Monday, December 10, 2007

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Egypt Euro Trip Slide Show

Frankfurt to Chicago

Once again I have waited 3 weeks to update my blog. Dont worry though, the places I went too were only Prague, Budapest, Vienna, Rome, Florence, Cinque Terra, Gimmelwald, Grindelwald, and Interlaken!

Today I am flying home to Chicago and diving right into major culture shock in my own country. I am excited to finally be coming home, I am ready to see my family, friends, and Calvin, my dog. My trip in Europe has been such a learning experience. I have gone through 3 months of being with people that have completly opposite views as me and came out understanding their point of view better, but have also grown stronger and confident in my beliefs.

There should be a big update in a few days of the last few destinations of my trip, my thoughts during the trip, and the transition back in to American culture.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Final Destinations: Gimmelwald, Interlaken, Grindelwald, and Frankfurt

The train ride from Cinque Terra included many interchanges and about 11 hours of traveling. I finally arrived at Gimmelwald at about 6pm. I was a little nervous that the hostel was shut down since there were not many lights on, but fortuently they were not. When I got in to the hostel a guy named Brian was there that was there last time I was there, I also met a guy named Dan from Minnesota.

My plan for this couple of days was to do nothing except eat, play pool, and chill with the other hostelers. I had brought up a lot of food from Interlaken, so I was set for a couple of days. The first two days I spent read books and talking to Dan and Brian. Later on a group of 7 guys from Westmont in California came up to the Mountain Hostel. They wanted to do a hike to the ice caves, they wanted me to come since I had done it before. I decided to go, it took us about 2 hours to get there. It was a lot more challenging than the time before because of all of the snow covering the trail. At one point we were following the stream and jumping from rock to rock above the water. I decided to get to the other side, when I jump I landed on a pile of snow I thought was a rock and splashed down into the water. I tried to get out immediately, but I could not get any grip. It kind of looked like I was on an exercise machine where you pump your legs and arms, but don't go anywhere. I thought for a little while that I would have to go back to the hostel to dry my feet, but I had good socks on that kept my feet warm even though my feet were wet. My time in Gimmelwald was probably my favorite place in Europe. I loved the beauty of the outdoors, the relaxed feeling, and the people I met there.

I would have stayed at the Mountain Hostel the rest of my trip, but they were closing down for the season, so I headed to Grindelwald. I thought Grindelwald would be great. I had read that they had a 15 km sledding course and some great places to go skiing. I figured there would be some places to ski because people were skiing in a town next to Gimmelwald named Murren, but there was not snow there yet. That was quite frustrating because the hostel was $42 and there was nothing there that I wanted to do. Since I didn't get to go skiing I met a German and we went to the local gym and went swimming and afterwards watched the girls skate at the ice rink in the same building. I wasn't going to stay here more than one night since there was nothing to do, so I headed to Interlaken the next day.

In Interlaken I bought a few Christmas presents for my family, which I cannot disclose yet since is has not come yet, but I think they were pretty good ideas. When I got there I ran in to an Australian that I had met before in Florence. He was a fun guy full of energy. It seemed like everyone was in the same mood because we all ended up watching 3 movies in one day. We watched Blazing Saddles, Snatch, and V for Vendetta. After one day in Interlaken I headed up to Frankfurt.

In Frankfurt I was planning to stay at the Stay and Learn, but they were filled, so I ended up at one that was about a 45 minute walk away. I was frustrated at first, but in the end it was worth it. The hostel had a great dinner for only 5 euros. The next morning I walked to train station and caught a train to the airport. I bought a few magazines and was headed back to the US.

Rome, Florence, Cinque Terra

When I got on the train to Rome I met a few girls from the east coast. They were studying in Amsterdam for the semester. I was in a different couchette, but stayed in theirs for a while to play cards and exchange traveling stories. I didn't get to see them in the morning since get got off at Florence and I was still asleep.

In Rome I stayed at the Hostel Beautiful #2. It had great reviews online, but turned out to be a little over rated. I didn't stay there long I soon headed to see the sites. I first went to the Collosium. It was big, but not as big as I thought it would. I guess maybe because I was comparing it to the Auburn Collosium which holds almost 90,000 people. Also I thought that the entire thing was made out of stone, but a lot of it is made out of brick. When I was getting ready to leave two guys approached me and told me they were staying at the same hostel as me. One was from Poland and the other was from California. We stayed at the Collosium for a little bit long and then headed to see some other sights. Only about 300 yards from the Collosium there was a site of Ancient Roman buildings that were almost completely collapsed, but still very interesting. We then headed up to modern area and decided to get some lunch. We were looking for a traditional Italian place, but could not find a good one and ended up settling for a fast food pizza place. It was decent food, but not special. Later on we were walking around and ran in to the Trevi fountain that was incredible and one of my favorite sites on this trip. At teh base there is a giant pool that catches the water and above there are marble cliffs where the giant men and women are resting in front of a Roman building.

The next day the guy from California, a Canadian named Lisa, and me headed to the Sistine Chapel which had to be entered through the Vatican Museum. Lisa could not go in since she had ran out of time and had to catch her train. When we got in we had to go through many halls of artwork and Roman history before we got to the actual chapel. When we finally got there it was incredible, though I wish there was more light in it to show the beauty better. You could see all of the different stories from the Bible including the creation, resurrection, and the heavens. After this we headed back to the Trevi fountain to hang out. California wanted to sit near the fountain and journal I just chilled out and read from Lord of the Rings.

The food in Italy was not as good as I had expected it to be. I was expecting to have the best food that ever have. I am not sure that I got a good perspective of what Italian food really is though, since I was in the tourist area and never really ventured into true Italian culture. California, Lisa, and I did go to an Italian restaurant that was highly recommended and quite expensive, but even there we were still disappointed. I thought that I had better Italian food at Maggiano's.

The next day I was off to Florence. I stayed at a hostel called the Archi Rossi. It was a nice place expect seemed a little strict, every time you entered you had to show you had your room key. The first place I went to was the Statue of David. It was impressive much larger than I had expected. I never thought that I would be that interested in it, but the size, detail and life likeness were incredible. Later on back at the hostel I found a guy and a couple of girls from Australia. We ended up going to a bar that served a drink and buffett for only 9 euros. The next day I headed out for a walk and ran into a marathon, I ended up watching the top runners come in. It was a lot smaller than the ones like Chicago, Boston, or New York. I only stayed in Florence for a day and then headed to Cinque Terra.

I headed to Cinque Terra with a guy I had met in Florence from Colorado. On the way there we had a stop over at Pisa. We only had an hour before our next train left, so we made a quick trip to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We only had a few minutes there, since it was about 20 minutes away and almost missed our train because it took longer than expected to get back. We finally made it to Cinque Terra. I got the idea to go there from a friend from Portland. Cinque Terra is a series of 5 coastal villages that are strung along high trip covered coastal cliffs. There really isn't a good way to describe this place, it was really beautiful. The buildings were all colored pastels and you could see almost every one when you were near the water because the steep incline they are on. There wasn't much to do at this place but do hikes and watch the sunset. The morning of the next day I did a hike from the first village all the way down to the last one. This took about 4 hours, and consisted of winding trails along cliffs that overlooked the ocean. The best places were high on these mountains because you could look out along the ocean and see all of the villages, the ocean, small islands, and green mountains. Besides hiking we just would cook dinner and get some beer from the local store and hang out.

After Cinque Terra I headed back to Gimmelwald Switzerland to relax for a while before going back to the States.

Frankfrut, Prague, Budapest, Vienna

After a few days of relaxing in Frankfurt I headed to Prague for some Pilsner Urquell and a Mozart concert.

Prague was great, though I wish people had not told me much about it before I went. Everyone told me how great it was, so I ended building an image of the city before I got there. Most of the information I had been told about it was the flowing cheap beer, the old city with the high castle walls, and the excited and lively environment. When I got there the beer was very cheap, beautiful city layout and buildings, and great people at the hostels, though different from my imagination.
The night I got into Prague, Praha in Czech, I took a walk around the city to get a quick overview of it. I saw some of the major cathedrals, the castle, and the main tourist sites.
The next day I decided to do a free tour of the city, which actually means you tip the guide at the end of the tour. The guide was well informed though very monotone. I think her boring tone was due to the eastern European culture versus a bored life. She took us to main clock in the city square, which is similar to a cucu clock (spelling?) with little wooden men coming out of the doors and other men dancing. We didn't get to see it though, since the time that this happens is sparatic because it was made while they thought the earth was flat and the center of the universe, so they did not use hours. We ended the tour at the communist museum, where she talked a lot about the communist regime, which was scary about the terror that went on.
During the tour I had met some people from the US, Canada, and Australia, so afterwards we got a traditional Czech meal and then went to the castle on the other side of the river. The castle was great, but we all had a hard time enjoying it since, it was raining and cold outside. Afterwards, some of us then headed to the communist museum, which turned out to be closed for only this one night. Instead we met back up with the full group and headed to a pub on the outskirts of the city because we would find cheaper beer and food. It was a quite interesting place that we found because the paintings on the walls were a combination of explicit sexual situations and horor scenes. It was cheap though and we had a good time laughing at the difficulty of ordering food in English to a Czech speaking waiter. After this I headed back to the hostel for some sleep.
The next morning I met the group from the day before at the train station to go to the bone cathedral about 75 km outside of the city. The cathedral was very interesting. It had originally been a normal cathedral, but after the black plague they were running out of places to bury people because there were so many bones in the ground. One of the monks or priests started to make artwork out of the bones and eventually made 6 giant piles of bones. The total number of people used came too about 40,000. I thought it was interesting to think about how these were all living people at one point and how they probably had pets and children and spoke just the way that I do. I expressed part of this thought to the group expecting a response of interest, but received more of a response of that I had grim and morbid thoughts. After the bone museum we went to a local pub restraunt for lunch, which was very cheap about $8. Soon we were headed back to downtown Prague.
I had expressed interest in going to a Mozart concert, two other people in the group decided to come. I thought it was a little inappropriate to go to such a cultured event in jeans and ragged unwashed shirt, but it turned out that most of the people were tourists and were just as poorly dressed as I was. This was great the players consisted of 5 violinists, 1 bass, and 1 smaller version of the chello. The music they played was a variety of Mozart, Bach, and I think Verdi. I enjoyed this concert and would be interested in attending another probably one composed by Beethoven.
In the evening we went to a pub for a few beers and a small dinner. Little occurred here except good conversation and fun times.
The next day I was heading to Budapest at 11:30, but missed my train by only 1 minute, so I had to wait until 4:30 for the next train. I decided to walk around Prague a little more to get some energy out before a long train ride. I didn't see much on this walk and had a hard time finding a bathroom, but I did have a good salad at the local pizza place with a Stella Artois.
At this point I was in Budapest (11/16-18/2007) and planning on going to their famous bath houses and their other major sites. The night I got there was a little frustrating, no money, bad map, and in an eastern European city. I got off the train and needed to find a cash machine to get money to pay for the hostel. I assumed that there would be one right in the train station, but that turned out to be untrue. There was a main street that looked like it would be a good place to find money, the first ATM that I came too was out of order. Luckily, right down the road there was another one where I was able to get plenty of Hungarian Forints. I then stared heading to the hostel.

A girl I met in Prague could not stop talking about a hostel called the Loft, so I really wanted to stay at this location, but they turned out to be full. I ended up at a hostel that I can no longer recall the name of, but it worked out well. A kind man ran the place and I think he just turned his apartment into a hostel. Even though this was not a typical hostel the man's hospitality made up for it.

The day after I arrived I slept in late until about 11 and then checked my email for a little while and then headed on a walk. I did a couple hour walk which lead me to the river, where the major buildings are, I saw the Parliament building, a cathedral, and a few other important buildings. I was quite tired during this walk, I think from all the traveling I had been doing the past 2 months, so I decided to take a break at a local restaurant. It was a really interesting place. They specialized in pancakes, but not like the ones in the US, they were more like crepes, but they could be either salty or sweet. I ended up ordering one that was filled with broccoli, cream sauce, and chicken, along with onion soup, and a diet Coke. This place was especially interesting, since you could go to the second level which overlooked the river where all the governmental buildings were located. After I finished eating I sat around for a while just thinking about things I would like to do in life and business ideas I would like to pursue.

When I left I started heading to the famous Budapest bath houses. I was moving at a tired pace and the walk passed the hostel, which I had to resist the temptation of going to. Fortuently I choose to live life to the fullest and head to the baths. When I got to the baths I bought a pretzel, which looked delicious, but turned out to be pretty weak. I paid 2400 Forints for the baths, I think that is about $16. After I changed to my swim suit I walked to the 3 baths which each were the size of a common lap pool. They kind of looked like a cup of hot water because there was so much steam coming off the them, they use thermal hot springs to heat the pools, so they are warm year round. It was a little awkward at first because I was by myself and there were hundreds of people which also included many couples committing pda. When I switched pools I met an Australian couple, that turned out to be fun. I only hung out with them for a little while and then headed back to the hostel.

The next day I was invited to go to a flea market with a few people. It was a long walk, but I was hoping it would be worth it. When we finally got there it was a big let down. Almost immediately it started raining and like American flea markets everything was crap. At least because of the rain the other people I went there with also wanted to leave, so I did not have to stay long. In the evening I walked over to the hostel that a girl had recommended to me earlier to make a reservation and see what was going on. I heard it had a got social scene, but was a little let down.

Next, I was off to Vienna Austria to catch up on the history of Arnold.

I arrived in Vienna in the evening and decided to stay at the Wombat hostel. It was a little more expensive than other places, but it was close to the train station and very convenient. I met a guy that was probably 35 or 40 from Australia that I hung out with for the night. We headed down to the bar in the hostel because we received a free drink coupon when we checked in. It turned out to be really weird. The people at the bar kind of reminded me of the people that were in the marching band in high school. They were all slightly different than other people I met other places. At one point when I was talking to the Australian guy a group of three guys danced up to us and asked us if we wanted to dance and the Australian said to me, "That is not a monagetwa I'll get involved with". I think that story best describes this place. In the morning I walked around the city. Vienna had a beautiful Christmas market, great Parliament building, and a few nice cathedrals. One my walk I was trying to find a cafe to have a cup of coffee, but could not find a nice enough one.

At night I caught a night train to Rome.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Visit to the Swedish Relatives

I got the train from Interlaken to Zürich and from Zürich to Frankfurt . I arrived into Frankfurt at 3pm and did not have a flight to Stockholm until 9pm. It turned out that RyanAir's Frankfurt Airport is not in Frankfurt, but an hour and a half away. While in Frankfurt I did some laundry and hung out in a hostel. I missed the 5pm bus so I took the 6pm bus.

I finally got to the airport and boarded my plane at around 9pm. At this point I had been traveling about 13 hours. During the flight it started to snow a lot and it looked as if we were going through space at the speed of light with stars passing us constantly, it similar to scenes in Star Wars. It turned out that it was snowing so much that the plan could not land at the airport that was planned and has to head to the Stockholm downtown airport. This was a great thing because once again the RyanAir airport was far away from the center of the city. When I got to the center of the city I headed to the hostel I had stayed at the previous time I was in Stockholm. My plan was to follow someone into the hostel and then sleep on the couch. This plan was good except that the workers at the hostel know backpackers very well. On the door there was a sign that said, "Sorry we are booked for the night, Ps That means no sleeping on the couch". I was a little screwed at this point because I had left my big bag back in Frankfurt along with my travel guide. I ended up walking to the train station and finding a map of the city that included hostels. I turned out that the nearest hostel was almost a mile a way, so I decided to go the nearby Best Western Hotel. It was quite expensive, but I was able to get a good night sleep and a great breakfast in the morning.

After the breakfast (11/10/07) I walked over to the train station where I met Kathy Johnson from Traverse City, Michigan. We boarded the train to Hallsberg and arrived by 12:15. A couple picked us up I don't know they're names, but it was a man in his 70's and his fiancee. They took us right to the reunion at a local church where I got to meet everyone. They were all very kind and I was surprised how many had been to the United States. They had tons of pictures of Cadillac Michigan, Traverse City, and my house I grew up in Bethany Beach and Dundee. I really enjoyed talking to Par Johnson because he knew my parents and my grandparents. He showed me pictures of our Dundee house before the additions and also pictures of Nana and Papa. Kristian then showed me the family tree starting with Karl Johnson, my great great great grandfather. His grand daughter Signe was my grandmother. A little while later the couple that picked me up came out in traditional Swedish dress. They did a traditional dance that was great. He spun her around it looked like they were having a great time. I was especially interesting because they were both around 70. It was interesting to watch this giant man be so focued on this dance, this seemed different from American culture.

The reunion only lasted a few hours and then I was taken to Erik's house. We ate some dinner then they showed me around their city. We saw a castle where the high school had their dances and some businesses were located. After this they took me to Eva's house out in the county side. her house looked right out of Bethany Beach I could see why the Swedes moved to Michigan, it looks the same with all the water forests and farm land. At Eva's house we drank coffee and at cake and they told me hour Erik's son in law was a submarine captain and trained with the US Navy's submarines doing training routines. They were proud of how the Swedes had won the training mission. Later on Eva's husband too me out to his garage where he was restoring two Mustangs, a white 1966 and a blue 1964 and 1/2. This was incredible he had bought the 1964 when he was 18 and had it shipped over to Sweden That finished the night and we headed back to Erik's house. His wife made us soup and we headed to bed.

I woke up early (11/11) because Erik wanted to show me my ancestor's houses and I had to catch a 7pm flight. He took me to Karl Johnson's church and then where he and Signe was born and raised. He made it interesting because he was always reminding me that Signe walked down this road, went to that building, or worked one of those fields. As we were heading to the next place. Erik's decided to take a quick right turn so he braked hard and then there was a boom. I thought the car's axle had snapped, but we had been rear ended. It turned out that the other car was completely destroyed, but Erik's Tank like Volvo had a lot less damage. We headed back to their house with everyone safe and healthy.

At 3:30 they took me to the airport an hour and a half away. I said good by at the airport and thanked Erik for everything.

I really enjoyed my time with them. They were so kind and generous. They feed me well, put so much effort into speaking English, and so happy to show me around. I enjoyed seeing their way of life. They appreciated their family, and were happy with what they had. I guess they don't live in a consumer culture.

At the airport duty free shop I ran into a girl that I had met on my flight to Stockholm. We caught up on each others weekends and then started boarding, she went ahead because she had priority. I was able to still get a seat by her and we ended up talking part of the flight and then I started reading. When we landed we had to run to the bus because we did not want to wait for the next one. Once I was back in Frankfurt I headed to the hostel, had a beer and went to sleep.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Interlaken and Gimmelwald

I woke up early the next morning (11/5), 6am, to catch a train to Interlaken. I arrived at Interlocken at 2 and went to the tourist office to find a hostel. I ended up staying at Balmer's, but was not very impressed by it. It seemed like cool place to hang out, but the pillows were tiny and the rooms were crowded. Interlaken was dead during this season, so I headed to Gimmelwald (11/6) where the Mountain Hostel is that I was excited about even before this trip. To get there I took a train, bus, and gondala. This place was beautiful, it was literally surrounded by snow covered mountains. When I went in the hostel I was greeted by some other guests that were martial arts instructors. I did not get to talk long since they were going on a hike. I ended up just sitting in the hostel most of the day resting. I did do a trip up to the grocery store, but arrived at 12:12 when the store closed at noon. I ended up going to Esther's restraunt to buy a sandwich, yogurt, and beef jerky. It was all very good. The rest of the day was spent looking at emails and playing pool with the other guests.

The nex day (11/7) I woke up at 7:30 and ran up to the grocery store because people were planning on hiking at 9 and I needed to get back by then. I got back at 8:30 so I had some time to chow down musilii. We decided to hike up a valley and follow a stream to where the stream had carved out a cave inside a glacier. The hike took two hours to get to the cave. The hike was filled with scenery. The entire way was a rocky path along a steep mountain, at a few points we were in a pine forest that was beautiful. When we had hiked the two hours we were close but did not know where the caves were. We got to the end of the valley and it was enclosed by mountains, but we did not see a cave. It had to be ahead, so we kept walking. When we got to the top of a steep hill made of razor sharp rocks it was right there, a giant black hole dug straight into ice. Getting down there was tricky because there was a 45 degress slop heading into it that was covered with ice and loose sharp gravel. When we got down in it it was much larger than I had thought. Four of us put our head lamps on and walked in. The width of the cave had to be 20 meters wide and 10 meters high. The cave walls were similar to egg crate foam texture except on a much larger scale. Like in rocks there were different colors of ice probably from areas of high pressure. Some of these layers were extremely clear and you could see a few meters in and other were foggy from the air bubbles in it.

The four faster guys in the group including me walked further into the cave; we followed it for about 15 minutes before we took a break. We paused for a minute and turned off the head lamps. It was the darkest I have ever seen. I put my hand up to my face and could not see a thing. After we decided to turn back becasue we thought it might be dangerous because we did not have the porper gear. I wanted to go a little further and see if we could find the exit where a water fall was. When back at the hostel I ordered a pizza and beer and exchanged stories about the day with the other guests.

The martial arts instructors invited me on a hike (11/8) for this day, but I declined bacuse I had no food to take and they told me they were going for 9 hours and I wasn't sure I could keep up. At around 11 I went outside and it was an absolutely beautiful day. I decided to not sit around and take a hike. My plan was to follow the same trail as to the ice caves and then follow a trail that went up to the mountain. After about 2 hours I had made it pretty far and decided to go 30 minutes further. After 30 minutes I made it to a small camp of 3 buildings, from here I could see the top of the mountain Spitzberg and Berg. This was where the martial arts guys were hiking. I decided to hike up there, but did not know what trail to follow. I followed one for 30 minutes, but found out it was the wrong one, so I turned around and went back to the camp. At the camp I followed the sign that led up the mountain. This was a very steep climb and I was nervous about getting hurt because I had not told any one where I was going and did not have the right gear. After about an hour of walking and crawling up the mountain I was close to the top. I could see the restraunt and tourist center clearly. There was probably only 200 meters difference in elevation, but it was steep. I was ready to keep climbing, but they had removed the trail markers, so that dumb hikers don't get themselves killed. After some comtemplation I decided to head down the mountain because I thought it was too dangerous to hike on unmarked trails with no one else with me and no gear or radio.

When I got back to the hostel I realized I had been hiking 6 hours and the other hikers were not back yet. After an hour the people that did the same hikes as me arrived. They ran into the same problems I had. The martial arts guys could find the trail and decided to blaze their own. and another guy got close to the top, but would always slide down the snow because it was so slick. I was proud that I was the first the first back and the one that hiked back, though they got to the top they did take the gondala back. We had a good time telling the stories of the day's adventures.

At 8 that night I had to head back to Interlaken because I had to get a train at 7am the next morning. When I got to the hostel the lady told me the reception was close, but the sign said it closed at 11 and it was only 9:30 so I pushed a little bit and she let me in. Next stop Swedish Family Reunion

Paris, Nantes, Köln, and Molly Anderson

Paris is a beautiful city, but on the other hand all the myths of France are true. It was the most annoying city to travel through. Every train that you board requires a reservation and you probably need to get it 2 days before because the trains get so full, the people are rude and are unwilling to speak english even when you ask in french, and the hostels are really bad.

After I had gotten settled in my hostel I decided to take a long walk around the city. From my hostel I headed towards Notre Dame to get a few good night shots, then headed to the Lourve, and finally to the Eiffel Tower. Notre Dame was a beautiful cathedral, but I still like the one from Cologne a lot more. The Lourve is absolutely huge, I would guess that you could fit 10 football fields in it. It is a beautiful building and after contemplating if I like the glass pyramid or not, I decided that it goes well with the museum. Outside the museum is the Arc de Triuph, or so I thought. When I saw it for the first time I was really not that impressed with it because it was not that big, but the next day I found out that it was not it. I guess the real thing was in another location of the city. Finally after 3 hours of walking I got to the Eiffel Tower. I must hand it to the French, it was absolutely huge. I thought it would be like 300 feet tall, it was like 900 feet tall. I didn't go up it, since I was planning on going up it with Molly Anderson from Bethany Beach.

The next day (10/31) I had to switch to a hotel because the hostel did not have any rooms for the night. I missed the bike tour that I had wanted to do because I could not find it, but was able to find it after a while I found it and was able to do the 4 pm bike tour. When I got to the bike tour I found out that I was the only person that had showed up so far. The girl that was running it was from Texas and a really fun person to talk to. When we were about to give up on other people coming a man from New Jersey showed up. He was a retired navy pilot and currently and enterprenuer/ commercial pilot. The tour guide took us out for 3 hours, but did not see much more than when I walked the previous night. Afterwards I went to a bar with the American guy; he paid for the drinks and a few appetizers, but I would rather not have had his company since he told me the most discusting stories. He didn't seem to get the hint he should stop telling me them eventhough I did not respond to any of them.

In the morning (11/1) I went to the train station to go to Nantes to see Molly Anderson. I had already told Molllz that I would be on the 12 o'clock train, but could not get a reservation for the train until 6:30. I tried to find internet to send her an email that I would not be on the 12 pm train, but had to walk the entire citz to realize Paris does not does not have internet cafes. I had to go back to the hostel to email her, I finally sent an email at 3 a half hour after my train was suppose to arrive. When I went back to the train station I bought National Geographic about hunting and memory loss, it was a good way to pass the time. I finally got to Nantes at 8:30, but did not see Molly there, so I headed to her place. I didn't have a map except for one that I had copied off of google maps and it didn't have any major roads on it. I ended up spending about two and a half hours looking for her place. Along the way I asked a french guy for some help and he just told me to go away. I was really to kick his ass since it was 10:30 and I didn't know where to go, typical french. I got really close to where she lived but could not find the last road, I saw a couple walking to their car so I asked them for help. They were very kind and gave me a ride just up the street to where I needed to be. I finally found Molly and was excited to see her; I showed her some of my pictures; she introduced me to her friends and professors; it was a great time.

Over the weekend Molly was meeting her friend Chris in Cologne Germany, she invited me to go, so I accepted. In the morning (11/2) I tried to go the train station to get a reservation, so I could be on the same train as Molly. I turned out that when I tried to go out the door at 7:30 I found out that you need to have a key to open the door. I ended up waiting until 8:30 until someone finally came down stairs that I could ask for a key. I could not get a reservation for the same train as Molly to Paris, but was able to get the one the hour after. I was pretty annoyed because I could not get a reservation for the same train as Molly to Paris, and inorder to get a train from Paris to Cologne I had to spend 88€. When I finally got to Paris I ran to Molly's train and kept looking in the windows to find her. Finally after I had looked in 20 cars I found her and luckily she saw me because the train was suppose to leave in 3 minutes. Since I did not have a ticket for that train but the next one to Cologne I asked her for the hotel information that we were staying at. Molly suggested me ask if I could get on the train even though I had the wrong ticket and fortuently they let me on.

When we got to Cologne we headed to the hotel. Hotel was verz fancy, a Sofiatel. Mollz had only paid for one person so I had to sneak in. As she was checking in I walked to the 2nd floor and waited until she found me. The room was small, but nice. We went to the train station and got a bratwurst and then to the hostel I had stazed at before and drank a beer. Mollz wanted to look at the ice bar across the strrat so we went over there and got a shotand then headed back to the hostel for another beer. I checked my email and sent some emails to friends and family. We then headed back to the hotel for some much needed rest.

The next morning at 7am Molly's friend Chris Hanley arrived from Cairo. Chris went to sleep and Molly and I went down to the pool and hot tub, which turned out to be awesome. The pool was all black graniteand had light to make the rock glitter, on the side of the pool thez had stainless steal tube benches that that blew air out and caused the water to bubble, Mollz and I enjoyed this novelty. We were switching from the pool to hot tub everz five minutes and continued this for about an hour and a half. Soon after we went up to the room and woke up Chris and we all got ready to go out and see Cologne. When we got to down town we went inside the Cathedral took some pictures and then moved on. We then headed to the Roman German museum. Chris was verz interested in this because he studies ancient historz and some theologz. This museum was not to interesting because they only showed pots and items from general life. We left and outside between the museum and cathedral we found a protest of turks wanted to build a mosque in the middle of Cologne, This was interesting but did not paz much attention to it at the time. We moved on to the Chocalate museum which was suppose to be the real life version of Willz Wonka. This was intersting to Mollz and Chris, but I had alreadz been to on in Bruges, so I was not that interested in the information. I did enjoz the making of the chocalate because of the mechanical machines and the flowing milk chocalate. At the end we bought a few samples and gifts for people back home.

For dinner went to a Burger Kin in the center of town. We then headed bacvk to the hotel to sit in the hot tub for a few hours. At 11 the pool shut down so we left, but the night was still young. The hotel was hosting a party, so we headed to it. It was fun, but we were the onlz people under 30. I think I enjozed watching the old men bust their moves, which weren't too impressive. After of a couple of hours of poorly picked music we went back to the hotel room to sleep.

The next morning (11/4) Mollz and I headed to the pool and sa una. Chris came later since he woke up late. We then headed to the cahtedral to clim to the top of the right tower. Zou wounät think it would be verz manz stpe but Molly and Chris counted and almost go to 500 steps. From th top we could see all the turkish protests with communist and turkish flags. We went down to where the protestor were and Chris and I pretended to be participants as Mollz took phots. I think we then went to a cafe and got coffee and cake. Later on we went to an old pub that served beer in oak kegs. I had been to this place earlier in this trip, but I wanted Molly and Chris to see it. We got some traditional German food, I thought I might be sick afterwards because it was such a heavy meal. After this we went back to the hostel and I check my email and bought flights for the family reunion and Molly and Chris headed to mass at the Cathedral. When they got back from mass we headed to the hotel to soak in the hot tub and drink Jager Bombs and champaign. Next stop Interlaken.

Bruges, Brussels, and Luxembourg

Bruges had been suggested to me and was a great city to visit. The city is divided into two sections the old and the new. The old sections has buildings that date back to the 18th century and certain building go back further than that. The old town square lies in the middle of the city, from here you can see almost everything. Right on the square is a huge cathedral and the other sides of the square had massive old styled archicture building that were probably used for the royalty and government. Right down the road there is another cathedral and a little ways further is a 3rd one. Everywhere in the old town there are cobble stone streets with stone building lining it which were all natural colored.

The hostel I stayed at was about 5 minutes from the city center. It was a great hostel by my definition because it had a lot of people there, cheap, had a central hang out location, and 1€ beer. The first night I hung out with some Australians and Americans at the bar and had a good time. One of the Australians was really cool he's a competetive spearfishman, so he had plenty of stories about the fish that he caught and friends that would dive 30 meters on one breath. At a later time I talked to a American liberal fundamentalist. He was a little annoying because he seemed like he had poor knowledge but extreme views. I didn't argue with him too much, since most of the time I was trying to figure out what he was talking about.

The next day I went to the Chocolate Museum and the Diamond museum. The chocolate museum had good free chocolate, but I was upset with the diamond museum because they didn't give any free diamonds. It was interesting because they showed how to cut, turn, and polish diamonds.

Instead of spending the night in Brussels I decided to do a day trip there. I wasn't too impressed with Brussels as a tourist, but I think I would like it if I lived there. It seemed like a very modern city, but one that did not have many interesting things for a tourist. I decided to walk around a little bit, so I headed to a cafe and got a capacino and a beer. The beer had a really cool bottle with a metal hinge that pulled down the cap to close it, it reminded me of a soda bottle from the 1900's. Later on I got an order of frites and mayonase, aka french fries; these people eat the strangest food. When walking around the city you see tons of people eating fries loaded with mayonase, I guess they don't care for ketchup. That was the extent of my exposure to Brussels, I guess it wasn't too exciting, Luxembourg on the other hand was much better.

The next day I headed to Luxembourg. When I arrived I met a guy, Alex Taylor from Canada, heading to the same hostel as I was. After we got settled in the hostel we headed out to see some of the town. We couldn't see very much since it was night time and rainy. I got some dinner from the grocery store and then we headed back to the hostel and chilled out in its cafe. In the morning we really got to see how beautiful Luxembourg was. Luxembourg is a very rocky and mountainous area, but head a lot of rivers that have carved out vallies over time. It is interesting because the architects here did not avoid this area even though it would be difficult to build on. On the top of one of these slopes is a castle with a couple hundred meter wall that follows the ridge line, below in the valley is a small square with a few massive building, I think the buildings were part of a local school. Across the river on the opposite slope of the castle's slope is a fortress called the Casemates. The Casemates are a series of tunnels that were used as a military fortification. The total length of the tunnels are 23 km, but Alex and I were only able to go through about 1km. There were great views from the tunnels because they had the old cannon holes that overlooked the city and the surrounding areas. Alex liked photography a lot so both of us ended up taking a lot of pictures. I only spent 18 hours in Luxembourg, but really grew an appreciation for the city. Next I was off to Paris.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Leaving Narvick, Bergen, Oslo, and Amsterdam

After spending the night in Narvik I was off to Olso, in southern Norway. I left at 7am in the morning, and took a 6 hour bus to Bodo, which had so many stops I could not have covered more than 100 miles. My next leg was a 7 hour train from Bodo to Trondheim. I arrived at Trondheim at 4 pm and had 5 hours until my train left at 9pm for Olso which would arrive the next morning. With the time that I had I decided to do a hike up the mountain right outside of Trondheim. It was not a spectacular mountain, but it was covered with moss, curvacious boulders and shrubs. After about an hour and a half hike to the top I headed back down to town and bought diner and then headed to the train station. Because I was too cheap to get the sleeper train car my night was spent in an uncomfortable recliner with an inflatable pillow that would not hold any air.

After arriving to Oslo I went to UseIt, a youth travel agency. I was hoping they would find me a hostel with a social environment, but instead I ended up at a 60 year old man's apartment which he shared with his friendly dog. The lady at UseIt told me the hostels were full, but I think she may have wanted to just make fewer phone calls. After getting settled I went to get dinner at a local deli and see what the city had to offer. It turns out that it offered more than I wanted, since after about 10 pm the black prostitutes start looking for men to seduce. It took me off gaurd for a while since I was in the city center, but it seemed like it was a common occurence in this city so I just accepted it as daily life in Oslo. The following day I decided to visit two attractions the Vikingshiphuset and the Vigelandsparken. The Viking Ship Museum consists mainly of 3 oak ships that were found in Oslo in the 20th century that had been use viking king's tombs. I am not sure but I think the ships weren't ever used except for a burial vessel. I then headed to a the Vigelandsparken where Gustav Vigeland made almost a hundred sculptures. The one that stood out the most was a 50 feet tall grainite column with bodies flowing around it. A girl I met suggested the meaning was the importance of compassion, but I thought there was more to it than that I am not sure what though.

That evening instead of staying at the apartment again I decided to take the night train to Bergen. Once again I was on an uncomfortable recliner with an inflatable pillow that does not hold any air. I got into Bergen at about 7am and headed to the hostel. Since it was so early I could not get my room, but I ended up sneaking in and making breakfast. Later in the day I checked in and then decided to do a hike that a guy at the local fishing shop told me would be good. To begin the hike I took a bus to the edge of town to where a gondala carries people to the top of a mountain called Ulrich. The hike followed the ridge line from Ulrich to Mount Floyen. Walking along the ridge line you could see the entire city and the surrounding mountains. Thought it was beautiful I had a hard time having a great time because there was so much wind that froze my ears and the terrain was so rough that I couldn't walk very fast. After a few hours I made it to Floyen and then started my decent back to Bergen. In the even I just made a simple dinner and hung out with some other hostelers. One of the guys was from Chicago and we ended up playing Rummy for about 3 hours.

The next day I didn't do too much because I was so tired from the hike the day before. I slept in and then walked around the city and went to the Torget, fish market. It was quite interesting visiting the fish market. I was just looking at what they sold and one of the men offered me some salmon which was great. I kept looking and asked what this dark piece of meat was and he told me it was dried whale, he sliced off a piece for me. It tasted a lot like beef jerky except a lot more salty. I then asked what else do Norwegians eat and he showed me a dried eel, so then he cut off a piece of that and handed to me. Both the whale and the eel turned out to be especially good, though very different from American cuisine.

In the evening I hung out with the people I had met the night before. They were from all over the US a guy from Chicago, Wisconsin, Washington, and a Girl from Oregon. I even ran into the Prashanth, who I traveled with to the Artic Circle, but wasn't very excited to hang out with him because he turned out to be really weird up in the Artic Circle. After haning out with the other Americans for a little while of talking and getting each other's backround we went to a pub that was modeled after Americas 50s. Everywhere it had the bright orange plastic house items with the black and white checkered linolium floors and Elvis Presley playing in the background. I liked that place because it had the cheapest beer in town for about $12 a pint, but mostly because they had free popcorn.

The next day was full of scenic travel. From Bergen I took the train to Voss and then took a bus to Guadavan. Guadavan is the location of one of the tips of the fjords. I boarded a ferry that cruised through the fjords. It was like the Rocky Mountains had been droped into the ocean and only the top 800 yards stuck out of the water. On the cruise I must have seen about 25 waterfalls, which never seized to be spectacular. After about one and a half hours of being in the cold I headed to the inside of the boat to get warm. Soon we were at Flam, which is a city right along the fjords that has a train to the main railroad. After an hour in Flam I got on the train. This train ride is one of the most famous and steepest in Europe. It took us along a ridge line that over looked the valley that was filled with barns from the mountain farmers. At one point the train stopped near a massive waterfall, so that we could get out and take pictures. The train arrived at Myrdal, where I was going to take a train to Oslo, but could not go because Oslo had no hostels vacancies. I decided to go back to Bergen for the night and possibly try to get on a night train to Oslo.

It turned out that there were no trains that ran to Bergen at night since it was a Saturday, so I ended up just staying in Bergen for 3 nights. It was annoying since Norway is just as expensive as London if not more. It actually didn't turn out to be back, since I got to hang out with the fun guy Chicago and drink some beer.

The next day Chicago guy and I headed to Oslo. On the train we met two men one was from Seattle and the other from Alaska. They were involved with fish conservation and one of the guys was visiting Norway to buy I think millions of dollars of fishing sonar equipment. It was great to meet the guy from Alaska, since I had just finished the book Alaska by James Michner. We spent a lot of time discussing Alaskan history, the Iditorod, and the fishing and hunting there.

At Oslo Chicago guy and I headed to the hostel on the out skirts of the town that was very nice and relaxing. Again Chicago guy and I got some beer and played some cards and then headed to our rooms. In the morning I began my journey to Amsterdam. I had to get on the train to Copenhagen and had a lay over there until the train from Copenhagen to Amsterdam left. The train to Amsterdam was a night train, so I got a 6 person couchette. I probably should have gotten the 4 person one, since the couchette is about the size of a handicapped bathroom stall. To get away from the crowd I found an empty cabin, but was soon kicked out by the train conductor. I eventually made it to a free section of the train where there were no people, so I just relaxed and read.

I arrived in Amsterdam at about 9 am. I had a long walk to my hostel, Stay Okay, because I had only a crappy map. When I finally got there I found out that there were three Stay Okay hostels and that mine was actually a 30 minute walk away. I finally got to the hostel and found it to be very nice except for the 200 seventeen and 18 year olds staying there. The first day I didn't do too much except walk around. In the city square I found a group of brake dancers performing, that were very good. I didn't stay very long because I didn't want them to finish and then ask me for money.

The next day I did the free walking tour that a local company puts on. There were a lot of people my age there. I met a girl from Australia, another from California, and a guy from Alaska. The tour was 3 hours long and took us through the churchs, the Red Light District, and showed us the narrowest house in Amsterdam, which was only about 2 meters wide. No matter where we walked about every 5 building we would get a strong smell of weed, it thought the stuff smelled like crap. It was interesting that there was a church right next to the Red Light district. Most of the people thought it was strange because you had a church on one side of the street and prostitutes in windows on the other side of the street. The tour guide explained that it made perfect sence to put the two right next to each other because the men could go to the prostitute, sleep with her, and then afterwards go to the church and buy a free coupon to sin. So it turned out that this worked best for the church and the prostitutes. Half way through the tour we took a lunch break and I sat with the two girls and guy that I had met. I knowtice that the girl from Australia had a ring on that had the Christian fish on it. I asked her about it she told me she was a Christian and that she does YWAM in Australia. I thought this was interesting because Luke Kincaid and one of my friends, Russel Glass, from Auburn did YWAM in Australia. After the tour the group I ate lunch with went to the Heineken museum. It took us through the brewery process, and then to a room where we got to send video emails. I send a few one to mom and dad and then another to Sam Brown. They were the only email addresses that I knew. After the museum I went to dinner with Christina, the girl from California. We got some pizza and then a little while later the Australian girl met up with us.

We headed over the Alaskan guys hostel, so that we could meet up and then head to the Red Light District. It was quite interesting at the hostel, since it was a combination of a Coffee Shop and Hostel. At first you would not think that is an intersting combination, but in Amsterdam a Coffee Shop means a place to buy weed. So inside the hostel it reeked of marajuana, they had cheap beer and there was fun people there so it was no problem. We walked over to the Red Light District and knew we were there when we passed the windows filled with dildos, leather masks, strap ons, and lingerae. We kept moving and it was surpizing how much the Alaskan guy knew about it. It was as if he had read a entire book on it. He explained the process of hiring a hooker, the cost, and then went on explaining the coffee shops. After the stroll we went to a bar to get a few beers and some food. I then walked the girls back to their hotels and then headed back to my place.

The next day the girls from the previous day proved that they were not typical tourists in Amsterdam, since they invited me to see the bible museum. I wasn't planning on doing this, but it turned out to be fun and informational. It was great to see how I was provided with christian community in a location that was so anti-christian. After the bible museum we headed to the Van Gogh museum. I really had never appreciated art before this museum, but really was intrigued by his work. It all had a strong sence of emotion that came along with it. That evening I went back to the hostel and then chilled out and listened to some music.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Helsinki, to Santa, to the Fjords

So much has happened since my last post. I think it was almost a week ago that I was able to get online.

From Tallinn I took the ferry back to Helsinki. It was a nice ride and took about 3 hours. I spent the afternoon on Helsinki waiting until my 9pm train arrived. I walked around for a while, bought lunch at a grocery store and ate in a park, and did some laundry. The laundry was a little awkward to do. In my guide book it suggested a cafe that was combined with a laundrymat. I got there and it was packed with people eating lunch and I didn't see any laundry machines, so I asked where they were. The lady took me to the rear of the cafe to a single tiny washing machine. There were a group of people eating their Sunday lunch all around it, so I had to ask them to move as I pulled out my dirty underwear, smelly socks, and used bed linens. I am sure it was not very appetizing to them, but I did have clean close after having to sit there for 2 hours. At around 6:30 I met up with my aussie mate named Prasanth, we had met in Stockholm and I decided to tag along on his trip up to northern Finland. He was a great help and had a lot of good ideas of what to see.

We boarded the train around 7:00pm and did not arrive in Raveniemi until 8:00 am the next morning. As we were leaving the Raveniemi train station we ran in a lost Japanese girl named Ayoko. I don't think she had a map or a clue where she was going. We invited her to follow us to our hostel, where she too was staying. In the afternoon the three of us went to Santa's village and took pictures with him. Though Santa is willing to give free gifts on Christmas he charges $32 dollars for a picture with him. Though he does know how to speak English, Finnish, Japenese, and German. After hanging out with Santa we walked over to a tiled path that had a set of coordinates on it. That coordinates was the line that followed the Artic Circle. we took a few pictures of us jumping across and then headed to Santa's postoffice where we sent postcards home. On our way back to our hostel we went to the grocery store and bought dinner and then prepared and ate it at the hostel. In the evening we all went to to a local Irish bar and met a guy named Steve.

The next morning Ayoko departed and headed to Oslo. Since we lost our third member Prashanth and I decided to pick up Steve to replace Ayoko. We rented bikes from Artic Adventure Co. and road up to the highest peak in Raveneimi. It really wasn't that high, but it was hard to ride a bike up it. This peak included a hotel with a great view over the town and also a mountain louge that went to the bottom. We did not get to ride the louge, but contemplated getting McDonald's trays and riding down. For about 2 hours we sat inside the hotel and drank coffee around a fire that the hotel staff asked up to make. When we were leaving the hotel we asked the staff if there was a good place to use a sauna in Raveneimi. One lady suggested the local recreational building. We headed down to the sauna. When we got there we were told we need to rent bathing suits, and then were told that bathing suits are not allowed in the sauna. This wasn't so bad though we just stripped down and headed to the sauna where we spent about an hour.

The next day Prashanth and I headed to Kiruna Finland , a mining town with in the artic circle. After traveling across the Finnish Swedish boarded where we were to transfer to a bus in Haparanda. We thought it was funny that right on the boarder there was an Ikea. At the bus station we meet some men that said that Kiruna was a boring town that that Abisco in Sweden in much more entertaining. When we arrived at Kiruna we found that there are few words that could describe this town better than depressing. We arrived at our hostel, The Yellow House, that had great reviews and met the owner. We came to the conclusion that he reminds us of the killer in the movie Physco, Martin Bates. Our arrival was late so we decided to get some dinner and then head to bed. The next day we went to Kiruna Church which was beautiful and model after the Sami's people, native lapplanders, archicture. In the afternoon we hiked up a mountain that was the local ski mountain to get a view of everything. Looking away from the city was scenic, but looking at the city was not very nice. Most of the buildings had little dimension and the backround of the city were mountains covered in mine shafts. That evening we were heading to a local bar and ran in to a guy named Matt from the UK that was also staying at the hostel. We invited him to join us for a few beers as we all discussed this strange town. The next day we decided not to stay in Kiruna as long as we planned and decided to head to Abisco, Sweden.

The train ride to Abisco contained nothing, but mountains, snow, and pine tree. I felt like I was in Alaska even though I have never been there. When we arrived at the hostel we met the man that ran it and immediately he gave the presence of a grandfather. The hostel was set overlooking a huge lake with snow covered mountains in the backround. Prasthanth and I was walked around this small town of only 170 people bought groceries for the next couple of days. At the super market we ran into a girl named Madeline, we talked for away tring to find out what there is to do in Abisco and her answer amounted to "nothing". Since there was nothing to do we decided to invite Madeline and her friend Emma, from the local outdoors store, to hang out with us at the hostel. When we got back to the hostel we found Matt the guy we met in Kiruna at the hostel, it turned out that he could not stand Kiruna and decided to come to Abisco. It turned out that the girls we met earlier could not make it that night, but we replanned for the next night. Instead of the party the hostel owner had a sauna that he invited us to use. It was an authentic Swedish sauna, that was heated by a wood burning stove. It was a great time, but once again it was required that no clothes went into the sauna. After being in the sauna for about an hour the owner left and then almost immediatley came back in and told us that Norther Lights were out side. This was something that I wanted to see, so I dried off and ran out side. The sky was covered in green lights and concentrations of brighter lights that looked as if they were flames dancing across that sky.

We were planning on only staying in Abisco one night because it was such a small town, but ended up staying two. The next day we went up to the hostel owner's dog cage where he had 52 huskies for his dog sleds. We played with the dogs for a while and then took them for a walk. Walking a huskie is nothing like walking a laborador, huskies are ment to pull weight and they don't care if you don't want to be pulled. So for a full 2 hours us three were being pulled by each of three huskies. With the dogs we walked to a canyon 2 kilometers from town. The canyon was where the river from the mountains ran. It was a roaring river stuck down in 75 feet tall canyon walls. The river ran through an underground tunnel and then out to the big lake. Since the girls could not hang out the night before they invited us to their friends house. Prashanth, Matt and I went over there around 9:00pm and met all their friends and had a great time exchanging stories and travel histories. A couple, Paula and Peter, were especially friendly and asked if they could show us around the city the next day.

When we contacted Paula and Peter they asked us to come over for coffee and cookies. After the coffee was served Peter pulled out what looked like a 2 pound prune. It turned out that it was actually a dried reindeer's heart. I had a slice of it and it had good flavor, but too saltly to eat much. After the coffee they took us to a Sami village, their native people, where we saw their traditional house, storehouses, and traps. That afternoon we said our farewells and started our trip to Narvik.

We arrived in Narvick at night and headed to our hostel and then headed out to find what there is to do. As we were walking we ran into a 13 boy, who we invited to participate in a snowball fight. It was Prashanth and the boy and Matt and I. It is fun to have a snowball fight with Australians, English and Swedes when you are American, they don't play any throwing sports. They may be good at kicking soccer balls, but they are no good at throwing. I ended up hiting Prashanth and the boy multiple time, but we all had a good time.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Turku and Tallin Estonia

A couple of days ago I took a day trip to Turku from Helsinki Finland. I boarded a train around 1 pm, it took 2 hours to arrive there. Nothing really stood out there. They did have a nice river running around the city, a windmill from the 19th century, and a nice cathedral, nothing exceptional, but I am sure that they have secrets that tourists don't know about. I think it is hard to find those great places in smaller towns because it is hard to find the little secrets of the area. After talking to a friend that visited his friends in Turku he said that he went to traditional Finnish sauna's and saw some other incredible things. My goal after hearing this is to meet more of the locals and try to find the secrets, I think that is where I will have the most fun in Europe.

Since Turku was only a day trip, I spent the night in Helsinki. The next morning I was off to Tallinn. I took the boat SuperSeaCat that was more expensive than I would have liked, but it worked well and Tallinn has proved to be amazing. Tallinn is a city straight out of the middle ages. I am staying in the old town, which has a castle wall around it with guard towers every 100 yards. They have narrow cobblestone streets that are lined with shops of glassblowers, blacksmiths, and handmade sweaters. Yesterday I went up to their Roman Orthodox church and saw its onion dome tops and then their old lookout tower from the 14th century.

Tomorrow morning I am taking the boat back to Helsinki, where I am meeting up a an aussie named Prasmanth. In the evening we are boarding a night train to Ravaniemi, which is in northern Finland. We are planning on having some outdoor adventures, seeing Santa, and hanging out with Finland's native people, the Sami.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Stockholm to Helsinki

I arrived at Stockholm 3 days ago after a 6 hour train ride from Gothenburg. It was only suppose to take 3 hours, but I had to take a slow train because the other ones were full. I stayed at a place called the City Backpackers Hostel, which was considered one of the top ten hostels in Europe. I only thing they got that reward because they give free pasta. The first day I walked around the city and saw some of the churches and the royal families palace. At night I met about 10 people mostly from Australia and American and we spent about 4 hours watching YouTube videos. This was actually a great time and I felt like I made some really go friends. I met a guy named Beau from Australia, he was Australia's equivalent to a redneck from Alabama. He actually invited me to go kangaroo hunting if I ever came there.

The day after I went to the Vasa Museum which contains a ship 17th century ship that was pulled up from Stockholm's harbor in the 1950's. This was absolutely the best museum I have been to. The ship was in perfect condition and the museum did not contain to little information or too much.

At around 3pm I was off to Finland via a ferry from Stockholm. I was quite impressed with the ferry, since it looked just like the cruise ships that I have been on. Usually you get a cabin with 3 other people, but I was fortunate to have one to myself. I was traveling with a guy named Edmund from the UK and he was stuck in a room with 3 men he did not know, so I invited him to stay in my room. The ride took 17 hours and we arrived at 9 30 this morning. When we arrived it was rather uneventful we just went to a Russian Orthodox Church and a Protestant Church.

Tomorrow I am going to Turku Finland, then to Tallin Estonia, and then up to northern Finland to see were Santa and his reindeer, and the Sami people live.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Copenhagen and Gothenburg

Three days ago I was in Copenhagen for two days. The hostel I stayed at was great. In the morning they had a breakfast buffet, that I would gorge myself at so that I would not have to eat until dinner. This did not work as well as I had hoped, by lunch time I was hungry again. Most of the first day consisted of walking around the city. I saw some interesting architecture, but nothing that stood out. The second day in Copenhagen was much better. I met up with a guy named Dave from New York who went to Tulane University. We went to Carlsburg brewery, largest brewer in Europe, for a tour. We were annoyed that the guide book said the tour was free when it actually wasn't, but it turned out alright since the beer we drank was more expensive than the ticket. That afternoon we headed up to Helsingburg to go visit the castle from Hamlet. This place was beautiful, it was right along the coast and you could see Sweden on the other side of the sea. The castle was also the location of were Hans Christian Anderson wrote most of his fairytales. As we were heading back to Copenhagen we stopped by a grocery store to buy meat and cheese for sandwhiches.

After Copenhagen I was planning on going to northern Denmark to a small town called Skagen. It is known for it sandy beaches and dunes. I was excited for this retreat from the big towns, but it did not work out since I could not get incontact with the hostels there. I ended up looking for hostels in Stockholm, but to no avail. The next morning I booked a hostel in Gothenburg, Sweden and headed there about an hour later. Gothenburg was just a big new city, so there was not much history or interesting buildings. Instead most of the building were built in the seventies, so it was rather ugly. I did get to walk around for a while and see what the people there do. I really did not feel any different than Chicago.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Transfering to Europe

Since the last update I have left Sharm, went to Dahab, to Petra (Jordan), flown to Frankfurt Germany, chilled out in Cologne, drank beer at Munichs Oktoberfest, seen Hitler's Cathedral of Lights in Nuremburg, and am now exploring Berlin.

Luke and I had a great time in Dahab. Dahab is located right along the Red Sea, it has a rocky shore and a mountains less than 100 meters away. We stayed at a great place called Bishbishi for onlz 8 dollars a night and it included airconditioning, great breakfast, and our own shower. This was so refreshing from the rest of Egypt. Most of out time was spent exploring and buying gifts for the ladies in our lives, though one day we did spend for ourselves. We went to a place called the Blue Hole which is a 300 meter deep hole right along the shore of the Red Sea. The snorkeling here was incrediable. When looking down the hole you see all of its walls covered with coral and sea life. There were fish absolutelz everywhere. That night we went on a hike up Mount Sinai to where Moses received the ten commandments. This was very touristy, but we go to see some incredible things.

The next day we went to Petra in Jordan. Our purpose was to see a city that was carved into the side of a mountain and to see were a true Indian Jones film was made. This was probably my favorite part of the trip so far. When we arrived they had us walk down a winding narrow canyon. We walked this for about 1.5 mile and at the end it opened up to a 300 feet talk building carved into the side of a mountain. After this it was time to start heading back to Cairo.

After leaving Petra at 3pm we finally arrived at Cairo around 10 pm. We had 6 hours until we departed to Frankfurt where Luke would head to Chicago and I would stay. When I got to Frankfurt I walked around the city, but just felt like I was in Chicago because it was so modern. I headed to the hostel I was planning on staying at, but they were full. I tried another one but no luck. I finallz decided Frankfurt was not worth it and headed to Cologne.

I arrived at Cologne at about 4pm. As I was wandering as a lost tourist with my head down in my map looking for the location of my hostel I looked up and was at the base of the Dome, Germany's largest cathedral. It was absolutely amazing, 450 feet tall. When you going inside it seems like the isle to the front stretches on for miles and the stained glass windows are spectacular. You donøt realize how tall it is until you climb to the top of the tower that has to be 600 steps. I thought I was in good shape until I had to stop half way up. There wasn't much in Cologne besides the Dome, but I did have a great time with some of the people from the hostel when we went out to a pub that served wooden kegs of beer instead of stiens.

After 2 days in Cologne I head to Munich for the famous Octoberfest. As soon at I got to my hostels I met my hostel mates that were from Germany and they invited me to a soccer game with Munich playing St. Pauli. It was quite impressive because there were so many people there for a 2nd division game with no significant purpose. Though it was great it was not comparable to an Auburn Alabama game. The next day I headed to Octoberfest which runs for 2 weeks, I was there for the opening of the festival. They open it with a great parade of beautiful german women and giant trailers of oak kegs being pulled by 4 to 6 clydales. Once inside you must rush to the beer tents to find a seat or else there is no way to get beer for the day. I ended up tagging along with two Canadians to the Paulsner tent where we got a few beers for 10 dollars a piece. At the end of the day it was time to head to Nuremburg.

Nuremburg caught my interest because of its history. It is where Hitler came to power. You probably have seen the pictures of the giant military parades Hitler did in a field and the speaches he gave infront of a building with stone pillars. That location is in Nuremburg. After the field I headed to the museum of socialist history. It mostly covered Hitler's rise to power, but I was surprised by the lack of information on the concentration camps and the Allied forces attacking Germany. I guess that it is a wound to German pride and they prefer to ignore it.

After Nuremburg, I headed to Berlin. The train ride took about 5 hours, but it was comfortable so I did not mind. The company New Berlin gives free walking tours of the city and their guides are great, but they do ask for tips at the end of the day. The girl Jessica was so enthusiastic about Berlins history. She took us to the Berlin Wall, Check Point Charlie, the Brandenburg Gates, the Reichstag, and also the locations of where Hitler commited suicide. Before seeing these sights all of the information is the high school history books were just facts and statistics of death, but by walking through these locations you realize the reality of all that happened to the people of East Berlin. Latter on I went to Check Point Charlie Museum. This museum covered informtion about life in East Berlin while the wall was still up. It covered how certain people escaped; one guy escaped by inventing the first underwater propulsion system for a single individual. Since Berlin was the last city I was visiting in Germany my last night I decided to have some authentic German food. I ordered a platter of different meats, sourkrut, and potatoes. It seems like everything they eat contains some sort of sausage and sourkrut.

Next stop Copenhagen!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


We arrived in Egypt last week and have done so much already. So far we have been to Cairo, Alexandria (northern part), and Shama al Sheik(eastern part). Our time here has been great and with many adventures.

Cairo was overwhelming when we first arrived. There were people everywhere running across the streets in front of cars and as you walk down the street tons of people are trying to sell you souvenirs you don't want. I guess this should be expected in a city of 18 million people. I expected people to try to steal from me or be dishonest, but I have not found any of that so far. Though it was overwhelming at first as we talked to the Egyptian people more we found that though they are poor and have a much different lifestyle from ours they are very kind and happy.

During our time in Cairo we saw the Pyramids of Giza, the Egyptian Museum, the Citadel ( a large mosque), and also attended a call to prayer at a mosque. The pictures that I was shown of the Pyramids when growing up do not do justice to their size. Each of the stones that were used to build it are 4 feet tall and they are stacked probably 200 stones high. The museum showed King Tut's tomb and all of his clothes and jewelery. He was a very extravagant man. He must of had hundreds of pounds of gold. When in Egypt you should never use a mosque as a land mark, there are hundreds of them. They are beautiful and have incredible paintings on the ceilings. When I go to Europe it will be interesting to compare them to the cathedrals.

Our time in Alexandria was a more relaxing time. When we arrived we went to a fort along the Mediterranean build by Alexander the Great. Soon we got hot and jumped in the sea with some local boys. After talking to them for an hour a friend of theirs offered to take us around the city for the day. The man took us too the beaches which were nice, but covered with trash. Later on we bought freshly caught fish and had them cooked. We took the fish and a some pitas to the Mediterranean shore and smoked hookah (an middle eastern tobacco smoked through a water pipe).

Currently we are in Shama al Sheik with Luke's friend Rami, and Rami's friends Shereef, Mu hammed, an Ahmed. We all quickly became friends. Our days here are spent diving at the corals reefs and trying to get the a better feeling of Egyptian culture.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Luke Kincaid and I, Mark Turnbaugh, are beginning and adventure of a life time in Cairo, Egypt. We will arrive there September 4th, 2007 and will stay for 16 days until September 19th. Though we will start in Cairo we will cover the majority of Egypt including Alexandria, Luxur, Dahab, and Aswan.

On September 19th Luke and I will fly to Frankfurt, Germany. Luke will end his trip by flying into Chicago, Illinois and I will continue through western Europe. I will travel through Europe using the Eurail train system. Hopefully, by the end of the trip I will have gone through 18 of western Europe's countries including France, Spain, Germany, and Chezk Republic.