Dresden Day 3 - Alone... so alone!

Pictures here: Dresden

So, in reality this is the first day that I was totally on my own – no Tim, no random companions picked up along the way. I had planned to take it easy, but I couldn't resist at least getting out of the hostel and seeing a few things that I hadn't been to yet.

Of course, I let myself sleep in until about 10 AM, then after showering, said goodbye to the Persian dude, who had decided that he was going to give up on the (now) ex-girlfriend and go back home to spend some time thinking about life. Not a bad idea, if you ask me!
Back in our room, Katherine was just finishing packing, so we decided to have breakfast at the hostel together before she headed off to her camp. We had one of those nice conversations about our plans for the future, which was quite enjoyable. We shook hands after breakfast and I headed out into the town.

I started off heading back to the Altstadt, in search of a tower that was supposed to contain an exhibit detailing the damage done to the city after the firebombing in February 1945. I never did find that one. Instead I ended up at the Rathaus (great name for city hall, eh?) which had a newly re-opened tower and an excellent view from just beneath the clockfaces. I could see all the areas that we'd visited in the city, and of course many areas that I hadn't been to. There was still a bit of morning mist hanging over the city, so the view was a little bit limited, but worth the two bucks I paid to go up.

I'd read about an overhead railway that was near the outskirts of Dresden, which is apparently the oldest of it's kid in the world, and with my affinity for public transit, I thought I'd go out to check it out. I caught a tram, and half an hour later plus a ten minute walk I found a funicular (inclined railway) that led up the side of the mountain – no sign of the overhead railway, so I began to wonder if my guidebook was out of date... no matter, I took a ride up the hill on the fuicular and was shortly in a neighbourhood of very big and expensive looking houses... I wasn't quite sure where to find the spectacular views that the guidebook had talked about, so I ended up walking around for another half hour or so, eventually finding a small platform where you could see a bit of the view toward the city through the trees. Not spectacular exactly, but it was nearly deserted, and I took my shoes off and sat on a bench to read for an hour or so. It was a good way to spend some time.

Around three o'clock I went back to the funicular and then caught a tram back to the Altstadt because there was one last place I had yet to visit – the inside of Frauenkirche! I tried a number of different entrances (the building is relatively circular outside), and finally found one that was allowing people inside... but for an admission! It was one of the few churches that I'd seen charge admission – but this was a church that seriously interested me so I thought “what the heck!” and went in... turns out that it was the entrance to go up to the top of the cupola! And there was an elevator! And very few stairs once up the elevator, just a inclined path that circled upwards between the inner and outer roofs of the cupola. All the way up within the cupola, there are windows facing inwards where you can see that they''ve created an extra level inside the cupola with a normal floor with a large hole that you can see down into the sanctuary through – I'm not an acoustic engineer by any means, but I would guess that with the design the way it is, you could situate a choir up here and it would sound like angel voices coming from on high... but that's just a guess!

Once you reach the top of the path there are two steep flights up stairs which lead outside to the covered area at the the peak of the cupola... the view was fantastic and well worth the admission. Different than the view from the Rathaus in the morning, but now the mist had burned off and I could see all the way to the horizons. I think I stayed up there for a solid 40 minutes just taking in the view and getting pictures of it all!
Once I came back down to the ground, I found the regular entrance to the sanctuary, and made my way in. This church is simply amazing, and that says a lot after all the cathedrals and churches I'd seen on the trip. Still a bit overdone i my taste, but less so than many of the churches I had visited. The interior was relatively modern (due to being rebuilt in 1995), but still had touches of the old world. The altar was HUGE, and depicted Christ walking to Golgotha, I believe. It was one all in stone with gold accents. The organ, which was above the altar seemed to be spotless, its pipes were a gleaming silver. The structure itself was impressive. Above the main seating area in the sanctuary on the ground floor there were three or four levels of balconies looking downwards to the chancel.

I sat in the sanctuary just enjoying the beauty of it all for a full hour, before I decided it was a good time to call it a day. I headed back to the hostel to rest up, as I would be catching a train to Frankfurt the next day.

About 9:30 or so, I went out to get some supper, and stopped at a place for a donër (not a donair). While eating my supper, a group of men (probably late 20s, early 30s, came in with one who was in a skirt and girly hat in the lead. Bachelor party, I'm betting – they started cheering while the one in the lead started doing a goofy dance to the electronic music that had been playing in the restaurant... then as quickly as they'd arrived, they disappeared again! And with that little bit of strangeness done, I called it a night, and went to bed early!


Dresden Day 2... Dragoon Jars

Pictures here: Dresden

Day two in Dresden started especially well because I ended up having the room in my hostel all to myself – a very nice change from the last week and a half. After breakfast at the hostel, I headed out to meet up with Shyla and Natalie a little way from our hostels. We caught a tram down to the Altstadt, and began our day of sightseeing with a visit to a couple of the Zwinger museums. The first was the porcelain collection of August the Strong – a king, I think. It was alright, porcelain doesn't really turn my crank to be honest. My personal favourite was a dozen or so large jars that August traded 150 soldiers for. Weird. Next we hit up the museum which houses hundreds of suits of armour and swords. This was a little more in my line of interest, I'll admit. Though, the display showing two nights charging at each other with lances kinda drove home just how barbaric and how little life meant in those days.

Next we visited the painting portion of the museum... wow. I'll admit a few of the paintings were boring... more than a few really, but some of them were just amazing to see. Don't ask me to recount all the different artists, but I know Raphael was one, and his portrait of the Madonna with the two cherubs at the bottom indicating the break between heaven and earth was one. Probably the most famous. Another was a painting of the tower of Babylon... I have no idea if it's famous, but it's one I'm familiar with and never thought I'd see in a museum. By this point it was nearing lunchtime, and all three of us were starting to feel more than a little exhausted, so we decided to take a break and grab some lunch.

After lunch, we made our way to yet aother museum, this one known as the “Green Vault” - yes, really, a vault, with thick doors and combinations. It contained the royal collection of precious gems and their various settings, as well as a variety of hand crafted clocks and table settings. Cool stuff. There were rooms and rooms of stuff, varying from a table decoration which rolled down the table with two figures on it (Apollo and Athena?) who would fire arrows when it stopped, to an award made for the king with the only know green diamond (41 Karat... FORTY-ONE) surrounded by a number of 3-4 karat diamonds and hundreds of medium-small diamonds. Sparkly is an understatement for this thing.

This took most of the afternoon, and it was seriously hot outside, so we headed back to our hostels again to recover for a bit, then met up for supper at a little pub near my hostel before going to watch the soccer match. While we were there, Natalie and Shyla noticed a family who were gathered round a table (presumably who were going to be going to see the match as well... they all were painting each other's faces with German flags, and the girls wanted to see if they could get in on the action – they debated it for a bit, then went to ask if they could borrow some facepaint, which the family happily obliged with... what a friendly group!

Once the girls were all decked out, we made our way down to the banks of the river where the “Fan Zone” was, and we discovered that it was full already!! We took a look at the crowd, and decided that we should head back into the city and see if we could find some space at a bar with a TV. After two or three, we found a biergarden that had just enough empty chairs for us, and we settled in to watch the match. All through the match, there were random bursts from what must have been fireworks, though they sounded like small bombs going off... every five or ten minutes we'd hear a BANG! and everyone would jump, but quickly return to watching the game. Very weird... there were police out in force to keep any eye on things in case they got out of hand, but they didn't seem perturbed by the explosions, so I guess everyone followed their queue.
I was torn throughout because I'm truly a fan of Spain at heart, but at the same time, I wanted to cheer for the “home” team. I think I settled on quietly cheering for both teams – turns out that Spain won the game, so the crowd was pretty bummed.

After the game, we headed back to our hostels, and bid each other farewell – exchanging e-mails so that we could keep in touch via Facebook. They were taking a train back to Prague, then flying to Barcelona for the week.

I went back to the hostel and holed up with my laptop to catch up on some blog entries... not ten minutes after sitting down on my bed to work, a fellow came into the room (it seemed I was going to have company in the room this night) who I got talking with, and he proceeded to tell me his life story and why he came to Dresden – that being because his girlfriend had decided to break up with him (he lives in England, but is Persian) and he wanted to convince her to take him back. Yeah, a mess... but possibly for the better, who knows.

Anyway, there was another person in the room that night as well – a young gal from near Stuttgart, Katherine (Pronounced “Kat-arin”) who was on her way to work at a camp for people with disabilities near Dresden. She was a distinct contrast to the Persian guy who talked non-stop from the moment he arrived. She was quiet, but still confident, ad she participated in the conversation as well, offering a womans viewpoint.

About one o'clock we turned out the lights and went to sleep... My plan for the next day was to take it easy, as it was my last fully day in Dresden, and my poor feet were killing me – I'd been nursing large blisters near my big toes since Munich....


Prague - Dresden, with a bit of an introduction to Dresden!

Pictures here: Dresden

So, Tim left this morning about 3 AM and since I don't think I slept more than an hour before left, I was quite happy to sleep in until 9 AM or so. I had breakfast at the hotel, repacked my backpack, and headed for the train station by 10 or so. My train wasn't leaving until about 12:30, but I'm quite happy to partake in some people watching and train stations are great for that. Random fact – the train station I left from (Praha Holesovice) was built in 1985 and sports some partiularly dull Soviet architecture. Very straight lines, and low ceilings... what a depressing place. Nonetheless, I enjoyed hanging around waiting for my train. I staked out a spot about halfway down the departures hall, and leaned back against my bag while reading a book (Fluke, if you're wondering, and it's fantastic). After a while, a pair of young women took the seats just behind me, and somehow they knew I spoke English (so much for blending in) – the first thing one said was “Keep a close eye on your bags – an American guy just down the hall was just robbed when he turned away from his bags to give someone directions!'

So, we got to talking, and it turns out that they were from Canada (Vancouver), and were also headed to Dresden – kind of a random stop on the train we were taking. We decided to stick together on the train, and it turned out that our hostels were near eachother in Dresden too – about a block apart, in fact. We took the same tram to get there, then decided we'd meet for dinner after we'd had some time to unpack and settle in a little bit. We wandered around for a bit trying to find a place to eat, and finally settled on an Italian restaurant that had a patio with big umbrellas and a nice view of the street. The waiter (owner?) was hilarious. He was native Italian, and was singing to us with a great sing-song manner, and always referred to the girls, Shyla and Natalie, as “m'lady” - his English was probably about as good as our German, which made ordering even more of an experience. Lots of fun, and the pizza I ordered was delicious.

After supper we decided to go check out some of the sights in the Aldstadt (old town). We visited the courtyard of the Zwinger Palace, as well as the giant square where Fraeunkirche (Church of our Lady(?)). Next we walked along the promenade that runs along the river (The Elbe) where there was an art exhibit comparing Germany and China in a series of simple drawings – pretty neat. I got some awesome pictures of the city's skyline here at sunset. Also, we were able to see the Euro football “Fan Zone” - a big stage and a number of big screens that were set up for fans to watch the soccer games – the next evening was going to be the final game (between Germany and Spain), so we figured we'd head there to watch it after sightseeing for the day.

As it was getting dark, we made our way back to the tram stop nearest to the Aldstadt, and enjoyed some ice cream before we heaeded back to our respective hostels for the night.

Prague day numero deux

Pictures here: Prague

I must apologise that I've fallen behind on these entries... I'm on vacation, so it's hard to keep a steady schedule! Some of my memories of the morning of this day are a bit fuzzy, so bear with me.

We started out around 10:30 after breakfast at the hotel, and headed for Prague Castle so we could see some of that end of town. The walk to the castle from the metro stop was decidedly beautiful, giving us a good feel for the architecture in this end of town. Lots of terra cotta roofing and clay finishes on the outside of the buildings. There were a number of embassies in the area as well as some public and private gardens.

Another feature is the multitude of streets... this is a place that has no regard for strict city blocks... or blocks at all! There doesn't seem to be a parallel street in the whole place! It certainly makes for interesting navigation. Gradually with a combination of following people and referencing the map, we made it to the long flight of stairs that leads to the castle itself. As we climbed we again were treated to a wonderful view over the city... and people wonder why I like being a pilot!
The castle was overrun with tourists, and the lines to get within the large chapel were very long on top of exorbitant admission prices, so Tim and I decided we'd see what we could see without going into the buildings themselves. I've seen a lot of churches and castles on this trip, I'm sure we didn't miss a huge amount. The church itself was in the process of being scrubbed of some of the grime that had accumulated over the years, so there was scaffolding all around it, obscuring a good chunk of the architecture. Kind of a bummer, but they need to take care of these things to make them last as long as they do I suppose.

Outside the castle, we wandered into the royal gardens as well as visiting what's known as the Bellevediere.. all I could think of was an 80s sitcom with that name, and I'm still not entirely sure what the building was for. Next we were planning to go to the other hill that has a small viewing tower on it that looks out over the city. We weren't planning on going up, but we just wanted tos ee it up close.

On the walk over, we took a roundabout route that took us through a peaceful ravine which is probably part of the flood control system for Prague.
Also along the way we arrived at a monastery where there was a supposedly large theological library as well. We had a snack outside to rest up after our long walk, then went in to the library because I'd seen pictures which made it seem pretty cool. Turns out that it was alright... but not really worth what we paid. Not enough to see, and it was actually quite small. Oh well, at least I saw a few books I recognised.

Then we continued on to the mountain/hill that had the tower on it. It was a fairly long walk, and steep in a few sections. I don't know why it is that we haven't learned to avoid walking up mountains but we do it anyways (see stories from our trip to Barcelona).
Once we finally reached the tower, we were both pretty pooped but being the smart beings that we are, we decided to climb it anyways. It turns out that the tower was built for an exposition back in the late 1800s and it's a 1/3 scale tribute to the Eiffel tower in France. The view, as usual, was spectacular! Lots of pictures were taken, we could even see the stadium from when the Olympics were hosted in Prague (did you know that Prague hosted the Olympics? I didn't!).
Eventually we walked back down the mountain and made our way back into the city itself by crossing one of the bridges, and we headed for the Jewish Quarter after a quick stop at the Opera house. While we were walking along a road with lots of shops, we noticed that just ahead of us were two girls who looked strangely familiar. The pair from Austria that we'd met on the train! Prague is a small city. We tapped them on the shoulder and they immediately recognised us. We decided that since none of us had any specific plans, we'd spend the afternoon sightseeing together. We ended up walking through the Jewish Quarter, then to a gigantic working metronome that was on a hill (it was 30 meters high, I kid you not!) then back towards the castle near which we had dinner at Subway (our first North American food since arriving). We walked through across one of the bridges across the river just as the sun was setting, letting me take some awesome photos, then made our way to Wenceslas Square, where we finally bid eachother goodbye, and promised to keep in touch by way of Facebook.

All in all, a fantastic day!

Tim and I made it back to the hotel around 10:30, and Tim went to bed right away because he was to catch his flight first thing in the morning... he had to leave the hotel at 3 AM in fact. He got out just fine, and on time, so that's good news!

Tomorrow's update will be of my trip from Prague to Dresden, Germany!
Stay well, all!


Pictures here: Prague

What a city!

After the muck-up on the way to Prague, both Tim and I were feeling a bit wary about what kind of experience we'd have in Prague. Turns out that our fears were unfounded. The language barrier that had caused us much grief on the train was much less of a problem in the city. This was because a) we didn't need to ask as many questions, and b) being a place of tourism, many more people spoke at least a little bit of English.

Once we'd arrived, we both crashed until the early afternoon. Sleep is my friend, let me tell you! Around 2, we decided it was time to go out into the city and see what we could see, specifically in the Old Town - we started out at what is known as the Astronomical Clock - not really sure if I can explain this one in entirety - it had two different face, neither of which seemed to show time. I'm guessing that one showed the phases of the moon, and the other, Earth's position around the sun (the date), but I'm not sure at the moment - more reading needs to be done! We just so happened to be there when the clock struck an hour and there were some little animatronic saints (I think) who came out of doors on the tower and blessed the crowd. The onlookers were impressed. This clock was built likely in the 1600s...

We visited a number of churches around the old square as well - many were hosting concerts in the evening, frequently based around Mozart and Handel. Cool stuff. The decoration and ornamentation inside the churches in Prague is decidedly different than those of Germany or Austria. Where in those countries everything seemed to be coated in gold leaf, here things were a bit more toned down - wood and [Bohemian?] crystal were the biggest decorative materials (lots of big chandeliers!).

Later we walked across the Charles Bridge - probably Prague's most famous attraction. There are statues of saints on either side of the bridge, an also statues of moments in the life of Christ. Very beautiful stuff here. Also, the bridge was chock full of tourists and salesmen hocking everything from portraits of the tourists themselves to buskers playing music to jewelery.
From here on the bridge we went to one of the towers that are on either end (fortifications at some point, no doubt) and there was a tourist office in the lowest level... and stairs going to the top! It seems that these towers are not as popular as some of the other attractions, or they just plain get missed when walking by, so we paid the small entrance fee to climb to the top and see the view. Totally worth it. The view from up top gives a close-up view of the entire Old Town, and you can watch all the action around the area.

I think it was at this point that we made our way back towards the Old Town Hall Square (where the clock was, as well as a huge church with gigantic black spires) where there was a "Fan Station" set up for people to watch the Euro Cup together - two giant screens as well as a stage for musical acts to perform. We had a couple of sausages for dinner, and leaned against the old town hall for a while and listened to the three musical acts that performed before the main event. The first was a kind of emo-punk-alternative band (they reminded me of Three Days Grace or maybe Relient K) who sang in English and Czech. They were very good. The second was two guys who played guitars over top of pre-recorded bass and drums while one of them sang in Czech... not great, but not bad either. The singer/guitarist was enthusiastic at least! The final act was a burly, blonde muscular dude alone on the stage in leather pants singing to some very cheesy pre-recorded anthem rock. Blech. I highly suspect he was lip-synching. There's just something that seems illegitimate to me about singing or playing to recorded music... But I digress!

After the third act, the semi-final game between Russia and Spain began. The square filled up gradually, and near the front was a large contingent of Russia fans waving flags that sometimes blotted out a large portion of the screen we were watching from our vantage point at the rear of the crowd. It was a pretty intense first half, with both sides getting close shots but no goals. The crowd was excited, but not violent by any stretch. Cheering for Spain, I didn't feel like I'd get beat up for liking the wrong team ;) Partway through the half, a group of about 40 school kids from Spain gathered near where we were and began chanting in Spanish different songs to cheer the team on. It reminded me how much I enjoyed visiting Spain on our last trip... gonna have to go back there someday.

So, after the first half ended it was getting close to 10:00, thus Tim and I headed back towards the metro and our hotel to avoid the crowds that would doubtless form later, and because, well, we were tired after the last night's adventure.

When we got back to the hotel, we watched the last half from the common-room. Spain won 3-0, by the way! WOO!

And that's how our day ended. It was a good one!

More stories to come about our second day in Prague - later tonight. I'm heading out for dinner now (I'm in Dresden, Tim flew home this morning)


Salzburg –> Prague... somehow!

June 25 / 26

So the last day has been a bit trying, but overall things seemed to work out. We left our hostel in Salzburg around 9 in the morning to check things out at the train station – we were thinking we might catch an earlier train than the 3 PM train that we'd been planning on taking. It turned out there was one leaving for Linz (where we planned to catch our train to Prague) at 9:30! Thus, we hopped on the train and rode out to Linz with our railpasses. We'd have a long layover in Linz, but we'd seen just about everything we wanted to see in Salzburg, so there wasn't a lot of point in hanging around for most of the day. The ride to Linz was fairly uneventful, and we hung out at the seemingly brand new train station, reading books and listening to music... generally just relaxing (just what we needed after going pretty hard the last few days).

The train that would take us to Prague arrived a few minutes late and we climbed aboard... turns out this lateness was an omen. The first hour or so, heading towards the Austrian border everything seemed to be running alright and we were happy to watch the scenery passing by outside our comfortable compartment in the train. Once we passed into the Czech Republic, the scenery became more forested, and the quaint wooden houses of the Austrian countryside became smaller houses with a stucco-type finish and wooden shutters around the windows... somewhat rundown, but still full of life and character.

Perhaps it was just my mindset, but you definitely got the feeling that rural parts of the Czech Republic are still working to catch up with the living standards of Western Europe. Nonetheless, it was all beautiful!

Soon after entering the Czech republic, the train stopped and we were told that we'd need to switch to a bus because they were doing maintenance work on the tracks ahead – they had a bus waiting outside the station and we rode it for about 30 minutes to the next station where a train was waiting to continue...

It was at this station, after rushing to catch the train because it was scheduled to leave minutes after we'd arrived (this is around two hours into our (planned) five hour journey,)we took a 40 minute delay, apparently because we were waiting for a group of young teenagers to arrive at the station after a biking trip. First it seemed they weren't all there, second it took them forever to load the bikes into the baggage car of the train... finally, they got everything and everybody aboard and we continued on. The weather so far that day had been very hot and with just a few clouds in the sky. At this station, the weather seemed to be preparing to turn – the wind was picking up and some ominous clouds were out on the horizon. Rain was coming it seemed.

Continuing along we stopped at a number of stations along the line, some were quick stops, and yet others seemed to take a long time for no apparent reason. We were getting further and further behind, but Tim and I still estimated that we'd make it in plenty of time to get onto the metro in Prague to get to our hotel (it closes at midnight and we were scheduled to arrive at 9 i.e. 10 or 11 with all the delays).

Sometime about 9:30 or so the train stopped on what seemed to be a small siding (Heřmaničky), next to another train. I thought maybe we were picking up more cars, or some people were transferring from one train to the other – especially after a large number of people left our car and began walking up past the train – and in fact a number of the students we'd waited for earlier got their bikes and rode off. The conductors didn't ever tell us anything, as the one in our area spoke zero English, and we speak zero Czech... Tim stopped a girl passing by in the corridor and she told us that some passengers were getting off to catch a bus to another station for some reason, but those going to Praha (Prague) were staying on the train. Okie dokie... that's fine. 45 minutes passes... no word on what's holding us up – people in the train next to us seem to be bedding down for the night and our car is nearly empty. After we'd been sitting for more than an hour I was frustrated because we had no idea what was going on and we had no control over whatever was happening, so I decided to seek out a conductor to find some answers... I never found a conductor, but in the next car up I met some folks who spoke English – a middle-aged Canadian couple, a pair of girls from Korea, and another pair of girls from Austria and Bosnia – they had found eachother a little while before and were sticking together as a group because of the lack of help from the Czech train officials... I asked if they'd mind if Tim and I stuck with them and they were happy to have us. We came up and sat with the young ladies from Austria and Bosnia (Amara and Christina)... the four of us got along very well, and their English was nearly flawless. Amara's accent made me laugh a bit because sometimes she sounded as if she came from New York city... not what I was expecting from Bosnia!

Soon after Tim and I joined the group, we all moved up to the “first” class coach – not really first class, but it has better upholstery and was 100% less sketchy than the car we'd been sitting in.

My nerves subsided greatly at this point, having some others to commiserate with and make jokes out of the situation. We learned that somehow a tree had fallen across the tracks somewhere ahead of the train, so we were not going anywhere tonight it seemed – we figured that would mean probably around 7 we'd start moving again. We sat talking and joking for another hour or two... around 12:30 we decided it'd be good to at least try to get some sleep and quieted down. It was moments later that a conductor (the good one) stopped by and told us there was a bus waiting to take us to Prague! We all clambered out of the train and discovered that we were at not just a siding, but a tiny station in the middle of nowhere, and there were two buses waiting to take everyone away – one for Prague and one for another station nearer up the line. The girls from Austria and Bosnia, and the Canadian couple just managed to get onto the bus to Prague... Tim and I were too slow apparently because we went to put our bags in the cargo compartment of the bus. So.. the us was too full to take us, and we were left standing at the station. Supposedly another bus would be coming to get us. The time is now 1:00... an hour later, standing in the dark with the two dozen other people who didn't get on the bus, we finally got onto another bus that should have taken us to Prague. Well, it turns out they either didn't understand me when I asked - “Bus to Praha??” or they just lied... but they dropped us at another train station “to catch a train to Prague”... nearer to Prague, but still a solid hour and a half away by car. And here we wait from 2-3:30 AM when not a train arrives, but another bus! This time they take us to ANOTHER train station where there's an actual train waiting. At the last train station we met a fellow from California and the three of us stick together – he's met some locals on the train who speak enough English to help us get clues as to what's going on, although they seem to be in the dark as well. We get on a commuter train that stops for half an hour, and all of us who are from the first train are either half or all asleep waiting for it to take us to Prague's main train station. At this point, it's 4:45 AM and I've been awake somewhere around 23 hours...

So, another 45 minutes on this train, doing my best to stay conscious, we finally arrive at the main station in Prague, and sort things out to get onto the metro and to our hotel at about 6 AM. And then we slept! Until 1 PM myself. Details of our afternoon to come!

PS – I've been meaning to apologise for the formating of these blog posts, not to mention spelling. I'm typing on a miniature laptop and sometimes my fingers tend to mash things, especially at the end of the day!

PPS - It seems that these problems were all caused by a major storm rolling through the area prior to our arrival. Since this is the case, I'm not terribly angry with Czech rail for getting us here so late, however I'm still a bit miffed about the lack of information provided to us in any language. Blah!


The hills are alive... Or full of ice anyways!

Pictures here: Salzburg & Werfen

Salzburg, Austria. It's freakin' hot! The days have been 30 degrees plus since we left Paris... and humid as a southern Ontario summer. So much for a vacation from the weather!
We arrived in Salzburg yesterday morning after catching a train on the spur of the moment - we were scheduled to go later in the day but arrived at the train station a bit early, so we ended up down here in Austria a few hours early. Crashed at the hostel for a bit, then we went out and painted the town red.

If you believe that you don't know Tim and I very well. We wandered through the altstadt (old town) and took in some gardens that were a playground built for the child of a former Royal in town. Very pretty - also stumbled upon the Pegasus fountain, though we weren't really sure if it was the one from that movie they filmed here years ago, or not... turns out it was. Neato.
Then we walked through some especially touristy areas, a giant cathedral that I don't remember the name of... Dom? Dome? Dam? Something like that. Very pretty, not as big as anything in France that we saw, though. A good chunk of the aldstadt is being taken up by the "fan zone" for Euro 2008... which makes an already touristy place nearly unbearable. Thank providence that there were no games here at the same time we are.
Next we took a funicular up the mountain to the Salzburger fortress - the largest fortress in Europe apparently, it was run by the catholic bishops over the years to protect the arch diocese of Salzburg (Salzburg was a country, you see) - never lost a battle, except to good ol' Napoleon. That was a cool tour... I think we saw just about every inch of the place including the view from the towers - beautiful view out over the city - you can see everything all the way to the airport.
Then we crashed for the night!
Today we revisited the gardens and sat by the river for the bit. On the way we stopped in at a church that was playing organ music inside (a nice change from the silence we've had in every other church). Turns out it was a Presbyterian church (or at least I think so - St. Andrew's doesn't sound very Catholic anyways and the interior didn't have any Marys around that I saw)... I must admit that it made me feel a little more at home. No offense to Catholics, but I'm still a little thrown when I enter a cathedral. Outside the church there was a booth for a tour company that offered trips all around the Salzburg area - there was a tour to ice caves near Werfen. Tim wasn't keen to spend the money, so I decided to go on my own and he hung around town for the afternoon.
My trip took me about an hour south of Salzburg, into the Alps... those are big pieces of rock. I don't think my pictures will do them justice. This is also the area where the Eagle's Nest is - Hitler's super-secret hangout... I can see why he liked the view.
Anywho... ice caves. There's a huge cave that's full of ice that's seeped through the top of the mountain. The science isn't complicated, but i don't want to bore you. It's awesome anyways. The air inside is around freezing and it's awesome. After the heat we've had here, it was a welcome change... the formations inside the cave were amazing, and well worth the 700 steps up, and 700 steps down. I took a few pictures, not sure how well they'll turn out as it was dark because every second person carried a lantern and the guide burned what I think was magnesium strips to increase the brightness at certain points. AWESOME!
I met a few folks on the tour - the guide was Canadian (from Montreal) and we had a great chat, also met some folks from Britain , and some dudes from the US.
The guide inside the cave was native Austrian, I think, but he learned from someone from Britain because he sounded just like when one of the Monty Python characters did a German accent... A few of us were cracking up after he said his first sentence in English. Hilarious.
And now we're back at the hostel and we're leaving for Prague tomorrow afternoon. Not sure if I'll find internet there or not. Hope so. Stay well everyone!


One last note from Munich...

I saw the neatest thing today... probably one of the last things I'd think to see in an inland city in Germany. Surfing. Surfing! Tim and I took a walk through some giant park (England Park?) that had a river that we suspect to be man-made flowing through it. The water was strikingly fast and in spots where the elevation changed, it made some seriously pleasing rapids. One place was at the very south of the park, presumably where the river enters the park, where it dropped a good five feet over about 30 feet horizontally... this made for one large standing swell from which some young guys could ride their surfboards back and forth across the river (tops, 40 feet wide). There were probably about half a dozen surfers and probably a dozen people who'd just stopped in their tracks to watch. Surreal, but totally cool. I was tempted to join in, that's for sure!


Pictures here: Dachau

Ok, so we've made it to Munich - via Mannheim and Stuttgart... but we're here!
We arrive last night around 4 and started by checking into our hotel and doing the other housekeeping stuff... finding a bank machine, deciding what we'd like to do while here... We ended up getting dinner from a grocery store and having sandwiches in a park where there was a giant red O (I mean like 50 feet high!). What it was supposed to symbolise is beyond me. Anyone happen to know?
We ended up walking from there to a square known as "Marienplatz" where there is a large clocktower that has animatronic figures that do some actions at certain times of day... go figure. The thing that's special is that this was built some 400ish years ago! (Did I mention that Munich is celebrating it's 850th birthday this year? - and you thought Montreal was old...) We hung around the square for a while just taking it all in, and partaking in a bit of people-watching... the weather's been clear and hot for the last two days, so it was nice to be in the cooler evening air.
After that we came back here, and just chilled out for the evening, reading books - I'm reading The World According to Garp at the moment, and it's a hard one to put down, so I was up 'til about 1:00 reading, while Tim packed it i around 11, I think.
This morning we made our way over to the train station to meet up with a guide who would give us a tour of the Dachau concentration camp, in the west end of Munich. I'm still digesting everything we learned there, but I'll tell you that walking through the gas chamber (which "only" killed 50 people in practice) was one of the most eerie experiences of my life.
Now we're back at the hotel for a break before dinner, and I've managed to find an open wifi access point to send out an e-mail or two and post this. The hotel advertises free wireless internet, but I'll be darned if I can make it work right

One last observation from Germany - despite the language being one that I am not in the least familiar with, I've found that it's much easier to communicate with people overall - firstly many people speak enlish, and second they're not as intimidating as Parisians seem to be.

That's it from here for now - stay well! Salzburg tomorrow!


Arras, Vimy, and le tour Eiffel

Pictures here: Vimy, Paris part 2

Today was a very long and exciting day - we started with a ride on the TGV to Arras - about an hour north of Paris. We spent a couple of hours just exploring the town... beautiful place, and it was so full of history. Yet another enormous cathedral. This one we were two of maybe four people inside, so it was nearly silent... it was a wonderful change from the constant hustle and noise of Paris. After a bit of hunting, we found the meeting place for our bus to the Canadian Memorial at Vimy Ridge - in the process we met up with a few more Canadians - it was nice being able to chat with some folks from back home. One fellow, Leif, was from the Yukon and had come over to visit some cousins in Denmark (go figure!) He had some great stories to tell from back home and over here - one in particular about being charged by a moose had Tim and I laughing pretty hard.
So, after about a half-hour bus ride, we arrived at the memorial where we were given a tour of a section of the communications tunnels, dug in chalk approximately 8 m beneath the surface - very cool. After the tour was done, we had about an hour to make our way to the actual monument of the memorial. It was huge, beautiful, and sad.
Once we were finished there, we returned to Arras, and the train station for our ride back to Paris - for some reason the train was delayed by about 15 minutes enroute - something about passing a EuroStar train or something... not really sure. The station was jam-packed with people when we arrived because of a power failure on the TGV rails - I'm glad it didn't effect us!

Next we headed off to the Eiffel Tower. Last time we were here we didn't go up. We've regretted it ever since, so this time, despite being exhausted, we climbed the stairs up to the second level. What a view! Totally worth the near-heart attack from the 700 stairs...

And then we came back here. Turkey just won their world cup game, and I can hear people outside cheering and honking car horns... lovely stuff! But I must go now, I need to pack before we leave tomorrow morning for Munich.
Stay well folks!


Another busy day in Paris

Pictures here: Paris

So today was another tourist day... go figure! We visited, Gare du Nord (the train station), Sacre Couer, the Arc de Triumph and the Pantheon. Not a bad listing for one day, I think!
Gare du Nord turned into a three hour extravaganza as Tim and I waited in line for reservations for a trip to Vimy Ridge (happening tomorrow due to the length of the line) and for our voyage to Munich (via Manheim and Stuttgart thanks to Tim's quick thinking when we were informed that the direct train was full). After that we had lunch and planned our day before leaving the station.
Next was Sacre-Couer on Mont Martre - this is a giant church that was built basically to apologise for all the nasty things that happened to the Catholic during the revolution - that's a gross oversimplification, but still. This is one beautiful church - a lot of attention to detail is contained within it. No pictures, because of signs... sorry. The mural in the dome was beautiful... albeit a little silly in some aspects - such as the First Nations (North American "Indians"), African tribal people, Japanese geisha, etc. offering gifts to the gigantic Christ. Not that I find their art silly, just the stereotypical costumes they were portrayed in... yeah yeah, it was the 1870s... Tim and I had an interesting chat about the style of Catholicism when it comes to building places of worship.
Oh yes, and of the other benefits of this basilica was the view of the city! Of this I have pictures. Panoramic ones that I'll post when I'm home!
From this giant domed building we proceeded to another gigantic domed building - the Pantheon - the place where all of France's greatest Men [sic] are buried. My favourite among these was Marie Curie. Also, seeing Foucalt's Pendulum in action was COOL! I'm getting the impression that the French, and Parisiens in particular love to do things that are huge. Everywhere we've gone thus far has been just plain massive by Canadian standards... maybe it's our Protestant practicality... but my goodness, the space in these places is just unreal. The Pantheon was 90% open space... nothing but clear (marble) floor! Even the crypt was massive!
Anywho... from here we headed off to see the Arc de Triumph... after having seen two ginormous buildings in the day (three if you include the train station) I must admit I was a bit underwhelmed... but it's still huge. Especially by the standards of the 18th century. There seemed to be something that was going to be happening - possibly a parade of some sort, police were lining up near the arch and we saw some veterans getting out of a van in French army uniforms... is today an anniversary of something I should know about? We would've stuck around and even gone up to the top of the arch, but it was beginning to rain quite heavily while we were there, so we decided it was a good time to call it a day - 6:30 and we'd been out since 1030 AM. We headed back to the hotel and I crashed for a bit until 8, then
we had pizza at a place near our hotel for supper.
Last, once we returned I sat down and took a test for my eastern religions course online... stupid school getting in the way of my life ;) I passed, so that's good. Now I can relax and enjoy my vacation!
With that, I sleep. Stay well everyone!


I'm alive!

Pictures here: Pearson and Flight, Paris

And in Paris! France! Yeah, that Paris!

So, Timbo and I flew out of Toronto yesterday evening (thanks to a ride from Amy). We landed here in Paris this morning about 10 AM - that's 4 AM Ontario time... we figured out the metro with only a few bits of confusion and were checked into our hotel near to 1 PM... then we crashed for an hour or so. Neither of us got much sleep on the flight, so it was pretty much a given that we'd sleep once we arrived.
After the nap, we headed out to begin our adventure... we started at Notre Dame cathedral - WOW! I really wasn't prepared for just how large it really is. Absolutely fantastic.
After spending an hour or so around there, we made our way to The Louvre to go get ourselves cultured... we took our time walking, and stopped in at another church along the way just to see the inside.
At the Louvre, we saw about a gazillion bits of art, including the Mona Lisa (not as small as I'd been conditioned to expect since everyone is shockeed it's so small) and the Venus De Milo (Cool to have actually seen it). Along with a number of other extremely famous paintings and sculptures... I'm feeling pretty cultured now.
The Egypt section of the museum was pretty awesome - nice to see stuff that's not in the ROM!

After about 3 hours there, we were both pooped, so we headed back here to the hotel. It's 8:45 Paris time (2:45 Ontario time) and I'm just about ready to go to bed... guess the jet lag isn't going to catch me yet!
Pictures will follow - just a matter of weeding them out on my camera. Stay tuned!