Friday, June 1, 2012

A body in the river? And, the insane german in the hall at 3 AM

The last 36 hours have been very stange.  Anna and I were on out Rhine river cruise yesterday, I had gone downstairs from the open-air deck to use the restroom.  When I came back up, everyone was looking over the right side of the boat, and Anna motioned for me to come look.  I thought that was strange, since we hadn't reached the castles yet.

There was a man floating in the river.  At first glance, I couldn't see any movement and thought he was dead.  But thankfully he was alive, but struggling to stay afloat.  An unacceptable 10 minute or so later, they had finally launched a little boat to retrieve him and take him to shore.  Meanwhile, all the French tourists had been taking pictures and video of him and the whole situation...


Later that night, we arrived in Interlaken, Switzerland around midnight after a long train journey and a walk across the deserted town to the hostel.  I got to bed around 1:00 AM.  At 3:00 am I woke up to a noise in the hall.  It got louder and I realized it was a man screaming bloody murder in German down the hall.  A lot of "No, no, no!"  It grew louder and I could tell he was going from door to door and beating on each one.  It sounded like there were others in the hall either attacking him or trying to stop him.  He got to our room and banged on it and tried to open the locked door, but finally went away after standing around in front of the door and yelling for a few more minutes.

I found out today the police showed up and took the guy, who had started a fight in his room.  Anna said the police had actually burst into her room (in which she was the sole occupant) in the middle of the night by mistake while looking for the guy.

I thought these events were interesting enough to merit a separate post...


2 days in Berlin. On the first day, I wanted to do the whole Germany in WWII thing, so I took a guided walking tour. We visited the Brandenburg Gate, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (named so because the holocaust, while mostly persecution of Jews, also included other groups - and Berlin has memorials for each of them), the former HQ of the Nazi Air Force, and several other sites. I really enjoyed the tour because I learned a lot more from the narrative than if I had just tried myself.

After the tour, I went to Museum Island, home to 5 different museums in central Berlin. I saw a few highlights - the Alter of Pergamon, the bust of Nefertiti, and the huge Ishtar gate from ancient Babylon. Really cool and really old stuff.

I tried to find a good, authentic German beer, and thought I had, but the bottle I had picked up ended up being some kind of dark, sugar-free bitter soda..

The next try, I actually ordered from a bar. I got a heffeweizen which is a German-style wheat beer. It was much better.

On day 2, I was a little hesitant to go to the highly recommended German History Museum due to hitting up a lot of museums the day before, but I'm really glad I did. It did a great job tracing German history (and really, European history in general) from about 100 AD to 1994. For obvious reasons, they devoted the entire first floor to 1919-1994. The format included an audio clip for each main period with accompanying objects to tell the story.

Then it was off to the Rhine Valley for our river cruise and castle exploration the next day.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Paris Part 2 and Amsterdam

I'm beginning to lag so here I'll try to catch up some.

The next 3 days were full of activities in Paris. There was also cat who was always sleeping on the stairway to pur room.

The first full day, I spent a good 4.5 hours in the Louvre, which was by far my favorite museum I've ever visited. No surprises there. It really felt like re-taking art history in one afternoon. Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa, Liberty Leading the People, Seated Scribe, Winged Victory, Code of Hammurabi.

Then I went on a walk down the Champs-Elysees, Paris' grandest boulevard, to the Arc de Triomphe. I went up to the top for some great views. The arch is in the middle of a traffic circle where 12 boulevards merge, so I could see down 12 huge streets all at once.

The next day we ventured to the Palace of Versailles, built by Louis XIV and later, where the French revolutionaries stormed in (unsuccessfully) to capture Louis XV and Marie Antoinette.

You guys, this place was ridiculous. Apparently Louis XIV spent half of France's GDP on the palace the year it was built. So amazing, but you can't really blame the Frenchies for getting angry.

I spent a while in the extremely vast royal gardens and toured the summer homes of some of the Louis's, Napoleon I, and Marie Antoinette. A nice break from the city.

Then in the afternoon, I did the Musee d'Orsay which is known for its great collection of Impressionist art. It was pretty cool. It used to be a train station.

The next day was chapel day: Notre Dame and Saint-Chapelle. Notre Dame was very impressive, with large rosary windows on the interior and of course the flying butresses and intrusive Gothic style. You could also see statues of each of the 12 apostles on top of the church looking out info the city, "ministering" to it.

Sainte-Chapelle is perhaps lesser known around the world, but it is definitely a major site. It was commissioned by Louis IV around 1250 to house the relics of the crucifixion (inc. crown of thorns), which he bought for a big price (2x cost of church) from Turkey I think. Anyway, the crown (original or other) is no longer shown here - but Notre Dame shows it a few days a year. But the Sainte-Chapelle's other claim to fame is its enormous, elaborate stained-glass windows. They were awesome. But I don't have a pic on my phone so go google it. I think they're 30 meters tall! Each depicts a book of the Bible through several small images, like a cartoon strip almost.

That pretty much wraps up Paris. I had some good meals...baked ravioli, quiche lorraine, chocolate mousse, cafe au lait.

Day 1 in Amsterdam we went to the Anne Frank House. It was a very sobering experience, imagining a 14 year-old girl having to hide for 2 years in a small pair of rooms with 7 others and eventually dying in a concentration camp - 1 month before it was liberated. In one video, Anne's friend said the two found each other at the camp one night. Anne, whose sister had recently died in camp, said she just had "nothing left to live for anymore" (her mother had also died). She wasn't aware her dad was still alive and would eventually survive to publish her diary, which had been her dream.

Day 2 in Amsterdam, we went to the Van Gogh museum, which took you his life and his works chronologically. In short, it was fascinating to see how his life events shaped his style and his place in the post-impressionist era. He was a pioneer who took the impressionists' rejection of the realist style to a new level, creating his own personal style. Really enjoyed it.

Next was the Heineken experience - the expected "how to make beer," etc. i got to pour my own pint from the tap anf earned a certificate.

Took the train to Berlin and arrived last night at midnight...more in a few days, but day 1 in Berlin was awesome.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Provence 2 and Paris part I

Day 2 in Provence - in the morning, we took the train to Avignon.  First we visited the Palais des Papes - Palace of the Popes - which is where the francophone popes ruled during the Great Schism period beginning with Clement V.  It was mostly just empty rooms since it was raided during the French Revolution.  And my audio guide froze halfway through.  But it had its moments.
Entry to Palace of the Popes

Next we took the bus to the Pont (bridge) du Gard, which was part of the 30-mile long acqueduct built by the Romans to supply the city of Nimes with water when southern France was a very important part of the Roman Empire.  It supplied the city with 100 gallons per minute of water.  It's a massive struture located more or less in the middle of nowhere, which meant there were awesome views of the Provencale countryside.  It seemed like the area would a great place to go kayaking or canoeing without being disturbed.

the Pont du Gard

View from the Pont du Gard

Next to the pont, there was an 1,100 year old tree. Just after I took this picture a hoard of loud French kids ran up to it and started hugging it a climbing it.  But I guess if you're 1,100 years old then you've seen tougher times.

1,100 year old tree

Paris has been really cool.  We started on Wednesday with the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur (Basilica of the Sacred Heart) which is near our hostel.  It's on a hill called Montmartre, from which the neighborhood of Montmartre takes it's name.  It's the hill (mont) of of martyrs (martre) where Saint Denis, the first bishop of Paris, was killed.  The basilica now stands on the hill as a pilgrimage site and place to pray for humankind's wellbeing:

Of course, it's also a tourist mecca.  The location offers amazing views of central Paris looking south from this northern hill:

View from about halfway up Montmartre hill

This goes up to midday on Wednesday.  Next, I went to the Eiffel Tower.  I'll post more about Paris later, hopefully tomorrow night.  Sunday, it's on to Amsterdam.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

End of London and Day 1 - Provence

Day three in London was better. Alarms worked (or rather, my brain did). Started in Hyde Park in the AM with a walk. Lots of British armed forces vets dressed up in regalia for a reunion. Then to the National Gallery where I looked at some Van Goghs, Monets, and Seurats. Pretty cool. Next we had some fish and chips for lunch at a nearby pub.

Flew early AM out of London to Provence. The weather, unfortunately, was the same here today as had been in London - overcast, drizzly, and cool. But when we got to Arles (small town full of ancient Roman ruins) that didn't matter.

After a picnic lunch by the river, we toured the ancient colosseum here, as well as the ancient theatre and a really cool church with some saint's bones in a box.

We stopped by the Yellow Cafe, the cafe in Van Gogg's "Cafe Terrace at Night."

Just took a much needed 3-hour nap. Now I think it's time for dinner...

UEFA Champs

Last night, we went to watch the UEFA Cup championship match at a local bar. Chelsea won on PKs and everyone went crazy!

A crazy day

Yesterday (Saturday) was crazy. It started by me not waking up to either of my two alarms.  Then, out the door 5 minutes later with Anna, I realized once we were in the tube that I had left my passport and money in the hostel room.  Thankfully I didn't need it until the end of the day at the Eye.

I don't have much time, but to be brief, today we did:
Tour of the House of Parliament - very cool
Changing of the Guard - extremely crowded, couldn't see much
Westminster Abbey - very impressive, lots of important people buried here (Chaucer, Handel...)
Afternoon Tea
the Eye

So far, so good.  Early morning flight tomorrow to Provence.