Copenhagen to Stockholm

Thursday, June 30, 2005

A terrific fountain
The Contiki tour of Copenhagen was fairly quick, but we got a little history and, though we did see much of the stuff I'd seen the day prior, we got some interesting background and also some things I'd missed like the Little Mermaid statue (H.C. Anderson wrote the original that Disney based their version on).

Horses hauling beer
We also got to check out the famed Carlsberg brewery, which was quite interesting in that it showed the history of beer drinking in Denmark and the development of modern beer brewing methodologies over time as related to Carlsberg. Some things they haven't changed, however. For example, they still use big Clidesdale horses to haul beer kegs from place to place and they have a stable of them for this purpose. Then it was time to taste the fruits of their labour, a nice sampling of beer at noon in true Danish style. An intersting way to start the day. After that, as is par for the course on Contiki, it was free time time. Time.

Black and gold Babylonianesque tower
I took a canal tour which took us near many of the sites of Copenhagen by water but, unbeknownst to me at the time, was unguided. So it was a little, shall we say, dull, if not relaxing. I grabbed myself some lunch (a cheap hotdog - food is pricey!) and an ice cream (well, to wash away the hot dog taste - even if I accidentally ordered rum & raisin) and I walked with Emma and Naomi to this church that resembles the tour of Babylon. There's a big black and gold steeple with a winding staircase on the outside that was a lot of fun to climb, and climb we did. Naomi is apparently a little frightened of heights but she did alright regardless and we snapped a few photos and took in the scenery from the top before heading down again and splitting off. Them to shop, me to Tivoli. I actually did shop a little for a t-shirt since in the morning the weather had been very overcast and cool and it had warmed up considerably leaving me stranded in a sweater and black jeans.

Inside Tivoli
Now, I hear the few of you who made it this far asking, Tivoli? No folks, that's not a typo. Or a type of beer. It's a little amusement park in the heart of Copenhagen and the first one in the world. In fact, it is the park that inspired a man by the man of Walt to build a park by the name of Disneyland some time ago. It was neat in there, a few rides (which were far too expensive to think about riding) and all sorts of themed areas, restaurants, and games. A group of us met up in Tivoli, though I can't remember many of the people that were there at this point, but we hung around for a few hours and then went back to the hostel and hung out in someone's room and chatted while I uploaded some of my pictures which you undoubtedly have viewed many times.

The next morning, we left for Stockholm, Sweden. I sat with Allison on the bus, which was interesting. You see, we have a morning song which is slightly punkish in leanings and inspires her to head bang like crazy. Which is all good, I admire her lack of inhibition, but when you're sitting beside her at this point, those two ponytails are potentially lethal and definitely frightening as well as life-altering. As time progressed, however, the morning headbang would become more integral than the song itself.

Stockholm campsite
It was a long bus ride with the occasional stops and not much for scenery, so we were feeling a little antsy when we arrived. So much so, that I went for a jog (yes, you read that right) with Naomi and Gord for a couple k. At which point I finally had to give up. We went looking for the train station but invariably went the wrong way and wound up at the next stop believe it or not. We made it back in time for din-din, and then a group of us went out that night. We met up with a friend of Naomi's who lived there and brought us to a second-storie bar overlooking the square which was somewhat dead but the place itself was decent and they actually stayed open an extra hour or two for us. It was a great night with some very interesting conversation going on and we managed to make the last train back to the hostel which was a nice treat as well.

<Copenhagen Photos>

Danish Muffins & Muffin Danish

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Ladies of Denmark, chilling in the park
The key to understanding the title is this: Danish girls are, well, pretty, and muffin is a word for a pretty young thing. Also, Danish is a type of food, as is a muffin. So you see, it was much less clever than you suspected. However, the point remains that my introduction to Copenhagen was punctuated by oh-so-beautiful exclamation points. Which isn't to say they have round bottoms, necessarily...

Anyway, before I get stuck on metaphors and puns, yes, Copenhagen is a lovely city. Mike and I arrived and, once again, ended up in a hostel about as exciting as a snail race on a salt track. Oops, more metaphor. I wound up in a room with an old lady and two girls from Hong Kong that were asleep both when I arrived mid-afternoon and when we got back that night. They wound up being on my tour (though we didn't talk to each other at all and I had no way of knowing) and when they're awake they're actually quite nice. The important thing is, this old lady (like 80) was in a bed across from me and creeped me out. A lot. And also gave me dirty looks. For entering my own room.

We did a little exploring on our own
Anyway, we got out of there and explored the city as fast as we could, laughing about our luck, and stumbled on some cool stuff (most of which I would encounter the next day on tour). We met with Carissa (on our tour) and Juaquin (also on our tour) at 9:00 by the Hans Christen Anderson statue. Juaquin was quite amusing, going off and asking local girls for directions regardless of whether they were needed or not, and also snapping photos of local beauties (after asking their permission, we were told). It did come in handy as we found a very local jazz-funk club which felt a lot like Lydia's back home (except Norwegian). The singers would sing in English and then talk in Danish. Most Scandinavians are taught English in school and it seems to be mandatory. I have yet to run into one that doesn't speak English well, if not perfectly.

Being trapped on the wrong side of the river wasn't all bad
The next day was officially the first day of the Contiki trip, meeting at 7:00 at the campsite outside the city. So I spent the morning with Mike and the afternoon as well, moreso than intended as we got trapped on the wrong side of the river as I rushed to grab my things and head to the train station. I made it to the hostel just in time for the meeting and observed that I was not the oldest one but actually right in the middle of the pack, which is quite nice. The people on tour seemed to be generally cool too, albeit the Australian:others ratio was a little weighted (I think about 80% Aussies). Which is a nice change from my last tour which was all Canadian.

My first room was with Gord, the only other Canadian, Chris, a guy who worked in Canada for several years but is an Aussie and is back there now, and Rob, another Aussie who is also 24. So it was about as Canadian-friendly a start as could be expected given the numbers. I met quite a few more people at the dinner and, just for Mariah, even ate the mushrooms that came with it. Which I swore I'd never tell anyone back home, but here we are...

Contiki bus waiting for us
Anyway, tomorrow is a tour of Copenhagen, when we first board the Contiki bus, but I think tonight we're going to go out to pub and club. Well, okay, since this is written after the fact, we DID do the pub and club and Carissa had some post-clubbing coffee machine difficulties, and we all had a good time and too many Smirnoff Ice's. They were cheaper than back home!

<Copenhagen Photos>

Bye Bye Berlin

Monday, June 27, 2005

I couldn't bear to miss the zoo
My last day in Berlin was spent largely at the zoo. We tried to get to the Third Reich tour but missed it by a little over five minutes, and the zoo, being right there, was the logical choice. And it turned out to be a good one at that. We had pretty much seen all of Berlin that we were wanting to see, and so the alternative was just to hang out as the Berliners do, in a park with some beer, so I think it was a good choice.

Ooh, ooh, ooh, come to the zoo
The zoo had a really good collection of wild birds and some pandas, bears, monkeys, leopards, and various other animals. The monkeys were misbehaved and tossed various items - thankfully no feces - the bears were also misbehaved in other ways, it seems that there's something in the air here in Berlin. The people are also misbehaved. For the evening, we went out to find a club, after what could easily have been the world's worst, saltiest nachos. It being a Sunday night, however, the club was not meant to be. We ran into three Berlin girls sitting outside and they ended up taking us around to find a place, winding up eventually at the bar and then they at their place eating pasta and chatting. It wasn't what we'd had in mind for the night, but it was a great time.

We got back around sunrise, said goodbye to Simon, and the Mike and I caught a few hours before heading off to Copenhagen. The ride there was pretty interesting. The train actually drives on to a ferry, which I found really cool, and the ferry ried was great. Nice German beer, sunshine, a boat ride, all good. Coming next time, Copenhagen, the untold story: Contiki meet ups, expensive food, and laughter!

<Berlin Zoo Photos>

Then We Take Berlin

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Tour in front of the Neptune fountain
So I did wind up on a fat tire bike tour. Which, I should say, at 17 Euros, was overpirced and overrated. That said, it was fun to drive a bike around and catch a little bit of history from our guide, but after talking to Mike tonight, who went out with his friend from New Zealand, it sounds like he learned most of the historical stuff I did without paying 17 Euros. I think a lot of it depends on the people that you tour with though, and my group appeared to have suffered massive heart attacks the night prior and be neither dead nor ready to be alive once again. Which, in truth, is probably generous of me.

The last remaining tower guarding the Berlin wall
We went by the Neptune fountain, saw the library without books and the location of Hitler's first book burning, the East German traffic signal guys (red man, green man), the Berlin wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the last remaining guard tower, Reichstaag, the Soviet monument, and a whole unch of other stuff. Berlin is pretty much a sea of construction, and many of the buildings are still riddled with bullet holes and shell marks, which is interesting given that 1945 was 60 years ago. Berlin is $45 billion in debt though, so I suppose I understand why it's taking some time for them to get things back up to speed. Not to mention that their population is slowly falling.

USA vs China
After the tour, I went to see Canada defeat Brazil in the world volleyball championships going on, and strolled around a little more. I met up with Mike and his friend Simon later that evening and we hung around, saw a movie, and went to a beer garden. A good evening all around. The next day, Mike & I went to check out Museum Island, which is in really bad shape. One of the museums is still completely without its exterior finish thanks to some intense WW2 battling. Others are REALLY pock marked with shell blasts, rifle bullets, and shrapnel damage, sometimes whole pieces of stone are gone. It must've been quite intense here. We checked out the German National Gallery, which focused on WW2 and post-WW2, and was quite interesting.

Dynamite Dean fever spreads to Europe
Mike & Simon went to a concert they had tickets for already and so I was left to my own devices that afternoon. My intent was to his the Zoologischer Gardens but the rain and thunder put a stop to that, so I headed back to the hostel. En route, I heard some singing I thought I'd check out. I walked over, wearing my Dynamite Dean shirt, and encountered a group of 20-some Englishmen on a dual-stag party who, immediately after I passed, started singing in unison, "Dy-na-MITE! DY-NA-mite!" I took a bow and conducted them a little before they insisted I stop for a beer and put on one of their shirts. Who am I to argue? So I hung around with them in the afternoon, drinking and being merry and trying to learn as many of their songs as I could. I went back to the hostel with the intent of going on this pub crawl, but I was too tired and wound up just sleeping the night off pretty much.

Today, I'm going to check out the Zoologoischer Gardens and I may go on a Third Reich tour or maybe just explore. This city is strange, just when I think I've got it figured it out, it changes on me like some sort of quantum game. And then tomorrow off to Copenhagen on the train. My Scandinavian tour starts on the 28th, I hope I have a good group to travel with up there. Still not sure what I'm going to do after that tour. Maybe more of Eastern Europe, maybe a little more Sweden, maybe fly to Italy or Greece. I'd like to get myself to Corfu for a few days, and I'd like to be in Greece at least for a bit of the summer, so I don't know. As usual, one day at a time.

<Berlin Photos>

Czech, Please!

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Bone chandelier
I decided to stay in Prague for one more day, and I went with Jussi (Finland) and Michelle & Rochelle (sisters from Edmonton) to Kutna Hora. It's a small town about an hour away by train and was the site of a silver mine and also some cathedral decorated with human bones. We arrived there a little late because of the train scheduling and didn't get much time there because the girls had a flight to catch and all our tickets were on one piece of paper. However, we walked to the bone catherdral and saw it and it was quite intriguing. There was a chandelier made of skulls, tibias, femurs, and other assorted bones, a family crest, and all sorts of weird stuff. Apparently, the graveyard was quite presitigious but had gotten too full, so this was their solution.

A slice of life
We were all kind of famished, and so after walking the remaining 2km from the cathedral to the town proper (the train station was a further km away) we grabbed a cheap pizza and a few beers. Time went by rather quickly unfortunately, and our plan to check out the old silver mine had to be dropped. It turned out that it hadn't been used for a hundred years, so I guess I wouldn't have been able to sell them on Startco anyway. Anyone doing this should make sure they have enough time to really visit.

Sunset Silhouette
Anyway, the girls left for the airport, and Jussi and I took the tram to the river so I could catch some sunset photos. Which I quickly discovered I have little aptitude for. I could either get a silhouette of the Prague castle with the nice sky or the floodlit castle with the sky way over exposed/white. So I have some Photoshop work to do when I get back, I guess. We stood on St. Charles bridge and got a few more pictures and listened to the buskers, and suddenly there were fireworks going off behind us. Yet another place I know nothing about photography. I selected the largest apeture so I could get a quick shutter time, but I wonder now if this is backwards. I was tempted to ask some of the more expert looking photographers on the bridge.

Astronomical Clock
We walked back to the hostel and stopped to see the Astronomical clock in the old square ring in 11:00 but, along with about 100 others, we were disappointed to discover it wasn't up to the task at that hour. I left for Berlin this morning and was able to modify my 19 successfully to a 23 on my pass (which I hadn't used that day (the 19th) as you may recall) and made it here uneventfully. Sort of...

I got off at the "main" train station, which, apparently, is not downtown. I found a post and attempted to mail my dad's beer with the grumpy non-English speaking woman, only to discover that I can't send fragile stuff to Canada from here either, so I packed it with a bit of paper, crossed my fingers, and sent it anyway. Maybe my dad will like the shards of glass and clothes soaked in German beer, who knows... then I discovered that the hostel I'd reserved was in Munich and not Berlin somehow, which I feel confident was not my mistake but who knows. In any case, no hostel and nothing available that I could bok or find on the net. So I went towards the downtown station and met a guy, Mike, from New Zealand who had word-of-mouth about a hostel, so I followed him there. It was full, but the guy referred us to another hostel....

Welcome to hell, gentlemen
Alcatraz. The place lives up to its name. Graffiti all over the place, completely bereft of human life (at time of arrival), communal showers that are semi-private at best, and so on. But cheap. And it's not really that bad (yet) but we like to make jokes about how it really is appropriately named. Especially when we discovered the reason the hostels are all booked is a big gay pride parade is on this weekend, as told to us by the gay front desk clerk (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Buildings still bombed out
Anyway, we quickly fled the hostel and checked out Alexander Plaza. Berlin is a strange city, sometimes beautiful, other times very much Soviet still. You'll be walking through a sketchy looking area where the buildings are pretty much slabs and there are still holes in the wall from some gunfight in WW2 and encounter this beautiful little park with tonnes of people hanging around enjoying the evening. Or a fake beach bar on the river that I'm trying to think of a way to develop back home. And then into a zone of heavy construction. And back to some nice church. Strange.

The Saskatoon Storm are back!
So I'm not sure what to think, but hopefully tomorrow will tell. I'm probably going to take a Fat Tire Bike Tour because I've heard really good things about them in other cities and I kind of want to go biking again anyway. Berlin seems a good place for it. Maybe it's not a good idea, because I can't seem to keep enough water in my system with all this walking and warm weather. Speaking of which, apparently Saskatoon is having some really crazy weather and Dan sent me photos of this awesome looking thunderstorm over downtown (save to your computer or view in new window to see full-size image). Sounds like the water levels are really high too, amazing how fast that turned around from two years ago.

But, I should go and lock myself in before the guards catch me. I'll write again from here if I can otherwise from Copenhagen.

<Prague Photos>
<Berlin Photos>

Munchen and Prague

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

I left Strasbourg and Yann's family just before 11:00 the next morning. I almost immediately missed them. Too bad little Frederic didn't end up tagging along in my backpack.

The train ride was uneventful, especially compared to the next train ride I was to take (more on that later) and I arrived in Munich and made my way to the hostel around 4:30 in the afternoon. I got my stuff settled in and got my bearings. Really, I was only here to pick up a rare beer that is impossible to get from Canada for my dad, and so I thought I'd kill the afternoon just hanging around. I found out about an English cinema and went there to check out what was playing and when. It turned out Batman Begins had just started, so I actually went right in and watched it. What a great movie! This is Batman as it was meant to be, and I'm looking forward to more. The theatre was also awesome, Lucasfilm THX certified and like an anechoic chamber with wood panelling and heavy on the class.

Augustina Beer Gardens
From there, I made my way to the Augustina Beer Gardens, to try a little of this fabled beer for myself. I grabbed a litre of it with some spare ribs and sat alone since I'd not met anyone yet. A New Yorker sat beside me and we chatted for a while and all of a sudden I saw someone very familiar walking by. I looked, thought, "Nah! It couldn't be!" I knew she was in Europe but what would the odds be that in this huge continent, in this massive country, in this big city, in the sprawling park, that she'd happen to walk right in front of me. I yelled her name. No reaction. Well, maybe it's not her. But I'd better try once more in case she didn't hear. PAIGE!!!

Paige, Jen, Me
Turns out I ran into Paige in Munich. What are the odds?! Really. What a rare occurence. She was on a pub crawl that cost 15 Euro but I tagged along with my New York friend for nothing. It was a great time, I met lots of her friends from the BusAbout tour she was on and also got to hang out with Paige quite a bit. Of particular note, she introduced me to an Australian friend of hers who I thought was pretty cool. The three of us hung out most of the night, which got to be quite late, I think I got back into the hostel at 4:30 or something. I met Jen (Australian girl) for lunch the next day and we hung out for awhile, but I think we were both too tired to really do anything except lay on the grass and wish we were still asleep.

Prague is twisted
I also tried to mail the beer I'd bought for my dad today, but it turns out that the post office doesn't open on Sundays. So the beer and backpack came with me to Prague. The train ride there seemed straightforward enough. Then I got to chatting with three American boys. And it somehow was discovered that my pass didn't cover Czech and I was riding illegally. Oops! So they covered me for the trip to the German border by using their 5 person pass on me, and then after by just showing their tickets and hoping that the conductor didn't count or look too closely. I also avoided being counted once by sitting in a seat he'd already checked and looking busy. Anyway, it went fine but it was tiring to always be on alert and worrying.

Czech out Prague
Prague is a beautiful city, and I've spent a couple days here. The first thing I did was laundry, and then the post office. I packaged up my dad's beers with some clothes and a box I'd bought and waited in line for about 20 mins. Which wasn't bad at all, the main post office here is so beautiful they don't even allow photos inside. There was also a photography exhibit going on that was quite excellent. Anyway, my turn came and I discovered that I can't send fragile things internationally from Czech, so now I have this box of beer to haul back to Germany.

More on Prague
I've hung around here with a guy from Finland and three Canadians, it's super cheap and, as I said, very beautiful. I've done so much walking and sightseeing, though, that I'm completely exhausted, so I'm going to take it easy tomorrow. There's not really much by way of stories to tell from here, I'm hoping to find some fun tonight. If not, the Czech beer is good enough to be drank alone. Well, maybe not, but it is darned good.

I'm not sure what I'm up to tomorrow, either another night here or off to Berlin. I need a rest is all I know. Scandinavia is coming up quickly too, and I just found out today that John is coming to Greece probably in September, so lots of stuff on the horizon to look forward to, plus Berlin should be a lot of fun. See you in another few days!

<Prague and Munich Photos>


Friday, June 17, 2005

Alternate title: To Moose Jaw. You've never seen someone so captivated by a city name as Yann is with Moose Jaw. All day today we drank our toasts to it, and, having sufficiently educated him, to Saskatoon's health and Regina's demise. We also got bored of Moose Jaw and began toasting Yellowknife and affiliates.

Wine Road
Anyway, enough on that. Today Yann took me to the legendary Wine Road running through Ascance. We got to the train station and sat on the train waiting for it to depart... and waiting and waiting. Finally we discovered that the train had been cancelled and so we waited some more for it to leave at the next scheduled time. Such was an omen for our day.

We got to the village we thought was Ribeauville but was in fact so small a village that the train station had been named for the more famous town 4km away. Which we discovered by chatting with a local who kindly gave us a lift in to town and specifically to his friend's restaurant. We ate some traditional French food, a feast Yann insisted on treating me to, complete with Kir for an appertif, a wine made near town, and dessert after the fact. The man is uncommonly generous and I really enjoy hanging around with him and his family, it makes me sad to leave tomorrow... but the trek must go on.

Welcome to the Jungle
Anyway, our day had been cut sufficiently short but we walked after lunch (slowly, I'd not eaten that much food in years) up a hill through some vineyards, making our way to a castle we'd seen. The vineyards turned to forest and the path turned into nothing and soon we reached a clearing and realized we still had a good way to go. So we turned back and walked down the hill, into town, and strolled around there. The hike up was sufficient to require further liquid, so we stopped off for a drink.

Here's the vineyards
We caught a cab back to the train station and awaited our train, which did not come. Mostly because it was a bus and we'd somehow missed the fine print, so we had to pay more to go further down the line and come back since there were no more trains stopping here in the direction we wanted. So we did that and arrived back in Strasbourg by a rather lucky guess I made on which train appeared to be correct, and spent the evening talking and relaxing and looking at their photos of Oregon and Quebec. Both were nice but I was especially surprised at the scenery in Oregon. Western Oregon is quite different from what I saw near the coast. And it seemed to me that if a person is only after scenery there's plenty in North America to see for anyone. With that thought in mind, I set up a slightly more relaxed itinerary leading up to my Scandinavian tour, hopefully allowing me to soak in a little more from those towns instead of running through them like a madman. Nothing set in stone, but a rough plan which will take me through Munich, Prague, Krakow, and Berlin in the next 10 days. I suppose that sounds ambitious, but Munich scarcely counts because I've been there before and am not spending much time there. It's basically 3 days per city.

So, that's the plan and what's been going on. See you soon.


Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Waiting in Spietz for the train wasnt ALL bad
After skydiving, I got dropped (eventually) at the train station because they'd left some of my stuff behind at the airport and unlike the other groups we didn't land there because of the weather (we landed in Interlaken). I couldn't find my Eurail pass and by the time I did and ran to the platform, I'd just missed my train. I emailed Yann, my friend in Strasbourg, to tell him when I'd arrive, and got on the next one 20 mins later to Basil. In Basil, I had 15 mins to catch my next train but I wanted to give Yann something from Switzerland for letting me stay with them. I went into a Swiss chocolate shop and the lady couldn't have slowed me down more if she'd tried. Then, I ran to the platform, which was in an undisclosed direction, and had to go through a passport check. I showed my passport and explained my train left right away and they also did their best to thwart me. Anything to declare? No. Then what's in the bag? Chocolate. Let me see. You'd better hurry, you'll miss it. Sure enough, I got to the platform in time to watch the train pull away and tell "Nooooo!" I was frustrated because there was no way for me to tell Yann I'd missed that train and so on.

Cathedrale de Strasbourg
Anyway, I caught the next one and arrived in rain and cold weather, couldn't find Yann, so found an internet café and emailed Yann as well as looked up his phone number. I got his girlfriend whose English is not as good as Yann's, but I did find out he was still at the train station, so I called his mobile and left a message. We did meet eventually and he and his 4 year old son Frederic took me back to their apartment. We had a nice rice dinner, a welcome change, and chatted. Having awoke so early and had a long day I was wiped so I went to bed early and slept long.

Historic old town, wine is a big deal here
Today we went out into Strasbourg's historic centre. The weather was poor in the morning but we didn't leave until noon and the weather had improved greatly. Yann took me on a tour and we saw the famed cathedral and astronomical clock and general scenery. We spent some time in FNAC listening to music and looking at all the European versions of albums I have or like. I'd definitely be doing some buying if I didn't have to cart it all along with me across Europe. We had a coke in a nice glass bottle in a café under a tree (it reminded me of a restaurant in Crete) on the river and I had a chocolate eclaire. You know, to soak in the culture. Mmm... culture.

Despite the German influence, the city is definitely French
Anyway, the historic town is very nice and very definitely German influenced, given that the city's history is about half German anyway. You hear many people speaking German and see signs in German occasionally, which is an homage to its history and also a result of its proximity to the border I suppose. We came home and had a nice traditional French dinner, I can't remember what the name was, but it was very nice and healthy. They're being far too kind to me and I really am glad I managed to stop here. Tomorrow, I'm not sure what's in the cards, but I guess we shall see. I'll probably leave Saturday for Munich, then Prague, where I end my Eastern trek for now and turn my sights north to Scandinavia. I'm going to miss the warm weather and beaches of the south, I know that already, but I'm also looking forward.

But that's enough for now, talk to you in a few days...

<View Photo Gallery>

Jumping from a perfectly good plane

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Monday in Interlaken was pretty much dreary all day, but I did hang around with two girls from Edmonton which helped pass the time. It got nice for a little while and one of them (Jen) went on a hike with Josh for a couple hours, but by then I was rather tired anyway and had seen my share of scenery the day prior besides. Instead I stayed behind with Laurie and played Uno and listened to music on my iPod with her (I brought an adapter to share with another person in case I sat on the train next to someone who wanted to listen as well). We actually had a lot of fun and despite the scores, I definitely won.

When Jen got back from her hike, we chatted for awhile and since the kitchen was too busy (they offered me some of their spaghetti) we ordered a tonne of fries to snack on and some beer; fries and spaghetti, no wonder I don't lose any weight. Josh joined us for a bit and then since the kitchen was still too busy, I went upstairs to pack and they went to do laundry, and we agreed to meet at 9:30 to play cards eat.

We taught Josh and his Korean friend "President" and played and I was pretty much invincible until I lost my status and quickly moved down the ladder. Anyway, it was a fun day of hanging around and I didn't really mind that it had rained after all.

Marching towards our doom
I got my sky diving ticket moved to the next day and when I woke up the weather still wasn't looking promising so I took my time getting ready. Then, around 8:40, I discovered the weather had quite improved, so I rushed to get everything together and made it downstairs just in time to check out and get on the 9:00 van for skydiving, but not enough time for breakfast. It was such a surprise to be able to go skydiving. And skydive I did.

The crowded plane
I wasn't nervous at all on the way to the airport, and even being the last plane and watching the others jump from my vantage point on the ground didn't make me nervous, only excited. Before their chutes opened they just plummet through the clouds, it was really exciting to think that would be me. I did start to get nervous once my harness was put on and the plane started to get higher than I fly in my Cessnas back home, and I watched the altimeter climb to 12,000 ft. I definitely felt nervous at that height and my leg was even shaking, though it was more excitement than fear even then. That might've changed once the door was thrown open, and certainly when the first person fell from the edge and just disappeared, but it all went so quickly from then on that I didn't have time to notice.

Getting very high indeed
I was the last person to go and, of course, since we're not trained, we go tandem. My guy counted one and then leaned me completely out of the plane as though we were going and I can definitely say that was the scariest part of the whole thing. We went on three, however, and falling through the sky at top speed was a huge rush (duh!). It was no longer scary once we had jumped out of the plane, but just fun. I wanted to maneuver and do some stuff, but talking is hardly simple at that speed.

Parachuting Down
45 seconds came far too soon and the parachute opened, at which point I had the chance to take some pictures and also do a few maneuvers in the chute before we landed. Anyway, we landed quite perfectly and it was a great time and a very interesting way to see the Alps, I'm very glad I did it. I got a video (which I DO regret getting, but EVERYONE who did it told me I should so I thought I'd trust their collective wisdom despite the enormous cost). Maybe when I get to see it I will be happier, but it's en route home and I won't see it for some time.

I left then for Strasbourg, but that's enough for one post...

<View Photo Gallery>

Rafting, Canyoning, and General Craziness

Monday, June 13, 2005

Welcome to Interlaken
If ever there were a place to lose your life doing something ridiculously foolish and therefore fun, that place would be Interlaken. The place is a mecca among no others for extreme sports and, as the title suggests, general craziness. There are also tonnes of not so crazy things, like hiking and biking through the Swiss Alps for those so inclined. I've not done it yet, but if the rain lets up today, I probably will.

So, I arrived here at Balmer's Herberge, a hostel of rather famous proportions, and got checked in. I'd booked a dorm room, but was pleasantly surprised to discover that, as I unlocked the door, I was, in fact, in a private room. All the fun of a hostel with a room to myself, even if it was room 13, and at the price I'd've payed for a 12 person dorm. I'm not sure if this was a mistake on their part or they overbooked the dorm, but I don't intend to find out.

The hostel grounds
Interlaken is a small town, so everyone here stays in the basement bar/club to party, and I quickly discovered that this is essentially an American frathouse. EVERYONE is American here, I meet maybe two Canadians a day tops and like 10-15 Americans. You can tell because they all have their college shirts on. It's like us Canadians and our flags on the backpacks I guess.

Anyway, with happy hour being 2-for-1, I had a little more beer than intended but a good time downstairs. It was the only morning I didn't have to be up before 8. I went white water rafting the next day, which was fun but disappointing, I was expecting a little more challenge than Austria, and while the one rapid was pretty good, most of it was basically a river tour. I probably wouldn't have done it except that by booking it with skydiving and canyoning, I got it essentially free. Free is good in Switzerland.

KC Leads the group into madness
The next day was the big day: Canyoning. This is a very wild and extreme sport which is apparently illegal in Canada, so I had to do it here. And I'm so glad I did. What is it, you ask? Well, you go to the top of a gorge and make your way down along the water. Being that it's a gorge, there are a LOT of waterfalls and cliffs, and you have to get down. Now, do you rappel down a rope? Sometimes. Do you jump from cliffs into a small part in the pool where the water is deep enough and there are no rocks? Sometimes. Do you slide down narrow chutes where you must keep your hands above your face so that you don't obliterate your nose as you slide beneath an impossibly low overhang of rock? Sometimes.

Making our way into the canyon
So here's the day canyoning. First, we boarded the van and rode 45 mins to the top of the gorge. We got on our gear, a wetsuit, jacket, lifejacket, and helmet, and trekked through the woods, across logs that had fallen over ravines and bridges with gaping holes in them. We got to the top of the creek and made our way along it to our first, and we were informed, biggest jump. Now, I'm not a person to jump off the platforms at Hairy Bailey into a safe swimming pool. But this was a 40 ft jump across a waterfall (we were standing on the cliff to the left of it and had to jump into a pool to the right). I was scared witless as my turn came up and asked what happened if I landed where the water fall was and not on the right of it.

The first jump is the deepest
Well, he said, there's rocks there. Don't do it. Fair enough, I was convinced. So with a mighty and altogether cowardly leap across the waterfall, I took the plunge into canyoning. Having done the biggest jump for the day, I felt much better, but not for long. We soon came up on a place where the water flows along a smooth rock face at a very steep angle (almost vertical). But it's smooth. We again came up on the left of it. This time, the trick was to jump sideways, INTO the cliff wall, hitting it with our backs, and sliding down the rock with the water some 50 ft below. There's no way to really explain this, but man was it freaky.

My perma-grin
The whole thing was a blur, but I had a grin on my face the whole time. In fact, my cheek muscles were sore from the grinning. The scenery was beautiful the whole way and it was just one crazy thing after another. Jumping into a small pond, rappelling down a 150' waterfall, climbing partway down a waterfall on the rope and then letting go to slide along the rocks, it was great great fun and I can't recommend this highly enough. It was worth every cent and then double that, too.

One of the more gentle waterslides
I should explain more about the slides, though. They are generally chute like as the water has carved a niche into the rock face. This means you go down, usually, with your arms up protecting the side of your head. The ride down is wild and fun, but when you look back and watch the next person, you realize that you get tossed around like a ragdoll going down those things. It's too bad I don't have video, because it's unbelievable. Even the pictures don't really convey everything.

One of the waterfalls we rappelled down
Anyway, that was canyoning. This morning, I was supposed to go to skydiving, but when we got to the airport the weather had changed and we had to cancel. I leave Interlaken tomorrow but hope to get up in the morning before I board the train for Strasbourg, France. Today, I may go hiking as I said. There are a couple Canadian girls who are going as well, so I may tag along with them. The rain seems to be letting up a bit, so it should be nice. I'll definitely let you know.

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Bern, Baby, Bern

Friday, June 10, 2005

Beautiful Bern
I left Zurich and stopped in Bern for the day en route to Interlaken. Bern is a beautiful city, the old town is built inbetween a hairpin turn on the river and is surrounded by high hills giving spectacular views of the city from all directions. I got off the train and wandered over past all the cool little fountains they have. The most famous of which is an ogre eating a bunch of children, which is such a great idea for a fountain. A person gets tired of gods and all that other everyday stuff.

Einstein's Kitchen
I headed into the Einstein museum. Bern is where Einstein was living when he had his miracle year in 1905 when he realized four of the theories which have made him as famous as he is, including the famous e=mc^2. The museum is actually in the home he lived in when he came up with it, which was really neat to see. I sat in the chair at his table where he sat and, I don't know, it was just great. I walked up the other side of the river and did manage to get a few nice shots and also see the famous bear pits from which Bern takes its name.

I hung around the city and then I headed off to Interlaken, which would be some interesting times indeed. To be continued...

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Zurich's famous clocks and churches
This is what they should rename this city to, given the price of things here and the fact that for some reason the 'z' and 'y' have already traded spots on the keyboard. They can keep the u with the umlats, though. They're kind of fun to make. Anyway, yesterday in Zurich I basically walked around and did some browsing in local stores. Bought some nice Swiss chocolate, looked at some watches WAY out of my price range, and managed to find an all English book store where I bought four new books at great expense.

A funicular up one of the hills in Switzerland
I found a music store and spent a while in there playing on a piano that somehow can play silently and just come through earphones or actually play acoustically (and through the earphones though why you'd want earphones when you can just hear it I don't know). Anyway, I thought that was great. The music stores here are really neat. It gave me an idea for a cool music store If I were ever to open one. Which I'm probably not, so here it is: You walk into the music store, pick up a couple CDs you're thinking about picking up. Then you walk to the bar, order a coffee, tea, or beverage of choice and plunk down the CDs. The guy behind the bar then proceeds to put a copy of the discs into the player which you can listen to at your leisure as you slurp back your drink, or snack, or read a book or whatever. It a cafe where everyone gets their own music, maybe you can share with multiple people if you're sitting at a table, and also talk as the music plays. Then, if you like it you buy the CD. If not, well, you probably had a coffee or snack. And, of course, you can always go in and just buy the CD or whatever. Maybe you get a buck off for a coffee and a CD or something. Who knows. I think it'd be a success though.

I also went glasses shopping for some sunglasses. Which, if I haven't mentioned, I did because EVERYONE here, male or female, young (more so) or old (sometimes) wears big glasses. Aviator style. Or David Beckham's Police line. Or... big. But, again, everything is so pricey here, I think I'll buy some big ones off a street guy and not pay 200 bucks.

Three of the bears adorning the streets
Anyway, Zurich's another city on a river/lake, and I walked down the main commercial street towards the water, passing a gazillion bears that you see in some cities. But way more of them then I've ever seen anywhere. So I walked to the water, along some back streets, and just ambled. It was nice to not really be monument hunting and just walking and shopping. I can't really buy anything because I've no room for it, especially now that I have those books, but it's still nice to look. It's also a good thing I haven't sent my warm clothes home yet, Switzerland is still pretty chilly even in June! I imagine Scandinavia I'll be wanting a real jacket and not just my fleece. Though I can combine the fleece and rain jacket into something close to that.

The streets of Zurich
Now I have to get back to my room and pack my bags so I'm outta here by noon (checkout time). Plus, this "Speck of Gold" song has been on repeat for over an hour and I'm contemplating the demise of these speakers more and more seriously as the minutes pass. Today, off to Bern and then Interlaken. I'll probably use my Eurail pass again today, so I may make some other stops en route as well.

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