Lessons learned so far…

Not a complete list but these comes to mind at the moment…

– I need two pairs of pants. One pair is inconvenient because when you wash one pair, you gotta wear something else if you want to go out instead of say, my board shorts, which is all I have now that I lost one pair of pants in Cork. I would look silly wearing it in the streets so I’m sitting in my hostel typing this while laundry is being done.

– Wearing sports sandals only sucks. My feet are calloused and black after 3 weeks, I had to buy a pumice bar and scrub the dirt/hard skin off. I am looking into getting a pair of hiking shoes, wear them with socks.

– Screw doing laundry in the sink. Unless you absolutely have to, just take it to the laundromat. At least your clothes will be washed/dried properly and smell fresher. Or maybe I just did it wrong. But whatever, I hate damp clothes dripping in my hostel room anyway. Plus, have you seen hostel sinks? Not the cleanest thing out there.

– I don’t like old overnight trains. Much prefer buses to travel long distances. Maybe I just need to get on a nice overnight train.

– It is not easy to get away from anything touristy in Europe, especially during the summer. Even the small places have quite a few tourists. Next time I hit up a small town to “get away”, I’m getting a single room, maybe at a B&B place, so I can be as anti-social (private, alone) as I want. Sometimes, with all the people I meet on the road, I can appreciate alone time to relax, sleep, shit in peace.

– Get a guide book (Lonely Planet, Rough Guide etc.) It helps. I can thank Kiera for this one. Of course, sometimes it’s good not to always have your nose in it but it helps.

– Tours aren’t just for tourists. I am beginning to stop thinking that way. I just can’t learn everything on my own or I will miss out on lots of things.

– Czech beer is just bloody awesome and cheap.

Berlin, Germany

Berlin, Germany
May 3rd and 4th 2010

Berlin Wall

I am an idiot for missing the 9:00 am bus to Prague by 5 minutes. I am an idiot. Spent another €22.50 to get another ticket to Prague at 3:00 pm. I am an absolute idiot. Good job by me dilly dallying around the kitchen, chatting with random ppl in the morning. But above all, it was because of a girl.

So I left Amsterdam at 8:45 pm on May 2nd, arrived in Berlin at 6:30 am the next day. I couldn’t check in to my hostel until 2 pm (I hate these rules but it’s the norm, they have to clean up the rooms after the last renters). I decided to do one of the Sandeman walking tours.

The metro is interesting in Germany. It’s an honor system and there aren’t any gates preventing you from hopping on/off trains without a ticket. But there are random checks by plain-clothes conductors. If you get caught, it is a €40 fine on the spot. The cheapest ticket (single way, valid for 2 hours) is €2.10. I actually got checked one time. I never saw it coming. Some random normal looking guy walks in, then after a minute, asks everyone to bust out their tickets. A guy ran into problems, he was escorted out at the next stop.

Anyway, I get to the walking tour meet up point, then from there, we all walked to the main meeting point (at the Branderburg Gate). I got a guide named George, who was a pretty cool hipping looking American. Most of the guides work on tips, so they make their tours are interesting and fun as possible. It was enjoyable, I got to learn so much I would’ve missed otherwise. I mean, there’s an absolutely plain old parking lot sitting there beside some apartment buildings, turns out, that is the site of Hitler’s bunker, the one he was in when he committed suicide and got partially cremated in. I bet most of the people parking in that spot don’t even know that. The German govt kept it secret until the 2006 World Cup in Germany when they put a sign that basically said “This is Hitler’s secret underground bunker”. Of course, the bunker wasn’t there anymore, it was just a parking lot and dog-pooping location. Pretty cool stuff.

Berlin looks so nice because it’s so new. The city was almost completely bombed out after WW2. Everything was flattened. The German govt rebuilt everything even as late as the 90s. Berlin has been around since the 1200s or something like that, so imagine how much history was wiped out by WW2. Paris was lucky to not have something like that happen to it.

Anyway, there’s so much I learned from the tour but I am too lazy to list them all down. I got to see the former Luftwaffe headquarters (one of the biggest buildings in Berlin that survived the bombings, it’s weird but there are reasons), the former SS/Gestapo headquarters, the remnamts of the Berlin wall, the hotel Michael Jackson waved a baby from the balcony (yeah! It’s the Hotel Adlon, it’s in Paris Square, all the VIPs, celebs, presidents stay there. Presidential suite is only €12k a night, I thought about staying there for a few days). A lot more stuff but those are some highlights.

A group of us went to eat some schnizel and have a beer later. My guide, George, is a WoW player. We start having a hilarious nerd moment where we’re laughing at the whole matter. But anyways, schnizel is just awesome. I actually ate it again for the meal before I left to Prague. Now I know what Maria was singing about in ‘The Sound of Music’.

Museums are free from 6-10 pm on Thursdays. So I head over to Museum Island. At this point of my trip, I needed a museum that wasn’t mind numbingly boring with antiquities (oh look, another vase, another sculpture, another old looking thing someone dug up!). I spent 5 minutes in the Altes Museum because it was just that. I found my way to Pergamon Museum that had the Babylon Istachar Gates. It blew me away. Now here’s something different. They actually brought back pieces of this giant magnificent gate and reconstructed it within the museum. They had other walls of ancient places set up so it was cool to touch them. I like reading about ancient gods too so it wasn’t too bad.

I head on back to the hostel in the evening. It was getting late so I parked myself in the room. The Aussie girl below my bunk is coughing her lungs out. I offer her some Dayquil. She’s annoying me becaues she’s not that friendly for a fat person. I eventually moved beds because the hostel owner decided to put me on a top bunk when there were several bottom bunks that were free. I much prefer bottom bunks. I use the net, eat a doner kebab at 10 pm, then head to bed.

Next day, I decided to head over to take a closer look at the SS headquarters, the Berlin wall, and the Reichstagg Dome. The SS headquarters is now an exhibit. Those guys were something out of Orwell’s ‘1984’. I’ve seen movies and have always thought the German SS always dressed very sharp. I liked their all black uniforms. I also walked along a surviving piece of the Berlin wall. There was a place at the wall where I got a picture of myself standing between East/West Berlin.

The wait at the Reichstagg was two hours in the heat. At least there was some eye candy to look at while I listened to my Ipod. Once we got past the security and got up the elevator, I was ready to have my mind blown. WRONG. I didn’t care for anything in that dome one bit. The annoying Aussie girl later told me “It was so spectacular, it was better than the Eiffel Tower”. In my opinion, it wasn’t. Then again, maybe I was being biased. I spent a total of 30 minutes in the Reichstagg and left feeling I wasted my time.

I got back to my hostel. The Turkish doner kebab I had earlier that day was digested. I was famished so I ate at the crowded Turkish joint right next to my hostel. I get some fish/potatoes/salad combination that some other guy got. It was delicious. I am loving Turkish food.

I meet some other roommates who just moved in that day, chatted with them about the similarities and differences between the Swedish and Danish language. I had some hot Aussie girls as roommates in Amsterdam, these girls were the complete opposite so fuggedaboutit. It’s their annoying selves mostly. All they spoke off was getting drunk and called me boring for not wanting to pub crawl. Anyway, I was focused on netbook, trying to organize pictures from the day. When I look up, an Asian girl was sitting in the bunk next to mine. Oh hello.

So I strike up a conversation with her. She’s in her second year of college studying linguistics (her passion) at Cornell, and was studying for the summer in Leiden, Netherlands. I like languages too and wish I knew more than I do (would be awesome to belt out fluent French, German, Russian etc.) so she sounded pretty cool. She’s shy and soft-spoken, moved to Massachussettes when she was 12 from China. We had something in common there. Immigrant kids. Anyway, she’s so shy and quiet and if you know me, I’m not exactly a boisterous talkative person but I take the initiative in conversations.

She was travelling for a month around Europe and the fact I probably won’t see her again after tomorrow, we went out for a walk at night. It doesn’t get dark until 11 pm here so we had a good hour of walking around our neighborhood which I haven’t checked out yet. It was a Turkish part of town, there were Turkish restaurants, grocery stores, hookah bars (not hooker, HOOKAH). So we get back, I skyped my family and when I got back, she was asleep. I was a little disappointed I wouldn’t have more time to hang with her.

Next morning, I woke up early, I shower, head down for breakfast. She comes down later. I hang around, chatting with the Aussie and American dudes at the table. I didn’t really speak to her because she was quiet and I was in the middle of a conversation with the guys when she came. I realize it was getting late and I had to catch a train, then bus to Prague. I had stayed a bit longer hoping to chat with her but these dudes were at the table so it wasn’t too easy to talk freely. I said goodbye to everyone there, walked off. I figured, hell, that’s life, that’s backpacking. I’m just not that lucky. I connect with people and the next day, it’s all gone, we all go our separate ways, never to see each other again.

I look at my watch. It is 8:35 am. I have to take a long train ride and get to the bus before it leaves at 9 am. I am panicking a little bit. I cannot control the train schedule. We make so many stops it started to irritate me. It was 8:55 am when I got to the next train. Only 2 more stops, and I could make a dash for the bus and just catch it. At least I hoped for that. The next train to take me gets here in 5 minutes. My heart sank. There was no time. I was going to miss the bus. Sure enough, I ran all the way with 30 pounds on my back, to the bus stop. It was gone. I missed it by 5 minutes.

My face said it all. I wasted €34 for nothing. All because I tried to hang around to talk to a girl a little more. I could’ve been here early. The Eurolines ticket seller felt bad for me, she offered to apply some loopholes and get my 3:00 pm ticket for €22.50. I paid up, then thought to myself, I guess I now have to wait for another 5.5 hours. I didn’t want to waste my time at that bus station. I put my bag in a locker (€4) and since I had recommended she check out the Sandman’s walking tour, I thought I’d join her for it. Sure enough, I show up and she’s there. I told her my story and she must’ve thought “What an idiot” but it was for laughs. I go through about half the walking tour again (I’m a super expert now on portions of Berlin). We take a picture at Checkpoint Charlie. After 2 hours, I said goodbye again to her. At least it felt like a proper goodbye. I walk down the steps of the Stadmitte U-bahn station. It was 1 pm, I wasn’t going to be late for this bus. A €25 lesson on not being late but also another 2 hours with a pretty cool person. I don’t feel too bad about it. I didn’t plan on it but that’s just how it went.

I stopped by a restaurant near the bus station. Schnizel sounded good right about now, I was starving. €5.50 later, I was full, glad my last moments in Berlin was enjoyable.

The bus is driving by a beautiful Czech river with houses built all around the banks and hill tops. The view is stunning. I am on the bus to Prague.

edit : woops, forgot to add the link to the pictures
BERLIN PICTURES

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam, Netherlands
May 30th, 31st, June 1st

Coffee shop

My hostel is located in the middle of the Red Light District. Yes, I am serious. The group of American students I met in Brussels recommended this hostel and with no hostel reservations yet, I decided to stay there. It had the best rooms/showers I’ve had during my entire trip so far, all for €22 a night. It’s a steal, you even get to climb Amsterdam stairs (super narrow, super difficult to climb).

During the day, the RLD is like any other street in Amsterdam (sort of). There are people walking around, people working on construction, and from a distance, inconspicuous shops. Of course, if you peek closer, it’s not so. Late at night however, the place is lit up. Crowds of tourists and locals arrive to partake in the multitudes of bars, “coffee shops” and window shopping.

When I say “coffee shops”, I don’t mean that they sell coffee that’s brown and wakes you up. They sell “coffee” that’s green, sticky, and makes you feel not so normal. I am of course, speaking of marijuana. All shops that sell weed in Amsterdam have to be licensed “coffee shops”. Their signs have to say “coffee shops” on it. If you want an actual coffee, you go to a cafe. So heads up to everyone, don’t make that mistake. Oh yeah, there’s also a marijuana museum. I guess even potheads need their history lessons.

A little disclosure though. Using weed is ILLEGAL in Amsterdam. A lot of people misunderstand this. What makes it possible to smoke it is the concept of plausible deniability. There’s a rule in Dutch law that says, if the activity in question is discrete and doesn’t hurt anybody, it’s ok. So that’s why there are coffee shops. When you sell/weed INSIDE a coffee shop, it’s discrete and no one’s hurting anyone and it says “coffee shop” on the sign, not “weed selling shop” so cops turn a blind eye and are very tolerant of it. Just don’t smoke it in the open.

As for “window shopping”, besides bars, a few living spaces, and the random hostel, everything else is R-rated. I’ll leave it to everyone’s imagination since my blog is PG-rated.

Ok, now that I have got your attention, let’s talk about Amsterdam OUTSIDE the RLD. 🙂 It’s an absolutely small but beautiful city. Everyone gets around on a bicycle. I’m talking about the old looking bicycles you find from the 40s and 50s. The reason is that bicycles are often stolen (and then occasionally dumped into canals) by pranksters. There is an actual dredge ship that goes around canals weekly just to pick up all the bicycles in the canal bottom. I biked around for a day to all the spots I wanted to check out, it was so much fun. In fact, bicyclists are at the top of the hierarchy here, pedestrians are second.

There is a church that’s located literally right next to the RLD. Apparently back in the day, when sailors stopped by this port city to partake in its sinful wares, priests would sell forgiveness to them. In fact, there were “forgiveness packages” you could buy in advance. Just tell the priest “Hey, I’m going to screw two prostitutes, smoke an ounce of weed, get wasted from a whole keg, then steal a bike and throw it into the canal.” The priest will reply “Ok, that will be 100 gold dubloons (or whatever currency they used back then).”

Cafes, restaurants, pubs, shopping are all plentiful. My favorite tourist sites were the Anne Frank House (that’s where the secret annex was located) and the Van Gogh Museum. It was so cool to check out the secret annex, read its history, and read some excerpts from Anne Frank’s diary (and see the actual original diary). I can’t imagine being in her position. Little girls aren’t meant to be locked up inside for two years, devoid of the sun, the smell of fresh air, playmates, learning…she was such a good writer too. I’m going to read her book. I really enjoyed Van Gogh’s work as well, he’s one of my favorite artists, his style is so distinct and unique. I learned so much about him as a man, it was cool to see the personal side of him.

I ate some interesting stuff while I was in Amsterdam. Besides some pastries, I had some cone fries (these are so popular from Belgium and eastwards I find), croquettes/pekeelves (sold by a shop that started croquettes and is now world famous franchise), smoked herring from one of several small roadside stalls, even Chinese (wow, they gave me the best bbq pork, duck, fried pork combo ever).

Amsterdam also has lots of weird little things you don’t find anywhere else. Uniquely designed public piss toilets for men (and even women but they closed it down, there’s a story that goes with this, ask me some time), piss deflectors (what an invention). I guess stray pissing is rampant. Also, buildings that could be moved forward/backwards. The world’s skinniest home is also here. It’s like a meter or two wide at the entrance.

Overall, Amsterdam was interesting. I wouldn’t want to stay in the RLD again because it eventually got boring. Yes, it was interesting the first night but after that, I just wanted to step outside and have normal things to look at, normal cafes to enjoy a coffee and pastry, see locals walk around with their kids and dogs, hanging out. Not hordes of noisy tourists crowding the streets to get drunk and/or high, or to attend live sex shows (yes, there was a huge line for this), or sex shops everywhere. If that’s your thing, then hey, the hostel is called “Heart of Amsterdam”.

Off to Berlin.

AMSTERDAM PICTURES

Brussels, Belgium

Brussels, Belgium
May 29th 2010

The Godfather of Toilets

Godfather
I arrive in Brussels late in the evening on the 29th. It was drizzling when I got here so I pulled out my €8 umbrella and opened it up. The first gust of wind pretty much took it out. It wasn’t even a strong wind. The umbrella turned inside out. I decided to walk to my hostel.

Upon getting there, the umbrella went into the trash can. There was a group checking in ahead of me. Americans, judging by their accents. They were a playful group but I was thinking “Oh boy, another group of Americans again”. I check in, head to my room, and lo and behold, who are my roommates? The Americans. But they were so friendly, they started asking me where I was from and turns out, we’re all from Texas! They’re from “The Valley” close to the Mexican border. They’re all studying abroad for a month in Salamanca and they were going through Brussels from Amsterdam. Turns out, they barely knew each other as well, only a week. They were thrown together for the study abroad program. Anyway, they were cool and friendly enough to invite a solo traveller to go have dinner with them. I haven’t met many groups who did that.

We wandered all the way to Fritland, a popular frit (fries) joint. That place was packed and everyone got a sandwich that had meat and fries in it. Pretty tasty stuff.

We wandered the streets of Brussels until it was late. Waffles, chocolate, the moving statues (the guy sucked), and Mannekin Pis (unimpressive statue of little boy pissing, supposed to be a famous symbol in Belgium). All in the night’s work. Then went back to hostel to have a beer with the Texican crew.

The next day, they all left and I was on my own again. Wandered my way to a random section of downtown Brussels and guess what? It starts to rain again. I heard a church bell go off. I started thinking maybe I could seek refuge in a church. It was a small, ancient looking church, very European Catholic. I walk in, some people were gathered. I was wondering if they were all visiting but they looked like locals. Then a preacher walks in. Turns out, I walked right into a Belgian Sunday morning church service. I stuck around for a while, just to check it out. Service was in French so that didn’t help. It was pretty uneventful since everything was slow moving and traditional.

I left in the middle and walked back downtown. It was drizzling lightly so I just walked around to check out all the shops and streets. There was a small square with Sunday morning market stalls set up. I thought the home made perfume shop was interesting. After browsing the streets, I end up getting some lunch at a place called Belgo Belge. That shit was more expensive than I thought it would be. Plus the guy asked me if I wanted water, I said yes. Then he said “Still or sparkling?”. I thought “still” meant tap water (read: free water) so I said “still”. Wrong, it cost me €3.50 for a bottle of high grade water (I think it’s supposed to make you forever young if you drink enough of it). And because the menu was in French, I got some fish dish based on the waiter’s suggestion. Didn’t get very much, all for €14.50. Another mistake I’ve made on my trip so far. Costs so much for nothing.

Anyway, I left feeling unsatisfied. Walked to the Belgian Comic center (it’s a long French name I’d rather not say) and for €7 admission, I left feeling unsatisfied again. Everything was in French for the most part, so I couldn’t read all the comics that were posted. It was supposed to be the history of comic culture in Belgium. Boring stuff to be honest.

All in all, pretty boring and lousy day in Brussels. I heard Brugge was better but it was the other way so I left to Amsterdam later than day.

BRUSSELS PICTURES

Paris, France (Part Trois)

Paris, France
May 25th, 26th, 27th, 28th

PART THREE

It was time to check out today. I didn’t have any other place lined up so I decided to visit M.I.J.E. Hostel to see if they had a bed for the night. I had to meet Jerry (the South Korean guy) at 9 am and I woke up at 7:45 am so I was really pressed for time (good job Ken, for snoozing).

I did snag a single room for €50 (ouch!!) but had no choice, I didn’t want to take the time scouring other locations and I’ve heard good things about this place so I took it. It would give me some private time/space to read/write. I’ve been with roommates since the trip began and sometimes a little space at the end of the day is nice. That’s one thing I miss about home…having a HOME.

I ran all the way to Notre Dame (after taking a few trains) and ended up there around 9:20 am. Jerry was not to be seen. I knew he’d leave but I stayed on to eat breakfast (some cookies and water) and fed all these pidgeons. I decided to head to the Louvre and thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be funny if I ran into Jerry while touring Paris?” Nah, it’s not gonna happen. Too many tourists, the city’s too big, the attractions are too big, the chances are minimal.

Off to the monster of a museum they call the Louvre. People tell me it takes a whole day to explore because the place is ginourmous and damn were they right. We’re talking acres here. I was really sick of it after the first two hours. Nothing but endless rooms of sculptures, old antiquities. After a while, they all begin to look alike so I breezed past all of them, trying to find my way to the paintings.

There were a bunch of massive massive paintings in addition to normal sized ones. I didn’t quite get to appreciate them all because again, I was breezing through them without stopping to look closely. I wanted to get to the Mona Lisa, like all the tourists. The bloody thing was so unimpressive to be honest. It was small, enclosed in a glass case, surrounded by barriers. Leonardo Da Vinci did a lot better things than this piece of work if you ask me. Screw her supposed “mysterious smile”, I bet the lady in the picture was just smirking at all the tourists looking at her, thinking to herself “What a bunch of suckers!”.

As I was trying to find the exit, guess who I run into? Jerry! My God, the chance of that happening was laughable. I explained my side of the story on why I didn’t show up. Then this oldish Asian lady walks up and Jerry jokingly said she was his girlfriend. Turns out she’s a copy-painter at the Louvre, a Korean-French artist (At the Louvre, you’ll see several artists parked in the galleries, copying the original paintings). When she left, he went like “I’m going to f*** her”. I was thinking “Uhhh, I hardly know you and you’re making creeper jokes like this?” Plus this pervert Korean guy was in his 30s maybe? The lady must’ve been in her 50s and looked very homely, not even a MILF…bloody Korean fella. I hope he was joking. I was too creeped out by him in general so I said goodbye politely and that I had to go visit some other places while he had coffee with the painter.

I was way too tired from all the walking. I went back to the hostel to rest until later that evening when I would go visit the Eiffel Tower and Arc d’ Triomphe. I wanted to watch Paris at the top at night anyway.

There are many kids staying at the hostel. It is noisy as they run up and down the halls, banging doors shut, screaming, playing, talking in French. I realized how great it must be to grow up in Paris. Every museum I’ve been too, there are always a few groups of kids and their teachers. All the kids would be sitting down in front of a piece of art and an art teacher would explain it to them. Field trips must be wonderful with so much culture in this city. How many American kids can say “Yeah we went to the Louvre for a field trip”?

I open my eyes. It was an hour or so later. The sound of the kids is gone. I lay in my bed in my small hostel room, half asleep. Tonight was my last night, I better make it count, so I head out. As I turn the corner of Rue de Fourcy, I am met by the sounds of a band playing some fun energetic style of music with their tubas, trumpets, drums. A crowd gathers and we listen to them play. It was so much fun. I think they were students, just having fun on a Friday night, entertaining the Rue de St. Paul crowd.

Anyway, I go check out the Arc D’ Triomphe, then walked toward the Eiffel Tower. I chose to climb up the stairs to the 1st and 2nd floors since there was hardly a line for that option (the line for the lift option was really long). It’s cheaper too. It’s not an easy climb as there are so many steps but I get a nice view on the 1st and then the 2nd floors. From here, the wait to the top is about 2 hours. I had to deal with the line to get a ticket for the lift up (everyone has to use a lift in the final ascent) and then there was a long line to the lift itself…but it was perfect timing since it was very dark by the time I actually got to the top and the city was lit up. Beautiful beautiful Paris.

Paris from the top

I get downstairs and there’s a huge gathering of people in the streets. Everyone’s on roller blades and it must be some roller blade marathon or something. At the stroke of midnight, everyone blades off.

On the way back to the hostel, in the subway, there was a group of drunk French students singing away. I shoot some video and one of them comes up to me and asks me where I’m from etc. Turns out they are from one of the biggest party schools in France. Everyone gets on the train and you would think they’d be quiet and proper on it…nope, they start singing loudly again. Pretty funny group.

The next day, I still didn’t know if I wanted to go to Brugge or Brussels. I’ve been buying bus tickets at the last minute and not having any hostel reservations in advance in the next country. I’ve been lucky in that I could secure hostels the day I get to a country but in more popular cities, it won’t be so easy. I decided from here on out, I should try to plot my course a bit more and also plan a few days in advance.

Ok, Brussels it is.

PARIS FRANCE PICTURES

Need a little peace and quiet

I’ve been travelling to a lot of major cities and I expect a lot of tourists everywhere. I’m longing for a place far from the city, maybe a small coastal town to wake up in and sit in a cafe, drink coffee, read a book (visiting Anne Frank’s annex made me interested in reading her diary, I still haven’t read it!), write, ponder, reminisce, think, whatever.

Gah, was too cheap to pay €8 for a new paperback ‘Diary of Anne Frank’. I am hoping to run into a used bookstore like Half Price but in Europe (and one that sells English language books!). Got a Sudoku book but there’s only so much Sudoku I can do before I get bored.

Transportation/Hostels/Misc Costs

I’ve been travelling primarily by bus from city to city (Eurolines). Costs vary depending on distance, cheapest have been €15 from Irish city to Irish city and as much as €50 from Amsterdam to Berlin. It’s a lot cheaper than train but much slower (and not as comfortable to sleep in over great distances).

Within a city, in Ireland, I used the buses or walked. In France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, it’s all about the metro lines (subways). I biked around for a day in Amsterdam, that’s how everyone gets around there but big countries like France and Germany require the use of metros or you will be walking a lot. In France/Belgium/Germany, you can buy tickets at the stations but in Netherlands, everyone uses a pre-loaded access card to scan in/out of terminals. Once you get the hang of the metro system in one country, it’s pretty much similar to the others (at least from my experiences so far). Know what line you need to get on, know your stop, know what direction to go (read: know the name of the end of each line).

Hostels vary from €10-25 for dorms (4-10 beds in a dorm, fewer beds usually mean more costly but also depends on how nice the hostel is, how popular the area is, how reputable the hostel is etc.)

I think for the most part, transportation and hostel fees are a bulk of the cost. Cost of eating/drinking will depend on you. For me, I mix eating street food (€2-4) with the occasional sit-down restaurant (€10-20) and also hostel cooking (€3-6). I don’t drink much so I save there (pint of beer can cost €3-5, cheapest I’ve bought was €1.50 for a bottle of Jupiler).

Museums (€5-15) , tours (€10-20) cost money but I’ve recently discovered the wonderful Sandeman’s Free Walking Tours (Kiera told me about it actually). They are the best thing to happen to a budget traveller. I also enjoy wandering and getting lost and taking out the guidebook to find my way home. Or go sit in some park that all the locals love to hang out at.

Paris, France (Part Deux)

Paris, France
May 25th, 26th, 27th, 28th

PART TWO

I decided to visit a few things today: The Musee d’ Orsay, the Louvre and the Notre Dame Cathedral. I also wanted to check out the Arc d’ Triomphe and Eiffel Tower at night.

On a dormmates recommendation, I decided to hop onto the Batobus (boat bus) and take a scenic journey around the River Seine. It would stop at several locations that included the above. I would just hop off, do what I want, hop back on and it would take me down the river to the next attraction.

It was a wet rainy day. When I got the the Musee d’ Orsay, I was without an umbrella. There was a long line outside and I didn’t want to wait in a line without one. So I headed into town, looking everywhere for a shop that sold umbrellas. I passed by a sandwich place and since I was ravished, I stopped to get an appetizing roast beef sandwich. The rain continued while I sat outside, watching people walk past me, as I enjoyed my sandwich. After finishing, I continued my search. I was about 10 minutes walk into town and I still didn’t find any shops, even after asking several locals where they bought their’s. I finally came upon a shop that sold €20 umbrellas (they all looked cute and made with quality). No way I was paying that much for an umbrella though. I finally found a shop near where I started and I guess shop owners realized the rain would get umbrella buyers and they brought out their secret stash from the backroom (or I was just bloody blind and didn’t see the multitudes of umbrellas on sale at almost every store I passed). €8 and I got myself a little black umbrella. I felt proud.

I made my way to the Musee d’ Orsay line only to be met by a multitude of street vendors trying to sell €5 umbrellas…boy, I was mad I overpaid by €3 and had to walk so much just for it. And guess what? None of these umbrellas are worth a damn. The rain got heavier, and it actually leaked through my umbrella! I was being rained on by an umbrella!

Well, after all that waiting and touring the museum (I must say, quite a bit of art in there, from sculptures to sketches to paintings), only paintings interested me. Specifically, impressionist style ones (Monet, Renoir, Manet, Van Gogh).

Anyway, made my way back to the Batobus and went down the River Seine to the St Germain des Pres Church. It was the main church of Paris before Notre Dame came along so it’s pretty damned old (Notre Dame began construction in 1163 so imagine how old this one is…). I thought it was an interesting church, full of Roman influences in their design and artwork on the walls. Nothing to really write home about though.

Of course, the next one blew me away. The Cathedral of Notre Dame was just…jaw dropping. It began construction in 1163 and didn’t finish until slightly under 200 years later. It was huge, as if made for giants. The artwork and architecture was so exquisite, so fine in detail. It was as if God built the place and his angels decorated it. I have never ever been blown away this much by a structure. The engineering involved (for its time) was tremendous. I am now interested in finding out who designed in and how they built it.

The Notre Dame square outside was filled with tourists from all walks of life. I was asked by a South Korean man to take his picture and we started chatting. Turns out he’s travelling solo as well. It was still raining and we took a walk to the Concierge but it was closed. I told Jerry that I’d meet him tomorrow at 9 am outside Notre Dame Cathedral and we’d go tour the Louvre and Eiffel Tower as a group.

I didn’t have time to do the Louvre (or anything else really) since it was already evening. I went to walk to the Rue de Rivoli in search of clothing but all I found along the stretch behind the Louvre were tourist shops selling everything that had “I Love Paris” on it. I stopped to get a quiche and wolfed it down in an open square. I finally found the shopping district but most stores were closing so I was SOL, stuck with the same clothes I was wearing, the only things I had after losing my other set in Cork.

Upon getting back to the hostel, I was dead tired and after trying to deal with massive internet problems, I went to bed.

Paris, France (Part Un)

Paris, France
May 25th, 26th, 27th, 28th

PART ONE

I am standing at the top of the Eiffel Tower. There is a slight breeze on this chilly night. The city is lit up like a galaxy of stars. A man has just proposed to his girlfriend and she said yes. Everyone around is admiring the beauty of this city at its highest point. In the distance, you can hear music being played as a crowd of people are gathered at the bottom of the tower, preparing for some sort of event. I look into the distance, just trying to soak it all up. I will never want to forget Paris. I love it.

I didn’t have a great first impression of Paris. I barely got any sleep at the airport in Dublin before flying in. I was thrown into a completely foreign country language-wise and managed to find my way onto a subway train called the RER-B, which would take me from the airport. The train smelled of piss. I got lost trying to figure out how to get to my hostel since there are so many damned streets going in all directions. When I got to my hostel, I had to take 6 flights of stairs to get to my room. I was dead tired, it was hot outside, I was pissed off. And since it was only 11 am, I decided to go explore the town a bit. I got lost again, trying to find my to the Basilique du Sacre Couer. There’s a long long flight of stairs leading all the way up. I was dreaming up ways to tell everyone what a shithole Paris was, cursing all the way up the stairs.

Then I got to the top.

I was met by a beautiful church. It was full of tourists which annoyed me because it made me feel like one. ‘I’m not one of them’ I tell myself. ‘I’m a traveller, not a tourist’. I’m an idiot, my apologies. But the view from the Sacre Couer was amazing. I saw Paris sprawled out for miles ahead of me. I saw what a huge city lay in store for me to explore. The church itself was magnificent but that’s because this was my first Parisian church. I haven’t seen anything yet…

I decided to walk back to the hostel and turn in early. I think I made some pasta for dinner. But I really wanted to sleep so I could be fresh for the French Open the next day. All those stairs and walking really helped knock me out all night.

I woke up to a fairly wet day. Knowing that the French Open gets rained on sometimes, I decided to wear my rain jacket instead of my usual fleece. Getting to Roland Garros isn’t hard, took me a while to figure out the metro train system here but it’s really easy when you have a map showing all the lines and connections. For Euro 1.60, you can take the train twice, not counting all the transfers between.

I followed the crowd at the Port d’ Autueil station all the way to the Roland Garros front gates. Once I got in, I immediately went to find out what matches were scheduled for the day (I bought a magazine that had the day’s matches). I decided to check out Marin Cilic, Mikhail Youzhny, Tomas Berdych, and Stanislas Wawrinka play. Watching those guys play was unreal. They hit so hard yet so accurately. I would have to return Cilic’s kick serve by overheading, it jumped THAT high.

After Cilic won the first set, I decided to go check out Youzhny. I was walking toward his court when a guy stopped me and asked if I would answer some questions so I agreed…turns out I was being interviewed by The Tennis Channel! That was awesome…he said I would appear on TV, I don’t know if that’s true or not though. They mainly asked what I bought, what I was planning on buying…I didn’t really buy anything so I think I threw them off a bit since the interviewer’s looked like “Oh…ummm…well…make up anything so we can have something to show…” LOL I tried to make my magazine purchase sound interesting but I also ended up saying “I’ll definitely be getting a T-shirt”. I didn’t though, it was 35 Euro for a t-shirt!

Anyway, once I got done checking out Youhzny, I went back to Court 2 for the Berdych match but the women’s match was still going on so I decided to watch anyway. It started raining though and everyone got out their umbrellas or those with rain jackets/ponchos like myself just sat there. I should’ve gotten an umbrella. So I waited out the rain…when it stopped, an elderly lady and her grandson and daughter sat next to me. Me and the elderly lady, Marie, struck up a conversation. When she found out I was visiting Paris, she started recommending places to visit and eat, it was great. Throughout the rain delays and matches, she was chatting with me and I even got to meet Paul (the grandson) who shared a love for football (his team was Lyon, he was excited I knew the players he named as his favorites). Marie’s daughter, Valerie, didn’t speak English so it was up to Marie to translate for us. Valerie offered me these awesome cookies a couple of times, I ate them up (I later bought a box at a grocery store). There were 3-4 rain delays, stopping matches multiple times, which got annoying. After everything was said and done, after I watched all the tennis I could watch, after parting ways with Marie and her family, I decided to head home. It was about 7:30 pm. Although I didn’t get to see Federer/Nadal/Novak/Roddick/Murray etc. I was happy that I got to attend the French Open, watch some good tennis players, converse with a few locals.

That night, I slept pretty darn good. I had to wake up early the next day to go visit downtown Paris.

Cork, Ireland

Cork City
May 22nd, 23rd 2010

I couldn’t write any entries upon arriving in Cork because…I left my netbook in Galway!

Yes, that’s why I couldn’t write sooner. I stupidly left it on my hostel bed while packing. I was worried but thanks to meeting some friends there, I shot some emails off asking if anyone was going to Dublin within a day or two. Luckily, Sebastian had a friend who was. He would drop the netbook off in Dublin and I could just go pick it up when I got there. Thank God for the kindness of strangers. I am continually learning how most strangers are more than willing to help you.

Cork is a pretty city. IMO, it looks like Dublin. In fact, I’ve read that Cork and Dublin are a bit of rivals. Anyway, Kiera and I decided to wander around again after leaving our luggage at the Bru Bar Hostel (which was a combo of a bar downstairs and hostel upstairs). We had a room at attic level but it means quiet away from the bar several floors below. We visited the Cork City Gaol (Jail) and it was a pretty interesting tour. We skipped the butter museum tour though. I like butter but Kiera, being a dietician/nutritionist, preferred margerine. Anyway, we skipped it because it cost a bit more than we’d like for a tour of butter’s history.

On a side note, although Kiera isn’t reading this, I had to say although she’s pretty cool and sweet most times, she’s a hardcore planner, pretty impatient, a fast walker, and doesn’t have much of a sense of humor (she doesn’t like stupid humor, as if she’s above it). Everytime we’re walking, she’s way ahead of me. It ticked me off a bit because she’s always in a god damned rush. She cannot stand in one spot and enjoy. She would need to continually know where she was at, what street she had to take to get to the next location, etc. She couldn’t just wander for wander’s sake. Get lost, find adventure, sit still, take in the sights/smells/sounds… Not my ideal travel companion. I’m sure she (like myself) felt relieved when we stopped travelling together. She did help me out with some travel tips though. Got a guide book, some a small sudoku book (I finally learned it!), got started on hostel cooking… So thanks to her, I am a better backpacker now. Although I still think Simpsons, Seinfeld and South Park ROCK HARD!

Anyway, at night, after splitting some hostel-made stir fry, I decided to hang out in the lounge to watch some ‘Britain’s Got Talent’. Met some Brazillian guy named Clio (sp?) and we shared some soccer talk. The guy lived in USA before so he shared his stories about his travels. Now he’s just hanging out in Ireland. I meet many nomads while backpacking. They’re all so far away from home, I wonder why they want to be so far away for so long.

I went to bed pretty early. I was tired, and again, not much of a “Let’s go drink all night” kind of guy. Met another roommate who just got in, some Australian girl named Hannah. She was 18 and travelling solo also. She was energetic but very very talkative. I couldn’t get much of a word in once she got started on her backpacking stories. Our other two American roommates (a couple) walked in and once she started talking to them, I took my chance to go to sleep. I had the best night’s sleep ever that night. Finally, some roommates who don’t make a lot of noise at night or in the mornings.

The next day, Kiera went off to wander by herself, so did I. It was quite quite fun. I got myself a pair of flip flops (did I mention I left mine in Belfast?). I visited the Old English Market and was surprised to find the most awesome assortment of meats, cheeses, chocolates, breads, etc. It was like a food lover’s nirvana. If you like to cook, you would love this place. I was hungry so I went upstairs to get some food but lunch wasn’t served until 12 pm.

I went outside to wanted and stopped at a bench in the middle of the city alley street. I started reading the local paper when an Irish guy came up to me and asked where I was from. I said “America”. He then said “Texas?”. “How’d you know?”. “Oh you have the Lonestar state written all over your forehead”.

Anyway, Patrick lived in Oklahoma for 6 months, in New Hampshire for 6 months. He had brothers living in America. He himself was a self-sufficient guy who grew his own foods (like a farmer?) at his place outside the city. He’s only there to take care of some errands. I don’t know what triggered it but he started talking about conspiracy theories. And boy, he knew what he was saying. He started going on and on about the Free Masons and how they controlled the world around us. He had an interesting case although we never really know what the truth is about the world. Did I mention he was a spitter when he talked? I had to maneuver my body position to play self-defense against his occasional missile spits. He also mentioned he liked men and women (if you know what I mean), more so women than men. He invited me for a coffee but I declined (oh COME ON! I don’t know if he had any interest in me in that way but it was funny and I wish some hot Euro chicks would do that instead of an old fat Irish guy). But he was very nice and I am happy I got to converse with a local so we shook hands and parted ways.

Anyway, ate some shepherd’s pie which I severely overpaid for. But it was my last day in Ireland, screw it, I will overpay a few Euros just so I could say I ate shepherd’s pie in Ireland. I spent the time writing some post cards.

We left Cork City around 2 pm and got back to Dublin around 6:30 pm. Kiera and I said goodbye and I went to search for the hostel which held my netbook. It was a pretty far walk but I recovered my netbook and then went to eat at a nearby popular joint called “Gruel”. It was either that or another place that had Irish stew. What do I do? Eat at a very popular recommended place (that didn’t have Irish stew, which I wanted) or go to a pub and eat some stew? I decided to look inside the stew joint. Not many people. I went back to Gruel and enjoyed my mackerel and lime potato salad, which was amazingly delicious. The place itself was small but had such an amazing feel to it. Lots of ppl were eating there so that obviously reaffirmed my decision that it was the right one.

I saw some Mexican ppl gather outside a Mexican food joint to watch the England/Mexico friendly soccer match. I went to watch it with them but I couldn’t cheer when England scored. I also didn’t mention to anyone I was from Texas. I played the role of Asian tourist bystander who didn’t say a word to preserve his identity. Yeah, as an Asian in a western country, I can play any role. FOB or American. Native English speaker or broken English speaker with FOB accent to boot. I am like the Jason Bourne of FOBs, flying under the radar but standing out at the same time.

I took the 9:30 pm bus to Dublin Airport. It is 1:19 am, May 25th 2010. I am going to sleep here tonight before my 7 am flight to Paris. I have written 2-3 entries so far. Taylor Swift is blaring on my mp3 player (don’t judge me). The airport is very quiet. What a roller coaster ride so far.

CORK PICTURES