Thursday, April 28, 2011
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Monday, April 25, 2011
Friday, April 22, 2011
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Monday, April 18, 2011
Saturday, April 16, 2011
We woke up to rain, shoot. We had decided to try and do a cute Swiss town instead of venturing up high to the alps because we’d heard the weather wasn’t supposed to be ideal and the trip to the top of the Swiss alps is, like everything else in Switzerland, damn expensive. We did not want to get up to the top of an expensive cable car trip only to be caught in the clouds.
We were headed to Luzern, which is 1hr away from Bern via train. We caught the 11 o’clock train arriving at noon. We picked up a map and started walking. It didn’t take long before we stopped for coffee, a nice way to plan the route for the day and to avoid the cold rain.
There is an old city wall, a large church, very typical, very adorable Swiss looking buildings, all on a lake, surrounded by mountains. Keep in mind, however, that as far as I know I’ve just described 90% of all Swiss communities, perhaps replace the lake with rolling hills, or something but it is all adorable. In Luzern there is a LION carved into a huge rock face, this doesn’t sound that majestic, but it was quite enthralling. There is also a wooden bridge that recently burned down and was rebuilt.
To save money we went to the grocery store for lunch, well we only ate out of the grocery store for our entire time in Switzerland except for that one meal previously mentioned. But this meal was somewhat hilarious, we bought a small loaf of bread, an avocado, a yogurt each, and split a pre-made scalloped potato thing. Ha. We didn’t last long because the weather was somewhat miserable but it was still a good day.
We went back to the hostel and did some homework. I have a paper due next Thursday and Tess has an exam next Wednesday. We also had dinner – canned soup – how fancy – planned our next day, and went to bed.
April 13, Interlaken & Schilthorn
Yay! Sunshine! Perhaps our plan to go to the top of some of the Alps could be a reality. We started off early, 9:30 on the train, headed to Interlaken. Located between two major lakes and at the base of lots of mountains. It is a good base area for exploring the area for the day, and there were a number of adorable looking towns all around it. It was also a town that could get you in the right direction of the cable cars that take you high above the clouds.
Interlaken was quite adorable, but it really all is in Switzerland. We went and picked up some tourist information, then stopped for coffee to evaluate the day. This is pretty much how we do it. It was nice and sunny and what few clouds were around were clearing. We’d found 40% off coupons in the hostel for one of the trips up the Schilthorn, which is not the highest you can go, but it was the most “reasonably” priced.
After coffee we stopped in a souvenir shop and finally committed to buying Swiss Army knives, we were very excited about this. From there we walked back to the train which would take us to Laterbrunnen, where we could catch a bus to Schtelberg, which would take us to the base of the series of 4 cable cars.. gondolas (?), that would take us up to the Schilthorn (also known as one of the shooting locations of the Bond movie On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and boy did they milk that connection). With our Eurail passes we got a discount on the train and bus so it was only 19sf, and with the 40% off discount the cable cars up was about 68sf. So it is an expensive activity but it was kind of like, can you really be here and not go up one? There is another one that I think takes you to a higher peak, Jungfrau, but it was way more expensive. This was our compromise.
So we boarded the cable car, then switched at 3 different locations. The first two stops on the way up are little villages, Grimmewald and Murren, then the third stop is a ski chalet or lodge like place, and the last one is Schilthorn, which sits at 10,000ft above sea level. We were really lucky because it was sunny and clear the whole way up and for most of our time when we were outside. It was a chilly -9C, but the sun was really warm so it was really only your fingers and toes that got cold.
After a while a cloud moved in so we went into the (revolving) restaurant for a beer to see if it would pass. It didn’t really pass but when we decided to head back down it had lifted a bit. The view was crazy! It was amazing. There were many times going up towards the mountains that I said it reminded me so much of home; high snowy peaks, tree covered hills, mountain streams, but these mountains are so huge. So wild, and they go forever – forever in a huge sort of way. It was really great.
On the trip down we stopped at the ski lodge place for a few more pictures, then at Murren for a walk around. It was pretty abandoned, but there were lots of skiers on the hills.
We made it all the way down, boarded an over packed bus and headed back to Lauterbrunnen, finally get on a train to Bern with the intention to stop at Thun to take a gander at Thun Lake, but it was getting late 7:30p and we were exhausted.
We basically went back to the hostel, made and ate dinner, did some planning, a bit of packing and went to bed. We’d be leaving beautiful but expensive for Austria in the morning. How thrilling. Breakfast in Zurich, lunch in Innsbruck, but more about that later.
Friday, April 15, 2011
Sunday morning I woke up with every desire to leave the hot, dirty hostel as soon as possible, but I had until 7:30 before I could get on the train to Bern Switzerland I didn’t want to be out all day. I “enjoyed” a free breakfast at the hostel – it was this pre-toasted bread bits, kinda like malbotoast, with strawberry jam, and coffee out of a juice cup. The things of magic. Well hey, I didn’t have to pay for it so it wasn’t that bad.
I checked my luggage into the luggage room at the hostel because I did some researching and found out that the train station I would be departing from did not in fact have a luggage check, or lockers. This was also the path of least resistance.
I headed out of the hostel around 11:30 and headed straight in one direction, I was headed to the Barcelona Aquarium! I was so excited about this. I kind of felt like a dork going to the aquarium all by myself but I don’t really care. I walked in the summer sun, sat on the pier, before crossing the famous pedestrian bridge to get to the aquarium.
The aquarium did not disappoint and although there were many families with small kids there were equal amount of people my age and older taking in the fun. They had all sorts of things. It was hilarious to watch the little kids up against the glass screaming every time a shark would swim by. It was also hugely entertaining to stand by the tank that had clown fish in it and hear all the little kids yelling “NEMO!! NEMO!” in their various accents.
The aquarium also had a tunnel aquarium. It was really neat. I loved it. Sharks, sting rays, other giant fish that if I saw swimming by me in nature I would be scared. Haha. They also had another area where they had penguins. I loved it. I loved it a lot.
I left and enjoyed a hot dog on the steps outside; from there I walked to the beach. Figured I should enjoy some sitting in the sun before I leave. The walk to the beach was long but nice. It definitely wasn’t as warm on Sunday as it had been, previously standing in the sun had me sweating, that kind of heat. This was just a nice warm summer day.
I sat on the edge of the sidewalk and the sand for some time before this Spanish guy sat down to talk to me, which was fine until he started asking me if I ever dated Spanish guys, he then informed me he dated many American girls because he liked how they were different. His lack of English skills proved otherwise. I told him it was 3pm and I was due to meet my mother. Ugh.
I walked back towards the hostel. For some reason, my upcoming journey that evening had me thinking that going too far would be a bad idea. I walked around a bit more, eventually finding an internet café, at which time I updated this here blog, so you are familiar with that. After I left I walked to the Hard Rock Café because as silly as that place is it always has a way of drawing me in. I also liked the idea of having a good meal before I got on an overnight train that went over my dinnertime.
From there I walked to Starbucks because once you’ve given in once, it is so much easier to do it again and lets be honest, Grande Lattes from Starbucks are fabulous and I can milk one of those for hours. It is so hard to find a proper, large coffee anywhere in Europe. Also the thought of checking my phone on the web before I departed pleased me.
From there I went and grabbed my stuff from my hostel, changed my clothes and made my way to the train station to board my 13 hour train from Barcelona to Bern.
I was quite pleased with the seats on the train that I got, well I was pleased until I actually tried to sleep on it. They give you lots of room and they do recline fairly far back but they do so in a way that makes you feel like you are sliding off the chair the whole time.
I’d like to say the ride was uneventful but we were stopped by customs and boarder control not once, or twice, but three times. The first time I was woken up by the French police shining their flashlight in my eyes asking me for my passport. Everything was fine with me, obviously, no problem letting a young, female Canadian, into your country, but as for the Nigerian men without passports, well that was a different story. They were questioned, one man was even taken off the train and not allowed to continue. Then when we were leaving France they were back on the train, this time questioning another Nigerian man, I’m pretty sure he was escorted off the train.
Lastly, and certainly most notably, was the Swiss boarder control. I got smiles and welcomes when they found out I was from Canada, but the Nigerian woman traveling with her two young children were not so lucky. In a search that made my train an hour late, there was a drug sniffing dog, drug tests, luggage was searched, and finally the lady was taken off the train. It was wild. Well not really that wild, but it was kind of strange. Don’t really know why she was taken off as they were speaking French the whole time.
Anyways I arrived in Bern an hour late.
April 11, Bern
By the time I arrived it was about 10:00. I phoned Tess and she met me at the station, she’d taken an overnight train from Groningen and arrived at 8:00. It was nice to see a familiar face and know that traveling would once again be a combined effort.
To say I wanted a shower would be such an understatement, however we weren’t allowed to check into the hostel until 3pm – so late! So we went and dropped our bags off and did our tour of Bern for the day. But to reiterate, I felt so foul still wearing yesterdays clothes and having not washed m y face, ugh, I shudder to think.
Bern is the capital of Switzerland, but you wouldn’t know it from the atmosphere on the streets in the city centre area. It feels like a cosy little town, and looks exactly how you would expect Switzerland would look. Loved it. The sun was shining and it was supposed to be the nicest weather we would have for the week so we thought we should take advantage of it. We started with a walk by the river. Bern has huge hills with huge, tall bridges, it looks very majestic.
We walked by the Einstein museum, around the old town area, the cathedral, parliament, town hall, we had lunch in a park overlooking the river. Oh the river. The water in the rivers in Switzerland are so clear and blue they look like candy, or fake, or like someone has thrown in tons of crystal blue colouring. It is wonderful. The river in Bern flows so very quickly. I guess it is a thing to do to float down it, and although we considered it, it just wasn’t warm enough outside to allow for such a hilarious event.
We skipped the bear park, in favour of the tourist office to get some ideas about what we should be doing for the rest of our days here. We took our tons of pamphlets to a garden to read through, the sun was beating down on us. So nice. We wandered around the streets a little further, heading to the shopping area where I bought my new Swatch watch I’ve had my eye on. I mean, why not buy it there right?
One thing about Switzerland is that it is outrageously expensive. And I mean, we’d heard this and we were all “ya, ya, everywhere is expensive,” but, no, it really is expensive. They use the Swiss Franc, which is almost at par with the Canadian dollar, but prices are much higher than they would be at home. For example, we went into Starbucks to do a price comparison and a Venti Latte was 7.70sf. What?! Yes, and their food, to eat out is outrageous! As in, you cannot find a dish under 20sf.
We finally made it to the hostel around 5 or 6, showered (!!best ever!!), unpacked a bit, and finally set out to find something to eat around 7pm. Unfortunately for us, all the grocery stores close at 7 and there is quite literally no where cheap to eat. I understand that your average meal at McDonalds there was around 11sf.
We did the best we could to find cheap food but it came down to us splitting a pizza and a bowl of pasta (without drinks) which totalled just under 40sf. At least both dishes were delicious and very filling. Clearly we could not do that again. After dinner we did some planning for the next day but exhaustion set in and we needed bed, which we got to rather early.
As an aside, I was totally expecting much more French here, but it is mostly German with some French thrown in. huh.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Alright! I’ve got some time right now, well not exactly “right now,” I wrote this on the train from Zurich to Innsbruck, about 3.5hrs worth of train, and I’ve got Tess’ MacAir, so light! I wish my MacBook was soo light.
Anyways, I’ll try not to cover too much because I’m sure you wouldn’t read it if I did.
April 7, Lagos, Lisbon, Barcelona
So as I mentioned earlier, we had to get up early to catch an early train, in fact we were up early enough that we were checking out of the hotel before the sun came up. The train was leaving the station at 6am, which meant that with walking time considered we were set to leave the hotel around 5:30am. So early. It was quite funny because the receptionist (concierge?) at the hotel said it was crazy for us to walk so he decided it best if he drove us in his personal car, even though he wasn’t supposed to leave hotel grounds while at work. It was so nice.
So we caught the 6am train from Lagos to Tunes and caught a high speed train from Tunes to Lisbon. It was pretty neat, at one time the train was up to 220km/hr. I don’t really know if that classifies as a high speed train, but I thought it was pretty fast. The train wizzed through the winding hills of the southern end of Portugal until we arrived in Hot Lisbon around 10am. We were set to catch a hop on hop off tour bus in an attempt to see the most of Lisbon as we could in our short amount of time (we were flying to Barcelona at 6:20pm).
Unfortunately, with slow buses, not running on time, stopping for a long time, us unable to find the stations, etc. we didn’t really get to see that much of Lisbon. We ended up only being able to ride one bus line and seeing the city from there. We did stop for a nice lunch in downtown Lisbon under some shady umbrellas. It was too bad because the info on the website made it sound like we were able to stop at the airport to drop our bags off before doing the tour but we were misinformed and ended up carrying our heavy backpacks around all day. The only good thing, besides getting a taste of the city was being in the hot hot sun. It was almost too much, but it was nice to feel some summer weather. It must have been near 30C in the sun.
We ended up asking if the bus driver would drop us by the airport on the way by it and we were lucky enough that he agreed. So we rode the rest of the bus line we were on and when he got near to the airport he pulled over and let us get out getting us to check-in right on time! We were (or at least I was) so sweaty from sitting at the top of the double decker bus in the sun then trekking with my bag. I was glad to have it taken care of. Naturally we searched out beer as a reward for such a ridiculous day.
We flew from there to Barcelona, caught a cab to our hotel, and relaxed. We didn’t get in to Barcelona until after 10. The fight was delayed due to busy airspace over Barca. Fortunately for us, it was a very clear night so when we came into the city we were treated to a great night time view of the lights. Oddly enough, Mom booked our hotel knowing that the high school Europe trip (that I went on in grade 12) would be staying at the same place. As such we had a little visit with the teachers whom I came with on my first trip to Europe. Kinda cool.
April 8, Barcelona
We started the day off at a reasonable hour, ate a delicious hotel breakfast, and set out into the blue skied, warm weathered Barcelona. We found the start of our hop on hop off tour and started our long, busy (but good) day in Barcelona. We made the traditional stops at Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell, Pl. Cataluyna, went for a stroll down La Rambla (the main shopping street totally 1km long), walked through the gothic quarter, saw the gothic Cathedral, and all this before we boarded the bus for the other line we got to see so many different things you could do in Barcelona.
By the time we were on the second bus we were quite exhausted and didn’t do any hopping off, but we got to see things like the statue of Christopher Columbus, the aquarium, the Olympic park, Barcelona FC stadium, and so, so, so much more. I really think that you could never get bored in Barcelona. Every single scene is wonderfully beautiful and a huge beach abuts all that, well 7 beaches to be exact. It is a city that you could spend a week in and never do the same thing, you could take in the beach, history, modern art, sports, and well I could just gush on but to summarize, everyone should go to Barcelona.
So we did a long day of that, riding busses, sitting in the sun. We switched buses once again to the line that takes us closer to our hotel, which conveniently is about 3 blocks from one of the beaches. The bus dropped us off on the beach so we decided to take a little gander. Because we’d been in the sun all day and it had mostly set we were freezing so we didn’t actually stay on the beach much but it was kind of dirty. Well not dirty like with garbage on it, but the sand seemed more like dirty and it left your feet all dusty. Gross.
We stopped at MacDime for some coffees – which to order you went up to a computer screen, put in your order, paid for it, then waited for it to be called at the till. Kinda crazy.
We went back to the hotel and I showered to warm up and to get the days dirt off of me. We went down to the hotel restaurant for Mom’s last supper in Europe as she’d be leaving the next afternoon. It was really nice because the restaurant was totally empty, but for us. We both had veal steaks and they were good. Not much else to do at that point but go to bed and get ready for the next day. Mom was set to fly out and I was moving to a hostel in the city centre.
April 9, Barcelona
Saturday morning came and it saw us get up, pack our bags, eat lunch, check out (leaving our bags in the luggage room), and head down to the beach. We had such lovely weather, although from what I gather, that is just a property of Barcelona. It is simply sunny and hot there. We spent a few hours walking up and down the already packed beaches, stopping to soak up the sun and enjoy the view of all the boats in the water and the people on the beaches. It was quite lovely. We walked back to the hotel and a cab came to take Mom to the airport at 1pm for a 3:30 flight.
After Mom left I had to find my hostel for the night. This involved a metro and me walking up and down the street a few times near La Rambla to find the actual location. It really was ideally located but kinda dirty and grungy. It was definitely not the best hostel I’ve ever been to, but the internet was free.
I went to book my overnight train for the next night – hoping to book a sleeper train. When I got to the station and found out a sleeper car in the train would be almost 80 euros and a chochette (recliner chair in a shared cabin was only only about 50 euros). Naturally I booked the chair. How bad can it be really? From there I was pretty tired of walking around and running around touring so I decided to try and find an internet café or something equally as chill. I also wanted to avoid going back to the hostel if I didn’t need to.
Instead of the internet I found a little pizza place serving pizza for 2.90 – exactly the kind of meal a budget traveller looks for. It seems like pizza has become a staple of my budget life. I sat and updated my journal for quite some time until I felt the need to move and feeling the need for a taste of home, I moved to Starbucks. Lovely. I spent and equally long amount of time sitting in Starbucks writing, then realizing they would have free internet I sat there for another 45 minutes (the allotted free time they give their customers). This involved updating facebook and a skype phone call to my Dad.
After deciding I’d been there long enough I headed out to walk around the shopping of the gothic area – also known as, amazing shops with cute, unique goods. I wish I’d had money and room in my bag for more purchases. Instead I settled for two new necklaces. Good options, I thought. I walked around for quite a while before I made my way back to the hostel to change into some warmer clothes and I headed out again to go to the light show at the Magic Fountain of Montjuic.
The light show was from 7-9 and I got there at 8 and enjoyed it for a solid hour. The scene on each side of the fountain is majestic and wonderful. So lovely and the fountain, dancing in colour to music was just perfect. It was one of those moments that you just take it all in, kind of in awe of it all. The steps leading up to the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya were packed. I am so glad I had time to see it.
I went back to the hostel shortly after 9 and made a few phone calls to the parents before heading to bed. The next day would have me in Barcelona until 7:30ish at which time I would catch the overnight train to Bern. In an effort to not overwhelm (bore) you, I’ll leave that post for a little later. Hopefully tomorrow I can do a few more days worth of updates.
Sorry if there were any sentences that seemed to not make sense I’ve been distracted by the beautiful (somewhat familiar) landscape this train is taking me through.