Nate's Travels

An attempt to document the world-travels of Nate B. from China to Western Europe and beyond!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Berlin and Interlaken (Yet another MEGAPOST!)

Soooooo I'm finally getting around to it. I apologize that you're being agonizingly kept on the edge of your uncomfortable office chair waiting for me to post one of these, but I'm busy!!! I've got a book to read, two papers to write, and work to do for the internship before I go to Spain! But enough about me, here's more about my time in Berlin and Interlaken so you can continue to live vicariously through me!

Berlin:
We left for Berlin after school on Friday (3/9) and caught the train (the 9 hour train) to Berlin at 2:30. The train ride was pretty uneventful, but it was an extremely busy set of trains. We were using Eurail and didn't have time to get a reservation during the week so we ended up standing/sitting in between cars for probably a few hours of the trip there. Anyway, we got to our hostel (really nice; Meninger... a chain in Germany) and decided to check out the city a little bit. To give you perspective, Berlin is three times the size of Paris so we didn't get to see much at night. We actually ended up meeting a kid who lived in Florida for a while, then moved back to Germany.... anyway, some of his friends and him were going to a club near our hostel, so we tagged along. They had a friend that was DJing, ended up being a horrible DJ and a crappy club, but at least we met some cool people and tried a little German beer (Becks was still the best we had, honestly).

The next morning we got up and met the girls that we were traveling with downtown for a walking tour put on by the "NEW" company. I'll sing their praises again; they're a tips based company that gives amazing tours. It was GREAT. We started off at the Brandenburg gates and saw the place where the Reichstag (where the German parliamentary body, the Bundestag sits). Next we headed to the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe (pretty hardcore name), which was an amazing memorial. It's constructed of 2700 concrete blocks laid out in a way that they get progressively taller as you go towards the center (and they ARE big when you're walking next to them). The memorial is a kind of maze, people suddenly appear then disappear in it very quickly; this is one of the interpreted meanings of the memorial, though the architecht has never said what it actually represents. After that memorial we went to the location of Hitler's underground bunker (now the site of some nasty ex-communist apartments). Nothing is actually left of the bunker to see, it was completely demolished and filled in; not terribly exciting to see a patch of grass, but Hitler wasn't a terribly exciting guy. After that we went to the IRS of Germany, aptly housed in one of the old buildings of WWII (one of the few that wasn't bombed because it was the Airforce building... pilots were superstitious). The building had an interesting history with regards to East/West Berlin. It was one of the places some of the biggest riots took place and where one of the most awful massacres of East Berliners took place. The building has a mural of the ideal world of Socialism... it's absolutely rediculous. That same mural is offset by a giant picture set in glass in the middle of the square in front of the building of rioting workers. The mural=idealistic socialsm, the picture=socialism in practice.

After that building, we walked to the part of the wall that is still standing. It's hard to imagine the "no passing zone" around it to keep East Berliners in, but it still stands as a sobering reminder of what messed up people will do to control their populations. After the wall we walked to Checkpoint Charlie (the third checkpoint) where you'd have to go to cross between the sides of the wall, and eventually one of the first checkpoints that were overrun. After that we went to one of the big squares in Berlin, home of the bookburning memorial. The memorial is actually under the square, visible via a 3'x3' window in the ground. The memorial is nothing but giant white bookcases that supposedly have enough space to hold all of the books that were burned in the square (I'm inclined to say they numbered in the 20,000's). We saw the campus for the University of Berlin... not very big, but supposedly a very prestigious school. We visited another memorial; the Memorial against tyrany and oppression, after the bookburning memorial. It's a beautiful memorial; a mother holding her dying son cast in bronze at the center of a roman-style building. There is no artificial light, only a hole in the ceiling that allows sun and the elements through. It's very sombering, but a really neat piece. Following that we ended the tour on Museum Island (because there are lots of museums... and it's an island). We saw a church that looks very baroque (probably should fix it :P) yet was actually built in 1903 because the German Kaiser didn't feel there were enough "old" buildings in Berlin. We got a view of the berlin TV tower too, interesting structure.

After the tour we headed to an open air market where I found some of the coolest art I've seen in a while; If I had more money/a house of my own, I'd go back and decorate it with some of the pieces I saw there... it was neat! We split up after that to go change/eat on our own (Taylor and I did burger king... cheap and good), then met back up at 8 for a p/club crawl. It was a great time, very crazy, especially since we were being filmed by German TV, but we all had a blast. The next morning Taylor and I were beat from the day before so we decided to start our trip home. We made it to Koblentz then missed a connection, ended up having to wait for about an hour and ended up getting home about 2 hours later. Blah. Oh well, that's the way it works with trains. So we ended up back in Lux city at 7:00pm or something like that, had dinner and that was it! Berlin was a great city to visit, a lot of fun in the people and nightlife, but it's just so BIG! I would have liked to see more, but being so far away made it really difficult. I had a blast though!

Interlaken:

SWITZERLANDDDDD! We headed to Interlaken after school, again, though it would have been a good idea to skip Friday classes to have had more time in Switzerland. By far, it was the most beautiful place I've been; the alps were gorgeous, the towns were great for walking around, and the people were pretty friendly. We arrived at about 10pm and checked into our Hostel, Balmers Herberge (recommended by Ian at Starbucks), which ended up being a really sweet place (except their pillows sucked). We walked around the town that night, just tried to get a feel for the place. It was a pretty quiet town, but full of mountain air. It exuded relaxing feelings :). We hit the hostel bar up that night, it ended up being semi-clubby, which we were trying to get away from for the weekend, so we went to bed early (the Interlaken beer is NOT good either, so that didn't help!).

The next morning we got up early, had breakfast, and decided to go hiking. I initially had wanted to do a 500ft bungy jump, but was disappointed to find they don't open it until the spring :(. I rented some hiking boots and we went to Grindlewald to take the gondola to First ("Feerst") to start our climb. We climbed through some paths they have marked in the snow on the mountain up to Faulhorn (alt. 2795m above sea level). It was an incredibly tiring climb. It took us about 1.5 hours to hike up and about 45 minutes to hike down. We didn't get sleds, but apparently the thing to do is hike up and sled down... looked like a lot of fun. One good thing about the hike up was the restaurant at the top of the mountain! It wasn't high-class, but it was fun. We had gulash made by the most Mountain-Man looking man I've seen next to my bro-in-law (haha, sorry Sean). It was very much welcomed after we'd hiked like madmen getting up that mountain! Once we got down it was about 5pm. We decided to chill for the rest of the night in Interlaken. Unfortunately, Interlaken doesn't have much to do besides extreme sports during the day, and almost no nightlife. It was alright though, we were really tired after our hike, so we got some onion rings at Hooters (yes, it's reached Switzerland.. haha), had some GREAT wheat beer (Erdinger), and headed back to our hostel. We were going to rent a scooter in the morning, but decided against that once we got up. Eventually we decided just to head back to Luxembourg to get some schoolwork done for the next week. It ended up being a good decision, and one heck of a relaxing weekend. I miss Switzerland deeply though, it was such a beautiful country... I hope I get to go back sometime during the summer to do that bungy jump!

WOOO HOOO, WE'RE CURRENT. I'm sorry this has been such a long post, and that you've been kept in the dark about my adventures. Hope you're all doing well! Make sure to check out the pictures if you haven't at THIS SITE ! See you all soon, only 41 days of school left!

=Nate

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Dublin and Edinburgh

Okay, Tonight I plan on Updating YOU, the reader through Dublin and Edinburgh (MINIMUM!). Hopefully I can get through Berlin and Interlaken too, so I'm up to date before I go to Spain! Ready? Lets go...

Dublin:

I got to Dublin on Monday afternoon of my week-long break, perfect flight, even though I almost missed it (stupid busses in London.. ugh!). The weather in Dublin was grey and rainy the day I got there, not exactly the way I wanted it to be, but I got a bus pass and headed into town. I stayed in the Temple Bar part of Dublin (one of the biggest centers of city life for pubs and good, Irish times). The hostel was great and let me check in early to throw my stuff down. After that, I went and met up with an Irish guy I'd met earlier in my travels who promised to hook me up with a tour if I came to Dublin... best money I never spent. We toured through Trinity college (beautiful), the Georgian (After the architechtural style) neighborhoods, back through the park to Oscar Wilde's statue (that's the guy on the rock in my pictures), and ended up at the art museum (honestly, the most breathtaking painting I've seen in Europe was here... Carrivaggio's "Taking of Christ"). It was a great FREE tour, and this guy, John, knew his history, so it was really informative. I checked out Dublin Castle on my own later that afternoon. That night I ate at the "Kick Ass Cafe," a completely overpriced and un-Irish place, but worth saying I've eaten there :). That night, made my rounds to a few of Temple Bar's famous pubs, had a few Jamesons, a few Guinnesses and headed home.

The next morning, I got up at about 9am and headed downtown to do my "Hop-on/Hop-off" tour of Dublin (included in my 3 day bus pass... heckuva deal). Through the tour I visited a few of Dublin's big attractions and got a lot of information about the history of the city (really cool considering I'm 50% Irish). My favorite stop of the day, however, was the Guinness Storehouse, home of "The Guinness Story," the 9000 year lease that Arthur Guinness has on the property, and the world-famous "Gravity Bar," which provides you with your included pint (best I've ever had) as well as a 360-degree view of Dublin (great for pictures). Honest to goodness, it was the best 10Euro I've ever spent. The tour was really informative, had a decent amount of Irish history in it, and I had the best pint of Guinness ever! :) Okay, enough about that... I know my mom is thinking "I sent him to Europe for WHAT?!" I had lunch (Irish Stew and a Pint of Guinness) at the original "Brazen Head" pub, which might not mean anything to you unless you're from Columbus/Dublin, Ohio, where the sister pub is (and I happen to love!). I took a picture there to take to the great people in Dublin, OH. Incidentally it's Dublin's oldest pub, constructed in the 1600's too... cool! I also went to the Modern Art Museum (one of the real disappointments of Dublin), which had some neat pieces, but it was half-closed, and not the best museum. That night I went and saw the british comedy "Hot Fuzz" (from the makers of Shaun of the Dead)... one of the funniest comedies I've ever seen, then headed back to my hostel.

The NEXT morning, I decided to pay for a tour to southern Dublin's coast and the Powersgate Gardens. Again, the tour was absolutely worth the money. I saw a lot of the coast and the Gardens were amazing--compared to Versailles, I liked them a lot more. It was like a miniature version, but much better kept, and the weather was such that some of the gardens were in bloom already. It was a really peaceful experience to walk around them. After the tour was over, I headed back to the hostel and packed up my stuff, it ended up that I wouldn't be able to catch the bus early enough in the morning, and I didn't want to pay for a cab, so I stayed overnight at the Airport (yes, it was plenty safe), I was just bummed since I paid for an extra night in my hostel. However, when you're at the mercy of public transport, that's life! The next morning at 6:30a.m., my flight left for Edinburgh, Scotland.

That was Dublin in a nutshell. I wish I had gone a few more places in Ireland, but I think I hit all the big stuff in Dublin, and felt really good about it as a city. The saying for Ireland is: There are no strangers, only friends you haven't met. I felt this to be true everywhere; Dublin was a warm, welcoming city with a lot of history... I loved it.

Edinburgh:

I arrived WAY too early into Edinburgh, and on only 2 hours of sleep from the night before.. blah! I got to the city center at about 8:30am when the only thing open was Starbucks (not even the ticket counter for the busses)! I went in, had some chai, and came back to the bus ticket place, got a day pass, and went to my hostel (arriving at about 10am). They were SUPER nice and let me check in early. I got there, took a shower, then went back out to the bus stop to go back into town. I toured around the town, checked out things like the Scott monument, the Royal Mile, The castle (from the outside... too pricey to go in!), saw Edinburgh Univeristy, etc. I had lunch in a killer baked potato place (apparently, they're all the rage in Edinburgh), run by a vegan. I had pineappe/onion/sour cream filling in mine... it was absolutely off the chain good! After that, I stopped in at a hole-in-the-wall pub and had a hand pulled ale... not bad, but not the best thing I've ever had (especially over here). After my mini-tour, I headed back to my hostel to rest a bit until my friends, who had gone to a different part of Ireland, arrived. They texted me later that afternoon and we met up, largely repeating my mini-tour, then grabbing dinner and going out to see a band play.

The next morning I got up and met them in the center of the city (they stayed in a different hostel). My hostel was a bit far from the city center (25 minutes by bus, blah) but was situated on a bay, and had a lot of amenities, which were nice to have. Anyway, that day we decided to skip the city and do our own nature-based tour, climbing up the cliff/mountains surrounding Edinburgh. They're actually really accessable to people even if you're not a superb climber. The girls kept up pretty well in their designer boots :P. We reached the top after about an hour or so, then took some time to take in the surroundings. It was a beautiful view, and a great place to "commune with nature." Coming down ended up being the most fun part... We headed down a different way than we came up, the way WITHOUT the path. Stupid, stupid idea. It didn't look that steep until we got to one part of it. I was in the front with Danny, and there was a point that was prettyyyyy freaky. I'm not going to lie, I had a 10-15 foot slide on the wet rocks that was pretty scary, ripped my hands up a bit too. After being approached by the rangers to make sure we were okay, however, we all got down safely. It took us about an hour and half to actually get down, but we were happy we all made it safe! That night we celebrated our safety and Mike's birthday at THE TRON bar, cheap and a lot of fun!

The next day we took it pretty easy, toured around a bit more, let the girls do some shopping, and got our stuff out of the hostels. We never made it on the Underground tour that dad wanted me to do, but Edinburgh still ended up being a great city to visit for a short amount of time. We jumped on the train and headed to the airport in the afternoon then flew back to Frankfurt-Hahn airport, getting into Luxembourg at around 1:30 in the morning. Ughhh. We had to pay 85Euro (split 4 ways) to get back to Differdange that early in the morning, an absolute rip-off, but... c'est la vie. The next day was spent recovering and relaxing before school on Monday.

Yeeeee hooooo. That's Edinburgh and Dublin, the rest of my Carnival break! Next up, Berlin, Germany! Stay tuned to read all about it!

=Nate

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Finally... London... More coming

Phew! Finally a chance to update! I know it’s been about 3 weeks since I have, but bear with me and I’ll get through at least London, Dublin, and Edinburgh (my week-long break) and post about Berlin a little later. Sweet—here we go…

London:

Though I was staying by myself for the whole week, I traveled with a few people and met up with them in London. We got into the UK around 11:30pm their time (one hour behind Luxembourg). The problem was we were at London Stansted airport in Essex, about an hour and a half by bus from London! That meant I actually got to London proper about 1am on Saturday (2/24) at which time I had to take a cab to my hostel because night buses are so ridiculously slow that it would have taken me 4 hours to go 10 miles. The cabbie took me for pretty much everything I was worth, but gave me an interesting night tour—even if it did cost 60 quid (that’s about $120… yeah).
The next day I got up and met up with my friends at Buckingham palace, a truly awesome sight on the royal mile. I got there just in time to see the changing of the guard (which only happens every other day in the winter), a really neat ceremony complete with bands, horse guards, infantry… it’s intense. After that we headed to the theatre to see if they had some cheap Wicked tickets (the girls in the group really wanted to go), but no dice. We decided to head to Piccadilly Circus (not a real circus… don’t get too excited) to see the “Times Square of London.” Piccadilly was definitely the place that hippies hung out; there was a guy filming a documentary about uhm… male genetalia?... weirdo… as well as a hippy drum circle where they danced and howled at the sun. Yeah. Howled. After Piccadilly we walked around the city some more, rode the Tube (London Subway) and ended up at the queen’s park outside of Buckingham, actually a really interesting place for ornithologists, I think. I saw more different kinds of birds than I ever have, save the zoo. We walked through the horse guards’ barracks/staging area just as the sun was setting over London, making our way to Trafalgar Square. Trafalgar was in an uproar, they had a giant Chinese New Year celebration on Sunday they were setting up for, but we walked through the square and checked it out; it’s so busy! That night we tried to eat as cheap as possible and ended up going to a fish and chips/British roast restaurant in Greenwich (“Gren-itch”) where my friends were staying. We tried to go out to a club/bar after that, but it ended up being uptight and not liking our sneakers enough to let us in, plus they had a 5 quid cover ($10), so it was a no-go. I headed back to my hostel to sleep for Sunday.
Sunday (2/25) I got up and met my friends at The London Monument (monument to the Great Fire) where we started a 4½-hour walking tour. The tour was awesome; it’s a tips-based tour company that gives “free” tours for students, great company, we ended up using them in Berlin too. On the tour we saw: The Monument, Tower Bridge, London Bridge, Charles Dickens’ old hang out, The National Bank, The Temple of Mithras, St. Paul’s Cathedral (from the outside, I never got a chance to go in), The Tate Modern, The recreation of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, The Church of the Knight’s Templar, The Austrailian House (Used as the set of Gringott’s Goblin Bank in Harry Potter), Big Ben, The Houses of Parliament, finally ending at Westminster Abbey. PHEW! It was a long tour, but completely worth the time. Our guide was amazing, she really knew the history of London to a T! Since we ended at Westminster, we decided to go to an Evensong service (musical service in the evening… go figure). It was a beautiful service in an amazing church. We didn’t really get to tour around the church, you have to pay 10 quid for that, but we got to experience services there, which I think was far more interesting. That night we walked back to Trafalgar Square and found a restaurant that served “Toad in the ‘Ole,” which, I felt I had to try since it was in the Disney classic, Bedknobs and Broomsticks. It’s plate with a Yorkshire pudding on it (think of it like a buttery bread bowl or something like that), with mashed potatoes, vegetables, gravy and topped off with a spiral of sausage… it was one of the best meals I’ve had in Europe! Topped off with a hand-pulled ale it was a dinner to die for.
That was London in a nutshell; the next morning I got up and headed back to the Airport, almost missing my plane (buses didn’t leave on time… ugh!) on my way to Dublin, Ireland!