Monday, September 26, 2005

Home Sweet Home

It took us over 26 hours, but we finally made it home today.

Woke up in London at 5:30am Monday morning (that would have been 9:30pm Sunday here in the PST), grabbed our stuff, and went right down to the shuttle bound for Heathrow. Our flight was at 8:20 and after the fiasco on Sunday morning, we didn't want to take the chance we would be late. Turns out our flight was late though. They expected to take off my 9:20 instead. So we waited around the airport for a couple of hours.

At that point we thought we would still be ok. We had a three hour window at our connection in Toronto, so we should still be able to make it in time. Unfortunately our flight arrived in Toronto 2 hours behind schedule, leaving us only one hour to hop on the shuttle to the other terminal, clear Canadian customs, clear US customs, and re-check our bags. Yeah, we didn't make it.

I got stopped at customs. Apparently the flower bulbs I bought for my grandma in Amsterdam didn't have some certificate saying they weren't infected with some bacteria, so they took them away. But that was the extent of it. Jessica wound up being the random check, so they searched her carry on bags as well. All clear, no way we are making the flight.

So instead of the 2pm flight from Toronto to LA, we were booked on the 6pm flight. So we waited around the airport for a few hours. Called my dad to tell him the change of plans - we should land at 8:10 and make the 9pm shuttle to the Disneyland Hotel, should arrive there at 10pm and can he pick us up then.

But they didn't even start boarding for our flight until 5:50, so the plane started moving at around 6:30. But we didn't take off. Apparently there was a problem with one of the runways, so they only had one for that terminal, so all the planes were queued up, waiting for their turn to take off or land. Didn't actually take off until 7:45.

So instead of arriving in LA at our original 4:10, or our updated 8:10, we landed at 9:30pm. A full 24 hours after waking up to leave. But the fun still wasn't over. We were hoping to get our bags in time to meet the 10pm shuttle, but we were standing at the baggage claim, waiting for our bags, as we saw the Disneyland shuttle drive off at 10pm. We were ready 15 minutes later.

I called my dad. He was there waiting at the shuttle drop off at the Hotel. But he made the trek out to the airport to pick us up. I finally arrived at my house at 11:30. Poor Jessica still had a drive back to Norco.

But we are home. The trip was great, but it is good to be back. Now all I need is a shower, clean laundry, and some sleep....

Sunday, September 25, 2005

In Limbo Here in London

I thought I would sleep the rest of the day yesterday and try to get over this cold, but our roomate at the hostel was determined to keep me up. She was making so much noise that I'm surprised Jessica or I got any sleep at all.

We woke up at 6:30am, packed up our stuff, and headed down to breakfast. Jessica got yelled at again (yesterday she took too much cereal, today she used the wrong kind of cup for her orange juice), and today she figured we were about to leave, so she yelled back. Really, how important is it that she used two coffee mugs instead of a coffee mug and a juice glass.

We were running a bit behind, but we made it to the airport 15 minutes before they closed the check in for our flight. Took off at 9:30am, landed at 9:15am. Nope, that's not a typo. England is an hour behind the rest of Europe, so we are getting a head start on adjusting to the time change. I know it's just an hour, but whatever.

Arrived at London Luton at 9:15am, but didn't make it to the hotel until 1pm. We had to take a shuttle, to a train, to the Underground (subway/metro/whatever-you-want-to-call-it), to Heathrow where we got on another shuttle that finally left us at the hotel.

Had quite a scare when we the shuttle from Heathrow to the hotel took off. Jessica apparently left her purse on the cart we were using to transport our bags (yep, her purse, with her passport, debit card, drivers license, AND birth certificate - she can be pretty stupid sometimes). She jumped off at the next terminal and ran back to where she left it. The gods must have been feeling sorry for her today (they have not been on her side quite a few times the last month) because when she got there, there was a little old lady keeping an eye on it for her.

Our hotel is around the corner from the airport, and quite a ways from central London, so we decided to get something to eat here and just rest the remainder of the day. Partly because we are both sick and partly because we are just tired. Unfortunately the only thing we could find to eat around here was McDonald's.

We finally caved, and ate at McDonald's. Jessica was disturbed by the fact that they didn't offer mustard. But then she got her hamburger and it had two tiny dots of mustard on it, so she knew they had it and went to ask for more. They said no, so instead of just accepting, she begged and they caved.

Jessica. She was so interested in food when we left for this trip, but she has been disappointed in the fact that a) there is no plain, yellow mustard to be found in Europe (they have the good, high quality mustard she has no interest in), b) when you order a salad, you could be getting any kind of mixed vegetables, likely not including lettuce, and if it does include lettuce, it probably doesn't have any kind of dressing on it, and c) they don't serve bread and butter before meals (sometimes you get bread, but almost never with butter). She's been experiencing some culture shock. She thought that by eating at Mickey D's, she would have something that reminded her of home, but again, she realized she was far from. Don't worry Jess, you can have a mayo and mustard sandwich at home in about 36 hours.

We've decided to just hang out here at the hotel the rest of the day, and enjoy our first decent shower in a week.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Lost in the Louvre

Jessica gave me her darn cold, and now I'm in Paris and I'm sick.

The train ride from Prague to Paris was decent. We had to switch trains at 6:30am, but that gave us a chance to pick up something to eat as well. After about 15 hours on the trains, we made it to the hostel in Paris around 2:30pm.

We wanted to keep it simple, so last night we walked along the Champs-Elysees from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde. It was a nice night walk, and we had a good view of the Eiffel Tower when it was all lit up.

We are in this room at the hostel with 3 beds, so we have a roomate, which is fine, but last night our roomate snored all night long. Luckily it wasn't as loud as Keith's snoring in Munich so I was able to get some sleep.

Woke up around 8 this morning, had breakfast, and headed out for the day. Today's itinerary: Notre Dame and the Louvre. I liked Notre Dame, but after the cathedral at Prague Castle, it wasn't as impressive. Still beautiful though, and I have to say I prefer the gothic churches (Notre Dame, all the ones in Prague, St. Stephen's in Vienna) to all the renaissance style churches in Italy.

Next we wandered over towards the Louvre, but on our way found what we had wanted since we arrived in Paris... crepes. Jessica had hers with butter, but I opted for the Grand Marnier. Now I need a bottle when we get home so I can make them for myself because it was sooooo good!

We finally made it to the Louvre, which by the way, is MASSIVE. We walked around there for about 4 hours and still didn't see everything. No cameras allowed, so no pictures, but we saw the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa, and some other really great sculptures and paintings. Unfortunately, although this collection was impressive, it had already been outdone by the Vatican Museum.

We were tired and hungry and decided it was time to go find something to eat. But at that point we were deep in the Louvre, and though we followed the exit signs (the ones we could find), we still found ourselves wandering through the museum for good hour just trying to get out. Good thing I'm not diabetic or something.

We finally made our way out and after wandering around Paris for another 45 minutes, we found a place to eat and had a nice lunch. Even though I can't really taste anything right now. I think I'm going to sleep the rest of the day.

We wake up early tomorrow to fly back to London...

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Ahh, Praha

We arrived in Praha (Prague) at 5:30 am yesterday morning. I tell you, that is not the time of day you want to be outside here. It was so cold, I had on 3 shirts, a scarf, a jacket, gloves and two pairs of socks (one pair was actually my slipper socks, so they were thick as hell too) and I was still cold. But I could see my breath, and that is always cool, I don't care how old you are. Ok, It's cool if you are from So Cal and it only happens occasionally - I'm sure the people in Minnesota don't get nearly as excited as I do when they can see their breath.

Anyway, there is also NOTHING to do at that time of morning. Nowhere to eat, couldn't check in to the hostel, too cold to walk around.... So we sat in the train station for awhile, until we could buy a map and figure out where we needed to go. And to our delight, the hostel was really close to he metro station. Couldn't check in until two, but they let us lock our stuff up there while we walked around.

Praha is beautiful. It is definitely one of my favorites. It has a very old world feel. And the churches are so different from the ones we'd seen in Italy, because these are all a Gothic style. Inside the churches you feel like they should make vampire movies here. (I know, they make all kinds of movies here, but a vampire movie would be perfect.) We walked from the National Museum to the Old Town Square where the Astronomical Clock is (unfortunately the clock was down for rennovations), then over towards the Charles Bridge.

The view from the bridge was beautiful, but the we climed the tower at one end and the view from the top was amazing. It was totally worth the ridiculous number of steps we walked up to get there. (I'm so glad I bought this camera before my trip, I think I'll have close to 2,000 pictures by the time I get back). When we got back downstairs, we wandered across the bridge but decided to wait to make our wish on the statue (apparently you only get one wish from the statue for life) and went on to the Torture Museum.

We actually went in to kill some time before lunch, but I'm amazed I was able to eat after that. They had displays and illustrations of common torture devices from the middle ages, and I have to say they all define cruel and unusual punishment. I'm not even going to describe them here, because it was just disturbing. Then we ate lunch.

And lunch was fantastic. I like Czech food.

After lunch we went back to the hostel to check in (and take a shower, because we felt pretty gross at that point), but when we got there, Jessica was really not feeling good (she'd been coming down with something for a couple days now) and needed a nap.

She started her nap at 2pm. I met some people at the hostel while she was napping and was invited to go out with them to dinner and a club. I woke Jessica up to see what she wanted to do, but whe was still feeling really sick, so she went right back to sleep and I went out.

It was basically me, two Canadian girls I met waiting for the computer, and the group of guys they met the night before (four Italians, a Romanian and a Hungarian). When we got to dinner, the guys took off their coats... they all had on matching T-shirts that read "I Love Party Girls."
Lacee, Alaina, Stephanie, I met your counterparts. These guys walked in to the club, took a shot, and immediately walked up to the stage and started dancing. They were on the stage all night. At one point they lost the stage to these two girls, and when the girls wouldn't relinquish it, they physically picked them up and carried them off the stage so they could get back on it. There could have been no one at the club, and they would still have had a great time. They were the party.

We made it back to the hostel at around 2am. (Yes, we left before they closed, but the other girls and I were tired.) Jessica had just awakened. Yep, she slept 12 hours. Then she got something to eat, took the medication we had picked up for her at the pharmacy here, and went right back to sleep. We both woke up at around 9:30am. Yes, Jessica slept around 18 hours.
We packed up our stuff and headed to the train station to reserve our tickets for tonight and lock up our stuff, then we headed off to the Castle Quarter.

The Castle Quarter is beautiful. We stopped at the Toy and Barbie Museum there (crazy collection of Barbies, way more than I ever had), then wandered around, and checked out the church. The church by itself was beautiful, but then we erad in the guidebook that the best view of the city was just up the 287 steps of the spire.

That sounded like a manageable number of steps, but I tell you we were winded by the time we made it to the top. I don't know how people to those stair climber machines at the gym, because I just about collapsed when we go to the top. Actually, I found the bench and did just that. We sat for a few minutes to recooperate, then checked out the view.

It was worth every one of those 287 steps. And the 287 steps back down.

Afterwords, we basically wandered aimlessly around the city. Didn't even look at the map. Just wandered. It was great. We bought some souvineers for the peeps back home, and then I stopped at Bata.

Lacee, it was a shoe store six stories tall. And each was the size of a normal shoe store. I had decided that while my docs have served me well during my decade long ownership of them, they are starting to fall apart and give me blisters. So I bought some sneakers. (Not that I needed a reason to buy some shoes).

I immediately changed my shoes, and thank goodness I did. My feet were hurting so bad from walking around all day today and yesterday, but the cushioning in these shoes somehow made it more bearable. Enough to continue walking around for another 3 hours.

We went back to the Old Town Square and had a great meal. And I again purposely made sure I had a Czech meal (Jessica had an Italian-style pasta, but I felt I should eat the traditional food of the country I was visiting).

Now we are at the train station, preparing for our 16 hour train ride to Paris...

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


We didn't do anything yesterday. We woke up early yesterday morning to make our train from München to Wein (Vienna), and literally stepped on the train less than a minute before it left the station. Talk about cutting it close.

We had all had little sleep the night before, so we napped when possible on the train ride, but with the connection in the middle and the snack/beverage cart we were interrupted quite often. Keith and Tania were off to visit their friends in Austria, so they rode most of the way with us. We made it into Wein a little after noon and headed off to the hostel. Jessica was coming down with something so we decided to take the day off our busy sightseeing schedule and rest.

Wein feels like it is in the wrong century. You would have to change very little about the atmosphere here to convince me I had gone back in time and was now in the 18th century. Some of the people here even look like they living 300 years ago. It is hard to describe.

On the bus from the U-Bahn station to the hostel I started to think we were going to be camping somewhere. The hostel is west of the main part of the city in a wooded area. We literally had our own forest. We finally found the correct address and thought we might be staying in an actual palace, but when we went inside we were redirected to the building next door. The hostel was still nice, and with the forest all around you it is hard not to feel tranquil.

The room we had this time only had 4 beds (the one in Amsterdam had 16) and we were the only people assigned that room for the night, so it was nice and quiet. Jessica napped the majority of the evening, while I read and posted a blog. We did have a fabulous (and cheap) meal at a little mom and pop place a few miles from the hostel.

Today we resumed our sightseeing, and first off was St Stephan's cathedral. This church was very different from the churches we saw in Italy. While those were rich and gold and had a Renaissance feel to them, this one felt gothic. It was beautiful all the same. Outside there were some people dressed in clothes from the 18th century offering tickets to a Mozart concert.
Around lunchtime we called Keith and Tania who were also in Vienna and decided to meet for lunch. We found this little place full of locals with handwritten menus and had a great meal for about 5 euros apeice.

Tania and I left Jessica and Keith at a cafe down the street to hang out while we went shopping! Today I discovered the H&M stores here. I could really do some damage in that store if I stopped thinking about the fact that I would have to carry all my new purchases around for a week. We finally stopped, grabbed the others, and headed to the opera house.

Unfortunately we missed the last tour, and you can only get in for shows or with a guided tour. So instead we took a tram around the city and saw some of what it has to offer. This was a nice break for our feet too. All this walking around is tough.

So now it is goodbye Wein, we are soon hopping on a train bound for Praha (Prague). I'm excited, I've heard such great things about this city...

Monday, September 19, 2005

The Best Party Ever!

The past weekend at Oktoberfest was possibly the most fun I've ever had. Ever.

There is this amaying sense of camaraderie and life filling the air and so many people from so many places, all looking to meet new people. People are singing aloud whether they are in a beer tent following the oom-pa-pa band's lead or just outside wandering around. In the tents, people are sitting at (or standing on) huge tables singing and drinking or eating, drinking and talking to people they've just met.

This weekend I met a Brit, a Croatian and two New Mexicans all of whom currently live in München, at least 3 Irish guys, at least 5 Germans from Stuttgart who have a deep love of good beer, some guys from the military stationed nearby, some guys from Boston that decided to go wander Europe for a year, and a couple from Monterey who come to the festival every other year. And that's just what I can remember off the top of my head.

We had grandiose plans to wake up early yesterday morning and get to one of the beer tents early so we could try to get a table. But then we slept until 10am. Okay, I slept until 10am, everyone else slept until noon. We had a rather late night the night before. Thanks to the miracle of RU-21, none of us had hangovers.

Before heading back to the festivities we took a stroll down Marienplatz, but all the shops worth going into were closed (which was probably a relief for our wallets). We finally headed back to the celebration. Some people go all out and wear the traditional german dress.

To our surprise, we were able to not only get into one of the beer tents without waiting at the door, but we also found a spot at one of the tables. Here we met the three Irish guys we spent most of the evening with.

There was also a rather large Italian man behind us who our new friend Patrick convinced Tania wanted a kiss from, clearly it wasn't her idea.

As the night went on we met more people, drank more beer, and had a great time.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

He Pissed in the Corner, and then...

It's raining, it's pouring, the old man is drunk. And so am I.

So we arrived in München (Munich) to begin the Oktobertfest celebration, but we didn't make it down to the festivities until around 2:30pm. We walked around for awhile. Oktoberfest is basicallz a big carnival/fair with beer. It is the grandest people watching event of all time.

We walked around for an hour or so, then decided we wanted to hang out in one of the beer tents. Unfortunately, because it was opening weekend it was rather crowded, and they weren't letting anyone else in. We hung around the door for about 2 hours before we decided to do something else.

We wound up camping out at a wine garden (because Jessica still doesn't like beer, even though she's had plenty of time to train), and were drinking some beer with some guys from the U.S. military when this guy came by to pee in the corner. Apparently the lines at the bathrooms were too long and he couldn't wait. The security guard saw him though, so they stopped him right away.

We never learned his name but he sat and talked with us for awhile. He was a British guy, just finishing school, about to go into law school. After talking for awhile he asked if we wanted to get into the beer tent. Of course we did, so he said to just follow him to the West 1 entrance. He'd worked out some deal with the security guy there. We followed him there, but that was apparently not the right entrance. We wound up checking every entrance to the tent, but to no avail.

We decided we were better off just hanging out outside, but we needed to first hit the restrooms. While Jessica and Tania were in the restrooms, our new British friend got in the tent, and had them holding it open for us, but we were taking too long, waiting for them. So instead we made friends with some Poles hanging outside the door. They gave each of us a stein of beer, since they couldn't get in with all that beer anyway.

We wound up not getting in to any tent at all, but instead going back to the place we were haning out with our new military friends, and this time made some new friends that run a specialty chemical company. By the time we got out of there, we were all too drunk to figure out how to get back to the hotel. Except Tania, she was our savior for the evening.

Got to get to bed early tonight though, want to get to the tent early tomorrow so we can get a seat. A long day of drinking ahead of us....

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Operation Vinofest

Thankfully, yesterday was a somewhat relaxed day. Instead of walking around all day sightseeing, we drove around. Keith and Tania drove us around the Tuscan countryside, pointing out what they love about the area they live in. We also stopped at the oldest winery in the world and tasted some excellent wines.

When we got back to the house we packed up. We were all off for our trip to München (Munich) for Oktoberfest. Before heading to the train station we stopped for dinner at Keith and Tania's good friend's house for a home cooked meal. The hour long dinner was probably the fastest meal in the history of Italy (they are usuallz closer to 3 hours). It was delicious. But we had to rush out the door to make our train. We would have just made it, but the train ended up being 15 minutes late, so we could relax a little.

On the train we tried to set up Tania's computer so we could all watch Euro Trip until we made it to our connection in Firenze. Unfortunately we could not turn the sound up high enough to hear over the noise of the train, so Jessica and I narrated instead (we've seen it so many times we don't need sound) while we shared a nice bottle of red wine.

We had an hour between trains, so we went down to the bar across the street and shared another bottle of wine. We figured being a little tipsy would help us sleep on the train to München. When we finally got on the train, the guy working there said our reservations for the sleeper cars were no good. When we had made the reservations in Rome, the guy had made them for Saturday night instead of Friday night, and we never checked the tickets.

Unfortunately, not only were all the sleeper cars reserved, all the regular seating was full up. There was no where to sit. We wound up camping out at the end of one of the train cars, and decided we needed more wine. Luckily, this particular train car was the last before the sleeper cars, and they locked the door between the two cars, and the bathroom at that end was out of order, so we had the end of the train to ourselves. Except when we stopped at stations along the way. Four hours, 1 1/2 bottles of wine, and some intermittent sleep later, one of the regular seating rooms cleared out, and the guy working the train pointed us towards the empty seats. He one of our new favorite people.

But the fun does't stop there. In the process of trying to lay down the seats, Jessica spilled her full cup of red wine on my light blue jeans. I was soaked, and cold, and tired. After that we slept lightly until we made it into the München train station.

We had reservations at the Marriott, but the check in time was supposed to be 3pm. We had arrived at 8:30am. But lickily, we arrived and they were able to get us into a room right away. Today we begin our Oktoberfest adventure...

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Shopping in Firenze

We woke up early this morning and headed out to Firenze (Florence) for the day. Didn't do a lot of sight seeing, but we got some in. It was a pretty mellow day, but we are still all exhausted.

I could really spend a lot of money in Firenze. It's a good thing I have a budget and was able to stick to it. Got some gifts for the peeps back home, some clothes, and some killer shoes. I'm really excited to wear them, even though it won't be until I get back.

We saw the Duome, which is a church with what was (when it was built) the largest dome of its size. It was actually quite revolutionary when they figured out how to build it. We also checked out some Piazzas (I don't remember their names) with quite a few sculptures, including (a copy of) Michelangelo's David (the original has been in a museum since it was damaged during a riot).

We walked around a lot, shopped quite a bit, and saw some beautiful areas. I like Firenze much more than Roma. It is a prettier, mellower city.

When we got back to Cortona we headed out to dinner at a great place around the corner. The food was amazing! The guy that owns the place served us, and it must be said that he is quite a character. And his wife is the chef. Dinners here take at least two hours. And many courses. It is a good thing we are walking around so much because if we kept eating that way with no exercise, we would all weigh 300 pounds. We had an antipasto (which is not a salad here, it's really just an appetizer, tonight was meat and cheese), pasta (a full plate of pasta, not just a little side), a meat dish, a vegetable dish, and desert. And don't forget the vino (wine), the sweet wine with desert and the after dinner liquor.

Check out my sister-in-law's great blog for another perspective on the week. She's a little behind, but there are some great pics up.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A Weekend in Roma

Yeah, I know it wasn't a weekend, but it was two days in a row that I didn't have to work, so it felt like a weekend.

Jessica and I headed off to Roma (Rome) Tuesday morning with big plans. We arrived at 1pm and were going to see the Colosseum, the Piazza Navonna, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, St. Peter-in-Chains church and the Parthenon all by the end of the day. But first we had to find our hotel.

This is what I have to say about Roma: It is a big city: like LA, it has some beautiful areas and great things to see, but it also has a lot of dirty run-down areas. Our hotel was in one of these. We walked the 1km to the hotel, through the Roman ghetto. There was grafitti everywhere, and the whole place was a mess. The place we stayed at actually required 3 keys to get in. First there was the key to the front door, then a key to the courtyard our room was in, then the key to the room. Luckily we weren't spending much time in the room, really just storing our stuff.

We headed off to the Colosseum, and were sidetracked by the Santa Maria Marggiore church/cathedral. It was beautiful. The sign said no cameras but everyone else was taking pictures, so I did too (I kept the flash off though, because the flash makes the paintings deteriorate quicker). Had to get a move on though if we wanted to see all the things on our list.

By the time we made it to the Colosseum, it was 4:15. That place is amazing. Now I know why you usually see pictures of one side of it. It would be difficult to get a picture of the whole thing without being really far away. We got some great pics standing next to some of the archways, just to illustrate how freaking tall they are. They have some great sculptures inside the upper level too.

We only hung out at there for about an hour, since we had to get to the St. Peter-in-Chains church before it closed at 6pm. It was right up the street, so we should be able to reach it in time.

But the map we had kinda sucked, and the streets there are not grid-like the way they are in Cali, so we walked around for about 45 minutes, looking for the place, which we figured would be easy to find. Not so much. First we walked up the wrong street, then back towards the church, then turned down a street too early, then back up another wrong street.... My feet were beginning to hurt. We sat down and ate some gelato, looking at the map and thinking about what we were going to do next.

Once we had decided, we got up, turned around to throw away some trash, and discovered we were sitting right in front of the church (which you would only know was a church because of the plaque on the wall). And to our surprise, they were open late, so we got to look around anyway. This church holds Michelangelo's Moses and what are two sets of chains that alledgedly held St. Peter. One set is from when he and Paul were held prisoners in the Mamartine prison in Roma, and the other when Herod jailed Peter in Jerusalem. (I'm getting this straight from the guidebook)

We had decided we were too tired to walk around the other stuff, so we headed back towards the hotel. The idea was to do a pubcrawl later in the evening, but when we got back we were too tired to even do that (we had probably walked 5 miles or so, and we are so not used to that).

We woke up early today and met Keith and Tania at the train station. The plan for today: The Vatican Museum and St. Peter's Basilica. By the time we made it to St. Peter's Square (which is actually more of an oval shape), there were so many people fooding in we thought there was something happening that day. Didn't know it was right before the pope gave 10:00 mass. Yeah, the Pope does the mass on Wednesday's, and we accidentally picked that day to go visit. So we snapped what photos we could of the Pope, as well as some of the square, the fountains, the columns, and statues, then we decided that then would be the perfect time to enter the museum. Kind of like going on rides at Disneyland during Fantasmic. Everyone else is occupied.

As soon as we got inside, Jessica wanted to take off to see the museum at her own pace, suggesting we meet at a designated area at a designated time. No one liked the idea of splitting up except Jessica, but we also didn't want to prevent her enjoyment of the museum, so we instead suggested she take my phone and we call one another at 1pm.

The Vatican Museum is HUGE! And amazing. They have art from the Egyptians, the Etruscans, stuff from the Renaissance and the Reformation. And they allowed cameras, so I may have a hundred or so photos of all the stuff. Learned some stuff too: the Egyptians decoratied the inside of the mummy coffins, the Vatican made plaster fig leaves to put over the genetalia of many of the statues (but not all of them), the pope that hired Raphael to paint some of the frescoes in the vatican liked his work so much he had the work of other masters scraped off and gave Raphael free reign, and Michelangelo oringinally turned down the job of painting the Sistine Chapel. Apparently the pope pleaded, bribed and threatened Michelangelo into taking the job.

I can't explain how beautiful the museum and it's artwork is. The building itself is art alone. The ceilings are amazing, the floors are beautiful. Even the walls are unreal. I think seeing pictures doesn't do justice, you have to see it yourself. The last room is the Sistine Chapel, which is supposed to be the pope's private chapel. I had heard of the chapel, and I had seen some of the artwork that there, but I don't think I knew what to expect. It is amazing. It is supposed to tell the history of the world before the birth of Jesus, and one wall is dedicated to Judgement Day. The artwork is truely beautiful. Michelangelo was a talented guy.

Next on our list of things to do was St. Peter's Basilica, and there was an entrance directly from the chapel to the entrance of St. Peter's, so we decided to send Jessica a text message telling her to meet us there. It was 1pm, so we were right on time. We tried calling a few times, but it went right to the message in Dutch that says I haven't set up my voicemail for this sim card yet, so she must be in an area with no reception.

St. Peter's is amazing. I know I keep using that word, but it is so relevant. The whole place is built to feel cozier than it is. The church is like 450 feet tall, but it never seems that big. There these huge statues that don't look like they are 15 or 25 feet tall, but they are. It should be a museum itself. Under the alter is what is allegedly St. Peter's remains, and on the side wall you can see the remains of Pope Pious the something (I don't remember which roman numeral he was). It may just be me, but that kinda groses me out. He's in a clear case and everything.
There is Michelangelo's Pieta (a statue of a very young looking Mary holding Jesus' dead body after he has been taken down from the cross), a sacred door you are supposed to tell your wishes that opens every 25 years (ok, not wishes, prayers, and when they open it your prayers are supposed to come true - I want to know why no one has prayed for world peace or an end to world hunger or the end of religious procescution), and all sorts of other artwork. It is truely amazing to think of how many tickets to heaven they had to sell to pay for this church. It really dwarfed the other churches we've seen so far.

Inside St. Peter's there was this couple walking around, him in a suit, her in a wedding dress. They had no family or friends there, just walking around looking like they just got married. Kind of strange.

We haven't heard back from Jessica yet, and are really getting irritated now, it's 2pm. She hasn't called or sent a text or anything. Tried to call a few more times, but it still went right to a message. But now we can't get back into the museum to look for her. And she wasn't in St. Peter's as far as we could tell. What to do? We decided to get something for lunch and see if she calls or texts. She didn't. We went back to the museum entrance, which was closed, then parked by the exit. We asked the guard if a redhead had been looking for a lost party, he said no. Tania and I stayed there while Keith walked back to St. Peters. at 5:15, a guard came out and asked if we were waiting for someone, yes. Jess? Yes.

She was in for a brand new can of whoop ass, but when she came out she had a decent story. Someone had knocked the phone out of her hands, and it had shut off, but since there is a prepaid sim card in it, it was asking for the unlock code, which she didn't have. She tried a few, and blocked the phone in the process. Couldn't access it to make a call, text, or even get a phone number. We stressed that this is why it is not a good idea to split up in situations like that. Good we learn this now, and not at Oktoberfest.

We still had some time before the train, so we headed to the Trevi fountain. It is beautiful! I didn't really expect it to be that big. The front of it really takes up the whole side of the building it sits next to. It was at this point that I learned how to record movies on my camera, so now I have a movie of the fountain and the crowd around it. We also checked out the Spanish Steps, and I got a movie of that area too. I know, I don't need movies of those, but I love this new function I've discovered and I had to play with it.

On the train ride home (to Cortona), we ended up rooming up with this couple. I was nice enough to switch seats with Keith, so I sat next to the guy, who apparently felt he needed his seat and half of mine (even though he was not a big man). About 20 minutes into the train ride, the woman leans forward across the center space and puts her head face down onto his lap. I have to say this is a strange position to see people in on a train. Tania was trying to tell a story, but we all ended up just looking at each other and laughing. It was a good thing they didn't speak English, because then it looked like we were laughing at her story. When we got the chance to switch to our own car, we took it.

We were all exhausted when we got home. If I could get new feet and rest these ones for a day or two I would. We may have walked 8 miles or so today. And tomorrow we are spending the day in Firenze (Florence)...

Monday, September 12, 2005

A Lazy Day

Today has been the laziest day of our vacation so far. We were up pretty late last night, and decided we would take our day trip to Florence on Thursday instead of today, and its a darn good thing we did.

When I woke up this morning, the shutters blocked out so much light that I could barely see, so I turned on my phone to see what time it was. My sister, hearing my phone turn on, asked me what time it was. I responded (in my morning voice) "It's not possible!" What time was it you ask? 2pm. Yes, I slept half the day away. I wasn't the only one though, Tania slept until around 7:15pm. I guess we've worn ourselves out recently.

We basically laid around the house the whole day, playing on the computer, eating gelato (I'm officially addicted), watching movies, trying to upload pictures onto the web... Tonight we are just going to do more of the same.

So instead of a play-by-play of the day, I have some observations for you all. And some things I forgot to mention in previous blogs.

The electrical outlets in Europe run at 240 volts (the ones in America usually run at 120). So if you need to plug something in you not only need an adapter, you need a converter too. I plugged in my cell phone and blew my charger. Now I have to buy a new one for when I get home, and if I want to use my phone while I'm here (which I do) I have to buy a charger here too.

Italians don't put Italian dressing on their salads. They put oil and vinegar, salt and pepper. I haven't even seen any other options. And a salad in Amsterdam never looked like a salad I'm familiar with. They were always just a bunch of different vegetables. Like potatoes, beets, and sprouts. No dressing.

Since we've been here, I think every toilet I've seen has a different handle/knob/chain to flush. Sometimes it's a button on the top of the toilet, sometimes it's a panel on the wall you push in, sometimes it's a chain you pull, sometimes it's a button above your head you push in.... No uniformity whatsoever.

Jessica learned a valuable lesson. Don't use the pay phones that allow you to call America with your credit card unless you know exactly how much they are charging you. A few 5 minute phone calls cost her a couple hundred dollars.

Gas is 5.50 euros here. So no bitching about $3 a gallon. And all the cars are tiny. No suburbans, no giant, unneccesary 1 ton quadcab trucks. The biggest vehicles I've seen are the same size as the Scion vans back home, and those are delivery trucks or for transporting groups of people.

The public transportation system is great here. And people walk around all the time. Maybe if Americans walked more often, we wouldn't have the obesity problem that we have. The meals here are huge, but they are better for you than the fast food so many Americans eat all the time, and the food here is so much tastier.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Pace in Asissi

I love Italy! I could really move here. Everything is so beautiful...

We actually woke up at 9am this morning (with a little help, Keith had to drag us out of bed). The plan was to take a day trip to Asissi, which is a 30-45 minute drive from Cortona. We finally left the house around 11am, but there was a little pace (peace, pronounced pa-chay) march from Perugia to just south of Asissi. Held up traffic a little. The normally 40 minute drive was easily 1 hour and 20 minutes. Loads of fun. The crazy part is that their pace flag is a rainbow, so it kinda looked like a gay pride parade, but really they were marching to end poverty and bring about peace. Cause marching leads to that kind or worldwide change.

So because of that, we couldn't actually drive all the way to Asissi, but we got pretty damn close because Tania was doing really well at with her Italian (props to Tania). So we made the moderate hike up to Asissi and had lunch. Not the best since we've been here, but still good. We walked around for a bit and watched the pace march, then we headed towards the church. On our way there, the sunshine suddenly became a torrential downpour. Keith and Jessica raced towards the church, because they had shoes that could handle that sort of thing, whereas Tania and I had to pace ourselves or fall on our asses. By the time we made it to the church, we were all soaked. And this is in a matter of 5 minutes.

One of the funniest parts was that Tania and I were soaked (we both looked like drowned rats) from the front, but were dry in the back. The wind was blowing the rain so hard in one direction that it didn't even hit our backides. The umbrellas we had were no help at all, because the wind actually broke Tania's and mine inverted itself and started to actually collect water, rather than divert it. Keith and Jessica, though drenched themselves, were laughing their asses off at us.

We finally made it to the church of St. Francis, and walked around both the upper and lower part of the church. We made the rounds in the tomb where he and his friars ar buried (and where, for a fee, they will give you a blessed card from St. Francis himself). The church was really beautiful. About 20 minutes later, when we left the church, the rain had completely cleared up. At this point we headed back to the car. Keith was hoping to make it back to Cortona in time to make some concert they were putting on in memory of 9/11. We didn't make it back in time though, so we just started getting ready for dinner with their landlady.

Silvia made what was probably the most fantastic meal I have ever eaten. There were four appetizers and two pasta dishes. Everthing was so good I could hardly beleive she could match it. Her boyfriend, Franscesco was really good at keeping the wine flowing too. We started dinner at around 7:45/8:00 and didn't leave until 12:15. Dinner here is not just about eating, it is a social event. On the way home from dinner, we stopped at the bar down the street and hung out for awhile. The place was dead, but we didn't need any more people to have a party - we were the life.

Tomorrow the plan has been to go to Firenze (Florence), but I don't know if we are going to make it. We may have to go Thursday instead. Ciao Ciao for now.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Cortona, Cortona

Today was so relaxing. This is what vacations are supposed to be like.

I stayed up late last night, writing my blog and surfing the web, even though I was exhausted from the long day of travelling. I even slept until 12:30. I know, amazing. I usually don't sleep past 8am. Lacee can tell you. My brother even came in at 11 and asked Jessica and I if we wanted to get up or sleep longer, and apparently I answered, even though I don't even remember the incident.

So I finally got up, showered, and at 1pm we headed down the street for an amazing breakfast/lunch at Fuf Luns. It was great. I had some pasta with wild boar. I know, wild boar. I've decided I really like boar. First for dinner last night, then this afternoon.... The pasta was really good, as was the sparkling white wine we had with it. It is really strange to wake up and immediately have a big meal with wine. But it was good. We had salad too, but apparently here they serve the salad at the end of the meal. It sounds kinda strange, but it was actually nice that way. Even though I was completely sutffed, I didn't feel all heavy since the last thing I ate was so light.

We walked around Cortona for awhile, and looked around the cathedral here. The town is really beautiful, and the views are amazing. Many of the buildings are built with stone, and the whole place really has an old world feel. We stopped for some gelato (we really were stuffed from lunch, but there is always room for gelato) and strolled the local park as we ate.

When we got back to the house around 4pm I fully intended to lie around reading a book, but after one chapter I decided to take a nap - for like 3 hours. If you know me, you know this is really strange. First of all, If I sleep past 9am, I'm probably sick. Second, I don't take naps unless I'm sick or I didn't sleep the night before. It was heavenly.

When I awakened, it was coming up on dinnertime. Keith and Tania were having some friends over for dinner, so I helped peel some onions and set the table. Inda and David came over, and we had a 3 hour meal. Pasta with pesto, sausage, onions (with some kind of sauce), rosemary and sage potatoes, an amazing pastry, and more gelato (yum). With some wine of course.

Later I'm playing on the internet with my brother and he has me watch this short animated video that was quite funny. Then I checked out a friend's blog I've been meaning to watch (it's a video, and all the other computers I've used this week said the page had security issues and wouldn't let me on). It was another short animated video from the same animator. Crazy, I never hear of this guy, then I'm watching videos by him sent to me from two totally unrelated sources.

Friday, September 9, 2005

Events en Route

I went to sleep last night thinking I wouldn't have anything to write about at the end of the day today, but boy was I wrong.

We ended up not going to sleep last night. Just stayed up until it was time to head to the airport, which we decided would be 4:30am. As we were walking up Damrack towards the train station we were stopped by two guys wanting to know where a good place to hang out was (at 4:30 in the morning I would like to add). They claimed they were from the US and had just arrived. One said he was from New York (though his accent clearly indicated this was not the case), the other said he was from Orange County.

I'm not exactly sure why one would pick the two girls with no makeup on walking down the street with massive packs strapped to their backs to ask for partying advice, but they did. Unfortunately we couldn't help them. They kept trying to carry on a conversation and I finally had to explain that we needed to go catch our flight (we had plenty of time, but the packs were really heavy and we just wanted to reach our destination).

Later on we were in the airport, and wouldn't you know, the same two guys are hanging out at our gate. I had made the mistake of telling them we were headed to Geneva. They had followed us to the airport! But luckily we lost them after that.

Flying in to Geneva was different than flying in to the other cities. Not only was the descent much steeper, they also descended in a spiral motion. I guess they didn't really want to run into any mountains along the way.

Immigration consisted of showing the guy our passports. No questions, no forms to fill out (like in Canada or London), nothing. He didn't even stamp my passport - and I was looking forward to a stamp from Switzerland. Customs again consisted of walking through an empty room.

Next it was off to the train station. Unfortunately the train we had intended to take was full, so we had to choose an alternate route, meaning we would arrive at our final destination at around 10pm, rather than 9:30pm. First was Geneve (Geneva) to Milano (Milan).

The countryside through Switzerland and Northern Italy is just amazing. Absolutely beautiful. I wanted to just tell them to let me off right there. I could have just lazed around and read my book for hours. We went through a section of the Alps where the clouds above were clinging to the sides of the mountains, completely white but so solid you couldn't see the sky above them. I felt like I was in that Heidi movie.

When we arrived in Milano we checked the board that indicated we should wait for our next train (to Bologna) on platform 15. We had about an hour and a half, so we hung out on the platform for awhile. Some guy that had been sitting there almost the entire time we had asked us to keep an eye on his bag for a short time, and when he came back he asked if we were going to Bologna as well, then informed us that they had switched the platform to 13 rather than 15. If I had not agreed to watch his bag for 2 minutes, we would never have figured that out and would have completely missed our train.

The train we got on in Bologna (to Arezzo) was set up differently than the others we had been on so far. Rather than an open space with many seats, this train was split into 6 person rooms (similar to the train in Eurotrip with the creepy Italian guy). We chose a room with an Asian guy who spoke no English but helped Jessica and I put our bags up. Just before the train started moving, he got up and headed off to the bathroom. Two other people joined our room (both of whom spoke Italian and no English whatsoever), but as soon as the train took off, we heard the sound of someone puking in the bathroom, which we were right next to. This guy wasn't just throwing up, it sounded as if he were actually trying to dislodge his stomach. This went on for about an hour. Then he came back to the room, looking like he had just ran 30 miles - soaked with sweat from head to toe. He laid down accross two seats and began moaning. After a few minutes, he passed out. One of the officials on the train came by, as well as about 8 onlookers. They then proceeded to poke him awake and try to talk to him in Italian. He ended up waking up, just in time to yak on the floor of our room. Jessica and I grabbed our stuff and headed to another room. They called an ambulance to meet us at the next stop and carted him off to the hospital.

All this meant we were running a bit late, which led me to panic a little, since we only had 15 minutes between trains at the next stop. I called my bro to have him look up the next train, just in case we missed our connection. But the train we were on booked it to Arezzo, arriving only 2 minutes late. But then our next train was running 20 minutes late. We ended up making it to Cortona at 10:30pm. Only an hour late.

After saying hello to Porter, Keith, Tania, Jessica and I headed down to the local wine tasting shop for dinner. We had some amazing meat, cheese and bread with some nice wine and good conversation. Last but not least we walked down to the local English Pub for some drinks with some locals.

Thursday, September 8, 2005

Nature, Nazis, Sex and a Tour

Today was our last day in Amsterdam. I finally got some sleep last night, woke up rested and ready for another long day. I think I'm actually getting used to all this walking. My legs don't hurt nearly as much as they have the end of the last two days.

First we went to the Botanical Gardens here. Some of the plants there are really amazing. We saw a lotus (I think, it was early, I don't really remember) that had some huge leaves. They can actually hold up 40kg without sinking the leaves. I took pictures, I'll post them in a few days. There was also a butterfly room with the biggest butterflies and moths I have ever seen. There was a terrarium looking thing with some caterpillars inside on a table. Jessica leaned on the table without paying attention and you could hear the table shift off balance so I made her stop leaning on it. When she moved, we realized she had leaned on a caterpillar. He was struggling, but we think he made it through.

Next we headed off to the Dutch Resistance Museum. There are a bunch of exhibits telling the tales of Dutch citizens and their response to the Nazi occupation during WWII. It was really moving. Did you know that at one point nearly the entire town of Amsterdam went on strike to protest the treatment of the Jews durning the occupation. There were tales of all these children that went into hiding with non-Jewish foster parents. When the occupation ended and they finally had to go back to their parents, the children had often become attached to the foster parents and didn't want to leave. Then for those whose parents had died there was the question of who do the children stay with - the foster parents they have grown to love or Jewish families so they can maintain their culture. There was also the story of people running illegal newspapers and one guy's father, who was a policeman, would tell him who they were going to target next so he could go warn them. But that wasn't enough WWII drama for us this day...

Next up was the Anne Frank House. This was powerfull as well. You basically walk through the building that the family was hiding in. It was Otto Frank's (Anne's father's) business. You walk through the downstairs as well as the hidden rooms that the 8 people lived in. It was small to fit 8 people. And the floors and stairs creaked so much it is hard to imagine how carefully you would have to tread to not make any noise. They basically had to hold still the entire day. Only one of the 8 survived.

Then, this evening, we checked out the Damrak Sex Museum. There is some crazy stuff in there, definitely only for open minded individuals. They basically have displays of pornography and sexually inspired items starting as far back as ancient Rome. They had some photographs from the 1800s, both amature and professional and it was clear which was which. Educational and entertaining.

Last for this evening was a canal tour of the city. It was more relaxing than anything else. I did learn that the Amsterdam harbor is actually a freshwater harbor, rather than saltwater, due to the lochs that surround it. And they pointed out when we passed two houses right next to each other that were actually exact copies of one another. Great that that is something worth noting on a tour.

We fly out early tomorrow, so we have to actually check out at 5am. So instead of trying to make sure I get up at that time (because we all know I can never get up on time), I'm just going to stay up the whole night. Only four hours to go...

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Bikes, phones, fine art and stairs

If we keep this kind of activity up throughout the trip, between all the walking and stairs, my legs are going to fall off. They are actually shaking right now as I sit here. And I've been resting for 4 hours.

The city is great! I like that there are so many people walking and riding bikes everywhere. It is so social. I'm so used to places where people just go in their houses and don't talk to one another. There are more people riding bikes and walking around than there are cars and trams and buses. And yet if you wander down some of the streets lining the quieter canals, it is so relaxed and peaceful.

I made the mistake of not taking a sleeping pill last night. Jessica too. We both thought that with as tired as our bodies were at the end of the day we would have no problem falling asleep. Wrong. We were both up all night. I think we each slept around two hours. So we finally got up at around 6am and started getting ready for the day.

The breakfast at the hostel was actually fairly decent. Cereal, yogurt, bread, cinnamon raisin rolls, oranges, milk, hot cocoa.... So we got something to eat and headed out.

First we rented some bikes. I haven't really ridden a bike in I don't even know how long, and all the bikes were too tall for me. I got the shortest one there and I still couldn't touch the ground when I was sitting on the seat without seriously tipping the bike. It was really rather pathetic, I looked like I'd never ridden before (but I never fell down or crashed!). We ended up returning them after about an hour. It was a nice idea though.

After picking up our Museum pass, we headed to the local mobile phone provider and I got a prepaid SIM card for my phone, so now I have a Netherlands mobile phone number. I finally feel connected again. Ahhh, peace. I can't stand being this disconnected. Must have contact with the outside world. I know, pathetic, isn't it?

First on our sightseeing agenda was a self guided walking tour from the Royal Palace to the Van Gogh Museum. I really like the buildings in this city. The Royal Palace (there is apparently a queen even though this has been a democracy for a long time) is fairly impressive from the outside, but we weren't allowed inside. We wandered down some shop filled streets and stopped for a late morning snack at a little courtyard hidden between there and the Amsterdam History Museum. We also saw Mint Tower, which used to serve as part of the wall around the medieval city. Everything past that is newer.

There was a huge flower market where they were selling bulbs for tulips, amarillos, narcisses, and other bulb plants (it took up an entire city block!), and a courtyard with a beautiful fountain and an large chess board, complete with knee high peices. Most of the Rijksmuseum is being renovated, but they had some of their artwork on display in the Philips Wing around the back. Some of the art in there is really amazing. I was able to take pictures as long as I didn't use a flash, so the pictures aren't that clear.

Behind the Rijks was what looked like a park with a beautiful, knee-deep pool of water. We stopped for about a half hour here, soaking our feet and reading. It was an absolutely beautiful day. People that were riding or walking by with their dogs would stop so thier dogs could take a dip or play fetch in the water. (I love that there are so many animals here, clearly well socialized and trained to follow their owners when off their leash!). There was also a huge grassy area where people were napping and reading. It was so peacefull. If we didn't have so little time in the city, I probably would have spent the rest of the afternoon just lying around there reading.

The Van Gogh Museum basically told the story of his life and grouped the peices together by where he was in life, explaining major events that influenced his work. I knew about his paintings, but I don't recall seing any of his drawings before. His stuff is really amazing. The museum is 3 stories. Lots of stairs (my legs are so tired).

After the Van Gogh Museum we were exhausted, and tired of walking and stairs, so we took the tram back as close to the hostel as possible. We had intended to go to the Anne Frank House between then and dinner, but decided we were too tired to walk that much more. We rested for a bit at the hostel and then headed out to dinner where we shared (very good) pasta and soup. Next we came back to the hostel, hiked back up the 6 flights of stairs to our room (yes, it's quite a workout) and passed out. For about 4 hours. I decided to get my internet fix and then I'm going right back to sleep (with a little help this time).

One more full day here, then we fly out early Friday morning...

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Late and Lost

Today was a crazy day....

So we woke up this morning in London after a great (sleeping pill induced) night of sleep, enjoyed a great shower, then ran out the door at 11am to make our 2:30 flight. We almost missed the 11:40 shuttle to Stansted Airport but when we told the lovely woman behind the counter the time of our flight she ran out the door, grabbed someone's walkie talkie and told them to hold the train. She is one of our new favorite people. Then it was an hour and 20 minutes to the airport (I had no idea it was THAT far). But we made the flight, no harm done.

I sat next to this lovely Dutch grandmother for the 40 minute flight. She was in London to visit her sister, she likes flying, she thinks it's just terrible what's happened to New Orleans, she's never been to Anaheim but she's been to LA, Santa Barbara, San Francisco and Palo Alto (I think she's seen more of California than I have). She also thought the pilot's english was teriible. I learned all this and more in just 40 minutes. She was very nice though.

Getting out of the airport was pretty quick this time. Going through customs consisted of walking through a room. I don't think there was anyone there at all. Buying a train ticket was kind of a pain though. There are all these kiosks that you can do it yourself, but you have to pay with a card, and they expect you to have a pin for your credit card. Jessica even tried her debit card but it didn't work, so we had to wait in line.

Next we had to find our Hostel, so what did we do? We just started walking in the general direction I knew it was (we knew it was a mere 1.5km away, so how bad could it be?). We stopped at a shop and bought a map, which was apparently the largest map of Amsterdam ever. We unfolded the thing and I think Jessica could have hid behind it. There was a man inside the Hotel Reservations place just laughing at us, then he offered to help. We unfolded our map on the counter this time (instead of just trying to hold it in the middle of the street) and he pointed us in the right direction, then he gave us a smaller (better) map free of charge (because we were so entertaining).

But since we didn't know the street signs are actually on the side of the buildings rather than on posts on the side of the street, we turned down the wrong street and wound up walking all the way back up the wrong street, which just happened to be the heart of the Red Light District. When we got the the right street number, it was a porn shop instead of the hostel. It was ok though, because the lovely man in the doorway pointed us in the right direction.

We finally made it to the hostel after walking around for about 2 hours. That is a long walk to make with 17kg pack (we weighed our bags at the airport so I know for sure how much mine weighed) strapped to you. By the time we made it there, I was pooped. And late. I was supposed to be at the Anne Frank House walking around by now. All my plans have now been upset! What was I to do?

Getting over it was apparently my only option, so I did. We put our stuff in our lockers, changed, and headed out the door. We walked all the way accross Amsterdam to the Jordaan District for dinner, then took the long, roundabout way back. We basically walked for 5 hours today. I may weigh less when I come back.

Dinner was good. We ate at this little hole in the wall in Jordaan. There was a cat in the restaurant that perched himself on the seat next to me while I ate. He probably just wanted me to feed him, but I would like to think he just like me, so I pet him the whole time I was eating. There were actually quite a few cats meanering the city, perched next to tables in restaurants. I saw a dog in the doorway of a pub, just chilling, greating the guests. Made them all seam cozy/relaxed.

Amsterdam is a neat city. The buildings are old, and there are canals all over. I love that most of the streets and all the walkways are brick. There are people everywhere, walking around, riding bikes.... I'm hoping it was trash day though, cause there was trash piled up in front of people's houses and businesses. Not in trash cans or anything, just piled up. It really smelled too.

So now its like 11:30 and I'm tired. I might want to go out and do something else, but I don't think I could walk any further. That's ok though, because tomorrow we have a long day of walking around and visiting museums (and now I have to fit the Anne Frank House in another day, because I really want to go). And Thursday night I don't think we are going to go to sleep, since we have to check out at like 5am so we can make it back to the airport for an 8am flight.

Air Canada to London

Well, we made it to London so far... tomorrow it's off to Amsterdam.

I love flying. Ok, really I like taking off and landing and turbulence, cause then it's actually kind of exciting, but the long stretches of just sitting there on your ass could make me crazy. I really like thinking about how amazing it is that we can fly halfway accross the world in less than a day. I think we take that sort of stuff for granted a little too often.

I have to say good things about Air Canada. Both flights left right on time and arrived early. The food sucked, but it's airline food. Not much can be done about that. We had a connection in Toronto... that airport is HUGE. We had to walk through this maze, get onto a shuttle, walk through another maze, go through the x-ray/metal detector thing, get on another shuttle, and then go through another maze to get from one flight to the next. Have to say I'm glad our connection was in Toronto and not Heathrow, though. The customs/immigration line was so short in Canada that all that walking around and taking shuttles still only took about 90 minutes.

But once we stopped in Heathrow (at 8:50, 40 minutes ahead of schedule) we had to hike for about 15 minutes to get to the immigration line...and holy crap was that a long line. It took us an hour just to get through there. After we finally picked up our luggage there, we walked through the area labeled customs without having to stop to talk to anyone. I'm not sure they had a customs checkpoint up at all. The we had to wait 40 minutes for the shuttle (that is supposed to come every 20 minutes) to take us to the hotel. We checked in at 11:30 (for all of you bad at math, that is over 2 and 1/2 hours of lines and walking and waiting for shuttles, etc.)

I only slept about an hour on both flights combined, but I'm still wide awake. I'm going to go take a sleeping pill after this so I can get some shut eye. Jessica, however, slept most of both flights and still looks as though she is about to pass out. She's actually probably already asleep. I just needed to come get my internet fix. I don't like being without my cell phone or email for this long. I feel so disconnected.

No pictures yet, even if I had taken some (they would only be of airports at this point) I have to wait until I get to my bro's before I can upload them. I'll probably have some up by Monday.

Saturday, September 3, 2005

I'm Off

My vacation officially began at the end of my workday yesterday. Hard to believe I don't have to go to work for over 3 weeks. I haven't taken time off like this for years. Usually a vacation for me means taking a four day weekend or something.

I'm leaving for my trip tomorrow night and I haven't even packed yet. Don't know if I'm really ready to leave yet. This is really going to be a totally new experience. Up until now the only trips I've taken have been with people that knew exactly where we were going... I never had to take control. Other than an evening in TJ, this will be my first time out of the country. And aside from some trips to Vegas, this will be my first travelling experience without my family.

This time I feel like I'm entering uncharted waters. I've planned most of the trip, and I'm good with maps (thankfully), but I'm feeling a bit intimidated. At the same time, I feel good about embarking on an adventure. I spend too much of my time doing the same things I always do. Gotta try new things and go new places and meet new people every once and awhile.

I'm really excited to see some of the places we are going too. The Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank's House, the Louvre, St. Peter's Square, Oktoberfest, Notre Dame... just to name a few. And I'm really excited about the food and the wine and the shopping.