Posts Tagged ‘Sandwiches’

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?

On a Boat

Monday, June 8th, 2009

Our ferry ride from Stockholm left Thursday (05/28) at 1745 from the main port. We had visited the ferry port twice on the preceding two days, first just after they closed and second while they were opened and we purchased our tickets. We had spent our day downtown and had a bit of a rush to get through the crowded city streets to the port in time for our 1645 boarding time. We did make it, however, and, exactly at 1645 checked in and were ushered onto the boat.

Our room was on the 8th deck and was about as small as a railway cabin. Just enough room for four fold-down beds, a corner toilet/shower room and a tiny desk attached to the wall. We got all our stuff in, including our foul-smelling bag of dirty laundry and Matt began washing his stuff. We had hoped against hope that there wouldn’t be a fourth person in our cabin, for his sake. David and I went out to explore the ship and Matt kept washing.

The boat was huge. It looked like a cruise ship. I’ve never been on a cruise ship, but I’ve seen a few in harbor and this looked almost exactly like one of those, except it was a bit smaller and didn’t have a climbing wall. It did have a spa, a casino, an arcade, two restaurants, a fast-food joint, a night club, a disco, and free (but slow) wifi. It also had three decks of rooms and two decks of car and truck parking.

I got back to the room and checked in on Matt who was soaking wet, had his shirt off, music playing in the shower and had the bathroom full of clothes hanging off the the two bed ladders he had wedged above the sink. He said our cabin-mate had showed up and greeted Matt with an expectedly shocked expression, dropped off his stuff and left.

Dan and David showed up a few minutes later just as the captain of the ship was making an announcement in Estonian. Not long after our cabin-mate showed up again and introduced himself as Rauno and, after we had apologized for the smell in the cabin, we all sat down and talked. As we talked, one-by-one each of us would disappear into the shower for a few minutes to wash ourselves and our clothes and, within a few hours the rooms scent had improved drastically and we were all much cleaner. We had learned quite a bit about Rauno, as well in his very good, although not perfect English–he said he has never learned Swedish or Norwegian so gets plenty of practice speaking English.

Rauno is in his mid thirties and works as a carpenter and cabinet-maker in Sweden and Norway for seven or eight months out of the year, with a visit home every few weeks. He has a family in Voru, Estonia, a wife and two little girls who live in a small, two-room apartment and he has been in the process of building a house for the past 5 years and expects to be done with it by the end of the summer. He is a pleasant, peaceful fellow. Soft-spoken with short, thinning hair, a ready smile and a gentle demeanor.

Over our shared peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches and his drinking yoghurt–delicious, real yoghurt with live cultures–we learned about his work history. Back when Estonia was under Soviet control, Rauno studied welding in the state university. After graduating, however, he was unable to find a job and so he began working at a logging camp. For several years he drove a 25-ton Soviet, treaded tractor pulling a large rake. His job was to follow after the clear-cutting of the loggers and rake all of the branches into rows to be collected and mulched. He said he hated that job. The cabin of the tractor was open to the air and temperatures could hit -20ºC and he was dropped off in the middle of the forest at the beginning of the day and picked up at the end.

After working as a logger for long enough, Rauno said “I looked around and realised that this is a s**t job. So, I told my boss ‘I quit’ and didn’t come back the next day.” After that, he picked up some jobs as an electrician before finally settling into carpentry around the time Estonia joined the EU. Rauno told us about how work is unavailable is in Estonia and how great it is to be able to travel to other EU countries where there is work–in his case Sweden and Norway. He said that for the past several years he has had to find work outside Estonia and, while that’s not ideal for him and his family, he is willing to do it and is very glad for the work.

From all he told us he is a hard worker, willing to do almost anything to get a job done right. When we explained to him what we were up to and how we were living on the road, he told us about working in Norway right before Christmas when he and two of his friends worked in a house 500 meters away from the outhouse, with no heat and the only source of water next to the outhouse. He said they went weeks without showers, we could sympathize, although it hasn’t gotten quite that bad for us.

During this entire time he seemed completely unfazed by the fact that we were washing our clothes and had then hanging all over the room, even helping us set up the ladders to make a great drying rack. I felt a bit self-conscious for imposing on him so greatly, but he truly did not seem to mind and seemed to enjoy hanging out with us as well. After a few hours we had finished washing our clothes and ourselves and we all dispersed to hang out throughout the ship.

It was nice to get a bit of time to get out of each others hair, and on a ship that big there was plenty of space. David found a quiet corner and read for a while and Matt got on the internet and got some personal correspondence and photo uploading done. After I had been doing a bit of reading in our room (Dune by Frank Herbert), Rauno walked in and we started talking. He asked me about the book I was reading and I described it for him then asked him what type of reading he does. He said he doesn’t have a lot of time to read, but when he gets time, he’s in the middle of a book on Yoga by an Estonian guru.

The subject of Yoga got us talking about religion and the bad parts and false parts and real parts. He believes in God but dislikes the word God so he calls Him The Absolute. He also doesn’t really appreciate most organized religions, but believes that all of them have some good in them, particularly when it comes to moral law. I discussed the origins of morality and the origins of sin, the origins of the world and the end of our lives. He seemed to have an almost Christian view of the afterlife, but the method for getting there is through conquering our will through our own means. In a way his faith was Christianity without Christ. Doing good, loving your brother, living a good life, trying to not sin so you can get to heaven, but without Christ or the Holy Spirit. He seemed to be very thoughtful and seeking and I enjoyed our conversation and hope I left him with a bit of understanding of the religion I’ve embraced.

Rauno and I talked until after 2300 and he went off to find a friend of his to try to get a ride to his hometown the next day and I went to find Matt and David to see what they were up to. That evening at 2330 was a cabaret show in the nightclub involving lots of glitter, crazy costumes and top hats. David, Matt and Rauno went and watched at least part of that. According to David and Matt, “The show was laughably ridiculous, especially since it seemed like it would have been better suited to Las Vegas than Estonia.”

In the meantime, I started working on the website. When I got up after a bit to borrow Matt’s room key to go get a snack of some jørdnotters–delicious and relatively cheap salted, roasted peanuts we had found in Stockholm–I found Matt taking pictures at the ship’s dance floor and soon joining in with the dancing. The music was live and performed in about 15 different styles by a group of 4 guys and a synthesizer. The event was quite a spectacle.

Anyway, I returned to the computer and spent the evening working on pictures, maps, etc. for the website and doing a bit of chatting with my homies and Rachel. Since we had the free internet readily available, we decided to make the best of it so I ended up staying up quite late getting quite a bit done (you may have noticed around that time a number of improvements to the site, if anyone was keeping track). That evening I felt like a fly on the wall of the ship’s nightlife.

I was sitting in the little fast-food area–which was open 24 hours a day–so I could see people coming and going through that area. At about 0100 there was a group of about 5 drunk truck-drivers sitting around eating burgers, hotdogs, and fries and talking in Swedish. After about half an hour they left and for the next hour or so I was alone with my headphones in listening to Flight of the Conchords and enjoying the quiet. Then, a shriek of anger, three people yelling and a man, sobbing loudly threw open the door to the sundeck and stormed into the drizzly night. A few minutes later three people–two who appeared to be a couple and another girl, apparently his friends–followed him rather timidly on deck. Some quiet murmuring outside and they returned with the angry fellow meekly holding the hand of the previously unattached girl. They disappeared down the hall and all was quiet again.

At 0130 the last glimmer of the sun finally disappeared from the horizon and, except for the distant thudding of a drum, the thrumming of the engine and the slight whistle of the wind, the night was quiet. At 0240 my peaceful evening was once again shattered by three of the same truck drivers from before, but this time they were more drunk and, therefore, louder. They ordered another round of fast food and beers and laughed and spoke slurred Swedish to each other for another half hour, then disappeared again. At about that time, the two couples with the anger issues from earlier came back, although they had apparently solved their issues and seemed rather drugged on a combination of beer and hormones, they left shortly after arriving. The sun began to glimmer again at about 0245.

I kept working and listening, now to several NPR podcasts from before we left. 0300 came around and the disco drums grew a bit quieter and fewer people passed up and down the stairs and the sun grew stronger just over the horizon. By 0330 I was nearing the end of my work on the slow internet and appreciating the quiet of the evening, then the largest and hairiest of the truck drivers stumbled into the cafeteria, placed his order loudly, and stumbled over to a table with a burger and another beer and apparently enjoyed them. After him, a man and his two Estonian women in way too-short skirts came in, ordered drunkenly, and, with an excessive amount of making out and feeling up, joined the truck driver to eat their meals and drink their beers.

I went to bed at at 0400 having accomplished a significant amount and rested comfortably the rest of the night. At 0930 we all woke up, packed up, said goodbye to Rauno and made our way to the car. We were separated at the packed elevator and Matt, who took the next one ended up on the wrong floor. David went to move the car while I went to hunt Matt down. Before I could find him, however, I found a lost looking Estonian man who begged me in German for help opening a locked door to the car area. I couldn’t help him open it, but I did show him where another door was. I went out, talked to David, got my passport (Matt had his on him) and told David to go ahead and drive out because the trucks were waiting for him to get out of their way.

While David did that I went hunting for Matt and found him just a few minutes later. We walked off the pedestrian ramp, at every point looking for a way to get back to the car before customs, then walked through customs without stopping (Thank you EU!), made our way to to the ground where we found ourselves separated from David by a high fence. We motioned to him and after a bit he drove out to us. Matt and I hopped in and off we went.

This was the longest boat ride of my life and, although there were several portions of it that made me slightly uncomfortable–mainly the entertainment and several of the other passengers–I enjoyed the ride.

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

On Food

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

When we were making the budget for the trip, we decided that we would aim for €10 a day for food. We thought it might be a bit ambitious, but we figured we would try it. After all, the more we saved on food, the more we could spend on experiences like the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the London Underground, Stonehenge, Norway, etc. It started on our first day with our ramen noodle hobo meal in the Dublin ferry terminal. Then when we were in Cannock we went to Aldi and we’ve been on a roll since then. Our first meal was rather bland. American cheese, white bread, and extremely cheap meat. Then after a day or two we realized we were way under budget so we bought some mustard and it’s been uphill ever since.

These days we’ve been living high on the hog. Scotts Porridge with raisins, apples, and sugar every few mornings; Real meat, cheese, and vegetables in our lunchtime sandwiches; and soups, stews and pasta dishes for suppers; have become commonplace, though certainly not unappreciated. Another thing we’ve been able to do has been experience more of the local flavors of the nations we’ve visited by spending a bit more to get something locally produced instead of mass produced and imported. These local delicacies have included: shepherds pie and Irish stew in Ireland; lamb roast and fish and chips in the UK; baguettes and Laughing Cow cheese in France; waffles and beer in Belgium; Apfelschorle and local ice-cream in Germany; and knäkebrödsskolan and swedish meatballs in Sweden.

I brought along a little camp stove and camp fuel so we’ve been able to buy foods that need a bit of cooking. Our facilities (and abilities) are limited, but stews, rice, couscous, porridge, and hot chocolate add a nice variety whenever we have time to set up the stove. One really amazing experience happened a few days ago. We had decided that the small camping pot we had was really a bit too small for four hungry guys, so we went into a Swedish grocery store to see what we could see and, lo and behold, there on the bottom shelf underneath a number of largeish pots for 139 krona was a largeish pot without a handle. “Well,” I said to David, “I wonder if we can get some money off for that.” So, we went and asked the manager and, after a bit of discussion in Swedish and broken English, he said we could have it for 100 krona! What a glorious day! Ok… so… not as exciting, perhaps, for normal people, but I hope you will exult with us. That pot has been wonderful and has allowed us such delicacies as fusilli with spaghetti sauce; pasta, potato, and tomato stew; and, best of all, popcorn.

At the moment, we have a variety of condiments (in a variety of languages), some snacks and fruit, some vegetables and soups, and rice, couscous, and pasta. When I first told people that we were aiming for €10 a day, some people doubted us but we’ve proven it can be done, it just takes a bit of willingness to experiment and learn how to cook, especially for 4 bachelors.

Daniel Z