Saturday, June 25, 2005

Austria=gooden

Wowie wow wow wow. Just when I thought my weekends couldn't get any better, this trip comes along.

So Stephen and I headed out to St. Johann, a seemingly small, in the middle of nowhere village in Austria. Barabara's sister, Monica runs a bed and breakfast, and we set up a time to meet her there. So we started out in Aachen, Germany, cause that's where we had a mandatory tour of Sharlamane (spelling is probably totally wrong). Any way, Mrs. Fry really wanted us to go, and honestly, I hate museums, so I just gritted my teeth and went. The only thing I really like about the tour in Aachen was the fact that it was airconditioned. Sharlamane's throne looked like a freakin toilet. Anyway, evening finally came and we headed out on a night train to Munich. On Friday we eventually made it to St. Johann. The train ride there was spectacular, and at every train stop, we grew further and further away from tourist Europe. By the time we got to St. Johann, I felt like we were the only Americans within miles. (And that would be a good assumption). At one stop, I bought what I thought was whole milk. It was extremely thick and sweet, and I could't take more than a few sips. Turns out, it was creamer for coffee. No wonder the ladies at the store were cracking smiles when I bought it from them.

So we finally found the place were Monica lives. I walked in and saw an elderly man. I asked for Dr. Mueller, gave me a look and asked me to wait just a minute. Soon thereafter, an old lady walked down some stairs and had the resemblance of Ingrid. She presented her stiff hand and said, "Monica" is a very proprietary way. But soon enough, the initial barrier of uncertaineness soon collapsed, and she turned extremely hospitable. In fact, this stay so far has been the most hospitable experience ever. She and her husband Sigi are some of the most generous and caring people I've ever met. It truly feels like family.

So on Friday, we decided to venture off to do a climb, and Monica packed us some sandwhiches. During the packing, we had a nice conversation with her, and during the entire talk she kept giving us German lessons. Initially, I didn't know why she kept counting the 4 sandwhiches, but I soon realized she wanted us to actually learn how to count. So far I've learned to count to about 7, how to thank and say please, how to greet, and a few more random words. We asked her where we should go, and she directed us to a alp that was near the train station.

So found our way to this alp, and it was a pretty intense climb. It was hot out, and we drank soooo much water. Luckily on the way up, we found a resteraunt, and the bar tender was nice enough to fill our bottles with water for free. He actually took Steven's bottle, looked and the label, scoffed at the brand, emptied it out, and filled it with Austrian spring water. I suppose he thought no brand of bottled water compared, but I would probably agree with him.

So on our way, we cut through a forrest, and Steven goes, "Hey, is that a skunk?". I look up at a tree, and there's this squirrel that's totally black. I was in disbelief. It was a black squirrel with pointy ears. I managed to take a picture, so hopefully it will turn out.

So we finally got about half way up with alp, and found a lake. It was a beautiful clear lake and I decided to make the most of it and jump in. It was a bit chilly, but I soon forgot that and swam back and forth across it. I also nearly got mauled by a Rottweiler and a Newfoundland/Labrador at one point, but the owners soon tied them up.

When we got back, they had dinner ready for us, and I was properly introduced to Sigi, Arnol and his wife and kids. The kids had names that I'm not even going to try to spell out. Arnol was extremely nice and had lots of question for us about where we were from and such. He was like super freaking buff, and it turns out he majored in Sports Medicine (and Economics). During dinner, I asked where we could meet Arnold Schwartzeneggar, and Arnol told us a funny story of how he met him once. Arnol and a friend where in this other town in Austria (which I can't) rember the name) and where in a shoe store where the shoes are hand made. Apparently the cheapest pair you can find are about 5000 dollars. So he's in there with his friend, and Arnold walks in. He asks if he can see a pair, and the owner, not knowing who Arnold is, asks him to come back tomorrow as the shop is getting ready to close. This totally amuses Arnol and his friend as Arnold just got dissed. Funny stuff.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Barbara' mother. She is a very old, but extremely coherent lady. She caught everything during the dinner talk. When she first arrived, she started talking to me in Italian. I suppose she thought I was, but it impressed me so much that she could switch from Italian to German to English.

Dinner itself was amazing. The Austrians love the meat, and I for one am glad they do. I was sick of getting pasta with measly sprinkles of chicken at Italians places. They cooked up some serious sausages and pork patties. Also had some stellar potatoe salad. They just piled the food on my plate, sometimes not even asking if I wanted more. (I LOVE THESE PEOPLE). Also to boot it off, they served some beer that comes from a local brewery that tastes fan-freaking-tastic.

When dinner was over, Steve and I wandered in the village a bit, and found a dance show in the town square. A ballet group from USA was touring and there was a huge gathering there. At one point, they played "Firestarter" by Prodigy, and I thought, there's no way thez can do ballet to this. I was wrong though. They were good.

So we wandered around a bit more and finally went to bed. . . IN THE MOST COMFORTABLE BEDS EVER. I am not exaggerating . These beds felt like they were made of that NASA memory foam and the pillows were full of down. Ever time I layed down, I cracked a smile involuntarily. I felt like all the pain in my body was being exhorsized. I could't help it. Steven did too. We both laughed when we realized this.

Day two was even greater. We woke up and ate some serious breakfast that consisted of cheese, bread, rye bread, butter, jam, honey, coffee, and water. Monica then helped us pack a lunch, and Sigi asked what we wanted to do. We told him we were planning on hiking some more, and he told us, with a glitter in his eye, that he would drive us to the best place for that. So we soon went with him through a very scenic route to the base of some Alps. This was around this giants ridge facing the city, so we were on the other side. He told us this was the best walk and gave us some directions to get to a peak. He also left with us a cell phone to call him when we were ready. So flippin nice.

And he was 100% right. This was the best, most scenic, walk thus far. He said that most walks take you through the forrest and you can't actually see anything. This walk we could see the mountains, natural creeks, and wildlife. It was unbelievable. We got up to a point, and found some snow, and proceeded to throw it at each other. The walk up took us about 3 hours, and the view on the peek was indescribable. While there, these funky black birds landed not 3 feet away from us while we were eating and were like "Alright, we're here. Feed us" So we did for a bit. These guys could fly too. They'd take off cliffs and just glide and made it look like cake. I threw a peice of bread down a cliff, and the bird swoopped down and caught it. Amazing. And on our way down, we ran into what looked like a dear. We tried getting closer and closer, but it just went higher and higher into the mountain.

At the base, we met up with Sigi, and he bought us a round of more local beer. It was delish. I felt really tipsy afterwards. I guess after all that exercise, my body was really processing anything I put in it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Viva Italia

Man-o-man. Italy was a trip!

So I didn't have to many preconceptions about this country other than the art, pasta and women. But wow, it was much more than I thought.

If I was to do a food analogy here, Maastrict how be a saltine cracker and Italy would be a super deluxe enchilada. Loud, colorful, tasty, messy, and potentially dangerous.

I felt it as soon as I got off the train. It felt like being in Mexico. The people looked Mexican for one, and they all were much more vocal. I remember picking up a woman's scrunchie (sp?) and handing it to her, and I got several huge "GRATZI!"'s in return. A Dutch girl would have smiled and maybe nodded.

The city itself was very pretty, but I had to handle myself differently. For one, I knew the car wouldn't stop for you, crosswalk or no crosswalk. My poor friend Stephen nearly got run over at one point and then the driver, who stopped inches away from him, chewed him out in Italian. This made me laugh. Stephen is a very mellow logical white guy, and this contrast was comical.

There were a lot of situations where Stephen's whiteness kind of clashed. For example, when asking for service, he would make a request without the latin propriety that involves at least a greeting. If you smile and speak Spanish, this helps tremendously. At one point, out of frustration on the service, Steve started asking me to do the talking.

I did the talking at the hostel we stayed at, and the landlady, if I do say so myself, loved me. She was a very quirky, worrisome woman, but she didn't mind sharing gossip and talking directly to me. She even would laugh at "Senior Dark" (Steven Dark) behind his back. I later learned that she was from south Italy and how she had been working here for about 20 years. It was also interesting to learn that she wasn't welcomed initially to Florence, due to her accent. She said south Italians have a reputation for being mafiosos. And the way she acted, it wouldn't surprise me if she was.

So while we were there, we hit up a few musems. The first was Leonardo's interactive musem. It was basically a exhibit of his sketches brought to life and you could toy around with them if you wanted. Pretty cool. We also got to go to the Galleria, which was my personal favorite stop. After the Mona Lisa let-down in France, I wasn't expecting much, but holy crap, that David statue was amazing. Yes, I waited in line for an hour to see and giant naked man, and yes indeed. . .it was amazing. The sheer level of detail and the sheer size of the statue really impressed me.

And then things got a bit sour in there. Right to the right of the statue was this giant photo of an old man that looked like he was trying to fly, but was completely stark naked. The background of the shot had a bunch of morphed renassaince paintings. His dong also looked like it was glued to his stomach, so it was pointed straight up and a little to the left. Some kind of sick joke. I dunno.

We also got a chance to wander around in the botanical gardens, which were fabulous. There were scenic walkways, statues around every corner, pretty fountains, and awsome views of the city. Well worth the 6 euro to get in.

After that we hit up "S.Miniato Al Monte" which is basically a huge cathedral on the outskirts of flourence. This cathedral was the most impressive so far. We walked around and right before leaving we decided to take a rest on the pews. Then suddenly, I saw a door near the alter that looked like it led downstairs, and through it I spotted some monks. Then suddenly, they started chanting gregorian chants! I felt totally engrossed in this whole gothic looking building now. Very cool.

Near the cathedral was Michealangelo's Square. It's basically a huge square with a mold copy of the David with a spectacular lookout over the city. There were vendors and people. Lot's of fun energy. I watched a group of teenage guys pass a soccer ball around ala hacky-sack style, and they were freakin' good. They were doing tricks and stalls that I couldn't even do with a hacky sack.

We headed back and ate at a Pizzeria. There was this old Yankee who suddenly butted into our conversation, but we appeased him and talked back. He was a private pilot, so he knew his way around Europe, and he let us know that he was "the expert" when it comes to all things Europe. Pompous old rich fart.

After that we spent the evening in Flourence enjoying the night life. Like Mexico (again), things comes alive in the evening. Street performers and artists come out, restaraunts open, and people are abundant. At one point I just sat in this square enjoying this band's renditions of some of my favorite Italian melodies and watching this spray paint artist work his magic. I nearly bought one of his pieces.

Even back in the hostel, you could still enjoy the nightlife (unfortunately). Right outside our window were restaurants and performers. I just stuck my head and applauded seeing as how I couldn't sleep with them around.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Back in Maastricht

I feel very comfortable now in Maastricht. It took a good week, but I feel pretty integrated now.

I actually walked to the gym today. It was a freakin hour long walk. I'm thinking I need to get a bicycle here. It took me 3 hours to workout. 2 hours of walking and 1 hour of actually lifting. I found we have a facility here in our buidling, but the jerks running the place here only allow Dutch kids to use it. It's not fair considering that they will have full access to the SLC in Waco, which is a much nicer facility. And seriously, these kids here don't even use the facility. No one really works out here in Europe. They're all scrawny looking geeks. Us fat meaty Americans could easily knock the caca out of them in a fight.

Anyway, at least I got to work out. The room was itty bitty, and they were blaring techno music. I actually liked that. I hate working out to thug rap at Baylor. It just annoys me to death. The high energy techno keeps you going--as gay as some of it sounds. On the way back home, some dutch girls gave me a hoot and holler. And so my ego grows. . .

I also found a great running route in the city that goes through some beautiful terrain. It runs though some country side and fields of who-knows-what. Probably marijuana. :) But the run is really nice with the fantastic weather. I spotted a rabbit in one of the fields, first one I've seen on this trip. (And I've seen all sorts of animals)

Speaking of which. I met a man in a train station with a beautiful looking dog. I was pretty burly and had a brown and black coat with a large tail. but the amazing thing about it, is that it had Luke's head. It was his head exactly!! Exact same skull structure. I asked the man what it was, and turns out it is a German Shepperd/Rotweiller mix. One of it's ears was droopy and the other straight up. Funny no? Maybe Luke has some Rotweiller in him or something.

Alright well more as it developes.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Swiss Bliss!

Wow! Switzerland was phenomenal. There is so much to say and it would probably not to it justice either way.

Andrew, Stephen, and I all decided to go to Interlocken so we made a train schedule out. Unfortunately, we missed one of out trains, but we figured "Ah, well, this is part of the experience." And boy 'o boy, were we right. We ended up just winging the rest of the journey to interlocken and spending a good chunk of the night in a German train station. I seriously felt like a bum sleeping in one of the corners. The freaking custodians kept relocating us, until we moved into the official waiting room, where one old fart sounded like a motor boat snoring. It was pretty funny though. We actually had fun at the station though. We played a new version of "Gold Fish". Instead of saying "Gold Fish" we instead said "Go fish, you Pendejo!" Cracked me up hearing that come out of Stephen's mouth.

You have to understand who Stephen is. He's a really kind, easy going, mellow electrical engineer. And throughout this trip, he kept calling Andrew and I a couple of "pendejos" for different reasons. We actually came up with a lot of good sayings and words. More as the story progresses.

So we finally got to Interlocken, and I was in complete awe. The city is gorgeous-- out of a fairy tale. There were little spouts of water throughout the city where one could just drink to their fill. The water tasted as crisp and the mountain air we were breathing. I drank so much water, cause it tasted just so good. Luckily, the public restrooms there were free as well as very nice. The streets weren't cobble, which was a relief for my feet, but paved like in the states, but there were still the picturesque looking buildings. . .surrounded by mountains!! Everywhere you looked there were alps. Some snow covered, some not. We wanted to go up some for sure.

On day one, we took a private train, unknowingly towards a hiking spot. When the conductor found we didn't pay, he took out Eurail passes and didn't give them back until we agreed to pay for what we rode. Luckily, it was only about 3 franks or so and we decided to walk.

While walking back, we figured, why not climb an alp? No preset trails, baby! We found one with a good clearing to start out with. It was pretty steep with rock cliffs jutting out the side. Once we got into the forrest, there was a massive layer of leaves that not only would cushion you if you slipped, but could potentially send you skiing for a looong way. Poor Stephen slipped a few times and fell a few body lengths. We found that using a walking stick was the way to go. We eventually hit a rock cliff and climbed along that. We also discoverd to trust the trees more than the rocks, as some of the rocks would just slide off when you gripped them. Kinda freaky. Also along the way, Andrew was holding my small backpack and I asked him to toss it to me. He did, and it fell short and suddenly began to tumble down the mountain. We were all a little shocked and started laughing. We could hear it falling minutes after it started and never saw it again. We kept going until we found an actual trail that eventually led to a road up in the alp. We met an old Swiss man who had some sort of business up there and didn't speak a word of English. And from there, the view of in-freaking-credible. Andrew was getting emotional it was so grand. I wanted to keep going hire, but both Andrew and Stephen wanted to head back, so I figured I'd wait until tomorrow to hit a peak.

The hostel was pretty cool. It was almost all American students there, so it felt a lot like Baylor. There was a party everynight with happy hour, so I had me a nice dark pint. It went great with my huge $13 dollar burger (the most expensive thing I bought while there). We were pretty pooped and hit the hay soon afterwards.

The next day we set out early to start our climb. We got on a trail called Harder Kulm, and started our way up. It was a pretty intense climb, and soon enough the word ïntense"was added to out word list of the weekend. Along the way, Andrew and I ran into this dude named Alex, who was actually a part of the US biking team. He was competing in Europe and decided to take a break for the weekend. . .and climb an alp! Geez. I was getting pretty beat, but after about 2 hours of hiking, we found this large restaurant up on the alp. It was very very posh with Frank Sinatra music playing and sickly overpriced. 30 dollar plate for beef stogonaff anyone? Lucikly there was a small sandwhich shop right next to it. Everyone up there was just chilling and enjoyuing the view. They (employees and visitors included) were very kind to us, especially when we mentioned we were from the states. No anti-American sentiment in Switzerland it seems! We also ate this icecream bar called a "Magnum", and it was envigorating. I was so ready to get to the top now. So we set out and things got steeper, and rockier and steeper until we finally made it. And holy sweet crap, the view was Magnum. Totally Magnum. You could see. . .it all. I forgot the impending cliffs of death and jumped up on a small bench up there and gave a holler. The hibby jibbies soon kicked in and I nearly hugged the ground after that. We then made our way down from there (SLOWLY and CAREFULLY) and then down the alp.

At the bottom of the alp, a crystal clear river ran next to it in a city park and we enjoyed some nice sack sandwiches. The Swiss finches also enjoyed them as well. These little birds, that are deathly afraid of you in the states, started trusting us enough the take the bread out of our hands. It was hilarious. At one point, we were all laying out on our backs enjoying the weather, and these little finches were scurrying all around us. I'd turn my head, and see a couple of them face to face. I couldn't help but chuckle in disbelief. I also tossed a bit of bread on one of my companions, just to watch him get attacked momentarily by a swarm of finches. It was pretty funny.

We spent the rest of the evening looking in shops and exploring the city. At one point, we found this attraction that was pretty awesome. We paid 10 franks to get into a train lift that was over a century old (more extreme than skydiving if you ask me) and it took you to the top of a small alp, from there, you were stapped into a small cart that went down a rail, like a personal roller coaster. You sat in this tiny cart, with a seat belt and a lever right in front of you that controlled your speed. Naturally, I kept the speed full blast and screamed my way down the alp until all these warning signs started popping up. At one point, there was a sign that said to slow down for a corner, and I thought I slowed down enough, but right around the corner was the end, and I ended pretty roughly with my sun glasses popping of my head. This amused the Swiss people at the bottom very much.

We finally went back to the Hostel were there was another party, checked that out, ate some chocolate, watched some of "Old School" and went to our room. To our surprise, there were some pot smokers in our room but they eventually left, with our room full of weed smoke. It attracted a couple of people into our room, one girl in particular who thought we were smoking it and wanted to be our best friend. She was like, "Hey are you guys smoking? We can be friiieeends!" We let her in and had a good talk with her and this dude she knew. As they left, he yanked off her skirt and we had another spectacular view to add to our list of spectualur views this weekend. Poor girl though, but I felt more sorry for the guy who did it. She gave him a good punch and pinched his nipple really hard. Haha, guess he deserved it.

The next morning, we had breakfast, thanked the hostel and made our way back home. I seriously want a summer home here now. This beats Scotland for my list of potential summer cottages.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Hoy!

Well, I'm in Europe once again, and once again, it's memorable. So memorable, it deserved some sort of documentation. And thus, the blog is born.

First off, I must say that everyone on this trip seems really cool. I have no beef against anyone, and people that I normally didn't talk to I am suddenly getting along with great. Maybe it's the honeymoon period of the trip, but either way it's been great.


LONDON

Weekend one was London, and we started the bloody tour as soon as we landed. Needless to say, the bus tour I was not awake for. That first day was pretty gruesome, and I had to battle out my jet lag and keep from falling asleep.

I'd been to London before, and loved it, but I feel as though this time through I didn't experience as much. For one, we just didn't see as much during the day. This was due to the fact that none of us knew our way around. We did see a few things like Trafalger's Square, that art museum next to it, and had a real crappy view of the changing of the guard.

The highlight of London, however, was what we did in the evening of day 2. We had a group of about 10 people who decided to do the night life--and it was blast. We started out just checking random pubs and hangouts. The streets were filled with energy and people. We found our way to the Sports Cafe that the fun really started. That particular night, there was a US vs. England soccer game, so people were going hog-wild watching this thing. Luckily, the U.S. lost, cause there would have been a lot of angry drunk Brits that might have done something rash. Who knows? I'm paranoid.

So I played a few rounds of pool and drank a like 3 pints. My first pint was free. When I decided to buy my first, there was a Brit waiting behind me to get his order and kept bumping me. He seemed pretty wasted and thus he couldn't help but sway back and forth. He was also very burly, so I didn't mind that he was being a bit rude. He then decided to talk to me, and quickly discovered that I'm form the states. We made small talk, and he busts out with "You play America's Army?" I've played this PC game maybe twice, so I nodded yes. He then proceeds to punch me in the chest and I'm his honorary friend for the evening. He asked me what my favorite level was, and I freaked internally but responded with, "That one with the snow and the bridge." That did the trick. And that's how I got a free drink.

From there we hit up the dance floor, and this was the first time that I really but my groove on. Dancing is I'd say 50% state of mind and 50% skill. I don't think I have much skill, and it probably showed for the first two songs, but after the awkward beginning, your state of mind begins to relax and lose care, and that's when you start to improve. I was indeed complimented afterwards that I could use my hips very well. Must be a Latin thing.

So we danced for a couple of hours and managed to find our way back to the hotel after the Underground closed. It was the longest walk back, but soon enough we were warm again and I took a royal piss.

AMSTERDAM

"Walk down the right streets of Sin City, and you can find anything" -- Frank Miller

That pretty much summed up the experience here in this gargantuan filthy city. The first day was absolutely miserable with the cold and rainy weather. I even caught a sniffle. But day 2 was much better and more. . .interesting?

We started out going to Anne Franke's home, which was a very cool thing to see. There's no way I would last more than a week in there as clumsy and loud as I can get. I'd be gassed for sure. After that, we saw the Van Gogh and Rembrandt galleries. Both were cool, but got old very quickly.

After that, I found my way to the "Netherland's 3-D experience" theater, but it was a little lame. It made me feel that the Netherland's doesn't have much to offer. It kept showing shots of boats, bicyclists, and flowers. . .something I've already been seeing in 3-D for a while now.

But the Netherland's do indeed have much more to offer. Much more. . .

The second half of the day turned very different. I split off with 2 friends who were a blast to hang out with. Both had a very can-do attitude and weren't sending off negative vibes or apathy. I think I want to do more with them.

So we turned onto this street, and I noticed there was a woman in the window in a bikini. I thought, "That's really weird." We walked not 10 steps and ran into a Sex Cinema. I thought, "Hmmm, that's also really. . . wait a second!" Yes, I soon came to the realization that we were going down the Red Light Disctrict. And it's just about as raunchy as you can imagine. I man at door we passed yelled, "High quality filth right here. Come on in!". I had a David Chappelle looking hobo come up to me and ask if I wanted "Crack and ecstasy". A woman tapped on a window and beckoned me to enter. There were mushroom shops and weed shops everywhere. I was truly in Sin City. At one point, while we were leaving, we walked down an alley, but it was the wrong alley to walk down. It was pretty much all windows and women. The three of us got a bit put off by this, but we really freaked when one of them opened the door. We all thought we were going to get yanked in, but turns out she was just yelling at someone for change. Crazy stuff, no?

After that, we decided to find a church and take a bath in holy water. Actually, we just found a very scenic church that's no longer a church, but is an attraction. We also found a windmill and a pirate ship in the harbor. We also ran into this bloke who wanted one of us to punch him in the face because of he had "a tooth ache". I don't know what kind of crazy scheme we was up to--if at all. This lanky dude was staggering down the street and wouldn't stop asking for a good punch in his cheek. We finally convinced him that we wouldn't feel right doing so and that he finally bugged off.

We spent the rest of the day just walking around and finally went home. It was really a trip (no pun intended).

I'll write a bit about Maastricht tomorrow and how we almost got beat up by the local soccer team in a pub. . .