Giddy Up Europe

Germany, Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Greece, Italy, Vatican, Monaco, Spain...

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Athens and Patras, July 12 - 16

Greece. The land of Trojan horses, Greek fire, Alexander, the Golden Age, and all things Bosian. We flew into Athens and took the bus to Syntagma Square, finally walking to our hostel appropriately named, Zeus Hostel. It was really a good hostel with many young people and it's placed rather excellently. Nearby is Monastiraki Square (one of the main squares by the Acropolis), from where you can shop around in one of the hundreds of late night shops, have a seat at a cafe overlooking the Acropolis, or have a drink at one of the local bars. The first thing you think when you arrive is that it is a typical capital city that happens to house 4.6 million Greeks, has no discernable traffic system (the bus lane runs opposite the flow of traffic, crossing lights will tell you to walk after waiting for three minutes, then switch back two seconds after you start crossing the street, and people on mopeds will run you over if they can), and the streets are overrun with peddlers. But then you walk down Athinas towards Monastiraki Square, pass the butchers' market, and look up. You see the Parthenon atop the Acropolis and you kind of don't know what to say. It's not that high up and not in pristine condition, but you know it's awesome.

So you can get to the Acropolis by wandering around the perimeter until you find one of the entrances. The entrance fee is 12 euro and that gets you into the Acropolis (which houses the Parthenon, the Theater of Dionysus, and the Temple of Athena Nike among other things), the Ancient Agora, Keramikos, and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. It's a couple hours hiking around, so bring plenty of water, otherwise you'll be shelling out big bucks in the heat and humidity. Seriously, every single dog in Athens was passed out lying in the shade or in the middle of street. They were all so dead. Also, expect to get a tan because it's sunny almost all the time. That is, except for the one hour of torrential downpour that flooded the streets when Allison and I were headed to the beach. Luckily, though, it cleared up. I'm rambling now, but before we get to the pictures, let me just mention that there's so much road rage and just generally Greeks arguing. Wherever you go, in the stores, at tellers, in the streets, Greeks will find a way to argue with each other. But that's a cross-cultural thing. Andiamos!

Here's a shot from the Areios Pagos right near the Acropolis on the first night. It's really just a rocky ledge where people go to check out the view of Athens and have some wine or beer. The Acropolis and most ruins are lit up quite nicely at night, so you can see some of the talking heads in this photo.

The next day we hit up the Acropolis and started out at the Theater of Dionysus. It was so sunny and hot that day, which made the white stone and everything around so bright. The upper half was gone, but you can tell it would've been pretty sweet to check out a show there.

Here's a shot a little above the Theater of Dionysus. It's some Greeks restoring parts of the monuments at the Acropolis. Workng in the sun is hard business, let me tell you.

And from atop the Acropolis, you can see another people not so far off, Mount Lycabettus. There's a picture below of the view after we hiked up there at night. There's a small chapel on the top, which is what you are looking at. Mount Lycabettus is higher than the Acropolis, but the view from the Acropolis isn't too shabby. Definitely a must see if you're in Athens. But bring your own water! Buckets of it. Also, do not get caught in the rain there because once you're in, there's absolutely no shelter.

Here's a shot of Allison and me at the back of the Parthenon by a tall Greek flag post.

And if you swing around and check out the otherside, here's what you see.

Here's the front of the Parthenon. Pretty cool to see, but it makes you think of how much more intense it would be to have seen it when it was intact. Getting those huge stones up the hill would have been ridiculous. They've been restoring the Acropolis for decades and have really gotten nowhere.

After getting our fill of the Acropolis and the museum that they have up there, we headed over to the Panathenaic Stadium. The track was black and it was a pretty sweet stadium, laid out like an ancient Greek theater.

Right nearby is the Temple of Olympian Zeus, which was really just a wide open space with very few remaining columns. But I guess it's pretty picturesque with the sun in the background. I need a camera that can take good photos with the sun, though.

Still at the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Allison's a column! Check out the one behind that fell over like a stack of dominos.

The next day, we hit the nearest beach by tram. It started to rain, but dried up quickly. Here's a game that I played with Panagiotis in Stuttgart. He said that in Cyprus, he and his friends played everyday for a couple hours. The far guy was a pro at the this game. And check out those speedos!

So he's another shot of Allison passed out at the beach. But at least this time she wasn't sleeping at the beach in her jacket.

We also saw the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by Parliament at Syntagma Square. This was the show at noon, but if you get there on a Sunday, they are supposed to have different outfits. They had some crazy leg kicks going on and all the guards were naturally big dudes. There are two guards and they change on the hour and march to different spots around the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and keep watch. Pretty solemn guys.

They stand by their post for about 15 minutes and people can take pictures with them, but don't stand too close, sit on the steps, or get too close to the tomb. The guards will slam their rifles on the ground, indicating that you should step back. Though they don't move, there is a third guard not in the same national uniform who will come and get you. He also whistles and salutes the tomb, which lets the guards know what time it is and he also fixes their uniforms when they have to keep still.

Here's a shot of the Acropolis at night from Mount Lycabettus. It's pretty sweet in that many of the important landmarks are lit up at night and you can see most everything from the summit.

Allison and I got someone to take a picture of us sitting on the ledge. What's going on?

Close up of our legs! The Acropolis is that tiny blurry thing in the background. Trippy.

Finally, there was also a restaurant or two at the top, which I'm assuming is pretty pricey. But hey, you get to look over the entire city while you chow down on some great Greek food. They don't really have doners, but souvlaki is the Greek doner and it also comes from a meatstick.

After spending four nights in Greece, we headed on a six-hour slow train ride to Patras to catch a 14-hour Blue Star (Superfast Ferries) Ferry to Bari to catch a six-hour train ride to Rome. But it was all good because we got to Bari with an eight-hour layover because all the trains to Rome were booked. And it was a Sunday, which means everything was closed. However, there was a fastfood place by the main station that had big 2-for-1 sandwiches for three euro. Plus a large sprite. Fluids!

The ferry was 30 euro and we got to chill at booths on an enclosed deck; no rooms. But it worked out all right and the ferry was more like a cruise ship with a casino, decent restaurants, and television rooms. I didn't a pool, though. The price was kind of steep, but it's high season, meaning there's a 20 euro surcharge. So if you get to Greece and want to hope over to Italy, do it during the low season and it's only ten euro. There's a picture or two from the boat, but I'll tell you about it in my next post about Rome. Arrivederci.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Budapest, July 11 - 12

Enter Budapest. Only a few hour train ride from Wien, but we only got to stay there for about 18 hours before heading to the airport to catch our flight to Athens. For those of you that don't know, Budapest is divided by the Danube into Buda on the west bank and Pest on the east bank. Unfortunately, shortly after we arrived at Keleti Station, it started pouring and didn't really let up until the next morning. So we did less sightseeing that we would've liked and only got to hike around Castle Hill in Buda. Though the rain was rather unpleasant to walk around in, Budapest seemed like a city quite fitting to explore in the rain. It's a city (at least Buda) that still has a lot of foliage that seems somewhat 'wild,' especially climbing up the hillsides to the Royal Palace. Though Hungary became a member of the European Union on May 1, 2004, they still use the Hungarian Forint, which is worth about half of one American cent. There is no construct of cents and dollars, so bills come in 1000, 2000, and 5000, and other denominations. It's probably the most inexpensive country we've run into on the trip as our hostel was about eight euro per person per night and we ate at a classy vegetarian restaurant for about 13 American bones.

One of the German students, Panagiotis, in Stuttgart showed me a German flick called Im Juli, which is about a guy travelling from Germany to Budapest. It was a decent movie - though I could only understand because Pana was translating - and reminded me of our trek, especially in the rain. Let's roll.

Here's a shot of Allison and I on the Elizabeth Bridge, trying to make it to our hostel in the rain.

Here's the Chain Bridge that we passed shortly thereafter and crossed the next day to get to the metro.

So there was a surprise when we found our hostel. Though it was very clean, these were the showers. If you're noticing that something is missing, you aren't alone. That's right, no shower curtains. Which is just kind of curious because the water gets everywhere. So we all took showers, but one at a time.

The next day we headed up to Castle Hill in Buda and see what was there. There was a pretty sweet view across the Danube and what you're looking at is Parliament. That's a bad ass structure, eh?

When we got to the Royal Palace, which didn't seem all that exciting, I decided I should be in some of these pictures. It was still coming down a little even the next day. See how appropriately dressed I am?

Outside the Matthias Church on Castle Hill were some towers that looked over the Danube and lots of tourists were taking pictures. Is that pretty sweet?

Here's a shot of inside Matthias Church. It was pretty small and one of the few churches that I had seen with an entrance fee, but it was still pretty cool to check out where the Habsburg emperors were crowned kings of Hungary.

If Matthias is reading, here's a restaurant with his name right on Castle Hill. I imagine etterem means 'restaurant.' Check out those skills of deduction! Oh, you might want to look that up, though.

We also went to the Castle Labyrinth under Castle Hill, which was probably the most interesting part of the day. It costs HUF1100 and you get to walk around the underground cave system, which was decked out with haunting music and sweet lighting. Definitely a must if you're in the greater Budapest area.

It started to smell a little strange when we were rounding a corner, but it turned out to be a wine fountain in one of the cave rooms. I doubt the wine pouring out was very drinkable, but I mean, that's awesome. Wine fountains.

There was also a huge sculpture of a submerged king in one of the rooms. It was kind of random.

Then it got a little more random when there was a section of fake fossils. Here's a seven-foot fossil of a Coke bottle. So the labyrinth started out pretty intense because it was gloomy and dark with creepy music, but then it kind of turned into a fun house? What's going on here?

Here are some random Germany pictures.

At last, here's the long lost Heidelberg jump picture with Brad and Allison.

Apparantly Brad took this picture in Stuttgart of some random guy completely peaced at the Schlossplatz. He's also just caged in there and check out whatever he has in his hand. Is that a tape recorder? Anyone ever see the movie 'Saw?'

Here's a shot of Allison and Tall Jon. I actually don't think Jon is that tall. It's really just that Allison looks shorter because she's wearing horizontal stripes. I guess there's no unimpugnable way for me to mention that I sometimes watch 'Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.' Wow, that was like a triple negative.

Here's a shot of the official 'Core' taking it easy in a park in Stuttgart, that is Allison, me, Jon, and Jesus. The Core generally has nothing to do with drinking and well, whatever happens in the Core, stays in the Core. But that's a story for a later post.

A nice perk of hitting Budapest was that Hungarian customs stamped our passports entering by train and leaving by plane. All previous countries that we had travelled through didn't bother with stamps when checking your passport, but oh well. Stamp that passport. Bitch.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Wien, July 10 - 11

After Jon left for Stuttgart, Allison and I headed on a ten hour night train to Wien's (Vienna's) Westbahnhof in Austria. Wien lies on the Danube and has the highest proportion of middle-aged and older citizens than any other European city. The Inner Stadt of the city is encircled by Ringstrasse, which once used to be city walls, but is now a large boulevard. As a center for music, many great composers such as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, and Strauss flocked to Wien to present their craft. So naturally, we went to the Haus der Musik Museum, which had exhibits on each major composer as well as the world famous Wiener Philharmonika. However, most of the museum was dedicated to futuristic and synthetic forms of musical discovery and how the human ear receives and interprets sound. There were many interactive exhibits, but they would've been more entertaining for children. We also went to the Uhrenmuseum (Clock museum) and Stephansdom Cathedral, which were pretty cool, but a little dry once you've seen so many. What would've been awesome was if we could've witnessed the Spanische Reitschule (Spanish Riding School) and Lipizzaner Museum in action to see some well-trained horses perform, but they weren't in session. Wien was really nice and there's tons of museums to go to, but I think that with its' aged demographic, once is enough. Alas, it was out last German-speaking nation to travel through. Österreichische (Austrian) citizens pronounce W's as English speakers and not like a 'V' as in Germany. So hearing a bartender say 'zwei' was funky. Anyway, onto the show.

Here's a shot of the Hofburg, or Imperial Palace in Wien's Museumsquartier. There were some seriously large and intense arrested-motion sculptures gracing this face.

Here's the inside of the gothic Stephansdom Cathedral. We got there on a Sunday afternoon, so this is when everyone was clearing out after mass.

So there's a sign for a Wienerwald, which is a European restaurant chain similar to Olive Garden, I would say. This picture was taken for two reasons; the first being that it has the Haus der Musik direction in the background, and the second because it's a Wienerwald. Now, there was one in Stuttgart, but I had always assumed incorrectly, that it meant 'Wiener World.' This is not so, though. Wienerwald means Vienna Woods, where you can find wine villages and the like. Thus, the myth debunked, Wienerwald is not a sausage factory.

If I remember correctly, this is a picture of Beethoven that I took at the Haus der Musik. Pretty bad ass pose. But appropriate for a man who lived in something like 68 different residences in Wien, often paying rent of several different properties at the same time.

We headed over to the Danube and apparantly caught the final lap of a bike race (not the Tour de France, but I have no idea what this one was for) on Franz Josefs Kai. It was pretty sweet to see them roll by, but there was also the ambulance tailgating the last biker who was lagging behind. Good times.

After that, we shortly made it to the Danube and hung out at Strandbar Herrmann (Beach Bar Herrmann), which was quite literally on the river. Here's the view from the bar overlooking the Aspernbrücke and an observatory. Though it was a bit chilly as happy hour approached, it was a nice place to hang out and watch the locals.

I was just hanging out and trying to figure out where to go and what to do next. I had really no idea what was going on. Self-taken.

But I had more of an idea than Allison did. She sat down and was out for an hour until I woke her up. But not before taking this picture. Hollaz!

So after about a minute of me shaking Allison and saying, "Steh auf!" we walked by the Hunderwasserhaus (an apartment complex designed by Hundertwasser). It's a modern design with some crazy architecture, but the real reason for this picture was because it shows how to get to our next stop, Budapest.

But what you really want to know about is low cost eating in Stuttgart.

But first, here's a group shot from early on in the program before our tour of the Rathaus (City Hall). It's our 'enthusiastic' picture, which might also be on Stuttgart's homepage.

Here's Alex, Vincent, and Yong enjoying some of the free orange juice we got at the rathaus. At least, I think this is from the rathaus. In any event, "Prost!"

Here's a group shot at the mensa (cafeteria) at the Universität Stuttgart. Lunch starts generally at 1.70 euro, which is a pretty good deal in Stuttgart, besides say, Mulan or Spaghettisssimo restaurants. Everyone at the near table was part of Stuttgart 2005.

On the first day to the mensa, we got free stuff like juice concentrate, condoms, and candy bars. You know Nick, Katie, Erika, and Alex love that!

So here's Nick with his döner shirt that says, 'Döner macht schöner!' which I believe means, 'Döner makes prettier!' however you interpret that. Look out for the Döner Menu or a shop called Dönerstag in the States in about five years.

If you had forgotten, this is what they're worshipping. The meatstick.

Here's Josh, in possibly the best Döner advertisement pose ever. I mean, he's eating three döners in this sitting. Typically, döners run you about three euros, give or take. Or you can get a yufka (a döner wrap) for 50 cents more.

But for a taste of more typically German dining, head to the nearest biergarten for some wurst or schnitzel, brot or bretzel, and a 0,5 L of your favorite German brew. Carin, Vincent, Toby, and Joy know what I'm talking about.

Here's another shot of Toby, Joy, and Jeff having some good essen.

Randomly, I think this is a shot of the German IV class on an excursion? What? Since when are the German classes taking excursions?! Peaces, Matt.

And here's generally the situation on excursions. Well, maybe not all excursions, but I'd say Allison, Paige, and Brett have no idea what is going on. Yeah, I said it, what?

Finally, Here's some footage of one of the Stuttgart locals at the Palast der Republik, who was affectionately coined, the gypsie whore (6 MB). Simply because, well, I don't even know. Guten Morgen!