Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Can´t get enough of Switzerland

Blazing fast update before I check out of my room here in Barcelona.

Saturday: Finally met up with Melody despite the ongoing strike. Take that you socialists. Mel and I walked around the Luxembourg Gardens before I took off my own to explore Paris after sunset. We met up and took another walk through the streets of history.

Sunday: Ate a whole bunch with Melody and her friends. Tried to leave Paris for Switzerland but failed.

Monday: Woke up to catch the first train for Lausanne and succeeded! Vegged for the rest of the day with the aunts and cousins.

Tuesday: Zermatt and the Matterhorn! Short train ride that night to Geneva.

Wednesday: Tour through Cologny and hanging out.

Thursday: Hanging out.

Friday: Hanging out.

Saturday: Hike through the woods, bounce house with the best view ever, a hot spring bath that unfortunately did not include falling snow, and big family dinner.

Sunday: Walk though Lake Geneva, tea, and bowling.

Monday: Walked my cousins to school, packed up, and said my see you laters before a night train out to Barcelona.

Tuesday: Woke up to a gorgeous sunrise along the Spanish coast while on the train, slept for a bit more, arrived in Barcelona, and toured the city sites, coastline, eateries, and bars with hostelfolk. Also struggled to find a flight back to London to catch my fight back home. Original plan was to get to Sevilla and fly from there, but tickets would cost me 300 euro. This is because the city is having its holiday season and hostels across the city are shutting down and people are flying out. Lesson learned here is at the very least to plan the escape route. So I looked up flights from Madrid or Lisbon and they ended up costing the same or more. Current and cheapest plan is now to catch a night train back to Geneva and fly out on Sunday afternoon. Third time to Switzerland and I´m happy.

Wednesday: Gaudi Park, tour of Barcelona Stadium (where Ronaldinho and Thierry Henry make their stand) on an off day, hanging out with hostel people, night walk to the top of Montjuic, and more bars. Mambo Tango: best hostel this entire trip.

Next up! Last time through Geneva, remembering, remembering the 5th of Novembering, and returning home.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Another strike day in Paris...

Today, I mowed my aunt's backyard.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Taking it slow in Paris.

The French metro workers are on strike today, and as much as I would like to join them with my bad French, I can't get to where they are without using the trains. That means its time for an update.

The rest of Saturday: Annecy with family. Very different from traveling alone. Especially when there are hovering adults with wandering children to look after. Children being me. Man, my younger cousins are so obedient it makes me look bad, which means its time to be a bad influence. Went back home, packed up my things, and took the last train of the night to Paris.

Getting off the train, I walked to the end of the platform, and greeted my uncle, who took me right upstairs to Le Train Bleu (http://www.le-train-bleu.com/), before heading home. Right away though, I got a sense of his personality from the way he walked around a place as decadent as Le Train Bleu: it was like he owned the place.

Sunday: Tour through Paris by car with my uncle, highlighted by illegal parking and driving, open air markets all over town and walking through Montmartre during the Fete des Vendanges. We saw pretty much everything else in a blur, but I was able to have an espresso at his bar/restaurant and meet a few of his friends. Got home for dinner with my aunt before taking off to tour through Paris at night, but he received a business call as we were leaving the house. He dropped me off at the Bastille with a map and a good luck. From there, I used my incredible skills of getting lost around town. Definitely and by far my favorite thing to do.

Monday: First day in Paris on my own. Free tour where I received a history refresher course of Paris and met a few more peoples. Went to my uncle's office near Tuileries, did some more wandering, and met my uncle and aunt back at their home. I packed up my things and moved to stay with my other family outside Paris in Antony. Dinner of couscous, catching up with my cousin, whiskey on the rocks, and remembering my uncle.

Tuesday: Tour through Paris with my aunt. Trip to Versailles was postponed due to weather and Louvre was closed so we went into the Petit Palace, walked down the Champs-Elysees, saw ugly people shop at the Louis Vuitton store, visited the Arc de Triomphe, and climbed the obligatory Eiffel Tower.

Wednesday: Second day in Paris by myself. Pompidou Center, inside and to the top of Notre Dame, a lot more wandering, cafes, the Louvre bookstore after passing on the Louvre, and then back home again.

Today: Sticking it out in Antony. So far, it's been grocery shopping and the mall. Suburbs are suburbs, I guess. Not much planned for the rest of the day either, but this downtime will do me some good to sort through all the sensory overload from the past few weeks. At least that's how I'm fooling myself into not complaining too much. I take it back; I got to walk through town with a baguette. Another highlight of my trip.

Ah well, I've still got two and a half weeks left. Hmm... More time than that even if I extend again? Who knows...

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Swiss Family Rob-Nguyen-son

With a title like that, I'd gladly take a punch to the face. I'm a proud Tran, but my mom's maiden name is Nguyen.

Monday: Arrived in Lausanne and spent a quiet day roaming the city with my aunt. We walked around Lake Geneva, went into the Olympic Museum for a bit, and visited her old university campus. Went to the city shopping center, did some grocery shopping, came home for dinner with my uncle, and had some relaxing downtime to recoup.

Tuesday: Pilatus at Luzern! Met up with my aunt's friend and now my friend, Hien, in the morning and headed out for a two and a half hour drive to Luzern. Parked the car, had a small picnic on the edge of Lake Luzern. Half an hour later, a boat coincidentally marked for Pilatus pulls up alongside our bench. We rush to buy tickets, board the boat, look at the time, and wonder how we're supposed to get down the mountain once we get up there. We land at our stop where I met a New Zealander who joined us as we took the world's steepest cogwheel train (48° angle) up to the top of Pilatus at an elevation of 7,000 feet. The day was still a bit cloudy, but the view overlooking Luzern and its lake was breathtaking. If only I could put up pictures to show everyone... We stayed as long as we could before taking a panoramic gondolin down the mountain, (passing by toboggan tracks and suspension rope park that I will definitely go to the next time I'm in town) and riding the bus back to the starting point.

From there, we did some siteseeing before walking into an absolutely gorgeous Chinese restaurant that was owned and operated by Hien's good friends. Shanghai 3 is the name. There was marble flooring and statues, huge bonsai trees at every turn, decorated ceilings with Chinese lanterns, and a salt water fish tank that must've been taken straight out of the Great Barrier Reef since it cost $300k for the custom L-shaped design, live coral plants, and huge variety of fish. If only I could put up pictures to show everyone... Food was damned good too. And to end the day, we talked for a while with the owner who ended up not letting us pay for what must have been at least a $200 dinner. Gotta say, that day was a good day.

Wednesday: Valorbe and it's underground river! Another day with just me and my aunt. We arrived at the town of Valorbe (pop. 3087 and some cows) via train, hiked through a serene and postcard-like forest, and arrived at the mouth of a cave. And like any good tourist destination, we paid for admission, received a walkthrough guide, and followed the path to the sites of beautiful stalactites, stalacmites, and a roaring river beneath our feet. We took another path back home to an even more postcard-like section of the forest and headed back home where I met with another aunt for dinner. Oh, and I forked over 200 bucks to stay an additional two weeks to be an international hobo of mystery.

Thursday: Jungfraujoch! An elevation of 11, 782 ft. is pretty cozy by train, I have to say. My aunt and I boarded a train bound for Interlaken in the morning and took the Jungfraubahn the rest of the way. I met a Thai brother and sister on the train and we all smiled and waved as our train was being filmed from an old-school helicopter. Probably for the next Swiss movie smash hit. Or a tourist video. I have a hard time telling them apart. We arrive at the top and explore. First up was the panoramic deck that froze every one of my expletives off. But it was worth it!

The Aletsch glacier to the south, the view, breathing above the clouds... Amazing. Second was getting to the bottom of the observation area and walking around. Amazing times two. Third and last was walking through a tunnel dug through the glacier complete with ice statues. Amazing divided by two, plus 23 for effort. Made our way back home after a stop in the town of Thun, and slept very, very well.

On a side note, my ATM card had expired at the end of September. Forgot to get this taken care of before I left, but what can I say, I live on the edge. Thanks Sister for providing me with means to buy stuff like food.

Friday: My grandma's temple where she used to be a Buddhist nun and Geneva. Really brought back some great memories from when I was last there in 1995. Afterwards, my aunt and I took a boat out to Yvoirre before taking another boat the rest of the way to Geneva where we met up with my uncle, aunt, and cousins (2, the oldest one of which was recently married) for dinner.

Saturday: Met up with more family (uncle, aunt, and four cousins) for a trip to Annecy in France. Way too tired to write the rest of this now, but my cousins are as awesome as mountains.

Next up: Je parle Francais but not really and other such adventures in the land of Pareeeee.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Berlin, Munich, and Florence (Part last)... now with more Rome

Alrighty, I finally have some downtime to catch up on my trip up until today, so here goes:

Oktoberfest! It was a wonderful thing, really. Had more than enough with a litre, but I cheered with strangers and the business was squarely done. Sobered up with more great food at the top of a hill overlooking the festival, headed back to the metro station and somehow ended up at the city square where all the stores were closed and street performers were making their rounds. I caught my night train to Florence and slept like a person who slept well. Man, my similes are just too awesome. Considering there were six of us in that dinky space, I'm rather proud of my sleeping skills.

I woke up to the sound of one of my bunkmates telling me I was now in Florence, so I packed up and made my way to my hostel while still tired as a tired person who just woke up from sleeping on a train. I checked in, showered, and hit the streets. Before I saw any of the major tourist sites, I bought my first of too many gelattos. I couldn't stop eating those godamn delicious ripoffs. If I ended up homeless, I would be forced to sell my body so I could keep eating gelattos instead of spending it on cheap booze and cheaper crackwhores like a proper gentleman of class. In any case, I saw the Duomo, Palazzo Vecchio, Ponte Vecchio, Piazza Dei Pitti, and Pizzale Michelangelo. I walked back to my hostel and ended up meeting Rick and Jackie, a set of friends from Hong Kong. We chatted for a while and they told me all about what they had done while I was siteseeing and talked me into following their day plan.

So the next morning, I woke up and met up with a group of eight others, including a friendly couple from San Jose and six girls (!) studying in Florence and Spain for a bike tour through Tuscany from 10 until 5 with guides Andy and Keith. A bus ride to the countryside was followed by wine tasting at an 11th century castle and winery, a downhill bike ride to an idyllic Italian restaurant, a grueling uphill climb back to the castle, and bus ride back to the starting point. I can't begin to describe the scenery, so the pictures will have to talk for me, but as you've all noticed, there's definitely a lack thereof for the time being. Check back at another time, but I wholeheartedly recommend biking through Tuscany with six college girls to everyone. Met up with Rick and Jackie for dinner where I had the best lasagna of my life, met a few more people back at the hostel, and chilled before getting to bed.

Rome followed the next morning after a brief but beautiful train ride. Checked into my hostel and Romed around. Did everyone get that pun there? Yes? Good. I now officially give everyone the right to punch me in the face if I ever say anything like that again. First up was the Piazza Venezia, followed by the Fontana di Trevi, Pantheon, and back to the Piazza Venezia and then back to the Fontana di Trevi. Completely different sites at night. Went back to the hostel exhausted. Highlight of my first day in town was the weather. It was cloudy, rained for a bit, and warm, which made for perfect conditions for a thunderstorm. Watching lightning streak across the sky while sitting underneath the Pantheon... amazing.

Second day in Rome started with a trip to the Piazza di Spagna before crossing town via the metro line to Circo Massimo. From there, I made my way to Trastevere where I stumbled on an Italian farmer's market filled with free samples. Delicious free samples. Walked back north to see a few street performers at the Piazza Navona, walked east for a third trip to Piazza Veneyia to take an elevator to the top for the best view of Rome, and then walked southeast towards the Collosseo. As the first major bummer of the trip, the Colloseo had closed 15 minutes before I got there. Godamn delicious gelattos... Oh well, gives me an excuse to come back. Took a night train out that night where I was promptly and temporarily adopted by a Swiss German family. But it's okay since I get confused for Swiss German all the time anyway.

I didn't get to meet many people while in Rome, but it was fine and I still enjoyed myself. Thus concludes my thoughts on traveling alone. I'm thinking I shouldn't say anything conclusive about this until I get back home so I'll return to this topic whenever that time comes.

Train arrived in Zurich the next morning (today), I said goodbye to the Haegglig clan, and made my way to Geneva where I met up with my aunt.

Next up! My trek through the Alps, my expired credit card, and confirmation if I extend my trip long enough to be back in London to remember, remember, the fifth of November or end up going home on schedule.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Berlin, Munich, and Florence (Part 3)

Ok, I've got some time to kill from my free 30 minutes worth of internet use to catch up on my trip. I'm starting to forget things from all this sensory overload, so I better get this all out before the days blur too much.

After the free tour, people were encouraged to tip, since I guess these people have to make a living and eat or something like that. Whatever. Had some dinner with a few more friends (Jono and Kim from Vancouver, Sy and Zoe from Australia, and Stewart from Glasgow) that night before hitting up another bar.

The next day was spent wandering the city again, the highlight of which was drooling over the Audi R8. Met up with bar mates from the night before and rolled out to Brandenburg Gate again to celebrate the anniversary of the reunification of Germany. Free concert, great food, good German times.

Next morning out was a train ride to Munich and this party they have called Oktoberfest. Apparently the whole festival was started as a wedding anniversary party that went overboard. I arrived at the train station, stashed my pack in a locker, took the metro one stop south to the party. It was effing huge. Germans were dressed to the nines in their traditional garb, carny rides and foods were German flavored, and the beer tents were rocking; and let it be known that there's nothing quite like witnessing a beer tent band play '99 Luftballons'.

Ack! Time's up!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Berlin, Munich, and Florence (Part 2)

Ok, I have about 15 minutes to try and cram my past few days before this hostel starts charging me for internet use. On top of all that, I had some wine. And by some I mean too much. In any case, the story continues:

... panoramic view of the city. From there, it was the Berlin wall, Holocaust Memorial, and then to Brandenburg Gate where the marathon finished and where I had bratwurst, fries with mayo, and great beer. Next up was the Reichstag and the absolutely gorgeous spiraled walkway that leads up to another view of the city. Later that night was a pub night out with Lei, a Chinese fellow living in Oxford who finished aforementioned marathon, and Maibe and Lorazo, a Spanish set of sister and brother.

Next day was free tour day. Now Berlin at first wasn't exactly the prettiest of places, but going through this tour really opened up the city for all the history behind all the sites I saw the day before, from WWI to the reunification of East and West Germany.

Bah... time's running out. I'll try continuing this tomorrow or in Switzerland.

Cheers, all.

Berlin, Munich, and Florence (Part 1)

I'm writing this in the hostel basement with Florentinian traffic whizzing overhead. Not exactly the most serene of places to write an entry, but I better get this out quick so I can hop on a train to Rome.

After my stay in Brussels, I headed out to Berlin via night train. Couldn't get a sleeper train, so I got another uncomfortable night's worth of sleep in a standard second class seat. I chatted with a Palestinian primary physician living in London before stepping out and getting promptly lost. I eventually found my way to my hostel after learning ze underground. From there, I dropped off my things, met Ofer and Jess, and we walked around town from there. There was also a marathon that day, so we got to see a bit of that before we went to the Jewish Museum, to the top of the Daimler-Chrysler building using the fastest lift in Europe that offered a ...

Hold on, people are waiting to use this thing, so I'll continue this in Rome!