Category Archives: Europe

Down By The Seaside

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Abbey Road

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A Departure Delayed in Paris

The first time I visited Paris was my first real trip abroad unchaperoned and fully in control of my own destiny. That journey helped start me on the path to who I am today. I have a lot of great memories of that trip. Now I’m back for a few days and I’ll try to find out what’s changed – both here and within myself – and rediscover my younger self in the process. This is part of a series of my reminiscences of Paris.

After the night of reminiscing in my old Paris neighborhood I woke up relaxed. I lazed around a bit and ran a couple of errands before heading out to the airport. Life was good and I was in no hurry. But my last errand took a bit longer than I’d planned. Not too bad and I’d still have plenty of time, just not enough to take the Metro and train. I’d have to grab a cab instead.

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Finding My Old Parisian Neighborhood

The first time I visited Paris was my first real trip abroad unchaperoned and fully in control of my own destiny. That journey helped start me on the path to who I am today. I have a lot of great memories of that trip. Now I’m back for a few days and I’ll try to find out what’s changed – both here and within myself – and rediscover my younger self in the process. This is part of a series of my reminiscences of Paris.

After wandering around a bit I found my old neighborhood. The place I remember from a dozen years ago is still right where I left it. I didn’t consciously start out the night trying to find the place, but as I meandered I suddenly realized that I was really close to where I’d had those experiences. I guess on some level I was searching the place out.

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Lafayette I Have Come

I’ve returned to Paris after 12 years. One of the formative trips of my travel style and of my life for that matter. So coming back here gives me the chance to revisit myself in a way, too. Like the military man of World War I, paying tribute to the Marquis de La Fayette who, during the American Revolution shaped our country, I have come to Paris.

There’s definitely some of the old snooty Paris I remember. Like when I sat down at a place, asked for a menu and was told it was not a restaurant indignantly in French and nearly shooed away. Maybe a cafe only I thought as I stood up to leave. Then noticed the “Restaurant Boulangerie” sign above the awning. It was this attitude to which my friend muttered “frog” under his breath last time I was here.

But that’s the exception and definitely not the rule. Most people here are very friendly to foreigners, once you engage them. Like the waitress where I ended up eating that night. She apologized for her poor English (in fairly good English) and helped me navigate the menu. When she wanted to describe her favorite dish – the daily special not on the menu – she dragged the sandwich board over and walked through what it was. Madagascar cuisine. Not particularly French (she also apologized for being a bad French and not having a French food as her favorite), but very hip nonetheless. And very tasty too.

Some things which must have been here but I didn’t notice. Like the North African market by my hotel. And all the other foreigners who are not here for vacation. The diversity of this city and this neighborhood is astounding with dozens of different cultures coming face to face. Lots of evidence of France’s colonial past and their hold over their former territories. Unlike the Spanish who tried to assimilate the cultures and genes. And unlike the English who tried to displace the native populations. France had a very laissez-faire attitude, preferring more of a partnership than a more heavy-handed rule.

Has it changed? Sure. There’s wifi, electric cars for rent by the hour, you pay in Euro instead of French Francs. But I don’t think I can get a good feeling for any changes that are deeper than that. My memory is too hazy and my observations too superficial with the time I have here. So sadly you’ll have to get that information from someone else.

And there are changes in myself. I’m less apt to visit a tourist site than just meander around. To practice cultural tourism at the street level – as it is now being defined, not how it was shaped in the past. I used to force myself to do the normal tourist route and try to see the famous sites and scenes, no matter how much they didn’t interest me. But I don’t any longer, for instance I didn’t see the Eiffel Tower or Champs Elysees this past trip.

And I don’t try as hard to act like a respectful tourist. Instead I’m just myself with deference to the unknown, like the language and mannerisms. Respecting the culture but not trying to eat it all at once like the proverbial elephant. And not as ready to assess an entire culture based on experiences from a limited exposure (despite my treatment in this post to try to categorize everything).

And I’ve learned to break myself of the habit of being too prepared. I used to pile everything I thought I might possibly use into my bag. But I quickly learned that made it impossibly large and heavy. For more on that, see my series on travel skills and packing tips.

But I do still love discovery and travel for its own sake. Meandering is something I used to space between doing what I thought I ought to do. My game was to get lost and then find myself when I got nervous. Now I don’t worry about nerves and just trust that I can either find my way or ask someone. Some of that has to do with the technology I travel with, but some of it is just confidence that everything will work itself out even if it takes a bit longer than I’m expecting. That attitude has served me well and gotten me to some great spots that most people never see or know about.

But there are changes that I don’t like. I’ve never thought twice about a several hour detour just to see something I wanted to. For me getting there really is the fun part. But those trips are much fewer and farther between now. That’s a shame because it’s almost as promising a prospect as it used to be. I just don’t make the opportunities like I used to. True, I travel a lot more now, but I’m not sure I’m not missing something here and there. Long road trips with good music and audiobooks used to be a favorite activity of mine. I miss those days, and maybe I can recapture the feeling of meaning and purpose some other way.

But what about the places I remember so fondly from my first time here? I’m sure you’re asking that question, as I was. I guess I was avoiding those places. I didn’t want to find that they were gone or that they weren’t the same. But even worse I didn’t want to find that they were the same but horrible, with my mind polishing them to a shine and setting them on the windowsill of my memory. For my last night in the city I went back to my old haunts.

Paris: A Rememberence

The first time I visited Paris was my first real trip abroad unchaperoned and fully in control of my own destiny. That journey helped start me on the path to who I am today. I have a lot of great memories of that trip. Now I’m back for a few days and I’ll try to find out what’s changed – both here and within myself – and rediscover my younger self in the process. This is part of a series of my reminiscences of Paris.

It’s December 31st, 1999 and a 22-year-old me stands in the Paris night watching the millennium count down on the Eiffel Tower. The crowd, standing together tightly enough that most are sweating despite the chill, bubbles in anticipation like champagne when shaken.  It hits 0…the year 2000 has dawned. The cork holding the crowd is released and a hundred thousand bodies jump, dance, scream, throw up their hands and complete the metaphor. A new year…century…millennium has dawned; a thousand years has ticked off the clock in a second.

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My Worst Flight Ever?

I’m on the worst flight of my life. I have traveled a lot and am happy to report things have never been this bad. It’s exciting in a way! I shall report on my situation in excerpts from my mental travelogue. My hope is that either posterity will know what was my woeful fate or that we’ll all have a laugh together.

I had an inkling things might be not go so well when the majority of people at 6am were checking into last night’s 10:30 flight that had some delays. And on the board every flight since that one proudly called out that it had been delayed before it departed. Why display flights that are gone already, especially when they make you look bad? I dunno. But they did. Luckily mine checked in and started boarding on time. Well, on Armenian time which is to say nobody was in too big a rush to be punctual.

Some things are not the airline’s fault. I mean this Armenia, which is more European than Europe in its people’s befuddlement of the winged train-like object that makes the ground shrink and move underneath you. Using manners perfectly alright for train travel like getting up to walk around as the mechanized wonder is departing, so they can grab the stinky cheese and meat from the overhead, meanwhile the cart of apples spills down the aisle picking up nearly enough speed on the plane’s ascent to breach the back. Things that work on trains just don’t work on planes though. I’m half wondering if there haven’t been more than one confused European who tries to open the door at 30,000 feet to smoke or to find the restaurant car.

There is the old guy who’s never been on a plane next to me. He is testing everything to see if it does something and how it works. That includes the armrest, pulling it up, finding that it lifts and putting it down again before trying the one on the other side. Sure enough it lifts too. On to the tray table for a while then back to the armrests. I can only imagine his sense of wonder when yet again they lift.

Every drink or food tray that comes down the aisle he anticipates and times to make sure he will be served. Leaping towards the aisle to grab at whatever Precious resides within the steel contraption. He reserves the same zeal for darting toward the window to peer at the sea of clouds below.

Then there are your standard bad mannered airline folk on board as well. Like the prototypical screaming kid right behind me. He starts with “I’m MAFIA” and banging his tray table (my seat back) up and down. After a few minutes of this civilized behavior he gets bored and starts kicking the seat and yelling louder. Then his mother says something at him (not to him) in a loud tone enough times that he starts screaming, alternating between shrill bursts and wailing. Then he quiets himself briefly, talks calmly and starts again. The cycle is about 30 minutes long so it should be easy to time the flight.

And once again my arm is crammed into my shoulder before my elbow slides off. It’s more of a yanking upwards than I described above I guess. The way only old men who have done manual labor all their lives can manage. With strength that comes from sinews tightened from years of wrenching loose rusted bolts, plowing fields or maybe pulling locomotives. I don’t know, but the motion is spastic and strong.

But this strength and dexterity fail him when they hand the hot goupy tray on top of the slick box of food. This soon becomes a hot goupy lap full as you might imagine. Two laps full because he has shared his lunch with me. Now I can’t fully blame the old guy for this maneuver, I mean who puts a nuclear hot metal tray on top of a slick paper box and hands the whole contraption over a row of people in a sardine tray?

Armavia, that’s who. The national airline of Armenia would probably be the envy of the 1957 TWA with their modern jets, bulky stewardesses and ability to skillfully save space. Cram six seats in a space most airlines waste on five seats. So much room is wasted on the aisles on other airlines that the carts luxuriously parade up and down the plane, hardly banging anyone on the knee or elbow. Not so Armavia. And why pamper baggage with a regular size overhead compartment? I’m sure on a full flight all the bags will fit in sideways…oh nope I guess they didn’t. Delay while we put check some luggage, hopefully to reemerge either plane side or at the carousel at the destination. Their one luxurious row of first class is protected by a curtain that sits in the chair of a row of cattle class, making it unusable. And the announcement in French sounds like somebody held their phone up to the speaker during an air France announcement and recorded it.

So in my cramped seat I sit, wishing that the air vent worked. Listening to the sweet serenade of “I’m MAFIA” and commiserate with my seat which is taking punishment from as many sides as I am today. The aforementioned hot meal served was hardly a respite, with a date carved into the foil of a week ago exactly. I wasn’t sure if it was the date it was made, supposed to be served or when it would go bad. In any case it was an indicator that I should adopt my strategy of staying alive at third world restaurants and become a vegetarian. So I was able to eat one slice of cheese and one of cucumber, as well as the mint. The chocolate snack looked like the Baby Ruth bar in Caddyshack – slimy and turdlike so I avoided it and withheld my urge to yell “doody!”

Perhaps an ill choice of words. Not more than two hours after lunch it smells as if one of my nearest neighbors has shit himself. I’d blame the kid but he hasn’t let up in his game of trying to snap his tray off. Whereas the old man has gone very still all of a sudden.

Well it turns out to be the kid behind me. What I felt as the pulling on the tray was just his mother changing him on it. He didn’t quite fit – you know they don’t make those trays as big as they should to change your 2 year old. I was suddenly worried that my decision to even eat the cheese and cucumber might have been a bad one.

We circle the city for a while. This is always the worst. Like when the person just in front of you in line takes an interminable amount of time owing to some complaint or error on their part. Or worse over a small amount of money thy are trying to talk the cashier out of. We finally come to the ground and applause erupts as if Nadia Comaneci has just won the gold. Really, planes and pilots do this several times every day. Not once every four years. It’s not an amazing feat of heroism.

As soon as the cheers die down we pause briefly on the tarmac awaiting ground instructions. And we are nearly bounced back into the air by the force of the humanity jumping out of their seats. As per standard practice someone comes on the intercom – Armenian only, they know who it is jumping up. That does nothing except to make the standees talk louder to be heard. And a stewardess walks back as far as the first bunch, telling them to sit again. They look at her, dismiss her with a motion and she returns to her post. Their surprise is audible as the plane lurches forward again to continue to the terminal. Their faces seem to say “How rude to move the plane like that after you’ve stopped it. Don’t blame us if you parked so far away the first time.” The former hero captain now reduced to an idiot in their eyes.

And that is the end of my journey. I have lived again. And with story in hand I head to print it for all the world to read. And maybe to clap at my own feat of heroism and restraint.

More on Munich

If you’ve read my other posts on Munich, about Oktoberfest and the Starkbierfest, you might think that beer festivals are all the town has to offer. But that’s not all that’s cool about Munich, as I found out. The Marienplatz is a distinctly different type of European old town square area. Instead of many of them where there is a square formed around the original old church, the Marienplatz is just outside the ornate Gothic city hall. Though churches do flank the area. And in looking for the Cafe Glockenspiel I’d heard about I realized that there are about a half-dozen clock towers in the area. (By the way, the cafe I was looking for was not in any of them but in a modern building.)

I went to the Hacker-Pschorr restaurant near the Marienplatz for a lunch. I had the Bavarian meatloaf (offenfried liebenkäse) and a Radler. A Radler. I didn’t know what it was either, but it’s apparently a half beer half citrus drink. Fairly refreshing, but too sweet for me. The meatloaf looks like, and is basically cooked spam. Not recommended.

And no blog post would be complete without a post about a bar. The Euro Youth Hostel bar is a good one. Though the sign on the door says it’s for guests only, if you’re nice to Burt the bartender, he won’t give you much of a hassle.

 

I Went to Munich and a Beerfest Broke Out

You ever get the feeling that people celebrate wherever you go? I’m not talking about people smiling when you announce you’re leaving – I get that a lot. But I’m talking about thousands of people coming together with you in a celebration of you being there. Well it feels that way whenever I’m in Munich.

I’ve been here before, as you may recall. On my mystery trip I ended up in Munich for Oktoberfest. Now I’m not claiming that Oktoberfest was just for me. Clearly that’s not the case. But it did kinda lose some of its oomph (but not it’s oompapa) when I left. Or so I hear.

Now I’m back in Munich and come to find out there is another beerfest coinciding with my arrival. The Starkbierfest or Strong Beer Festival, is to be held the weekend I’m here at the Paulaner am Nockherberg Brewery,  just a stones throw from town. These are semi regular events but I highly suspect that they plan them around the schedules of visiting dignitaries and soon-to-be-legends like myself.

So I walked along Fraunhoferstraße which turns into Ohlmüllerstraße across the river on the way to the festival. It’s a pretty cool street. Record shops. Antique shops. Place to get what look like real dirndls. But why is there a Confederate Battle Flag?

Went in to the festival – a combination outdoor and indoor venue. First thing I did was went and got a maß (literally “measure” but use here for a liter) of Salvator, a schweinefleisch haxe (which is like a pigs knee or something) and a bretzel and dug in. The haxe was interesting – seasoned with rye an deep fried so the outside was crispy and tasted like a pork rind (which it is) but fairly dry inside despite being full of fat. Tasted great though.

When it started getting dark and cooling down I went inside the festhalle and accidentally sat next to 3 Americans who are here working at a hotel on a military base. They’re students studying hotel management at the University of Oklahoma. On my other side was a group of Germans. It was one of their birthdays. The guy would randomly look over and loudly sing “I’m proud to be an American! And I’m proud to know I’m free!” It was so funny I didn’t correct him but let him just go on butchering Lee Greenwood for hours.

After a while of that we all split up an I headed up to near the front where the band was playing and where a lot of volks were singing and dancing. Every once in a while the band would strike up an English song like Country Roads and I would belt out the lyrics like the rest of them. I left as they were shutting the place down, having thoroughly exhausted myself on singing, dancing and drink. The event was definitely reminiscent of Oktoberfest and I guess most Bavarian beer fests would be the same.

Nuremberg; City of Brats and Beers

Nuremberg, or Nürnberg in German, is famous for their bratwurst. And rightly so. Several types of sausages are made in the Franconia region. And about 300 active breweries in the area! Gutmann Dunkel is a good one that you likely won’t find elsewhere. All the beers and wursts I tried were great.

The Bratwurstkuche lays claim to the title of oldest bratwurst restaurant in the world! They’ve supposedly been serving up sausages here since before Columbus’ parents were even born. And though I’d suspect the place has been improved and rebuilt a time or two, it still seems pretty authentic – low ceilings, exposed beams, bricks and stone, etc. The famous dish here is the grilled version of their sausages that come with a pretzel and some potatoes or cabbage. It’s wonderful.

If you’re in need of an Internet fix when you arrive be sure to stop into the little Internet cafe in the main train station. From coffee to beer to wine to Jägermeister, they can quench your thirst. And you can sit all day on their Internet, unlike many cafes.

All through St. Sebald church in Nürnberg are photos of the area before, during and after World War II. You can see how the place looked and how they rebuilt. Some poetry crudely translated from German adorns the placards. Some of it is funny. The place is certainly worth a look if you’re in the area.

As I was on the way out of town I saw they had some kind of booth set up in the train station with a wheel of fortune and a line with people waiting to spin it. I had some time to kill so of course I decided to hop in line. When it was my turn I spun the wheel and it landed on 10. They gave me 10 little coins. I asked what they were for and they said it was good for 0.50 Euro each in spending at the train station. Cool!