Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bicycle! Bicycle! I want to ride my bicycle!

It was cool and damp today in Groningen.

I've been meaning to do this for a while, but I figured I'd wait for a sunny day, which it most certainly was not today. And I should probably have held off, re-taped this and done a real good version but whatevs, you guys'll take what you can get right?

So I attached my camera to my bike and recorded my ride from home to class. Unfortunately because I wasn't holding it the picture is really bumpy. This is probably for the best though because otherwise it would have had to focus on the ground half the time anyways.

This ride takes me about 9mins. I cut a substantial amount out as to not bore you. That said, its still kind of long. Well anyways now you can see what I see everyday.

Tomorrow night is Queen's Night. This means it is a party the night before Queen's Day which is on Saturday. This is huge party in the city centres everywhere in the Netherlands to celebrate their monarchy and their national pride. Everyone dresses in orange and has a party. Sounds like fun. Amsterdam sounds like a mad house. I'll be sticking around here to hang out with the people I know in the city I know. Looking forward to it.

Otherwise I spent the day at school, in class, then writing part of a group paper that looks like it could be the group paper from hell. I don't say this because the group is no good, they seem fine, I say this because the assignment is ridiculous and is going to be a massive amount of work. Thinking I might not make it to Vienna and I'll have to head back straight from Prague. School ruins everything, well except my long term future, its doing pretty alright with that.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

three fifths. zero point six. sixty percent. three months.

As of today I've been here for exactly three months and I have exactly two months left. Crazy! I arrived on the 27th of January and I'll depart on the 27th of June. And seeing as it was the 27th of April I figured I'd take a day trip to Amsterdam. Well that wasn't really my motivation for going but it sounds good.

Tess has a friend who is living in Amsterdam, he arrived about a month ago and is going to school and working, she was headed down for a visit and asked if I wanted to tag along. It was nice because I've done enough of the touristy stuff in Amsterdam that this time we rented bikes and he showed us around more of the locals areas. It was fun to bike around the city, sit in a cafe with locals, and see his apartment with other Dutch students. It is so different than living in a student house full of internationals.

I didn't actually get to stay long because I needed to be back for class tonight at 7:15, which after a 2.5hr train ride and a mad rush from the train, I made just in time. It was nice to get out and see something other than the park in Groningen.

So, as previously mentioned, today marks three months here, which makes me realize how little time I have left. Today I also had the last of my Wednesday classes, the final is in two weeks. How crazy! Just as quickly as I started to feel like I was settled here am I starting to feel like I'm leaving. This is both good and bad. I miss a lot of things from home, but mostly I miss people from home. And I miss my home, and having a place of my own, and I miss quiet, it is never quiet here, except perhaps between the hours of 8 and 10am, if there wasn't a huge party the night before. That said, I know I'm going to miss all the travel, excitement, and not having to work. haha, its been a long time since I've been unemployed with so much free time on my hands. I mean even when I was unemployed in high school I was at sports practices/games every night.

I know it is going to be hard to get back into the routine of going to work every day but I'll manage.

I know that I won't miss; this student house. I had high expectations, I think because I had such an amazing experience in my first year of residence at the UofC; there may have been drama and everyone didn't get along with everyone but we all ended up quite close by the end of that year together and I made a solid group of life long friends, and by the end, it really felt like a cozy home. Here is most definitely different. It may be because there are so many students in one space, we all come from such different backgrounds that it is often difficult to find a common ground, there is often a language barrier, and so much more. Anyways, I have made a couple great friends here, but not many that I really feel that close to. Oh well, take it for what it is, a really dirty, expensive place to live. ha.

Earlier I said I was trying to edit a video I shot the other day but it sounded like I'd need to buy the upgraded version of my operating system in order to update my iMovie and I got too lazy to really figure it out so forgive me for uploading a totally unpolished film but below you can watch a tidbit of my ride to the lake the other day. Enjoy :)

Also, today the Calgary Folk Fest announced their entire lineup for this years fest and its looking pretty solid. I'm also excited about the fest because I signed up to volunteer, I might be working in the beer gardens or as part of the security team! I'm really excited about this.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Groningen Lately

I tried to upload a video I took the other day but I think it is too big so I decided to open up iMovie for the first time to fiddle with it and then upload it to YouTube so I could just link to it here but I couldn't edit the way I wanted to without all this other figuring out business but now that I have it in my head to do it, I want to do it right. So hopefully I can do that in the next few days and get it up here for you.

Happy - belated - Easter!

It hasn't really felt like Easter at all here, although at home I'm usually heavy into school and too busy to really enjoy it. Anyways, there's been no Easter chocolate, no big meal with family, etc, etc. Most people here are finishing up finals and have been in holiday mode. Not that I'm on holiday, but school isn't really heavy so I've been pretending I'm on holiday. I think it helps that the weather has been amazing all week. We've had mid 20s and probably higher everyday.

A couple days I went to the park and sat in the sun, a couple days we biked to the lake, about a 20 minute, 5km ride and hung out there for some time. Being Easter not much has been open.

On Friday there was a flower market in the city centre, then Sunday we went down for the regular market, and basically we've been hanging out in the sun for days. Today we actively tried to find another activity but with nothing open there was simply nothing else to do. We opted for the park, but this time I took my school readings so I did accomplish something.

Tomorrow we're headed for 1euro breakfast at Ikea before I - hopefully - get a bunch of school work done, I think I'll have a group meeting in the afternoon. Wednesday I'm thinking about going to Amsterdam for the day - because I can - and because Tess has a friend living there right now and she asked if I wanted to tag along.

Next week I get to see my cousin! in Berlin! and in Prague! Yay :)

I've been here for near 3 months (in a few days - but I'll be sure to let you know when that happens), which means that I only have 2 months left here. Crazy!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Groningen Lately

We've been having some amazing summer weather here in Groningen. This has been driving everyone outside into the sun. Having a paper due yesterday meant that a lot of my time was spent inside my very hot, very stuffy room writing and editing, but I did find some time to take in the sunshine.

Biking to the park I cross some of the main streets in the city centre. On Wednesday I came upon this scene, the major routes were lined with thousands of policemen and women. It turns out they were there to honour a fallen policeman who was shot the previous week while doing his job. Everyone was out of the stores to honour him. It was quite a site to see.

I got a phone call telling me to come to the park for wine and strawberries.
I didn't really put up a fight.

Seemed like everyone had the same idea.
The entire park was full.

This was not my doing alone.

Biking home.

Tess was happy to switch to the back of Robert's bike after almost
being thrown off a few times on Jack's.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

April 17 - 18: Last day in Salz and an overnight train

April 17th was a lovely day. It was really all things Austrian that I'd want to fit into one day. Well ideally I would have had a kasekrainer but my stomach simply would not allow for so much amazing food in one day.

We started the day at the hostel - checked out - went to the train station, booked our overnight train back into the Netherlands, locked up our bags and headed into the city.

This time we walked across the river and up onto a path that took you along the top of these cliffs that edge the city offering great views of the city and the surrounding mountains. It was a lovely sunny day so we could see very far. We walked all the way to the the Hohensalzburg Castle. It was a great walk. The entire city is green and the path took you through a green - rather untouched looking - forest area, and while you walk you go through city walls, see mountains, and other such historical wonders.

Coming up to the Castle - which is visible from almost every point in the city - was pretty spectacular. Its high on a hill and you walk up and up and up. The view was wonderful. I could have stayed there all day, and we almost did. It was really well set out with little museum installments throughout and a few great cafes. We were there for a few hours at least. We sat at one of the cafes to have some apple strudel - as you do in Austria - and coffee. It was great. We were at the edge of the castle wall overlooking rolling hills and high snow covered mountain peaks. I also got a fabulous sunglass sun burn so raccoon eyes have been haunting me since then.

On the way down we grabbed a couple giant pretzels - which seem to be something all the bakeries/markets have here. Well really they only have some giant pretzels, the rest are more like doughnut dough shaped like pretzels, or even more tempting doughnut pretzels dipped in chocolate. I think these places sole purpose is to fatten up tourists. Ridiculous!

We walked down from the castle and into the town meandering the streets. Being a Sunday not much was open. We did stop to buy a chocolate. You see there are these chocolates all over the place, from what we could tell it was a kind of truffle. So middle the centre is some sort of nut puree - well puree is the wrong word but I don't know how to explain it, it is soft like truffle but tastes like nuts, then surrounding that is chocolate flavoured truffle and that is all dipped in a chocolate coating. We went to the one that said it was the original - it looked pretty legit and also was priced like it was the original. It was delicious. There were, however, tons of other stores selling other variations of the chocolate all over. We were served a free one by a guy dressed up like Mozart.

Eventually we decided that we should head over to this brewery we'd heard about. It said it had traditional Austrian food and drink. We figured that'd be good. It was a bit of a walk but it was well worth it.

We came upon this brewery with a patio under many trees serving beer in cooled 1L or .5L clay steins. Naturally we went for the 1L, how could you not. It was heavy. Heavy enough that it was easier for me to drink it with two hands but hey, I'm a weakling.

Sitting under the trees with our giant beers we made friends with a guy from Salzburg. His English wasn't great but he could talk a lot about sports so it wasn't too bad. It is nice that Calgary had the Olympics in '88 because - although this doesn't help people my age - it means that most people actually know where it is. Well at least, when I say Calgary, the middle agers and up that I meet say "oh the olympics."

Eventually, from need of food and a bathroom we went inside to have a schnitzel. Not really sure what we were getting ourselves into we were both pleasantly surprised by the simple and tasty dish. We also started to notice that we were quite young for the crowd at the brewery. Seems like Austrian people our age didn't really think the brewery was that cool of a place to hang out. It was alright though, we made friends with some 60 something year old men at the next table. ha. Well really they tried to make friends. There were three of them but only one of them spoke any English and it wasn't very much.

It was entertaining because they just kept speaking German to us, giving us their food, and asking if we spoke Italian because they spoke perfect Italian. We figured out that one of them was a professor of economics and another had recently went on a Caribbean cruise. They served us their food and generally chatted at us while I laughed my head off at the oddity of it all. Wonderful.

We left the brewery for the city centre around 6:30 say to head back up the path we walked earlier in the day. We wanted to see the city with the sun shining on it instead of shining on us, this allowed for a few better pictures. Basically the rest of our time was wandering a little before realizing we needed to rush to catch the train back to Munich.

The train from Salzburg to Munich was great - I wish it had been a longer ride. We had our own compartment, most trains unless they are 1st class don't have compartments, and the seats reclined into an almost fully laying down state. We relaxed with an episode of True Blood - Tess is just getting into it.

We arrived in Munich with a little time to kill before getting on our overnight train to Utrecht where we would catch a train to Groningen.

The sleeper train was fine, better than the seat but I still didn't really like it. It was weird and not really comfortable. I woke up early because my back hurt and had to get up but then you don't really have a seat because you are only allotted a bed. So in this little compartment there are six beds stacked 3 and 3 with the top one being pretty high. It was alright but I prefer regular train riding. That said sleeping through the night makes the 13hrs spent on trains pass considerably faster and you get to wake up in a different country.

The next morning we met the German and Japanese guys who was in our compartment with us. The German guy tested solar bikes and cars in Australia every year for a few months. He seemed like quite a character.

We got back into Groningen late due to the train from Munich being slow and train troubles in the Netherlands. Basically I showered, got groceries, and worked on my two papers that were due today. Glad those are out of the way.

Recently we've been having some pretty amazing weather, mid 20s everyday and the heat sticks around all day. It is still nice and warm at 9pm every night. Makes staying inside to write papers a real punishment - well it is worse because my room faces the afternoon sun so it becomes a stuffy sauna. I tried to buy a cheap fan today but seemingly WalMart prices/products aren't really a thing here and the cheapest one I could find was 20euros.

This weekend I'm sticking around here. I think we're going to hang out in the city to see what it is like when it is nice and then some of us were thinking about biking to a lake that is near by on Sunday. This weekend is also Easter so I don't know if there'll be much going on downtown or not. Next weekend is Queen's Day - a celebration of the Queen's birthday, and then I'm going to meet my cousin to tour Berlin and Prague, then I'll be doing Vienna by myself for a few days before I head back to write a final for one of my classes.

Also - just put a bunch of pictures on fb so check there if you'd like to see what I'm talking about.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Portugal According to Hipstamatic

April 14 - 16: Innsbruck, Salzburg, Misadventure, and other Generally Scenic Locations; Austria

April 14: Bern to Innsbruck to Salzburg

We were up early so we could catch a train. We were headed from Switzerland into Austria. We decided, to break up the near 6 hour trek to stop off in Innsbruck, former host of the Olympics and generally cute Austrian town, for lunch.

This would be when I was writing my blog update, I think I mentioned I wrote some of them on trains. Well this was then.

We were on the train from Bern to Innsbruck via Zurich from about 9:30-2:00pm. We got off the train, stowed our bags, and were glad to see the sun. The 4.5 hours spent on the train had been gorgeous. I think it would really be the best way to see the countryside. You could just stare out the window the whole way. Anyways, back to Innsbruck; it was sunny when we arrived, we sat outside at a little restaurant and had frankfurters - which weren't all that amazing - before walking around the picturesque town. Unfortunately the sun went away and the wind came up, it got cold, and we were tired. I think we lasted about 2 hours before we got back on the train to go to Salzburg. This was another 2hours.

We arrived in Salzburg, found our hostel (likely the best hostel I've ever stayed in), had dinner, did some homework, and hung out for a while. As you may or may not know Salzburg is the setting of The Sound of Music and was shot in and around the city. As such, we thought it fitting to do some research, read: watch the movie. I'd seen it before so no need to worry, we just wanted to be able to recognize things in the city while walking around.

Before we packed it in for bed we met the people staying in our room. A couple teams from a university fund raiser where they hitchhike to different cities around Europe in 10 days to raise money for various charities. Sounds like fun but it also sounds exhausting.

April 15: Salzburg to Wӧrgl to Radfeld to Kundl to Wӧrgl to Salzburg and everywhere in between

We had big plans for the day. Plans I choose not to reveal. But basically we had to find this place so we could do this thing, we thought it'd be awesome. It involved getting a train to a small town and then a bus to a smaller town and then walking through a field. This all sounds very suspect but it seemed reasonable to us. Unfortunately we missed the place we were looking for, as their signage was seriously lacking and the building we thought could be what we were looking for looked too run down.. anyways. The day involved us walking through a field for 8km until we came across the next "even smaller" town. It is good that Austria is such a lovely place to look at because this could have seemed like a disaster. Instead we just accepted it as being able to see the 'real' Austria.

Once arriving at the 'even smaller' second town we caught a train back to Worgl, which was the first town we arrived at. From there we got on the first train that we saw was heading back to Salzburg. Usually, this is a sure fire way to do things. Usually, you don't need to go and ask if you are getting on the right train.

To put into perspective what I'm about to tell you, when we went from Salzburg to Worgl the train ride was just under 1hr. The train we got on at Worgl took almost 4 hours to arrive in Salzburg. We didn't have any food, and we hadn't eaten since breakfast. ha. The situation seemed dire. Well, we didn't really realize how long the train would be until we looked at the map of the stops after about 2 hours and realized we still had soo far to go. The good news about trains of this nature is they take you on wonderfully picturesque winding tracks through mountains, beside rivers, into tunnels, beside villages, etc. that you don't get to see when you take faster, more direct trains. We even, unknowingly saw the castle that was in the background of The Sound of Music during the do-ray-me song. It was awesome, and in the end, very funny and worth it.

We arrived back at the hostel at 7pm realizing that we hadn't in fact done anything that day. We rewarded ourselves with very large beers, pizza, and hamburgers before heading off to bed.

April 16: "Lakes and Mountains," Salzburg

Saturday morning we sat down to do some homework before heading into the city for a quick spin through some of the sights before our guided tour in the afternoon.

Salzburg is breathtaking. It is really gorgeous. It is surrounded by high snow covered peaks in the distance, has a clear greenish blue river running through it, is chalk full of adorable shops, and inspiring architecture, in addition to having huge rolling green hills and cliff faces, AND one of those rolling hills has a 900 year old castle sitting on top of it. It is a postcard.

So we walked round this postcard looking city and one of the first places we stumbled upon was the steps from do-ray-me of The Sound of Music and the green archway they run through. We just meandered around until we had to be back at the hostel around 1:30 to be picked up for our tour. There was a market going on in the 'old city' area, a lot of Easter decorations were out, I bought some salt - Salzburg literally translates to Salt Castle as there are huge salt deposits that they mine.

Although the official 'The Sound of Music Tour" is the biggest of the tours offered we opted for a more scenic option of the "Lakes and Mountains" tour, which was a 4 hr guided tour of the Salkammergut region, an area near Salzburg full of beautiful lakes and mountains and villages. There were some wonderful little towns we got to stop in. I think it would be the perfect location for a summer home, right on the lake, you could waterski, it is gorgeous. We stopped in a few places Fuschl, St.Wolfgang, St.Gilgen, Krottensee, and Mondee - well we didn't stop in all those places. One of those places was where Mozart's mother was born, because he grew up in Salzburg so there is all sorts of stuff about him there too.

We also swung by the church that Maria gets married in in the movie. And we saw the headquarters for Red Bull, because it was an Austrian man who invented it. They also have Red Bull Cola in Austria but I don't know what it is or how it differs from regular Red Bull. I don't really know much about the product.

Anyways, the tour was really good, but quite cold. The countryside is simply breathtaking. Easily the most beautiful country I have ever seen.

When we got back from the tour I crawled into bed in hopes of warming up, ha, and I needed some motivation to get back out into town. We figured we hadn't really had that much of a chance to see the city - which was supposed to be awesome (it was! so much to see & do - salt mines, castles, ice caves, etc!) - so we wanted to get some in that evening.

We basically just wandered around town, we found some more Sound of Music scenes, I bought a painted egg, and we tried a Kӓsekrainer from a sausage stand, which was served like a hot dog - they can also be served with just a bun beside it and mustard on the side. Well let me tell you about how delicious it was! It is a sausage that is infused with cheese and covered with ketchup and mustard (fancy stuff, not basic yellow) and served in a toasted bun. It was sooo good. haha.

As the sun set we headed back to the hostel to get some rest, we'd have a big day Sunday. Far too big for me to include in this post. Almost caught up though!

You should all go to Austria, immediately.

My Bookshelf

One Day by David Nicholls was not a book I'd heard about before I purchased it. I was on - where one living in the Netherlands has to order their English books from - and it kept popping up in the 'things you might like' or whatever that category was. It had lots of great reviews, so I bought it.

I finished this on the train, somewhere between Switzerland and Austria. Sadly, I have to say, I was a little disappointed. I'm not sure if I was too young for it, or if it was too British for me, but I wasn't enthralled by it. Don't get me wrong, it is an interesting story told in an interesting way, following two people over the course of say 20ish years and where they are every year on a specific day, how their lives are interrelated, how they change, love, heartache, death, etc., this book has got it all. And in that sense it was enjoyable. I think that I just found it a little lackluster.

I've heard they are making a movie out of it, so maybe that'll be good. I think I'm just kind of on the fence about it, didn't really love it nor did I hate it. Good summer read though. Nothing too complex and it was easy to relate to the characters. Maybe you just need to have a few more years on you to appreciate the changes of life.

It is a really big hit in Britain right now, have you read it? What did you think?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

April 12 – 13; Lucerne (Luzern), Interlaken, Schilthorn; Switzerland

April 12, Lucerne

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

April 10 - 11, Barcelona; Spain to Bern; Switzerland

April 10, Barcelona, overnight train to Bern

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

April 7 – 9 Lagos, Lisbon; Portugal; Barcelona; Spain

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.