Friday, September 08, 2006
Friday, July 21, 2006
I did take a bike trip to the coast though. It was about 40 km each way and was a lot of fun. It took 2.5 hours to get to the coast where I swam for an hour before making the trip back. That was a lot of fun and good excersize.
On July 5th I went down to Skibby to visit some old family friends. They have an awesome little farm and fed me so well. From there I picked up my parents in København.
With my parents in Denmark we borrowed a car and drove around most of Jutland (the main part of Denmark). Because Denmark is so small it only took 3 days. The coast is quite beautiful.
So now, as of July 15th, I am back home in Illinois.
So right now I am more or less stuck in Paris. I have 4.5 days left on my Eurail pass and I was supposed to be in Barcelona meeting up with my friends tonight but the stupid French rail system requires reservations and all the trains are full for the next day. Now I could get down there late but I also have to get all the way back to Denmark before my pass runs out!
I have been through Paris 7 times in the past two months so the only thing left for me here is the catacombs. So I don't want to stay here. I can either find someplace close to the French border so that I can get out of here (the TGV is fast but only when you can get a seat, something that is very hard to do) or go back up to Denmark. I do have some friends just across in Sweden I could visit but I have been dying to see some scenery, maybe have a day at the beach as well.
I probably would have made it but the French decided to close off reservations from outside countries so I wasn't able to even try to reserve spots until I got here. Way to go French rail.
I went to what I thought was the travel agency and told them I wanted to go to Interlochen and then up to Denmark. I got a very fast, harsh response of "there are to many connections in that route, I can't do it". In other words, they expect me to find a train schedule. Plan my route, wait in line again, have them tell me that one of the trains if full, go plan a new route, wait in line again and find out that that is also full. Stupid French system. In Denmark I asked the same thing, they took 30 seconds to type in their computer and came up with 3 different routes with up to 7 connection leaving in 3 hours.
Anyway, I spent 5 hours relaxing on a hillside with a great view of Paris before getting on a train that took me back home to Denmark. I am looking at visiting some friends in Sweden right now as I have a few days (3) left to travel, but I don't want to have to deal with a hostel now.
Actually, it was good. Relaxing on that hillside made me suddenly realize that what I really needed was to relax, hadn't done that completely in a way to long. It also got me ready to leave this awesome/crazy semester, so in a way it was good.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
The first stop was Zurich because I knew Martin and Ursala who live there. They went beyond being good hosts, and then kept going. It started with Ursala meeting us at the train station and showing us to their apartment. Because all three of us had been traveling overnight they let us shower before serving food. They prepared a home cooked meal that was the best food I have had in a long, long time. That was followed by strawberries that were as good as the fresh ones from my front yard back home. They also gave us a map of Zurich and pointed out all the sights on it.
It would have been wonderful of them had it stopped there, but it didn't. They had gotten us housing at the university for the two nights we had said that we would be there. They would have let us stay with them but their apartment was to small for 3 guests. They then drove us to the housing, which was, by far, the best housing I have every stayed in. Huge rooms with and included fridge and coffee maker plus access to a kitchen. They were also very clean and had a great view.
The next day Martin showed us around his lab so we could see what he was doing there at the university. That was kind of neat. After that we went exploring the city. I must say that it was definitely one of the nicer cities that I have been to. Very green, nestled between some hills and right on a beautiful lake. Great town.
Well, after Zurich Peter and I had planned to go to Vienna. However, like always, plans change. Adrian's brother had been to Switzerland before and so had giver her some suggestions of things to do. Well one of them was a day long hike between two small towns over in the Alps. Hiking, scenery, sold! So over we went.
Because it took a while to get there from Zurich we booked a hostel at the base town for the first night. To continue the praise of Switzerland it was the best hostel I have ever been to. Very clean and comfortable, ridiculously cheap ($22 per night per person), had a great industrial sized kitchen to use and simply the town it was in meant it had a great view. To top it off we met three different groups of awesome people that night. A group of Australian students, a couple who we shared a room with and a group of American businessmen who have been coming to this area for the past 7-10 years and so were full of hiking tips, advice and secret places that we should see.
The hiking path up to the next town was very nice. Good paths, but steep, very steep, and almost all wooded. It was just right for a day hike and took about 5 hours. The weather was also perfect, sunny and almost hot but not quite. The hostel at the top was just as clean, but more crowded and a little more expensive, however, it was still a lot better than many places I have been to.
Now you are probably wondering why I haven't described the scenery. That is because words just don't do it justice. The place is absolutely breathtaking. Unfortunately, I don't have all of the pictures. Peter hasn't given me some of the best group shots yet so these two will have to do for the moment.
After the hike up, here is where we had supper:
And Adrian pointing at the town we stayed in from the valley bottom. If you look very closely there are buildings on the top of the cliff. We spent the night there.
On the way back through the valley bottom we saw this parasailer and all of a sudden something dropped from it and started plummeting to the ground. Well, just before it hit the ground a parachute opened, it was a person! We ran to the landing sight to talk to him. Apparently the guy was testing a new harness for base jumping and so dropped from a tandem parasail so that he wouldn't have to worry about the cliff rocks if he had problems. Very cool and now Adrian wants to go base jumping, crazy.
After all that, all I can say is wow! Switzerland just made spot number one on the most beautiful places I have every been to. I AM GOING BACK THERE! Nothing can stop me. It was so incredible and I know that I just scratched the surface of what that area has to offer.
After that I had to return to Aalborg to defend my project. The presentation went well, although the question session after made us feel like idiots. In the end we all passed, Gildas and I got 7s and Zhetao a 6 on a scale from 0-13. According to the international office website this translates to a B- for me. Not great, will bring down my GPA but not horrible either. Essentially, we wrote a bad report. It was not very homogeneous or well structured. Live and learn.
Now that is done I am heading down to Barcelona again so that I can hang out with Peter, Adrian and Noni all together. That will make 4 Urbana kids all in Barcelona, Spain at the same time. How cool is that.
Next day we headed off to Barcelona! On the way we had a 2 hour layover in Portbou, Spain. The town essentially only existed as a border crossing. Nothing there but a small rocky beach. We meet 3 people from Canada at the station and all hung out on the beach while we waited for the train to Barcelona. It was so nice. The first time I have ever gotten some good sun all year. Plus talking to people you just met is great.
In Barcelona we got a great hostel with a private room for only $50 a night for both of us to stay. The best part was we got to see Noni. She is working there for the summer and so has been in Spain for a month already. It was great to see her and her boyfriend who she met there is a pretty cool guy as well.
Now, people will probably yell at me for this but I thought that Barcelona was very over rated. Most of the city is a big grid system. There were a couple of buildings with really cool architecture but other than that I might as well have been in Chicago. Of course, I find cities boring in general. Everyone talks about how there are such and such sights to see and the night life but personally, once you see the famous things (takes 10 min each) there isn't much else and I don't particularly care about the night life. Clubbing just isn't my thing.
After Barcelona, we headed down to Valencia with a day stop in Terregotta. Why there? Two words: Roman aqueducts. There is a perfectly kept aqueduct just out of town. It was very cool and you could even walk across it where the water normally would go. It was too high in the air for me to make it but Peter went all the way across. The best part was that no one knows about them, so half the time we were their we had the place to ourselves. It was great.
Valencia, again, is city so not much to say. I did like it more than Barcelona though. Smaller, and more picturesque. Interesting story upon leaving though. At the train station we were trying to find the fastest way up to Frankfurt to pick up our friend Adrian. Anyway, while discussing things these two girls came up to us to ask if we knew English and then if we knew Spanish and could help them figure out how to get a ticket. Well, first of all, it turns our they were going to Barcelona, a stop on the way up to Frankfurt for us. The next train that we could all get on was in three hours so we all had time to kill and got to talking. We decided to hang out together until we got to Barcelona, which was nice. Well, it turns out to be a small world and here is why:
1) The two girls are sisters who live in Palentine, a Chicago suburb.
2) They are very close to our age. Them, 17 and 20. Us 19 and 20.
3) The older one has many friends at the UofI.
4) They have heard about and have considered going to the Richardson corn maze.
5) One of their friends had been studying in Sweden and it turns our Peter knew him already.
Fun stuff. They are the first people we have met who we might actually see again.
Anyway, because of full trains it took Peter and I twice as long to get to Frankfurt as it should have. We got there eventually but 4 hours after Adrian landed. Next stop. Switzerland.
A few general comments about Spain. It felt kind of deserty which was a very nice change after the constant cold dampness of Aalborg. It was also very refreshing to be able to use Spanish. We were no longer embarrassed about making people speak English to us. We have both forgotten a lot of Spanish but is still felt good to use it for real, finally.
Friday, June 16, 2006
Monday, June 12, 2006
So there is starting a trip off with a bad start and then there is my trip. So my friend
Peter and I are spending 3 weeks in southwest Europe. We plan on hitting Spain, France,
Monaco, Switzerland and a little bit of Italy. We left this past Saturday.
The plan: I had one day left my old Eurorail pass from the Easter break and it expired on
Saturday the 10th. So the plan was that we would leave very early Saturday so that we could
get to Paris by the end of the day. For the rest of the trip I got a train pass that gives
me unlimited travel for 21 days. So once you use it, time ticks even if you don't keep
using it. In order to maximize my travel time, we were going to stay in Paris for a few
days visiting a friend of Peter's before traveling on my new ticket for the first time.
Essentially delaying my required return to Aalborg. That is not what happened.
The snowball: To start off, the day before we left, Peter and I pulled an all nighter. It
was my last night to see some of my friends in Aalborg and there was a big party in our bar
the night before. So I stayed up to socialize and say goodbye until 3 am. Well, we had to
leave for the train station at 6 and I hadn't finished packing or cleaning up my room,
sleeping was not going to happen. The lodgic being (poor I know, but we are young and dumb)
that we would have 15 hours of train ride to catch up.
You ever have those little mistakes that just snowball into something huge? Well, that is
what happened next. We missed a train. I had looked at the arrivals board instead of the
departures. Now, the arrival from the next stop and the departure times were only 3 min
apart so I didn't catch it, however, it meant we were on the wrong platform. Well, because
our schedule already bumped into night the 2 hour delay until the next one escalated into
an 8 hour delay at getting to Paris.
Now, this would have been fine, if I had a ticket that was good for the next day. We then
had three choices, not make it all the way to Paris, cut my trip short, possibly as much as
a week because I have to go back in the middle to defend my project, or pay for the last leg
of the trip. Well paying would have been $100 and cutting my trip short, well, there are
certain sacrifices one makes in life, and this is not one of them. So we found we could get
to Den Haag Sweden by midnight. That is where I am right now.
But the snowball did not stop there. We had made a hostel reservation in Paris that we had
to cancel, but they still charged us one nights stay because it was literally last minute.
And then, we didn't have a reservation in Den Haag. That is right, at midnight we had to
try to find a place to stay in a town we had never been to. We almost found one, but the
hostel only had room for girls, not guys.
Peter and I got to spend the night on the streets. After not sleeping the night before, we
got to stay up most of the night again wandering the town taking naps on park benches. Not
fun, at least we were able to store our stuff in lockers so we didn't have to carry it.
Thankfully, at noon we were able to get a room at the hostel for the next two nights. We
immediately went in and took a 6 hour nap.
Aftermath: Having napped and then getting a full nights sleep I am feeling great. Peter
went ahead to Paris so that he could still see his friend and I will catch up with him
tomorrow. So today I got to explore the city on my own. First off, this place is big. It took me 2 hours to walk from the hostel to the beach. I walked up and down it a few times before heading back. I think I got my first tan/burn of the year. On the way back I walked through this giant central park. Very nice town.
Well, that is about it. Hopefully the rest of the trip will be smother sailing. I am very excited, especially because we have a friend, Adrian, coming from the states to travel with us for the second part of the trip.
Thursday, June 01, 2006
First I would like to say that testing procedures here are quite different than at the UofI. In the United States, finals are graded very precisely and usually you can't take more than a pencil and a calculator into the test with you. It is almost the opposite here. Tests are simple pass fail, 50% and up is a pass. This means that unless you are very close to 50%, they don't worry about grading accurately, as long is it is obvious you pass that is good enough. To make things even easier, you are allowed to take as much material as you want into the test with you. It is even more open book than the open book tests I have had back home. The third difference is the time in which they grade them. Back home I had to wait weeks for results. My grades were posted within 2 days of the test here, awesome.
So on Wednesday I went to check to see how I did. They had posted the pass/fail results on a bulletin board using our student number to identify whose was who so that we wouldn't know how everyone else did. At first glance I got a shock and was scared. More than half of the people who took the test failed. Uh, oh. So I checked how I did, I even triple checked my number to make sure I had the right one. I passed. Whew.
Now, I have two more tests like this and if I barely passed I need to study a lot more for them than I did for this. So I went and asked my program coordinator how I did. The first thing he did was say, "this is just to make you think, don't worry about it, but I am going to ask you a question." He then writes a simple logarithmic equation on the board and asks me what x is. I said you need a calculator to get an exact answer but I told him how to solve it in one step. His response "there must be something wrong with your calculator because you got that wrong, twice, in the test. But don't worry, you did well on the test." My score, 78/100, and he wasn't sure, but it might be the high score on the test.
Now this test apparently was not normal in that the failure rate was excessively high. They might lower the pass level because of it. The problem was that apparently the test was way to long. We have an assistant professor who took the class with us who has had to write tests himself say that the test difficulty was good but the length was way to long. The fact that I almost finished the test means I worked very quickly.
Tom, the program coordinator, started laughing after we had gone through my test. "To think I told you that you would have to hit the ground running, you just breezed through this." That almost made me turn red, compliments like that from a professor are very hard to get.
Now the main part of our schooling here is the semester project. Since I had told him that I was a bit nervous because I had no idea how things worked here, he offered to take a few minutes to give me some advice for my presentation when I defend the project. It was incredibly helpful, I now know what to expect and what I need to do to prepare. He also, for better or for worse, told me I should take charge in organizing our group presentation. He said that Gildas, the guy who had sort of been leading our group, was a bit to laid back for his taste. While he is incredibly smart he also the kind of guy who would get back from vacation the night before the defense and go into the presentation without having met with the group beforehand......which is exactly what I had been planning to do. So it looks like I will have to make my presentation next week and then come back a day earlier so that I can meet with my group and go over the presentation.
Just before I left he said one thing. "You know what I like about you? You dared. You came here to study even though I told you that you would have to hit the ground running. And you took it all in stride." My advisor back at the UofI is the only other professor I have had who was so friendly and helpful. Anyway, that talk with him really got me up and I am so glad I came here.
Saturday, May 13, 2006
Today I just did something I never thought I would do. Worked on a Saturday. That is right, I got up at 9 am this morning and then biked to campus at 11. Just spent 4.5 hours studying by myself in our group room. Getting out does help with the destractions. Now, before you all think that I am starting to seriously study, to me there really is no distinction between days anymore. I have no classes or work schedual so all my time is mine to use how I see fit. Therefor I can treat Monday as a weekend and Sunday as a Wednesday if I want. So I am just trying to work a little bit each day.
For those of you who are mothers, Happy (early) Mothers Day!!
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
I found the perfect study spot! I just have to say that I am loving this weather right now. I have been wearing shorts and a t-shirt for a week now, and it has been sunny the whole time.
Anyway, this past weekend I went over to Sweden for John and Hanneke's house warming party. I was only there for one day but it was nice to see them. They are sub-letting so they have a nice furnished apartment right now.
Since I was over there I also dropped by Peter's. I essentially used him as a hotel because I was only there for supper and then breakfast. It was still nice to see him though. He claims he is going to come visit me for a few days next week. He better as he hasn't been to Aalborg yet and I have been there twice.
I wish I could of stayed in Sweden longer but I had a group meeting scheduled for Tuesday and I really do need to work on my project as much as possible. It is due in only 2 weeks.
This coming weekend I hope to have a bike trip with some friends up to Skagen. It is far enough that we would probably have to spend the night there as it is about 200 kilometers round trip. I would love to do this as it would be a good dry run for this summer when I would like to bike from home to my grandparents. Well, we will see how things go.
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
I had planned to go east and get out of town as quickly as possible but I found highways blocked biking paths and I was forced south. I went down below the university through a small town about 15km to the south. On the other side of the town I hit hills and woods! That totally made the trip worth it. If only I had brought my camera. Anyway I ended up biking and then walking (I was worried about popping a tire because I didn't have a spare) my bike around some trails in the woods for 15 min before leaving that area.
From there I went east and discovered that they have bike paths here that go between towns. There wasn't even a road next to the bike path, it was just a path between the fields. That was fun, I had missed riding out in the country like I did sometimes at home. Anyway when I got back I had been out for about 2 hours and covered 40-50km. Not bad for an afternoon ride.
With spring here it just changes the whole feeling. I am so glad it finally came. Denmark actually looks pretty now, no longer gloomy. And now back to the realities of work, 21 days to finish my group project so I need to get busy.
Friday, April 28, 2006
Well yesterday was a little bit of a sad day for me. Two of my good friends, John and Hanneke, moved to Sweden. They had been living the floor above me but didn't like the living conditions and don't have any classes, only a masters thesis to write, so they had no need to be here. John actually didn't have a residence permit and so legally had to leave and Hanneke has just always wanted to live in Sweden. They got a place in Malmo, just across the bay from København. They are actually only about a half hour away from my best friend Peter, my travel buddy. So I will probably go visit all of them next week as a "house warming" for John and Hanneke.
On the upside I played soccer yesterday. It was one of the first decent days here in Aalborg and was wonderful to be able to wear shorts and do some physical activity. I really needed it. The weather is slowing getting better but winter is really dragging its feet.
It has been brought to my attention that when you try to comment some of you may be scared off by the login prompt you get below the comment box. If you select "Anonymous" or "Other" instead of "Blogger" you can leave a comment without having any kind of account. "Other" lets pin your name to it, you don't have to enter a web address even though there is a box for it.
Since getting back I have been a bit melancholy because I had a lot I needed to do as soon as I got back and I had been used to the freedom of traveling. I am slowly starting to get back into the rhythm of things. Each thing I get done makes me feel a bit better so if I work hard this weekend and finish everything except for my group project I should be good.
Travel days waist a lot of time, since the trains were full again we had a wait around for a few hours before taking the train. We got to Paris late, around 9 or 10pm. The hostel was easy to find. Once we got off the metro we found that it was such a large hostel we had signs leading us to it. That night we decided to eat cheap and went and hit up the local convenience store. We ate chips, salsa, bread, cheese and canned mexican chili, not a bad meal for $2-3 apiece.
The next day (April 16) we started hitting up the sights. The first stop was the Paris Opera. It was quite an impressive building and we got to see into the Opera hall. Peter wanted to see a show there but they weren't selling tickets at the time and Sneha and I didn't really want to or have appropriate dress for it. After the Opera we went to the Louvre. Wow the building itself as well as the yard stretching off to one side of it are almost as impressive as the art on display there. We did an incredibly quick run through a good 2/3rds of the Louvre, it still took 4 hours and we were actually kicked out because it was closing. There is a very scenic straight line from the Louvre to the Concord to the Victory Arch. Along the way all three of us almost got conned into buying friendship bracelets by some people who would just grab your hand and use your finger to start tying one for you. Getting away from them before they charged us was not possible without being rude so we had to take them off our fingers and quickly walk away.
That night we ate at a Chinese restaurant because they are cheap. Peter got to be a translator for us. The waitress could talk limited english but it was easier to just Peter talk Mandarin to them, besides, they became very friendly once they found he spoke their language. Before going to bed I let Peter at my head with a pair of scissors. He did a decent job although it is very short. I have kind of grown to like it though. Now I can say I got a hair cut in Paris!
April 17th we took it a bit slower. We started just kind of wandering and dropped by one of Peter's friends house but they weren't there so we just took pictures in front it and moseyed on our way. We walked to the Royal Palace. Just outside was a street orchestra that was really good. They were selling CDs of themselves and Peter almost bought one. Inside the gates was a nice, peaceful courtyard that felt like it didn't get much tourist traffic. Most people there were local just enjoying being out on the grass in the sun. At one end there was the whole patio covered in these black and white striped cylinders. We weren't sure why they were there but kids were climbing all over them. I got up on one of the tallest ones quickly but Peter took about 10 min to get up. We have many pictures of him struggling to get up, and then to get back down. He sort of fell and collapsed at the bottom of it. Gave us all a good laugh.
We returned to the hostel about 5pm to rest, regroup and make plans and reservations for the next leg of the trip. That night we went back out to hit a few more sights. First we dropped by the Mulan Rouge. We didn't go in because tickets were over $100 but we saw the outside. From outside it actually doesn't look like that much, nowhere near as big as the movie makes it look. Because we are all geeks we also went and took our pictures in front of the cafe where Amelie worked in the movie. It is a very good movie if you haven't seen it. After that we walked down one of the canals at night and peaked at Notre Dame.
Our last full day there we did obligatory trip to the Eiffel tower. I must say, it is quite over hyped. It was not nearly as big as I thought and not very pretty unless you like the industrial steal look. We didn't go up it and only hung around for about 10 min. Peter started chasing pigeons with his camera instead of looking at the tower. He seems to have a thing for messing with pigeons and ducks. We then walked down to the French Statue of Liberty. It is much smaller than ours, only about twice life size. After that we returned to Notre Dame but this time we went in and looked around the place. Like most of the churches we have seen in Europe, it was huge and impressive stone architecture. After that Sneha wanted to get a good bottle of Bordeaux wine to take back as a souvenir so we started wandering the shopping streets. We walked along this street for about 15 blocks and never found a wine shop. However, near the end of the street we did find hookers. The last 5 blocks there was a hooker between the shops for every block, one for each side to. We gave up and left quickly at that point. We did find one after supper that we made a run to the next morning just before we left.
On our way to the hostel that we had booked we realized that it was way out of the way and started to get a bit nervous about having booked this place. We took the metro to almost the end of the line and they we were supposed to call them and a shuttle would come and pick us up and take us to the hostel. Well our opinion of it started improving rapidly when the shuttle got there. The guy who stepped out we all immediately liked. He was very friendly and upbeat. The current shuttle was full so he gave us each a token to get a free beer at the nearby pub while we were waiting. When we got there the first thing that hit us was how cute the place was. The staff was incredibly friendly and helpful and the whole place was beautiful. It was such a nice change from the constant moving and shared rooms of being in large cities. There was such a laid back air about it. The rooms were actually these tiny camper trailers. They also had bikes for rent for 1 Euro and hour and kayaks for 5.
That night we ate at a restaurant in a nearby town. They had recommended this place and told us how to get there. We rented bikes and biked about 10 min to get into the small town of Abcoude. There were only two restaurants there so we went in. The food was some of the best I have had in Europe. We had 3 huge courses that were oh so good. All of the food was cooked perfectly and presented very well. 17 euro included tip and tax, making it the best deal in we have had in terms of quality/quantity. That night we discovered the biggest downside to our hostel, the rooms aren't heated so it got a bit chilly at night. However it was early in the season and they provide extra blankets if you want. Once bundled up we were fine.
The next day we hit Amsterdam. Our first stop was the Heineken Brewery. It only cost 10£ to get into their museum. That included 3 drinks and a souvenir cup. That made it quite cheap for what you got. Besides, it was neat to see how they make it. After that we went to the Anne Frank house. Of course the line was quite long for it. I was actually slightly disappointed in in because most of the building had been rebuilt into a normal museum place with painted storefronts and obviously fake relics that just took away from the personality of the place. However, we did get to go into the hiding place which was about as restored as it could be while still allowing so many people to walk through. After supper we walked through the red light district. The district is more appropriately named than I had imagined. It is essentially about 10 square blocks of sex shop. Every building in this huge area is either a hooking behind a glass door light up by neon lights, a porn shop or a peep show. I would have been slightly embarrassed being there except that there were tour groups all over the place covering a wide variety of people. We saw several oriental groups go through as well as a senior citizen group or two. It really is quite the spectacle. When we got off of the metro and were heading to the phone to call for the shuttle this Spanish couple flagged us down. It turns our that they lived in a room right across from us and they had a car and were offering us a ride. Nice people and it got us a free ride back to the hostel.
The last full day we had there we decided to take it slow. It was a beautiful sunny day so we hung around the hostel for most of it. Peter and I got the honor of being the first people of the season to rent the kayaks and we paddled around the nearby lake. After that Sneha and I nearly fell asleep in the hammocks there. Eventually we went into Amsterdam for a very late lunch. We didn't really do anything in town except wander around. We walked past a bunch of closed museums and the zoo but couldn't go in any. It was nice to just see the area. For supper we went to a Chinese place because Peter said that Amsterdam is known for having very authentic Chinese restaurants. We weren't disappointed. Peter said it was quite authentic and that the duck he had was some of the best he had had in years. It was definitely good and so was the service. That night we played some ping pong and cards before turning in.
Saturday the 22nd was just one long travel day. We have all become quite comfortable traveling by train, and while it takes a while, I quite like it. Got home to Aalborg at about midnight and that was the end of one of the best trips I have ever had.
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Part one: Lyon and Bordeaux
Getting to Lyon was a series of close calls. The first thing that went wrong was that my Eurail ticket never got to me. The secretaries at the Teknicskole tried really hard to try and find my ticket. They were calling all over the place trying to get ahold of anyone who may have had it. Well they never found it. At 11:30 on the day I was scheduled to leave they called me and said it must be gone and that they would pay for it. They said to buy a ticket, come back after the trip and the school would reimburse me. So I left immediately and caught the next train to København at 12pm. Getting to København central station I had 45 min to get my ticket before my train left to Hamburg. I had to wait in line for 40 min. That was nerve racking, not to mention that I didn't even know if I was waiting in the right line. Well I was and bought the ticket in record time and had 10 min to spare to wait for the train and grab a sandwich because it was supper time.
The closest call was in Hamburg. I got there at about 10:15 at night and I had an overnight train to Paris at 10:45 that I had to catch because the next one wasn't until 7am the next day. That would have been fine except that you need a reservation to go on the train and I didn't have one. So I scrambled around trying to get one. The manned ticket booths were closed and the automated machine kept saying that it couldn't reserve for me. So I asked around and eventually someone said that is because there is a time limit. You have to reserve so far ahead of time. Uh, oh. So they said that my only hope was to talk to the conductor. So when the train got there I asked if they had any free spots because I didn't have a reservation but needed to get on the train. They did! Saved. I was able to get on the train and make it to Paris on time.
The last leg was a quick 2 hour ride from Paris to Lyon that ran every hour. However it also needed reservations and the trains were quite full so I had to leave later than planned, delaying my arrival. Luckily I was able to call my friends and inform them of the delay. Actually the train to Lyon was from a different station than the one I arrived in. When immediately went to the ticket counter and was told that I would have wait 3 hours before getting a train. So I got to take the metro to the other station and hang out. Well I realized that there are two stations in Lyon and my friends had told me to go to one that my reservation wasn't to. So I got in line at the ticket counter there to ask to exchange it and possibly bump it up some. I was quite in luck, they bumped it up and hour. The guy at the ticket counter was also very cool. He asked where I was from and when I said the US he said "you have to be careful with the 2 Euro coins because if you shake them in your hand like this they disappear" As he said that he shook his hand and when he opened it the coin he was holding wasn't there. That was really cool, it turns out he likes to do magic for fun and is also trying to collect coins from all over the world. He asked if I had any from the US with me but unfortunately I didn't. A quick two hour ride from Paris and there I was in Lyon with Peter and Sneha. It turns out that Sneha knows some French, hardly any but a few words and phrases which has been very helpful.
I hardly got to see anything in Lyon because I got there at 2pm and we left at 11am the next day. However, I didn't miss much. Peter and Sneha told me that there wasn't much to see there other than it is a big city. We ate dinner in a nice little restaurant on one of the foot only streets nearby. Great food in a nice atmosphere. Our hostel was way up on a hill and quite the clime to get up to. However, it was clean and had a back yard and patio with an incredible view of the city. The next day was just breakfast and leaving. We ran into a couple of American girls who we had hung out with in the hostel at the train station. So we all reserved tickets together for the ride to Paris.
In Paris we exchanged email addresses and then said goodbye. They were going to be staying there in Paris while we were continuing on to Bordeaux. When we got to Bordeaux, after another 3 hour train ride, I was immediately struck by how different it felt. It did not feel like the typical old European town that everywhere else I had been had. Instead it felt very modern and well off. They had an awesome little tram system that was brand new and reminded me of a backyard model railroad. Since it was late, the first night we just ate and then crashed in our hotel. In the morning when I went to take a shower I found that it was a European style showing. You had to hold the shower head in your hand as there was no where to hang it high on the wall and there weren't any shower curtains. That was interesting, a bit tricky when you aren't used to it.
The next day we started wandering Bordeaux. They had a huge foot only shopping district with all sorts of neat little stores and street venders. We got some good food from a small bakery and on the way home Peter bought a kilo of very fresh, perfectly ripe strawberries. We actually didn't do much in Bordeaux except wander around down town and along the river side, quite a pretty town. Unfortunately, we were not able to see what it is famous for, vineyards. All of the tours were full during our stay and the wineries were to far out of town for us to be able to get to them by ourselves. Since time was tight we cut the losses and headed to Paris the next day.
Sunday, April 23, 2006
Despite it being slow I must say that I now love train travel. It is so much easier, nicer, more convenient, more comfortable and more scenic than flying or driving. Some people say that they best way to see Europe is by train, there is more truth to that than you can imagine.
I had a bad start with my ticket and the trip cost a bit more than I though/hopped and of course there were rough spots but I would do it again in a heart beat. I would like to repeat how awesome it was.
Well now I face the hard part of returning to reality, not that I have ever completely been in it here. I am working on a more detailed report of everything that we did on the trip. I have notes of most things we did/saw but I need to expand on it so it makes sense before posting it. Between Peter and I we took about 1200 pictures, to many to even put on one CD. To upload them all would take several weeks so I think once I sort through them I will upload a few highlights and then offer to ship some media to those who want the full experience. If I have time (yea right) I might consider a movie/slideshow thing that you can just watch to learn about my trip. We will see. Anyway, look for the details during the next week.
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Things I have learned:
-France is awesome and beautiful.
-The French are not stuck up and rude, they are friendly.
-Paris is only a romantic city at night.
-High speed trains rock.
-Bring lots of camera memory, I have taken 200 pictures myself so far.
-Food is expensive
That is about it. Next up is Brugge then Amsterdam before heading back home.
Monday, April 10, 2006
Last weekend our floor had a big 30th birthday party for one of our members, Paulina. It was a lot of fun and it lasted until 4am. We even started a dance party in our bar downstairs, that hadn't been done before there. Pictures are up if you want to see some of the festivities.
This week has been a bit stressful because I am hoping to go to France. I say hoping because there has been problems getting a train ticket.
Eurail passes apparently can only be bought in the US so I had to have it shipped here. FedEx got it here in two days, almost. They delivered it to the wrong building but I didn't know that at the time. So I wasted precious time waiting to talk to the receptionist here, who is only working 5-6pm weekdays, to see if they have it. No luck, finally someone said I should try next door, well they were closed, and it was Friday so I had to wait until today to go ask them.
The main reception didn't have it so I went home and called FedEx. FedEx said that they delivered it to the Teknicskole next door for sure so I went back and talked to them. The receptionists were very nice and helpful and did some calling around to try and find it. Unfortunately, the person that they think might have signed for it is on vacation or something. They told me there was someone who might be able to get it but I would have to come back in the morning as they had left already.
To make matters worse I went to the train station and they won't sell me an InterRail pass because I have to have lived here for at least 6 months first. There went a backup plan. However, they did say that there is a Eurail Aid station in the København central station that I should be able to buy one at. So that means if I don't get the ticket tomorrow I will be going to København without my full ticket in hopes of getting one.
Needless to say I am a bit stressed, not to mention that those tickets aren't cheap so I will have to fight with FedEx or the ticket providers to get a refund if I don't get it. Hopefully my next entry will be from France.