Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Updated Map

Here is the whole route!

Gutentag from Munich, Germany

I just got done spending the last 2 ½ days in Munich, Germany. What a WONDERFUL city. I need to revise my previous blog and I would have to say Deuchland is my top favorite place we have visited. The city is like a “new” Bavaria. It has preserved so much of the Bavarian architect and culture such as beer halls, medieval restaurants, locals bringing their stein to the pub down the street, Bavarian clothing and more. However it is a large city with several businesses, great transportation, Starbucks, and the most expensive street of shopping in Europe. Munich is known for their beer of course as well as where Hitler formed the Nazi party (although locals do not like to speak of this) and Oktoberfest!

When we got in we were starving so we headed straight to the closest authentic Bavarian restaurant. Luckily most everyone in Germany speaks English so they were able to help translate the menu because German is not the easiest language to sound out or guess the words (although I got a little better at the end of the stay J ) We had our favorite meal this night since we had been in Europe. First of all the beers they serve are HUGE and are all locally brewed in Munich, they are wonderful. Trevor and I both had schnitzels (mine turkey) and they both came with different types of potatoes… to die for!

The next morning we explored the city around Marianplatz (central square in the town). The hotel we stayed at (my favorite hotel) was only about a 5 minute subway ride from Marianplatz so very easy to get to. Lots of shopping, a large open-aired market, restaurants, Beer Gardens, churches, and museums. We decided to do a 3 hour walking tour which ended up to be amazing. We both learned so much about the history of Germany, Munich, Beer Halls, the town being destroyed in WW1 and WW11, Hitler forming the Nazi party, bullet holes in the cement that missed Hitler, etc. Traditionally the Germans do not like to speak of Hitler but as the tour guide said, that was a part of Germany’s history and shows how far the country and people have come. It is also illegal to do the Hitler “sign” and we heard on the news of a man getting prison time for repeatedly showing the sign.

We then went to my favorite restaurant the famous Hofbrahaus. The Hofbrahaus is a beer hall, the same beer hall Hitler used to make speeches in, locals were locked in to be forced to follow the Nazi party, and lots of other history. Today it is a fun atmosphere with a German band playing, a gift shop, and all of the servers are dressed in authentic Bavarian clothing. The beers are 1 liter and are served in a huge heavy glass and the pretzels are bigger than your head! We had a fabulous experience here and a delicious meal (I had Spatzle- thanks for the recommendation Steffan!) If we had a restaurant like this back at home it would be a packed house every night!

Yesterday we took about a trip to Dachau, which was the first concentration camp built. It is about 40 minutes way from Munich. I was a little hesitant to go as the Holocaust was such a depressing and horrible event that took place, but we were told that we must go and experience it and pay our respects. I told Trevor I wanted to get in and out of there but the memorial was so large and there was such much to read and learn about we ended up being there about 3 hours. Some of the buildings have been added, modified, or torn down, but most of them are preserved. We walked through the prison stalls, bunkers, gas chambers, crematoriums, and the museum that is filled pictures and memorials of those who died at this tragic camp. There were a lot of pictures taken of the camp back when it operated in the late 30s early 40s (it operated for 12 years!!), letters that prisoners wrote, bowls that prisoners were given to eat out of, and a lot of other objects preserved after the US military invaded and put and end to Dachau in the early 40s. (yay!). There are also 4-5 churches built on the grounds now including a Jewish Synagogue? I learned so much here and even though parts of it made me sick to my stomach I am glad that I was able to visit and pay my respects and be knowledgeable on what happened in history.

I am now on the train to Zurich, Switzerland which is where we will depart from tomorrow morning. Trevor has stayed in Zurich so we will show me around the city today and we will make our long flight home and arrive Thursday evening. I will try and write a little blurb about Zurich to wrap it up.



Sunday, July 20, 2008

My Favorite Place so Far, Venice, Italy

We spent the weekend in Venice and I would have to start by saying it was by far my favorite place we have been to so far. The beautiful sparkling water, small winding streets, and endless canals made this unique Italian city unbelievably beautiful. Despite that it is SO very “touristy” but the beauty of the town explains why. We arrived into Venice from Nice late Thursday night and had to take a taxi cab to the water-taxi station. This taxi was the first car I had rode in since being in Europe. Needless to say it was a crazy high-speed race just like the taxis in Mexico. We then took a water taxi (sort of a small ferry) for about 40 minutes to the main area in Venice. We were so lucky as our hotel was right on the water and right across the street from the water taxi station. Venice is built on canals so there are absolutely no vehicles whatsoever in the town. This made the city even more charming.

When we woke up Friday morning I was actually able to see the town in the daylight and it was POURING down rain. I had heard from a few people that Venice is known for flooding so I thought to myself “oh no” but luckily the rained cleared out by around 3pm. The Paganelli Hotel we stayed at was such a perfect spot. We had several restaurants and cafes right on the water steps outside our door, tons of vendors, gondolas galore, and just minutes from the famous St. Marks Square.

We walked around all day Friday getting lost in the maze of streets. Venice is definitely a tourist trap as there are shops upon shops of the same souvenirs. My favorite stores were the jewelry shops with Murano glass bracelets, necklaces, earrings, etc. Italy is known for their glass and had some of the most beautiful glass sculptures I have ever seen. Everyone has different prices so it was fun to shop around for the best deals. Other street vendors abundant in Venice are the men from Africa selling the knock-off Gucci, Prada, Coach, etc. bags and wallets. They are so funny as there are about 10 of them lined up in a row with a blanket filled with their merchandise. When you walk by them they say “Lady, Lady, which one you like?” and they are on you like a leech if you stop for a second. I was browsing them and did not think I had any cash but found 5 Euros so I pulled it out to see what they would give me for it. I ended up getting a cute “Gucci” wallet for only 5 Euros. Fake Gucci or Kmart special a cute wallet for around 8 bucks is hard to come by. The funniest part of the purse vendors is that it is illegal to sell the purses on the streets in Venice like they do. There are cops walking around everywhere (big old machine guns in hand) and when one vendors spots one coming their way they yell to the others and they will wrap the purses in the blanket and all run in a pack out of sight. It is extremely humorous to witness!

Venice is also famous for the amount of pigeons that reside there. I read online something like 5,000. The locals despise the dirty birds but it is again a tourist trap as all of the vendor kiosks sell bags of seeds for about 1 Euro for people to feed the birds with. Several people held the seed in their hand and let 5 or more pigeons crawl all over them. I found this disgusting as I know they are full of disease. On Saturday we woke up to hot weather around 90 degrees and a bit humid. It was a big day in Venice as it is the Redentore Celebration which is celebrating those who survived the plague back in the day. It is a huge celebration and HUGE party (similar to a 4th of July). We then did the famous gondola ride for about 45 minutes. It was so fun and peaceful gliding through the canals and under bridges as you will see in the video.

Out in the harbor hundreds and hundreds of boats started to emerge for the big celebration and fireworks display. Everyone decorated their boat, had music blaring, were dancing and having a great time. We got the perfect table right on the water at a café by our hotel. We sat there for about 4 hours until the fireworks started at 11:30. We enjoyed Italian wine, cheeses, bread, and of course had pasta for dinner. The fireworks display was beautiful (not as big as the Disneyland one but very close) and lasted for an hour.

We took our water taxi back to the train station today and when we were walking I all of a sudden felt what I thought was warm water being poured on me. Unfortunately this was not the case. A bird released a gallon of it’s nastiness all down my arm and ALL over my luggage. I stood there in disbelief when I realized what happened. Trevor ran to get napkins and the nice water taxi man came to help. He said the bird must have been an eagle because he had never seen that much crap before. The smell was horrid and after getting it off my arm we tried for my bag but the stench and residue would not come off. LUCKILY right next to us was a clothing boutique and they sold luggage there. Trevor went and dropped my old luggage off in an alley and I bought a new one. At least it wasn’t all over my clothes and hair I guess. We are now on the train to Munich ,Germany (6 hour ride). Trevor just got fined 50 Euros for not having the date written on his Eurail pass (Train ticket) but it actually was a miscommunication. Still they do not care, they took his visa right here sitting on the train.

Italy overall was so much more friendly than France. I love the Italian language (similar to Spanish), they love to sing and we heard people singing all of the time, and for the most part everyone is very nice, relaxed, and helpful. I would definitely come back and highly recommend it to anyone for a vacation suggestion. The landscape is going to be very different in Germany and I am excited to experience that. We are already passing through large rolling hills, fields of corn and grapes, and castles as we are passing through Austria.



Friday, July 18, 2008


Here is a Map to give a little idea of my route!

From Nice to Venice

We left Marseille this morning and took a 2 ½ hour train ride to Nice. The terrain has changed so much from up north in Paris. We went through miles and miles of vineyards and green lush trees with fields galore. The train cruised along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and out the window was water lined to the horizon with shores of beaches. It reminds me a bit of Mexico with a mix of Miami. The houses are all stucco and there are tropical palm trees and even agave and cactuses . You know this place has already won my heart!

Our hotel in Nice was “nice” and had a large balcony. The “lift” to get up to the 3rd floor was an old-style pulley system elevator that you would imagine in an old ancient house. I was hesitant to get on it but it worked out ok. We immediately went to the beach and there was miles and miles of shore with hotels, restaurants and shops. We witnessed several speedos and topless women. People were swimming, para-sailing, intertubing, boating and soaking up the sun. I dipped my toes into the Mediterranean but that is as far as it went as it felt cold to me!

We saw a little open-air street train cruising around and decided to catch the next one for a tour. The train drove around in the city past several old architectural buildings and streets. The city of Nice is very old and has several very cool narrow streets with big tall European style buildings enclosing the street. The train then made its way to the top of Castle Hill. It was such a beautiful lookout onto the beach and city of Nice. There was a little restaurant and gift shop at the top of the hill and we wondered around for about a half an hour before getting back on the next train.
We decided to have something different than the usual salad or sandwich for dinner and went to a little Mexican restaurant (I called it a Frexican restaurant). The owner was very nice and was from San Diego and the food was definitely not bad. It was different than Mexican food at home but we had chips and salsa, guacamole, and shared chicken fajitas. Needless to say it was a good change and we both had been craving Mexican food. After dinner we went back to the hotel so we could get an early start the next day. Luckily this room had a few more English speaking channels rather than just CNN and we were able to choose from a few different shows.

We woke up early and went to the train station to book our next train to Venice, Italy. We wanted to do a night train since it is an 8 hour trip but unfortunately there weren’t any. We left the station in Nice at 1pm today and are currently on the train to Venice, with a 1 hour stop in Milan. We only had one day in Nice but it was definitely worth it and I would recommend it to anyone. The train ride pretty much wastes an entire day traveling but it is worth it to get to Italy.

This train is not as nice as the others we have traveled on including cafes inside, clean seats, nice bathrooms, etc. This is definitely an older train and is very stuffy, no air conditioning, dirty, and little rooms that you have to share with other people. We picked up lunch to bring on the train at the station and after taking a few bites of the cardboard pizza and the smelly sandwich I reverted back to my peanut M&Ms J Trevor is fast asleep right now and I am thinking I will do the same so I can wake up in beautiful Venice. We have a hotel booked right on the water.

Bon Voyage!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Down to Southern France

I am currently on the train down to Marseille, France which is along the coast of the southern tip of the country on the Mediterranean Sea. Unfortunately the train passes were all sold out to Nice (which is our next destination) but we were able to get another train pass to Nice from Marseille departing tomorrow morning. So as for tonight we will just stay in Marseille. We had a jam-packed past few couple of days in Paris as there is so much to see. On Saturday we went to a famous street called Champs Elysees which is filled with shopping and food. We had the best crepe that I had been waiting for (Nutella & banana) it was mouth-watering J We walked to the end of the street which stands the Arche de Triumph. It is a massive arch towering over the strip that has history involving Napolean.

We then made our way to the “red light” district of Paris which is where the original Moulin Rouge is. We weren’t able to make a show but I think that the outside windmill is very historic and famous when imagining Paris so it was definitely worth the trip down there. Sunday we went to the Louvre Museum (I read it is the largest museum in the world). This museum, as I mentioned before, is the home to Leonardo Da Vinci’s original Mona Lisa painting as well as where a majority of The movie the Da Vinci Code takes place. I was so excited to actually see the Mona Lisa in person as I believe it to be one of the most classic and most globally-recognized paintings in history. Of course there were several guards around it and you could not go within about 10 feet of it, but I was able to get some great pictures.

Yesterday was a beautiful day in Paris after on and off rain since we arrived. The perfect day to go to the happiest place on Earth- Disneyland!! It is about 45 minutes out of the city and probably took a little over an hour to get there with 2 different subways and a train. We started out in Disney Studios (similar to Universal Studios) and we were quite happy to realize that Disney must have a requirement of their employees to speak English. It was the first time in several days that I felt able to effectively communicate with another human besides Trevor. We checked out some of the studio rides/shows and then headed over to the Magic Kingdom. I was quite surprised at home similar Disneyland Paris is to Disneyland/World. There were a few small differences but other than that the day was filled with fun rides (Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, Thunder Mountain, etc), lines, fast-passes, Disney characters, souvenirs, and all the other great Disneyland usuals. Yesterday France celebrated their 4th of July with their “14th of July” celebration. Disneyland put on the largest most spectacular fireworks display I have ever witnessed or heard of before. It was quite extravagant and amazing.

We are planning on spending a few days down south and then heading to Venice, Italy. We have actually both had our fare share of France but did not want to miss out on the French Riviera. Maybe some things will be a little different down here? I hear it is beautiful and similar to Hawaii or Mexico.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Bonjour from Paris, France

We arrived here in Paris Friday afternoon via the Eurostar Chunnel from London (about 2 hours). It was a smooth ride and we met a couple from Chicago on the train who were very nice and great to talk to! The train goes under water from the UK to France but you aren’t even able to tell the difference. When we got into the train station in France it was definitely a world of difference. In London everyone spoke English or broken English, here in France every sign is in French and some speak English but not very well. It is definitely a challenge to communicate.

We finally navigated to our first hotel, La Fleche d’ Or, which was a hotel we just booked online the night before. We were not sure of the area but wanted to get something reserved and then figure out a better hotel to stay at. The La Fleche d’ Or was decent and just a place to sleep as we were out exploring Paris until late that night. We ate our first meal in France and it just so happened we sat next to a nice lady who spoke English and who’s brother lives in Seattle. She was able to help us order as our server did not speak any English. I asked for tap water (which as I mentioned before is not common in Europe) and apparently the server was upset as she wanted to sell us a 6 dollar bottle of water. I got a toasted sandwich with cheese and chicken, and Trevor got a ham and cheese with an egg on top of his. (Eggs on the top of a toasted sandwich are very popular and delicious!)

We took the Metro (subway) into the stop that we were told was the Eiffel Tower as this was the first site we figured we must see. We got off the metro and were looking around in the skyline but no tower was in sight. A local asked us “are you looking for the Eiffel Tower” (is it THAT obvious we are American tourists?) and she pointed us literally around a building right in front of us. Sure enough, there it was, right before our eyes. It was the most breath-taking and beautiful famous/historical site I have ever experienced. We were up on a hill looking down at the enormous and amazing Eiffel Tower. It was so surreal as this is something many people do not even see in their lifetime yet it was right before MY eyes. We stood on the hill along with hundreds of others, taking pictures and awwwing over the beauty.

A few things about Paris/France- it is SO big! We have walked around 2 full days and haven’t been able to see nearly close to everything. It is completely flat, at the right elevation you can see the Eiffel Tower miles away. It is still expensive but cheaper than London (we are on the Euro now). The French men (and maybe women?) smell horrible. I have had to plug my nose several times from the smell of someone who is in serious need of a shower pronto. The weather is nicer than London but it has rained both days for about 15 minutes and then it’s sunny again. Everyone seems to smoke here just like you have heard. There are indeed a lot of rude French people (Trevor got slammed through the revolving doors of a subway and I got purposely two-handed pushed by a lady getting off the subway).

We took a beautiful walk from the hill to the base of the tower where hundreds of people were. We passed by the Seine River which has tons of boats cruising up and down. There are little ice cream kiosks everywhere around the base, so I figured I was obligated to have a cone J We both had chocolate and pistachio and they were delicious! We continued our walk around Notre Dame and other historic beauties in Paris. When night fell the tower lit up in a bright blue (to represent the French President as this terms President of the European Union). Typically it is lit up with regular yellow lights. Also, every hour on the hour the entire tower sparkles and glitters like a Christmas tree but a million times more, for 10 minutes. I can stare at it the whole entire ten minutes- it’s unreal.

Today (Saturday) we checked in our new hotel that has a more central location, Hotel Bac St. Germain. Unfortunately our wireless Internet is not working so I will have to go send this out from the café downstairs in the morning. (Side note- our toilet paper is pink!!?) Today we went to Ru Cler which is an entire street filled with an open market. There was everything from bread, cheese, wine, pastries, meats, salads, and any other French food you could think of. We got ourselves an array of fresh food (bread, cheese, pasta salad, grapes, quiche, and a wonderful dessert called “divorce’” and took it to the park at the base of the Eiffel Tower for a wonderful lunch. We walked around the area of the Louvre (famous museum that the Mona Lisa is in and the movie the Da Vinci Code was filmed) and are planning on touring it tomorrow.

After some more walking (we figure we have walked at least 15 miles since I’ve been here), we ended up at a little Carnival. We went up into the Ferris Wheel (Trevor almost got sick at first) which gave an amazing view of all of Paris. We ended the day by grabbing some sandwiches (how French of us) and a bottle of wine and sitting up on the 7th floor of our hotel that has a semi-view of the tower for dinner.

We have so much more to see here in Paris. Although it is the middle of the day back home it is past 1am here and I am going to fall asleep to the French news station (no channels in English) and wake up tomorrow for another fabulous day of sight-seeing, trying to convey our questions to the French-speaking locals , and learning more and more about the city and Europe.

Au revoir!