Posts Tagged ‘Parking’

The Eternal City: Empires Old and New

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

We arrived at Rome in the middle of the afternoon on July 2. Roman history is one of my favorite areas of study so I anticipated Rome with more excitement than I any other city we visited. We parked at the train station in EUR, a less than eternal suburb of Rome, and took the train into the city for an introductory exploration. It was the oddest thing to walk out of the dirty metro station and see the Colosseum, one of the greatest relics of the ancient world, right in front of me.

This magnificent stadium was our introduction to a feeling that would soon become familiar during our stay at Rome: a sense stupefied wonder that something so old could still be standing. Because it was only two hours before the Colosseum closed we decided to postpone our tour until we could be sure of enough time to truly experience it. We began making our way to the Pantheon, hoping for an opportunity to watch the rain that loomed in the Eastern sky fall through the hole in the center of the dome. The weather did not oblige, however, because suddenly the sky opened in a truly torrential downpour. We were caught in the open with no accessible buildings within sprinting distance but finally found adequate shelter under the bowl of an nonoperational fountain. We watched with amusement as mobs of shrieking tourists ran by, umbrellas rendered useless by the driving wind, in desperate search for shelter.

When the skies finally cleared we made our way towards the Pantheon once more. It proved magnificent both inside and out. Unlike most relics of ancient Rome, the Pantheon has not crumbled under the weight of dozens of centuries and still appears (except for the replacement inside of Catholic saints for Roman gods) as it did when it was first constructed. Its huge dome is still a mystery to modern architects. From the Pantheon we walked to Vatican City and St.Peter’s Cathedral before turning back towards the Colosseum metro station. On our way back we got what was to become a staple of our stay in Rome: Gelato ice cream. It was nearly as magnificent as the city itself and we had it every day of our visit.

The next morning we toured the Colosseum and Capital hill where Nero and the Flavain emperors (Vespasian and sons) built their stupendous palaces. It was spectacular to be walking in and around structures that were in use almost 2,000 years ago (The Colosseum was built 80 AD). Many aspects of the Colosseum were on par with modern stadiums (e.g., Retractable roof and efficient exit system that evacuated 50,000 spectators in minutes), though perhaps the fact that it can still accommodate visitors after thousands of years on earthquake-prone gound is most impressive. Capital Hill was also amazing in this regard. Structures towered over us, arches and half domes and tunnels millennium old, but made of brick that could have been laid a few days ago. That evening we dined on genuine Italian pizza, with beverage and appetizer, for only eight euros. It was probably the best money I have ever spent.

We spent our last full day in Rome in Vatican city. We began with a tour of St. Peter’s, which was free unless you didn’t have sleeves. Its size alone is awe inspiring, but before you have fully absorbed the height of the vaulted ceiling or the length of the sanctuary, you become aware of its astonishing sculptures, paintings, mosaics, and decorations. No where else in the world could the Superbowl be played inside while Michelangelo’s Pieta looks on. The other highlight of Vatican City was the Sistine Chapel. It was as spectacular as I have always believed, trumping even Raphael’s incredible paintings which we saw en rout. Though taking pictures and conversation were prohibited, everyone in the chapel did both with unrestrained enthusiasm in spite of the attendant’s feeble (And very disruptive) attempts to stop us.

On the Sunday of July 5 we attended mass in St.Peter’s. It was fascinating to see how many of those present were just tourists like ourselves and how many were genuine Catholics, going to church at the epicenter of their faith. To take mass in the capital of Catholicism, with your church’s most magnificent expression of devotion to God souring above your head and with the bones of Peter and beneath your feet, would have to be a truly religious experience for a Catholic. I was left a bit bemused, however. Should the Pope’s words or Christ’s be the guide of our religion? Are buildings like St.Peter’s the way God wants the Church to make its mark, or should the funds used to build it have been utilized instead to feed the poor? Should we place more importance on where Peter is buried or on the gospel he died for? Whether or not the Church is meant to be so physically rooted in this world, Rome’s power is still very real and its impact on millions of people is undeniable. Though its jurisdiction is spiritual instead physical, Rome remains the center of a mighty empire whose influence spreads across the globe. It truly is the Eternal City.

Daniel Shenk

West to Berlin

Friday, June 12th, 2009

It was a quiet trip for a few hours on that Tuesday (2/6) as we left Auschwitz behind us, we were all engrossed in our own thoughts. Soon, our life was back to normal. Polish music radio was blaring from the speakers, we were talking about what we were going to cook for lunch and what our plans were for picking Dan up in Berlin, etc., etc.

We slept that night in the car–it’s easier to sleep in a car with only 3 people we discovered–at a rest stop about 1 hour outside of Berlin. The next morning we were up and going pretty early, heading into Berlin where we parked across the street from the Deutsche Opera Berlin and began the walk down town. We had parked quite a distance from center city to save money–and we did! Parking for €1 an hour can’t be beat!

We stopped at a Kaiser and picked up some tomatoes and some cheap Gouda cheese. We were about to check out when Matt spotted some delicious-looking chocolate pudding cups for 19¢ each! We bought four and, later that day with some spoons we had requested at McDonalds (Thank you McDonalds!) enjoyed them immensely. They seemed to be made with real chocolate and real cream!

We left the store and, after another 20 minutes or so of walking, stopped at a Gravis/Apple store to get some internet to check for email from Dan giving his exact arrival time and also to check prices for a power cable for my Mac.

My power cable had exploded all over Matt the day before* leaving me with a computer that, no matter how cool it looks, how good its operating system, and how high its technical specs, did me no good. We checked power cables at the Gravis store. €89. Not gonna work. So we tried a last-ditch effort to get in touch with my family and Dan and get them to find my backup power cord (which I had unfortunately forgotten to bring with me).

I emailed my family with a plea and then called Dan who said he was about to leave but he would see what he could do. Then, we waited and, since there wasn’t anything else we could do, we went and explored Berlin. We walked through the main park south to see if we could find an Aldi somewhere. No one knew were one was and it took us about an hour and a half to find one. During that time we did find some free oranges and the world-famous Berlin Zoo (home of Knut, the captive-born polar bear!).

We ate lunch outside a convention center near the Zoo while the rain poured down for half an hour. We also saw “The Broken Tooth,” a church almost completely destroyed by the Allies during the bombing of Berlin, leaving only the church spire, broken off at the top.

Then we walked back into the park emerging at a Burger King right near the Column of Victory topped with a statue made with melted cannons of the defeated French after one of the Prussian victories during the Franco-Prussian wars. It had begun to rain and we holed up in one of the underground pedestrian tunnels that leads to the column where Matt and David had a jam session with their echoes.

When the rain let up a bit we left and headed east toward the Brandenburg Gate, walking again through the park. We popped out this time to be greeted by the muzzles of two large Russian tanks. Thankfully they were just part of the Russian Soldiers’ Memorial, remembering the thousands of Russian soldiers killed during their drive to Berlin. Oddly the day before we had followed much the same route the Russians had followed from Poland to Berlin, we just did it much faster and with fewer casualties.

We then walked to the Brandenburg Gate, followed the path of the Wall, and saw the Reichstag. Then we headed south through the park emerging at the Homosexual Memorial across from the Holocaust Memorial and headed south to Potsdam Platz where we saw the magnificent Sony Center. It was mostly closed except for the restaurants serving extremely expensive food, so we went back to our car and cooked some of our extremely inexpensive, and likely almost as delicious, food.

We slept that night at another rest stop about 15 minutes outside of Berlin in the direction of Leipzig.

The next day (3/6) we went back into town, found a parking spot for just as cheap but a bit further away from town this time, stopped at the Gravis store to check our email (nothing from Dan or my family about the power cord. We were hoping that meant it was on its way) and went to the Zoo. It was a bit expensive to get into the zoo (€12 pp) but for me at least it was worth it. They have the most species of animals of any zoon in the world and, while it is more cramped than the Columbus Zoo, being in the middle of the city, very good exhibits. We spent about 6 hours there and, as far as we knew, were the last ones out that evening.

We picked up Dan at 2115 that evening, walked the Wall, checked out the Brandeburg Gate all lit up and went and saw the Reichstag. Then, back to the same rest stop for the night.

Daniel R. Ziegler

* OK, so, the cord got frayed inside the sheath so it heated up and it broke through the plastic and ceased conducting power. Matt wasn’t even slightly burned or electrocuted. Boring. But it did look like it had exploded, and Matt was using it during the time that this all took place. Isn’t it more exciting to say it exploded all over Matt?

Norway and Early Mornings

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

We left Sunday evening (05/24) just around midnight and headed north along the coast. The sunlight glimmered in the sky until almost 0030 and by 0230 it was starting to get light. By the time we stopped at about 0330, it was almost full light. We slept at a nice little rest stop alongside the road and woke up the next morning sorted through all our stuff getting Dan S’s things packed and all the stuff the rest of us were sending back to our families and friends via his mail service.

We set off north again a few hours later and made it to Norway soon, passing the border with no problem and then began looking for the nearest train station so that we could get the schedule worked out for Dan’s train trip to Frankfurt connecting through Copenhagen. Pulling off the highway, Matt talked to the first group of people we saw. About 7 or 8 older men sitting around a round table enjoying a lunch and it just so happened that one of the men lived right near the train station and was leaving just then, so he offered to lead us there. We followed him into Halden and and found the station. Chalk up another friendly European.

After we worked out the details, we happened to notice a pretty neat castle/fort nearby called Fredriksten and went and explored it for free. It was huge, and pretty neat. Apparently the castle had been there for centuries protecting the town and port of Halden. We had lunch outside the fort and then kept pressing north. Just before we entered Oslo, we found a large sign with lots of writing on it that described a toll to be paid, but there were no toll booths! Apparently, after about 10 minutes of trying to figure out the sign we decided that there were 3 ways to pay: You could have a special transmitter with your billing information (which we didn’t have) or you could go to a special place and pay (which we didn’t want to do) or you could wait and they would mail the bill to you. So, we went for the last one. I expect to receive a bill from Oslo, but to tell you the truth I’m not sure what to do with it.

Anyway, we drove into the city without much traffic our trouble and parked near a gigantic stone wall. We had no idea what it was but after walking for several kilometers we eventually came to a small gate and walked inside. Apparently it was the fort built to protect the harbor of Oslo and is now a museum and park. After exploring it for a bit we went into the city center itself passing the harbor (well-protected by the fort) on the way along with significant amounts of electric car parking–complete with electric cars parked.

Oslo did not impress us much with its architecture or its sculptures–we decided that there must have been a period in Oslo’s history where no one wore clothes and that was when all the statues had been made–but it did impress us with its weather. Everyone was outside sunbathing and it was the warmest day we had experienced on our trip, despite being the farthest north we had been on our trip so far. Dan, David, and Matt went and saw the city cathedral and the palace which were nice, but we’ve become a bit jaded by palaces and cathedrals. Really kind of a disappointing thing, but in in Europe it seems that every city has a cathedral and every other city has a palace so it’s hard to not feel like you’ve seen them all once you’ve seen the first 100.

I saw the city hall which was nice and wandered the streets a bit enjoying the nice weather and checking out the cool Nordic sweaters, the cheapest of which cost the equivalent of $300. A short time later we met back at the car and, after snacking on some apples, headed back south. We got into Gothenburg–where we had enjoyed the internet and a wharf the day before–that evening and Dan and I went to purchase his train tickets.

The information center closed 5 minutes early and we were there 3 minutes before the time it was supposed to close, so we were sorely disappointed and on our own to try to buy his ticket from a little Swedish kiosk. We did succeed, however, the entire time being offered advice by Johan, a Swedish welder who had apparently enjoyed a few powerful beverages earlier in the evening. He offered us advice on everything from where to stay–”You can stay in my garage! It’s free!”–where we should be visiting–”You gotta stay down south, man. It’s ******* **** up here. You gotta go to Amsterdam. That place is ******* awesome”–and how we should be entertaining ourselves–Ladies and Drink. We turned him down on all of his information, but he didn’t really pose a threat and was quite a nice fellow. He smiled and waved rather tipsily as Dan and I (tickets in hand) left the station entreating him to be careful on his way home.

Meanwhile, Matt had gone to check out the local U21 football game where the locals beat the opponents soundly. After the game, the crowds flowed raucously out of the stadium carrying Matt with them in their joy. Dan, David, and I waited for Matt and eventually he arrived having enjoyed the experience greatly.

We went out of town that evening and slept in a forest near the airport; Dan and I in the car and David and Matt in the tent. The next morning at about 0430 Dan and I left for the train station and I successfully dropped him off about an hour later. He cut quite the striking figure in his lumberjack jacket, shaggy head, and with a large Viking sword slung across his back in a duct-tape scabbard. I returned to the campsite and a few hours later was woken to some delicious Scott’s porridge Matt and David had prepared.

Daniel Z

Versailles to Belgium

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

Versailles to Belgium
Tuesday morning (18/5) dawned clear and dry and we awoke in our little campsite between the field and the golf course outside of Pontoise, France. After a breakfast of delicious (if slightly browned) Scott’s porridge with honey, we packed up and hopped in the car. “To Versailles!” we cried and promptly got stuck in some mud. A few minutes later we were on our way, but our jet black Passat was not quite as stunning as it had been, nor as black.

Versailles Palace, just outside the town of Versailles (which is a suburb of Paris these days but used to be outside of the city). The palace was originally built during the reign of Louis XIV, who was called the “Sun King” and king during the apex of French continental power. Apparently, however, he was a rather warlike fellow who preferred fighting to friendship and ended up almost bankrupting the kingdom through constant warfare. His residence at Versailles was built around his father’s (Louis XIII) garden chateau, which he expanded greatly in the highly ornate classical style that was popular during his reign.

The most obvious example of the highly ornate style is the pair of gigantic, gold-painted gates which stand at the entrance to the inner courtyard of the palace. The palace sits facing a gigantic parade grounds (now filled with cars and busses full of German, Spanish, and British tourists and middle school students). Behind the palace are the expansive gardens, at least a square mile in size, which contain smaller houses for many of the kings courtiers, mistresses, and family members.

We parked in the parade grounds (which cost several euros and hour to park in) and ate a delicious lunch of baguette, salami-like sausage tomato, and Laughing Cow cheese sandwiches. Then we headed into the palace after purchasing our tickets (they cost around €13, quite expensive, and didn’t even include admission to the gardens although Matt managed to walk around them without paying admission) we went into the palace. I personally found the palace gaudy, but nonetheless impressive. The apartments of the royal family were filled with family portraits and artwork. Almost every inch of the walls were covered with tapestries, paintings, carvings or other ornamentation. Most impressive to me was the hall of mirrors, at one point a state reception hall with tall windows along one side and tall mirrors along the other. The effect produced fills the room with light.

Versailles was worth the visit—despite the price–for the history alone. It was occupied by several generations of French royalty including the infamous Louis XVI and his equally as infamous wife, Marie Antoinette. It was easy to see while walking the halls of their home why they were perceived as being out of touch with the common people. It’s hard to notice the plight of the commoners when your busy posing for a 10-foot-high portrait or choosing the newest gold-plated silverware for your collection. Today the palace is used by the democratic government of France as the reception hall for events of state, particularly when hosting important international events.

By the end of several hours and after seeing hundreds of portraits and thousands of square feet of decorated walls we were about ready to go. Dan and Matt—Matt because he was exploring the gardens, and Dan because he’s a history major—took a bit longer so David and I waited in the car writing blog posts and catching up in our journals (oddly enough when I opened my computer we had an internet connection right there in the middle of the Versailles parade grounds). After waiting a bit and just before the start of another hour of parking David and I took off to circle the block and save a few euros, and just as we were coming back around for our first pass we saw a bewildered looking Dan and Matt standing where we had been parked, so we picked them up and headed northeast. They forgave us for the annoyance of not knowing where the car was when we explained that we had saved them several euros.

We skirted Paris and headed north in the direction of Lille (where I once spent a few hours waiting for a train) and Belgium. We stopped only twice, once to fill up on water and use the toilet and, just before we were on our way, we were surprised when we spotted a small abyssinian guinea pig peeking it’s nose out of the bushes next to the parking lot! The other time we stopped was to get a picture with the sign welcoming us to Belgium. It was pretty difficult to find a place to camp in Belgium, it’s a nation with some beautiful countryside, but it’s also pretty heavily populated countryside. We did eventually, rather late in the evening, find a place to set up camp in the fallow land between two fields. As we drove off the farm track to camp, several rabbits scampered across the field, startling me a bit. Dan, Matt and I slept in the car and David slept on a tarp outside and, after a meal of some stew with canned ham, we nodded off.

Daniel Z

Edinburgh, Jewel of the North

Friday, May 8th, 2009

Morning dawned cloudy after our unexpected nocturnal adventures (ie losing ourselves in the wonders of Edinburgh during construction season). It has been raining off and on for almost a week now and to tell the truth we’re all getting a bit tired of it. Another thing we’re getting a bit tired of is having Harvest Morn bars for breakfast each morning. Although these are delicious and highly nutritious, a full week of them begins grate on the senses. That’s why we decided to enjoy a full breakfast of free-range eggs, thick-cut toast, and real scottish bacon. It was spectacular. A breakfast which will stand out in legend for ages to come.

After fully enjoying the cooking and eating of our spectacular morning meal, we set off for a full day of exploration in the capital of the Scottish world, Edinburgh. A sprawling city built between several hills near the end of the Firth of Forth, Edinburgh has become a mecca for anyone seeking the “Scottish Experience.” Lining the steeply downhill Golden Mile from the ancient and stately Edinburgh Castle to the impressive and glamorous Holyrood Palace is a plethora of shops and tourist traps. The Scottish Whiskey Experience, Thistle Do Nicely, and The Edinburgh Woolen Mill share the road with two magnificent cathedrals and dozens of 18th and 19th century buildings.

Throughout the entire city, history meshes with kitsch in an amalgam of historic beauty and garish modernity. The finest example of this dichotomy was seen near the bottom end of the Golden Mile where ancient Holyrood Palace shares an intersection with the new Scottish parliament building. Built within the past decade to house the Scottish Parliament–a body devolved from the UK Parliament in 1997–the parliament building on the outside is made of shaped steel, wood and glass in a way which calls to mind an image of a bamboo forest. In any modern city (eg Chicago, Columbus, even Belfast) it would have been quite an interesting and beautiful building, but as the seat of power for the leadership of the rugged, rocky and natural nation of Scotland and when contrasted with the ancient stone cathedrals, palaces and castles surrounding it, it ends up looking simply tacky. But enough about architecture and back to exploration.

I’m not sure exactly what David, Dan and Matt did during the afternoon, but I made my way out of town in the car with our clothes only about half of which had dried overnight and used one of the first dry days since our arrival in Scotland to hang our clothes out to finish drying. I drove about 20 minutes out of Edinburgh and pulled off the highway doing a bit of exploring until I found a driveway leading to the entryway of a field. There tied up a line from the car to a fencepost and strung our laundry up to dry. It took about 2 hours even in the bright sun and constant wind, but I managed to get some reading done–I’ve been reading Frank Herbert’s Dune after finishing Starship Titanic earlier in the trip–and took a nap. It was a very nice day and no one bothered me until just as I was taking the laundry down a fellow drove up and asked if I needed any help and when I said no he asked if I had been dumping trash there–apparently a problem in the area–I told him I had just been drying my laundry and he said “Right. No problem. Cheers!” and drove off. We’ve been quite amazed by the friendliness of pretty much every single person we’ve encountered here (except for one rather curt waitress in Galway).

After my leisurely afternoon, I rejoined the guys at our appointed meeting spot in Edinburgh (the Burger King with free WiFi). Soon we were on our way (after a dash to get back to the parking lot before our time expired and we got charged €4.50). We drove steadily northwest toward Loch Ness and the Lake District of Scotland–not to be confused with the Lake District of England–and one of my ancestral homelands.

We spent the night by a stream just a few miles outside of Inverness at the tip of Loch Ness and were not attacked by monsters of any sort.

Daniel Z