london august 19-24

I made the last minute (a week’s advance notice) decision to go to London for my week off of work. I kinda stressed out about it during that week between booking the flight and leaving, but as soon as I got to the airport I felt better (as I expected). I was flying through Detroit, and I had a short connection scheduled, only 55 minutes. So when the plane we were taking to Detroit hadn’t left Detroit until after they were supposed to already have landed in Buffalo I started to get nervous. The gate agent assured us we’d land at 9, with 40 minutes to make the connection. Except that we didn’t leave until 8:30, landing in Detroit at 9:35…my connection was 9:40. I thought for sure I was missing that flight, and even if I ran and made it, certainly my luggage wouldn’t make it. So I ran off the plane, ran to the other terminal, heard the final boarding call, ran to the gate, thought I was going to have a heart attack, but I made it. And landing in London, so did my luggage! Yes.

Upon landing at Heathrow, I had to make an expensive phone call to Verizon to make my phone work, which I’m not too happy about since the day before I had called global customer service twice to make sure the the phone would work, and then it didn’t work. Aggravating. Trained into Paddington, and since Pierre who I was staying with was at work, I decided to go off to the Freud Museum. The museum is in Freud’s house, which he moved to when his family had to escape from the Nazis. He only lived there for a year before he died, but his daughter Anna continued to live there the rest of her life. So the house featured all of the antiquities that Freud collected (which I had no idea he was interested in), his famous couch in his office, and other historical artifacts. It’s preserved just as it was when he lived there, and as Anna lived there. It’s small (it is just a house afterall) but it was very neat to see. Trained back to Paddington to meet Pierre, and off to his flat. Even though I was super tired from jet lag, we went out into the city anyway, walking around forever, got dinner at a pub, and back home for the night.

Saturday, the plan was to train out to spend time with Glen and Anna and the kids in Henley-on-Thames. Glen picked me up in Reading, and we tried to go by these old abbey ruins in town, which was closed (and Glen didn’t know why). So we headed off to Stonehenge, about an hour away. Unfortunately by the time we got there it was pouring, but that’s ok, it’s just rain. It just makes it difficult to manage an umbrella and cameras etc :). What to say about it? Everyone knows what it is, it’s definitely a weird sight to see when you turn on the road and see it on the hill. It’s cool to see it in person. While you can’t walk around the stones anymore, there is a circular walkway all the way around it, and you actually get much closer to it than I thought from other people talking about it. So it was neat. After the first walkaround the rain slowed, so we went around again before heading out for Henley. The rain cleared up into a nice day, so we walked into town from their house, went to a brewery in town which was great, and grabbed dinner at a pub. Yummy chili. I think I was still a bit jet lagged, and even though I was hungry, I just couldn’t eat very much of it. It was great to see the Lamberts again, the town is so cute, I could definitely live there.

Sunday was back into London for the Harry Potter Walking tour. It started in Leicester Square, and headed out to places in London that were either inspirations for things in the book, or actual filming locations. I think we saw the inspiration for Diagon Alley, Leadenhall Market which was the filming location for Diagon Alley, 2 different filming locations for the Leaky Cauldron (in Leadenhall Market for movie 1, a flower shop entrance for movie 3). There was a boat ride on the Thames to Southwark, which was inspiration for Knockturn Alley, and it ended at King’s Cross station (does it need explanation haha). We didn’t see the filming location for Gringotts, because I guess it was not remotely close enough to walk to given the rest of the tour route. It was a good tour, you see a lot of London, but probably would have been more fun if I was not alone. After that I think I headed back to meet Pierre somewhere and we probably got food but I can’t remember now haha. I think that’s the day we walked around the Notting Hill area and Portobello Road.

Monday brought “tourist day”. I had bought the London Pass which garnered you free access or extra stuff at 55 places around London, including most of the major tourist sites. I did the math and it did save me a little bit of money, so after picking that up from the tourism office, my first stop was Westminster Abbey. Being across from Parliament, I did a quick photo thing on the bridge, and headed to the church. Even as a nonbeliever, these massive churches are awe inspiring. Just the work that went into them, it’s ridiculous. No one builds this kind of thing anymore. Very cool. They had a small exhibit of photos from the royal wedding too haha. Close by was my 2nd stop, the Churchill War Rooms. This was the underground complex that was turned into Churchill’s headquarters during WWII, with the cabinet room, living quarters for all the important members, including Churchill and his wife, and other staff. Very interesting to see, and find out what it was like to be there during the war and the Blitz. Definitely recommended. Finishing up there, I headed to the Tower of London. Thankfully it was a nice day, because it’s a lot of outside walking, inside the walls, between the buildings etc. It was nice to see. I initially had no interest in seeing the Crown Jewels, there was a stupid long line outside the building, and there were a few more things to see before they closed so I skipped it. But after seeing the rest, and still having 20 min or so before close, I went anyway. The line was pretty quick moving, so it was ok. The jewels though…they look fake. And I dunno, just…whatever. They’re jewels.

Grabbed some food at a shop outside the tower, and had a little picnic. I thought the Tower Bridge Experience was open until 6, so I ran over there to try to fit that in, but turns out they closed at 5:30. Damnit, if I hadn’t eaten I’d have made it!

Tuesday it was rainy, which made it a good time for “museum day”. Since I missed the Tower Bridge the day before, that was my first stop. You get to go up the one tower, walk across to the other, and then down into the Victorian engine room, which used to run the bridge. They are doing construction on the walkways at the moment, so only one of the two was open but that’s ok. The engine room was super cool, well preserved steam engines, and explanations of how they worked to lift and lower the bridge.

Next was the Victoria and Albert museum. Not originally on my plan of things to visit, both Pierre and Glen and Anna recommended it, so I took their advice. It’s a huge art museum, which I found a bit overwhelming and confusing – there was no easy way to walk through the exhibits and see them all. I don’t think I saw everything in the 2.5 hours I was there, but that’s ok, I still saw a ton. It is very nice, lots of good stuff. From there, was the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons. In short, it’s the Mutter Museum of London…lots of stuff in jars. Tons of stuff in jars, and then more stuff in jars. Awesome! Across the park from that was the Sloane museum, also on my list but of course by the time I got there, they were closing in 5 minutes, so I missed it.

The annoying thing about London is everything is closed by 6, so on my list of things to do I didn’t end up at the National Gallery, or Portrait Gallery, didn’t get to the Chislelhurst caves, or the Old Operating Theatre. If things were, at least, open until 8 I think I could have gotten everything in. Oh well.

Wednesday was departure day, and it started off terribly. Pierre had given me the key to his outside door, so I could leave my luggage in the hall and go out before my flight. Except that somehow without leaving the apartment from 9pm previously, the key disappeared. I looked everywhere, was panicing, unpacked all my stuff, checked outside, the key was no where to be found. He said not to worry about it and he’d figure it out, except he posted later on on facebook that he had to pay 115 pounds on a locksmith, so now I feel terrible. Ug. There was nothing I could do, though, so I took my luggage off into the city again and went to the Tate Modern. I had been there last trip in 07 but only for about an hour, so it deserved another visit. Went through the whole museum, except the Miro exhibit (no time, and you had to buy tickets), grabbed some lunch, and headed back out to Heathrow.

The flight to JFK was uneventful, and we were actually an hour early because we got off the ground very quickly in London. That left even more time for me to sit around in JFK waiting for my flight to Buffalo, but what are you gonna do. Messing with my phone, I got a severe storm warning notice for Buffalo for the exact time I’d be flying in, awesome. The flight wasn’t delayed due to the storm, but as we got closer to Buffalo you could see the crazy lightning. The pilot came on to say we were 10 minutes away but we were going to have to circle around a bit wherever we were, and maybe we were going to land in Rochester or Syracuse instead. Great. I guess the storm had moved away enough from the airport, that we would be able to land, but that meant flying through the storm, and wow was that unpleasant. Constant lightning in the clouds, turbulence, but we made it through (obviously), and were able to land. We were delayed on the ground though, as since it was still raining and there was still lightning despite the main storm passing, the ground crew couldn’t be out working to bring us into the gate. It wasn’t too long though, and with all that we were still on time.

The end. ha.

London Photos

Europe 2010 – part 3 – Latvia

Got into Riga pretty late at night, only to find that I couldn’t get money out of the ATM because I was over limit (inexplicably), and once at the hotel I couldn’t open my luggage because my combination lock suddenly had a new combination. Commence extreme frustration and aggravation, trying to call Samsonite (on hold for $3.00/min no thank you), texting Cassie to try to call them, and google searches – finally I found a page which had email instructions from Samsonite on how to figure out the combination. So I now know how to get by Samsonite combination locks.

Our hotel was in a good location in Riga’s Old Town, which was not quite as nice and quaint as Tallinn, in my opinion. They allow car traffic on all the streets, which is not as nice haha. Again it was alot of walking around to see the area, once I was able to get out money from an ATM we visited St Peter’s church and went up the bell tower for a nice view of the city. Near by was the “House of Blackheads”, which I didn’t realize was a museum, so we only saw outside. Next to that was the Latvian Occupation Museum, which was free but took donations. It was much bigger and well done than I was expecting for free. It was pretty moving, as I didn’t realize how badly the Baltic states were treated by the Soviets, and Nazis, and then Soviets again. And it’s hard to imagine it all, being an American and in no danger of being invaded and occupied by another country (although if Canada decided to get greedy, I’d probably be in trouble here in WNY haha).

Grabbed a cab and went to the Riga Motor Museum, which has a pretty decent collection of Soviet made cars, or Soviet used cars (like cars given to Soviets from foreign diplomats like Nixon), including Stalin’s limo, and Breshnev’s crashed Rolls Royce. I don’t know alot about cars, but it was interesting to see. There were wax statues of Stalin and Breshnev in their cars, and I think Khruschev.

That night we got some dinner, hung around a bit, and then headed out for some drinks. Riga has gotten a bad reputation as being full of bars that will scam tourists. There was a list on wikitravel, and on the US Embassy’s website, and again in the “what to do” books we picked up so we had a list to check against to be safe. I had wanted to go to Leningrad, which was Soviet themed, and looked cool from reviews and their website – but was not what was expected so we didn’t even go in. Instead we went to the Transilvania Horror Rock Cafe, which we had found earlier in the day, and is apparently owned by Marilyn Manson’s drummer, Umberto Ferri (but I don’t know who he is). It was a goth-y bar, as expected, with open coffins with skeletons inside for tables, church-y looking furniture, and scary decorations. We tried the national drink, Riga Black Balsam, which is an herbal liquor, very strong and interesting, but I didn’t think it was that bad. We moved on from there, trying to find a few other bars, and bars with people in them, but again, we were out on a Tuesday…no one else was. So the final stop was at Mad House, with only a few others, and then we turned in.

Our 2nd day we pretty much only saw the Zoo. It was small as expected, but it’s always interesting to see animals other than cats and dogs. Grabbed lunch at a place next to the zoo, which turned out to be a pizzeria, then back to hang out before dinner. Spent the night in, since I had to get up at 4am to go to the airport and go home. I had thought about going to a KHL game, the Riga Dinamo were playing, but I couldn’t find out how to get tickets, or the costs (I didn’t want to scalp, surefire way to get screwed), and the timing didn’t work out in the end. Ah well. Next time haha.

All that was left was the long route home, Riga to Berlin (where again, I had passport issues – my passport was stamped in Riga, arriving from Kiev, but not when arriving or leaving Tallinn, and not when arriving in Riga from Tallinn, or leaving Riga to Berlin, and again not stamped when arriving in Berlin. So when in line to check in for my flight to Newark, the lady is looking for the Berlin stamp, and I came out and told her, I came from Riga and no one asked to see it or stamp it…she had a weird reaction to that and I’m just like, this is YOUR airport, you should know what is going on, but she didn’t make a big deal of it after that. Then I had luggage issues, as in Riga they routed my bag right to Newark, and Berlin didn’t like that and rerouted it to Buffalo, but had to go find my bag and retag it, so I was fully expecting it not to show up), Berlin to Newark and Newark to Buffalo. I had a bottle of fanta in my bag from Riga, which I had to get rid of in a bomb proof container, and then get explosive residue tested (where I suddenly got nervous that they could tell I was radioactive haha), but I was clean, duh. 9 hour flight to Newark, cleared customs, but was delayed going home so the layover was about 4 hours.

Home again, unpacking to find my shampoo exploded, and my souvenir for Aunt Carol broke (souvenir bummer #3). It was a great and smooth trip, with no real problems. I have probably 7gb of photos to go through, yikes!!! That’s gonna take a while 🙂 I think I covered everything, had fun but glad to be home with kitty in my comfy bed again.

Riga Photos

Europe 2010 – part 2 – Estonia

We flew to Tallinn, through Riga, and after getting a taxi with a friendly and funny driver, checked into the hotel in Old Town, and headed out to the DM baar. Yes a bar dedicated to Depeche Mode. It is unfortunate that we were always going out on weeknights, it being Sunday we were the only people there. No matter, the bar was super cool, playing only DM videos, with photos and information on the walls, and of course, drinks named after DM songs. I had a “dream on” and of course, “personal jesus”. They had souvenirs for sale including mugs and shirts, but we decided not to buy them at the time, because we didn’t want to carry them around. Left to try to find another place for drinks, but…Sunday…nothing was really open. We got some dinner at a place open late in the main square, and turned in for the night.

Old Town is the medieval center of town, a cute cobblestone area, which was walled in, and full of shops, cafes and touristy stuff. We walked around Old Town, saw the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the Tallinn Photography Museum, bought souvenirs, and caught a cab out to the Holy Birgitta Monastery, a monastery of Scandinavian female saints and a convent. It’s all in ruins, with a cemetery in front. Very cool, but it was cold and rainy, so it would have been better in nice weather. Caught lunch at a “sports bar” near by, which was the least sports bar-y sports bar ever. Aside from the KHL game on tvs, and photos of sports on the walls, it was a super classy looking place with a big diverse menu. Not your usual chicken wings and fried food things. Wandered around Old Town more before catching dinner at the garlic restaurant, and then went to the DM bar again to get souvenirs…only to find them closed. They were supposed to be open noon to 4am, but no luck. So no DM mugs for Adr2 and Bliss (souvenier bummer #2).

Then it was off to the airport and back to Riga to finish the trip.

Tallinn was nice despite cold and rainy weather. The main city was quite modern and building up and nice looking, and the Old Town was inviting and charming. It had a good mix of new and old, everyone seemed friendly (and spoke english). I enjoyed it.

Tallinn Photos

Europe 2010 – part 1 – Ukraine

Here goes….

My flights took me to Ohare, and then Frankfurt before finally Kiev. Uneventful but long, with long layovers in Chicago and Frankfurt. Borispol airport in Kiev is not at all what I expected. I just assumed it was a big modern airport, so when I saw that it had only 2 jetways I was sort of shocked. But an airport is an airport and it works and it does it’s job. Found Dan and Jamie, with our driver from Solo East, Igor, and we were off to our apartment at 22b Mikhailivska St. The apartment was in a pretty good location, up the street from Independence square, the main street of Kiev Kreschatik Street, and St Michael’s church. It was in walking distance of St Andrew’s and St Andrew’s Descent, and St Sophia’s.

Upon arriving and unpacking I discovered my lens was no longer attached to my camera body. 2 pieces of plastic from the lens mount had broken off en route. shiiiiit. So the first night was spent trying to find camera shops or repair shops that would fix it. We weren’t really successful, one place had a lens but it would have cost more than if I got it here. So in the end, we found some super glue and Dan glued the pieces back on. Had to do it twice, but in the end it was a pretty solid repair job, the lens stayed on and worked.

First impressions of Kiev, it’s a massive sprawling city, with a combination of old architecture and depressing Soviet architecture. Like other European cities, instead of crossing major intersections, you go under them, but all of their under intersection walkways contain stores…you can pretty much get anything. Some intersections were “small” and would have just sort of convenience stores, food, drinks, cigarettes, gum, etc. Other ones had practical malls, with furniture stores and souvenirs and anything you would need. Imagine how much nicer American cities would look if our convenience stores and strip malls were underground. The entire underground of Independence Square is a normal mall, with your usual clothes stores and mall stuff. Kinda cool.

2nd day we went off to the Pecherska Lavra, an Orthodox Church monastery. It’s a huuuge place, and we spent most of the afternoon there and didn’t see it all. There are caves which hold old monks, tons of buildings (which we didn’t go in any), and a miniature display that we missed. Very cool place, very pretty. On the way there we walked past and stopped at the Famine memorial, and then after the Lavra continued down the street to the Motherland Statue and War Memorial. By then it was getting dark, so we caught some dinner (I got a drink/shot called a Hiroshima – sambuca, baileys and absinthe…strooooong) and headed back to the apartment. We went out for drinks later, though it was a Wednesday so there weren’t alot of people “out”. The first bar had shots of high end vodka for $9 hryvnia = $1.12!! Score. Stopped at 2 other places, and Jamie had terrible luck at drinks – he ordered a mojito at the first place which had no alcohol in it, and at the 3rd he tried to order a Tornado, which was similar to the Hiroshima, and then never got the drink…I had ordered some food, so when bringing the food we assumed they’d bring his drink, only they brought him a big silver platter…containing food. Beef tournado’s LOL. The perils of language difficulties.

The next 3 days were spent in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. The town of Chernobyl has about 250 residents, mostly military I think, and you need permission to be there. Visitors are only allowed to go around with a military guide, so when we were in town and not on the “tour” we were pretty much confined to the hotel, or walking to the military building for our meals. The drive to town was about 2 hours, and we began with lunch before heading out to see the actual power plant. We had our military guide, Vladimir, who didn’t speak english, and our tour guide, Sergei from Solo East who did, so it went well. The plant looks really cool and you get pretty close – way closer than you’d get to any plant in the US. You can only point your camera and take pictures of the sarcophagus though, despite the fact the rest of the plant is now decommissioned. Then it was off to the town of Pripyat, which was the closest major town to the plant, and completely evacuated after the accident. Other towns in the area were evacuated and then buried after the accident, but it was decided that burying didn’t really help the spread of radioactivity so they gave it up, and it would probably have been impossible to bury Pripyat with all it’s high rise buildings (some 16 stories).

What can really be said about this? It’s an explorers dream, and when I tried to count all the buildings I could see from the top of the hotel in the main square, I gave up at 40. There is just sooo much, and the tour takes you to the highlights, you don’t even begin to see most of the residential highrises (we climbed to the top of one of them the 2nd day, but it was just to the top and back, no time to see the floors). So the first day I believe we saw…hotel rooftop, bookstore, and hospital. The hospital was huge and sweet, but there is a 4:30 curfew which I didn’t realize, and our guides had gone in to find me haha. In the end, I barely saw any of the main hospital (I guess I had gone into some off wing or even other building haha). We had been told to make a list of what we wanted to revisit for the 3rd day, so that was on the list for sure. I added the bookstore to the list as well, because after we had been there someone mentioned the stack of wrapped postcards still there, which Sergei said I could take. Cassie had asked for a postcard, so I freaked out that I was actually going to have a real postcard to send her from Pripyat!

Second day we started earlier of course, no drive there, and had asked to skip lunch so we had all day (until 4 haha). The first stop was on the water, but I had lagged behind so I don’t know the significance. Then was the music school, which was cool, but again I was rushed out of – I only needed 5 more minutes! We went to the oldest school in town, but we couldn’t go in because one section had collapsed. Bummer too because looking in the windows one classroom had the most amazing, totally sterotypical Soviet propaganda mural. Then a music store, with a bunch of left over pianos, and a 2nd school. Then a very cool athletic center with gym and pool, and climbed the 16 story apartment building to see the view. Next, the amusement park with left over bumper cars, swing type ride, and ferris wheel. After that was another school, which they called a “kindergarten” but was maybe more like American preschool, or perhaps even an orphanage. There were 2 floors, lots of left over toys so it was definitely for young kids (compared to the other school which was clearly a normal school), but there were also rooms of cribs…the cribs make me think orphanage, but I’m not sure a town like that would need such a big orphanage haha. Will have to look up some more history on the town. Sergei had to leave, so he instructed Vladimir to take us to a few other places – the police station and jail, and department store in the main square – before heading back.

By the end of the 2nd day, one plastic piece had broken off the lens. It was still staying on the camera, but it was no longer sitting close enough to the sensors to work super good – lost autofocus to infinity, and sometimes it wouldn’t recognize that the lens was there. Holding it and jiggling it made it usable, so I was able to continue the day and the 3rd day. But after returning to Kiev the camera went away, and I ended up buying a nikon coolpix point and shoot to use for the 2nd week. Lighter and easier to carry for sure haha.

The 3rd day we only had our military guide, a different guy named Evengi maybe? He spoke ok english, good enough! The problem was that he was coming into town from outside, and the bus was late for some reason, so we didn’t get “on the road” until 11 instead of 9. After breakfast Vladmir took us around town to kill time, to the town sign, a park, and to see the harbor with rusted dead boats. When our guide made it, we started by stopping at what he called a “fish factory” near the cooling towers and cooling pool, then a real factory in Pripyat. He was funny, because he said officially the factory made small plastic parts for cassette tape recorders, but unofficially he didn’t know what they did. And it did seem like a rather huge and strange place for just making plastic parts. There were posters about radiation, that didn’t seem like it was just because they were near a plant. Ahh the secretive soviets! We left town and stopped at the bus station, and then train station which was REUSED!!! An abandoned and radioactive town has a train station that was reused into a work shop. Crazy! The last stop was his “secret location” that most tourists don’t see, which was a sort of small vehicle grave yard, and included a derailed train. We then headed back to Chernobyl and home, an hour early 🙁 We didn’t get to go back to the hospital and bookstore and I’M SO BUMMED I COULDN’T GET THE POSTCARD FOR CASSIE!!! GAAAH (souvenir bummer #1).

So my overall impression of the Exclusion zone – clearly awesome from the explorer/photographer perspective. It was great to see, but the work that still needs to be done is overwhelming. The environment and nature is flourishing, they said there are wolves again, wild boars, and a wild horse population (and cats haha), but it all needs to be cleaned up still. I don’t know if/how that will ever happen. It’s beyond me. Pripyat is a dream of course, but I was sort of surprised that it had been scrapped. Sergie explained that under communism you waited in a line for 4 hours to get a toilet – it was so difficult to get what you needed – that despite the contamination and the danger, people went in and took everything (it was not always as secure as it is now). If you expected apartments and buildings to be just as they were left in 1986, they really aren’t. In one sense it is a freeze frame of 1986 but it is not the perfect untouched place you might expect.

Back in Kiev, hung around the apartment, and I took a walk up to St Michael’s and St Sophia’s real quick (it was cold), before Dan and I went out for some food and drinks. We were leaving Kiev for Tallinn in the afternoon, so we went to St Andrew’s (which you can’t go in because it’s being restored) and did some souvenir shopping at the booths along the Descent (cobblestone hill down the side of the church).

So what I saw of Kiev was cool, it was very inexpensive, Chernobyl was clearly awesome, but I did lose my sunglasses somewhere in Pripyiat haha (good thing it was gloomy and rainy most of the trip).

Kiev Photos

Chernobyl Photos

random list of europe trip observations
1. only 1 hotel had sheets on the bed. the others were just a fitted sheet with a comforter. why don’t europeans use top sheets?
2. with so many dogs they really need pooper scooper laws, dog crap all over is unattractive
3. berlin is amazing but they have a graffiti problem, and not in a good artistic way.
4. berlin was built on a swamp, and does still smell like swamp gas at times
5. james bond movies are pretty terrible. especially in german
6. suicidal squirrels! as seen on german mtv commercials
7. i probably wouldn’t return to london as a tourist any time soon. shows not included.
8. i think i’ve seen all i wanted to in cologne, and would not return soon, shows not included.
9. i would stop by gent if i was near by for a day to see the castle and things i missed
10. i’d stop by brussels for a day if near by, since i really didn’t see much of the place
11. i would not return to amsterdam, shows not included.
12. i’d absolutely return to berlin asap.
13. so far recordings of london 1,3,4 and amsterdam 2 which i’m getting cuz i missed “the fragile” grrr
14. the trains, trams and subways of belgium, amsterdam and berlin i suspect are losing alot of money. you don’t run your ticket through a scanner like in london, or toronto, or NY, you just are expected to buy a ticket and have it in your pocket i guess. and by the end of the trip my conscious didn’t bother me about it anymore and i stopped buying tickets to use the U and S Bahns in berlin. there was also no reason to have bought any train/tram tickets in gent or brussels either. even our side trip to lede on a Belgian train they never looked at our ticket. amazing really.
15. just because i’m skinny does not mean that A. i will move for you at the rail or B. you are allowed to spread out all over your airplane seat and into my personal space
16. belgian waffles are the best food ever. and stroopwafles (sp big time, gotta find out what they’re really called). and aside from that the only “ethnic” native food that i ate during the trip was italian haha
17…Trent’s Berlin2 Speech *couldlistentotrentallday*

18. bikes. bikes everywhere. more bikes than people. i almost got ran over by one that came out of no where in gent. and they’re all old bikes, like my mom rode in the 50s when she was a kid. didn’t see any nice new bikes at all. maybe they all get stolen…
19. the continent seems to not believe in take away beverages. it got tough to find a place with paper cups to take coffee and tea to the queues. especially brussels. or even bottles of water. at one point sue and i bought water from the bar next door in brussels…in glass bottles that the bar tender let us take outside as long as we brought them back…and unlike in the states where there is always a gas station or convenient store to buy bottles at, there were way fewer over there.
20. my uk cell phone bill is 163$ hahahahahahahahah
21. i am tired of airports and museums and looking at my pictures of the Dom
22. oh yeah, on the plane in gatwick, taxing to the runway we pass an airplane with the engine on fire. yeah they have a huge fake plane that randomly starts on fire so firemen can practice putting them out, like the fireman training facilities here. i thought it was pretty neat, but for anyone who didn’t realize it was a fake plane…scary.

things that happened while i was gone
1. voted to remain on the CTRC board and remain secretary
2. voted onto the toke committee at work, and today voted in to be…secretary. hahaha
3. i missed hockey
4. i missed kitty
5. bono has nice short hair now, very pop era. and apparently he was in berlin on sunday LOL and he looks really cute again.

I return, to the only place….

Home again. I must say that I’m really sick of airports at this point. Gatwick was annoying, as they wouldn’t let me take 2 bags through security checkpoint. It would have been nice to be told this fact before I checked my suitcase, as I would have put my laptop in it. But no, I had to go and check my bag with my camera in it. Fantastic. That created even more stress than normal when we landed in JFK and waited for baggage. It finally appeared much to my relief. I was already planning out my screaming match with Delta when my camera either didn’t appear, or appeared broken. Phew.

The flight was uneventful and they fed us the entire time. It was like as soon as they picked up the last food and drink they were bringing us more. Peanuts and a drink, then another drink, then dinner with a drink, and another drink, and then ice cream and a drink, then pizza and a drink right before landing. The flight back home was 7.5 hrs, I was glad to have bought a book at Gatwick, seeing as I didn’t sleep on the plane.

JFK was 1000 degrees inside, walking through to baggage pick up, through passport control and customs, then rechecking my suitcase and finding the gate, I was sweating more than at the shows. It was seriously ridiculous. When it’s warm out, turn off the heat. Delta tried to bump me off my flight to Buffalo for a later flight, but I was beyond done with flights and airports and Delta, so no way. I was getting home when I was supposed to.

Mom picked me up at the airport, and I got to see Kitty for a bit before going home. I’m pissed because I left my mom’s Atomium snow globe in a bag I thought only had garbage in it in the London hotel room. Grrrr. Also, the tulip bulbs I bought were not confiscated by the USDA, so at least I had that for her. Of course, I didn’t tell customs about the tulip bulbs hahaha.

Now I’m back to my old habits…wasting time on my computer, procrastinating what needs to be done, like unpacking and sleeping and transferring photos from the laptop to the desktop. Depressed and no motivation. Blah. Home.

The trip is over, and now what? I’ll check in here from time to time, and keep it for the next trip 🙂

Berlin!

So Berlin…

We left Amsterdam for Berlin late on…whatever day it was, Thursday, and arrived at Tegel in the evening. It was the most ridiculous customs experience ever. Basically, the way Tegel is set up, you get off your plane and you are right at your baggage claim. Convenient. Then everyone just walked out. There were 2 police/guards standing at the exit and they did not look at a single passport, did not ask a single customs related question. Nothing. You just walk out and you’re outside and getting a taxi. It was easier than traveling to Canada pre 9-11. I couldn’t quite get over it.

We stayed at the East Side Hotel which is directly across the street from the East Side Gallery – the largest remaining portion of the Berlin Wall. Very cool. The hotel had all sorts of related art, and our floor was filled with photos of Trabants. Score! Haha easily amused.

On Friday we decided to take the 4 hour walking tour given by New Berlin, which starts at the Brandenburg Gate. It was really the best thing to do, as you walk by all the major attractions in the area – the Gate, Reichstag, Holocaust Memorial, Hitler’s Bunker (an apartment complex and parking lot were built on top of it), a portion of the Berlin Wall, which is itself, oddly fenced. Went by the old Nazi Air Force headquarters, which then became a center of the Communists and scene of a massacre of protesters in 61 (i think). It has a wonderful mural of the ideal socialist life haha. Fabulous. Then Checkpoint Charlie which is wonderful. Just so fantastic. I got my passport stamped with the old CCCP and East German stamps and they write up a fake visa for you. We went through some beautiful square surrounded by French and German matching churches and the philharmonic concert hall. Then to another square with St Hedwig(!) catholic church and Humbolt University where the Nazis held their book burning. Ended at the Museum Island where the guide told us how the Berlin Wall fell completely on accident. Great story and I must look up the press conference on youtube.

At the end of the tour it started to rain. We went off to find Zoo Station. Unfortunately Zoo is actually Zooogischer Garten so no signs had the abbreviation. One good thing is one sign was for the U2 train and had the station name. Good enough I guess.

Then to the Victory column, the set of the “Stay (Faraway, so close)” video. It was weird to see it in real life, it looked like a prop. Climbed up to the top. No more stairs for me for a long long time now. It has a great view, too bad it was raining. It, like the Cologne Dom, was filled with graffiti, and some was U2 related. I wanted to add song lyrics from Stay but I just couldn’t. So in the underground walkway I added “Rock and Roll stops the traffic” hahaha.

From there in the rain and darkness we went to see Hansa Studios. Rather unremarkable but I had to. Ate at the restaurant next door, then back to the Reichstag and BrandenburgGate to see them lit up. Things were crazy in the area because they were setting up for the Europafest celebration of 50 years of the European Union.

The American Embassy is being built in Pariser Platz with a sign explaining. I was looking for it to say the construction was being done by Halliburton but alas it didn’t.

Before going to the venue on Saturday we walked along the wall across the street from the hotel on our way to the station (and yes I totally just got “into the void” in my head), to go to the Checkpoint Charlie Museum. Very cool amazing place, great stories about escape attempts etc, but a bit overpriced and very crowded.

And I ate french fries out of a vending machine. In one of the stations they had hotdogs and sausage in vending machines and another machine with french fries. They cook them in the machine in 45 seconds and come out into a cup like coffee vending machines. They were actually really hot and quite good. Let’s say I’ve had plenty worse from real restaurants. I’d definitely have them again haha.

Then the shows, another post.

I attempted to change my flight home from Tuesday til Sunday or Monday so I could keep on the tour through Vienna. But Delta sucks and they wouldn’t change me. If I could have found a cheap way home I would have just “missed” the flight home and gone on with all the girls, but the cheapest price for a new ticket was 1700$. We had a whole plan involving “losing” my passport and telling the casino I wasn’t allowed to leave Germany until I got another one blahblahblah. The travel that I’d need to arrange to get to the next cities was cheap and would have worked, there was just no way for me to get back home. Very depressing, I really don’t want to leave.

So, Monday checked out of the hotel but my flight didn’t leave for London until 7:45 so I had all day to see more of Berlin. I wanted to go to the Franciscan Monestary ruins, and I did, but they’re closed Mondays. So I just decided to wander, and I wandered on past the Berliner Dom, so what the hey, I went in. Very different, and things kept saying it was a Protestant church – but dear lord it was the most elaborate ornate looking non-Catholic church I’ve ever seen. Very different from the Cologne Dom, but very ornate in its own way. You can go all the way up to the top of the dome and get a good view of the city from there. I approve haha. More wandering, and I wandered past the German Historical Museum. David had mentioned there was an exhibit on the Art of Propaganda that he was going to go to, while I had decided to go to the monestary ruins. But since I ended up walking by and had time to kill I went to see it too. I love propaganda so it was very cool. Showcased propaganda from WWII from Germany, Italy, USSR and US. More wandering and I remembered the car in Hard Rock so I went out back that way, took some pics of the U2 trabbie, and went to the half ruined church that got bombed out but was left that way while they built a new church next to it. (Woah some movie I put on has Charlize Theron and Johnny Depp, and he’s apparently evil?…hot but weird tho, and Clee Duval)

Got a cab to Tegel and wow I hate that airport. It seemed neat when you arrive, but not when you depart. Language wasn’t an issue so much as just the way it’s set up. There aren’t long rows of check in desks for each airline, like American airports – there is a check in for each gate, and every airline can use it depending if they have a flight leaving that gate or not. So I was confused that I couldn’t find a British Airways checkin station, I had to ask, and you just check in at the gate you’ll be leaving out of. Ok fine, but they wouldn’t let the London flight check in until the flight before was practically off the ground. Once I checked in I figured, I’ll go sit at the gate. Except you can’t go to the gate until it’s your flight. But there are no signs, and I’ve never seen it set up that way before. So I try to go through security and this guy starts yelling at me in German. And I say I don’t know German and he’s still yelling in German, and I again say DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH. He just keeps yelling and saying “pass”. Wtf. I go back out the door I went in and there is one of the police/guards in this little booth and he speaks German to me and again I’m like, ENGLISH! So he finally does start speaking in english, and he tells me you can’t go to the gate until it’s your flight, and when you do he has to check my passport. That’s fabulous, there’s not a single sign saying that the booth was a passport check or that I had to show anyone anything.

Ok fine, so I don’t go to the gate, but now what the hell do I do. There are no lounges, or even big spaces with chairs. There are occasionally little nooks with chairs. So I end up sitting on the floor in front of the check in for the gate, cuz I have no where else to go. Finally I go to the passport guy again, and he’s flipping through it looking for my Berlin stamp. Except I don’t have one because as you recall, no one looked at my passport when arriving in Berlin. But I didn’t say anything, and he saw the Düsseldorf stamp so I let him assume that I came from Düsseldorf haha. The whole thing was incredibly frustrating and irritating. The theme so far of traveling in Berlin I guess.

On the way to the airport I actually saw a Trabant driving on the road. That made me happy.

Flight was delayed but not badly and Glen picked me up at Heathrow to bring me to Gatwick, which was much appreciated. The cops walking around Heathrow all were carrying huge automatic weapons – rifles or something. It was pretty scary. My London hotel for the night gave me a room with 3 beds, 2 of them bunk, 5 pillows and still no sheets. Why don’t they use sheets in Europe? Could have used this room when Alex was with us, there is at least room to walk.

Berlin Photos

try and tear me down

I am in a netcafe near the venue. I still need a ticket for tonight but Iäm not worried. Damn german kezboards. I just wanted to say I am *this* close to not coming home. And the more I think about it the more I can work it to stay until Sunday. I probably won’t but I want to more than anzthing. Not looking forward to the forthcoming depression. I should go get back in the queue and find a bathroom. Later.

 

(of course nin played “the fragile” at Amsterdam2 :P)

Atomium and Amsterdam

The last half day in Brussels brought going to see the Atomium – a giant blown up structure of an atom built for the 1958 World’s Fair. And it definitely looks like something that came from the 50s. It’s totally fabulous. It reopened after a restoration project and you can take escalators and an elevator into each of the “spheres” of the structure. Totally cool. It could use more history and old photos from the construction and the fair but it was still great. Picked up our luggage after and headed by train to Amsterdam. The train took us through Antwerp, The Hague (which I thought was in Switzerland or something) and Rotterdam. Everything looks much like Belgium, since they were all one in the past, same type of architecture and set up. I’m quite tired with the “low countries” now, I’m ready for Berlin. Did see traditional windmills however, just in seemingly random spots. Pretty neat. They also have modern wind turbines. Oh and we passed FOUR nuclear power plants on the train ride – 2 right around Brussels. I thought that was interesting/exciting.

Brussels Photos

We have an apartment again – and I don’t remember booking a “suite”. It’s pretty nice but I have to pay special attention to the bill, because 1. I booked through expedia and thus have already been charged, and 2. they better not charge me extra for a suite I didn’t book. They are doing renovations of the hotel, so I’m thinking maybe this was all they had for us…Our suite is in a separate building like in Cologne but up 2 sets of very small spiral staircases, then the suite itself has another small spiral staircase. I’m going to kill myself trying to get out with my 50 lb suitcase. A bellhop or someone carried it up for me haha.

We took off to walk around the area a bit. It’s very cold, yuck. And while it’s fairly pretty I’ve decide this is just not my kind of city. I just don’t get the right vibe from it. Nothing seems extremely interesting to me, the pretty things are quite spread out and not gathered into a true “city center” like Cologne and Gent and even Brussels. It has a definite more dangerous feel to it, and it clearly can be a city of depravity hahaha. I get that vibe from it, where I don’t really get that in Las Vegas, the supposed Sin City. I’m glad we’re only really here one full day. People can call me lame for not whooping it up in Amsterdam. I’ll have to think of some ridiculous story to tell people at work hahaha.

Tomorrow is a show day, and Paradiso is in the general area of the Museum District. Plans are to get up early and go to the Van Gogh Museum then go right to the venue. It’s supposed to be cold and rainy again.

Amsterdam Photos