It was a custom once upon a time for graduating college students to take leave of their sheep skins and their senses, buy portage on some passing ship and ‘do Europe.’ They would travel around the continent by train, plane and pure brain, staying in youth hostels and smoking as much dope as they could. So did I, though in my case it was some 35 years after college graduation, being my sixtieth birthday present to myself. And no dope.
This is the travel journal of my extended trip to Europe. From my home in Canterbury, Connecticut, I hitched a ride to the bus station, took a bus to the train station, a train to Grand Central station in New York, a subway to JFK airport and a jet plane to Copenhagen, Denmark. And then started the adventure in earnest.
I recorded my adventures as journal entries via Facebook, imagining myself to be some nineteenth century explorer in the deepest, darkest Europfrica tourist district recording my exploits and observations for future generations
That’s you, by the way. Enjoy.
Journal Entry No. 1 – 3/7/15
The frosty winds bite terribly as I hitch up the team. Tins of coffee and preserved meats stand ready to load, the skins of water freezing as I speak. Do I have enough yak fat? Time will tell. I inventory the supplies one last time, every ounce a precious bundle caught between bodily necessity and excess weight. The very leaves of this journal must be accounted for and justified. Though the quest for knowledge itself is beyond weight and measure.
Roomba, my pagan man servant, is required to contain all of his life essence for the journey within his marrow. I may need to tap that protein supply before the end. I hope he doesn't read journal.
I apply one last layer of yak fat to the skids and pat down the malamutes to calm them against the storm ahead. Look anon, dear traveler, thy destiny beckons.
Journal Entry No. 2 - 3/10/15
All packed and waiting for my transport to the bus station. The house is buttoned up, water off, heat lowered and sundry electric equipment shut off. It is as winterized as it gets. I did one last check of my bee hives yesterday. There is only so much I can do seeing as it is still a cold winter with knee deep snow in places. I’ve got a friend coming by in a couple of weeks to check on them and give them much needed food. They are all strong after the winter, so I have no qualms about their well-being.
As the Doctor would say: Alonsy!
Journal Entry No. 3 - 3/10/15I just caught the bus in Lisbon, CT. My brother, Dan gave me a ride. I was going to give him my car keys but the bus was leaving while he parked his car. I got swept away. Well, bussed away anyway. The fare was $2.00 to Norwich. With a transfer voucher fifty cents got me the rest of the way to New London.
I had an hour in Norwich to kill, which I spent killing an egg sandwich and taking pictures downtown. The architecture here is stunning. Banks display neo classical columns and flowing scroll work frozen in unyielding granite. Movie theatres, long silenced of film or thespian, proudly thrust crumbling marques over cracked sidewalks and boldly wear art deco designs on their walls. It's as if they can't accept that the heyday has withered around them.
Once Norwich was a beautiful city. The rose of New England. It had a trolley system, at least three theaters and a deep water marina that could accommodate nineteenth century cargo ships 15 miles inland of Long Island Sound. Three railroad lines converged on Norwich. The ships brought raw cotton in from the agrarian south. Trains brought it inland to mills clustered along the power arteries of New England’s rivers, where it was carded, spun, woven and dyed into thread and fabric and sent back on those same trains to the ships of Norwich Marina. Cotton may have moved through Norwich but wealth flowed through her.
I remember my mother bringing me to Norwich as a child. Getting a soda at Woolworths. Seeing a movie at the Midtown Theater. Looking at Christmas lights. Norwich was much like Capra's Bedford Falls, but with no man and his goofy angel running down the streets yelling Merry Christmas like madmen.
I attended the high school there, Norwich Free Academy. It was a full campus with numerous buildings, a gym, manual training building, art gallery and a beautiful cathedral like building, complete with tower, that housed a museum, theater and music classes. They taught sculpture and metal work. I made a cutesy pair of silver ear rings for my girlfriend, Diana. The muses lived here. There was culture, art, music and science here.
There is now but memory here. Memory and story. Story and regret.
The fifty cent voucher bus brought me to New London an hour later. Similar architecture, similar history, similar present. Similar future. I write this entry in the train station. In about twenty minutes Shore Line East will bring me to New Haven.
Ps. Free Wi-Fi in the subway. New York City is cool.
Journal Entry No. 4 - 3/11/15 (Just Barely)
"Welcome to New York," said the airport shuttle driver (who found me at a Hess gas station) as he dropped me off, dripping, tired and utterly lost, at my motel around midnight.
Eight hours and forty minutes earlier.
As I got out of bed this morning everything was calm in heaven. No reason to tempt fate or rattle the cages of the Elementals. Even two bus rides by a bus riding novice only gave them funny dreams. This might have been the cause of the muffler falling off Dan's car on the way to Lisbon. The dreams of gods can do that.
With 25 minutes in New Haven, I got my Metro North ticket, a Stromboli and a drink. Then on to the Big City. As I entered Manhattan and saw the 125th St. Station sign from the train, the gods stirred uneasily in their Karmatopia and when I arrived at Grand Central at 3:20 PM they awoke with a start. "Some mortal is rising above his station," they roared. And there is nothing the gods love more than screwing around with uppity mortals.
The whole ride in had been blessedly eventless, mostly spent eating, taking pictures and reading on my tablet, which is my sole connection to the computerized world. I didn’t want to bring my laptop with me, since it is rather heavy and cumbersome. So I bought a Lenovo tablet computer as my computational device of choice. It’s crude but lightweight, and I have no keyboard, so all of this text is typed in using touch screen.
I breezed through GCS and out onto 42nd Street. The City. The sites. The sounds. The Chrysler Building. The glorious architecture of Grand Central. And they were going to tear it down! What mind sees art and wishes to destroy it for profit? The barbarian mind, of course.
And then the mass of people. It took no time to fall into City Mode. That's a curious dance where you half plot, half anticipate, half precipitate in the moves of the block of humanity pouring toward you at any given second, with extra credit for avoiding traffic. Will that woman bearing down upon me veer left or right? And will it be her left or mine? Will that taxi pull in front of me? Hey, fella! I've got the right of way here. And don't get me started on fire trucks.
And then the senses. Walking in the throng, breathing in the air, inhaling in the fumes, I thought, Gee, I could just start smoking again. The curries, the vapors, the rainbow hair, the atomized grease, the Kimchi trash (summer phenomenon.) If you could bottle something like that and sell it as fine New York perfume, you wouldn't. And the sounds. Wailing sirens, gibbering languages, street performers, subway bums who can't imagine anybody not wanting to hear their enchanting variations on boom box and screaming. It's no surprise New York is the city that never sleeps. Who could with all that racket?
I had two hours, two hours and forty minutes actually, to meet my nephew Matt and his wife, Abby at 23rd and 6th Avenue. They live in Brooklyn and I was going to have dinner with them. I could drop off my carry on at the hotel by JFK or lug it around with me. Since JFK is a long way from Manhattan, I opted for no 2. Lug it it was. So I leisurely walked around, snapping pictures here, discovering free Wi-Fi there, until I got to 23rd street. It was about 3:50. During this time it started to rain. Just a little spattering.
The gods were just warming up by cooling me off gently.
So I wandered around, got coffee, pirated internet and generally wasted time. Around 6-ish I planted myself at the designated corner and texted Matt. Soon Abby got me and brought me to where she works. Matt was delayed by train trouble and eventually we agreed to just meet him at the restaurant. We ended up at a great Japanese place and then a vegan ice 'cream' place for desert.
Yummy family fun.
Yummy family fun.
The gods took note, testily.
After a lovely evening of family time, it was time to go to our respective 'homes.' I followed them like a little ducky to a subway station in Greenwich Village. We took a train for Brooklyn. At a certain stop I got out for my connecting train. The transfer was simple. My train was on the other side of the same platform. I just needed to get on the right one.
A-train, Far Rockaway terminus. Got it.
This was 9ish. I was alone. On a subway station in Brooklyn, NYC. On my way to a subway station in Jamaica. To a hotel I haven't been to yet and am not sure where it is. What can go wrong?
A-train, Far Rockaway terminus. Got it.
This was 9ish. I was alone. On a subway station in Brooklyn, NYC. On my way to a subway station in Jamaica. To a hotel I haven't been to yet and am not sure where it is. What can go wrong?
Why am I thinking of the movie Ghost all of a sudden?
The gods were delirious.
Several trains came and went. A few were going to someplace called Not In Service. Some were the right train, but the wrong terminus. Terminuses are tricky. And there were long spells of no train at all. Finally after about a half an hour the right train, right terminus, right status came by. This was around 10:00ish.
Thirty some odd minutes later I came to my stop. North Conduit Avenue. According to my adventurers map the Super 8 was somewhere on N. Conduit Ave to the east of the train station, but I couldn't be sure where or how far away. The subway map didn't have the hotel on it and the street map didn't have the subway station on it, either. Both had JFK airport, so I used my infallible guy super talent with directions and triangulated between the two using the airport as a fixed point in time and space. I guessed.
The gods were having an apotheosis of their own.
On my way out of the station I asked a cop if she knew where the Super 8 was. She didn't. I should have taken this as a warning. What I should have done was ask what was the street number of the subway station and compare that with the address of the motel, which was 15-something-something-something. If she said the address of the station was, oh, say, one, I could have just called a cab then and there. I did not do what I should have done. I never do.
The gods always leave you an out. There is always one seemingly insignificant way where you could have avoided the whole Karma trap. That way your human hubris has something to dismiss as irrelevant as you boldly go somewhere stupid. It's more fun that way. For the gods, that is.
So I exited the subway station and walked. And walked. And walked. There was a sidewalk and residential houses on the roadside so I figured I was on a place that people walk on. They must be walking somewhere.
Eventually I came upon a man getting into a car. "Excuse me," I asked. "Do you know how far the Super 8 motel is?" I was beginning to think the unthinkable-that I had gone the wrong way.
"Oh, that's quite a ways from here," he said. 'Quite a ways.' Not a little bit. Not just around the bend. Not ‘A ways.’ Not just through that wardrobe or TARDIS or any other phrase we might use to insulate ourselves from the sheer horror of what we are about to do. Quite a ways is, after all, quite a ways.
"Oh, that's quite a ways from here," he said. 'Quite a ways.' Not a little bit. Not just around the bend. Not ‘A ways.’ Not just through that wardrobe or TARDIS or any other phrase we might use to insulate ourselves from the sheer horror of what we are about to do. Quite a ways is, after all, quite a ways.
Well, in for a penny...
The gods...you can imagine what they were doing.
And the rain was picking up.
I had to get there eventually. So I blundered on along North Condiment Lane in the rain. The rain on North Condiment Lane falls mainly on the insane. I just hoped I could cut the mustard. What? You didn't see that pun coming a mile's blunder away?
After about another mile of playing jump the puddle, maybe more, I came to a Hess station. It was around 11:00. Beyond that the sidewalk ended. Not in the Sal Silverstein way, though it might as well have been. Instead it looked like North Concrete Ave was an exit off another, more evil, highway. North Brimstone, maybe.
I asked the clerk in the Hess station if he knew where the motel was. No, he didn't. I asked some people outside, who said it wasn't far, which was an improvement on ‘Quite A Ways.’ Why not just call a cab.
What an inspired idea. I don't usually think of taxis as actual transportation. Back to the sales clerk. "Do you have the number of a cab company?" I asked, questioningly? No, he didn't. I think he was only programmed to sell crap made out of corn syrup, not provide useful information.
Back outside. I asked some more happy gas buyers if they had the phone number of a cab company. One said, "Sure. It's 718-blah-blah-blah."
Perfect. I called the number and was told they didn't have any cabs out at that time. "Do you have the number of another taxi company?" "Sure, try 718-blah-blah-blah."
That number didn't work.
I called him back and confirmed that I wrote down the right number. The paper was a bit wet, after all. I was scribbling on my motel reservation confirmation with a pen I made sure to have with me (two, actually. I've had run ins with gods before.)
I called again and this time got the cab company. "Oh, we don't go out that far. Sorry." "Do you have the number of one that is in the area?" She sounded sympathetic. "Sure. Try 718-... Well, you know.
While dialing that number the sales clerk came out and told me that there was a shuttle driver just off his shift of driving important people to/from the airport to/from expensive hotels. He's willing to give a ride to a non-entity like me.
"You are going to Motel 8?" "Yes." "OK. Twenty dollars." "Perfect." At first I thought he said forty.
So he led me to his shuttle by the gas pump. It was a nice van of some sort, but not yellow. No insignia. The driver had no uniform.
"Er, is this real?" I asked. I didn't want to be shuttled off to some forest and mugged. I've seen movies. He said yes. "I'm not comfortable with this. Nothing personal, but how do I know you're what you say?" He smiled genuinely. He had an honest face. That doesn't mean anything. As Doctor Who once said, 'You can't be a good con man with a dishonest face, now can you?' Point taken. "OK. Look, there are other cabs here (there were two) you can get a ride from them." He wasn't upset. So I asked him for some ID. He showed me his shuttle driver's picture ID. "OK. That's fine." I sat in the shuttle while he finished pumping gas.
The motel was maybe a mile away, though still difficult to find, which gave me not a small amount of anxiety. Do the doors have child locks? Window locks? Victim locks? Is he a professional mugger? Is there such a thing? Are there forests in Brooklyn? A tree grows there. Is that enough? I gave him the street number and we found it. Much relieved, I gave him his well-earned twenty, thanked him and got out of the car.
"Welcome to New York," said the airport shuttle driver (who found me at a Hess station) as he dropped me off, dripping, tired and utterly lost, at my motel around midnight.
Man proposes. God disposes. But then again why do we do things if not to find out how bad our plans are?
PS. The gods had more in store for me that day. After getting into my room quite a ways from the subway station, I unpacked and hung all of my wet stuff over a heater. I put my glasses on the side table and then had to get up for some reason. When I put on my glasses I noticed that my vision wasn't all that improved. Curious.
Checking, I found that a lens had fallen out. Having had experiences with gods, as I said earlier, I had an eye glasses repair kit with me as well as a spare pair of glasses. Not to gloat, but. Take that, gods.
PPSS. I searched for the missing lens the next day and finally found it leaning (not lying) against a foot of the night stand. I'll give them credit. The gods must be clever.
Journal Entry No. 5 - 3/11/15 9:00PM (21:00, as we Europeans say.)
I'm sitting in JFK terminal one charging my tablet. It seems that I didn't have the right cable with me, which is funny since I know I packed it. I must have removed it from the wallet full of wires, chargers and converters for some reason before I left and forgot to put it back. I discovered this last night while unpacking and drying out. (See earlier story or, better yet. Don't ask.)
Part of my packing regimen was to organize stuff in cheap cloth wallets. That way I had all of my cables and European style electric plugs in one place. I thankfully had enough juice the night before to use Super 8's Wi-Fi to upload pictures and the few memories I was ready to reveal. Today I bought a new cable. I'd like my tablet charged before I take off in two hours. It's charging slowly at one of the electric stations at one of the terminals. I know I won't be able to sleep on the plane and War and Peace won't read itself.
Part of my packing regimen was to organize stuff in cheap cloth wallets. That way I had all of my cables and European style electric plugs in one place. I thankfully had enough juice the night before to use Super 8's Wi-Fi to upload pictures and the few memories I was ready to reveal. Today I bought a new cable. I'd like my tablet charged before I take off in two hours. It's charging slowly at one of the electric stations at one of the terminals. I know I won't be able to sleep on the plane and War and Peace won't read itself.
There's no free Wi-Fi at the airport, of course. This is typical of airports but it amazes me that New York’s MTA can provide free Wi-Fi through most of its subway lines and stations but uber modern JFK can't. You'd think the airlines could go Dutch on Internet. They do have bathrooms at the airport, though. I guess poor people don't poop.
Oh, and the airport is not on the regular subway system. I had to pay an extra five bucks to get from the JFK MTA stop in Jamaica to the airport shuttle itself. It's not a normal transfer like every other subway station on earth and has its own brain blood barrier against the hoi poloi. And it's not a shuttle, either. It's an AirTran, thank you very much. What we used to call an Elevated, you're welcome. They soak money from each according to his ability and to each according to screw you. That's capitalism too cheap to meter.
Today was a study in extremes. Riding on buses and subways through various neighborhood, many poor. Being approached by people asking for money. I just say, No, sorry, when asked if I have a dollar for food. They are humiliated enough as it is.
Then resurfacing in the other America. And this isn't even the 1% or the 0.01% that own everything and everyone else. I came back to the realm of the, I don't know, 25%? The 40%? We are the economy class, formerly the middle class. Someday to sink into the invisible class.
No one at JFK Airport pan handles five bucks to get a Starbucks pail-o-foam.
Earlier, I packed up my paraphernalia at the Super 8, repaired my glasses and checked out. So I asked the hotel clerk what was the nearest subway station. He told me to get a bus just next door to get to the subway. He didn't even think of using North Crapshoot Ave to get there. Imagine that. I literally took the worst possible route to the hotel last night.
I can’t go to Conney Island and not have a dog with everything.
For one stretch I was on an elevated train. This area of Brooklyn was a dismal greyscape of endless dirty brick buildings. By that I mean that the bricks themselves appeared to have been made to look dirty as if they designed for use in depressing neighborhoods. Buses were filled with cheerless passengers. Razor wire, like a crown of thorns, pressed down on every wall and fence. And everywhere graffiti. Quite impressive graffiti, too, with those puffy letters and no straight lines. There must be a font in this style available for download somewhere.
Asphalt roofs. Asphalt roads. Asphalt parking lots. Asphalt lawns. Asphalt people. Yet they still held their humanity. They were friendly or at least available to help a stranger. To answer a question. To hold open a door. To say thank you. To help stow a baby carriage on a bus. To share a wise crack about a jerk driver. Almost everyone I talked to replied, smiled, answered a question, told me where the next bus was and was helpful.
At the end of the day and every second therein, people are people. Black. White. Religious. Non. If we just show some kindness we will see we are all the same. Kindness begets a smile. A smile begets a friendly face. And that a friend.
Journal Entry No. 6 - 3/12/15
Copenhagen! They call this a city? Where're the bums? The potholes? The overarching smell of urine soaked cigarette smoke? I'm coming back to Manhattan. Though the Scandic hotel is rather delightful. And the train ride from the airport was surprisingly lacking in people with boom boxes trying to serenade us. OK, Copenhagen. You win this round.
By the way, when I created this Facebook group and went to add members Facebook gave me a list of 'suggested people' to add. This didn't include all of my friends, just some. Facistbook doesn't approve of all of my friends, apparently. You’re on notice.
Journal Entry No. 7 - 3/13/15
When I arrived at the airport yesterday I had been up for 36 hours. I can't seem to sleep on a vehicle. The plane was nice. Wide body. They fed us. I could have gotten a free glass of wine if I wanted. I was on an aisle seat in an exit row, which gave me room to stretch. The TV monitor in front of me just showed speed statistics, estimated times and a little animation of the plane flying, no creeping, between JFK and Copenhagen. For someone with exhaustive insomnia this was torture.
But the flight was over in about six and a half hours. Deplaning in Europe is quite easy. They are not too ornery about customs. I had nothing to declare, not even my own genius, and just breezed through, my passport scanned and stamped.
But before that, the gods had one parting (I hope) shot for me. As I slung my backpack on my back in the airport, one of the straps broke. Great. I had to carry it by one of the handles. This put quite a strain on my arms, which weren't doing so hot to begin with. One still has pins in it and the other has been sore, too. Sympathy, I suppose.
I should mention all of the repair items and contingencies I had planned for. I didn't want my vacation to be ruined for want of a nail. I had band aids for the inevitable blisters I'd get. I was born with my right foot shorter than the left by half a shoe size. That’s not usual. If I walk a lot I get blisters on it. I have to decide when I buy shoes which foot's size to use. The larger one or the smaller? One way I get blisters. The other way, foot binding.
I also brought a glasses repair kit, which is just a small screwdriver, spare screws and a magnifying glass. I also brought a spare set of glasses. My latest pair has a tendency to get a screw loose once in a while. Must be the close proximity to my head. The lens will suddenly pop out. I thought they were in tightly. I certainly screwed them in good before leaving, but Loki was there loosening them.
So far I used all three of these things ‘contingency’ items.
I also have a few pieces of para cord. Instead of one long piece I brought several shorter pieces. That makes it ideal for replacing a broken shoelace or tying something to a maladapted pack. Plus the cords could be tied together if I needed a clothesline in a bathroom to hold hand washed items or to fend off marauding Vikings. If you cut it, it has to be melted to keep it from fraying. First of all I could hardly pack a knife. Or matches for that matter. TSA and all.
And I thought of bringing a sewing kit but figured that was anal even for me.
You could say that I could just buy that stuff if I needed it. Maybe, but some of these accidents, should they occur, would be awfully inconvenient to have to wait to fix. Case in point. This morning while hiking around Copenhagen taking pictures and getting oriented, I looked for a sewing kit. I never found one. I came back to the hotel to check out and asked the front desk if she knew someplace I could get a needle and thread. She thought they might have some in their gift shop. I had looked in drug stores and grocery stores hoping the same thing. They didn't have any, but she thought they might have one at the desk. Bingo, or whatever shouting game they play in Denmark. They had a little kit with one needle, thread and a tiny pair of scissors. The thread was too fine, but I used dental floss instead. Next time I pack a needle and some carpet thread. Actually, the para cord would have worked. I mentioned that it frays if you cut it. The inside consists of seven smaller strands wrapped in an outer layer. One of those would have done perfectly for this application. Dental floss worked great, too. Plus it comes with its own lubricant.
I got some cash from the currency exchange and got the train into town. I was beat and just wanted to get a room. I forgot to make reservations in advance so I just got a room in a hotel near the train station called the Scandic. It was pricey but I was too tired to argue. I managed to take a short walk around town before turning in.
Good night Copenhagen.
Journal Entry No. 8 - 3/14/15
Let's go back to when I first got here on the 12'th. I desperately just wanted to get a room in the Copenhagen Airport Expensive Hilton, Overpaid Executives Suite. I was on my third or fourth wind and knew it wouldn't last, what with all the no sleep and all. Still I forced myself to get some Danish Kronas, find the ticket office and buy a fare into town. This with a broken backpack in tow, er, hang.
By the way. The ticketing windows here require you to get a ticket to get a ticket. I just stood in line waiting for a free window to open up and marched up to get my train fare. What number? they would ask. Um, one? I’d volunteer. They’d politely let me know that I had to get a number and wait for the little lightey thingey above the window to glow with that same number before they would help me. Oh. Is that what that meant?
At the station I asked about hotels and was directed toward some. I finally got a room at a nice though not very cheap place, got a slice of pizza for dinner and crashed.
Now I'd like to describe breakfast. The spread was quite nice and, as you might expect, different. Oh, they had bacon and eggs and corn flakes. They also had baked beans and roasted mushrooms. All sorts of cold cuts and cold sausages, breads, coffee, juices, muesli, yoghurt, fruits and cheese. Lots of cheese. It was a hearty breakfast.
I already described my adventure getting my backpack fixed. While doing that and chasing down a bronze girl, I also looked for a less expensive place to stay. I found a youth hostel in Copenhagen, so I booked one night, dormitory style, co-ed, five double bunk beds. If I'm going to try this youth hostel thing, I might as well jump into the deep end.
The place turned out to be just around the corner from the hotel. It was very nice, clean, well run, friendly peopled and comfortable. Of course I haven't slept with another person anywhere in the room, let alone nine, for a long time. But it was not bad at all. I turned in earlier than most and a few noisy, maybe tipsy, slightly obnoxious guys came in late. What are you going to do?
I came down to the group area later at the invite of the girl who checked me in. She showed me around and chatted. Very friendly. Spent some time in the states. I didn't talk to too many others. I didn't hear much German.
The next day, Saturday, I bought the breakfast buffet. It was similar to the other. Good. Hearty. Delicious. I could get used to this healthy and delicious food. I wonder what they call it?
After that I decided that I hadn't had enough of Copenhagen and wanted to stay another day. The hotel had been pricey, about $200.00, but the dorm was cheap, in the mid twenty somethings. That's all right. I had to check out and make another reservation since my room was booked. I got another room on another floor. OK. I rented a locker (40 Kronas, about six bucks) to stow my backpack and headed out.
I went to the Tycho Brahe planetarium. They had various shows but the one I was interested in played already and wouldn't play again until the evening. So I went to a museum I passed the previous day. It was the Danish National Museum and it turned out to be free and you could take pictures. It was an amazing museum with thousands of artifacts from around the world. I couldn't see all of it in one day.
After that I thought I'd get dinner. I walked past several McDonalds and 7/11's and spotted a place down a side street. It had a board outside advertising specials, one of which was a three herring dinner for 129 Kronas, about twenty bucks. I was sold. The dinner was exceptional. The three dishes were curried herring, pickled herring and spicy herring. The dishes included capers, hardboiled egg slices, a raw egg yolk and bread. The accompaniments included sour cream, a relish type thing and a plastic serving container of something that tasted like lard.
I asked what that stuff was after dinner. The waiter said it was basically fat. You don't have a word for it in English, he said. It comes from a pig. Yup. I thought so. They traditionally put it under the herring for some reason. I was OK stopping with the sour cream.
So that, two bottles of seltzer water, a crème Brule, chocolate mousse, ice cream trifle dessert and a double espresso brought me up to 270 Kronas. Forty-ish bucks. Reasonable.
I also did some research on things I want to do next. I realized I'd have to spend at least two days wherever I go to have enough time to enjoy it. I decided I wanted to go to Ribe next. It's close to the German border, a small town and has a lot of Viking history. So I found a hostel, booked two nights and got myself a train ticket.
Let's see what adventures may come.
PS. My first night in the hostel was on the bottom of a bunk. Not so lucky the second.
Journal Entry No. 9 - 3/14/15
Nice trip to the Tycho Brahe planetarium. I saw an Imax showing of a National Geographic special on unseen things. High/slow speed photography and electron microscope imagery. I had to get an earphone to hear the Danish, which was a translation of the original English, translated back into English. I hope they used Google translate both times. Now that would be fun. Let’s take a simple phrase and translate it from English to Danish and then back to English again. How might that go?
Original: In the end all life is precious.
English->Danish->English: Your anus has a small living thing in it.
Yup. That makes sense.
Journal Entry No. 10 - 3/15/15
On the train to Esbjerg. I will get off at the Bramming station for a transfer to Ribe (pronounced REE-bay.) The ride is about two hours and forty minutes.
The landscape is flat and wooded, farms dot the view through the window. It is not unlike New England. Except once in a while you see a thatch roofed building. Not too many of those in New England.
It's grey and overcast today. I hope it doesn't rain, though I am going to spend a lot of it in transit.
I got on the wrong end of the train. I was in the reserved seating area, number 1 and, number 2, the wrong section to get to Esbjerg. The person whose seat I was in kindly said I could sit next to her, she had reserved both seats. She was a German teacher. I tried to engage her in a conversation but she didn't seem interested.
I found out I was on the wrong car from the ticket taker. She said I had to go through the cars and two 'graders.' Two graders? What's two graders? I wondered if that meant two cars? Then I realized she was saying 'two grey doors.' That brought me forward to the cars that go to Esbjerg and seats that don't require reservations. I will be getting off at Bramming for a transfer, but I still need to be here. I had read about both these issues-reserved seats and zoned trains. Now it was through experience.
The sun is coming out. Most of the fields are still brown. Some are green. It's still winter after all. Spring starts in seven days.
I want to go to Holland for the flowers. It's early now with just crocuses coming up. I should wait. Maybe when I'm done in Tubingen. I could go to Holland for a few days, then straight to England by boat.
Arrived in Ribe around 1:00. It's a sleepy little town that rolls up the sidewalks on Friday afternoon. I found the hostel all right but there was no one at the desk. The hours were mornings till noon and 4:00 to 6:00. I just missed them. Something to remember for these small towns.
There is a Viking museum right by the train station. Now that I think of it the train station was closed, too. I wonder how you get tickets off shift? On the train, perhaps? Though no one came for my ticket on the connection. I noticed that there is an honor system around here. On busses they don't usually check, but if they do and you don't have a valid pass you can be fined up to one thousand Kronas. Oregon is like that too. On the plus side this train had free Wi-Fi. I'll stop by the train station when I get up tomorrow.
I am in about the only place open. A pizza place. I had a big breakfast and am not really hungry, but I don't expect to eat dinner so I should eat now. Plus I have two and a half hours before I can check in.
It's overcast again and looks like it wants to rain. Ribe is close to, but not on, the sea. I should be able to do some exploring after the museum.
All checked in now. This is one of those places that rent sheets. Good thing I brought that sleeping bag liner and a blanket. But I forgot a pillowcase. They could just rent me that, so it was no problem. Two nights, breakfasts and the rental came to under one hundred dollars. And I've got my own room. They had a busy weekend with a wall climbing competition, but they are all gone now. It's dorm style and all for me. These are the simple pleasures for a hardened traveler like me.
The museum is closed on Monday, so I'll probably do a lot of exploring. I already took a short walk around town. It is beautiful. I hope the weather is better.
Checking all of the online train schedulers, they all say the same thing: you can't get there from here, as far as getting to Amsterdam. Or Hamburg. Or anywhere else. I must be in the Danish version of the Twilight Zone. The Vikings will be coming out of the mists soon. Looking at the map it appears that this train line ends around the German border. I may have to go back north and back track to get to Hamburg. Good thing I haven't scheduled my next hostel.
Next trip I'll have to bring an ax. And a pillow case.
Journal Entry No. 11 - 17/3/15 (Switching to European format)
Now I've got a cold. I shouldn't be surprised. I've been traveling around in subways, trains, busses, limos, AirTrans and planes for the past week. As well as sleeping in rooms full of world travelers. I was bound to pick up something in that Petrie dish. Now that I think of it one guy on my first night in Copenhagen in the youth hostel had a cold. We were all breathing Typhoid Manny's microorganisms all night. That was last Thursday. Four days ago. Enough incubation time I'd wager.
That explains something. For the past few days I haven't been able to sleep. I'd go to bed early and wake up two hours later. Then get up for a while. Drink some water. Bum around on the Internet. Then go to bed around 1:00. Then wake up at 4:00. Oh I think I pushed it to 7:00 this morning in two or three hour increments here and there. Right now it's 2:40.
Now I'm sniffling, have a headache and a sore throat.
PS. That also explains why I just wanted to bum around today. It was Monday and the museum was closed. At the front desk they suggested I get a bus to a bird sanctuary closer to the sea. There is a species of bird that migrates from South Africa to Siberia and stops there to eat the shellfish at low tide. I tried but the bus route they suggested I take doesn't run today for some reason. So I took, you guessed it. A two hour nap.
Journal Entry No. 12 – 17/3/15
I asked around for a drug store. I wanted to get some cough drops and maybe aspirin. I found one in Ribe on a side street. The pharmacist wasn't sure what I was saying/pantomiming, but eventually she brought over a bottle of cough syrup and a box of something. The cough syrup had Benadryl and I didn't want to get any drowsier, so I bought the cough 'drops.' Uh, oh. Air quotes are never good.
They weren't cough drops. They were little pills on a bubble card. Maybe they are decongestant. Maybe not. I took one anyway and then tried to make sense of the Swedish Chef jargon on the side. It's OK. And anyway. What can go wrong? I probably don't have enough Eøstragen, anyway.
Journal Entry No. 13 - 17/3/15
This has been miserable. I can't sleep. When I start to my nose rattles. I took another one of those anti-histamines. I feel slightly better than yesterday and could feel better still if I could sleep. It hurts to drink water, which I want to drink a lot of. It is a Greek punishment. It didn't hurt to eat, which was funny. Oh, I was uncomfortable. The water here doesn't taste that great, either. That, or I am tasting it through a sick body.
I'm glad I've been in a hostel with my own room and decided to stay an extra day. I've alternated between going out to enjoy the village with coming in to lie down for a while.
I went out for lunch/dinner several hours ago. I had an appetizer of pickled herring with capers and mustard sauce plus a sample platter of steak, cheese, fish, potatoes and bugs. Well they looked like bugs. They were kind of small and wormy and could just have been very small shrimp which are pretty much bugs, anyway. I decided to think of them as cray fish so I could eat them without gagging. I didn't ask what they were.
Ribe is very pretty and quiet. The hostel has been overrun by adolescent girls. I don't know what they are here for but they appear to be having fun.
I've been researching Hamburg. Tomorrow I'll be in Germany. I'll finally get to use my German. I've been looking into bus and U-Bahn passes. I assume there is a week pass for both, hopefully the same pass. The instructions to get from the train station to the hostel are tortuous. I've got to take subways and busses.
If I don't feel better soon I don't know what I'll do. I can't be lugging my pack around feeling this achy. A hot shower might help. It can't hurt.
Journal Entry No. 14 - 18/3/15 05:30
I'm sitting in my youth hostel room. I'm sniffling and it feels like there is a piece of barbed wire going through my ears and throat. It hurts to swallow and drink. I don't even have cigarettes or whiskey to complete the Hunter S. Thompson angst.
The room is too cheery, too. How can I feel existential with clean sheets? And where are the cockroaches? On the road in Europe? Not very Kerouacian either.
Maybe when I get to Holland and see how Van Gogh lived I'll feel better about being miserable.
Journal Entry No. 15 - 18/3/15
On the train to Niebulls. If I thought the other landscape was agrarian this is ten times as much. The land is flat. Kansas flat and just as fertile. Small scrappy trees grow by the tracks. Occasional train stops at two horse towns. Wind turbines everywhere. And fields. It looks like Denmark's bread basket.
In Germany at Niebull. The train to Hamburg was right across the tracks. I even figured out when the next train left, which was in five minutes.
Pretty good since I screwed up my transfer in a previous station. I thought the train went through the station and on. Instead it started going backward. Oh, oh. The ticket guy told me I could get off in a couple of stops and look for the train that does go through.
The view outside the window does turn into a rolling monotony after a while. Fields, electric wire, wind mills, houses, barns, the occasional little town, fields.
And here comes Hamburg.
I'm in the Backpackers Hostel. It's nice, but I'm not so sure about the neighborhood. Mostly the inordinate amount of grafiti on everything. I was afraid to stand on a corner too long. I might get German swear words spray painted on me. Scheist!
I took the train from Niebull to Hamburg. It came to an end at what I assumed was the main Hauptbanhof, Central Station. It turned out to be a satellite station. The tracks definitely ended there, though, so it wasn't a question of me getting screwed up on the stop again.
I came out and started poking around. I asked a few questions from people, like is there a place to exchange money? Where is Moenckebergstrasse? Where is bus 3? The bank was closed, Monk Street was nowhere to be had and there was no bus 3 anywhere. Visions of sleeping in a subway station danced in my head. I finally had a conversation with some very nice ladies that quickly turned into English where I discovered that I was not in the central station at all and that I had to take an S-Bahn to get to it. No problem.
I took the train to the station, which was immensely larger. Hamburg is a big city. From there I found Monk Street exactly where expected. I had to take bus 3. A bus with a 3 on in breezed up, so I got on. The bus stops didn't sound like the ones I was expecting and I couldn't find the stops we were stopping at on the map. By the way. Maps were my friend. I’d still be somewhere in Euroland if I didn’t immediately upon arriving at a new city find a tourist map, no matter how cartoonish, and fold it to display my approximate current locations and shove it in my pocket. I was looking for Bernstorffstrasse. I decided I had to get off and figure out where I was before the bus brought me to the German version of Crack town. Crackhausstrasse.
What I thought was bus three, and which clearly had a three on it, was actually bus M3. Oh. Of course. EMmmmmm3. Why didn't I think of that? Since both busses were heading in the same direction I was actually only a couple of stops away from where I wanted to be, anyway. I got on the next "3" bus and got here with no problem. The clerk let me puzzle through some bad German and only spoke English when I did. That was nice of him. I can't imagine what my week would have been like if nobody spoke English. Still, I want to improve my German and the only way I can do that is to throw myself into it.
I'm going for a walk. I hear the red light district is nearby...
Two hours later.
I did something I never thought I'd ever do, even though I knew you can get a nasty disease in the process. I had steak tartar. (What? What did you think?)
It was about ten blocks to Reeperbahn, the sin city of Hamburg. It's a Disney world with sex. Masturbation Mountain. It's a Sex World. Voyeur's Wild Ride. Perverts of the Caribbean. And that's the parts where the prostitutes are banned. The real perv peddlers are in the ultra violet district at one end of the street. It's very enlightened, like the Patrician in the Diskworld books. You can't stop vice so you might as well regulate it. Seamstresses, anybody?
I was hungry. I've been running on two meals a day since I have been here, not to mention battling some internal conditions. I passed a KFC and several pizza places and found a little bar and grill that had the steak tartar. I thought it was Carpaccio, but instead it was a patty of ground beef, onion and tomato with a few greens. It was good but I still want Carpaccio someday.
The Reeperbahn was kind of unsavory, though it's safe. Still, there are beggars, homeless and people pestering women on the sidewalk, even in the non ultra virus section. I decided to come back to the hostel and come back tomorrow. On my way I found Beatles Platz. A monument to the Beatles when they first performed here.
And now I am in my dorm room, there is one couple and another man here. Sweet dreams.
Journal Entry No. 16 – 19/3/15
I'm slowly feeling better but still tired and head achy. Instead of barbed wire I just have barbed mental floss going between my ears. I'm trying to catch a nap in my bunk while the room is empty but, as usual, I can't sleep.
I want to go to a wax museum later and then to the river Elb. The museum is open till 24:00. Kind of late but it must be popular. I went back to the Reepersbahn today. In the daylight it looked less glamorous, more like backstage at a carnival. I can imagine the old paint, c-clamps and torn sequins on the sets and costumes. The garish makeup that won't wash out and the faux passion masquerading as sex. No, not sex. That's in the other section. Here it's the promise of sex, which is both better and worse. Too much Oscar Wilde, I guess.
I walked through a park and watched children play. There were gardens but nowhere near blooming. Even the daffodils are only just starting to open. Spring starts tomorrow, I think. Bring on the new life, sex and all.
Journal Entry No. 17 - 19/3/15
Still getting over this cold. Mostly now I am stuffy and tired. I tried to find some aspirin, but couldn't. Oh, well.
I didn't do much today. I've been trying to use German whenever I can. Usually it works for a few moments, then I have to switch to English. But I'm getting experience. They say emotion fixes memory. You are more likely to remember your first kiss than your first math quiz. Although that depends on how memorable the kiss and how traumatic the quiz.
For the most part people are patient. I will explain that I have little German and switch between German and English. I am told that most Germans are pleased that you try. It is definitely one of those trust exercises. And not being afraid to look foolish or ask for help. God knows I score high on both of those tests. I can look helplessly foolish with the best of them.
The wax museum was quite impressive. I had an audio guide and they let you take pictures, like in Copenhagen. The only thing you can't do is break off bits. Jeesh! Where’s the Enlightenment when you need it?
I got a piece of pizza on the way back for a couple of Euro. Now I'm hoping I can get some rest. I have one roommate so far. No chicks. That's the life you lead.
Tomorrow, Bremen. I got a room reserved. I may try to switch it to a private room tomorrow, if possible. Bremen is an hour or so away from Hamburg by bus, so I can do some more here before heading out. I didn't make it to the Elb today.
A girl just arrived. God is she throwing herself at the guy here. She's from California and has been traveling alone for a month. She just said she would probably go into a bar to meet people because she doesn't have anybody to go with, hint hint hint, and she's bad at talking to people, hint hint hint. You look like you know what you're doing to me, sister.
He is being cautious and just says he has to catch an early plane. She is telling him he doesn't have to get up that early, the airport is real close. Why do I feel like I'm watching an urban legend unfold? The guy is here on a job interview and has to catch an early plane back to his village and his gods in the boring world where there are no flirty girls he won't ever see again after tonight. What could go wrong?
Not my business. Just funny.
Hey. Why isn't she talking to me?
P.S. Another couple came in who speak German. I spoke with them for a while. They were very supportive and pleased that I was trying. I don't feel quite so illiterate any more. Mostly but not quite.
I just need more practice.
I just need more practice.
Journal Entry No. 18 – 20/3/15
Just when l thought things were going to be boring...
I never heard Valley Girl come back. I heard Job Interview challenge some guy around 2:00AM, though. Seems she didn't do so bad talking to people after all. Imagine that. All she needed was confidence. Job Interview basically said, What are you doing here? He got an answer I didn't hear and just said, Oh. OK. Then there was someone messing with the shades. I was up and down all night, as usual. Mostly drinking and passing water. Sometimes checking stuff on the Internet. Job Interview left around 3:00. The nice couple from Munich slept through it all. Lucky. It was Grand Central here.
This cold is slowly receding. Last night it was like I had a c-clamp on my temples trying to squeeze out my eyes. It's better now. Marginally. No more barbed wire.
The bus to Bremen is much cheaper, but the catch is that it only runs at odd times like 16:40. The train runs every half hour. Good old, reliable mass transit.
Breakfast, then on the road.
Journal Entry No. 19 - 20/3/15
A quiet morning. Valley Girl's temporary squeeze was gone. Job Interview was long gone. I got a chance to see and talk to the couple some more. Don't remember their names. They'll be the nice German couple I talked with. We talked about the solar eclipse, which was going to happen sometime today, and our plans for the day. It's nice to find a friend in a dorm room.
I went down for breakfast, though it wasn't the best deal for the Euros. Fruit, bread, coffee, cereal. It was something to eat.
Definitely strange. While eating breakfast something caught my eye on the front door of the hostel office. It was a swastika. That's something you don't see every day. It was a plate with knife and fork and a swastika as the main course. There was a circle/slash over it in the international ’Not’ sign. Definitely something you don't see every day.
I guess in this hostel you can't eat Nazis? I would think in a place like Hamburg hamburger Nazis would be a natural. It would be a variation on Swift's A Modest Proposal. Call it An Indecent Proposal. Or A Master Proposal. And think of the taste! That fiery blend of resentment and impotence. The overtones of past glory ruthlessly stomped out by traitors and untermenschen. The self righteous accents of, It Was Not Our Fault. A flavor that has marinated for seventy years. Makes great chili. Except that it tends to self destruct. Better eat your burger before it invades Poland.
I made it to the Elb river. It was very foggy and basically a dingy harbor. There was a submarine there with a bear painted on the tower. A bear? Do the Russians have a sense of humor or has that puffy graffiti artist been busy?
I grabbed a bus to the train station and am now on a train to Bremen.
Outside a train stop. Looking through the window. Another sign stuck to a poll. Another swastika with a circle/slash over it. I know that Neo-Nazism is rising again in Europe, and that the Ukrainian coup last year included Neo-Nazis, but this little reminder is frightening. Is it 1938 again? What have we learned?
I am now at Bremen. I had the wrong directions for the hostel. Instead of near down town, the hostel is a mile or so out in an industrial area. There are buses and streetcars, but I had to figure out where it was first. I switched my dorm to a single room. I want to be able to rest and purge the rest of this cold.
I wonder if I should put a no Nazi sign on my door? Can't hurt.
Journal Entry No. 20 – 21/3/15
Wow, this has been a crappy day. I've had a headache all day mostly in my eyes and temples. I got a private room and have been keeping a wet towel on my eyes all day, except for when I went out to get something to eat. I'm afraid I didn't do Bremen much service today. I'll check out those musicians and see the old city tomorrow, if I can. Then it's off to Berlin. Brandenburg Gate. Ckeckpoint Charlie. Sally Bowles. Blech!
I took a walk to a little organic market a while ago. I didn't want to spend time on a restaurant and just wanted to get back to the hostel. It was raining, too. With a chance of snow! Do you believe it? I got same crackers, nuts, juice, a pear and what I thought were cough drops. They were some more gummy candy. I didn't see aspirin, either. Damn health food nuts.
A hot shower and I hope off to sleep.
Journal Entry No. 21 - 22/3/15
Cold: 1. Me: 1.1, maybe. Or 1,1 as they say in Europeland. I woke up after a slothful five hours of sleep this morning. I almost felt human. At least I felt like I was rounding a corner on humanness or something. As long as there is not a cliff on the other side. I felt well enough to find the Musicians of Bremen and look around the old city. I still had a headache and a cough, but they weren't as bad as last night where I couldn't even focus and it hurt to read and it hurt to think and it hurt to hurt, too.
I got a ticket to Berlin and checked the available trains. I thought they were both trains that don't require a reservation. The first one was. It went to Hanover. But the second one did, and not just for the front cars. All seats were reserved. Someone politely pointed out that I was in his seat and explained that they are all reserved. This is why there wasn't the little reserved light above the seat. They are all like that. Luckily someone nearby had an unused seat next to her.
The ride to Berlin was uneventful. A few questions for directions and a few very helpful young people with their smart phones and I am at my room. Bottom bunk. Tired as a schweinhund.
Oh, and I got aspirin and cough drops. Cancel the Berlin air resupply operation.
And in other news, two of my roomies are an Irish couple from Dublin who are a nurse and doctor. They immediately wanted to take care of me. They think I have the flu, even though I got a flu shot. This year it's not very effective. I am meeting a lot of very nice people.
Journal Entry No. 22 - 23/3/15
I think last night was the last bad night for this flu. I was up at 3:00 feeling pretty bad. Eyes and head hurt. The back of my head was very stiff. I kept massaging the muscles at the base of my skull. I could have used a deep tissue masseuse.
I missed my Irish medical team today, unfortunately. They were asleep when I got up and they were gone when I got back from breakfast about a half an hour later. Too bad. I had wanted to say goodbye. They were so nice.
Today I felt much, much better. Like a major turn has come. I'm still a little sore and feel that wasted feeling you have after an illness, but my eyes aren't killing me and I could kinda read the small print on the subway map.
Speaking of subways, I got a 48 hour pass and took the subway around town. I tried to find Checkpoint Charlie but didn't. I found the Brandenburger Gate and walked up to the Reichstag and around the parks there. Then I did an exercise in following the map to get back. I still feel wasted and want to rest.
I'd like to see a concert or a museum. Maybe tomorrow.
Journal Entry No. 23 - 23/3/15
Just ate dinner at a place called Gambrinus trifts Bacchus. Gambrinus meets Bacchus. There's a name you can't walk by. I had something called Holstein's Schnitzel. This was a dish insisted upon by one of Bismarck's busy bureaucrats. It seemed that Freidrick Holstein didn't have the time to get his appetizer and his main course served separately, so he ordered them served together, a-la-trough, so to speak.
It was good. There was definitely plenty of food. And with a salad it almost felt diet. Old Freddy left nothing to chance. As it should be.
Desert was a compote with raspberry and cherry sauce and whipped cream with an espresso and a brandy. Gambrinus and Bacchus would be proud.
Journal Entry No. 24 - 24/3/15
The Reichstag. I was sure to lob a Molotov cocktail in on my way past. I assumed it was custom. Who knew?
Journal Entry No. 25 - 24/3/15
Today I went on a walking tour beginning at the Brandenburg Gate. It was a free tour, meaning that they rely on tips. I thought it sounded sufficiently socialist, so I went. George, our guide, was from Missouri and very knowledgeable. I managed to talk to him a bit during the tour.
For starters we got some tidbits from the gate area. Why the goddess on the chariot used to be of peace, but now she is of war and is glaring at the French embassy while riding over the French Courtyard. (Hint: Napoleon.) How the French embassy, in return, looks like a bunker with machine gun ports on front. (Hint: They're French.)
Next, there is the sixteen thousand dollar a night hotel across the French courtyard where Michael Jackson dangled his kid out a window. That comes extra, apparently.
Next he talked about the Reichstag, the German Parliament. It has a glass dome that people can go up in and watch the debates below. It symbolizes transparency of government. The German people carry a lot of guilt about WW2. And they want to remember it and make sure it doesn't happen again. George said that Germany is not the only country to ethnically cleanse minorities, for a total of eleven million all told. But most other countries brush it under history's mat and write a nice brandy new history for their children. Not Germany.
He talked about Hitler convincing the ruling party to make him Chancellor to keep back the Communist threat. This resulted in the Reichstag fire false flag event and passing of laws revoking freedoms and making it illegal to criticize the government. George then brought up the Patriot Act as a similar piece of legislation. Later, in private I mentioned to him that the Patriot Act of 2001 wasn't even the first. There was the Aliens and Sedition Act under John Adams which did the same thing. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were still alive and the American experiment was already failing.
We then saw the Memorial for Murdered Jews. There is a separate memorial for each group persecuted: homosexuals, handicapped, political dissenters, Gypsies, etc. We only had time for one and the Jews certainly were the majority.
The monument is strange. When first viewed it is a large area of standing stones. The stones are all squared off and in neat rows and columns. You can easily sit on the ones at the edge. As you look, though, you notice that they are skewed somewhat. Some taller, some slanted slightly, some with tops not level. It is as if they were once all aligned but now are disheveled slightly. George said the architect was always vague about what it meant; saying that if he told the meaning then people wouldn't come see it. They'd already know what it meant.
We were left to make our way through the rows of stones and meet at the other side. It's then you realize the floor is not uniform. First it starts undulating a ways in, then it starts sloping downward. At the deepest the stone blocks are twenty to thirty feet tall, which makes them roughly in the same plane on top, and they are skewed in a much more noticeable fashion.
Walking through was very unnerving. I got the feeling that something had been violently disrupted from its normal state of peace. The solid ground below had suddenly started rolling and quaking beneath them. The architect didn't have to show anything specific. He just said, whatever you hold secure and safe, whatever you hold dear, whatever is the rock at the center of your existence. Imagine it shaken up violently.
We then made our way to the Luftwaffe building. This East Berlin building had miraculously escaped bombing and is still in service. There is a mural there depicting happy workers in a socialist paradise. This is from the Soviet era. This is contrasted with another picture, also there, of protesters brutally put down on the same spot by the same soviets.
Further down was the wall itself. The Soviets built it because people were flooding to West Berlin from Soviet East Berlin seeking sanctuary. Millions wanted to leave the workers' paradise. Go figure.
So they were locked in. For their own good.
There was more to the tour, but these are the things that struck me. Also the immediacy of it all. The continuity between the Aliens and Seditions act, the Reichstag acts after the fire and the Patriot act after 9/11.
Germany was right to keep this lesson alive. Will anybody listen?
Journal Entry No. 26 - 25/4/15
On the ICE (Inter City Express) from Berlin to Nuremberg. This time I got a reservation. I'm in my seat now watching the Berlin skyline go by backward. I'm out of Berlin now, actually. Not much more than suburbs and brown foliage. Not the best time of year to come here. It's a long ride to Nuremberg. Over four hours. On a 200 MPR (KPR?) train that's quite a haul. I expect to be in a different climate. Hopefully warmer at least.
It's hard to believe that I've been here two weeks. My damn headache isn't quite gone. Almost. I got some real Sudafed at a pharmacy. Along with more cough drops. I hate this dry cough.
Well, no one's kicked me out of my seat. I must be in the right one. A right one, at least.
I had an interesting conversation with a man in my dorm room yesterday. He was a Saudi Arabian who had studied in Sweden. He had just finished his degree in electric engineering. He was very chatty and friendly. He was interested in where I was from.
I asked him what people think of Americans. I had to specify that I meant American people not the American government. He said people like the American people and our culture. I said I think a lot of Americans feel the same way toward the citizens of other countries and if not I believe that if they could sit down with someone like him and just talk they would soon see that we are alike in more ways than not.
He did say a couple of interesting things. One, the American government is screwed up (My words. Not his, which were more colorful.) I couldn't agree more. And more interestingly, people can't understand that Americans believe their government and news media. I said I had heard that before. Most people in the world know they are being lied to. Americans say that they know they are being lied to, but believe it anyway.
It's like we're a nation of children. You can't help but like them. You can't entirely trust them. And you wish they had a better class of grownups watching over them.
Journal Entry No. 27 - 25/3/15
The trip to Nuremberg was uneventful. I got a ticket on the ICE (Inter City Express) and this time reserved a seat. The train ended up being empty, pretty much. I had no need for a reservation. Nuremberg is a beautiful city. I'm in the old city and had time to walk around. It's definitely different from the north, being Bavaria as it is. For dinner I had a sausage goulash with spätzle and a salad. And a beer, of course. It was very nice.
Yesterday I ate at that same restaurant in Berlin again. I couldn't find anything else that looked half way local. I had the Wiener schnitzel, which was good and abundant. I thought European portions were smaller than ours. Maybe it's because of the cities being USified. Berlin was fascinating. I could have spent more time there.
They keep spring in boxes here.
I've got two days here and have some plans. Then I've got two free days before I have to get to Tubingen. What to do?
Journal Entry No. 28 - 26/3/15
I seem to have lost my camera today. Well, lost or it was stolen. I left this morning for a walking tour. It was early and I planned on doing my own walking before and started with coffee and a pastry. I took some pictures sometime in the morning, before or after breakfast, I don't know. Then I went to a bank when it opened and changed some dollars for euros. While I was walking away I noticed the camera missing. I have been keeping it either on my wrist or deep in a coat pocked with a hat or handkerchief over it. It was in neither place.
I went back to the bank to see if I had left it on a desk while signing some forms. I can't imagine myself just laying it down anywhere else. I keep my wallet and camera in deep pockets where pick pockets would have to be very intimate to plumb. And I'm always checking that they are there.
Not a problem. It wasn't my Visa card or my passport. It was actually an old camera that was staring to act up. I almost bought a new one before the trip. It was starting to jam on startup. The telescoping lens wouldn't open all the way and it would get stuck and put out an error message. If I jiggled it while it started up I could eventually get it working. I cleaned off the cylindrical parts and that made it work better. Still not perfect. I figured I'd replace it when I got home.
It took a while to find a camera store, which I eventually did not too far from the train station. I was thinking of getting a slightly bigger one, but ended up with the same playing card pack sized camera. They had one with Wi-Fi. Too fancy, and expensive for my taste. I got one pretty much identical to the old one, only with more pixels. 20 meg of them. And the price wasn't that bad, either.
The walking tour I was looking for wasn't in Nuremberg. It was one in Munich. I had booked the right tour in the wrong town! So I had the day free. I went to the Spieltzoigmusseum, the Toy Museum. That was fascinating. It went from early Roman toys in ivory or clay to wood toys then tin. Also progressing from dolls to very complicated sets like entire kitchens or theaters of war. They were quite elaborate and Nuremberg was a toy making hub.
They followed the progress and development of toys into the twentieth century and then with the beginning of the 1950's. I'm sure I remember something happening in that missing period. It'll come to me.
Actually, all industry, including toys, was co-opted by the war machine. We saw this in some of the repurposed Nazi toys after the war. The swastikas were gone but it was obvious that these had been Third Reich heroes. Just the thing for impressionable young minds to play uber menschion/unter menschion with.
For lunch I found a nice restaurant near the hostel that had a Bavarian theme going for itself. I got a sausage sampler. It came with grilled sausages the size of breakfast sausages, a grey sausage with no grill marks I assume was boiled and a chunk of kielbasa sized sausage. This with sour kraut, potato salad, horse radish, mustard and bread. For desert I had a platter that had chocolate cake, ice cream and whipped cream. Nice.
I'm watching my camera charge. I better keep this one in my shoe.
Journal Entry No. 29 - 27/3/15
Arbeit Macht Frei
Three words. Arbeit macht frei. Work sets you free. These words hung over the entrance to the Dachau concentration camp, the first and longest running camp in the Nazi's ultimate people disposal system. Repurposed from a WW1 munitions factory and upgraded by slave labor, Dachau became the poster child for how it should be done. Other camps received Dachau trained officers as teachers.
I came to Munich from Nuremberg today. It was a short trip by train, which at times clocked 248kph. About 160mph. I was here early enough to check my backpack and venture out to explore.
I kept being drawn to Dachau.
Just as in Berlin, Germany could have just plowed under and paved over the concentration camp's concentration camp. But they didn't. They made it a monument. Many buildings are gone. Some were repurposed by the allies after the fighting stopped. Some are reconstructions.
It's hard to describe what I felt there. The buildings and grounds all seemed sanitized or sterilized, even. I expected to smell bleach from the ground. It was raining and there were few living things. The gravel on the paths held no straggling weeds. Nowhere were there bee’s nests or signs of opportunistic birds, though the harsh cawing of crows overhead was gnawing. At one point I crossed a bridge right outside the multiple defenses of the gate and spotted a swan on the water. I was compelled to take its picture. Here was life, there a vacuum.
The camp humiliated people on every level. From the strip delousing on arrival to being forced to keep their bunks and utensils immaculate. A sheet out of place or a water mark on a gruel bowl could earn you hours standing up in a chamber no bigger than you are or being hung by the wrists from a pole. Or so the posters in the barracks said. I don't doubt them, but the place felt deserted. It's as if the ghosts can't even stand to be there.
The prisoners, at first political prisoners but later all undesirables, eventually became slaves working in the munitions factories as the war turned against Germany. So they worked until they were exhausted then sent to the extermination camps with the rest of the unfit.
The main administration building was where things came alive. In cold narrative illustrated with letters and artifacts, room after room of displays brought you through the history of Dachau. From the early days when it was for Communists and other enemies of the state, to the time when prosecutors investigated what was taking place there. Murders had to be covered up as suicides. The German legal system was legitimately investigating the camps. Next prosecutions were dropped and judges were imprisoned in the same system they were investigating. Anyone could be an enemy of the state by then. Don’t look too closely. The abyss looks back.
Hitler ordered the camps closed in 1943. It almost happened, but then in 1944 they desperately needed the slave labor. Commandants were ordered to treat the prisoners better so they could work. The shining example of Dachau had to change. Now they were rewarded for the amount of work they got out of each prisoner instead of the number dead.
And there was so much more. The medical experiments to see which organs shut down first in ice water. That helped in treating downed pilots in the North Sea. The operations performed by unskilled SS guards. The prisoners who were doctors themselves who volunteered to treat the others until they succumbed. Diseases like typhoid that pressed the ovens to their limits, never mind the gas chambers. And little acts of defiance, or if not defiance, then simple camaraderie. People doing what they always do: come together in times of adversity.
Some people ran for the gates so they would be gunned down. Some shut down inside. And most died.
Journal Entry No. 30 - 27/3/15I met another interesting person today. He is a Libyan named Abdullah who describes his home as the worst place on earth. I asked him how bad Kaddafi was. He said Kaddafi was an evil man but he was better than this. I said sometimes it takes a bad man to keep the peace. Even Stalin has his supporters.
I asked him how he felt about Americans. He said he loved America and Americans. He likes 60's music and wishes he could live there. Abdullah said he had an aunt that moved to Austin, TX with her family. He'd love to join them.
That's pretty unanimous so far among people I've met, at least among the youth hostel set. At worse they think our government is crazy, but they love us. More Americans should feel the same way about other people.
Journal Entry No. 31 - 28/3/15
No Nazis, I Promise.
After the trip to Dachau I needed something insane and silly. I decided to take the Nauschwanstein tour. It looked like fun and Nazi Frei. The tour left from the Haptbanhof, starting with a two hour train ride into the foothills of the Bavarian Alps. There were only about eight of us which made for a nice group. Our tour guide, Diana, was an interesting person, too. She was an American who grew up in Philadelphia and came to Germany when she was sixteen 'for a year.' That was six years ago.
What was interesting was her English. She spoke with a German accent and used enough idioms for me to assume she wasn't a native speaker. I asked her if she speaks German with an English accent, too. She came here to visit her father and ended up staying. Now she's studying to take her state exams to teach English. I practiced a little German with her. My biggest challenge now is to develop an ear for German. I haven't listened to enough German spoken to process it. Words are not always pronounced the way they look. And don’t get me started on accents.
And back to Neuschwanstein. It is one of three castles that Ludwig had built. It was expensive but not as expensive as raising an army, which he also had to do on occasion. He basically employed everyone in the kingdom and provided things like workers' comp and death benefits. No wonder they thought he was mad. His subjects loved him.
He was mad, of course. He grew up referring to his mother as his father's number one consort and came to believe he was living in a Wagnerian fairy tale. So they gave him his very own castle so he couldn't hurt anybody.
He had a cousin who was equally eccentric. She was obsessively clean, wore only white and had servants constantly cleaning everything. They put her in her own castle. He also had a brother who liked to run around at parties looking up women's dresses and sticking his fingers in their drinks. Castle. Every wack job in Bavaria gets his or her own castle (I want my own castle!)
He was supposed to marry another cousin who cheated on him with the wedding photographer. I wonder if she got any good selfies? The results were that he remained a bachelor who didn't like girls. He's a hero to the gay community, though there is no concrete evidence that he was gay. He just didn't fit the mold. Castle!
And then the castle. It's as fairytale as it looks. And as such completely worthless as a defensive structure. It's pretty much eye candy, like Ludwig. His throne room makes gaudy blush. His grand ballroom was made only for him. Seriously. He often spent time alone in it worshiping himself.
He was actually a clever designer. He was no architect, but was able to get his ideas understood by those who were. He had technology in mind. He had a room built like a grotto by the sea where Venus had one of her trysts. It was lit by electric light. He had a telephone that connected with two places: The servants and the post office. The servants are obvious but the post office? Maybe he wanted to check first before walking all the way down to the mail box.
He wanted to install a cable between this and a nearby castle on another hill. It would be held up by a hot air balloon and let him go from wacko-residence number one to wacko-residence number two. Sometimes his engineers just had to have a little talk with touched-in-the-head Ludwig.
It was actually a clever idea; A precursor to the ski lift.
After the gaud, the glitz and the glamor, we were pumped through several gift shops and back outside. A short walk lead to a bridge across a waterfall cleft chasm. From here the view of the castle was enthralling. Just don't jump. It's known as a place where frustrated lovers take leave of their fairytale tragedies.
Ludwig died under mysterious circumstances. He was found drowned along with a psychiatrist who was going to diagnose him as unfit to rule by reason of insanity. He supposedly had been shot, as well.
Oh, and Ludwig stipulated that no commoner should ever be allowed to defile his sanctuary with their eyes. This commoner is glad that his estate needed the money and put the castle on display almost immediately. It seems his fairy tale did not include paying back loans.
They never do.
After the train back to Munich a bunch of us went out to eat. At Diana's suggestion we ate at a nice restaurant in the old town close to where I ate the night before. I had the sausage sample. This gave rise to many truly bad wurst jokes. This is the best wurst I've ever had. You call that wurst? I've had wurst. And on it went, worse and worser.
Ludwig would have been non plussed.
Journal Entry No. 32 - 30/3/15
I like this hostel.
Journal Entry No. 33 - 30/3/15
It's nice being in Tubingen with the family. I took a train from Munich to Tubingen yesterday morning. It had two transfers which weren't written on my train ticket. I had to copy the two extra station and train numbers down so I'd know where to get off. Each connection had only about ten minutes.
While I was waiting for my second connection, someone looked like he was looking at me. I ignored him until he spoke to me. He had noticed that I was wearing my Dracula shirt from when I directed it at the Bradley Playhouse two years ago. He wanted to talk to me about it. He is an actor and was curious about my experience. We chatted on the train for a while until he had to get off.
My stop was a few stations later. I found my way to the bus stop and tried to figure out the map. It looked like I wanted bus 4. But the stop for bus 4 had a terminating station that was not on the map. I decided to take it anyway. If it was the wrong bus I'd end up back at the station.
This bus system has vending machines inside the bus. I had a fifty Euro note and three or four odd Euro in coins. I got one adult ticket and then rode around the circuit and back to the busbahnhof. Only this time the bus had a different terminating station. The one that was on the map for my line. So I hopped back on and decided it was really a transfer and that I didn't need to buy another ticket. I didn't have the coins anyway.
I got off at Corrin Strasse and walked to the opposite end where their house is.
We had a lovely relaxing time. Dinner was cold cuts and bread, which is traditional in Europe. This was followed by general merriment and a pear schnapps nightcap, also traditional. I could get used to this.
Today we went out for some errands in the morning. I had to get some more Euros and we got some groceries. We took a walk after lunch. A short walk took us out of the residential section and into farm land. A different direction might have brought us to the city or a nearby forest. It's been overcast and they're calling for rain for the next several days. We're brainstorming things to do.
Journal Entry No. 34 - 1/4/15
It's rained here in Tubinen for the past few days. It's forecast to rain on and off until Sunday or so. That's Easter. In Germany Friday and Monday are holidays, so nothing will be open. After that the weather is supposed to be better.
That's OK, we've walked, gone out for lunch, visited a pasta factory and I went to a bank to get more Euros. I got a very good deal. Over 170.00 for two hundred dollars.
We have a few plans. We are going to a Renaissance dinner on Saturday and staying in a hotel at night. Kristin and Seeth will be visiting a friend on Monday and Tuesday, so we'll be on our own then. We want to visit the Black Forest and some museums next week, too. I've been thinking about the next leg of my trip. I've got my trip planned up to Amsterdam and Keukenhof for the flowers. After that I'd like to go to London, but it's a long way from there. I could fly. I think it's actually cheaper.
I want to get back to the old city and walk around. There's a castle and a nine hundred year old city with a market in the central square. I've ridden a bike around there. The lifestyle here is different. Slower and closer than New England. It's nice living where I am in Canterbury, but it would also be nice to be closer to stores and parks, within walking or biking distance. I've got a good bike but I don't use it much. It's a different culture.
Journal Entry No. 35 - 1/4/15
I'm falling into a nice routine here. Mornings we have breakfast and then go for a walk. Today we went into the old city and up to the castle. Castle Hohentubingen, to be precise. We walked back through the city and then up a back way to the house, a way that involved a pretty steep hill and about a hundred steps. Then lunch followed by a trip to the Ritter chocolate outlet where chocolate was had by all.
A lazy afternoon followed, then dinner of cheese and cold cuts. Before retiring I had a nice sauna and a brisk cold shower.
I really like this spa.
Journal Entry No. 36 - 2/4/15
Today was rainy, so we stayed home until after lunch (beef stew with spätzle.) Then Dieter dropped us off by the train station. Kristin and Seeth needed train tickets. They are visiting a friend next week and need to take a train.
We then walked to the castle and visited the museum. They had a very comprehensive display of coins, statues and a reproduction of the paintings at Lascaux. The displays went from ancient through Roman times and included the Celts, who are often left out of history. They had a few reproductions of statues that were painted as they would have been originally. Considering all of the marble white statues we are all used to seeing, this glaring ode to color added a new dimension.
Seeth suggested I take a picture of some old coins for Dan.
We walked back home. I guess we didn't get the fact that Dieter dropped us off at the train station that afternoon. At least the door wasn’t locked.
Journal Entry No. 37 - 4/4/15
Yesterday it was very foggy in the morning. After a while the fog burned off and it turned into a lovely day. The forecast had been for rain, but it turned clear instead. I took a bike ride down into the city. It was a nice time, but I had a problem with the bike. The back wheel would spin free. I couldn't pedal. It would catch some time but then if I had to coast a bit the sprocket wouldn't catch when I started pedaling again, it just spun freely. I figured the sprocket mechanism probably needed oiling.
I walked the bike back from the center of town for lunch at 12:00. In the afternoon we went to view some castle ruins. They were on top of a steep hill, of course, and required about a five kilometer hike round trip, or about three miles. I've definitely been getting my exercise. My weight has been around 86 kilos or about 188 lbs. more or less. The ruins were spectacular, the view of the surrounding landscape and city stunning.
Journal Entry No. 38 - 4/4/15
Renaissance dinner. This was about a two hour drive from Tubingen, so we are staying in a hotel.
Meat. It’s what’s on fire!
Journal Entry No. 39 - 5/4/15
A day wandering around after the ren dinner.
Journal Entry No. 40 - 6/4/15
The last light of day over Tubingen and happy camp, er, gamers.
Journal Entry No. 41 - 7/4/15
Schloß Lichtenstein - A nice day trip.
Journal Entry No. 42 - 8/4/15
Today I took the train to Stuttgart.Kristin and Seeth were visiting friends and Dieter had a dentist apt, so I made myself scarce for the day.
I stayed near the train station in the old city for a few hours. There were fountains and museums and the ubiquitous castles. Stuttgart is the capital of Bada-Württemberg, which is the German state where Tübingen is.
I took the train back in the late afternoon and was still in time for dinner.
Journal Entry No. 43 - 9/4/15
Today we took a trip to the black forest. We ate at a monastery brewery. At least it used to be a monastery. Then we went to a vineyard where we 'sampled' wine and then bought a bunch of cases. We just got back around 7:00 (19:00 European time. They do everything different.) Dinner now of cold cuts and cheese. And then a quiet evening.
Journal Entry No. 44 - 10/4/15
Today after breakfast of bread, yoghurt, juice, fruit and jam, Kristin and I had a little Daddy/Daughter time. We walked down to the old city and walked around a bit. I found some spots I hadn't seen yet. We window shopped and enjoyed the city. I found an old building with an excellent example of German joinery. The beams and joists fit together with mortise tendon joints and pegs. The seams were quite complicated.
We had lunch in a popular restaurant on the Neckar River. I had beef with pretzel dumplings and salad. Kristin had a ravioli type dumpling with potato salad. Both were Schwabien dishes. Tubingen is in the Schwabien part of Germany. Ich bin ein Schwabiener.
Our credit cards didn't work in the restaurant's machine, so I paid cash. That got me worried about my card, even though it was obviously their machine's fault and it worked at another store. Later I called Chase to make sure it was alright for the rest of the trip. It was.
Kristin bought a bottle of champagne for the folks as a thank you present and we walked home to cake and coffee.
Tonight's Deter's cards night. We'll be packing for our trips tomorrow, them to Portland and me to Baden-Baden. I'll be back to the hostel life.
Journal Entry No. 45 - 11/4/15
Today was my last day in Tubingen. We all packed and left the house around 8:00. Kristin and Seeth for the airport and I for the Stuttgart train station. I got there very early, around 8:45 or so. I got a ticket for a train at 8:50-something. I got to Baden-Baden around 10:20. There was one transfer at Karlsruhe.
I took a bus to the hostel, well, to the hill below the hostel. It was a climb up to the hostel itself. The directions said to go up a few roads and go behind an advertising column. There you will find a set of stairs. Go up to another road... I felt like I was searching for Shangri La. I was too early to check in but they let me put my pack in a locked room. Then I went exploring. It rained off and on all day.
I walked toward the old city. I got some tourist maps at the front desk so I wouldn't get too lost. Just a little is OK. Being lost is an ointment one uses sparingly. The old city is not that far away, but a bus makes it quicker. The bus is 2,30 euros. About $2.50. I might just take it on the way back. The daily pass, at six euros, wasn't worth it. Generally I like to walk, anyway. I wandered around a bit and got a little familiar with the place. I found the baths and went to make an appointment. None needed, they said. I'll come back tomorrow for the four hour Bacchanal, complete with hot and cold treatments, massages and saunas. I've got plenty of back pain. Maybe this will help, for a little while, at least.
Lunch was at a Lowenbrau restaurant. I had wurst with potato and sauerkraut. They didn't have Black Forest cake. I want to have that once before I leave and Baden-Baden is at the northern edge of the Black Forest. They'd better have its signature cake.
I'm checked in now. There are only two beds in my room and so far I'm alone. It would be nice if it stayed that way. No shower, either. I'll have to track it down later. And no Wi-Fi, either. They sell computer access for four euro an hour, but the computer in the lobby is down.
Such is the life of the adventurer.
After a nap I went into the old city again. After some more exploring I had a light-ish dinner and a desert called Black forest Bowl which was basically an ice cream sundae with booze poured over the cherries before they are added. Not that I am complaining, of course.
Back home and still no roommate. This could work out great.
Journal Entry No. 46 - 12/4/15
Today started out cloudy but comfortable. The hostel had a breakfast of cold cuts, fruit, yoghurt and coffee. I had a sandwich, some yoghurt and the morning's paper. Well, yesterday actually. The weather called for partly cloudy all week. Better'n rain.
I headed into town and found the Friedrichsbad. They call it a Roman-Irish bath. I went in around ten and bought a luxury package. This was the regular series of baths and showers plus a soap brush and a cream message. Why not.
I felt a little apprehensive going into a nude bathhouse, especially as Sunday is completely co-ed. It's not the nudity that worried me. Just the not knowing what I'm supposed to be doing or not doing. It's not like I could peak at other people to see what fork they were using. (Note: They don't use forks in bath houses. No peaking, either.) But the staff was nice and there are signs everywhere which, thankfully, it is OK to look at.
The progress followed several stations. From a shower to a warm dry room to a hot dry room, then the shower again and then the first extra. A soap brush. The attendant drizzled soap on me then brushed down my skin. I assume it cleaned as well as scrubbed off dead skin. That's the closest thing to a fork they had. Next came a shower. Then a warm steam room followed by a hot steam room. The two steam rooms were heated by geothermal energy. Signs told you how long to stay in each room. The warm rooms were about fifteen minutes. The hot rooms about five.
Next was a thermal full bath, a whirlpool bath and an exercise bath. The last two are always co-ed, even on sex segregated days. There has to be some humiliation opportunity there. They also have a drinking fountain so you can get a mouthful of mineral water, but they have a warning against drinking more than one half liter a day. That's your max dose of radium, I guess.
You now work your way back to the beginning with a shower followed by a plunge in 18 degree water, about 65 degrees Fahrenheit. After that you dry off and get the next extra, a cream message. This is great to help restore skin oils and make you smell girly.
All that's left is a relaxing room where they roll you up in a cocoon and let you doze for a while and then a sitting room where you can drink tea and read. All told I was there for four hours. I got out at 14:00.
It was very relaxing and soothing to the body. I could see doing that once a month. I wonder if Canterbury-nah. Not bloody likely.
I had a good lunch of Black forest trout wrapped in bacon and fried with an interesting sauce. I can't quite place it. It was yellowish and flavorful. Maybe a cream sauce with smoked paprika. For desert they had a Black forest cake, so I finally got my cake and coffee.
The day turned sunny by the time I finished my bath. The walk home was pleasant and I could smell the massage cream the whole way. I'm in my room now, still alone. It's quiet here and I am listening to the birds outside. They are very loud and melodious. One is about crow size and black with a yellow/orange beak. Its song is lovely. There was one outside my window in Tubingen.
I'm not sure what I'll do tonight. Probably go back into town a bit.
Journal Entry No. 47 - 13/4/15
It's Monday and I forgot that everything is closed on Monday. The bath house is open almost 365 days a year, so I didn't think that the museums would be closed today. I guess people would rather spend their Mondays in a co-ed nude bath house than a museum of nineteenth century musical instruments. Who'd have known? Actually I'm losing track of days, anyway. Restaurants and shops are open at least.
I am spending today as a leisurely day. I did some more exploring and found an old Russian Orthodox Church and some nice parks. I am back in the hostel in my single room. I think they are practically empty. No one but me was at breakfast this morning. I wonder when their season starts?
In the evening the place was invaded by a group or two of young people. There suddenly was laughing, singing and guitar music coming through my window. And cigarette(?) smoke. I guess that can happen any time.
Tomorrow I'm off to Brussels. I will have Internet again, so my Wi-Dry spell will be over.
Journal Entry No. 48 - 14/4/15
Today has been a haul and no mistake. I got the bus to the train station and managed to get the next train, which left in five minutes. It brought me to Koln, Germany where I got a transfer to Brussels. I got here about 13:30.
Then I had to figure out the Brussels mass transit system. My directions were quite clear. Clear, but quite incorrect as it turned out. They said to take Tran 3 or 4 to Porte de Flanders or Vlaamse Poort and walk a short way to the hotel.
First I bought the wrong ticket. I think I got a bus ticket instead of a tram (subway) ticket. While I was struggling to figure out how to feed it to the turnstile, a friendly woman took pity on me. She brought me to the correct machine for my ticket, then showed me how to activate the turnstile. I would never have figured it out on my own. That was my first wrong move.
Then I got on the tram my reservation told me to take: Route 3, terminus Churchill. I rode it to the end, carefully looking at each stop. No Flanders Port anywhere. At the end I asked the driver what gives? He didn't speak any English but he managed to tell me that I wanted tram 4, which splits off of this track a ways back. Stay on the tram as it goes back and just switch trains.
No problem. I got off a few stops later and looked at the schedule for tram 4. There was no Port Flanders on it but I got on, anyway. What else could I do? I was considering a cab, but didn't want to admit defeat. Sure enough, I got to the end Flanders free. This time the driver spoke English. He called the station and got me some better directions. I wanted tram 82 going to Bercham. He told me which stop to get off at and how to find the other tram stop. It was around the corner from a few stops back.
This time, after seeing no Port Flanders/Vlaamse anywhere on the schedule, I looked at the tram map. I found tram 82 and followed it to a canal. I found some other Ports along the route, but not Flanders. Then I saw it. Bingo. It was not on the tram route, but close to it. I just had to get off at a different stop and then find my way to the hotel.
Piece of Belgium Waffle.
Once I got off the tram (I only paid for one fare. The rest counted as transfers. The ticket was good for one hour, which I stretched a little.) I headed toward what I thought was the canal and soon found a sign for the port in question. Since I was actually looking for a hotel near Flanders, I now had to find it. Scanning the horizon and there it was, just across the canal.
I found it, checked in and got to my room, which appears to be full of me and a bunch of friendly young women.
Sometimes things end well, after all.
Journal Entry No. 49 - 15/4/15
Today was a full day in Brussels. I'm not sure I like it very much. It's a big city with lots of congestion. It's like New York but smaller and with fewer ethnic groups. My hostel is near a canal at the edge of the city. Traditionally not the best of places. I walked into the city following a tour map especially for young people. So there were lots of sites devoted to beer (OK), dating (not so much) and pissing little boy statues (er?) But at least it had bus stops and such.
And a lot of interesting parks and architecture. I found the EU congress. Supposedly they had tours but all I found was a closed tourist office. For the ride back I took the metro and even bought the right ticket. I'm becoming a native.
The weather has been absolutely gorgeous. Sunny. 20's. (70's F) Light breeze. I hope it stays for a while.
Lunch was at an outdoor cafe. I had smoked salmon, trout and anchovies on a bed of greens. Espresso and chocolate mousse for desert. A very filling but light meal.
Tomorrow I will go to the site of a world's fair and their huge atom thing. It's their Unisphere and harks back to when atoms were going to save us, even though it's an iron atom. Oh, well.
I'm looking at my next few weeks and seeing a blank wall. There are not many hostels around Amsterdam or Haarlem for love nor money. I am assuming it's because of the spring bulbs. I hadn't counted on it being that popular. I found a place in Zandvoort right on the North Sea. It's a private room for about $75.00 a night. I booked six nights there. I can get transport to Amsterdam for the Dutch masters and one to Keukenhof for the flowers and be home for the ferocious weather. Yeah!
I'm still not sure if I want to go to The Hague. There's still that little issue of the indictment for all those Stratego games I cheated on. Does that have a statute of limitations? That was a lot of bomb blasts. Not to mention all those thumb wars. They weren't all legal.
Best keep close to the embassy.
Journal Entry No. 50 - 15/4/15
Research, research. I'm off the path here and scrounging my way. The web site for the hotel I booked in Holland said they are near a train station. All of the train stations I have encountered so far have been connected to other, eventually bigger train stations in other, eventually bigger cities. It would be pointless otherwise. Who would build a train from North Podunk to Nowhere? So when I tried getting directions from Brussels to Vandvoort, I got some circuitous paths, usually ending in a taxi for something like 7 minutes. Artificial intelligence my ass.
Finally got a realistic travel plan. From Brussels to Amsterdam and Amsterdam to Vandvoort. I need to depart from Brussels Midi (South) station to get to Amsterdam with maybe a transfer somewhere, maybe North Podunk. The train from Amsterdam to Vandvoort runs several times an hour. Gotta love the trains.
Journal Entry No. 51 - 16/4/15
I have seen the future. And it's in 1958. At the Brussels Expo. I'd heard of the New York world's fairs, the Paris, Chicago and Montreal expositions but not this one. I guess they used to have one every 20 years or so. We're about two expos short of a world's fair.
The centerpiece, the iron atom, is impressive. It's 168 million times the size of a real atom. I checked. There happened to be an iron atom lying on the ground.
The expo looked impressive. Inside the atom, called the Atomium because it was an atom made from aluminum, were several displays. One was on the construction of the atom with design competitions, details, etc. One was on the material of the future. One word: Plastic. It was actually a tribute to the late 50's early 60's bubble where we would have electricity too cheap to meter and better living through chemistry. Nice work if you can sustain it. They had movie clips from A Clockwork Orange, not sure why, and shots of Twiggy, Sophia Loren and Jane Fonda as examples of liberated women. The expo had an army of young, smart women in smart uniforms to assist guests. It was a great time to be forward thinking.
I like World's Fairs. Oh there are signs of decay and the horrid juxtaposition of the vision then and the view now. But I like to see what people thought was important and worth preserving then. Maybe I just still want my Jetsons' future.
Now that we live in a postmodern, fin de siècle, end of the world time period where everything is a parody it's nice to fantasize about when the future was a better place. I know. My view of the past is no more accurate that their view of the present. History is theatre, after all. Standing O anyone?
Journal Entry No. 52 - 17/4/15
Checkout and the trip to the train station was a piece of cake. Everyone in my room was out like a light when I woke up around 6:30. They slept soundly through my shower and going to breakfast. Must have been one great night out.
I got to the train station and eventually found the office where I had to get my ticket. I have a transfer in Amsterdam and then straight to Vandvoort. 40 Euros for a three hour train trip. Not bad. It's an IC train, not the express so it's cheaper than some of the other trips. I'm looking forward to being in a smaller city, though on trip advisor someone posted that they had gale force winds. That was just a few weeks ago! Eep.
I'll have to be careful this Monday. If the museums are closed I'll go to Keukenhof, which I believe is open every day for their short season. Van Gogh can wait.
On the train. Already in trouble. I got on the first class car and had people asking me about the train stops in Dutch and Arabic. I found the last class car and actually helped someone by cleverly incorporating a skillset called Reading The Sign. Though to be fair they might not know the alphabet to read the stop names.
Got to Vandvoort, or Zandvoort as they write it here. Everything's got two or three names here. I found the hotel OK, but it appears to be in someone's house. That's fine, but the owner doesn't take credit cards. I figured I'd just get cash from my credit union ATM card. Well, the machine decided my transaction was a security risk and ate my card. Damn machine. I've got to call the credit union, not that it will help. I can use my Visa card but I don't want the damn thing eating that card, too. The bank was not helpful. They couldn't open the machine or tell me what the problem was. But I can go to Haarlem and go to the Visa office in the train station. I'll do that tomorrow. It's on the way to Kuekenhof.
It's chilly and breezy here. Not gale force winds, but I am on the North Sea, after all.
Just checked. The Rijksmuseum and the van Gogh museum are open daily. I'll take a pass on the sex and torture museums, oddly.
Keukenhof is also open daily. Tomorrow I'll take care of the Visa problem and maybe go there. I plan on going at least twice and one day per museum.
Went for a little walk. I didn't see any restaurants that appealed to me. Zandvoort is a seaside resort town with the expected touristy junk. I just got a loaf of bread and some olives and cheese for dinner at a supermarket. That works for me.
Journal Entry No. 53 - 18/4/15
A mark, a yen, a buck, or a... euro? I'll settle for no. 4.
I went to Haarlem today, which required me buying the train tickets with cash. The vending machine wouldn't take my credit card. It wouldn't take bills, either so I had to get my hands on change. In Haarlem there was no Visa 'office.' There was an American Express, which may have been what the bank lady was thinking about. Finally I decided to risk using the ATM. Why, not? Holland looks like a nice place to be homeless in.
It worked, by golly. I got enough to pay the rent plus a little something for myself. Some cards have daily limits, so I was concerned about that. My next stop was the flower show at Keukenhof. I got a ticket for a bus trip and entry to the garden. It was lovely and the day divine. Temps nice, warm even. Sky clear with just enough Dutch clouds to contrast with the Tulips and Narcissus. The place was huge and packed, it being Saturday. I am going back during the week, but hear that it's always crowded. It's to be expected.
The bus from Haarlem took about an hour to connect with another bus that took about five minutes to get to the entrance. On my way home I thought I was lost because the bus, instead of taking five minutes to get to the connection, ran for over half an hour and brought me to the Schiphol Airport! I asked the bus driver and he said to get to Haarlem it would be easier to just take a train from the airport. I guess the bus, which was the correct bus, takes a long way around on the return journey.
I should have stayed on the bus.
Let's just say I ended up taking some wrong trains and buying a lot of coffee and chocolate bars so I could get change to feed the stupid ticket machines before I got the correct route, which required two transfers. I should have stayed on the bus.
I stopped at a ticket kiosk and asked if I could buy tickets for another station, which I could. It turned out the reason I couldn't use my credit card was that it couldn't get a signature, which doesn't sound right. I was able to buy tickets from machines in other countries. I got two round trip tickets from Zandvoort to Amsterdam and one to Haarlem. That's for the museums and another trip to Keukenhof. This time I will walk to the bus transfer instead of going all the way to the airport. Jeesh.
I still have to figure out how I'm getting to London, fly or by train? Stay tuned.
Journal Entry No. 54 - 19/4/15
A day at the Netherlands National Museum.
Journal Entry No. 55 - 20/4/15
Travel Tip! If you go to the Van Gogh museum, buy your ticket ahead of time. I waited an hour to get in and could have breezed through with a ticket. Well worth it, though no photos except for one spot. See if you can guess which one that is.
Journal Entry No. 56 - 20/4/15
I always knew Van Gogh was a genius but it was mostly of the, coffee-table-book variety of knowledge. The museum and the story it told was eye opening, to say the least. I rented the iPod like companion and proceeded through the museum. I saw his early work, where he taught himself how to draw and paint. Already he had a distinctive style. In particular, he liked painting nature and peasants at work or just posing for his exquisite eye. He preferred to paint hard working simple folk and managed to bring out their dignity. He also did numerous self-portraits, mostly because he couldn't afford a model.
He learned formally at an art school in Paris. This showed him how simple(!) his work had been and helped him develop his technique. In one class he had to sketch a skeleton to help with anatomy. During this time he had been very sick, a malady he attributed to too much smoking. He depicted his skull drawing with a lit cigarette in its mouth. Another self portrait.
The little box continued to instruct me on all things Van Gogh, from his good relationship with his brother, Theo, to a stormy relationship with Gauguin. Also a love affair with a former prostitute, which thrilled his minister father and strict Christian family immensely. There's no accounting for love. He also painted a prostitute and gave her a dignified look, neither depraved nor haughty. If you didn't know what she was you'd just see a strong woman not of the upper class, exactly the thing Van Gogh loved.
And the ear thing, followed by an extended stay in an asylum. He cut off part of his ear after threatening Gauguin with a razor. He then took the severed ear to a local brothel and offered it to a prostitute. He seemed to have a thing about prostitutes.
In the asylum he could not leave the grounds and sometimes not even the building. During this time he painted 150 paintings. I never knew he was so prolific. Over all he painted around 500 along with sketches and a prolific letter writing career.
I followed his life through his paintings and his tragic situation. He truly was a man who didn't live life. He devoured it like one of his sunflowers drinking deep from the nourishing soil while straining his head toward the sun.
His last paintings were brilliant. I can't write what happened next. It's too painful. Too tragic. Too great a loss.
With much on my mind, I made my way to the Anne Frank house. Now, I know what you're thinking. Two brilliant lives ended tragically too soon? What kind of a vacation is this? Well, at the time I didn't think of either of those things. They were just places I wanted to see. Now I am processing what they mean.
The Anne Frank house, as you know, is where she, her family and a few friends hid from the Nazis during WW2. I won't dwell on the story, since you probably know it. What impressed me was the story telling, which was done quite well. The museum is the factory and secret annex where the family hid, practically holding their breath during working hours so the employees wouldn't suspect.
The tour was a self-guided walking tour through the factory and secret annex. They arranged it so you could walk all the way through without doubling back. Along the way there were stations with TV screens showing what was going on with the business and family. You heard the story a little bit at a time. It was like a haunted house at Halloween. The way was predestined for you, just as the way for the Frank family seemed to be. I really felt that I was being drawn into a horror show with Anne's brutal words cushioning the impact.
Otto Frank, the only survivor, said something profound in an interview years later. He said when he finally read Anne's diary he was amazed at the depth of emotion and questions she was entertaining. He said he was very close to Anne, but still didn't know she felt so deeply. Parents don't know their children, he said.
I'm still processing both of these experiences.
Journal Entry No. 57 - 21/4/15
Another day at Keukenhof. My cousin Joyce would love this place.
Journal Entry No. 58 - 21/4/15
They were checking on the train today. Three uniformed metro employees with intimidating scanners were demanding our papers. Or little magnetic encoded cards, as it were. I had mine, of course. No enemy of the state here, officer. I bought three cards a few days ago at a booth that took Visa to cover my transportation needs. The machines at the stations only take coins.
I was also going to get my ticket to the airport this morning, but there were too many people at the machines frantically getting their tickets. Now I know why.
The day at Keukenhof was relaxing. It was slightly less crowded that Saturday, but still busy. They had this incredible automated music machine near the entrance. It read books of punched cards and played everything from jazz to pop to steam boat Calliope. It was fascinating to watch and listen to.
The ride home was an experiment in timing. I just missed the shuttle to the bus stop to Haarlem, so I walked. It was only about a mile so I figured I'd get there before the bus returned and picked me up for the next run. At the bus stop I waited about ten or twelve minutes for the bus, so I figured I was on schedule. The bus was scheduled to get to Haarlem Central by 14:13. We got there a tad early, about 14:08 or so. I was thinking the train to Zandvoort wouldn't be there for twenty minutes or so and why not get that Shiphol airport ticket now? My natural caution decided me to go to the platform first. Well, the Zandvoort train was leaving at 14:09. Or in about one minute. Yikes! I was the last one on the train before the doors clanged shut behind me.
No big deal, of course. If I had missed the train another would be along in an hour. I could probably amuse myself for an hour in Haarlem. Still, it's nice to catch a train like that. The adrenalin. The running. The rush. The backache.
I mentioned the airport, Shiphol, earlier. I got a ticked on a plane for London on Thursday. I got the train ticket from here to the airport when I got back this evening. A half hour ride to the airport. A one and a half hour wait to board. Then a ten minute flight to London. Still, the train through the Chunnel would have been longer and more expensive.
I then had dinner out at a restaurant that didn't take Visa, so I'm using up my remaining euros. Tomorrow I have no plans other than to relax and wander around Zandvoort. I got some British pounds the other day so I won't be stuck when I get to London. I just hope I can get out of Europe with the fifteen euro I have left. Most places take Visa, but I see I've got to ask. Maybe I'll steal an extra roll from the breakfast table tomorrow.
The undiscovered country awaits!
Journal Entry No. 59 - 22/4/15
I found a place that takes Visa for dinner tonight, so I've managed to preserve my last remaining euros before leaving the zone for her majesty's land. I got something called jager schnitzel. Jager means hunt in German, so I assume it was something they got in the alley behind the restaurant. It was good, with a mushroom and baby onion sauce, whatever it was.
They serve French fries with mayonnaise here, which is novel. They were good but I'd prefer something less fattening. Still, when in Rome, eat Italian.
Journal Entry No. 60 - 23/4/15
I took a walk in Hyde Park and came out by Albert Hall. That's promising. For dinner I had shepherd's pie at a pub next door to the hostel.
England is in a different time zone than Europe, so I had to put my watch back an hour. Now I'm four hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time and seven ahead of Kristin time.
And English money is now decimal. So you have pounds and pence, also called pee. One hundred pee to the pound or a pound of pee. That's easy. But they still drive on the wrong side of the road! Everywhere they have painted on the road, Look Right!! Good advice.
Journal Entry No. 61 - 23/4/15
Mind the gap.
The trip out was uneventful this morning. The train brought me to Amsterdam's Shiphol airport in about an hour. I was plenty early but there were plenty of lines to wait in. I decided to check my backpack. It's getting heavy and I'm tired of lugging it around.
So there was check in and luggage check, customs, security scan and boarding. Each one a line. The plane took twelve minutes to taxi to the runway. I joked that we'd be taxiing longer that we'll be in the air. As it turned out, the flight was about 45 minutes. Longer than I expected.
My directions said there was a free shuttle to London outside the airport. Actually it was a shuttle to the train station where you can buy a ticket for 14 pounds to get to London and furthermore the shuttle wasn't even free. It cost SAoEM, Some Amount of English Money. I shoved a fiver at her and got a handful of odd sized electric box slugs for pence and such. I've got to get acquainted with British money. Everything is expensive here. One hundred dollars got me only 55 pounds. There are places here I can get in the 60's.
That makes about $1.66 per pound. The train from Luton airport to King's Cross Station, at 14 pounds, cost about 22 bucks. The tube ticket cost about 4 pounds. And technically I was supposed to pay more at the end, but the guy let me through. I found out later that there are zones in the tube lines. I need to get a week pass for zone 3.
The tube lines are confusing. I didn't know about the zones and I didn't see my destination on the map. I was in the general area but couldn't figure out which train I wanted. I asked someone selling papers and he showed me the right platform and the map of these lines, which weren't on the main tube map. I don't know why. The trains had terminus stations on them, with names like Hammersmith and Chiship or something. I wanted Victoria station, which never arrived. Looking at the map again I discovered that the train I wanted begins a couple of stations away, past Baker Street, of all places. So I had to get on Hammersmith for two stops and then take Victoria to my stop. Mind the gap!
The hostel was a short walk from the station. It's in a ritzy area and close to Hyde Park. Across the park is the Natural History Museum. I want to see a show, too. Wicked is playing. I've been wanting to see that. I'll explore and eat in a while. I may not need a tube pass after all.
The euro is at a good rate for tourists. I got 88 for 100 dollars. Of course, what matters is what you buy for them. Things were reasonable in Europe but are expensive in London. Oh, well. You can't take it with you. Wicked was in Hartford last November but it was very expensive for lousy seats. These don't look too bad by comparison. I'm going to try to see the Sat matinee.
Journal Entry No. 62 - 24/4/15
"Give my regards to the British Museum, Moses."
The London train system is incomprehensible. This morning I walked to Buckingham Palace and Victoria station. I was trying to figure out where the British Museum is. It's not that close to Buckingham Palace, but it could be a hundred miles for how I was reading the subway map.
While comparing the subway map with the charts on the wall and an actual map it all started getting less hopelessly opaque to me. First there are lines like the Central Line, Circle Line or District. You must know which line you want. Then there are the last stop designations, which don't always work out the way they should. I saw the Circle Line High Street Kensington turn into the Circle Line Edgeware Road just like that. We arrived at High Street Kensington but it wasn't the end.
I'm starting to sort of understand the map, at least the handful of streets I traversed today. I got a day pass for all zones. And I eventually found the museum. It's quite impressive. Immense, as a matter of fact. They had a few rooms on clocks going back to the first clocks made in Europe. I saw the Rosetta Stone, which was always surrounded by people. They let us take pictures inside.
Tomorrow I've got a ticket to see Wicked. I found the theater today so I at least was there once. I might even find it again! It's by Victoria Station not far from Buckingham Palace. I'll spend the morning by the river seeing the sites there and get to the theater for the 14:30 matinee.
Journal Entry No. 63 - 25/4/15
I'm still getting comfortable reading the subway map, though map is stretching it. It's more like oddly angular spaghetti. I think I have the hang of it. We'll see if I make it back home. It's stereotypic English weather, cloudy and rainy. I will be going to the Tower of London today then walking along the Thames to the big sites along the river. Then I'm seeing Wicked in the afternoon.
Tomorrow is forecast for rain. Maybe I'll go to another museum.
No pictures for today. I got to the Tower of London and discovered my camera had been on preview with one picture displaying all night. Must have butt activated it. So the battery was already dispatched by the time I got there. Chalk one more up to the tower.
These monuments look different when seen up close. I always thought the tower was just that. A tower. It's actually quite a large complex with a rectangular building with towers at each corner in the middle; this is the actual 'tower', and numerous other towers, chapels, motes and fortifications around it.
I saw as much of the crown jewels as they had on display and a tetanus of steel in the armory. Everything from armor for man and horse, pointy thingeys, cannons and guns. They mean business.
I went on a guided tour with a guard, or beefeater as they are called. He was very knowledgeable, mostly about everyone who had been murdered there. He said most people think that all they did was drag people into the grounds and execute them. Not so, he said. They did that on the hill outside. More room for spectators.
I decided to take the underground to parliament as I was concerned about time. Talk about monuments. They don't look anything like photos. Stepping out of the station and looking up, the first thing I saw was the tower of Big Ben. That's immense. I stayed there long enough to see parliament and the London Eye and then have fish and chips at a pub. I was one stop from the theater.
Wicked was great. I'd heard the music but didn't know the entire story. It makes more sense now. The play was two and a half hours long, plus intermission. I'm glad I got to see it.
Back at the hostel I had to check in again since they had me in a temporary room. I checked out this morning and stowed my luggage in a closet. I'm in the room I was supposed to have two days ago. It's not much different. Six instead of four beds. I can cope.
I have no plans for tomorrow. It's supposed to rain. I'd like to go back to Parliament and walk along the river and take pictures. I'll have to see how heavy it is.
Oh, and the subways are definitely evil. It's not just me. I wanted the subway to Tower Hill. At the station I got one that said Victoria, even though Victoria isn't the last stop. Once we got to Victoria station, the display saying which route we are following switched to some other station until it finally switched to Tower Hill. When I got off it was displaying another station altogether. So it does not display a terminating station like civilized subways do. It displays some station down the line and sometimes it displays two upcoming stations like High Street Kensington and Paddington. That way they can put one name on the train and another on the display at the station announcing the next train. It’s only fair.
They must be afraid of another invasion or something.
Journal Entry No. 64 - 26/4/15
It was cloudy and cool but not raining this morning, a condition that fortuitously persisted all day. I'll take it. After a paltry breakfast of toast and jam, cereal and instant coffee, I booked a tour for tomorrow. WRT breakfast: beans and toast would have been better. WRT the tour: It's for an afternoon at Stonehenge.
I decided to find out where tomorrow's bus leaves, so I took the subway to Victoria station and ratted about. I found the pickup point in a mall near the bus, sorry, carriage station. Good, so now I know where to report tomorrow.
I decided to spend some time above the underground by walking to the river and parliament. London very generously places maps every few blocks showing the surrounding area in minutes on foot or by bike. A very practical unit of measure. Plus this helped me translate subway direction into real direction a wee bit. Maybe they are guilty about that whole subway designation thing.
The walk was certainly nice. I crossed the Thames and came back up to Guy Fawkes’ favorite gun powder target. Here I discovered something I already knew. That the London marathon was going on today. I knew it because they stopped curtain call yesterday at Wicked to ask for support for the stage manager who was running in it.
I got some pictures and didn't mind the crowds, which weren't too bad yet. I walked up to Trafalgar Square and visited the National Museum, which was mostly art. I rather liked the Ruben's and Van Dyke's. The older themed ones were more visceral and quite frankly, more interesting. Venus breast feeding a child Hope while other virtues fend off a pissed Mars has a lot of character and symbolism. This was presented to a king who was negotiating a peace treaty with Spain. Would today's leaders get the symbolism?
I wanted to eat in a pub but one nearby was crowded. So I ran another errand by going to King's Cross and buying my tickets to Scotland. I didn't find any pubs there, so I headed back into town, this time to Piccadilly Circus. In the fashion of a lobster entering a trap, I headed back toward Trafalgar. The crowds slowly enlarged and choked the sidewalks, then the side streets, then whole roads. Yikes! The marathon must have finished because there were quite literally thousands of people on the streets.
The pubs were packed. I kept walking deeper into town until I reached Big Ben's tower and saw that, no, the marathon is going on at full throttle. Still there seemed to be hundreds of people rising out of the pavement, waving flags and clogging the streets. I couldn't even get into an underground station through the throngs, and just opted to turn around and waddle back toward where I had come. It was jammed, but eventually I found a quiet eddy in the stream of unconsciousness I had entered. With some help from marathon security, I found a not over packed tube station and got outa Dodge.
I tried a few other stops for dinner and finally found a place at my hostel stop that was a pub. That means you order at the bar and they bring it to you. The peas were nicely al dente, but the fish was hideously overcooked.
Oh well. That's what it means to experience new things.
Journal Entry No. 65 - 27/4/15
Today I took a walk past Albert Hall to see what was there. I didn't have to be at the bus stop until 13:15, so I had plenty of time. I ended up on London's version of Museum Mile and visited the Natural History museum. Very nice. I only had an hour or so and wanted to eat, too, so I just went through the volcano and plate tectonic wing. It was geared a lot toward kids with an earthquake simulator, but a kid like me got a lot out of it, too.
I got fish and chips at another pub, this time not shoe leather grade. I noticed that the menus were identical. And both had the best fish and chips in London! Clever those Brits.
By the way, I heard my first Bloody hell! at a train station and I was hoping to find some place that had beans on toast for breakfast. One place I found was closed for renovations. Tomorrow I'll be in Scotland. I will have to have one of their national foods/drinks/wars. Maybe something like insulted eggs and diseased kidneys over a bed of enraged thistles. Thas the spirit, man.
Journal Entry No. 66 - 28/4/15
A Tall Tale
I wanted to wait a bit before writing this entry. The longer I wait the funnier it gets, but at the time it was disturbing. It was my first night in London and I checked into the Hostel by Bayswater station. It was fine. Like every other. Six bunk beds crowded in a room with a bathroom off it. This one had a nice innovation: Curtains! You could get in your bunk bed and draw the curtains closed. Who’d’ve thunk?
I checked in and found that all the beds in my assigned room were taken. So they put me into a four bed room for the first two nights until they could sort things out. OK. Whatever. When I got to my room the first thing I saw were the tattoos. Then the arm of the person bearing them. Then the scary looking guy sitting on the bed attached to the arm. Here was the illustrated man before me. Great. I'll probably be invited to a neo Nazi meeting.
It turned out the guy was friendly, talkative and an ex con named Matt. Two out of three. He just got out of San Quentin after nineteen years for robbery. In addition he was being deported. Not wanting to seem unfriendly I asked why such a harsh sentence. Because he was a gang member. He even had the teardrop eye tattoo to prove it. Oh. OK.
I suspect there was more than robbery involved. Maybe not violent but undoubtedly armed. They don't incarcerate and deport you for wearing a bandana over your mouth and handing a note to a teller.
Like I said Matt was a talkative fellow. He seemed to have no shame about his past though he claimed to have learned from it. He talked about gang violence and how you never hurt a civilian. If you did and landed in jail you'd get a shiv in your gut. He also talked about the drug trade and confirmed something I had heard elsewhere: That DEA agents let a certain percent of drug shipments into the country while making token busts. Drugs are a business and contribute to the economy as surely as pork bellies. If the war on drugs was won and all drug trafficking stopped this country would seize up economically.
Smedley Butler said war is a racket. Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us against the military industrial complex. The Iran Contra affair showed one sliver of Drugs, Inc. And what did Mussolini call government merging with industry?
Matt offered me a beer. He had ample 16 ouncers. Or half liters, I guess. I politely said no thank you and blamed my accident and (prescription) drugs for non-alcohol consumption.
He then filled me in on his sex life, essential knowledge that. He has a teenage boy and girl by two different mothers. And fifteen I'm not sure about. Ha, just joking with ya. He described the Bacchanal jubilee that was the last hostel he was in in Camden town and was going back tomorrow (a flicker of good news!) Something about his deportation officer. I can see London is in for a treat. They had a great time in the all too common room until they were told to put on a tie. Why don’t I find these porno hostels?
And there was a safety lesson, too. He said there were tough customers in London. He had already been assaulted in a robbery and had to show a few gang moves like wrapping his sleeve around his left wrist to deflect a knife attack. After that the attacker backed off. Honor among thieves you know. London is OK during the day but after dark the ghouls arise. Think Neverwhere.
Two girls came into the room and I figured; Good. Human companionship. Well, Mr. Teardrop became all charm. He seemed like a jerk to me but that’s because I don’t get it I guess. He quickly introduced himself and found out that the girls were Turkish and Serbian. They were cute. The Turkish girl spoke only a little English. Teardrop's strategy seemed to be to talk about himself, get them to talk then throw out an insult joke. He offered Turkish a beer but she said she was, what you call? Muslim. Teardrop immediately asked if she was a terrorist. Nah. I'm just messing wit ya, he said. Here, I'll put the beer under the bed so you don't have to look at it. She'd say she lived in Turkey and he'd say, Me, too! Nah, just joking. Then he wished her peace in Arabic, which he picked up from an Arab gang member, he said. He seemed to have a database of clichés to use on women and a delivery based on stream of consciousness. Keep pumping them out. Eventually one will score. He offered one some dope, which she declined.
When the girls left he said to me, I'm fucking one of them tonight. Good for you Mr. Teardrop D. Hormone.
His phone rang several times. It was one of his recent conquests. You fuck em and they think they own you, he intoned wisely. Ya, I hate that, I said. So what are you in London for, he asked. Museums. Sounds boring. I'm here for--I knew what he was here for. A while later he was on the phone with Conquest Girl. I love you, he said. Didn't that phrase used to mean something?
He was shallow but a friendly guy who made a mistake. I lent him a wire so he could charge. His phone, that is. I went out to a museum and when I got back no one was there. I also noticed that only Turkish's bed was made. A little while later there was a knock on the door. It was Other Girl. She was looking for Turkish and would I send her to my room when she gets back. My room? I guess Other Girl had some sense. And self preservation. Turkish came back, checked with OG and then dolled herself up. She went out with somebody. I didn't see her until the next morning.
Hormone boy was gone. Turkish was getting ready to leave, but not before gesturing wistfully toward his bed and sighing, I miss you. I guess she's now Turkish Delight.
All in all he was the biggest bullshit artist I've ever known, beating one I knew in college by bucket loads. If I hadn't seen Turkish Girl's moon eyes I wouldn't have believed much of it. Yet according to evolution he's a success. Two plus fifteen 'maybes.' And he's just getting back into it. That's a lot of, um, fitness.
Oh, Evolution's just messing with us.
Journal Entry No. 67 - 29/4/15
You're Scottish. Fry something.
Today I stopped at a bakery I saw last night that had an authentic Scottish breakfast. It had sausage, bacon, a fried egg, toast, haggis, beans and what looked like flatbread. So I've had my beans on toast. And a second helping of haggis. All for around six pounds. Those are the kinds of places I like.
I started a walking tour, with the Edinburgh castle as the first stop. That was pretty interesting. I spent almost four hours there. One building was devoted to the Scottish Dragoon divisions. They go back hundreds of years. These are the people Monty Python modeled their Scotsmen-flinging-themselves-off-ramparts bit on. These are some tough customers. To fighting in the Boar wars to kicking out Napoleon to both world wars and much more, these soldiers distinguished themselves. But their lives were terrible. The pay was bad, the food scant and the population not always glad to have to hide the women when they were around. Plus the profound glorification of killing. I don't think it was always necessary. It seems whenever some king shows weakness an army shows up to, let's say, help him ‘out.’ Wars seem to be a lot of men killing a lot of other men to prove that they're men. OK I got it. You're all men. Now can the killing stop?
Not that it's better now.
I also saw the crown jewels of Scotland. A sword. A crown. And a scepter. They were symbolic of the king’s authority until the Parliament voted to join England. They had a ceremony where they touched the scepter to the edict to join. After that they were superfluous. I wonder if they won't need them again?
It's been raining on and off so I'm back at the hostel drying out. I'd like to continue my walking tour later. Currently it's not raining but that could change. Charlie said they might be street performing later. I might buy them a pint, if I find them.
It stopped raining after a while so I ventured out. Unfortunately there was nobody street performing where Charlie said they'd be. Too bad. I should have exchanged emails. That's happened a lot. I meet people then miss them before getting a chance to know them better. Guess that's the gig. Pity. They were nice and easy to talk with.
On the way home I stopped at a pub and had a beer. I always ask the bartender what they have that's local and what do they like. They are happy to help. I ended up getting what the guy next to me had, so that was a good recommendation. We chatted a bit until he had to catch a bus. Another six minute friend. I'm getting good at this.
Nothing planned for tomorrow. I might go on a literary pub crawl tomorrow night. It sounds interesting and more entertaining than just a bar hopping type of pub crawl. I'll have to buy small glasses of beer if I plan on buying at more than one pub.
Journal Entry No. 68 - 28/4/15
I'm in Scotland. It rained. Then got sunny. I had haggis.
The ride from London was uneventful. Four hours of watching the fields go by. I got to Edinburgh around 14:20. It was sprinkling. I was at Waverly station. My hostel was near Haymarket station. So a quick train covered the distance.
I found the hostel all right. Checked in. Found my room even. It's a nice room with six beds but no bathroom. That's outside at the end of the hallway and co-ed. That's new. I'd better make sure to latch the doors. And close them.
I went for a walk and found a pub nearby. I was just going to file it away for future reference when it started to pour. Dinner sounded good right about then.
I ordered the haggis and a salad. It came with mashed potatoes and a squash of some kind. Very good. There were three people next to me, a girl and two guys. At one point they went out for a cigarette and one asked me to watch his backpack. Sure, I said.
When they got back I said everything was fine. I looked and there was nothing valuable in the backpack so I zipped it up again. They invited me to sit with them. They being Miles, Helen and Charlie. They were interested in me and I was interested in them. They were university students and the two boys had finished today so they were celebrating. The rain that had brought me in had kept them there for another drink.
We talked of many things. I told them my brief history and heard theirs. We talked about what Americans think and what Europeans think of stuff. Various stuff. Where we lived. How we lived. Legalized marijuana. Favorite drinks. How our world was run. How much we could do better. I haven't had conversations like this since college days.
They marked up my tourist map with places to see. Charlie bought me a scotch. They invited me to see them again. Charlie will be busking, which is street playing his guitar, tomorrow afternoon with his brother. I said I'd look them up and we'd go our for a pint.
What nice people. And quite a contrast to Prison Boy. I like it here. And the haggis was good, too.
Journal Entry No. 69 - 30/4/15
My last day on Edinburgh was fairly aimless. I decided to do the literary pub crawl at 19:30 that evening, so I signed up for it on line. I took the option that included dinner at a local restaurant. I just had to bring my tablet with me with the confirmation email.
Then I walked into town, which is only 15 minutes or so. After checking out where the pickup spot for the tour was and where the restaurant was I headed to a museum of Edinburgh. That was interesting. Edinburgh was built on a volcano. No surprises there. The castle is right on top with the royal mile extending along a ridge left behind by a glacier. The museum had some exquisite examples of silverware and glass ware, along with a lot of Edinburgh history.
Later on I found a national art gallery. They had more Van Dykes, Rubens and another Rembrandt selfie. Oh, and a da Vinci. Mostly da Vinci. They think a student paint by numbered the background.
Speaking of paint by numbers, there were a few unfinished works there. It was odd seeing a painting with mostly finished background and figures then someone standing there in a sketch only. It opened a view on the painting process.
Outside was the largest monument in the world to a writer: The Sir Walter Scott monument. It is immense and looks like a narrow cathedral or an unfinished rocket. A big monument for a big man.
That about brought me up to dinner, which was an appropriately Scottish sounding place called the Whiski Room. I had a three course meal. Of the choices I had haggis spring rolls, lamb and ale pie and a chocolate cake with ice cream and caramel syrup.
The pub crawl started at a pub called The Beehive with our guide, named Clart (Muck. Personally I think it means ‘shit’ but ‘muck’ will do) talking about the drunken lives of Scottish poets and writers. An alleged audience member, Miss McBrain, challenged his claim to literary debauchery and the two ended up in a contest of wits and history. It was a game of debauchery vs. civility. From there we visited about four pubs and were entertained with stories about the likes of Robert Byrnes, Walter Scott, Robert Louise Stevenson and others. In the end they decided, like Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, it was a draw and both sides are present in everyone.
It was a great show and well done.
Journal Entry No. 70 - 1/5/15
Today was strictly a travel day. After checking out I took a train from near my hotel to the Waverly train station in Edinburgh. Then the four hour train to London's King's Cross station. From there I took the long underground train to the stop near my hotel. It took about an hour to get there. Then came the part I always love. Not knowing where I was going next.
I had directions involving a bus. I really didn't want to take the bus so I followed a little map I copied off the internet. After walking about a mile the terrain didn't align with the map. Terrain can do that. I watched where the bus went and followed its path, but it looked like it was going to Heathrow airport. I tried to take the next bus but was told they don't take cash. I've got to use the debit card they call an 'oyster' card, for some reason probably.
I walked back to the subway station and bought an oyster card with five pounds on it and took the next bus. My bus, no 222, came every ten minutes or so. Well, I found my hotel. It was just around the corner from where I decided to go back. I wasn't surprised. That was always a possibility. But I didn't want to lug my pack into unknown, map defying terrain when I could follow the official directions. Sometimes you have to make that choice. Do I go on and risk getting more lost or do I go back and risk giving up too soon? The bus stop was a ways past the hotel, so I had to hike back anyway. Oh well. You pays your dime you takes your chances.
So I'm in a nice hotel with towels and everything. I'll probably get a cab to the airport tomorrow. It's about ten pounds but at this point it'll be worth it. That'll leave me with about enough for a coffee at the airport. And then to a layover in Iceland.
Journal Entry No. 71 - 2/5/15
The hotel near Heathrow was very nice. It is owned by Indians who are very hospitable. First the owner/manager gave me a free beer while I was checking in. Later I came down to their restaurant. I had a wonderful prawn dinner with a nuclear salad. It was greens with peppers. Hot peppers. I absent mindedly took a whole pepper, thinking it was a green bean, dipped it in some sauce and ate it. Well, it was pretty high up there on the Scoville scale, that much I can say now. Don't remember much of the experience, except "?", "#" and numerous "!"'s.
This morning they made breakfast for me. The cook apologized that they were out of bacon. Still, I had tangerines, beans and toast, sausages, two eggs and coffee and juice. That was a great breakfast after the toast and cereal the other places offered. Enough to carry me through two plane trips.
I decided not to get a taxi. I still had the bus system clam card I used last night, so why not just take the bus and try to use up some of my fiver? I needed to take two buses which took about fifteen minutes to get to Heathrow. The airport was as confusing as any other big city hub. But I got checked in and through security in short order. I was in the concourse at the same time I should have been just arriving. They didn't even have a gate for my flight yet. I checked in my backpack so I didn't have to lug it around. God that thing has gotten heavy. Unfortunately that meant I kept panicking that I wasn't burdened anymore and must have lost something.
Boy is Iceland a wasteland! Nothing but grey soil, a little brown moss and volcano cones as far as you can see. It's a lunar landscape with an ocean.
The flight was fine, though Icelandic air doesn't provide a meal in international flights. All I got was a 150 ml can of tonic water. I could use the carbs.
JFK wasn't too bad to negotiate. It took about twenty five minutes to get through customs. Another fifteen waiting for my bag. Then I called Great 8 for a room. And here I am, almost two hours after landing. I just need to find somewhere to eat, I don't care where, and I will be officially home.
Journal Entry No. The Last - 5/3/15 (Back to American usage.)
'Please stand clear of the closing doors.'
It's good to be back on an American subway. None of that gap stuff.
I asked the man at the hotel today where was the nearest way to get to Grand Central. He said there was a subway station for the E train three blocks away. What a difference from the last time. I found the station, which was tucked away so it was hard to see, and got a train. It was a local and GCS is far away so it was doubtful that I would get there on time. Well my transfer train at Lexington Ave, the 6 train, was closed for repairs, necessitating that I take a loop uptown, then to 42nd street and then the shuttle to GCS. I was too late for the ten O'clock train but on time for the eleven.
I called Dan and asked him to pick me up in New Haven at one oh eight.
At the station I ran into a friend of mine from UConn. A man named Larry. That was a treat. We worked together for years until I retired two years ago. I got to hear how messed up things persist to be at the old salt mine. He’s retiring soon himself. Good for him.
It's been seven weeks and five days since I left Connecticut. 47 days. The trip has been exhilarating, frustrating, enlightening, entertaining, appalling and never dull. I've been sick, met interesting people, struggled to be understood and understand and eaten new foods. Above all, I have put myself into new situations and tasted life. I can avow that it tastes rich, overpowering and dangerous. Try the haggis. But what is the alternative, to live life in bubble wrap at the bottom of a well? I'd rather die.
So as I put away the yak fat, kennel the dogs, catalog the journals and thank my backpack for not breaking again, I can reflect on a trip well spent.
Where shall I go next?