headed off by myself to the bunker to take some pictures. Looking at the entrance made me realize that coming here by myself, even if it was during the day, was still scary.
The bunker is deep in these woods
The difference was that now I could see the swastikas spray painted on the walls. The area we were staying in is actually known for having a lot of neo-nazis.
I crept slowly into the shelter. All I could here was light rain and water dripping off of the leaves behind me. The bunker splits into three directions after about 10 feet. To the left and right are rooms and straight ahead and up are stairs.
I took a few pictures in the rooms to discern just how abandoned it was. I finally started climbing the stairs. Just like the day before I discovered that very quickly the stairway narrowed. There was no room to turn around or look behind. My shoulders scraped along the walls and pretty soon I heard something behind me. I rushed foward exploding out of the top.
I whirled around to see if something was chasing me. Nothing. It was just my jacket scaring me. I stumbled around some more in the woods before walking back to the house and drying my, now wet, clothes.
Lewis called and confirmed that he would be coming with. We picked him up at Patrick’s place and Lauren’s Mom dropped us off at the train station.
Next stop: Switzerland
I feel bad for Lauren and her family. We told them that we were only going to stay the night. Now it looks like we won’t leave until tomorrow. They haven’t made us feel unwelcome, they’ve actually made us feel incredibly welcome.
Patrick picked up someone else from the Airport. With him now added to our entourage we visited “The End of the World.” I just realized that we didn’t take any pictures. Lets just say that it looks really cool. I think Lauren might have taken pictures there before so I’ll see if she could share it with us.
We hung out in the evening, played chess and what not. Everyone that said they wanted to goto Italy bailed but Lewis says he wants to go. We’ll see tomorrow when we leave if it actually makes it onto the train with us.
Eveyrone went home and Lauren and Emma took us to an old WW2 bunker. It was really dark, raining and we didn’t have any flashlights. The pictures are less detailed. I’ll have to go back in the morning to get some better pictures.
Lauren’s parents are amazing hosts. They’ve really made us feel at home. This comes at a good time because as Gary and I were looking at the next leg or our journey, Prauge we noticed that our rail pass doesn’t take us there. Plus we didn’t have anywhere to stay. We decided to stay an extra day.
We went shopping with Lauren and Patrick. I’d been trying to find a cool jacket my whole trip and I told myself that if I didn’t find exactly what I wanted I would settle in Germany because it was likely to get cold soon. Not to mention that I lost my hoodie in Madrid. So, we went shopping.
A quick survey of H&M and C&A revealed a strange problem. There were too many jackets I wanted but they were all really cheap….so I just bought four jackets really cheap instead of one expensive one..
After stopping at the Commissary we went to the Castle, explored and took pictures.
More friends acquired we went back to Lauren’s and her Mom made us another delicious meal before hitting the sack.
Where to next:
Originally I thought about putting a poll up on the blog to see where we should go. And then I realized how stupid that would be. I don’t want you people deciding where I go.
We’re thinking we’ll head south to Switzerland and Italy. Some of the kids we’ve met here have talked about going with us.
We arrived in Germany without incident and Lauren and Patrick picked us up from the train station. We went to the YSA family home evening there and met a lot of people.
Apparently Hidelberg is the site of one of the USA’s largest military bases. The base is spread around everywhere and is technically US soil. They even take the US dollar in their American grocery stores. Because of all this the local singles were a mix of german and american many bi-lingual.
After we played chess, cards, basketball and hackie sack the activity was over and we went to the Hildelgenberg. It’s this giant amphitheater where Hitler spoke and is right next to a monastery in the mountains.
Driving up there we encountered dense fog and Patrick took a wrong turn sending the car through the air before he could regain control and flip a u-turn. Once arrived we hiked up the amphitheater and explored the Monastary. I apologize that the pictures aren’t better quality. It was dark, rainy and there was fog everywhere.
We also stopped on the way down and saw a crazy big well. Some of the kids there were saying that the Nazis through Jews down there but I don’t believe them. Feel free to correct me.
Gary and I were a little surprised to see that there is, in fact, a ward in Utrecht. We were even more surprised when we showed up that they gave us headsets and translated sacrament meeting for us. Good on ya! We’d been up late the night before and were full of excuses so we left after sacrament meeting. Gary was really tired so he went to sleep back at the house and I went to Amsterdam.
Amsterdam is only about 20 minutes by train from Utrecht, which makes Utrecht an excellent base of operations. Coming out of the train station there are two ways you can go both forward, Right and Left. Now if you’re a good boy or girl you will remember that you should always “choose the right.” This rule holds true in Amsterdam.
The right path takes you past clothing shops and a pretty nice part of town. Rivers criss cross the entire city and the architecture feels dark and warm. I really like it.
I was starving so I was really hunting for a good place to eat. Kebab shops were everywhere but I wanted to get something…Dutch. I finally stopped in a Cafe, spent 10 euros on a chicken plate with 4 euros of water to wash it down.
Travel Tip: A kebab is 4 euros and you get fries. It may not be authentic but all you can get for that price in a cafe is water.
My wanderings continued and I crossed over to the left side. The coffee shops over here were less subtle about what they carried and there were a lot more head shops. Pretty soon there were porn shops everywhere and I just kept walking. I finally decided it was time to go and followed a river back to the train station.
Verdict of Amsterdam: exaggerated. When I got back to the house I was talking to Yvon (one of Sylvia’s room mates) about it. I told him that everyone exaggerated and told stories about hookers and girls in windows for sale. He sort of blinked and laughed. “You didn’t see them?!” he asked, “You weren’t in the right part of town for that. If you want we can go down to Utrecht’s red light district so you can see the girls in the street. I think we have 3.” I declined and I’m happy to think that Amsterdam is just as crazy as everything thinks it is.
There were plenty of drugs for sale…
That night we met back up with Sylvia and went out for a drink with Evanne and this dutch dude that I can’t remember the name of.
Tomorrow it’s off to Germany.
When we decided to stay in Paris an extra day we gave up Belgium. Of course we did change trains in Bruxelles and went through the town on the train but we basically didn’t visit the place. It was too bad. The train wound it self north, slower than the train that brought us to Bruxelles that clipped along going more thant 300 KPH.
The country side was beautiful, think Lord of the Rings but flatter. The train stopped in Rotterdam and we had 10 minutes to switch trains. We ran outside and took some pictures.
What can I tell you about Rotterdam? It looks nice by the train station. Rotterdam is also Bean’s home town. As in, Bean from Ender Game is from Rotterdam. From where we were it didn’t look like there were gangs of pre-pubescent adolescents roaming the streets stealing. Go figure.
We ran back in side and jumped on the train to Utrecht. When we arrived everyone spoke english. It was uncanny, see incredible. I still don’t really get how an entire nation can just pick up a foreign language that has no roots in that country. We asked the pretty girl in the bus that was going to let us know when our stop was how she learned english.
She looked confused and said, as if it were nothing, “I took it in school.” Raise your hand if you took a 2nd language in high school, keep it raised if you learned to actually speak it in that class.
That’s what I thought.
I guess all movies are also shown in english with dutch subtitles. I can see that helping but still, make everyone fluent?!
We got to Sylvia’s house around 7 and met Evanne, one of her room mates. The house that Sylvia lives in actually has 15 students living there. They all seem to have their own rooms and it’s mixed gender. We hung out with Evanne who showed us around. Another room mate got home while I was playing one of their Guitars. He got out his, Evanne got our her harp and we jammed. I never even knew there was such a thing as “Jazz Harp” but there it is and it’s awesome.
We recorded one song that came out ok and I will play upon request for those that wish to hear a Holland Jam. Sylvia showed up at the very end so we have our whole greeting recorded as well. I hadn’t seen Sylvia in 4-5 years so it was really good to see her again and hang out. She was sorry that she got there late and even more sorry that she had to go to bed early for work in the morning. Good night Sylvia.
Evanne didn’t need to be to bed and actually needed to make pancakes. So we stayed up with her and made pancakes into the wee hours of the morning.
Tomorrow is Sunday and after church I’ll get some pictures of architecture and that sort of stuff.
Getting to Holland in the morning actually took longer than expected. We missed the earliest train that we wanted to take and then found out that all the places had been reserved on trains for the next few hours. So settled in to wait three hours for the next available train.
Travel Tip: If your train requires reservations get it done early and you won’t be stuck in the train station waiting.
Gary watched a movie on my laptop and I decided to go wander around Paris. I didn’t really know this part of town so it was an adventure. And then tragedy struck. You see being in a strange city in a faraway land by yourself can do a lot to eliminate inhibitions. Things you would normally never do all of the sudden seem normal. This combined with little sleep and strange schedules makes for a volatile cocktail comparable in effectiveness to being slipped a roofie.
In my wanderings I saw a man with three tiny foam pads (the size of a palm) he was mixing them up and then challenging the watchers to guess which one had white painted under it. I thought it was so urban; classic even. I stopped to watch, I didn’t have anything better to do.
Something happened, I was good at it! I knew where it was every single time. People where winning and loosing money left and right but I could tell where it was without fail! It was almost laughable. Of course I knew there were people that ran operations like this that cheated and we’re very good but this guy must not be very skilled. At least thats what I told my self.
The operator enticed me to put some money down which I said no to. Of course not, everyone knows that I don’t gamble. Pretty soon I forgot that it even was gambling. I knew with certainty where it was every single time.
The operator again asked me to show him 10 bucks. I opened my wallet, all I had was a 20. Not that it mattered, I knew where the mark was. I pointed triumphantly. This guy was so excited for me to take his money that I figured I should let him give it to me.
He flipped the designated pad and I stood mouth a gape as 20 euros slipped from my hands. I stumbled off wondering what in the world just happened. Had I just gambled? Once more had I just lost and not just lost but twenty euros. My internal calculator went mad, 5 Kebabs, 14 pastries, 1 jacket, 13 baskets of fries. I used to play this game when I was a missionary converting my euros into what I could actually get for them. There it was, 5 meals, gone in a second.
Travel Tip: Never think for a second that a street gambler isn’t hustling you. Don’t stop, don’t look and for heaven’s sake don’t reach for your wallet.
This is normally a bad idea but I went back to the stand still amazed at what I had just done. I don’t gamble and part of me felt consoled thinking that I paid 20 euros for the lesson why. I watched some more and once again I saw where it was every time. I wanted my money back and I might have tried to win some back had I had any cash, thankfully I didn’t.
Travel Tip: Don’t carry a ton of cash on you. It will minimize your losses to mind controlling gambling or being jumped which is practically the same thing.
There were now more people and I was standing directly in front of the proprietor of the cardboard box. I could see everyone. He mixed the pads and invited bets. I knew where it was. The man running the game leaned over to his right to invite a bet from someone standing there. While he was thus distracted an arab dude to his left peeked under the pad and then placed a bet. The woman next to him saw what he was doing and bet with him. 40 euros.
Now I had a choice. Let the robber get robbed and his just desserts or be honest and tell on them. I figured I’d already lost the right choice card earlier when I decided to loose 20 euros so as the operator pulled 40 euros out to pay I stopped them. I told him that the arab dude cheated and not to pay them. He thanked me and the Arab dude looked like he didn’t know what to do. He muttered that he hadn’t been cheating.
The game ended and the operator started to walk off. I stopped him and he gave me 10 euros for pointing out the cheater.
Life tip: Honestly pays off
I headed back to the train station 10 euros poorer with a cool story and no desire to ever gamble ever again.