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The Other Side

Austria, Germany, Italy, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland


On The Way

April 11, 2003

12:12 PM

Five years ago I quit my job to travel around the United States and then go to Europe. A near-fatal accident stopped me from leaving for Europe, but I wonder if a part of me was afraid to leave these coasts and travel by foot without a car to places where I would not know the culture or the language. I think this is why I made the point to visit Canada and Mexico as well as frequent every single state in the United States before making the move to visit another continent.

I still feel that fear, even when I have the strong and intelligent John with me. He says he knows some German, so we should be fine in Austria and Germany. I have to look up phrases on other languages so we can show that we’re TRYING to be respectful, if others are willing to help.

05-09-03

2:59 PM CST

Hi. I’m sitting at O’Hare Airport and we just went through customs and I was held back because there was metal either in my shoes or my in my watch. Either way, I’m out, and we didn’t have to go through the second checkpoint, because we already have seats, and so we had a beer at a Chili’s place (a place genericized even MORE than the original stupid chain), we each were drinking Killian’s, and then we looked at the clock and we thought we had to get on the plane on twenty minutes, so we chugged out beers and paid our tab and booked to the (well, we booked, then stopped that the bathrooms, THEN booked) to our gate. That’s when we noticed the plane was delayed 40 to 45 minutes.

So here I write.

You know, I didn’t feel anything about this trip before I left, I didn’t put any thought into leaving the continent, I mean Hell, I had been to every state, Even the ones that aren’t continental, but I’m always worrying now... About life, of our jobs and the future, or our home, or moving, or my future work as a singer or as a performance artist, so my mind has been other places, and I can never get my mind out the rut it’s in now, but once I got here, that’s when it hit me. I was going through customs, and I needed my passport - for the first time in my life. I have had this God-Damned passport for eight years and this is the first time I have really needed it.

I remember after getting out of the hospital, when everyone moved me out of my home because I lost my home just after I almost lost my life, and I wanted to know where my passport was. THIS WAS IMPORTANT TO ME, I know I could get another one, but I wanted THIS ONE, I wanted to have something of my life back, I wanted to have this little pamphlet that meant I was an American and I could go wherever the Hell I wanted.

I wanted that back.

But either way, I’m sitting here Indian style near one of the only outlets in this terminal so I could write, and I wanted to say that this was when it hit me. I’m leaving everything I’ve ever known here. I’m leaving my language, I’m leaving my culture.

I’ll be back. But right now, I’m leaving.


Austria

Introduction

Getting this choice for our first week of stay, I got nervous. "Austria? What’s there?" If I wanted to walk on tops of mountains where The Sound of Music was filmed, I’d be thrilled, but alas, there had to be something else... We had to do a little searching, and John found out that Mozart was born in Salzburg, where we are flying to. There are parks and museums for Mozart, and I haven’t mentioned that of any classical music Mozart is by far my favorite and that I have copies of Mozart’s The Dissonant on compact disc in different rooms in my house, in my house and in my car. John found out there was a dinner concert place in Austria, and we could go for dinner and also hear Mozart. I have to see if there are other places that have Mozart performances as well, and we’ll make our rounds and I’ll overdose in Mozart before we leave Austria.

John knows a little German, and we should be able to scrape by in Austria, Germany and Switzerland on what little he knows. That and we have translations of basic phrases in assorted languages to try to cover ourselves, like "Where is the toilet?" (because the toilet in separate from the shower, so you can’t just ask for a washroom), "We do not speak (the language," "We speak English," "I am a vegetarian," "Do you have an English menu," or "Where is the (correct) train station?" Hopefully we’ll be able to pull this first week off and learn details about everything before we leave for it...

Salzburg

05-10-03

3:30 PM (7 hours later than home)

Since the airport, we flew for 8 hours to Frankfurt, then had a one hour layover, then proceeded to fly to Salzburg, Austria. When I went through O’Hare Airport in I figured they’d search through all of my luggage and ask me a string of questions, you know, questions like, "Are any of the items in your luggage not your own," or "Did anyone ask you to carry anything on board with you," or "Have you ever left your luggage alone since you have been at the airport," or "Are you in possession of firearms, contraband or fireworks," or something. But Everything was fine, they didn’t even bother to stamp my passport when I got through so I had to go back and ask for a Salzburg Austria stamp; they were even surprised I didn’t get a stamp from Frankfurt Germany, but no one seemed interested in stamping people’s passports there...

I never really even had the chance to think about difference in airports. John commented that he was surprised when he went to Hawaii’s airport, because there was so much open air, but what was different about the airport at Salzburg? Well, we had to take a bus to the terminal, and that is not something your normally see in airports in the United States. And I guess we were surprised the the lax attention paid to security and customs in the airport; I have always heard that in the past the United States was far too lax in its security measures at airports, but I wonder if the United States, comparatively speaking, is overly cautious. No one in Germany or Austria scanned my bags, no one scanned our bodies for metal for weaponry, no one asked us a barrage of inane questions.

Maybe they figure the United States took care of all that crap before we got on the plane, and maybe they’ll be hard on us on our way home.

When we got out the airport at Salzburg, we thought that instead of heading straight to Bad Gastein we should visit all of the museums, statues and artifacts from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (born in Salzburg). I couldn’t tell you how many pieces of art work I saw and how many sculptures and how many statues of Mozart I saw, but trust me, Salzburg us really pushing the Mozart thing for all it’s worth. We didn’t bother to tour the houses that were up in his honor, and we didn’t bother to see where he was born.

You’d think it’s weird of me to want to see Mozart memorabilia, but I have to explain that I usually listen to Classical on the radio whenever I’m in the car (instead of pop or rock or alternative or urban or news, or even NPR), but I made a point to make a CD of the music of Mozart in CD quality format at my car stereo, at my bedroom for the DVD, and even at my computer and on my laptop so I can listen to him while I work during the day (I can even listen to Mozart right now on my laptop computer, writing this...).

You know, I saw Mozart liqueur in round bottles, I got the impression that is was chocolate flavored, but the thing we thought was most funny was that they sold (right at the counter, in a point of purchase display) tiny to-go bottles of Mozart liqueur "shots." We laughed, John said that we could buy three Mozart shots and a flask of vodka and make a martini, or that it would be fun to just say that we did "shots of Mozart," but...

I saw in Salzburg a lot of references to "Salzburger" at little diner signs, and I thought it was a quaint reference to burgers from Salzburg, but John told me that in German that just mean that it was a reference to being from Salzburg. I thought about that a moment and asked, "Does that mean Mozart was a Salzburger?", and although it sounded a bit funny, John said yes.

The nice thing about seeing Mozart memorabilia and seeing Salzburg, though, was the fact that we now have a digital camera, which adjusts for the amount of light it sees necessary and adjust a flash accordingly. So I was able to say, "Hey, I like how that one fountain works as a sun dial‹" and then I’d photograph it. It is nice to have a record of everything that goes on everywhere else.

I tried to nap in the train ride from Salzburg to Bad Gastein, where out hotel was, but I think I slept in two minute bursts, because there were a ton of stops between the two locations. It was novel to use that camera again, even from inside the train. There were mountains off in the distance, and I was able to capture them on film.

Seeing sights like this make for a good transition to a week in Bad Gastein.


Bad Gastein

05-10-03

7:40 PM In Austria

I’ve seen rolling hills. I’ve seen the crusts and valleys of Utah’s National Parks. But it still blows you away when you walk from the train station to see your hotel nestles with other beautifully painted buildings with trees at the bottom of a dip where different mountains, and some snow-capped, appear all around the horizon.

We’ve walked around through much of the day, been to a meeting with staff about what this hotel offers, and received offers from a few locations already. If we can keep out ignorance of German (or a more Austrian dialect) to a minimum to the locals who don’t know English, we’ll be in luck.


I’ve been stressed with work in the past six months and unable to sleep, maybe I need a little tailoring like this (We’ve been given a quality map of Austria and a bottle of white wine in our first day.) to get me back on my feet.

05-11-02

9:45 AM

Yesterday was an interesting day.

We arrived in town yesterday afternoon and the room was available for us for the week. And I am used to traveling in America at small hotels, and most of them come with a television (and most often cable, because us Americans obsess over possessing a multitude of our entertainment options) but no refrigerator, and I was impressed to have a place with a stove (electric, so it looks phenomenal in the kitchen here), a microwave and a refrigerator, as well as king-sized bed (the equivalent of two large twin-sized beds together), 1.5 baths and two foldaway twin-sized beds in the living room. They offered us a bottle of wine (chilled and white, it was a "Kabinett Selektion," and because at their welcome meeting we mentioned it was our first time in Austria or Europe, they gave us a nice map of Austria (which we may consider framing).

This place is not like a normal hotel, it is a more resort-like and they have additional amenities and a staff to make sure we have a good stay here. Someone in charge of making sure we have a nice stay, and they even offered to give us a drive to the grocery store because I’m a vegetarian and there aren’t too many options for food in this meat-eating section of countries on the globe. The hotel had a pool and sauna, but they even have a bowling alley.

Happy Mother’s Day. We sent two glass vases of silk flowers in clear resin (to look like water) to our mothers to arrive while we’re out of town. But the restaurant downstairs (that has an outdoor area) is playing very Austrian music and singing for Mother’s Day. John woke up and asked if these people don’t sleep, but it’s already 10:40 in the morning now, so I suppose we shouldn’t complain. Stores close up here at 5:00 in the evening, and I don’t know how many people hang out in what few bars there are, so people seem to have earlier nights here

Speaking of bars, we found a pizza/bar place that made a small Margherita pizza for around 6 Euros, which is easily under $10 American, so I was pleased. Had a few bottles of Edelweiss, took pictures of statues and waterfalls at night with cool lighting, and got to bed a little after midnight.

Which would have been fine, but I woke up with a stuffed nose at 3:30 un the morning in Austria, but I got back to sleep. John stayed up for a while and now his neck is sore, but the bedroom seemed so light through the morning sun through the window. I got up to rest at 9:30 this morning in the pull-out bed in the living room, but instead I have been writing.

05-12-03

11:50 AM

There are so many little details about this place that you just take for granted after you’ve been here more than one day.

1. We noticed that the doors here are wider in half of the width of the door, and the door, when sliding into the frame, only goes half way into the door frame. The lock is in the thinner half of the door, and having a door styled like this avoids any light coming from the next room from coming into your room.

2. The door hinges in this place are styled gorgeously (I know that sounds silly, I don’t know if it’s like that everywhere or if it’s just this place, but I actually noticed the hinges because they were so well-styled). The piece of metal that sits at three spots along the side of a door when closed is actually larger, gold colored, and have decorative embellishments on each end of the hinge.

3. One thing I am forced to remember is that everything is on such a slant here, there are so many hills and valleys in the mountainside, that john’s calves and my shins are in pain from walking up and down the sharp inclines.

4. In this hotel room, which I think is styled more like an apartment you rent for a week at a time, has no thermostat. If it’s warm, open a window for a breeze (that’s your only choice). I guess people who work here control the temperature for you (how nice of them). I guess this way they can monitor the overuse of heating or air conditioning to save money...

5. There’s a Jacuzzi-styled pool here, with a large mushroom that apparently drops water occasionally. I’d go into it, but the temperature is not American hot (ergo the name "hot tub"), so I called it a "tepid tub" to John and have passed on going into it.

6. There’s a sauna, but you pay to go into it, and the image for it displayed in the elevators shows a man and a woman both sitting in the sauna naked. Again, I’m passing on this one too...

7. Tipping is more like 10% for food, but you could round up above ten percent to make the Euro number even. And people serving drinks do not seem to expect much of a tip at all (when we’re used to giving a dollar for every drink we get in the United States). When we ordered two drinks and charged it, the bartender did not even leave us an option for giving a tip.

8. I heard that maybe because there are different pollens here because of different plants, we may be in luck with allergies this spring. Then I noticed that because of a lack of rainfall (more common in the States), there a pools of yellow pollen all along the sidewalks when you walk down the street.

9. Most people also know English, although minimally. There are English translations for menus, and people in stores will catch your difficulty in ordering or talking in stores and will revert to English to help you.

John wanted Ibuprofen for a headache, but it doesn’t exist in two places we hoped to find it. John ended up purchasing "dolofort," and then asked the person behind the counter in English about Ibuprofen, and she said that Ibuprofen is an American term, but dolofort is the same drug as what’s in Ibuprofen, so this should be fine. The drug dosage is also twice what they sell in the States, so he’ll only need to take one pill instead of two.

10. The radio still plays American music, although Austrians may not know the language so well. John was surprised; he thought there would be German translations of the songs so people could hear songs in their own language. I asked him why they played American songs, and he said that it was because Americans had money. That people want that.

Then I thought that some countries hate us, in part because we know how to make money and get ahead, like most apparently want, but I try not to understand their hatred when we have what they want.

11. Mountains are so much higher than anything I’ve seen in any of the United States. Your legs are in pain from just walking around the street here, because everything is on such an incline, and the mountains just past this downtown area take over a good portion of the sky.

12. Clocks are on 24 hour time, so the PM does not exist on a clock, so you have to gets used to the change and be able to translate what time 22:14 is.

13. Shopping carts in grocery stores (at least the one we went to) are not locked to go straight, so a cart, when pushed, can turn in any direction. When the stores are so cramped and the aisles are so narrow, it’s explainable that the carts can turn at any moment - because they have to.

14. Gorgeous cars and names are all over on the road. I’ve taken a few photographs of cars, but Alfa Romeos, Opels, Lancias, Fiats, Pugeots and other excellent names for cars you don’t see in the States are here. When we were walking today, I saw a strip of parked cars including an Audi, a Mercedes, a BMW, a Rover, and I said, "Wow, this must be where all the expensive cars park," and John said, "These aren’t expensive." Then we commented that the price for some cars are jacked up for the United States.

15. There is so much color in the buildings in this town. This may be the case for everywhere in Europe, I don’t know, but I can walk down the street and see a yellow building, with an orange building near it, as well as a lime green building, a white one, or a brick one. I tried to take a few pictures of it, but it is a beautiful thing to see when you’re not used to seeing that kind of variety in buildings.

I know there are other things, but I haven’t kept track of them. Just trust me, there are things that are different.

It’s hard to order food here when you’re a vegetarian and you don’t know the language. We asked if there was any meat in the cream of garlic coup (I know that’s a strange question, but in America a lot of soups use a base of a meat or chicken stock, like French Onion Soup, which a vegetarian would avoid), but the non-English speaking waitress said there was no meat in it, so we ordered it. When the waitress left, knowing she may not have understood the reference to animal products in the soup stock, I asked John to taste the soup first to see if he could taste any meat traces in the soup. John then said they probably just use butter, cream, and garlic. That one kind of surprised me, because Americans wouldn’t use something so pure, heavy, or rich in fat or calories, to make a soup, but trust me, the soup was good when we had it.

The one thing I’ve been safe with ordering for food, however, is pizza. I know, You get that in the States, but you know what’s in it when you order it, and the price really isn’t bad to have a little pizza brought to your table. I even had a cheeseless pizza yesterday for lunch, the crust was lighter than a cracker and it just had pizza sauce and spices on it, and it was pretty good.

Oh, and you don’t take your food home with you; that is considered very rude. So when we ordered, we’d have to stuff our faces because we couldn’t take food with us and we wanted to save our money and eat all we could so we’d go out to eat less often.

When we were looking at the sky last night from our balcony, I joked that "wow, they have stars here too...", but then I said that although things are different here, on a fundamental level things are still the same. No matter where you go, people still behave the same way, there are still regular meals, and the stars still shine down upon us at night. Things are still beautiful; it doesn’t matter where you are when you’re looking out at the stars and the mountains at night, with a nice breeze in the perfect weather. Things may seem a little different, but their similarities bind all parts of the world together.


9:22 PM (or 21:22, as the clocks say in Bad Gastein)

Last night we were in a bar (playing American music), and a song played that I thought I recognized, and I said, "This song sounds familiar. I don’t know if I’ve heard it."

John replied, "It’s Bob Dillon."

I was a bit stunned. "Oh," I said, "I thought this was someone in German."

John laughed his ass off at this, because it was a song I should have known, All Along The Watchtower.

When he started laughing, I said, "Well, it was a voice that sounded unrecognizable to me..."

Which made him laugh more.

We went to a bar tonight where everyone spoke German, and I was standing near the doorway reading the list of types of foods they offered. Well, the door opened, right near me and I had to back up, and a drunk old Austrian man came in and started talking to me, because apparently I was sort of in his way. So he started asking me one word questions, in German, and I had no idea what he was saying, and I didn’t know how to respond. John was sitting right there, and he couldn’t understand a single word this old man said, so I’d try to think of a single word to say that might help him understand what I was doing there, and I don’t know German, all that was going through my head were Spanish phrases, so I’d try to say something in English and he’d respond with another single-word question/sentence, and he’d say it repeatedly to me, and I’d look over at John with no idea of what to do, so I’d try to say something in English, then repeat it in English (like that helps) as I was making an effort to sit down. I think once I was seated next to John he didn’t push for a conversation, but within one minute the bartender (who might have been a manager or an owner, I don’t know), told him in German that he had to go, and it sounded like he repeatedly commanded him to leave as he walked the drunk Austrian out of the bar.

John tried to say "It’s okay," to him in German (Das ist inordnung, to be exact), but the bartender was probably just trying to get the drunk man who couldn’t say one word cohesively in German our of the bar.

05-13-03

10:05 PM

I’m tired, but we went to the Gastein Curative Tunnel today - a place in the mountainside where the air temperature go to about 100 degrees, and there was a huge amount of Radon in the air (the hopefully give rejuvenating, healing properties and energy), but also had a humidity level of about 75%.

Much better than the Tepid Tub they have here for a hot tub.

I also noted afterward when we went for beer that beer here, even the same kinds of beer as you find in the States (like Franziskaner Weisse beer) just tastes better, probably because it is actually a more recent brew, and because the beer producers didn’t have to put a small amount of Formaldehyde in it to keep it in good condition (or else add some extra hops as a preservative which makes the beer more bitter - and I don’t like bitter beer). It is much better when it is new and without the chemical, thank you very much.

We looked for mini pizza cutters today at the grocery store, because we saw them at two restaurants here, and then someone at a restaurant told us that you can only but it through a specialty store only for restaurants (which bugs me; I liked<.U< little pizza cutters for the table).

And pizza seems to be the only thing we have eaten when we have eaten out. No, it’s not that we’re trying to grasp onto something from our American lives, it’s that when I, as a vegetarian, try to find something on a menu that I know has no meat in it, it is really safe to go with pizza, where you choose your own toppings. Besides, they are surprisingly less expensive than other meals, so we can have a small home-made pizza and not have leftovers for a meal. They also usually have them at bars, and when we’re so interested in drinking good beer (the weisse beers are so much better here than in the States), it’s handy to have food we can eat too.

We’ve been walking a few days now throughout Bad Gastein, and I have loved the fact that there is moss everywhere along the rocks that we pass. It’s nice to see that here; you usually don’t see moss so abundant everywhere. We’ve seen a different kind of moss all over the place in the Washington State rainforests we visited, but it is nice to see it along paths near roads in a town, and it’s cool to see moss growing out of all of the cracks in bricks that have been laid near the paths.

I have to go, but I’ll tell you more about the Gastein Curative Tunnel trip later -

05-14-03

6:58 AM

Let me tell you about the Gastein Curative Tunnel. Originally used to mine for gold, this area in the "Hohe Tauern" mountains, and later at the "Radhousberg." In one section, there was extreme heat (98 to 120 degrees, depending on where they were in the tunnel), coupled with humidity (once again 75 to 95 percent, depending on where you were in the tunnel). They also found that rheumatic problems were getting better when there and that they had more energy - they later found that there was Radon in the air in this region, and staying in the tunnel for certain lengths of time helped their ailments, because the Radon in the air helped make their body heal itself faster. People today use this tunnel for curing assorted ailments, and although they may return in later months, they stay in the tunnels for less time because the body remembered how to heal itself from its previous stay in the tunnels.

So we went to the tunnels yesterday, wore a swimsuit and stayed in them for 45 minutes in silence with other attendants. From breathing training, I tried to take deep long breaths as I lay in the tunnel for the 45 minutes to get all the air I could and soak in as much Radon as possible in the time I was there. I saw someone opening and closing their hands while they were laying on a cot, and it made me wonder if it would help my hands from typing so much on the computer. John noted that although we drank a few bottles of water and were dripping wet when we were done, he wasn’t tired from the heat (as he would expect he would be), which may have been because of the amount of Radon in the air.

There was only one other English-speaking couple there, and the man talked very loudly (very American sounding to be that loud, was my opinion). And there was one other gentleman there who spoke English as well as German, asking us about where we were from and what our plans were. When I explained to him that Austria was our first stop and we are taking the train to Germany, Italy (through Venice), Paris, Amsterdam, Luxembourg and Switzerland, he was stunned and couldn’t believe we were doing so much in such a short time (he thought two months was more realistic than doing that all in two weeks, but we Americans don’t get that much vacation time). We then talked about 37 hour work weeks in Europe and Germany, and that people usually had 6 weeks vacation time every year. We thought that John having 4 weeks a year in America was good, but it’s not as relaxing as Europe, I suppose... He also suggested hiking walks to go on, which we may do, if we have the time before we leave Austria.

It was nice to hear someone talking about our trip like this; it reminds me of when I traveled around the United States and people were interested in plans and where were were going. This is the first time someone has asked about there plans of ours, and this man was nice enough to comment on places to go and things to do while we traveled.

John also wanted to climb to the top of one of the Alps today (so we were planning the hike), but when I walked out onto the balcony, I saw that it was snowing. It wasn’t too cold; it seemed to almost be a combination of snow and hail and the snow seemed to fall in thick icy patches. We’re fearing the Alps hike today, so we may take the train to go to Dachau in Germany. John is checking over the schedule and I’m trying to eat my bread and yogurt for breakfast.

I wonder if they stamp our passports when we get to another country. Well, we’ll see how thing go, so wish us luck.

05-14-03

11:07 PM

My feet are so tired.

No, really, you have no idea. We’ve walked everywhere, taking the train from Bad Gastein to Salzburg, then leaving Austria and going to Minuch, then going to Dachau, then walking a few miles to the Dachau Concentration Camp site, walking through the site, then walking it all back home, to the hills in our hotel.

I’m hoping I can put my feet in a bath to make them feel better for tomorrow, because I’m thinking we’re going to the top of one of the Alps tomorrow.

But we’ve tried to have a more German-styled meal plan, and I didn’t mean by having more beer than the average American, but I meant by having primarily bread at breakfast. Though we’ve avoided coffee or tea, we’ve purchased bread from the bakery and have had primarily that for breakfast for the past few days.

Taking the train to Germany was nice, though - John noticed, that unlike trains either of us have been on in the States:

1. They have huge windows on each side of the train,

2. They are amazingly quiet trains,

3. They don’t use wood under the tracks (it might be concrete? We couldn’t tell),

4. There are private compartments in the cars, even if you don’t have reservation, as long as they we’ne all reserved,

5. They have a restaurant,

6. Someone walks around either with a cart of coffees to offer you or push a cart of coffees around to offer you as you sit in your seat.

And in riding to Germany, I noticed that every small village had one church, with a huge steeple. I wondered if it was there so people would be able to find the church easily, and John wondered if people had such a tall church to show the world how God looks upon them so favorable, because they have such a large church to worship Him in. The value of religion in communities is very evident when you look at the history of these areas, which may make it obvious why they place such importance on their town church.

05-15-03

Well, I think we’re supposed to be going to the top of an Alp today, because it is no longer snowing hail, like it was yesterday. I’ll let you know how it goes.

10:20 PM

When walking home today, John noticed a radio station on a car tuned to 88.6, and I thought I’d mention that Europe’s radio stations fall on even numbers, unlike America’s radio stations. Interesting to see.

Almost as interesting as the fact that there are metal roofs throughout this town - it’s cool to see decaying, or painted roofs that are made of metal (seeing a copper roof is cool). You see how buildings and homes are put together, and you come to understand why building are so old here and last so long here.


Noticed the pine trees here during our many walks, and the needles in all the tall thin leaves are always drooping down. If trees had personalities, they looked very sad...

Oh, I learned that in some of these countries that when eating, you should leave your hands above the table until you are done with your food. This was a tough thing to remember to do, but when you’re trying to keep with the customs of the country you’re in, you have to remember all these little details so you’re not looked at as an outsider. I think it’s necessary to try to do as much as possible to blend with what people know; if you don’t, you’ll get poor treatment because you couldn’t take the time to understand their culture.

05-16-03

9:43 AM

I’m exhausted.

We walked across town and went to walk up a mountain in the Alps, John said it should be around two miles from what he could tell on the map, but you know, I was thinking the path was two miles, not that it was a four or six mile distance.

We walked on quote unquote trails, which were really patches of grass that were driven over once last ski season by a big truck (so were still grassy), and we got to what we thought was close to the end (the end of the ski lift was there, for one...). Then John saw that it went up further, so since my shoes and socks were soaking wet from the puddles and mud we had to get around to get to that point, John went ahead to see how far the path continued. He came back and said it was a similar path for probably another 30 minutes of walking, meaning that we were only two thirds the way up the mountain. Since it gets colder the higher up the mountain you go, and since there wasn’t a cloud in the sky to hold any of the heat to the earth. I was really cold, but I knew that if I backed down it would have been a disappointment to John. So after a minute I said we should go, and we started walking. The path was much less visible that it was coming up to that point, and it was more wet because any dew or frost had not evaporated.

The shoes that I bought for this trip and I planned to bring really hurt my left foot after the first time I tried to wear them, and my left foot didn’t get better for three days after I "test" wore them, so I didn’t bring the shoes I bought for this trip. The shoes I had were sneakers, but they were thin cloth, and they were old shoes with what little traction they came with long removed from common wear. So with the wind and the temperature at this height at the mountainside, and with one layer covering the top of my feet in these shoes, I was cold. And because we planned for a trip that would be warmer that it is in America in May, we didn’t bring heavy coats or gloves or hats or scarves.

But either way, I said I’d follow, so we started walking, and as I said, the trail was less evident and more wet. Then I looked after a turn in the path and saw that there was a twenty foot wide pool of mud that you couldn’t avoid if you were going to continue. When I saw that and just stopped in my tracks. I knew I was already cold, and my feet were already soaked, but I was not going to walk through mud and have wet, muddy, cold feet for the rest of the trip up - and all the way back down - the mountain.

I told him then I wasn’t going any further. He looked up and saw the mud and totally agreed and said we’ll just turn around.

I got a second pair of shoes that we brought in the backpack (shoes with a bit of a heel, but much more comfortable the wet cold old sneakers), and we started to head back.

John said that he saw from a listing on a sign on the way back that we went about one fourth the way up the mountain, that it plateaus in two different places, and that there is another lift to get higher up the mountain - when the lifts are running (which they weren’t).

Which made me feel even worse, because we didn’t get as far as I thought we were, or as far as I thought we could have gone.

Because there was a sister hotel to the hotel we’re staying at in the mountain range, we just took its road back down. Although it was a bit longer, it was a different view of mountains and town. When we got the the bottom of the mountain, we saw that they were doing construction work on the road, and the road was completely destroyed. It was illegal to scale the ridge and cross the train tracks, and the construction workers stopped as we walked back to the construction site and what should have been the road but was now a large muddy hole. John asked if we could pass through the tunnel. They told us there was room there and that we could cross.

I looked at the room, and it was filled with water. I said to John that I can switch the shoes and wear the wet sneakers through the wet mud, and then he told me to take the backpack (I didn’t know why), and he took the camera from around my neck, and he made a gesture that he would carry me through it. I didn’t know if he could do it, and I was so surprised, but he was insistent, so I got on his shoulders and he started to carry me though what was left of ground and water and mud through the tunnel to the other side, where there was road. Half way he stopped, because we saw something for a photo, but I looked ahead and said I’d try it with my heeled shoes, because I think I can avoid the water and mud enough.

I followed him out of the construction area and we walked on the road a bit more and took a turn, and found out that the road ended up literally next to our hotel (do we didn’t have to go through town to get back from the mountain).

So I just got out of a bath to warm myself up, and John just did the same. I guess this was our attempt to climb up one of the mountains in the Alps... But at least we tried.

05-17-03 (Saturday)

7:54 AM

Went to a bar last night, for our last night in Bad Gastein. There was a big bread bowl on the bar (do they charge of this bread sitting out if you want to eat it?). It’s funny, but here foods do not carry a ton of preservatives, so you can’t keep bread sitting around \for a week or more and expect it to be okay. People buy everything fresh, from breads to fruits and vegetables. John said this is why Europeans eat better, because they have healthier food and do not eat so same processed foods. I asked him if Americans ate so many preservatives, would we stay preserved longer if we were dead, but you’d think that if Americans were so concerned with having healthier lives we’d eat better foods on the whole, and John said that it was probably because Americans rush through life so much and try to do so much in so little, that they don’t have the time for preparing fresh foods.

Wait, I was talking about the bar. The bartender, because he got a phone call he had to take somewhere else while he was pouring our beers (so the beers sat at the tap for a few minutes), he poured us new beers and drank our old beers - ’the bartender’s mistakes,’ as John put it. We thought it was funny that the bartender could drink while on the job, because that is something bartenders could never do in America...

Oh, added notes: it was so cool to go into a "pharmacia" when John needed to get an over-the-counter pain medication; unlike a Walgreens or a United States drug store, this place was a small shop with apothecary jars of medicines all along the walls. You actually felt like you were getting medicine, not that this was some generic little coated pill in a generic mass-produced box. I think Americans think that way about over-the-counter medicines, that they’re just harmless for your body and they somehow make your pains and problems vanish. Maybe in Europe they realize that you can’t solve your problems by taking a little pill.

Well, we’re pretty much packing now. We leave for Villach, another place in Austria, then we got to Venice before we move through Italy. But I’ve got to get moving if we’re going to be on time. Wish us luck.


Germany

Introduction

John took German class, when choosing a language, he chose German, so I thought he’d be good with wanting to go to Germany. I forgot that he’d probably love the idea of drinking excellent beers too, so I guess we had a few reasons to want to go to Germany.

We found out that Dachau has museums about the Holocaust, so this is something I so wanted to see. I spent five and a half hours at the Washington DC Holocaust Museum, and I wish John saw it, but John knows more about history than anyone I’ve ever known, so I think he’ll be up for it too.


Dachau

05-15-03

9:18 AM

Okay, I was exhausted last night. I even took a bath after John, but we used dishwashing soap for the bath because we don’t have bubble bath... Actually, the bubbles hold up pretty well, and they hold the heat in the water pretty well.

Whatever, enough about the bath last night. We opted to spend the day in Dachau today, because we were interested in seeing the Concentration Camp Museum there. I have been to the memorial in Washington, DC and I thought it was amazing with information and artifacts; it took me five and a half hours to go through it when I was alone in 2002. I figured that if I thought the United States museum was amazing, it should be stunning to see a museum in an old concentration camp. So here was the scoop from our trip to Germany:

Had to learn that washrooms on trains were labeled WC, for water closet. The journey was fun, because we saw when getting ready to go that it was snowing - but it was combined with rain, making it more of a combination between hail and snow. We had no real coats for this (I mean, it is May, and the weather is supposed to be milder than it is in America, and I don’t expect snow in May in America...), so we wore shirts over and under our sweaters, wore our heaviest pants, and wore socks and shoes (instead of my usual sandals I wore when walking in Austria). We had one light coat and one British rain coat, which seemed more like a short windbreaker with a hood. With cold fingers and noses, we did the best we could in going through Germany.

I notice taking the train into Munich (München, in German), that I finally saw graffiti again - since we have been to Austria, I have seen graffiti only once, and it was beige and black of a painted head. Coming into Munich, I felt like I was in a city again; there was detailed spray paintings of images of people, and very colorful, elaborate type drawings. The graffiti was kind of cool.

We took the train to Dachau, deciding to come back to Munich before going back to Austria. We got to Dachau and then walked about two miles (I think it was 3 Kilometers) to get to the Dachau Holocaust Museum. It is a much smaller town, versus Munich, and there is not a lot to see there architecture-wise (though it was kind of cool to see German signs for Asparagus, and it was nice to see billboards for Hacker Pshorr, which is a beer I like that I have not seen in Austria).

I have been to the Washington DC Holocaust Museum before, and it was phenomenal. They had lighting appropriate for being in barracks, and you walk through quarters the size the prisoners were in. You even walk over planks the Jews had to use because the Germans wouldn’t let them walk on the same land as them. There were glass boxes that housed the things the Jews had to give up once there were in the concentration camps for a certain length of time, so you’d see a glass box filled with hairbrushes or black shoes. All in all, it was an amazing visit, and I was looking forward to going to the Dachau Holocaust Museum, because the location was an old concentration camp site.

Because of that, it was interesting for me to go to the site, and I think it was good for me to say that I have been there. They had the original door to the concentration camp at one edge of the grounds, which said "in German), "Work Makes You Free" (John even saw it and tool a few pictures of it before I got the chance). They left the paint chipped away at parts of the wall so you could see what the walls were like. But they cleaned up a large part of the hall, and when we entered the building, there were a few large posters of information (you’d have to skip ahead to the English translations throughout the museum so we could read them). The entire museum, however, was moving from room to room with large posters and sheets of data to read (which, in my opinion, did not leave much to the imagination, to help you understand what it was like there for these prisoners).

We did learn the Dachau was one of the first concentration camps in existence, and it was one of the only ones that lasted throughout the reign of Hitler (who, by the way, was not only Austrian and not German, but also was short and had hark hair and dark eyes and was able to tell people that the better people were tall with blonde hair and had blue eyes). Knowing how many people were killed through the concentration camps, all I could think of was how small the Dachau site seemed to be, if it only held 6,000 people (I’d hear how 40,000 would be killed in a day, so they had to come from larger places too, and I know Dachau was small because it was one the first camps). But We did learn that the Dachau site was used as an example for all future sites. The prisoners were even put on work detail at one point to build a new, larger camp, so others could be imprisoned like them. Later, people could be arrested and put into a camp because they were "potential" criminals (if they did not believe in the group’s political views, they could be arrested and brought to a concentration camp with no recourse).

Only when we got to the last room, where we saw a miniature scale model of the entire grounds as it was during the Holocaust, was John able to point out to me that the only thing were seeing was this small portion of the site (about one fifth of the entire site). Seeing that the entire concentration camp area was that much larger was the only thing that helped me to see how monstrous this place actually once was.


Munich

We walked back to the train station and went back to Munich. I don’t know what the locals thought of me, other than that I was just another stupid American with her camera on a strap around her neck, but I took pictures of so many pieces of architecture (from churches to the police station to the court house to a bank or two, just because there was such beautiful ancient artwork on their outside walls) and so many statues and fountains.

Because our feet were getting tired, and because there were so many bicyclists trying to ride through town because everyone couldn’t have a car downtown (and because John wouldn’t hear the bells of the bicyclists that were trying to ride on the path he was on), we found a small bar where the older woman who was the bartender couldn’t understand John when we tried to order a beer for himself in German (and I could just ask for a weisse beer because they didn’t even list anywhere what they had, so I got their Ayinger), and the old regulars there kept yelling in German that they wanted music, but not with American voices. Well, someone put a song on the jukebox with American lyrics, and they looked at us like it was our fault (we never got up from our seats to have any music play; I love being blamed for something we didn’t do, it’s making me feel like I’m at home).

We got to the train station in unich with some time to kill, but to get a seat we had to get food, so while John ordered sandwiches, we saw that they had Paulaner cans (that cost maybe less than in bars in Austria), so we ordered a few there too to pass the time until our train took us back to Austria (they were 2.60 Euro for twenty counce beer cans and 2.10 Euro for soda cans).

You know, I said before that beer just tastes better here, with no preservatives, but I couldn’t believe it when the cans tasted good for beer as well. It is great when you see these little differences (like good beer for cheap in cans at train stations) when you’re passing through.


Italy

Introduction

When we planned this trip, I kept saying that I wanted to go to Greece because I was far too fascinated with the architecture and Greek design (I think there are nine Greek columns seen from one view in our living room, because columns are used for table legs, candle holders and vases). We checked information on whether or not it would be safe to go to Greece in the midst of he Iraq War (which the American Politicians attempted to be P.C. enough to call this war an Operation for someone else’s freedom), and we decided that even though it was safe enough to go there, we’d want to spend more time there than one afternoon. So in looking at records of information on Italy, I read that in Cicely there were still pieces of architecture from Greece there, and it was much more preserved than ancient Greek architecture existing today.

So, other than searching for excellent image ideas of gondola pictures on the water, I saw hope for beautiful Greek \architecture existing in Cicely.

So this becomes a new part of our mission.

I also said I wanted to stop in Naples, just so I could tell my parents (who live in Naples Florida now) that I went to Naples, but to get there I had to go through Austria and stop in Rome before getting through Naples.


Venezia

May 18

Taking the train was interesting. We passed through TONS of tunnels to get through the mountains, but after that finally stopped the lands were flat and there were fields for growing grapes for wine. Weisse beer was the choice before, maybe I can start trying wines here and in France.

Passed a massive water tower shaped like a golf tee, and notices that alond the road there were occasional tall poles, and they were completely covered with ivy. That and as the temperature and climate changed, we started to see more palm trees. We looking forward to seeing Venice - or Venezia, because we wanted to see streets that were water, and it would be cool to check out gondolas. I heard that it’s a great place to party in, and lots of people were taking the train to Venice.

Now that we’re here, we found out how expensive it was to enjoy yourself in Venice. Everyone there knows that people come here to see the sights, so everything has a jacked up price.

And a lot of the architecture was under construction , so many buildings had scaffolding around it. But it was cool to see the parts of buildings that were accessible to people - and it was cool to see stairs that led from the sidewalk to the water. Water levels rise, and over time that has caused sidewalks, roads, and foundations for buildings to be lost

I did start to see excellent things here for food, though - like a salad that was just cherry tomatoes and similar sized pieces of fresh mozzarella, mixed together with oil and spices. And because fresh mozzarella was so common to eat here, the price wasn’t that high for the food.

That and I didn’t care what the cost was, I was just so excited to eat this really cool food that’s normally never served in the United States. Maybe if we ate pizzas a lot in Austria, I can move to other cool foods to eat here.

Venice is the city that fell into the water, and it was cool to see the gondolas and gorgeous churches. Walking around the streets at night, I thought the stands of merchandise for sale reminded me of New Orleans, with painted masks and liquor for sale everywhere.

Okay, so maybe Venezia was like this before New Orleans; I guess it’s cool to see where these strange bits of history come from.


Napoli

05-18-03

morning and late evening

The train ride to Napoli was terrible, the light rattles so we couldn’t rest. Well, I couldn’t rest, I think John could sleep through anything, so he was fine.

If you think the sports we watch in America are violent, then you don’t understand the violence in audience participation in soccer in other countries...

After passing Formia, Minturna, S. Santimo and other towns, we saw a field of black oxen, and I think we saw the remains of an old fort. When we got off the train in Napoli (Naples, to us stupid Americans), we saw a man carrying a large cross with Christ on it, and I saw colorful graffiti again.

We stayed in Napoli for only a few hours total, and I had no problem with that, because from what I could see, it was a very dirty town, and there was not much to learn from or see.

We started to see more architecture with tops of buildings like castles, and we saw more buildings that were painted - but the paint was old and chipping away.

John also noted that he saw that the soccer fields we saw while traveling in Italy had concrete walls and THEN the stands, and there would be a fence around the field with barbed wire along the tops of the fences.

It rained as I wore sandals in Napoli, and no place took credit cards (apparently they’re not a big enough town to see the need to sell their food or merchandise...). Nobody spoke English, and it’s hard to guess what people are saying when we only know a little Spanish (which is only somewhat similar to Italian). We tried pizza in Napoli, and it tasted like soggy cardboard. Street vendors had tables selling crap like belts kitchen supplies, cell phones and sunglasses. Useless stuff on the streets in a useless town.

And as soon as we got on the train to leave, it got sunny.

I wouldn’t expect less.


Pompeii

05-18-03

We realized by the time we got to city number three in country number three that we didn’t need to show our passports to go anywhere (apparently we only needed them when flying from one country to another). Although Europeans don’t condone violence, they apparently don’t worry about it.

On the train two kids asked us for money in Italian, as well as later in a restaurant (where we saw that every restaurant placed their silverware wrapped in your napkin, instead of just on the table). And after passing Portici, Torre Del Greco, Torre A Citta, and other small towns, and after having two chances to drink a Bacardi Breezer in transit, we checked out the "wheat stalks" (strange plants) shooting up high from the ground. When we got to see in the Colosseum there a stone block with a metal ring on it, which we presumed was for keeping the gladiator in one space there.

John also saw a family of 4 on a scooter while we were there, so we saw again how scooters were very common versus cars in this part of Europe. I also decided at this point that Europe was not a cat continent, everyone had a love of little dogs to walk around with them everywhere; there was even a veterinarian’s sign on a street that had a picture of a pig, a chicken and a dog (but no cat).

Even while here I saw two old Italian men, one short and fat, one tall and thin, talking loudly, and it made me think of a strange episode ending of the X Files I saw once where Burt Reynolds was playing God and these Italian men started singing to each other before the credits started rolling for the show.

We spent the entire day, after walking through town, to get to the Pompeii ruins. There is a complete area of resurrected land from the ruins of this ancient city covered by ashes during the eruption of Vesuvius in the year 79 AD. It was an exhaustive tour of buildings, where we could see kitchens, eating areas and bedrooms.

By the evening we took the train to Palermo in Cicily, which was nice, but there was no outlet on the train, so I didn’t have much of a chance to recharge my camera batteries or type notes on the computer. John slept with the light through the train window until there was a knock on our door for breakfast before we arrived in Palermo.


Agrigento

05-19-03

After being in Palermo, we passed a bunch of small towns before arriving in Agrigento. Once there, we saw additional proof that scooters were everywhere. This was the second time we saw a family of four on a scooter.

We noticed here that kids can take these trains like they were school buses, because everything was so far away when you lived in a remote location in Cicily. People used the train to commute from Naples to Pompeii, later it started to feel like we were on the el, seeing people take the train the way you take the el in Chicago.

But once we’re there... Well, it was hard without knowing the language. We found out that we had to get on a bus to be able to see the Greek ruins, so we waited for the bus (the lady said we could take either bus number 1, 2 or 3, so we thought we were set). We got on a bus, and I could see that you had to pull the cord along the side of the bus when you wanted to stop somewhere, but I was searching to find something that looked impressive enough to be the ruins. We had a map that explained that there was some about half way through the route, but there was something much more impressive at the end. So I remember seeing what I assumed was the ruins half way through the route, but then I saw nothing else. So apparently we got to the end of the route and the bus driver stopped to get a smoke and go to the bathroom, and he asked where we were trying to go. (Well, I assume that’s what he was asking, but we don’t know a lot of Italian.) So we tried to explain what we were looking for, and we showed our map, and he said that we passed it and we were supposed to pull the cord when we wanted to get off the bus. (I got that, I didn’t think that was it, so...)

So he brought us back on the round trip to the same place we got the bus from and we got another set of bus tickets and we made a point to stop at the place we passed.

Really, I thought (according to the map we were staring at) the site was only part of what we were out to see.

So we went there, and we spent hours in the sun walking around, taking pictures of anything. I was wearing a tank top shirt and shorts, and John even asked about me getting sunburned because we were much closer to the equator that I had probably imagined. I figured that if I got burned, then I’d just deal with it, and I kept walking around looking for photos. I think there were two times when I had to wait for people who decided to sit in front of pieces of the ruins, just so I could take a picture without people in the way.

That and although I didn’t feel sunburned, my skin peeled for at least a week after visiting the ruins.

It was one site with a bunch of building, columns and remains, and they were spread out over a large area. We paid a fee to be able to go through everything and get a better view. Because we got there after the problems getting there, we made a point to walk everywhere in the entire course, and then we repeated the path backwards, so we saw everything once more to make sure we didn’t miss anything.

There were no food restaurants for our late lunch, so we went to the train station food bar I got fresh mozzarella on a roll, and John got a larger sandwich with meat. We also got four Bacardi Breezers (mine pineapple, his orange), and it was all for 12 euro. All I was thinking was that this was such a great deal - to have that much liquor and food for a meal...

One thing John noticed while we were traveling in Italy - he said that people were really dirty. John say one guy spit on the floor in the train station, and the both of us even saw a girl throw her trash out the open bus door on one of its stops as we were going to the Greek ruins.

We never went to the Mediterranean Sea on our journey, and it doesn’t sound as appealing to say we went over the Tyrrhenian Sea, but we did a lot of travel in Cicily... and we found out that when staying on a train to travel through Italy, we had little ladders to get onto beds. We couldn’t drink the water in sinks in separate cabins (because even though there was a sink with a faucet, they didn’t have running water, so the water was not drinkable, but you could at least use the sink for spitting after you brush your teeth in the evening), but they gave us two bottles and three little sealed cups of water so we could drink something through the night and rinse your mouth out after brushing your teeth.

To take us over the Tyrrhenian sea, they had to stop the train at a station and break it into three parts, so the parts of the train could be taken on boat across the water.


Rome

05-20-03

The train had nothing to recharge the digital camera, so I couldn’t take as many digital camera photos as I would have wanted to. And when we arrived in Rome, I worried when we dropped off our luggage at the train station for the day that we’d have a hard time because we spoke English. But we understood everything that was said, we said "due" for two bags, used the correct hand signals for explaining what we needed, we paid, and left without needing to ever speak in English.

When we found out there was no way we could take a train to Piza (the trains wouldn’t let us get there and back to continue sightseeing), we left the station and noticed that there were no street signs anywhere near the train station (making it hard for us to guess which we should walk to see different landmarks). The first thing I saw after walking outside was that even the garbage cans were gorgeously, elaborately designed and decorated. We had pizza for a meal - and we asked for Agilo (garlic), hoping the garlic would make the Italian pizzas taste better (sorry, I know they weren’t Cicilian, but the alternative tasted like soggy cardboard). I couldn’t even taste the Agilo on this Neapolitan pizza (you know, when I head Neapolitan I think Chocolate Vanilla and Strawberry ice cream that I always only ate the chocolate part of...) But I saw a Caprice Salad (fresh mozzarella balls and plum tomatoes, which was an excellent choice (they really should have this in America, it tastes so good, it is so simple and people would love it).

We walked everywhere and took tons of pictures. The walking was fun in Rome because every sidewalk there was made of three to four inch bricks, but there was no grout between the bricks at all - making them very uneven. I’d look for any chance to walk on a curb, or even the grass touching the sidewalk, just to try to give some relief to my feet in sandals.

We told some Texans who were visiting that we were going to go to Paris, but we were worried because we don’t know French, and I hear the French hate Americans. Megan (the wife of the Texan couple) told us to tell them with an English accent that we were British, because the French like the British John didn’t think he could pull off sounding British so I thought we could be Canadian, I could pull of that accent with no problem, eh... Then it occurred to me that half of Canada speaks French, so I’d be screwed with that option.

But later we heard on the television (CNN, actually,) that the French hated the British for some reason, so I thought, "I can’t pull off any of the English types in France..."

After a long day of sightseeing (it was cool to walk around the Colosseum and see all the gorgeous architecture), we got on the night train from Rome to Paris, and we were on the last train car, making us the car farthest away from the food or drink car. But there were cool doors for entering any of the back cars, and the ceiling has little dots of light to emulate stars.

I guess being at the end meant we had a nice car, because our bed folded under to a couch, and we had a closet, a shower and a WC (or a washroom with our own toilet).

Because we didn’t know if we’d have the time to have French wine while in Paris, we made a point to get a bottle of French wine once we entered France. Domaine Da La Remarde produced Côtes Du Rhone Villages, 2001, which was pretty good (and we kept the cork).

It occurred to me that my food on this trip has always been either pizza or mozzarella sandwiches. Since the digital camera was able to recharge on the train over the night, which was cool.

In the morning in France before we arrived in Paris, we saw a field of all white cows (which was kind of cool to see), and we decided while looking at the countryside in France that the landscape could have been anywhere - there were fields, far away trees, and an occasional barn or house. Although the landscape was plain, maybe we were just romanticizing the landscape more because we were looking at it in France - versus any place in the Midwest United States. I don’t know, I think you’d image seeing more wine grape fields or something if this was somewhere else.

We’ll see what Paris looks like when we arrive and see how different it is from other places we’ve seen.


France

Introduction

Before entering France, I have this mortal fear of everyone hating us. I know, I know, the French sell Americans crap at insanely inflated price (who started the preposterous idea of selling water, other than the French company Evian?), but most Americans think France has class and taste, and I think most Frenchmen think Americans are classless and tacky.

Well, we may be classless and tacky, but I still have this fear that people will be talking about how awful we are in French (the one language neither John nor I know). A part of me wants to record mpeg files of people talking in another language around us, so I can find out later on what they’re saying about Americans.

I’m sorry, I just get this feeling that everyone in Europe is going to hate Americans because our president has gone insane about destroying another country, even though everyone else has pretty much said these American moves are going too far. I don’t think I’m the only one who thinks that Bush’s decisions are quick and lack real foundation. He says there is reason to believe Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, but we have never seen proof of it. France and Germany were the two countries who more visibly protested America’s decisions, though Germany has come to accept the American decisions, even if they didn’t agree with its base originally. All along, France has been against us (don’ we give them enough money through their overpriced awful products? Can’t they laugh at American’s idiocy for succumbing to their scamming us with their less-than-par merchandise and allow us to make this decision and not get on a high horse about it when they can’t change America?), and I fear they’ll assume we’re evil and ignorant people for just appearing in their country and giving them money to see public places like the Eiffel Tower. They want our money through their garbage they merchandise in the United States anyway, wouldn’t they be nice enough to us to get our money when we’re even in their country?)

I get offended in thinking they might act offensive toward me. I’m sure the potential way we’ll fell will make me act more snotty toward people in France, so I’m probably going to make it worse because I’ve been assuming from the start that we’re going to have a hard time there.

Am I having the problem because I’m thinking too much about it?

Honestly, I am interested in seeing the Eiffel Tower, and we have interest in seeing the Louvre and the Notre Dame Cathedral. I read that it is nearly i possible to get a vegetarian meal there, but I’m willing to deal with bread all day for food if I have to. I even told John I was so thrilled about the idea of eating a Mozzarella cheese and tomato sandwich, which I thought was a French thing (I remember my sister Lorrie saying how much she loved them there), so John’s trying to figure out how to ask for a Mozzarella and tomato sandwich in French.

And I’m sure we’ll sound foolish trying to ask.

Paris

Wednesday, 05-21-03

As we were leaving the train, the conductor recommended that we take taxis, because the Metro may be on strike still. So we prepared for taking lots of taxis, and we got lots of Euros so we could make our way though everything while we were there for the day.

We thought of trying to take our luggage with us as we walked through Paris to go to many sites (the Eiffel Tower was only the first, we wanted to see the Louvre and the Notre Dame, along with a ton of other places), but there was no way we’d be able to carry all of our belongings with us the entire time. In the train station, they scanned our luggage for security purposes (I removed my film from all of our luggage), but we had to use lockers to store our luggage for the day. But we managed to cram everything into one large bin, which only cost us 4.80 Euros (which is cheaper than anyone housing our luggage for us for the day).

I also wondered if we’d be in more trouble because neither one of us knew any French at all, but I hoped that everyone in Paris would also know English, so I hoped we wouldn’t have a problem. We practiced assorted phrases in French, but I think the only one we’ll end up using is the one in asking where to go in a taxi and how the thank the cab driver.

The conductor also said that a 3 kilometer ride to the Eiffel Tower should be about 5 Euros, but I think they charge a lot for a ride directly from the train station, because we probably blew 10 to 12 Euros. But at least there was a bus and taxi line, so there was sometimes a convenience in having a line the taxi driver could take. Sometimes, though, there were so many taxis and buses in that lane, the driver would cut into regular traffic so he could get us somewhere faster and we wouldn’t pay for sitting in traffic so long.

John was walking too fast. My feet were still sore from walking on the groutless sidewalks in Rome, which is why I said we needed to pay for an ATM and pay for a taxi (I couldn’t take the hyper walking...). I just thought, "If you’re going to walk like this, we’re going to take a taxi instead."

So taxis we took.

And I was strange enough to even try to take pictures while I was in the taxi. I think that for a while I was sticking my head out the window to take photographs, like some sort of dog with their tongue hanging out, maybe like one of the billions of little dogs I saw people walk around with in Europe. Once when the taxi driver heard me saying I thought a building was beautiful, he even pulled over so I could take a photo of it. So, I guess Parisians do know English, and people were nice to us. (Granted, I was paying him for a taxi ride, so of course he’d be nice to us, but it was still nice...)

We took photographs of the Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, the Notre Dame, and a ton of other gorgeous buildings. We noted that no pedestrians listen to the "don’t walk" sign at intersections, so I learned to just follow what everyone else was doing. It was also helpful for me to be able to listen for the bell ringing of bicycles, or horns of scooters, which don’t seem to care sometimes if the use the street or the sidewalk. People also sort of drove maniacal on the road too (even though it wasn’t as bad as in Italy).

So on to the cheese sandwiches, which I thought would be easy to come by in France, I had a gruy¯ere and tomato sandwich for a late lunch after the Eiffel Tower. We noticed that there were a lot of outdoor cafés, and all the seats faced out toward the street. I like that, but it was just kind of funny to see all of these restaurant outdoor seats were in a line facing the sidewalk.

While sitting and having lunch outdoors, I saw yet another Keanu Reeves poster for some movie he is in, and all I could think was that I could understand why Europeans can think we Americans are so violent. I mean, if they don’t get that from the behavior of President Bush, but I swear, if I see another poster of this Keanu Reeves guy, I think I’ll want to kill people.

The architecture was gorgeous, and Paris wasn’t so bad when we were willing to pay for taxis. And people weren’t rude to us, probably because we were customers and they could get money from us.


Bruxelles - Belgium

05-21-03

Now we take the "Thalys" train to Bruxelles in Belgium. But they even served cocktails for the one hour twenty minute train ride. The chairs were even comfy on this mini train ride, and there is a writing table attached to the seat in front of you, like an airplane, but everything is larger, there are foot rests, and everything is just more comfortable. I mean, they even gave you a face towel too for cleaning up. I couldn’t believe the treatment.

The diversity in the architecture was really intriguing, and John said he was so surprised by my love of architecture. Maybe I loved the fact that a building you live or work in can be a work of art and be gorgeous... but he noticed here that maybe my love of architecture and the fact that my brother is an architect isn’t just a love we as brother and sister share, but he saw that there were a ton of beautiful buildings here, and the countries I came from were known for their excellent architecture and the some of the greatest architects in history came from here. We saw many tall glass buildings there. They were bluish in color because of the glass, and they were sleek and modern, with interesting building shapes. Another large portion of the buildings we saw were "row houses" - they were a few stories tall and had different colored siding on each of the houses, but they shared walls with the adjoining houses. It’s interesting to see a row of houses, all designed differently, that still share sides with the houses right next to them. It’s kind of like town homes, but all of the individual houses looked different, which was interesting and cool. Because they were so old they started to look aged, but it was still an interesting thing to see.

After taking pictures and seeing sights in Belgium, we had to take a train to Amsterdam in the Netherlands. I tried to take a picture of a church in Antwerp (Belgium), but I think the train was moving and I got a photo with a big pole in the way (it got right in front of the church as I snapped the photo).

The woman came around with meals, and a fish plate with kale in a Jello mold (gelatin has animal products in it too) was put in front of me. I asked if there was anything vegetarian, and she said she’d check ... then came back and said this was their vegetarian meal. So I don’t eat because people don’t know the definition of vegetarian.


Amsterdam

Introduction

We arrived in Amsterdam at 9:00 in the evening, and we had to find a hotel before we look for something fun to do in what is known probably worldwide as such an incredible party and drug town. Hell, I thought, if people go there for assorted drugs, maybe this is a place we should at least see.

Don’t think we’ll do any drugs there, so I figured I better check to see if there is anything else in Amsterdam. Saw that Anne Frank’s house and Museum were there, as well as Van Gogh’s Museum, and I can’t help but think that it would be so excellent to go to Museums in Europe, especially ones that are the European country the Artist is from. The Van Gogh Museum has the richest collection in the world of works by Vincent van Gogh. The museum has over 200 paintings, 500 sketches and 700 letters from the artist, as well as his collection of Japanese prints.

Dozens of museums in Amsterdam draw all types of art fans to the city. There is something for everyone. People know the route to the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum, but there are other museums and art galleries in Amsterdam as well. Amsterdam has some fifty museums which attract many millions of visitors each year. I’m interested in seeing the Anne Frank house. If you know of The Diary of Anne Frank, you know that Anne and her family hid from the German occupation forces until they were betrayed and deported. The Anne Frank House will hopefully give an impression of the life of Anne Frank, in which the diary takes a central role.

I read that the Beurs van Berlage is one of the world’s most important architectural monuments, so I’m hoping I can find some good photography outside the building. 

There’s a Biblical Museum there, with a ton of archaeological finds from ancient Egypt, centuries-old models of the temple of Solomon and Herod, and also religious objects from the Jewish and Christian traditions.

I was interested in the Van Gogh Museum, but I also heard about the Rembrandt house, where Rembrandt lived between 1639 and 1660, that has 250 of the 300 etchings Rembrandt created. Rijksmuseum has the largest collection of art in the Netherlands, so I imagine that all of these places to see (including a ton of additional museums I didn’t bother mentioning in this), we’ll keep ourselves really busy.

05-21-03

Train to Amsterdam

So the Thalys (which we called "Mach 2," because it was so fast), gave free mini sandwiches and a fruit bowl (which was orange pieces and currant, and the currant definitely left something to be desired...), with your choice of drink. I tried a white wine (like the French red we had before), and John had the beer they had and recommended (Mae’s). They called it the best Belgium beer, and it was excellent.

05-22-03 (Thursday)

1:34 AM

Amsterdam is not open late. There aren’t many people in the bar at all - I mean, there are three or four people in each bar.

No lie

I mean, I know I’m sounding like a snot, but New Orleans has stuff going on until maybe 3:00 AM on the weekends, maybe at least 1:00 AM on the weekdays, and we had to walk around in I don’t know how many circles and in how many alleys looking for a bar with anything happening.

That and if you try to look for a bar in Chicago, you can find something open until maybe 4:00 on the weekends without a problem.

I know, I know, I know, they have legal drugs there. They say Marijuana is legal and ’Magic Mushrooms’ are considered a "soft drug" (I didn’t know powerful hallucinogenic drugs were considered ’soft drugs,’ but what the Hell, I guess that that’s the beauty of socialism), but no one serves Marijuana unless you’re in a coffee shop (the capitalist in me says that makes sense, because if you’re drinking alcohol (a relaxant) at a bar, you don’t want Marijuana knocking your paying guests unconscious, so starting then off with the "I-wanna-get-wired-and-I-wanna-drug-that-will-keep-me-awake-for-hours" drug, caffiene, might be a good idea when you want to mellow them customers out with pot), even through I didn’t want coffee and I wanted to see the Marijuana cycle goin’ on in Amsterdam.

We ordered drinks at a bar, and we then found out that that only accepted cash. After I ordered a B-52 for me as well as a Long Island Iced Tea, and John got a "Planter’s Punch" (something that he kept saying was better when he was on vacation and the Jamaicans make it for him with every ounce of expansive hard liquor they could find to make the mixed drink taste better). That’s when we got the total (we had to pay in what little cash we had left, after getting cash once on this trip already) of 27.50 Euros.

This pissed me off, and I said we had to go to a place next that accepted credit cards, and the only place we could find was a Mexican restaurant that wanted us to eat food; we each ordered a soup (Tomato and French Onion, if you wanted the details), and we only got to drink one half liter each of Heineken there.

So what does that mean for the night for me? It means that I didn’t see any pot (translation: I didn’t see any on any menus, I didn’t see anyone smoking it, I didn’t see anyone offering it, I saw nothing), it means I barely got to drink (I paid almost 30 Euros for two point five weak drinks and I had to spend another 19Euros to buy two orders of soup to be able to drink two Heinekens).

Interesting evening.

It was also "cobblestone country," and I can at least say the hotel was gorgeous, and they had a night breakfast for us. They even held our luggage for the day after we checked out before we left for Luxembourg.

While we were in Amsterdam for the day, we went to the Anne Frank House, which was really cool to be in the house she hid in and see films and artifacts in English as well as in Dutch.

Okay, I’m not into the drugs. But At least I saw the place, and hopefully we’ll get to the Anne Frank House and the Vincent Van Gogh Museum tomorrow before we leave for Luxembourg.


Luxembourg

Introduction

There’s a gong from The Smiths called "Ask." One set of lines are:

Spending warm Summer days indoors

Writing frightening verse

To a buck-toothed girl in Luxembourg

And when we were looking for places to go, I saw Luxembourg, and I jokingly thought, hey maybe there’s a buck-toothed girl in Luxembourg... We laughed, but we knew it was a place where we could stop and visit.

Then we saw that in order to visit there we’d have to stay the night there. So, in the midst of our travels to Museums and memorable sights, we’ll stop in this small country Luxembourg.

Looking for information on Luxembourg, I found this information off the internet:

Not even big enough on most maps of Europe to contain the letters of its name, Lilliputian Luxembourg makes up in style what it lacks in size. Luxembourg enjoys a prosperity that nations many times larger aspire toward and envy. Visitors to the country pay for their luxury accordingly, but in exchange they find a wealth of spectacular verdant landscapes crisscrossed by rivers and dotted with the sort of rural hamlets that most people associate solely with fairy tales.

This is not to say that Luxembourg is all swanky suits and medieval villas. And what’s most convenient, the capital is no more than an hour’s drive from anywhere else in the country, so you can truly get a sense of the lay of the land without spending a ton of time in doing so.

The nation’s motto is inscribed everywhere throughout the capital - Mir wëlle bleiwe wat mir sin - ’We want to remain what we are’.

In such a small country, it is probably easy to retain and cherish the heritage that man European countries are known for. But because Luxembourg isn’t as well known as other European countries, it is probably easy for them to do.

On this train we stopped in Maastricht in the Netherlands on our way to Luxembourg, and since this apparently was a commuter train, we had to listen to two sets of strangers have conversations in Dutch, which we sat there in silence. But John got the feeling that this train didn’t go directly to Luxembourg, so he asked, and he answered in French. John had to ask if he spoke English, and then we found out that we had to run to get to another train so we could make it to Luxembourg. We grabbed our stuff and looked at the schedule and saw that we had to bolt up the escalator, down the hall, then up another escalator to get on a train to Liege. We got to the train thirty seconds before that train left.

We thought Liege was a stopping point on the way to Luxembourg, so John asked when they checked our tickets if this train goes to Luxembourg, and they said it didn’t. They found out for us that we’d have to go to another train to make it to Luxembourg (our third train for this commute), just so we could get to our next stop.

Wow, our plans said one train, through these two cities in two countries. Didn’t know we had to guess and change trains a few times to pull it off.

While in Liege, where they spoke a dialect of French, we saw cool bridges and buildings

We saw two castles on the road so far, even though I didn’t have time to take a picture before we went to our next country.

05-23-03 (Friday)

12:25 AM

Oh my gosh, I don’t know what to make out of this night. It stared off really... well, really off, then it got better than a night in Amsterdam for us be the end of the night.

Let me explain.

We started off by looking for camera batteries for my Minolta Maxxum 5000, because it couldn’t take a picture with the energy it had (Hell, it couldn’t focus the film or set the film speed or aperture, and it’s battery would die when you tried to manually override its automatic functions). But no places that would sell batteries were open, so we had to return the camera to the hotel and attempt to go out.

We walked down the one main block and there was really only one worthwhile place to go to for a drink, and it had maybe three people in it and it was blaring a really bad song... so we decided to move on. The next block was literally filled with strip clubs, and I said that even if there was a bar in this block that wasn’t a strip club, everyone that would be in it would be male and I would feel really wrong in the joint. Actually, as we were walking down the strip club block, I felt a few stares from a few men that were also walking down the street.

When John thought there would be nothing else and we should go back to that crappy bar with bad music, he suggested walking back down strip club lane to get there, and I really did not feel comfortable doing that (I know, I’m a prude, but what the Hell, I’m female, give me some leeway on these things in such a sexist society...). We walked to the next block and saw other shops and bars and strip clubs to check out, but we still opted to go back to the bar with the bad musc we first saw.

The bartenders there knew very little English, so we managed to order beers, and while I got a standby John got a local specialty that he liked (but I thought was bad). We looked at the menu again and I saw they had Bacardi Breezers there, so I asked for two (because I drink them like they’re water, apparently) and I asked for flavor choices, and she mentioned peach, which I did not know existed (I knew of Lime, Lemon, Pineapple and Orange). So I drank these peach things like they were good-tasting water, and John ordered a scotch and Coke mixed drink that he said he liked. We were getting to enjoy ourselves sitting there talking (maybe it was my liquor? I don’t know...), but after John figured out the reference of the bar name of "Happy Days" to the sitcom and the old music and the pictures of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis and James Dean on the walls, we ordered a round of a Bacardi Breezer Peach and he got a J&B mixed drink bottle, and the people that owned the bar gave half of the bar free chaser shots (which were good).

We got through the last of the drinks, which cost us only about two thirds of the price for one round of drinks in Amsterdam, and we happily made our way. Walking home, John said that for his experience in Luxembourg, the bar prices were better than and there were more people than and the atmosphere was better than his experience in Amsterdam.

Actually, to quote him, he said, "Actually, I said Amsterdam sucked."

Okay, we all have our crosses to bear, but this night in Luxembourg wasn’t an effort at all. By then end of the night we really enjoyed ourselves.

We stayed in a hotel that, like Amsterdam, had two twin beds pushed together in the hotel room, and we also have an additional thin bed pushed to the side, like a sofa (was it for a child in this room, or a third adult?).

Because it was the first nice day on our trip, I wore shorts for sightseeing when we walked through Luxembourg.

Now, I think we did pretty well while not knowing the language in trying to fit in and not cause problems with anyone in any of these countries, but I never knew that "shorts" as clothing was pretty much only an American thing, and that no one in Europe wore short - especially women, who only revealed their legs by wearing skirts. So I was the only one wearing shorts, and I think guys grinned looking at me (were they pleased with seeing legs or did they think I was a whore?), and all the women wouldn’t even look at me (I’m sure they thought I was the whore...).

We stopped to eat at a bar where only men were taking their lunch break (yeah, I got lots of looks as a woman wearing shorts, and John didn’t understand how I could feel awkward there because I was being gawked at...), but people there did not speak English, so I decided to not even bother trying to eat. John ordered, but they had Bacardi Breezers at the bar, so I could keep myself occupied until we moved on to see more sights and take more pictures of churches.

I had to think about how lush the wilderness is in Europe once I was walking around here. There was a lot of greenery, and it made me wonder if America had this much greenery and we just plowed it all down to create our urban nation.


Switzerland

Introduction

Do you have a thing for chocolate?

Well, John does, so I told him that if we go to Switzerland he could probably have the best chocolate in the world. I should have told him they’re also known for phenomenal cheeses, because I obsess over cheeses the way John obsesses over chocolate.

The diversity of the landlocked, mountainous country is the essence of Switzerland. Still, it is best known for its fine cheeses and chocolate, watch making industry, and for its scenery. I even have a Swiss Army knife, just because there is something novel about having a real Swiss Army knife and get that Switzerland logo appearing on my own watch..

The Alps and Pre-Alps cover 60% of the land, is that is not reason enough for the visiting.

05-23-03

We passed a bunch of towns in France before we got to Zurich, Switzerland, but after a while, all of the scenery started to look the same, like we were driving through the Midwest United States. It started to look like driving from Ohio, to Indiana, to Iowa. Same hills, same foliage... Same expanse, looking for something new.

05-24-03

after sightseeing, we took a 6 hour night train from Zurich (our stop after Luxembourg) with sleeper beds in shared rooms. We both were assigned the top bunks, and there were customs forms on all the beds. We panicked, because we thought we’d have to claim our beer bottles we had for our last day in Europe (in Salzburg, before we flew back to the United States). We crammed our luggage into what little space was available (we got there first, so I’m sure we took up more space than the other two people had...). I started drinking my beers, even though I didn’t want to drink (for fear of problem with carrying our liquor, although there had been no problems with it before). We then found out that the customs forms were for those people who were moving on to Budapest on the train, so after I opened by liquor, I found out that we didn’t need to worry about it - but I had to drink it because it was open now anyway...

John slept terribly, but I, oddly enough, slept pretty well. John woke me at 3:45 in the morning (8:45 in the evening Chicago time) so we could get off the train to spend a few hours in Salzburg before we flew home.


Salzburg (again)

Even though we were exhausted, I photographed more buildings in Salzburg. We even climbed to the top of a hill and photographed the outside of a castle.

But after the plane takes off, we stop in Frankfurt before heading home.


Frankfurt

05-24-03

4:35 PM

The flight to Frankfurt was short, so guess what - we got a tomato and brie sandwich (which was actually really good) for our one hour flight.

And there was so much forest when you looked at the landscape from above. Towns look like they took up about one quarter of all the land. Trees were packed everywhere.

I’m really tired. I may attempt to nap on this flight back to the States.


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