Paris 2006 Journal

During the summer of 2006, I along with some coworkers in the Intelligent System Lab got to go to Paris to study with a French university for a month. This was my second year going, and I figured it would be cool to have memories of it in the form of a diary and picturebook. Entries are listed in chronological order.

People

Becker Me
Jox Swedish exchange student who came to UCF for his Masters, had a class with him
Linus Swedish exchange student who came to UCF for his Doctors, friend of Johann
Viet PhD student who didn’t go to Paris and would like to knock one of us off and take our place 😉
Johann Most veteran traveling coworkers going to Paris
Christina Super woman computer engineer coworker
Max Christina’s husband (helped with directions to the airport)
Dr. Gonzalez Funding faculty member, in Paris briefly
Nicole Dr. Gonzalez’s half-French wife
Chris Grad student coworker going on the same plane with me
Lilly Chris’ girlfriend who drove Chris and me to the airport (thanks!)
Daniel Grad student who is the head of robotics (unaffiliated with the Paris adventure)

Other Paris 2006 blogs

Wednesday 06-14-2006: Orlando or bust

I planned my Paris 2006 trip to take place a few days after I finished with the IGVC (International Ground Vehicle Competition) that the Robotics Lab @ UCF participates in each year in early June. Much to my chagrin, I was one of the two designated drivers to take the robot up to the competition in Michigan. This translates into a 20 hour drive from Orlando and back, which of course, is always fun (note the sarcasm). When all the plans finally settled, I was surprised to find out that by the time I got back driving from Michigan, I would have less than a full day to prepare for Paris. Oops…

Sure enough, we arrived in Orlando, FL around 7 PM and took an hour or so to unload the Celica (oh yeah, did I mention we didn’t have a rented van and so thus packed the robot and ourselves into a Celica?). So after stretching our muscles using a rack, we unloaded the car and I went home. I got home around 8ish to do the laundry, call the parents and tell them I survived 40 hours on the road, make a list of things to pack, plus lots of stuff to do. Hopefully with a list of items to pack, I can get everything packed quickly tomorrow.

Daniel and I before we started out for Michigan in his Celica

Thursday 06-15-2006: Attempting to get to the airport

I figured 8 hours of sleep would be good since I figured it would be the last in a while (and unfortunatly, that figuration was right). I packed all the items I had on my list in two bags. Around noon, I hopped in my car to do errands to get the stuff I needed that I didn’t have. I emailed the disconnected SIM card I bought on ebay back to the owner to get a refund. Additionally, I resisted the overwhelming urge to pick up some books at the library when I stopped by to drop off the audio books we listened to on the IGVC trip. I grabbed Max’s card to Christina as well so he didn’t have to mail it internationally. Finally, I shored up my courage and ventued into the nightmare that is commonly referred to as “Orlando Walmart.” Yes, this is the same Walmart that made international news when some lady was trampled on and died in a Thanksgiving rush. I picked up some of the last things I needed (deoderant good!). I wanted to get some euros from Suntrust so I wouldn’t have to be dependent on an ATM when I stepped off the plane, but I didn’t have the time. Oh well…

I called my credit card companies as I packed the last off my bags. On the first attempt, I got stuck in the automated voice handler. The second time was only marginally better, I got put on hold and then promptly disconnected. The third time I got a person, but all they could do is tell me to call this other number. By this time, my phone battery had died and Chris (the coworker who was going over with me) was on the way with his girlfriend Lilly to pick me up so we could go to the airport. He arrived around 3:30 PM as I was frantically packing up the last of my stuff. We figured 3 hours until our 7 PM flight would be plenty of time. Once we were all in the car, he asked if we should take 408 to the Orlando International Airport. That’s when I asked “Uhhh…aren’t we flying out of the Sanford International Airport?” This triggered a flustered response that quickly had us all tromping back up to my apartment to check and get directions to the Sanford airport. I copied and pasted the airport address into Google Maps to get directions. Somewhere an hour later south of Orlando in a residential area after about 3-4 U-turns, we began to realize that perhaps our directions were not exactly quite right. We stopped at the local post office to ask if the Sanford airport in the general area and were promptly laughed out. Apparently, Sanford is north of Orlando, not south. Chris called Viet and between Viet and Max, we got real directions, which, much to our misfortune, was straight through downtown Orlando in the middle of rush hour traffic. I called the airport and they said if we could get to the airport 30 minutes before the flight, they could probably get us onboard. Suddenly, we were all praying really hard. I joked if we missed the flight to Paris, we could always go to the nearest grocery store and buy some croissant. God decided to be kind and we got to the checking counter 25 before liftoff. I turned out that we were delayed another half an hour because we were missing an oxygen bottle.

I had had breakfast around 10 AM (Rice Krispies, since that’s all I had left), and had planned to eat supper before the plane was wheels in the well. Unfortunately, with the rush and misguided directions, I didn’t have a chance to eat anything except a couple granola bars. So by the time we got our flight food, I was ravenous (but the a bug beetle of troy) and more than ready for the airplane meal. I read my PDA book, then tried to sleep. Alas, that was not meant to be. When we got to Iceland, it was 41 degrees F out. We transfered to another plane and took off for Charles de Gualle in Paris. I dozed a few times, but still didn’t get any real sleep. Needless to say, I was really looking forward to getting off the cramped plane.

Friday 06-16-2006: Entering the realm of sleep deprivation

Disembarking in France, we collected our baggage. It took about an hour to locate the RER B metro that would take us to Paris. I had forgotten that USA credit cards don’t have a smart chip so I couldn’t use the automated machine to buy the tickets. I was so tired from not sleeping on the plane I dozed off in the RER for a few minutes. We lugged our baggage through the poorly designed metro system as we headed for the LIP6 university. At the lab, we stowed our stuff in a side room and found only Dr. Gonzalez. Unbeknownst to us, Johann and Christina had been waiting for us at the apartment metro stop for over 2 hours. They weren’t totally wasting time because they were having fun with a lot of cider. We talked to Dr. G while we waited for Johann and Christina to arrive, then we had a short meeting. All four of us lugged the baggage back to the apartment. The apartment was much nicer than our previous one. The neighborhood was sooooo much nicer with a Monoprix (Paris Walmart equivalent), chocolate store, fruit market, and other little stores. After a shower and a quick pack, we were prepared for our Rome trip. However, we were supposed to go out to dinner with Dr. Gonzalez and his wife Nicole, who was half French herself. In front of Notre Dame, we met and walked to the Latin quarter for supper. Soon we found ourselves sitting around a table in Santorini’s, a French/Greek establishment. I ordered Onion soup, salmon, and chocolate mousse. It was quite good (sure beat the big mac and egg McMuffin!).

After a quick tour of the area for Chris’s sake, we headed back. I collapsed on the couch after about 36 hours of no sleep, going out almost instantly. They woke me 20 minutes later, all ready to head out to the airport. Because our flight was to leave at 6 AM, we had to spend the night at the airport. Our last connection to the airport closed at 11 PM (10 minutes before we got there) so we had to take a taxi to the airport. From there, we picked out these chairs you could stretch out on. It was midnight and we were all exhausted and I went to sleep half-wishing the alarms would fail so we could get a good night’s sleep.

Me sleeping at the airport for a few hours

Saturday 06-16-2006: Pizza, pasta, and ice cream in Rome

All too soon, our alarms sounded a reminder that it was 4:30 AM. Groaning, I sat up and looked around. We gathered our stuff, went downstairs to check in and then grabbed some breakfast at the airport. I had a crossaint, which was pretty good for it being 5 in the morning. Security was basically a joke, which was nice…none of this USA please take your shoes off and while you are at it, you might as well strip while I hold you at gunpoint. We boarded the plane, and again I wasn’t able to do more than doze off for the 2 hours it took to get to Rome. We arrived at Rome at 8 AM Saturday morning, ready to begin the typical tourist things. We took a shuttle into town and went to go drop our things off at the hostel. Much to our surprise, we found our hostel closed because they were having electrical problems. They rerouted us to a different hotel on the outskirts of Rome, but near the Vatican. We headed over there, noticing that the metro was quite a bit smaller than Paris (2 lines versus 14). We arrived at our new hostel and found our surprised feelings were fading away into disgusted feelings. The hostel was in the middle of nowhere practically (unless you count the gas station across the street) and it was pretty sparse. We dumped our stuff in the locker room and decided to see the Vatican. Off we went. On the way, we saw all these little pizza shops. It was amazing! They had this big 2 x 2 feet squares of pizza on the counter of all different types. Cheese & real basil, tuna, potatoes, peppers, all of it fresh. To order, you simply pointed out which variety you wanted and the attendant would take a pair of scissors and cut a piece off for you, however large you wanted. So instead of selling by the slice, they sold by the weight. We all got some to go and headed off for the Vatican. Talking it over on the way, we decided to detour and find an Internet Cafe to see if we could possibly find a better hostel. We did so and booked a hostel nearer to the center of town and our shuttle station so we could make an early get-away on Monday morning.

The Vatican was really cool and really crowded. Saint Peter’s Basilica was huge and I mean huge. We spent a good hour poking around inside, taking pictures, etc. Around noonish, we went back the plaza outside the Vatican and found some Gellatis (spelling is probably wrong), or Italian ice cream. I was excited because I like ice cream, but I was blown away by how good it was. I can’t really describe it except it was exceptionally tasty and creamy. I had a 3 scoop, with cherry, strawberry, and chocolate. Definitely very very good. If you ever go to Rome, get some ice cream, it is well worth your while. We went back to the Vatican afterwards to take a tour of the Sistine Chapel. That in itself was quite impressive, although not as much as St. Peter’s Basilica. I got through first, so I sat down at the exit and waited for the rest of the crew to arrive. I was so tired by this point that I was having trouble staying awake while sitting down. I was afraid of falling asleep and them missing me, so I was forced to get up and walk around. Once they made it through, we decided to climb the 320 stairs to the top of the cuppola on the St. Peter’s Basilica. It was a lot of steps, but the view of Rome and the inside of the church was amazing. After that, we headed back towards the hostel to transfer our baggage from the baggage room to our individual (well, individual dorm) rooms. On the way back, we sampled some more pasta and I stopped by this delicious smelling bakery and got some good pastry things.

For supper, we headed downtown and found some pasta place. I ordered spicy spaghetti (which was a little hot, but not very). Johann ordered seafood pasta, Christina had cannelloni (a lasagna type of pasta), and Chris had beef spaghetti. While we were eating, the USA and Italy were playing each other for the World Cup. Our server kept coming by telling us whenever Italy scored a point. I was having a hard time keeping my eyes open during dinner. At one point, I completely blacked out for a second and woke up a few seconds later thinking “where am I?” After supper, we found a downtown fountain to sit in front of and veg for a while. Because we hadn’t gotten much sleep since our plane rides over here, we decided to head back to the hostel and get a decent’s night sleep. Locating the nearest metro proved to be a chore and getting on it proved even more difficult – impossible actually since it had closed (it was around midnight). We called a taxi and made it to the hostel while Christina and Johann partied it up in Rome. I was in for a rude shock when I went to shower. They had two rows of shower stalls, which wasn’t a problem. But the showers had no doors and no curtains. Whoopsie daisy…that was a little distressing for me, the typical American who expects complete privacy while bathing. The floor was pretty dirty too and I didn’t have flip-flops (in another words, please please don’t let me get athletes foot!) and the shower didn’t have a shower head so it came out like a small hose. When the water didn’t warm up right away, I was getting a little desperate. Oh, and did I mention I had no wash cloth and was using a spare underwear as a wash cloth. I also didn’t have a towel, only a hand-towel. Let’s just say I showered really quickly and didn’t think about it too much. After that, all I remember is falling into the bed.

Me looking surprised in a chapel

Excited to be in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome!

Rome as the Pope sees it from the top of St. Peter’s Basilica

Despite what it looks like Johann is doing, the food was pretty good, although I feel about as awake I look

Sunday 06-17-2006: Rome in a day

7:10 AM and something began to beep in the background. A few seconds later, I realized it was my alarm telling me it was Sunday morning and it was time to get up to get to the Vatican for 8 AM mass. I mentally debated sleeping in a bit more and decided yeah, why not. 15 minutes later, Johann woke up and asked me the time so I checked and replied. 35 minutes until 8 AM. It takes about half an hour to walk, so I sighed and hurried to get dressed. I woke Chris, who said he wanted to go to mass with me and he hopped out of bed too. 5 minutes later we were on our way. One of the guides told us that mass was every hour on the hour until 1 AM. So we figured we’d catch the 8 AM mass and then come back to meet Johann and Christina (whom we referred to as Johina). We were running late, so we jogged on and off (neither Chris nor I were in very great shape). Panting, we arrived at the St. Peter’s Basilica with no sign of mass. One of the guards told us that mass started at 9 AM. Chris and I looked at each other and sighed and told each other at least some morning exercise was involved. Right outside of the Vatican was a bunch of shops and food places, so we went out and got some breakfast. I got an Italian doughnut and a lemon flavored crossiant. It was pretty good, although I like Krispy Kreme better than the Italian doughnut. Afterwards, we sat around a huge fountain that was quite nasty with a bunch of algae growing in it and talked until 9 AM. The mass was rather interesting. There was a pipe organ involved, so I was happy. I don’t know if the mass was in Latin or Italian, I didn’t understand anything except “Christo” and “Amen”. It took about 45 minutes, but it was definitely an experience.

We headed back to the hostel to find that Johann and Christina had already left for the other hostel with their stuff. Their note told us to meet them around 4:30 at a big tower in Rome. Chris and I grabbed our stuff and went in search of the hotel. We didn’t know where it was, so we stopped by an Internet Cafe to look up the address. We found it on the map and started to market – before we realized that Johann had already circled the hostel on the map he had left us. Score one for neither of us being boy scouts when we were young. Oh well. We hiked up to the hostel and were astonished. It was sooooo much nicer than the other hostel and only 4 euros more a night. We had our own room, a really nice bathroom and everything. I summed it with this comment: “Our old hostel looked like a renovated warehouse, while our new hostel looks like a renovated office.” Chris and I had discussed a route to hit most of the sights to see in Rome. On our way, we stopped by a pizza restaurant and ordered a potato pizza. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t fantastic either; as a matter of fact, the shredded potatoes didn’t taste like anything.

For the next couple of hours, we wandered around Rome hitting the major tourist places. The Coliseum was really old and so were the ruins. I actually found a mulberry tree near the ruins! It even had some ripe mulberries on it. They were good. On our way to one old building (which is nearly every other building in Rome), we saw a soccer game and stopped to watch. It was on a dirt field and pretty intense. I noticed one particular strategy specific to a dirt field was to take your foot and make a semi-circle in front of the ball on the ground. This would kick up a bunch of dust and make seeing the ball more difficult. Ahh, the loopholes people find. On a side note, I just wanted to mention something that I find quite astonishing at the moment as I am writing this. I am connected to my music collection at home in Orlando and streaming it over the Internet across the Atlantic to our Paris apartment. It’s mind-boggling to think that only a hundred years ago, it took months for any type of communication to cross the Atlantic and now we can do it in what, a few tenths of a millisecond? “Enough musing” you say, “back to the story!” OK, Ok… We went into a couple more churches and buildings. One church had a stained glass window with three bees in it. On either side of the stained glass window were two angels. That puzzled me, what was this, the Holy Beeity or something? As 4:30 approached, we wandered toward the meeting spot to sit down and await the arrival of the Johina. When we arrived, it was decided that the first stop should be the supermarket to get some water and fruit and stuff. They had these amazing wedges of real cheese, not that fake stuff you find back in Walmart. On the way, we stopped by the Pantheon to take some photos. Supper was pretty good, I ordered what I thought was a ham and egg pasta, only to find out it was really a pizza! It was still pretty good. Once supper was done, Chris and I went to get some more ice cream. Caramel and mint chocolate chip, hmmm……sooooo good. Later that night we wound up on the Spanish Steps (I don’t know why they call them that) to eat, drink, and listen to some of the people playing guitars. It was highly enjoyable. Chris and I split from Johann and Christina early and headed back to the hostel to get at least some sleep. It was just before we went to sleep that Chris discovered he had lost his Bank of America card…oops!

The roman coliseum and an arch

The most amazing Italian ice cream we had

Vines growing straight up the wall in almost a solid patch

Playing and singing at the Spanish Steps, both Italian and English

Monday 06-17-2006: Lazy day in Paris (sort of)

Some sleep turned out to be 3 hours of sleep. Not all that much, but better than nothing. At 5:30 AM we were out of the hostel and on the way to the bus station. When we got there, the shuttle took us back to the airport and it was breakfast time. I accidentally bought an egg spinach sandwich, which wasn’t all that great, but at least it was filling. Around 8 AM, we boarded our flight. I was so tired by this time that I conched out immediately and slept almost all the way back to Paris. As a result, I was a little more rested by the time we made our way back through the metro station and to the apartment. Dumping our stuff off at the apartment, we headed to Little Vietnam for some pho (pronounced fuh), which is sorta a soup type dish. We got lost trying to locate the place, but a huge map on the side of a building helped us determine where we were. Thanks building! The pho wasn’t terribly bad, but not fantastic either (although Johann and Christina thought so). Johann wanted to go shop at the Vietnamese shopping place, so we watched as he bought all these weird foods, fruits, and veggies. By the time we got back to the apartment, it was too late to go to the lab as we had planned, so we hung loose in the apartment for a while as everybody showered up and got clean. Nearing dinner time, we crossed the street to a Monoprix (French version of a Walmart type of store) to buy water, wine, food, and such. I also got a washcloth and a real towel, both pink because pink is just cool like that. Johann cooked for us, shrimp and pork pasta with spinach greens. It was very good, although a bit too salty. By the time supper was over, we had all gotten some much needed refreshment and went to bed early. Johann joked that 1 AM was the earliest he had gotten to bed in several weeks – the sad part being he wasn’t joking at all.

It was quite handy to have a map on the side of the building!

Chef Johann! It was pretty good, I must admit…

Tuesday 06-20-2006: Monmarte & Moulin Rouge & Champs Elysees(sort of)

Early in the morning around 7:30, Johann rousted everybody up and out of bed. Grumbling and groaning, we all got dressed and ready to head into the lab. All of us except Christina, whose 2 weeks was up. She got to sleep in. Breakfast was a spinach ommlette, courtesy of Johann. Our LIP6 lab was about 30-40 minutes away via the metro, with one transfer. The LIP6 lab is quite nce in fact. Situated only a two blocks away from the Effiel tower and a cheap sandwich shop nearby, lunch is a delightful experience. I usually order a jambon fromage (ham & cheese) panni, which is pressed and heated so the cheese melts. After getting a sandwich, we usually head to the park right in front of the effiel tower and find a nice patch of grass or a bench to eat on. There are usually a bunch of kids from various schools around eating lunch as well, which makes for a nice family atmosphere. The lab itself is small, maybe the size of two bedrooms. It has a dozen or so workstations. However, it’s main attraction are the huge glass windows, maybe 6-8 feet tall. There is no AC, so when it is nice out, the windows are open and you get a great breeze. Unfortunately, the windows do not offer all that much of a view (except the building next door0, but after working in labs that have no windows at all, it is quite enjoyable. Work in the lab was interesting. We didn’t have to work with anybody else one on one really, so we just got our tasks and worked on them, occasionally interfacing with the French. Luckily, a lot of them spoke some English, so it wasn’t too bad to communicate.

Unfortunately, I had woken up with a sore throat and the beginnings of a cold. I didn’t want to stay up too late, so I offered to take Chris around and show him some of Paris in the late afternoon/evening. That was agreeable, so Chris and I stopped by the apartment to drop off our stuff and then off we went. Johann had suggested we head to Monmarte (the highest part of Paris) and look out over the city, so we started off in that general direction. I had a map, but it turns out we didn’t really need the map at all. Once we got off at the metro station near Monmarte, we immediately knew which direction to take: up. All roads that lead up obviously went to Monmarte. Soon we reached the top and had an amazing view of the city. On our way back, I wanted to hit Moulin Rouge. On the way, we decided to stop for Chris’ first kebab. Kebab is this giant rotating cone of meet maybe a foot in radius and 3 feet high. Meat is carved off of it and stuffed into a gyro shell or some sort of sandwich bread. Some lettuce, tomato, onions, some fries on the side, and the result is a cheap, but quite delectable and filling meal. Chris loved it. We made our way to Moulin Rouge easily enough afterwards. It’s really just a red windmill and a dancing nightclub or something like that (go watch the movie, it’s sad and probably completely inaccurate ;-)) Chris still wanted to see some more stuff before we headed home, so we caught the metro to the Arc de Triumph, snapped some photos and then proceeded to walk down Paris’ classiest street: the Champs Elyeese. Very spacious sidewalks, expensive food and stores, and even a very classy McDonalds with an upstairs dining area with real art. Halfway through the walk, we spotted a band playing, so we stopped to watch. It was a band band like a marching bad. They were pretty good. At the end of the fancy street is the Tuleries garden and the Louvre. Chris got suckered into a 5 euro bracelet from a Jamaican guy. I wound up being a little rude to one of them, but I didn’t want one and they were getting pretty persistent. Also of interest was the group of segways outside the Louvre, may half a dozen or so milling around, not doing much of anything. As we passed the Louvre, I noticed that we were on the same street as it. How cool is that? 20 or so minutes walk to the Louvre? I thought it was pretty cool at any rate. Both of us were dragging by the time we got back after hours walking around, some of it uphill. I was glad to turn in somewhat early that night (after working on my diary). However, Chris and Christina decided to go see the Effiel tower all lit up….whew, too much for me.

Paris as seen from Monmarte, pretty cool, huh?

Huge church at Monmarte, this picture and the one above it are 180 degrees apart. Just rotate and snap 😉

Me really digging into my first kebab this year in Paris

We couldn’t resist taking a picture of this cute little SMART car…so adorable, I want one 😉

Wednesday 06-21-2006: Fete de la Musique

Another early day at the lab and another rather boringish time working. Paris weather is so unpredictable. I had worn a short sleeve shirt and was freezing. Thie cold, of course, was not helping my feeling any better, either. Later that day, we had a meeting with our host and boss over there, Dr. Patrick Brezillon. He had wanted us to create a Contextual graph (which is sort of like a step by step procedure of how to get something done) of how to buy a metro ticket. For an hour or so, we all explained our approaches and discussed how to integrate everybody’s procedure. Nobody’s was complete and everybody had something unique. It was interesting to see how many different viewpoints or procedures could arise from a simple procedure. I’m not sure what Dr. Brezillion intended, but I came away with a better appreciate (or apprehension if you will) about the complexities of trying to formalize or write down already existing knowlege that somebody has.

Because today was Fete de la Musique, we left the lab a bit early and headed home. Johann had wanted to turn around quickly, but Christina convinced him to exfoliate the skin peeling on his legs. That took about an hour to complete, so it was around 6 or 7 when we finally left the apartment. Johann wanted to go to the fantastic creperie (Au Petit Grec) that we had spent so long finding last year. We were worried it might be closed, but it was open and doing business. Chris and I decided to do half two crepes: a sweet one and a savory one. Sweet ones usually come with chocolate, sugar, or fruite while savory ones usually contain meet and salad type things. We halfed a jambon fromage (ham and cheese) crepe and a banana chocolate coconut. On a whim, I decided to get a plain butter sugar crepe as well. It was all utterly fabulous. I can honestly say it was one of my favorite meals in Paris so far. A while later, we went to the Luxemborg gardens and sat a while. Everybody but Johann got a little restless and after a while, Chris and I decided to go find some classical music. We had heard that last year there was some classical playing around Champs Elysee and the Effiel tower. We tried both, but while I did get to see the Effiel tower all lit up at night, there was nothing in either spot. One of the reasons might have been because it had been sprinkling most of the day and people didn’t want their violins or sensitive instruments wet. Disappointed, we decided to go where Christina and Johann had planned to go: the Notre Dame, St. Michel, and Bastille areas. This was definitely better. We stopped and saw all sorts of music, from multi people modern rock bands to a single pianist to a rap group. We took photos at each place, so see the photos and check out the descriptions I’ve added to each. All in all, we didn’t get back home until nearly 2 AM and didn’t get to sleep until 3 AM.

AHHHHH!!!! Look to the left, I can barely stand still, it’s like a light to a moth, it’s sucking me in – must leave store…losing self control… 😀

Hmm, we are in Luxemborg Garden, but where do we want to go?

Thursday 06-22-2006: Recovering at the San Martin canal

Slowly I became aware of somebody rustling around and dressing and getting ready for the day. Since I was sleeping out in the living room with Johann (we had two couches out there), I tried to ignore it. But Johann and my internal sense of “I must get up and get work done” along with my pride prodded me to prop open one eye and slowly sit up. I creakily got dressed and gathered my stuff. Johann told me on our way out that after he had gotten out of the shower, he had gone into Chris’ room to let him know the shower was free. Chris sat up, nodded, muttered something, so Johann left. When Johann went in later, Chris was asleep again, so we left him. Later Chris said he never remembered any of it. He woke up around 11 AM (getting 4 more hours of sleep than us, not fair!) and thought it was still early. He was surprised to find everybody gone and it almost noon. When Johann and I got to the lab, only Dr. Brezillon was there. He seemed quite surprised to find us in the lab by 9 AM after the Fete de la Musique. I worked until lunch time, or at least tried to work, I was tired and easily distracted. Chris wandered in around 12:30 and we headed out to the Effiel tower for lunch (jambon fromage panini, baby!). Johann and Christina were busily shopping as it was here last day in Paris. At one point, Christina came home with this poppy seed treat, which had about a 1 inch thick mixture of poppy seeds and some light icing held together with a sweet cracker on each side. It was good, but I probably wouldn’t have passed a drug test. I went back to the apartment earlier and did some stuff on the computer. When Chris came home, we decided to go to the San Martin canal to write in our diaries. On the way, we stopped by Paris Nord railrod station, so Chris and I could get familiarized with our leaving from there to Amsterdam. San Martin canal was nice, much nicer than our good ole Florida canals. Yech! I brought my laptop so I could type this up 😉 Chris was still using the tried but true pen and paper method. We had planned to go to St. Michel to get some food, but got so hungry we decided to find a kebab place around the area. Since it was near Gare de l’Est, I showed Chris our old stomping grounds (although I didn’t show him afro street ;-). We had a kebab (this time chicken, I think). The owner of the place didn’t speak English, but was very chatty and we (well, mainly Chris) carried on a simple conversation. Once finished with the kebab, we headed back to the apartment. Right after our metro station, I noticed a bunch of berries and stains on the ground. Glancing up, what should I see but a few huge mulberry trees ladened with mulberries. I was afraid to actually try any, because I had no idea what Paris and Paris workmen might have done to them (Paris is not altogether the cleanest of all cities). Back in the apartment, Chris called Lilly over the Internet. He said it worked OK, but he had a huge 1 or 2 second echo.

You don’t even get any tries to guess what this is. Pretty bug, huh?

Yep, here it is, the San Martin canal. Pretty restful, better than a lot of canals in Florida!

Friday 06-23-2006: Getting ready for Amsterdam

I slept in a little bit (until 8 AM). When I got up after a blessed 8 hours of sleep (first time in a week, wahoo!), Johann and Christina were up packing and getting ready to go to the airport. Chris and I headed into work for a couple hours before we went to Paris Nord. Chris was leaving Friday afternoon and I was leaving Saturday morning at 7 AM, but I wanted to see him off and get my ticket since I didn’t know how much time I’d have in the morning. Johann hadn’t gotten a ticket yet, but expected to do so soon and fairly easily since he had a eurorail pass. It was a very good thing I went with Chris to go get my ticket because when I got up to the counter, they asked for my credit card. I figured they needed it for identification as it does carry some info about the holder. However, I not expecting them to tell me that I could only get the ticket using the credit card that had bought the ticket. Because Johann had found a good price, he had bought the ticket and told me to pay him back later. This was bad….very bad. For all I knew, Johann could by now be on his way to Amsterdam. Not only that, but he had lost his wallet a few weeks earlier and no longer had the credit card he had purchased the ticket with. So, I called Johann, and luckily enough he was in the apartment. He told me to come back, so I did and as soon as I got there, he had to leave so he could catch his train to Amsterdam. Luckily, Johann is such an online shopper fanatic that he had his old card number memorized. “Wow, that’s hardcore,” I thought. Also lucky for us is the fact that the guy we got at the ticket counter was nice and let us get the ticket, although he warned us he couldn’t do it for us every again. Personally, I think that’s sort of backwards. If the ticket has your name on it, why shouldn’t you be able to get it? If your card get’s stolen (like Johann’s or you want to buy a ticket to Venice for somebody, the whole system would break and you’d wind up being very unhappy. But, fortunately enough, we were all lucky. Now that I knew the route like the back of my hand, I saw Johann off and then went to St. Michel. I got a take-away pizza from this little pizza place we found early last year. It was good because they make it for you then and there and put whatever you want on it. I got ham, which was cheap 😉 I sat by the St. Michel fountain, eating, reading, watching, listening, and generally enjoying myself. I then decided to walk home because I knew it was close. I passed by Notre Dame and saw a bunch of little colored paper cups set up. I wondered what they were, but didn’t stop to check it out. I followed what I thought was the way home, but got lost and saw an ice-cream sorbe place Johann and Christina had raved about. I got some and it was indeed quite good, although I think I like Italian gelati’s ice cream better. Somehow, I did the proverbial circle thing and wound up back at Notre Dame. By this time, they were having mass and had two huge speakers outside broadcasting the sermon and the music. The church organ was really great, I enjoyed it as I passed by. I also saw the colored cups again and this time there was activity surrounding them. After a movement, I was dumbfounded. It was a rollerblade sport. The cups were lined up on 24 to 18 inch centers and very talented rollerblade people would skate around them and do tricks. Definitely something I could never do no matter how long I practiced. I watched for a couple minutes, then decided to try to get home again. I finally got going in the right direction and made it home. I washed the dishes and did some clean up work and then goofed around on my computer. Johann called later that night and told me he was in Amsterdam, but couldn’t find the hostel or Chris. I gave him the address to the hostel and he called 15 minutes later to let me know he had found both the hostel and Chris.

Yes, I do occasionally brush them teeth, despite what the dentist sometimes thinks

Yum! Pies and queche! How much better can you get?

Market day is wonderful, who knows what you will find!

Saturday 06-24-2006: Amsterdam!

Getting up at 5 AM isn’t cool. Not only is it early, but there is nothing open either. So on my way to the train station (Gare du Nord), I didn’t have anything to eat. Luckily, I arrived in plenty of time to board and got an (expensive) crossiant at the station’s vendors. The train ride was pretty good. I must say France does have an awesome train system – very smooth and fast and usually on time. I had planned to write some of my diary, but alas, I fell asleep somewhere in the middle. Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to hit the hibernate feature as I myself began the process of hibernating. 4 hours later at the Amsterdam station, I was wondering where Chris and Johann were since they were to meet me. As soon as I got into the hub, I noticed a Pizza Hut. Ah yes, reminders of home. I wandered around the station a few times for half an hour, then gave up and decided to sit down and read a book in the busiest part of the station. My hope was they’d eventually swing by again and see me. I was in luck, a few minutes later Johann came up to me, asking where I’d been. Chris had actually gone back to the hostel to see I had emailed or tried to contact anybody electronically. When he came back a few minutes later, we all headed out. I was pretty hungry and they were too, so we stopped at a Falafal place on the main drag. I had never had Falafal before, so it was a complete surprise. Apparently, it’s like a kebab in a pita except the meat is really fried, ground chickpeas. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t like it nearly as much as kebab. Give me the good ole meat any day. Afterwards, we stopped by the hostel. The hostel was located very close to the train station, which was good. However, it was just on the inside of the Red Light District. So in another words, the hostel was a few stores down from places like “The most vibrating store in Amsterdam.” And there were a bunch of “coffee shops” around us, except they didn’t sell that type of coffee. So yeah…I definitely planned to avoid this street at night unless I was with somebody else! The hostel itself wasn’t bad, not nearly as bad as the first hostel in Rome. It had a lounge with a bar and a big projector screen for the TV – and smoking was allowed. All types of smoking, as long as you stuck to the soft drugs. I dropped off my backpack (which was actually my sister’s backpack, which I had borrowed – somewhat peramently…) and we went out to see the Amsterdam sights.

We planned to hit Vondelpark, some churches, and the Anne Frank museum. On the way, I noticed that _everybody_ spoke English. It was almost like being in the US. The second thing I noticed was that the Dutch language was unusual. Unlike French or Italian or Spanish, which followed similar patterns to English, the Dutch language liked to string out long bubbly sounding vowels and syllables. And the spelling invariably contained 3 o’s and a few a’s thrown in. If the Humpalumps were to speak a different language, Dutch would be the language they spoke. The third thing I noticed was you have to be very quick on your toes. Everything mobile in Amsterdam is bound and determined to run you over. You’d think they have a Society Of Tourists Squished (SOTS) where members compete to run over tourists. First, there are cars. No big cars, but there are medium cars, and small cars, and really really tiny cars. Then there are the above ground metro trams. They are big and they don’t stop for anything and they run through the middle of the street. Finally there are the bikes. They are everywhere. If I had a dollar (or a euro) for every bike I saw, I’d be a very rich man. And they have a bike path that usually takes up anywhere from half to all of the sidewalk. All this combined makes you very paranoid of where you stand and walk. Sheesh! I’ll bet that if the boats could run you over, they’d try! Oh, yeah, and fourth there were nasty canals all over the place. More than Florida? I’m not sure, probably not. But there were a lot of them, and they were a lot bigger than most Florida canals. Finally, I noticed a lot of really cool flowers. No tulips (I don’t think it was the season for them), but I had to stop and take pictures of a bunch of flowers ever half an hour or so and then run to catch up to Johann and Chris if they hadn’t noticed I had stopped.

Well anyhow, on our way to Vondelpark, we saw some scary looking churches. Chris commented that they looked like they should be inhabited by vampires or something. I agreed. Johann navigated us to Vondelpark. It was pretty touristy, but nice. It was pretty big, and we wandered around some, sat down, relaxed, etc. While relaxing, we say more of those crazy rollerbladers with their cups. At first, none of them compared to the guys I had seen in Paris. Then one of them started skating around the cups on his toe wheels only! That was impressive, extremely impressive. We saw a performance stage with times listed by it. In 30 minutes, the school of Amsterdam was going to play, so we figured we’d come back. We parked near some jugglers and I read while Chris slept while Johann people watched. Going back to the stage, we discovered our mistake. Instead of a college band or orchestra, it was a little kids performance. Oops. Feeling very out of place amoung the hordes of parents and little kids, we left for less aspicuous grounds. We hit another park, and Johann stopped to get a waffle. Chris and I were hungry as well, so we figured sure, why not get a waffle. I was completely taken off guard by the waffle. It was beyond amazing. It was soft and warm and gooey inside and broke apart so easily and oh my goodness, it was heavenly. I was sad to see the last of it vanish, but I was determined to eat some more later. The Van Gogh museum was closed, so we just looked at the outside. Johann lost our map, so we wandered about in the general direction of the Anne Frnak museum until we found it. Johann had already been, so he told Chris and me to go see it while he went and did some other stuff (namely, find a restroom). So we toured the place, it was pretty good. It was definitely a sobering experience, and tragic too, to think she died only a month before the war was over. We met Johann outside by the canal and debated what to do. We were hungry again, so we decided to go back to a mass of rester aunts. Again, without a map, it took us longer than expected to find them. We decided to eat at another shourma place. This time I didn’t order the falafal, and was much pleased. The shourma was excellent, probably the best kebab I’d had in Europe so far. It came with a salad bar so you could decide what you wanted on your shourma. Afterwards, we all went to another waffle place I went all out – a waffle, chocolate ice cream, and a thick cherry sauce. While the waffle wasn’t as good as the previous place, the ice cream and cherries made up for it. It was absolutely delicious. Once completely satiated, we headed back to the hostel. Johann was tired, so Chris and I went on a boat tour of Amsterdam. It consisted mostly of “and to your right is an old watchtower which was renovated to be a clock tower called crazy Ivan because it never tells the right time. Overall, the hour long tour was worth 7 euros. Because Johann was still sleeping, Chris and I watched the World Cup in the lounge, me trying not to breath very deeply since everything smelled pretty bad. Chris explained some of the soccer (or football as they call it) rules to me. We got bored with that after an hour, so we headed to get some water from the store and then sit outside infront of the palace. Once back at the hostel, I went to bed while Chris and Johann went out to sample the “coffee shops.”

The canals of Amsterdam are not clean, do not fall in

The flowers in Amsterdam were very well taken care of

Wow, can anybody say YUM?

Sunday 06-25-2006: Relaxing in Amsterdam & Paris

Sunday dawned gray and misty with a light rain. I took a while for everybody to get up and ready, so I waited in the (now empty) lounge, reading my book. I had seen a Gary’s Muffin Shop mentioned in Johann’s guidebook, so around 11 AM when everybody was ready, I dragged Chris and Johann down to the shope. On our way, Johann stopped for a sausage pastry thingie, and Chris and I saw a croissant stuffed with vanilla pudding and strawberries. We skidded to a halt and salivated at the crossaints a while before I bought two, one for me and one for Chris (since Chris still didn’t have his bank card). It was really quite good. When we arrived at where Gary’s Muffin’s place was supposed to be, it had turned into New York Bagels. We all said no thanks to that and instead went looking around in the neighborhood. We passed by a place that sold cogs, and I considered getting a pair of cogs for my sister. I even went to an Internet cafe and looked up her shoe size. However, in the end, I decided not to, especially since cogs are pretty heavy. Instead, we ate at another shourma place. It wasn’t nearly as good as what we had the previous day, but it was filling. Afterwards, we went back to the first waffle place we had been to and I ordered a waffle, soft-ice, and cherries. It topped almost everything I’d had in Europe so far. Definitely a top contender with gelati (Italian ice cream) and crepes (French pancakes). To see if we could get any better waffles, we had looked up some other waffle places on the Internet. On our way to one, we saw a playground and stopped for Chris to go use the great outdoors bathroom while Johann climbed the big octagonal rope cube thing and I swung on some really small swings. We also went by a fountain in a park that somebody had poured a few bottles of Dawn dish detergent in it. It was pretty cool. We finally got to the waffle rester ant, but it was a fancy place and we decided to skip it. As an alternative, Chris and Johann ate some fries with mayonnaise (very big over there – they have entire shops dedicated to their fries…I think I mentioned that before, I must be tired or senile, or maybe even both). It started to rain harder and I needed to go to the bathroom pretty badly, so we headed back towards the hostel, trying to stay close to the sides of alleys since that offered some protection against the rain. Back at the hostel, a little damp, I realized it was time for me to head to the train station. In my haste, I packed up Johann’s flashlight and Chris’ compass (since Johann had lost mine). Oh well, Johann still had his compass that somehow got it’s polarity reversed (he had a mighty frustrating time trying to navigate with it before he realized what was wrong ;-). At the train station, I got a whole wheat jambon fromage, which was tasty. The ride home was good, I was able to get a lot written on my diary before my computer died. Then I dozed off. Riding seems to have that effect on me, the white noise, the hum of engines, the vibrations, it all seems to call “Becker, now is the time to catch up on your sleep!” I arrived back in Paris around 9 PM and caught the metro. That night I relaxed, eating some yogurt and fruit for a late night snack.

The BEST waffles ever, if you go to Amsterdam, you HAVE to try it!

The soaped fountain! Pretty funny, if you ask me

Chris waiting for his waffle

Monday 06-26-2006: The news

Ahh….it was nice to sleep in as Johann wasn’t there to wake up at the crack of dawn. Actually, although it felt really nice since it was a good night’s sleep and those had been far and few between, I felt a little lazy. But that didn’t stop me from doing it! I headed out to the LIP6 lab, stopping by Monoprix to grab a bottle of water. I wanted to stop by Miss Mannon for a crossiant, but I couldn’t find them (which surprised me because it was supposed to be right there – later Johann told me they were closed on Mondays). So I headed to the LIP6 lab on an empty stomach. I got a new weekly metro ticket (since they are good from Monday to Sunday) without too much of a hitch. I do wish I knew how to speak French, though. Every time I have to speak it, the minuscule amount I do know seems to drain out the bottom of my brain in a big swiggle swish. At the lab, I got to work and accomplished quite a bit. I stopped for an early lunch since I was ravenous. A jambon fromage panini did hit the spot. I was going to go to Luxembourg garden that evening, but Johann was supposed to be coming in around 9 PM or earlier if he could exchange his ticket. I was to let him in, so I went home after a long day at the lab. There was nothing to eat in the apartment and I didn’t feel much like going out to eat, so I decided to look up a French recipe and cook something. Earlier, I had wanted to make some quiche, but we only had a little microwave oven and Johann didn’t think it could be done. I looked on allrecipes.com but didn’t find much. Then I looked for recipes for microwavable quiches, and again failed. Finally, I decided to go fool around with the microwave and see what it could do. Upon inspection, it turned out that the microwave oven did have heating elements and after maybe 15 minutes of pushing buttons and scrolling through the LED display, I finally found a setting that enabled you to set a baking temperature. Wahoo! It was in Centigrade, but a little Google conversion and I could get an approximate setting. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my Mom’s quiche recipe (which is quite good). Actually…hmm…I might have it in an email somewhere. Yes, I did! So I wrote down all the ingredients on my PDA and went shopping. Because everybody walks, a lot of French people shop not with a cart, but with a little duffel bag thing on wheels. I took one of those and got a bunch of watter bottles and the stuff to make a quiche. I had just gotten in the door to the apartment when the phone range. It was Johann with “the news.” At first, I thought he was just calling to tell me about his schedule. I was partially right. He was indeed on his way to Paris. However, while still in Amsterdam, Chris had received an email alerting him that his mother was in the hospital. Later that day, he found out she had passed away. Apparently, she had had lung cancer for a while and had declined to be put on a respirator. This was all news to me, and not good news either. Johann said Chris was trying to get a flight out of Amsterdam. Failing that, he would come back to Paris in the morning as planned and then try to fly out of Paris to the States. When I heard this, I immediately started to pray for Chris and his family and hoped he could get a flight to the US soon. Somewhat perturbed, I went about making the quiche, locating all the utensils and things i made. When grating the cheese (which was first class cheese, let me tell you), I accidentally got overzealous and grated my palm. Ouch! I guess the quiche will be ham/zucchini/mushroom/onion/human quiche! The quiche turned out very good (a little soggy) and in fact, Johann commented that it was the best thing I had cooked that he had tasted – which wasn’t saying a whole lot, but still felt good. I suggested we go get some sorbet and sit by the Siene, so off we went. The sorbet was soooo good. So rich and chocolaty, hmm…. We sat by the Siene for a while, just talking and looking at the water and Notre Dame. It was very relaxing.

Ingredients for the quiche, including some really good cheese!

Johann and I getting ready to eat the quiche, excellent meal!

Mulberries on the street outside our apartment…they were

Tuesday 06-27-2006: Chris’ last night

Johann and I got up a little bit later than usual and headed into the lab. Chris had emailed and told us that he’d meet us in the lab. He got to the lab around noonish and said that he hadn’t been able to get any flights out of Amsterdam. He had also spent the night at the airport since he couldn’t book a hostel and the train station was too cold. We looked up the Iceland air schedule and found that the flights left at 2:15 every day. So Chris turned around and headed to the airport to see if he could fly standby. He couldn’t fly out on that flight, but he did get confirmation that he could fly out the next day. So we all went back to the apartment and Chris packed his other luggage (before had only a backpack from Amsterdam). He also had the idea that he could take one of my luggage bags too. I couldn’t haul them around Europe for our 10 day excursion to 3 countries, so I would have to find a place to store them in Paris. We had asked a guy at LIP6 and he had agreed, but it would be a lot easier if Chris could just take them back to the States. So I packed to. Later, I suggested we go out and get some French food since it was Chris’ last night. Everybody agreed, so we went looking in the Chatelet area. Every place was packed and all the TVs in the restaurants were turned to the World Cup because France was playing Spain. We finally wound up at an Asian place that served couscous. We had chicken, lamb, and sausage couscous with meatballs and a big bowl of squash, tubers, and yams. That’s not my favorite type of food, but for what it was, it was good. It was interesting to hear the city sounds as the World Cup was being played. It was always cool to hear the reactions of the whole city when a goal was made or lost. After the meal, Chris and I went to get sorbet. Johann wasn’t feeling to good (he had irritated his throat somehow and was coughing a lot) so he headed back to the apartment. Chris and I got sorbet and headed for the Siene, where we had a good time. Chris noticed some fish, some big fish, near the edge of the Siene and so we watched them for a while. There were a few dozen and most of them were about a foot long. We wondered how they survived in the dirty water, but apparently they did. About this time, France won the game so as we were walking back to the apartment, the entire city erupted in cheers and horn honking. It went on for a while and Chris seemed to really enjoy the French celebration (at one point I accused him of having no national American pride 😉 Back at the appartment, we collapsed into bed.

Pretty good couscous with lamb and chicken and sausage

Wow, Disney in Paris – this is right by our metro station stop!

Wednesday 06-28-2006: Chris’ plane adventures

Wednesday morning dawned bright and clear, and I slept in until 9 AM (which considering my schedule with robotics, is positively early). When I got up, I began packing the last of my things. Unfortunately, the laundry I had done the previous night was still not quite dry. This lead to some interesting attempts to finish drying my jeans and heavier shirts. The bathroom was equipped with a metal rack that warmed up so you could dry your bath towels on it. I hung some of the wetter of my clothes on that. I also got the bright idea of hanging some of my T-shirts over the lamp. After all, it was pretty warm and gave off quite a bit of heat. I was a little anxious that it might catch on fire or something, so I kept a close eye on it. Several of my shirts worked pretty well with this method. However, one of my heavier shirts didn’t fare quite so well. In fact, several minutes after I put it over the lamp, it began to smoke. That’s when my brain kicked into high gear. I cut the power and then snatched the shirt off of the lamp. Too late, the damage was done. A big spot of the shirt was scorched and tore easily under the slightest bit of pressure. It was too bad because it was one of the shirts I liked. On the plus side, it was only 10 bucks, so it wasn’t anything too special. When Chris walked in the room, he commented that it smelled like roasted marshmallows. I shot back that these marshmallows wouldn’t taste so good. Chris wanted to go get some things to take back to the States, so I left with him to go find some stuff. We tried an absynthe shop (absynthe is a very alcoholic beverage with some hallucinogenic herbs in it), but they were closed. So instead, Chris found a chocolate store and then a wine store. When we got back to the apartment, it was time to leave. I owed Chris some money, so I bought two tickets to Charles de Gualle airport. Once at the airport, Chris had 4 bags: one carry-on, one backpack/purse, one checked-luggage, and then my suitcase to be checked. However, the Iceland air people balked at him taking on his backpack as a purse (as far as we could tell, the language barrier was still a bit of an issue). After about 10 minutes, we managed to stuff everything into just three suitecases. That was amazing in itself. Finally, he went to board his plane while I headed back to the apartment. While I had escorted Chris to the airport, Johann had been in LIP6, working. I started to clean up the apartment and did a load of laundry, since we had to leave the apartment tomorrow at noon. I made the second quiche as well (the recipe I used makes two quiches. When Johann came back to the apartment, we went to reserve hostels for both of us when we came back to Paris and before we left for the States. On our way back, Johann bought some body wash stuff and I bought some flip flops for showering in the hostels (I don’t really want athlete’s foot). Because by this time, I was addicted to the sorbet in Paris I went out and upon Johann’s suggestion,, tried the strawberry instead of chocolate flavor. It was pretty good, but not nearly as good as the chocolate. Back at the apartment, we continued to clean up and get ready for our free style European trip starting the following day.

My poor shirt is toast, quite literally! At least I didn’t burn anything down

Chris is leaving us…so sad… 🙁

France loves to strike, here the equivalent of Wal-mart (Monoprix) is striking

Thursday 06-29-2006: Getting to Sweden

Thursday morning, I woke up to Johann rumbling around trying to get all his stuff packed. Since he was going to be in Europe for two months, he had quite a bit of stuff. I rolled over and kept sleeping until my alarm went off, indicating it was 9 AM. I finished packing up my stuff. Luckily, my clothes had finished drying so I could pack them without getting my backpack sopping wet. I had hoped to get everything in my one backpack, but it was proving to be too much. Johann loaned me his cloth backpack and stored some of his dried apples and guidebooks and such. Around 1 PM, we headed into the lab. Our flight was to go out at 9 PM, but we had to get on a bus to get to the airport. So we figured we would leave around 5ish to give us enough time. At the lab, we finished up the work we needed to do and Johann added music to his iPod. He has something like 64 GB of music, or 33 days of continuous music. That’s a whole lot of music! At 5, off we went to the bus stop. When we got there, we were informed that the bus to Stockholm had already left, but we could get on the next bus – only he wasn’t sure if we’d make it in time. We’d made a big mistake this time, we had forgotten about rush hour traffic. We took the next bus, and Johann swore up and down, while I told him everything would be OK. Still, both of us were a bit tense. I joked to him that this trip was turning into a trip of close calls with airplanes. As we got closer and the time ticked away, we alternated between, I think we are going to make it and nope, I don’t think so. We arrived at the station about 40 minutes before the plane left, so we rushed to check in. In our rush, Johann forgot his sunglasses. We made it in time and wound up waiting in a big tent. Yep, that’s right, the airport was so small it didn’t have gates, it had tents at each gate. We boarded, and for the first time on this trip, I got a window seat. It was pretty cool to look down at the ground as we took off and flew to Sweden. We were both starved, so we had some quiche I had packed up and some dried fruit. I had dried granny smith apples while Johann had chile covered dried mangos. When we landed, we boarded a bus to Stockholm, about an hour and a half away. On the bus, I was amazed at how light it was. Here it was after midnight and it looked like dusk. It was crazy. Once in Stockholm, we called Jox to pick us up. Jox was a Swedish guy that came over to UCF for his Master’s degree. We’d had some classes with him, so he’d been nice enough to pick us up, put us up for a couple nights, and play the Stockholm tour guide. He told us he’d meet us at the central train station, so that’s where we headed. The other thing that struck me about Sweden was the fact that there were so many American companies: Burger King, McDonaldes, Best Western, etc. Around 1:30 AM, Jox arrived in a very nice, old Mustang. We got a drive through the city on the way to his apartment and despite it being so late, it was light enough to see most everything. We stopped by McDonalds to grab the last of what they had and wnet home to eat it. Jox’s girlfriend and baby were visiting his girlfriend’s parent’s, so Jox pulled out a cot for each of us and we crashed for the night – even though the sun was beginning to rise!

What happened to the Effiel tower?

Our airport gate was a tent!

France from the air…bye bye Paris!

Friday 06-30-2006: Touring Stockholm

Jox (well his real name is Jocakim) warned us that the chimney cleaner guys were supposed to arrive anwyere between 7:30 AM and 4:30 PM today. They arrived early in the morning, maybe around 8 AM. The way Jox made it sound, we thought it was this big affair, but nope, they came in, spent maybe 2 minutes messing around with it, and then left. I heard Johann mutter “What on earth?” after they left, but I just went back to sleep. Around 9:30 AM, Johann woke me up as he got dressed. I got up and tried to get on the Internet, but everytime I tried that, the Internet died. Oh well… Jox got up soon after and introduced us to the typical Swedish breakfast. It included: OJ (of course), toast, cheese, slices of ham, bran cereal, and this weird type of milk. It was really thick, and they called it sour milk. It came in flavors (raspberry, etc) and was really more of a yogurt than a milk. You would pour it in a bowl and then put some bran flakes ontop. I was a bit dubious at first, but it turned out to be quite good. And it was much healthier than a stack of pancakes and maple syrup, to boot. Afterwards, we asked Jox about the currency conversion since Sweden didn’t use the euro. He said that one dollar is about 7 Swedish crowns. Armed with knowledge, we could go to the ATM and get some local money. Jox book us on a tour of the city, starting by taking us to the bus and then the metro to the city. One of the best things about Sweden was that everybody spoke English. The younger ones spoke it near perfectly, while some of the older ones had some difficult. This made ordering tickets and stuff so much easier. Once in the city, Jox gave us the grand tour. He told us that Stockholm was built on a number of different islands, all connected via bridges. He took us first to the old city, where the original city was founded. Here we saw the palace, some administrative buildings, a bunch of tourist shops, and a million 7-11s everywhere. You can’t go a few blocks without seeing a 7-11, it was sort of freaky, actually. We window shopped down the touristy lanes and then had lunch at a nice Swedish restaurant. However, the lunch special was Solovalki! I ordered it, and to my surprise, it didn’t come in a gyro format, instead it was on a shisk-kebab. On the side were some spiced potatoes. It was a little too spicy for my tastes, but still pretty good. Afterwards, we headed to the south side of the city for some coffee and desert. On the way, we saw a bunch of different shops that we stopped in. We finally got to a good coffee place, so Johann and Jox got coffee while I got some apple pie with vanilla sauce – a lot of it. It was really good, very cinaminny and vanillaly. Afterwards, we took the metro to another part of town, where he showed us some of the famous nightclubs and theaters. On the way back to Jox’s apartment, we hit up the grocery store – COOP. It was very similar to Publix and I picked up some Swedish candy. The Swedes were big on the licorish which makes me shudder just to think about. Jox wanted to show us a typical thing to eat in Sockholm, so we swung by a pizza place and got pizza kebab. We took it back to the apartment and watched a World Cup game (Italy vs. somebody else). Italy won. The pizza kebab was pretty good, and for desert, we had some of the Swedish candy. It was like gummy bears. Then we started to watch Money Train, a silly Hollywood action flick. Around midnight, Jox went to bed and I followed suite after I got a shower.

Flower stand in Sweden, it smelled soooo good!

Becker and Jox in COOP, the grocery store in Sweden

Apple pie with lots of cinnomin and a big pool of vanilla sauce

Saturday 07-01-2006: Going north

Johann got up early and fiddled with my Internet until it worked. I got up a few hours later, and Jox got up about an hour later. We discussed our plans for going up to visit Linus (another Swedish guy who goes to UCF). After checking train schedules, we decided to take the 2 PM train. We ate breakfast and then packed up. Jox then dropped us off at the train station/airport. The train was actually pretty nice. It had electric plugs so I could charge stuff and work on my laptop without draining the battery. Unfortunately, we missed our train exchange and had to call Linus. Luckily, he was in the neighborhood of where we were going, so he just picked us up there. He had a really nice, but cramped Porche. He welcomed us to the “Heart of Sweden.” The Swedish countryside was absolutely beautiful. Forests, small mountains, lakes, all drapped in the long Swedish sun. Apparently, in this area, all the houses are painted red, a dark rustic red because the paint is produced locally and is so cheap. Linus took us to his parents house, where we were setup in a trailer out back. His mother was very nice. She said that she only felt comfortable speaking English after a glass of wine, so Linus did a lot translating. When we got to the house, she had supper nearly ready. Linus’ girlfriend Sana was also there for supper. We had pork steaks, potatoes, corn on the cob, and ice cream & strawberries for desert. It was quite scrumpcous. Linus’ mom and girlfriend went to go see the circus that night, so us guys talked and Linus and Johann had Swedish snopps. We also watched the football game Brazil vs. France. Johann called up Jox and bet $20 on France, who was supposed to lose. That made the game a lot more fun, especially after France scored a point. In fact, France won 1-0 and Johann had a lot of fun text-messaging Jox, rubbing the victory in his face. Linus also took us down to the docks where his family had a large boat on the 4th largest lake in Sweden (the Sil-something or other, usually referred to as just the Sil). We also walked around and saw some of the fancier houses and hotels in the area – all very rustic. In fact, Linus mentioned that during the winter, they would usually keep track of how many people went by a day. Sometimes it was only 1 or 2 cars. Linus’ mom and Sana returned that night excited from the circus. In fact, Linus’ mom had bought some big lollipops for all of us with Winnie the Pooh characters on them. I got Piglet. It was definitely different. We all sat around talking on the couches for a while before retiring to bed.

Becker says too much sunshine in Stockholm

This is crazy, I don’t think its real…it looks too postcardish

It’s our guest house! Quite nice, actually

Sunday 07-02-2006: Boating on the Sil

Sunday dawned bright and sunny, a completely atypical Swedish day. In fact, Linus mentioned that there were only about 20 days during the summer like the days we were experiencing, and we had experienced 6 of them. Breakfast was again the typical Swedish breakfast, except cucumbers were put ontop of the buttered, cheesed, hammed, cracker bread. During breakfast, we met Linus’ brother Petter, who was going to go with us boating. After breakfast, we packed up and headed for the dock. We loaded our stuff into the boat and Linus cranked it up and put put’ed us out into the lake. The Sil was supposed to have a lot of fish in it, mostly pike, so Linus attached two fishing poles to the boat and let the lures trail 150 feet behind the boat. It was a sunny day, the temperature was nice, and the breeze was quite cool. The water, however, was very cold. We relaxed on the deck of the boat as we crept along. Our destination was a small town nearby. There was a small beach there and an island with a pier going out to it. A lot of people were swiming, sunbathing (the guys got enthused to see some topless sunbathers), or having fun on the beach or pier. We docked up and Petter stayed with the boat while the rest of us went into the town and got some pizza. I got ham and cheese pizza, it was OK. It hit the spot pretty well. We ate in the boat (there was a fold out table), and watched the free entertainment. There was a guy trying to wakeboard – he tried twice and then gave up. We also saw some people diving off of the dock into 3 foot water, which is always very smart. Petter, Linus, and Johann also jumped in and went swimming for a few minutes, but I chickened out with the excuse of being a Florida boy. On our way back, I got to steer the boat, which was a bore since we were going so slowly. At one point, one of the fishing rods we were trolling began to shake and Linus got all excited shouting, “We’ve got a fish! See, all you needed was fish faith!” Unfortunately, when he reeled it in, it was only a very small trout, which we unhooked and then let go. I slept a little bit, hoping I wasn’t getting a really bad sunburn. Eventually we made it back to the dock and we disembarked. Back at the house, we cleaned up and Linus, Johann, and I headed over to Linus’ girlfriend Sana’s parent’s house, about an hour away. We got to see more of the Swedish countryside, which was stunning. Sana parent’s place was located right on a lake with a beautiful lawn and a traditional Swedish house. We got a tour of the house, which reminded me quite a bit of my grandparent’s house up in the North Carolina mountains – older and quaint, nestled in the country away from any big city. Linus explained that Sana was a dancer and was going to lead a dancing troupe for an upcoming “Peace and Love” celebration. Some of her dancer friends were to come over that night and stay for a few days to train and prepare for the celebration. Supper consisted of a ground beef pasta dish with salad. And of course, the flat cracker bread with cheese cut from this 5 pound chunk of cheese. It was very good. Two of Sana’s dancing friends showed up all us young people talked. Not for the first time, I was very thankful that Swedes spoke English. It was actually quite interesting to watch the discussion. The Swedes would talk a mixture of English and Swedish. To us Americans, they talked English. Among themselves, they talked Swedish about half the time. I’m not sure what the reasoning was for English versus Swedish (maybe the half they talked in Swedish was bad mouthing us Americans, I don’t know).. Anyhow, we left around 11 PM to go back to Linus’ house. Because I had showered earlier, I just went to bed in our little trailer.

L

ook how beautiful these Swedish flowers are!

Becker actually looks happy steering the boat!

Our gracious hosts taking us on the boat, with Becker wrapped up in a towel to keep warm

Monday 07-03-2006: On to Uppsala

Linus’ Dad arrived early the next morning from his cabin retreat somewhere else in Sweden (it seemed that most Swedes had a vacation house or cabin). Johann had been craving Swedish meatballs, but apparently you can’t just buy them in Sweden. They are homemade, not something you can just buy at any store. Linus’ father was really nice and offered to make us some Swedish meatballs. So after another wonderful, healthy breakfast, we headed into town to go shopping for ingredients and of course do the tourist thing. The part of Sweden we were staying in was known for little wood carved horses, so Johann bought some, along with some Swedish socks. Linus and Petter went to the grocery store and got the necessary ingredients for meatballs. Back at the house, we all cracked open our laptops (all Dell!) and took care of business (or wasted time on the Internet, as the case might have been) while Linus’ dad cooked meatballs. We were all quite hungry by the time Linus’ dad announced that lunch was ready. I must say that the meatballs were amazing. I must have had 8-10 of them. There was a honey mustard like sauce and a berry (lingon or something like that) sauce. Desert was icecream in a cone, which topped off the excellent meal. Both were excellent, but the berry one was quite good, better than I was expecting. After lunch, we packed because all four of us were going to Uppsala, a college town. Peter was attending the school, but not during the summer. The reason we were going there was actually pretty strange. Johann, a month earlier, had met this American girl Jennifer in Barcelona. She was going to be taking summer classes in Uppsala, so they agreed to meet there. Johann lost the girls email address, but knew the hotel she was going to be staying at. Besides, being a college town, it offered lots of opportunity to party and see the town where Peter went to school. Furthermore, it was close to the airport we ere going to fly out of to go to Prague in a few days. So off we went. It was a 3 hour drive, in which I mostly snoozed or wrote in my diary. Although I don’t remember it, Johann swears I drifted off to sleep while typing on my laptop. He said I was just typing a way, then paused, and finally went to sleep with my hands still on the keyboard. He tried to ease out his camera to take a picture of me, but apparently I woke up before he could do so. I don’t remember any of it, but I do remember getting sleepy at the computer. About halfway there, we stopped at a COOP to pick up something to drink. I got a little ice cream on a stick (Magmum), which was very good. When we got to Uppsala, we went first to Petter’s dorm. The dorms in Sweden are much nicer than most of the UCF dorms. The dorm was roomy, had a huge window, and its own bathroom. Johann and I were going to stay there while Linus and Petter were going to stay with a friend named Borg who had an apartment in the town. Johann and I droped off our bags and then we proceeded to Borg’s apartment. After getting settled in, the four of us and Borg went out for dinner. We went to a pizzeria/kebab/pasta place, where Johann and I split a meat pasta dish and a kebab. Both were very tasty. During supper, Johann was bemoaning the fact that he hadn’t seen any Swedish moose yet, since Jox had told him that there were a lot up north. That sparked an interesting reaction and an equally interesting discussion. Apparently the word moose in Swedish can mean three things depending on the spelling and fine pronunciation: a moose, potatoes, or a woman’s bottom (it’s a little more specific, but let’s leave it at that). So Johann saying he wanted to see “Swedish moose” could be construed in quite a different manner than he had intended. After supper, we located the hotel the Jennifer girl was supposed to be staying at. Johann verified that she was indeed checked-in, left her a written message, and got her room’s phone number. He called her every 30 minutes until 1 AM. He thought she was out and wanted to catch her when she came back in. Unfortunately, around 1 AM, somebody pulled the phone cord, so she was probably trying to sleep instead. Thus ended that particular Jennifer girl (yes, another Jennifer girl is yet to show up). And thus, our night was ended.

Becker acting all silly. That hat looking thing is really a lamp, believe it or not

The meatballs and potatoes were really good. Top notch!

Linus’ parent’s house in Sweden, another postcard picture

Johann trying to track down Jennifer – aka, how to stalk a girl

Tuesday 07-04-2006: Party night in Uppsala

We got up around 9 AM and tidied up the room and surfed the Internet until Petter and Linus arrived. They had eaten, but we hadn’t so we went out to eat. Johann wanted to try the Swedish version of fast food, so we stopped at Max Burgers, the Burger King of Sweden. I ordered a big burger and biggie sized it. But instead of making the burger bigger, they added another, smaller burger to your plate. It was sorta weird. The burgers tasted like burgers to me. Johann said they tasted different and he didn’t like them that much. Afterwards, we toured the town. First, we went to a few flower gardens because the guys had figured out that I was “flower boy” after I took a bunch of pictures of flowers. The flower gardens were very nice, with lots of new flowers I hadn’t seen, which is always good. There were also some pools with very pretty water flowers. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get very good pictures of these because I couldn’t get very close to them without swimming out to them. I thought it very nice of them to give me a tour of the gardens. The town was quite charming, with a nice, modest church, a smaller palace, and a small river/creek running through the town. There were a lot of little shops, mostly clothing. Johann, Linus, and Petter had great fun going in and browsing. I didn’t have so much fun, so I pulled out my PDA book and began to read while they shopped. I took some pictures, such as the really old sewing machine in the store with a sign that said “buy me” and the pink jeans that Linus told Johann to buy. After a while, the guys found a new game: “Dress Becker up like Euro-trash” Oops! Time to run and hide. Bother, too late, I am inescapably doomed. So they found me some rock star like jeans and a really bad white T-shirt and a sweater and proceeded to dress me like Eurotrash. On the way out, I saw some socks that had the days of the week on them. Since you already know the state of some of my other socks and since they were cheap, I bought them.

Once tired of shopping for clothes, we bought some drinks and headed back. The pinnacle of the day was what amounted to a frat party. Except they called them “nations” over there, and they were student only. Johann had to go to the Student Travel Association since he had lost his UCF student card when he lost is wallet in Barcelona. The rest of us talked our way onto the list by showing our student cards. However, the party didn’t start until later, so we spent some time drinking and having fun. I tried some of the drinks, and the mango cider was pretty good, but I stuck to my non-alcoholic strawberry cider and fanta (orange soda). Some of Petter’s friends showed up and around 8 PM I dressed in my Eurotrash outfit and we went to the party. It was a pretty uncomfortable experience for me. It wasn’t really all that unpleasant, just somewhat pointless. It’s interesting how people want you to try new things, but then can’t really believe that you don’t like the new things. I guess such an attitude like that might be exacerbated by being drunk, I don’t know. I had some pretty cool non-alcoholic drinks with peach and mint and Red Bull. Wow, that Red Bull stuff is strong…it made me slightly nauseous but kept me wide-eyed. I wasn’t even feeling sleepy when I went to bed around 3 AM that night. But other than the the drinks the sole goal seemed to be meeting (Swedish) women. We did meet quite a few, but I felt uncomfortable talking to most of them. I mean, what are you supposed to say? After a while, you start asking the same questions to each person you meet. To me, it seems pretty superficial. It could be I’m just not really good with the small talk. But it was pretty strange when we met some other Americans, even some Floridians. However, the real shocker occurred when we met a girl named Jennifer. She was a UCF graduate and now taught at Valencia Community College in Orlando. That was coincidence enough until Johann came back to the table. He started to sit down and halfway down he sprang back up with a choked cry. Apparently, Jennifer was Johann’s best friend’s ex-girlfriend, who he hadn’t seen in five years or so. And he meets her in the middle of Sweden? Terribly awkward, especially since Johann’s best friend is now married and has two kids. One girl wanted to dance, but I told her “I don’t dance” to which she replied “All you need to do is shake your but!” So I got dragged in, only for a few minutes until she realized how bad I was and then we just talked. Thankfully, the place closed at 2 AM, so we were all kicked out. Everybody was hungry, but nothing was open except for a hot dog stand. So we all had hotdogs. Petter was really drunk, and Johann and Linus were pretty drunk too. It was funny (and slightly embarrassing) to watch them. I got some pretty funny video, although it needs some (OK, a lot) of beeeeps inserted. Also, thankfully there was no after-party until 6 AM in the morning, so we could all go home and sleep. Still, it was weird to see dawn at 3 AM in the morning as you are going to bed.

Neat red flower with 4 black spots

Do you want me? Saw this in one of the clothing stores

Becker dressed as Eurotrash

Uppsala river/stream/creek/canal/whatever, it’s pretty

Wednesday 07-05-2006: Prague here we come

Wednesday dawned early (as usual) but we didn’t notice because we were all asleep. We finally got up around 10 AM and surfed the Internet. By this time, we had a running joke going about Kate Jox. Johann had introduced the Swedish guys to Facebook, an online, college friend sight where you kept track of all your college buddies. Linus had searched for Jox to add him as a friend and found a Kate Jox in Tennessee. Just for kicks and because she was quite pretty, he added her as his friend even though he didn’t know her. Johann made fun of him because he was inviting people he didn’t know to be his friend, telling him she’d send back a scathing message. The funny thing was, she accepted! Now Johann changed his tune and bemoaned the fact he hadn’t added her as his friend first! So now the running joke was to invite random cute girls to be your friend. Thus, the race was on to see who could have the most friends, cute girls preferable. Because it had been about a week since we had last done laundry, we attempted to do laundry with the completely alien European machines. I didn’t know where to put the soap, but quickly discovered where not to put it. So my clothes were rinsed, but not really washed. Linus and Petter arrived later in the morning, with Petter hung over, but refusing any Asprin or anything. This time they hadn’t had any breakfast, so we went to a Kebab/Pizza place and I got a veggie pizza. It was very good and very big – so big it hung off the edges of my plate. I couldn’t finish it, so Johann ate the rest later. We hung out for a while, watching people bike by. We actually saw some of the people from the party the previous night. Back at Petter’s dorm, we packed up. Unfortunately, my clothes, in addition to being not really washed, were still very wet. So I wadded them up into bags and headed for the bus station to take us to the airport. We just barely made the bus, it was just about to pull out when we ran up to it. The trip of close calls, so much fun – it gets the blood pumping. At the airport, we checked in and Johann exchanged his last Swedish Kroners for whatever currency Prague uses (the currency exchange rate in Prague is 22 whatever they have to 1 US dollar). So basically we planned to do lots of mental math to figure out the true prices. The flight was good, and we arrived in Prague to pick up our baggage and discover we had left the map we had printed out. Oops! Eventually we went to information and they directed us to the bus ticketing agent. We rode the shuttle into town and disembarked. Since we didn’t have the map (and we didn’t think to use the map in our Europe Guidebook), we wandered around while Johann navigated us by instinct to the hostel. I was ready to drop by the time we got there. Checking in was fine, the hostel seemed nice with a common room and two computers with free Internet. Our rooms weren’t too bad, although I didn’t know which bed to take. I finally chose one that seemed like it was recently made up, figuring the hostel cleaning crew had washed the sheets when the other guy left. The Portugal vs. France game was on that night, so we went out to find some traditional Czeck food. We found the traditional Czeck food, but not the game. I ordered Steak in cream & cranberry sauce with dumplings. Johann ordered the Czeck sampler platter with duck, lamb, sausage, ham, and all the other good Czeck favorites. We halved it and it was so delicious – we couldn’t even finish it there was so much. And the best thing was it was cheap, only $10 or so. We were liking the cheapness of Prague. After dinner, we walked around a bit. We found a square where they were playing the football gme on a huge screen. We watched that last 10 minutes of the game, which Frane won. Then we went back to the hostel. I spread my wet clothes all out everywhere to get them to dry. I had planned to just find a laundrymat nearby and rewash them properly, but unfortunately, there was no self serve laundrymat anywhere close. Well, at least my clothes were at least rinsed if not washed with soap. A few more guys came into the room and told me that I was in there bed. So I moved to the bed that seemed to have the least amount of stuff on it and went to sleep. I had to forgo the shower, mostly because I had nothing dry to change into. So hot and sticky, I went to sleep…until about 3 AM in the morning when some guy jumped in bed with me. Apparently, I stole his bed too and he was so tired/drunk/dark that he didn’t notice somebody was in his bed until I fell onto the bed (and onto me). I woke up and asked him if he wanted his bed back, but he just grabbed the last available one. I fell back to sleep, thankful I didn’t have share a bed with anybody 😉

Uppsala church, looks beautiful with the trees on either side

Swedish veggie pizza was quite good, a lot less greasy than US style

Typical Czech food, supposedly. A lot of meat, at least

The entire square filled with people watching the game

Thursday 07-06-2006: Prague aka Tourist central

Because none of my clothes were dry, I couldn’t really change. As such, I decided against taking a shower, after all, I’d just put on the same dirty clothes. So I applied deodorant and hoped for the best. Breakfast was provided by the hostel: a sandwich and corn flakes. The sandwich was OK, but prepared pretty unusually. Instead of layers, the food was stuffed sequentially. So you might start off eating the lettuce, progress to the pickle, encounter some cheese, and finally end with ham. The corn flakes were OK as well. Apparently the milk was warm, but I didn’t care since I didn’t use milk. Besides, it’s just food. Johann and I decided the first thing to do was to go get train tickets. Chris and I had ordered train tickets much earlier and had them mailed to us. I forgot to pack my ticket, so when Chris had to leave Europe early, he game me his. However, it had no date or time and said that a reservation was necessary. Johann had a Eurorail pass, which was good for 10 days of travel in certain European countries. So he needed to find out if the Eurorail was valid in the Czeck reuplic. We located the train station without too much difficulty, but getting a straight answer from the information desk was difficult. Well not really difficult per se, but confusing. Apparently, you didn’t need a reservation at all, you just got on the train. How they didn’t fill up and overbook was beyond me, unless not that many people travel by train. In any case, I didn’t need to do anything. From the train station, we began our tour of the city. We saw some statues on the way to the metro, which we took to the Prague Castle. From there, we made our way up to the castle, stopping to admire the courtyards that we passed. The entrance to the castle was guarded, of course, and I almost ran into one of the guards. Luckily, I saw him in time and didn’t run him over, because then I could have been in pretty bad shape. Once inside, we saw signs for the best ice cream in Prague. Well, that did it for me! I couldn’t pass up the best ice cream in Prague, now could I? So I went in and ordered chocolate and raspberry. It was good, but nowhere near as good as Gelati’s or Bretillion. I decided to try some other Prague ice cream to see if I could find better. It was at this point that Johann told me that if I knew how much I had spent on ice cream, I’d be astonished. I told him, “yeah, probably.” He is still amazed by how I like sweets. I went into the church in the middle of the castle and was amazed by the pipe organ. I couldn’t take any photos unless I paid a lot of money, but the pipe organ’s were so elaborate and intricately decorated. I idly wondered if that affected the timbre of the music, and if so, how. But that’s a musing for another day. Next, we went to see the Royal gardens. They were nice, but not spectacular. There were some pretty creative designs of flowers and such, but that was about it. We crossed the garden, and climbed down some stais onto a little path through the woods, which ran for a few hundred feet. It was quite nice, especially the shade since it was quite hot outside. Johann was egar to continue our tour, so we headed for what we nicknamed “the hill” It was this large hill off to the south west of Prague. On the top, was supposed to be a tower like the Effiel tower. At the base of the hill was a funicular to take you to the top if you didn’t feel like a hike. Johann asked me which I wanted to do, and of course I said I wanted to walk. He disagreed, saying we still had lots of the city to see. So in search of the funicular we went. We did find it, but much to Johann’s disgruntlement, it was closed for construction. I was happy because I was disappointed we weren’t going to walk up the hill. We started up the hill sticking to the paved roads at first, Johann grumbling all the way that this reminded of some other trip he had to hike a lot on. It was pretty hot, but not hotter than Florida by any means. I had a long sleeve shirt on, for goodness sakes and I wasn’t overly hot. After a while, The roads wound up the hill like a snake, so Johann and I optedto take the shortcuts through the woods between the winding roads. Some of them were quite steep, where you had to get on almost all fours to climb up. It was pretty cool, because it reminded me a lot of hiking in North Carolina. Eventually, we got to an overlook, and Johann bought a beer while I just looked out over the city. It was quite a view, seeing the river and the city. We finally made it to the top and ate lunch. The tower was so unimpressive that I almost forgot to mention it. To save money, we had bought lunch at the supermarket (for like 3 bucks). I had water, two apples, some slices of cheese, and a bacon cheese roll. I also got a tart 😉 It was quite good actually. We made our way back down and back towards the center of the town. On our way back, Johann took a shortcut down the hill, slipped and scrapped his ankle. I made it down unscathed. The base of the hill was a bunch of cherry trees wih nearly ripe cherries. I picked some to eat. They were quite sour, but good. We haded back into the center of town, passing through Charles bridge and some nice parks next to the river. We were amazed at the number of tourists out and about. It seemed everybody spoke English or had a puzzled look on their face and a map in their hands. Late in the afternoon, we came back to the central square, close to our hostel. We saw some Indian performance and Johann ate a sausage. We stumbled upon an open air market and spent some time browsing. I bought a box of strawberries and got some chocolate ice cream to go with it. It was quite delicious, much better than “Prague’s best ice cream.” Afterwards, we headed back to the hostel. Johann’s friend had told him of a really top notch pizzeria in Prague and we wanted to eat supper there. However, we didn’t know the address, so we decided to look it up at the hostel. By the time I had looked up the address, Johann had already made some new friends. That’s when the second really weird coincidence happened.

It began with a girl that looked familiar to me. Of course, lots of people look familiar to me. After all, there are 6+ billion people in the world, a lot of them have to look alike. I thought maybe she looked like somebody from my high school, but that didn’t seem to fit. I thought about striking up a conversation, but decided not to. However, a few minutes later, Johann introduced himself and began talking to her. It turns out that I was right, I did know her. She was from Florida and went to UCF and was a Civil Engineering student. In fact, we took a class together two years back. So what is the probability, that two students from UCF who had a class together should randomly decided to go to Prague for the same few days. And what are the chances that they would pick the same hostel to stay out and that they would just happen to be in the hostel common room at the same time. It was unbelievably weird. Anyhow, by the time Johann had a whole group of recently made friends who wanted to go out to eat. So about 6 of us spent the next hour finding a place to eat. It was the proverbial herding cats. With two vegetarians, one “under no circumstances will we eat at a chain,” one “I want pizza”, one “I want traditional Hungarian food” and everybody wanting cheap, it took a while. We finally settled on a pizza place, where I got a veggie pizza with corn on it. It was good, but not as good as the one from Sweden. After dinner, we went back to the hostel, where my clothes were finally mostly dry. So I took a shower and called it an early night while Johann went out to party and dance.

Prague at it’s best, this is the central square, only a 5 minute walk from our hostel

Royal garden, very restful and creative design

Girl vs. Peacock, who will win the facedown? Actually, why is there a peacock running lose in the courtyard?

Check out this ice cream, Becker gives it a thumbs up

Becker trying to decide what to order for dinner

Becker at the Prague castle, now why do I so young?

Cherry tree orchard overlooking Prague, cherries are tart!

Friday 07-07-2006: Relaxing in Prague

Because we had had such a strenuous tour the day before, we decided to take it easy. I got up early to write Ian, my roommate, to see if he could pick me up from the airport when I got back to the States. I also emailed Chris because I discovered that I had sent my keys back with the suitecase he offered to take back for me. However, if Ian could pick me up, I could definitely get into the apartment. And while I didn’t have a key to my room, Ian is the proud owner of a lock picking set. So maybe he could pick the lock to my room. Failing that, I could sleep in the common room. Finishing up breakfast, we checked out of the hostel and put our bags in the locker area. Armed with the pizzeria address, we went off to find it. We found it, but decided to eat there for dinner. as we passed a McDonalds, Johann suddenly veered off towards it. While he is adamantly anti-chain and McDonalds is the world’s largest food chain, he had a tradition of ordering McDonald’s fries in every country he goes to. Right past McDonalds was a pastry shop, so I stopped to get this cream filled chocolate pastry. Johann warned me it looked nasty, but I wanted to try it anyhow. I quickly discovered it was pretty sickening sweet. After some debating on what to do, we decided to go see the monestary. On the way, we passed the US embassy. It was pretty cool, actually, to see the US flag and all. The monestary was on the hill as well, and we took the back way. Johann loved it. The plaster on the walls was peeling and there were paintings on the walls. And best of al, no tourists. He kept exclaiming that this was the Eastern Europe he had always heard about. It was a nice walk, much cooler than the previous day. Once at the top of the hill, we saw the monestary and the view of the city was even better than any we’d seen before. We ate our cheap, supermarket lunch and Johann had some soup and beer made by the monks. The one last thing Johann wanted to do was go see the Jewish cometary. So we crossed the tourist trap known as the Charles Bridge and headed for the Jewish area. We found the cometary, but you had to pay to get in. Johann said he knew of a peak hole, so we all looked for it. We found it in a small courtyard blocked by a trash can. Johann was the only one brave enough to move the trash can, open the door, enter the courtyard, and go to the peakhole. I personally didn’t really care, so I just took pictures of Joahnn trying to be unobtrusive about looking at the cometary without buying the ticket for a tour. By this time, we were both tired, so we found a grassy area and sat down for a breather before supper. On the way to supper, we saw some dancer/singers singing something that I thought was familiar. As we got closer, I made out the words, but it wasn’t in English. So I concentrated on the music as we past them, and was startled to realize it was a Christian song done by Michael W. Smith “Crucified” or “Like a Rose.” I don’t know the exact name of the song. I guess it could have been a missionary trip to Prague! It made my night, at the very least. The pizza place was excellent. They had a real fire oven and a great outdoor place to eat, tucked away in a courtyard. I ordered a four cheese pizza (including bleu cheese) and Johann ordered a meat pizza. When it came, we shared a couple slices. The pizza was excellent, comparable to what we had had in Italy. We both left feeling very full and satisfied. By this time, we had about 4 bucks left. I got a scope of ice cream for a buck, and then we got some water at the super market, leaving us with less than a buck. Pretty good if you ask me! We hung out at the hostel for an hour, where I talked with an Austrian guy who went to school in LA. Around 9 PM, we grabbed our bags and headed to the train station, where we sat on the grass for a while until it started to rain. Then we went in and waited for the train to arrive. I thought we were getting a sleeper train, but apparently we were relegated to little rooms. Each room sat 8 people, 4 on each side. We found an empty one, and Johann promptly laid down the entire length to discourage people from joining us. Because if we had the room to ourselves, we could stretch out for the night and get some sleep. After a while, I did exactly that.

Becker and Johann at the top of the hill looking over Prague

Excellent, but sorta messy tart with fruit on top

Prague river, we have no idea what that little dam thing is for

Top-notch fire oven pizza, I wish we had gone there more!

Saturday 07-08-2006: The Norwegian girls in Budapest

Around 7 AM, our train compartment was boarded. By a very large family, one old geezer who must have weighed probably over 300 lbs. Apparently, I can be pretty heavy sleeper, because Johann had to shove me a couple times before I woke up so they could come in. He also claims that somewhere during the night, I got cold and started shaking. Anyhow, that was my alarm clock for the morning. Johann didn’t want to stay in the compartment with them, so he went outside to the hallway to look out the window at the countryside going by. I joined him, alternating reading my book and watching the Hungary countryside. There were some huge fields of sunflowers, all blooming, but of course I didn’t get my camera out in time to get a photograph. We weren’t sure what stop to get off on, but we kept checking and finally around 8:30 AM we saw our stop. So off we got. First thing was to figure out how to get where we wanted to go. Second thing was to figure out how to get money along that route. Johann went to go find out where Information was while I watched the bags. Not only did he come back with the location of the Information desk, but he also came back with two Norwegian girls who had just gotten off the train as well. Being Norwegian, they spoke English (apparently all Scandinavian’s speak English fluently). There were also looking how to get out of the train station. Unlike us, they hadn’t prebooked a hostel, so they decided to follow us and see if they could get a place at the same hostel we were staying at. It took us a while, but eventually we got our money (I got 20,000 Forint (the equivalent of $85)), metro tickets, and the bus number we needed to get on. We went the wrong direction for a while, wandered around a bit, but finally found the hostel. It was located in an ideal part of town. It was very close to the center, within walking distance of a lot of stuff. And cheap too, only $12 a night. Budapest was definitely quite cheap. The hostel had room for the two Norwegian girls (whom names I did not even attempt to remember). We gratefully dumped our baggage off at the hostel and then grabbed a map and hit the city. The four of us stopped at a restaurant, where I got a chicken, eggplant, veggies, cheese, and rice plate. It was quite good, although the eggplant became overpowering after a while. Naturally, I had lost my water bottle again (at the hostel, so it wasn’t a big deal), so we stopped at a supermarket and got some drinks.

Apparently, one of the biggest things Budapest was known for was it’s baths, a legacy from the Turks or something to that effect. Since we had all been on a non-air conditioned train the whole night with no chance for a shower, the baths sounded very appealing. So we donned our flip-flops, grabbed our towels, and headed for the baths. We took the metro to the baths, buying the 3 day pass so we could travel freely throughout the city. The baths were about $10 for the day, and then after that you got a few bucks back if you stayed only two hours. Because I had not planned on swimming or going to the beach anywhere in Europe, I hadn’t brought my swimming trunks. The hostel owner told me that I could get some at the baths. Unfortunately, nobody spoke English. After trying to speak to about 6 or 7 people with lots of gesturing, I was able to secure some swimming trunks. Thankfully, I was given real swimming trunks and not a speedo. Because I had wasted time getting the swimming trunks, Johann and the girls had gone ahead. When I entered the actual baths, I was amazed at the extensiveness of them. It wasn’t just one bath, it was like a bunch of swimming pools. All different sizes, shapes, temperatures, etc, etc. There were even saunas to boot. I spent a few minutes just looking around for my Johann & co, but didn’t find them. No problem, I’d run across them eventually. In the meantime, time to get in those 38 degree baths (100 degrees Farhenheit) and start relaxing. As I jumped in, I realized that I had not been swimming or even completely submerged in water for quite some time. Probably 3-4 years at least. It was a good feeling actually. Over the ourse of the next two hours, I meandered from pool to pool. I tried the sauna, but wasn’t as keen on it. One of the pools was oval shaped and had jets on the side so it propelled you around the border. It was really cool, almost like doing laps without any work! I even tried the really really cold pool, 68 degrees F. It was really really cold. I am proud to say that I got completely under….and it only took me about 3 minutes.

However, it was in the baths that one of two things happened: a guy with a weird sense of humor played with me or a gay guy was trying to hit on me. I’m not sure which, but I am leaning towards the later. While I was in one of the pools in a corner, I noticed an older guy get into the pool and head straight for me. Now that in itself is pretty unusual that I detected him from the start, since I am normally quite unaware of my surroundings. So either he was terribly obvious about it, or I noticed because I was still on the lookout for Johann & co. He was probably in his mid 60s or so, definitely graying. He angled to my side and sat down to my left (the pools were somewhat like spas in the since most of them had a ledge that went all the way around the pool to sit on). Perhaps because I had nothing better to do (as usually I don’t just sit and enjoy myself), I noticed he would glance at me from time to time, which I really didn’t think much of at first. After all, I am American or maybe I just reminded him of somebody. However, after a few minutes, his foot brushed my toe. By now, some red flags were starting to go up. But I was curious too, was it an accident or was he just playing with a dumb American or was he trying to initate something? So I acted like thing unusual had happened. Over the course of the next 15 minutes, he kept brushing my foot, definitely eliminating the first possibility. I continued to ignore him. Eventually, I grew tired of the pool (there were probably a dozen or more different pools) and decided to move to a different one. So I did, wondering what he would do while still paying him no attention. Within a few minutes, he got up and came over to my pool and sat next to me again, this time on my right. Within a few more minutes, he was playing footsie with me again, only this time it was more than just brushing my toe. Now I knew for sure he was up to something, which left me with a decision to make. Keep ignoring him or take the bull by the horns and wrestle it to the ground. I had no idea what language he spoke and no idea what to say to him if he spoke English “Hey dude, what are you doing with my foot?” so I stopped ignoring him and looked straight at him. He was staring at me, so I locked gazes with him. For about 30 seconds we just stared each other in the eye until he broke eye contact. I then moved my foot away from his and he seemed to get the idea. However, when I left the pool a few minutes later, he followed me. I went directly to the really really cold pool and got in that. He did not get in, but hovered around a few meters off. I went back to pretending he didn’t exist. I did notice he did follow at a distance to a few more pools, but gave up after a while. So that is my experience with the weird guy. Now I guess I know how a girl feels when she gets unwanted and overly persistent attention from some creepy guy.

Just as I was heading out after my 2 hours were up, I noticed Johann & co. I walked over to them and asked where they had been. That’s when I went “oh boy, Becker, you did it again.” Apparently, the indoor pools are just a part of all the baths. The main part is a beautiful and extensive outdoor system of pools, which of course is where they spent their time. Oh well, sometimes you win some and sometimes you lose some. We got dressed and then went sightseeing. We discovered that Budapest was actually two separate cities a long time ago that were now joined into one. One was called Buda and one was called…you guessed it…Pest. The Pest castle was just across the street, so we went over and saw it. It was the classical castle, relatively small as castles go, with a moat, a church, a wall, and a few courtyards sprinkled with tasteful statues. It was very pictureque, so much so in fact that we saw no less than 4 different couples dressed taking wedding pictures there. One of the Norwegian girls wanted some coffee, so we headed into the center of town. We passed by Hero’s Square, a nice big square with monuments all over the place. We didn’t find coffee, but we did find a Subway, Pizza Hut, Burger King, and McDonalds. Johann flatly refused to eat at any of them. We finally settled on a Chinese place. The foot wasn’t fantastic, but it was cheap (as was everything in Budapest, it seemed). After lunch, the gals went back to the hostel to sleep because they’d been partying it up the past few nights and the train had been so hot that they hadn’t gotten much sleep. Johann and I wanted to take the long route and walk back to the hostel, which we did. We hit some famous buildings, lots of restraunts (some that proudly advertised a special “tourist menu”), and even an Indain market. I was quite used to walking around for hours and hours on end by this time, but not in flip-flops. My feet were getting quite tired actually. So I was very relieved to get back to the hostel, take a real shower, and put on some real shoes. There was going to be a World Cup game to determine 2nd and 3rd place (Germany vs. Portugal). So we decided to go find a square and watch the game. We found a good square with a big screen TV and sat down to watch the square. I had some of my granola bars from the States (very trustworthy rule: never be without food in a strange country) while they had some drinks. After the game, they were hungry, so we went kebab hunting. The people we asked directed us blocks and blocks away when in reality the closest kebab place wa less than a block away. Anyhow, that satisfied their longing for kebab. One of the Norwegian gals and I decided to head back to the hostel to sleep, but Johann and the other girl wanted to stay out and party. So that’s what we did, the smart ones went back and crashed while the social butterflies partied.

Chicken, eggplant, veggies, rice meal – quite good except too much eggplant

The building that housed the baths where the the gay guy hit on me

Pest castle church with a flowerbed out front

Johann and I with the two Norwegian girls on a statue of anonymous

Parliament building was only 3 minute’s walk away

Some very impressive houses in Pest, don’t the trees look like a Cingular advertisement? Raising the bar? 😉

Budapest train station at night, very classy!

Hero’s square in Pest

Everybody was taking edding pictures at the Pest castle, we saw like 4 people in less than 20 minutes

Sunday 07-09-2006: The Norwegian girls in Budapest

After another night on the beds with very thin mattresses, I was ready to get up early. I wanted to go out and get a crosant because I had heard that Hungary had invented them (if you can invent food, maybe you create or discover it…). Unfortunately, since it was Sunday, the bakery was closed so I had to settle with the local supermarket. It wasn’t fantastic, in fact it was a little on the dry side, but it was food. Johann and I had not been getting along all that great the past few days (we weren’t really fighting, just sort of tired of each other’s company), so I had pretty much decided to launch on my own for the day. However, all four of us had wanted to meet and watch the final World Cup game at the square we had found the night earlier. So I planned out where I wanted to go for the day and waited for everybody to get up and decide on a meeting place/time. Finally, around 11ish, we decided to meet back at the hostel around 6-7ish. At that point, I split from Johann & the girls to go have some fun in Buda. The past few days, we had spent in Pest, which is the more industrialized part of town. Buda was supposed to be more gardens and parks and stuff, so I was looking forward to it. My course of action was going to be a circle: cross the bridge, venture into a big park on one of the islands in the Danube, make my way to the Buda town, Mattias Church, the Buda castle, the Citadel, and then back across the river to loop back to the hostel. I also wanted to go to the Chinese market, since I had heard that you could buy anything there for really cheap. However, it was in the toal opposite of where I wanted to go and it was also quite far away. So I wasn’t sure if I could get to it today. I crossed halfway across the bridge and then ventured into the park. It was quite a nice park, with a little stone beach area next to the river with people on towels sunbathing. There was a big fountain and some sculptures toward the front. Deeper in was more of a standard park with paths, benches, huge trees, and running paths. That part stretched on for quite a while, so after about half an hour, I turned and came back on the other side of the park.

I finished crossing the bridge and ventured into Buda. The part of Buda I ventured into was pretty much residential, so there wasn’t much to see. There were some nice streets with planted sidewalks, but not much else. I made my way to the river edge, snapping pictures of the Parliment across the Danube. The map I had said I would get to Mattias’ Church before I got to the Buda castle. It was pretty funny because I found this little dump of church and took a picture thinking that this was a total letdown. Then a few blocks later, I saw a bigger church and thought, “Ah, OK, here it is, the other one was something else” So I took pictures of that. A few blocks later, I saw a really impressive church and thought “Wow, there it is! I wonder what the other one was” So of course I snapped some more pictures. Finally, I saw some steep stairs and a steeple behind a bunch of trees and buildings. So I climbed up for a while, taking steep roads and some stairs through gardens. I finally saw a huge structure and was flabbergasted, thinking “Yikes, THAT’S Mattias’ Church?” As I got closer, I realized it wasn’t the church, but the Buda castle. Slightly relieved, I investigated. I passed close to the walls and followed them to get to the main entrance. I heard some familiar songs being played by a violin somewhere up above. I heard Sunrise, Sunset and the drinking song from Fiddler On the Roof. Later I saw it was a guy in a fancy restaurant by the wall of the castle playing. I began to explore the castle, it was pretty big with lots of courtyards. There were a lot of good places near the walls where you could look out over the river and city. Unfortunately, within another half hour it started to rain a bit. I kept pushing on, because it wasn’t too bad, just a light sprinkle. However, I saw the clouds building up, just like a good ole Florida thunderstorm, so I knew that we were probably in for a doozie. I didn’t really see any place to eat (or at least eat cheaply at a non super-touristy place), so I dug out some of the stuff I had bought earlier. I of course had my granola bars (well really some were candy bars because Kudo’s really isn’t granola). I also had bought a little cherry bread thing. I bite into it, expecting some nasty cherry grahm cracker type thing since I had bought it at a supermarket and not a bakery. However, it surprised me, it tasted just like a cherry pie, except it had a crust on both sides and was square. It was quite good and I was wishing I had more when I finished it (if Johann was around, he’d be commenting on my sweet tooth, I know ;-). As I explored, I found flower gardens, ramparts, side shops, small outdoor markets, and all sorts of castle stuff. Shortly, however, it began to rain a bit harder. Still not bad, but I kept my eyes peeled for cover in case it decided to dump buckets on me. I spotted some places where there were some overhangs and some pillars on the castle and kept it in mind. I hit a dead end on one of the sides of the castle, so crossed to the other side (the one not facing the Danube). As I rounded the corner, I saw black skies and a wall of water rushing up towards me. That’s about the time, I went “Uh, oh”, turned tail, and ran back to the spot under the eaves behind the pillar. That’s where I decided to have some lunch. I had some bread and granola bars while it absolutely poured. I had my PDA and was reading a good book that I had started earlier (and had been reading in bits and pieces when I was waiting for something…like the rain to stop :). Maybe 45 minutes later, it let up, so I ventured out and again rounded the corner – just in time to see another black sky and rain in the distance. It wasn’t real close, so I pushed on, but shortly I found myself stuck under a passageway while it poured. This time, it was over pretty quickly, and I got back to exploring the castle. Although everything was pretty wet, I will admit there was one good thing about the rain: it had cleared out most of the tourists and I now had the castle mostly to myself. The next hour was one of the coolest times I had had. There were so many different alleyways and courtyards and little towers and stairs leading to all sorts of interesting places. It was a blast just to see where everything lead and find new places and nooks and crannies. I finally got to the end of the castle and saw the Citadel across the valley. I was reluctant to leave the castle because there was still so much I could explore, but I wanted to get to the citadel as well, and it was getting later in the afternoon.

In fact, I wasn’t even sure I could get to the Citadel. It was pretty far up on the hill and the face of the hill was near vertical with lots of white stones showing. However, I figured there had to be some way otherwise they wouldn’t mark it on my tourist map, so I headed over in the general direction. As I approached, I noticed a bunch of stairs leading up part of the way. Figuring this was the way to go or at least lead somewhere interesting, I started to make my way up. The stairs started symmetrically around a waterfall, one going on either side. They went up for a couple floors, and then lead to paved paths that split in a bunch of different directions. At first I was apprehensive, undecided on which one to take. I decided to take the ones that looked the most interesting (don’t ask me what criteria I applied to determine that, I don’t know), and to my relief, I noticed after a while that while the paths branched, they typically met back up so no matter which one you took, you wound up in the same general place later. The paths were mostly paved to begin with, like a foot path. Some parts were stairs. All of it was overgrown just like a North Carolina hiking trail (albeit paved). And since it had just rained, everything was still damp and cool, and not too muggy either. Very refreshing. I tried to take paths that would lead up and towards the direction where I had seen the Citadel and the huge statue holding a feather. After a time, I found myself detouring from the main path and going a little bit more horizontal around the hill on not a paved path, but a dirt/stone/log one. It was very much like a North Carolina hiking trail now except for the foliage and views. I was in heaven! I couldn’t resist thinking that at this point Johann would be screeching like a banshee about how we were missing the city and how if I wanted to hike, why not go to North Carolina. But I didn’t care because I was seeing new foliage (at the same time hoping I wouldn’t see any new fauna…like venomous snakes or something). There were a bunch of lookouts on the way up and they got subsequently more and more breathtaking. Some spots I took 180 degree video over the city using Johann’s little camera. I finally breathed a sigh of relief when I reached the top maybe half an hour later. And there it was, a huge statue of some guy holding a feather. Whew, I had made it! The top was a bunch of tourist traps and the Citadel. You had to pay to get into the Citadel so I just looked at it from the outside. After a while, I made my way back down the hill. I crossed the hill and then traveled down, crossed the bridge and head back to the hotel. I arrived at the hotel around 6, pretty sweaty from all my hiking and walking around everywhere. So I grabbed a shower and by the time I had gotten done, the others had arrived. They had apparently gone shopping and then gone to the castle. Anyhow, Johann said the game started at 9 PM, so around 8:30 we headed out to go find that square again. We took the trolley and found a spot. There was still a little bit until 9 PM and I hadn’t eaten supper, so I went in search of food with one of the Norwegian girls. We wanted something fast like kebab so we could get back and not miss any of the game, but couldn’t find anything. So we had to settle for McDonalds. We noticed going into McDonalds that the game was already tied 2 to 2. We thought that was pretty amazing for only a few minutes of playing. Inside, connected to the McDonalds was a McCafe, a bakery. I got a ham and cheese little sandwich, a blueberry muffin, and a chocolate covered crossant. Not bad for McDonalds. We got lost trying to get back to the square and in doing so, we passed two kebab places. Arg! Why couldn’t we have passed those first? Oh well. We finally got back to the square only to find out that the game had started at 8 PM and not 9 PM and it was almost over. That’s why the score was tied at 2 to 2. The teams were France vs. Italy, and France was being extremely aggressive. As the game went into extra time (two 15 minutes segments separated by a 10 minute break), France almost made several goals. During this time, one of France’s best player with no apparent provocation, head butted one of the Italy players and was kicked out. The game went into penalties, where each team had 5 attempts to get a goal, one goalie and one kicker. France missed a goal and Italy didn’t, so Italy won. It was a pretty intense game, with lots of booing and cheering from the crowd and everybody went wild when the game was over and Italy won the World Cup. Because Johann and the girls were going to Croatia the next morning early, we decided to head back to the hostel and turn in early – except Johann who didn’t seem to be down for whatever reason (he had been cheering for France pretty heavily). So we headed back and went to bed.

Park on an island in the middle of the Danube

Parliment across the Danube

Mattias’ Church (at least, I think it is 😉

Courtyard inside the Buda castle

Buda castle wall with Citadel hill in the background

The paved part of the trail up to the Citadel

View of the Danube from the top of the Citadel

Statue of a guy holding a feather at the top of the Citadel hill

Citadel is up near the statue on the hill

Buda castle at night using an extended shutter or night shot

Traveling back to Paris and then US

The next day I flew back to Paris and spent a few days doing some shopping to bring back some gifts and chocolate to bring back with me. I also had a scare traveling to the RER, there was an accident on the track somewhere and they rerouted us through the bus systems. Of course, I didn’t speak the language, so I had to depend on other people explaining what was going on. That was a tense several hours. The layover in Iceland was delayed as well, so we spent an extra few hours waiting for the plane to come. Finally, I got back to the US and my roommate Ian picked me up. They also took my duck liver because of the avian flu. You know the custom’s guy was going to dine fine that night!