Posts Tagged ‘Train’

Relief

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

The morning of the 23rd, I (Matt) drove us across the Latvian border and into Riga. I felt relief that we had been able to contact the Millers regarding our financial plight and the ol’ Volkswagen had withstood the strenuous drive north without a mechanical breakdown. Little did I know, the capital of Latvia would ultimately add to my relief.

A little before noon, I found a parking space along a busy street near the train station and a block from our previous parking spot during our visit several months before. This time I had the same intention, finding a free Wi-Fi connection. We hung there for several hours, sharing the computer. When I fell asleep, Dan left to inquire at the station for two train tickets to Moscow for the next day. He returned with a couple price figures and the two times trains would leave each day. We agreed to leave the next night at 6 pm on the lowest class train for only 22 Lats or about $44 each. So far so good. Instead of following through and purchasing the tickets, we were distracted by the wonderful World Wide Web. I returned to the station with the group debit card to make the purchase but, after visiting two information desks and three ticket counters, I discovered the tickets had seemingly jumped in price to about 56 Lt each. Alarmed, I returned to the car, and we began discussing alternatives like air and bus fare. We had to make it to Moscow by the 27th to catch our expensive Trans Siberian Railway train. We weren’t, however, willing to pay roughly $230 to train there. Stress.

After each of us had made several more intensely stressful trips to and from the station, we understood that Dan, when he originally found the ideal tickets, hadn’t been informed of the seats’ availability, only of their existence. The one friendly clerk told Dan that only six similar tickets were next available for the 26th. That inspired more stress as we tried to determine whether a train departing that evening would allow us to make the TSR’s departure the next day. Dan searched his e-mail account but couldn’t locate the crucial time of departure from Moscow. Sweating, I returned to the ticket counter to find the clerk had taken a fifteen minute break. I was ready at the counter when she returned to confirm that the tickets were refundable and sell them. Smiling, she informed me I had purchased two of only four remaining tickets. Back at the car, I sat there, overwhelmed and holding a pair of tickets to Moscow at noon on the 27th. Then Dan found the TSR itinerary in a previously undiscovered e-mail, the moment of reckoning… We would make the TSR’s departure. Utterly relieved, we high-fived from our seats in the car. We had two of the very last four affordable tickets to make our connecting train. A few minutes later and we would have had to spend nearly three times as much. Instead, we would travel for the lower price, arrive in time to pick up our tickets, and possibly see Red Square. Relief.

We celebrated with two McDonald’s apple pies. We finished on the Internet, I fell asleep, and Dan drove us a little out of the city and parked in a pull-off. We woke the next morning early, determined to sell our car. We emptied the car, packing our main bags and collecting a significant trash pile until noon. We followed a Google map Dan had loaded to two junkyards and a couple car repair ships. No one bought used cars and I began feeling a little stress. We didn’t want much for the car; we merely needed to dispose of it somewhere before training across Asia. The next shop bought such cars, including Volkswagens. Dan received an offer from two rough-looking Latvian men eying the Passat, of €600 and successfully asked for €700. A little shocked, we grabbed our stuff from the car. We walked away with Euro bills in our pocket and our current possessions on our backs and in our hands, before they could change their minds and refuse the deal. I am in awe of the Lord’s provision on this trip. This includes my disbelief in the fact that our station-wagon, purchased in England for about $2 thousand, returned $1 thousand off the Baltic Sea, three months and 20,000 miles later. Relief.

Suddenly without wheels of our own, we caught a bus back to Riga’s train station and walked to a youth hostel in Riga’s old town. Our day’s goal completed, we settled into a comfortable dormitory room for a two-nights stay before our train journey began the 26th. Dan and I spent some time on the Internet and I walked around the old town, seeing the touristy shops and restaurants, buying some provisions at a grocery store, and touring the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia. The Museum outlined the plight of Latvia under the German and Russian regimes from 1940 to 1991. The country, centrally located between the East and the West, has seen its fair share of occupation and oppression. We shared the 12-bed hostel room with a man who was studying the result of Russia’s practice of deporting thousands of citizens in the Baltic States to scatter them across Russia and replace them with Russians. As a part of his Master’s thesis, he had researched for three weeks in Riga before soon moving to Estonia for two more.

Still rebuilding from its Soviet past, Riga is a pleasant city. The next two days, Saturday and Sunday, allowed us to explore its back roads. Saturday night I left the hostel and its frustratingly sketch Internet connection and intentionally got lost in the confusing network of roadways. I enjoy getting intentionally lost and I believed I could easily find my way back to the hostel by following the three impressive church steeples in the old town. Not so when, an hour and a half later, I ended up in a residential part of the city with only apartment buildings and only business buildings on the horizon. I tried to ask a few people but no one could direct me in the direction of the old town or the train station. Several people gave me the numbers of the buses I would have to take. I had gotten lost on purpose; I wouldn’t concede defeat by busing back. Finally, I had a young woman point the general direction and two hours and 45 minutes after I had left, I walked, into our hostel room. Relief.

Dan and I walked another hour, tentatively looking for a cheap restaurant before returning to pub near the train station. We enjoyed mushroom pizzas and soups while discussing acceptance and correction according to the Bible and their role in the intended Body of Christ. Fascinating. After attending two churches the next morning (merely because I slept in), we ran into each other, Dan walking with four people from his earlier English-speaking service. We joined them for a delicious meal of Latvian potato pancakes, delicious courses with sour cream or jellies. Keith Trampe, with his wife Andrea, were Nebraskans, nearly done with their year-long post as minister at the Riga Lutheran church. We shared a wonderful conversation about Latvian, Nebraskan, and Indonesian culture and our European travels with them and another couple, an Indonesian woman and a German man, the German police liaison to the entire Baltic region. I thought visiting 40 countries was impressive; the German had spent time in over 90. Fascinating.

We finished, exchanged contact information, headed for the hostel, late, and checked out. Lugging out bags behind us, we found a bench in the park by the train station. Dan read while I walked an hour to a cheap grocery store before we cooked a meal of ham, tomatoes, and macaroni stew. Soon, we left for the station, two hours early. On the way, I gave our large pot, with the stew we were unable to finish and a plastic fork, to a homeless man on the other side of the park. Dan reminds me that he may not have been homeless. Perhaps he was just a normal guy who enjoyed digging through trash cans. He accepted the pot gladly and it felt good to share out humble dinner. I explored the station and wrote a postcard to my family. Unfortunately, I only had 20 Lat cents, 30 short of those necessary to mail a postcard to America. Wolfers, if you’re reading this, know that I still have your Roman Colosseum postcard and I’ll send it asap. I returned to a nervous Ziegler, 10 minutes before the train’s departure. We walked nearly the entire length of the long train and struggled to work our way into the full car to our seats with our stuffed bags. The car portion of the trip had satisfactorily completed and the train portion had successfully begun. Relief.

Matt

On Our Way North

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Leaving Turkey we had quite a push ahead of us. We had to get to Riga, Latvia by Thursday so we would have enough time to sell our car, buy train tickets to Moscow (we had checked online while in Istanbul and found tickets for the equivalent of about $30 and were pleased with that price), and get everything repacked into our much smaller space for hoboing our way across Russia. Because of this we had only 4 days to make the 3000 kilometer drive from the Mediterranean to the Baltic. It was going to be our longest straight drive ever and we were doing it with only two drivers. So, we began.

We crossed into Bulgaria early Sunday (19/07) evening with no difficulties and headed North-West. It was a rather un-exciting evening and we passed it driving over relatively nice roads, listening to some NPR programs we had downloaded in Istanbul, and snacking every once in a while on some bread with Nutella or jam. We slept in the early morning south of the Romanian border in a rather muddy spot just off the road. The next morning, bright and early, we were off heading North. We entered Romania that morning, paid for a Vignette and drove off. We soon realised, however, that the cost of the vignette for Romania had not been worth it. In fact, the roads were terrible. Just a little after we passed the border we got on a road which was alright, but we did have to dodge a few potholes. Then… Matt, who was driving, didn’t manage to dodge one. It hit hard and as we citröened away from it, something was wrong. The car started wobbling a bit and jerking to the right as a loud thumping came from the right-hand rear wheel-well.

Matt held it together well and pulled us off to a good spot along the road. Our right-hand rear tyre had been going a bit bald because it was cambered in pretty badly, so we were rather expecting it to go at some point. When we got out to examine the situation, however, we discovered that the pothole had bent our rim at least an inch out of place at one point, which explained how quickly the air had gone out of the tyre.

We replaced the tyre with the spare (which had a slightly wobbly rim, but not bad), topped up on air at a nearby filling station and made our way up to Bucharest, drove through Bucharest rather quickly, and made the turn North-West and headed for the Carpathians. Driving through the Carpathian mountain range was beautiful. Winding mountain roads didn’t make for quick driving, but they made for many interesting sights. We drove through Transylvania, thankfully avoiding Vlad’s hot-spots especially that evening when we spent the night just outside his territory and departed the next morning, glad to not have been impaled.

Hungary was next on the list. We passed through yet another border, praised the Shengen agreement that allowed us to pass so easily between so many EU nations, bought a vignette and set off to explore Budapest. The twin cities of Buda and Pest and full of beautiful sights, not the least of which is Danube River spanned in several points by scenic bridges. Our first stop was the top of a mountain at the center of the city where a castle and Victory Monument stood guard over the city. We then made our way into the center of the city to a cathedral where the mummified hand of St. Stephen, first king of Hunagry who lived around the turn of the first century, was preserved in a gold and glass reliquary.

After exploring the rest of the city a bit, including the Hungarian parliament building, modeled after the British parliament building in London, we made our way back to the car and left. North again, toward Warsaw where we arrived the next morning, passing through Slovakia in the night (paying for yet another vignette). After just a few hours in Warsaw using the internets. We also had to try to get in touch with David so that he could transfer the rest of our money out of the group’s savings account to our checking account so that we could actually access it. We were unable to make contact with David, but succeeded, eventually, in getting in touch with David’s dad. Relieved, we made our way north yet again, drove through Lithuania, and arrived in Riga after long hours of uneventful travel on Thursday the 23rd, right on schedule.

Milan

Friday, July 24th, 2009

This trip so far has been quite laissez-faire when it comes to scheduling. We had planned out all of our necessary stops, transportation, and various events in advance, so we could get the best prices and know where we needed to be when. The rest of the trip, however, had been planned as we went—the flexibility the car gave us and the reason we were able to see so many things off the beaten path. One of the certain dates (08/07), however, was a concert of the band U2 in Milan, Italy. That concert coincided with Dan’s departure on a train to Frankfurt from whence his plane would leave the next day.

We arrived about midday on the 8th and set about trying to locate a train station where we could buy tickets (a mission complicated by the fact that the entire center of the city seemed under construction and very few of the streets seemed to be named, or at least have signs). We found one train station, discovered we couldn’t get the international tickets there, and sought out the main station where Dan and I when to purchase his tickets to Frankfurt-am-Maine while David and Matt waited in the car, parked on the road with hazards blinking. No one seemed bothered, Italian road-rules are rather lax.

Our concert was at 2000 and we had to pick up our tickets by 1930. Time was flying by. We didn’t know exactly where the stadium (San Siro) was in relation to the center of the city, but, after asking a few friendly locals discovered it was a 5 minute, cheap metro ride from the station just in front of the main train station. Matt and Dan set out to find some pizza for Dan’s Final Supper while David went to print off our concert ticket confirmation from a local internet shop so we could actually get our tickets that evening. I stayed with the car, parked temporarily by a little green area next to the train station. It was about 1830.

David returned shortly and told me that he didn’t know all the details but Dawn, his girlfriends’ mom, had been struck by lightening. I said a short prayer for Dawn and the family. Matt arrived and led us to the pizza place.

We enjoyed the delicious slices of fresh, Italian pizza, proclaimed the Italians the best chefs in the world and then grabbed Dan’s things to get him to the station. It was 1915. We said goodbye hurriedly, prayed for Dan’s safety, our own continued trip, and Dawn and her family. Then, we booked it to the metro.

A “5 minute metro trip” turned into half an hour as we realised that we had completely misunderstood the friendly locals. The trip felt interminable. It was 1920… 1930, the deadline had passed… 1945… We got out of the metro and had a 10 minute jog/walk to the stadium. It was 1955. We ran into the stadium area, found the ticket booth, got our tickets (thankfully still available) and made our way into the stadium. It was 2015. After a mad dash to find our section and our seats and an almost interminable climb up the spiral ramps, we reached our designated section and finally sat down. It was 2030 and all we had missed was the opening act, “Snow Patrol.”

We joined in a competitive wave (one section gets the wave going and whichever section lets the wave die gets booed mercilessly by the entire stadium), and Matt made friends with his neighbor from Switzerland, a fellow named Guy. The U2 concert was unbelievable. I’ve never seen such stage artistry in my life. The entire stadium was dwarfed by a giant cross between an octopus and an alien landing craft which encompassed the stage. The players were introduced: Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen, Jr., The Edge, and Bono. The songs included a number from their new album (No Line on the Horizon) as well as some older ones. David knew them all, Matt knew most of them, I knew many. One apropos song was “Where the Streets Have No Name,” especially given our difficulty finding the train station earlier that day.

We left the concert at about 2330 and we were energised, Matt bought a t-shirt, while I hung out waiting by the door and somehow we lost David. Matt and I lost our way on the streets of Milan for about an hour and a half eventually making our way to the metro station, which was closed for the night. It was about 0130. We waited for a while hunting around the area thinking David would probably have hung out there waiting, but we couldn’t find him and assumed he had caught the last train out at 0100. We found a good map on the back of a bus stop and started to make our way to the car. We did eventually arrive, about 3 hours later at around 0400, Matt crashed in the passenger’s seat and I slept fitfully in the driver’s seat.

At about 0700, I got up, munched on some bread and drank some water in the gathering daylight. I stood for a while outside the car watching the sun rise over buildings and nameless streets of Milan. As I stood there, David walked around the corner of the train station and we hailed each other and exchanged stories. David, after being separated from Matt and I had made his way to the metro station getting there just after the last train left and had spent the night sleeping alternately on a nearby park bench (where he was when we had been looking in the area for him) and in the metro station when it reopened. He made his way back and arrived in good spirits but, like Matt and I, quite tired. We crawled into the car and caught a few more hours of needed sleep.

Later that morning, after we had all gotten some sleep, David checked his email once more and got the bad news that Dawn had not improved and wasn’t expected to live. He decided to fly home to support Amber and do what he could for the family, a decision Matt and I understood and supported. We spent the rest of the day with David alternately on the phone, using the internet, and repacking his things with Matt and I reorganizing the car for life with two, not four, people and making some meals. Our final meal with David was a spaghetti dish and some popcorn with seasoning salt prepared over our little stove. We took David to the airport, wished him well and again said a quick prayer for his safety and for Dawn’s family.

That evening was a quiet one for Matt and I as we drove to Venice. We pondered the changes in our trip and how insignificant those were in comparison to other changes that take place just as suddenly.

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

The Journey Home and Back

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

My journey home began on Tuesday, May 26 at 6:27 AM in Gothenburg, Sweden. While we were in Bad Pyrmont, Simon Kolle gave a lot of his time to helping me get a train ticket from Copenhagen to Frankfurt. The plan was that we would explore south Sweden after which the guys would drop me off in Copenhagen, and then head back into Sweden to see Stockholm and catch their ferry to Estonia. Unfortunately, the only bridge from Denmark to Sweden costs € 30 to cross each time, meaning they would pay € 60 to drive from Sweden to Copenhagen and back to Sweden. We found a train that made the crossing for less than half that price.

From Gothenburg to Copenhagen took 3 1/2 hours. The trip from Copenhagen to Frankfurt was a little over 9 hours, leaving me at Frankfurt-Am-Maine a little after 9:00 PM. My flight went out at 12:05 PM the next day. During the next 15 hours I read, ate lots of McDonald’s, slept fitfully for 2 1/2 hours, read some more and had a pleasant conversation with 2 other Americans returning to the U.S.. My Canadian passport gave me no problems abroad until I tried to re-enter my home country. I had several moments where I was genuinely worried that I wouldn’t be allowed back in, at least not in time for the wedding. Happily everything was resolved and my flight touched down in Pittsburgh at 9:16 PM. By the time I arrived home it was past midnight, making the entire journey around 48 hours long, once Europe’s 6 hour time difference is taken into account.

It was amazing to be back in the good ol’ U.S.A.. Though reconnecting with loved ones was the best part of coming home, I spent a great deal of time pursuing less noble pleasures that are in-feasable or impossible on a trip bound by a limited budget. I slept on a comfortable couch (My bed being taken by guests visiting for the wedding), took showers as often as I wished, ate piles of food when ever I wanted, and drank gallons of Mt. Dew (Which is not sold in Europe). Yet the time with friends and family was the highlight of my brief stay. I spent most of my time with my wonderful fiance, Emily, though other highlights include watching and playing basketball with my friends. My sister Marina’s wedding, the entire reason for my return, was worth the effort and expense involved in attending. It was also good to see one of my best friends, Andrew, and a close cousin, Darren, just before they left on long journeys of their own.

The week passed in the blink of an eye and before I knew it I was on my way back to Pittsburgh, flying to catch the plane before it left at 3:15 PM. The flight to Frankfurt was almost disappointingly non-eventful, landing an hour early at 8:35 AM. A bit after 10:00 I started catching local trains (Instead of the far more expensive ICE) from Frankfurt to Berlin where I would rendezvous with Dan, Matt and David. As I sat alone on the trains I found myself missing home quite severely. My train came into Berlin Hbf at 7:46 PM. The return trip lasted a merciful 33 hours. My home sickness faded somewhat when I was reunited with the guys and we explored the streets of Berlin, passing the Reichstag, Brandonburg Gate, and walking along the path where the Berlin Wall once stood guard over Communist east Berlin. I had so much to see and home would be waiting for me at the end.

My brief interlude in the U.S. taught me several important things; even McDonalds is delicious if its the first American food you have had in a month; contrary to what I have staunchly believed my entire life, I actually enjoy Coke; I need more than my driver’s license to re-enter the U.S. with a Canadian passport; no matter how amazing your journey is and how memorable your experiences are abroad, returning, in the end, to the comfort, love and security of home trumps all. But that will come in due time! For the moment, keep us all in your prayers as we continue to see the world!

Daniel Shenk

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

Paris: Comprenez-vous?

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

Sunday morning (17th of May) served as another major step in our adventure: the language barrier. After breakfast, we arrived in Pontoise with full intentions of parking and taking public transportation into Paris. Even the former was a new challenge; our understanding of French parking signs was far from perfect. The qualifications above our parking sport contained an ambiguous French word, sauf. Ziegler successfully defined the word’s meaning as either “except” or “death.” Parking there meant either that we should pay-and-display except on Sundays or that we would be killed on Sunday. I (Matt) instinctively hoped to avoid both fines and death, if possible. Transportation inspired more trepidation. We studied the train and bus station’s maps and ticket machine for such recognizable terms as cul-de-sac, soup de jour, rendezvous, or laissez-faire. After seeing our few minutes of failure, a timid young woman approached us and asked in halting English if we needed help. Oui. She generally explained how to purchase tickets on the RER train into Paris. As she led us to the correct terminal, she informed me that she was studying to be an illustrator. Still very cautiously speaking with limited English, she brightened when I told her of my graphic design minor. We thanked her profusely and I boarded the train with the broader awareness of the extent of our adventure. We were suddenly very foreign and very alone in a country that spoke very little of our mother tongue.

Upon leaving our final stop we chased the first recognizable structure, the Eiffel Tower. We circled beneath the monument and asked a random tourist to take the clique picture of us with the monument. The young man turned out to be a missionary kid from Utah, the first person we had met who spoke English comfortably. We moved on toward the Arc de Triomphe. It was a long walk past numerous buildings with illegible signage. We arrived at the famous arch during a curious lull in traffic and ascended to the top. Paris is quite the lovely city and the Arc serves as a hub for its numerous boulevards. We enjoyed the view and I, surprisingly, took several pictures before we purposed to walk along one such boulevard. First, we had to cross the roundabout encircling the Arc with its increased traffic. David informed us that the circle was the only place in France where fault was not defined in auto accident insurance claims. Instead, all involved drivers split the responsibility to avoid conflict. We decided to test this approach by making a mad dash across numerous lanes of traffic to the sidewalk. David had a showdown with a Mercedes-Benz and apparently some cops yelled at Shenk from a Police van. Still alive, we continued down the Champs Elysses boulevard to the impressive glass pyramids of the Louvre and then across the city to the even more impressive Notre Dame cathedral. Our hunger prompted a splurge on the exotic-sounding dish on a McDonalds menu, the Croque McDo. The woman behind the counter handed us a ham and cheese sandwich. Finding a train station, we returned to our camping spot for soup and sleep.

By the light of Monday morning, Dan discovered we were parked on one side of a stand of trees from a golf course; too bad we had forgotten our clubs. We drove back into Pontoise, bought some groceries (including croissants and Laughing Cow cheese), and parked the car at the station. We rode to the Louvre and ate a late lunch of our purchases before splitting up in the art museum. I could have spent two weeks in that building. Instead, we rationed our time in the three and a half hours until it closed at 5. I felt immensely torn between seeing as many works of art as possible and allowing enough time at specific works to appreciate them. As such, I had to continually remind myself that what I saw was not merely the subjects of my studies over many years but actually the pieces of art touched by the very artistic masters themselves. Da Vinci himself touched the Mona Lisa and The Virgin of the Rocks. Delacroix touched Liberty Leading the People and not Coldplay. Some master sculpture chiseled Venus de Milo over two thousand years ago. Hundreds of brilliant artists had touched the art in the museum and made each uniquely beautiful. I emerged and met the guys at five, all of us slightly dazed. We walked across the river to Notre Dame but found it closed. On a brighter note, I finally made good on my aim to kick a pigeon and it helped me relieve some of the disappointment in missing the cathedral’s interior. The four of us began the journey alongside the Rive Seine and I tried in vain to ask where we could procure bagets, thin loaves of bread. I really fail at foreign languages and our French phrase book helped very little. To tide us over until dusk, we had some Expresso coffee and a croissant at a little restaurant. At the Eiffel Tower a little after nine, we discovered we were unable to climb the steps to the first platform at night as we had orignially planned, to save 3 Euro a person. I could have kicked another pigeon but we still took the trams up. Paris is even more lovely at night and from its highest point. We did the touristy thing and took lots of pictures. On the way down I realized I, the only single guy on this trip, had just passed up the most ideal opportunity to kiss a random girl. How could a single young woman refuse me a kiss at the top of the most iconic and romantic places in the City of Love? I even considered how long it had been since my last shower but I doubted it was much longer than for any true French young woman. On another note, we didn’t see any all red pickpockets like on the tower’s cautionary signs. Shenk, in his red lumberjack coat, was similar but thankfully kept his hand out of others’ purses.

By the time we returned to earth, it was after 11 and we had missed the last Pontoise-bound train from the nearest station. The feeling of being alone and foreign returned as four young men set out to either return to the car or find a place to sleep for the night. We trained to the central station and happily discovered the last train of the night to our destination would leave in 17 minutes. Naturally our debit card refused to cooperate in the ticket machine and anxieties began to rise. We tried to explain our situation to an employee and thought he explained that because of our predicament, we could just get on the train without a ticket. We hurried aboard. In our second encounter with the law, six police officers followed us onto the train and demanded tickets. Pale, we explained our position but the tense situation seemed rapidly leading toward us sleeping on benches in that station for the night. As exciting as that would have been, we were relieved when the head officer finally relented and we barely left on the last train to our car for free. Truly an exciting beginning in the foreign language step on this exciting journey.

Matt