Trip Start Sep 13, 2011
44Trip End Nov 16, 2011
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Zurich:We have finally reached out first European destination! We are in Zurich, Switzerland in our hotel room. We wont usually be at a hotel but we are at the Sheraton for the first night then we are going to Interlaken which is a little city on a little strip of land between two lakes that is supposed to be really cool. The plane ride was miserable and way too long! The man who sat in front of me leaned his chair back all the way and snored really loudly and the girl behind me who was two or three started screaming every ten minutes so between them, I got no sleep or rest of any sort. The only good part was that I finished two science worksheets and watched a lot of movies. It wasn't quite as long as I thought it would be but it was still way to long. I am happy that it is over.Interlochen:My mental clock is way off, it is 3:15pm here but at home it it is 6:15am so I feel like I got up way late last night and have been up for a long time which I guess is true because the time was like 9:45 here which is afternoon time at home. Everything they do in the way they measure things is a bit different from the US for instance, when my dad got a new backpack, the saleslady measured it's size in liters and when we were talking with the man that activated our eurail pass told us that our train was coming 15:02 so all of europe uses military time, on the bottle of soda I had, it was only measured in milliliters, no ounces. Some things that aren’t American or maybe just funny to us but totally normal to the people of Switzerland are, one craft store we passed in our earnest search for coffee was called Mc-paper Land, in the train station, there was a cafe called Blueberry American Café when we went to the bathrooms, we has to pay almost 1.50$ or 2 Swiss Franks to go in and pee, also, it was called McClean Station WC. We went to the Apple store in Zurich, Switzerland where all the words were in French with the more familiar words like iPad and smart cover mixed in. Because I had been to the American Apple Store, I knew what it said unlike the menu at the little street cart we went to for dinner. There is a lot of weird stuff going on here, and I will be sure to keep you posted!An AqueductI have been asked by one of my teachers to write about American influence on European media so as I am whisked away on the fastest type of train we could afford (super fast) to the French city of (THAT'S RIGHT!!!) Paris! I've already started on my essay material when I talked about McPaperland and various other oddities but now I will have to add some other weird and insanely absurd American influences on European media. One absurd ad I saw in most train station was a picture of an obviously terrified teenager in a green skimpy bikini swimming away from a shark. The name of the movie or TV show is shark but in the top lefthand corner it says and I quote,"Bikini Burger Party". As I type, ancient castles and quaint villages fly by. In Europe, they do not have pickup trucks or huge vans or other big cars, little 4 or 5 person cars are huge here, there are also more Ferraris, Lambroginis, and smart cars! I almost got ran over by a Ferrari actually. Clumsy old me. Yesterday, we rented a car and drove all over the south of France and saw the aqueduct that is from the roman empire and has been standing for 2000 years, WITHOUT ANY MORTAR! It is so cool! I now have officially survived one of my 8 weeks in Europe without dying or being mugged or falling off the swiss alps, in fact I feel great! If you have been reading the rest of my family's blog, you know that I fell headfirst off my bed with my backpack (20+pounds) on and got so stuck that I had to wiggle out myself while my parents just stood there and laughed. If you don't, you know now. Because my backpack was so heavy I reduced the weight drastically and it is now just under 18 pounds. I finally got a day bag so that I can carry my own things by myself. It is an adorable little over the shoulder blue, pink, and yellow striped bag that zips shut. I had an amazing time at the Aqueduct and exploring the French countryside. Paris: We got off the long train ride from Arles to Paris and, laden with all of our belongings, we climbed onto the metro which can be compared to New York's subways because it is underground, crowded, and very bumpy and jerky like standing up in a car while you drive down a gravel road full of potholes. After a relatively short ride, we got off at Bibleoteque and were helped by a bookseller with bad English who could tell that we were lost and confused. He directed us to Rue Domremi, the road we were going to be living on. We arrived at our apartment after climbing two flights of stairs. In the apartment waited the landlords mother who was a tall Asian woman who spoke about 5 words of English, none of which were appropriate to help a stupid American family become acquainted with their new apartment so we played charades until we knew how to use every appliance in the house from the toilet to the coffee maker to the fitted sheet for Jack's bed (the couch). After hunting down dinner, we went to bed peacefully. The original plan for the morning was we wake up early and go to visit the Louvre. We woke up at roughly 10:00 am, got to the Louvre by 11:30am and after roughly 5 minutes of looking at statues, I turned on my phone and ran over to the egyptian statue section. On the way, I stumbles into a room full of at least 50 life-sized marble naked men on pedestals so that their junk was conveniently at my eye level. After being permanently scarred for life, I found Egypt after asking a bunch of non-English speaking people for directions by pointing at maps and dancing like an Egyptian. The Egyptian section was incredibly boring but after leaving I managed to get lost in the most remote and coolest part of the museum. Canada may not have much going for it now but they have some dang good art! We left the louvre soon after my weenie quotient had been enormously overfilled and headed home, ate sandwiches from our local mini grocery store and fell asleep less than peacefully early in the morning. Today was Eiffel tower day, it was brown. A nasty, diarrhea color, gross to the fullest! We rode an elevator to the top and I almost got sick, mom went to the bathroom (she can find a toilet anywhere) and we went down. I got some little Eiffel tower trinkets for 5x what they were worth and we wandered through town until we were hopelessly lost but at the last minute before dad asked for directions(for the first time in like ever), the GPS started working after nearly 2 weeks of silence and told us where we were. Because it was diner time, mom pulled out her Rick Steves book and found us a pizza place called PIZZA!!! There were only 2 staff members there, the chef and the server. The server spoke no English but got us fed nevertheless, he was fabulous and funny as heck! The food was amazing and the place was full of Rick Steves worshipers and my parents almost seemed normal, that in itself was shocking! We sauntered home happily and curled up contentedly in our beds. Today, I went shopping, probably on the most expensive ever on earth! we passed the Arch de Triumph on our way, decided that we each have 7.5€ to spend as we wish for both lunch and any snacks we want, and I bought an adorable canvas army bag with floral interior at the Nike store. I had been looking for a bag just like it at home but it is more special if you bought it in Paris! We also revisited the Louvre for one last time and I was sure to avoid man with the golden penis. We met up with the guys who had decided to go to the army museum instead and went home.London We have just arrived in England and are on the top floor of a double decker bus, comfortably full of fish and chips and pork sandwiches we just ate at an English pub. Our humongous packs have finally relinquished their grip on our sore backs and we walk jauntily down the many streets, free of their tremendous weight. Our new home for the week is nice and we share our own room. Although we are all in one room, it isn't cramped at all because the room itself is enormous. Jack got to get the softer bed because I got my own room in Paris. We saw the giant ferris wheel, Big Ben, the house of parliament, buckingham palace, and many other freakishly famous English sites! It was great! Bruges, Belgium Bruges, Belgium was by far one of my favorite cities. It is a small, walled, cute town with a market square with a lot of colorful cute and quaint little houses and shops. The foods (and drinks) Belgium is known for are chocolate, fries, waffles covered in chocolate syrup, powdered sugar and whipped cream, and beer. You tell me if you can find anything wrong with that list (besides total lack of nutritional value). There were a lot of cafes, shops full of warm clothes, beirgardens, fritteries, chocolate shops, sausage shops, and for lack of a more tasteful explanation, lingerie shops (yes, lace covered underwear) as well as a lot of big churches with tall spires and a lot of big statues of Jesus and Mary. The overall effect is the cutest little city ever! We were staying on top of a bar in a hostel! The bar was called charlie rockets and it was actually really cool and for lighting they had candles in giant vodka and rum bottles that, over time had dripped down, almost tripling the size of the top. As far as bikes are concerned, this place was absolutely lawless! The bikes went at breakneck speeds over the cobbled streets and through town up one way streets the wrong way, none of the riders wore helmets and they were absolutely lethal, they would have hit me pretty often if I hadn't watched out and danced out of the way half a dozen times. Shopping was pretty nice, I didn't really buy anything but had fun looking. All in all Bruges Belgium was my favorite townPrague: Prague is one of the wilder and more foreign places I've been to. The cultural diversity and overall difference is very great. The language is nothing like any other that I've seen thus far it also sounds very different from languages I have become more familiar with like French German and Spanish. In the hostel I am saying in currently is filled with murals and is very fun, they have a big common room, kitchen shower and bathroom facilities. Breakfast in the morning includes a ham and cheese sandwich, our family's room has four beds, a bunk bed and 2 twins I am on the bottom and jz is above me. Today is rainy and cold, perfect for holey sweats and my big fluffy sweatshirt. I miss home a lot and our first month has flown by so quickly it seems impossible that it has been so long, it has been ages since I have actually communicated with my friends and I miss them so much. The money used here is called Czech krowns, one American dollar is equal to 18 krowns so when my dad gave me 200 kc, it was really about 11 dollars back home.
I have been put in charge of planning Venice! Where we'll stay, what we,ll eat and pretty much what we will do every waking moment. We emailed an apartment but they are full that week so I'm diligently working on finding somewhere under budget but it's kinda a pain. Whatever site I go to they have 100 over budget places and 5 under or around my budget. We want to be on the island because water taxis are VERY EXPENSIVE and everything is x4 food, lodging, transportation, tickets to attractions, everything! My thoughts on Meeting My Hungarian Relatives:We are going to Hungary to see our relatives in Budapest soon. I have never seen them or talked on the phone with them, I have received a total of one email from them which was directed towards my parents. They know I exist and even have a child 2 or 3 years younger called Hanna but have never initiated any contact. I know only their names and a couple trivial facts about them. I am both nervous and exited to meet them. I do not know what to expect. My parents say they speak English but I am not so sure. Hanna began learning last year so I doubt she possesses any fluency. I do hope she speaks a bit so I am not stuck floundering in adult catching up and politics, jack sitting politely at my side chuckling at their mispronunciations. No one knows what to expect, not even my parents who have visited them before nothing but inexplainable kindness. It see David knows them best, he visited most recently. I think my excitement overrules my nervousness but am happy this day is coming soon. Dachau:My grandfather, now 87 or so was about my age when the holocaust began. He was a Hungarian Jew, at age 12, his he and parents was taken from their home on the countryside by nazi forces to Auschwitz concentration camp where his parents were murdered by nazi forces, my grandfather however, was moved to Dachau because he was young and strong enough to work. He survived many horrors including starvation, malnutrition dehumanization disease and torture. It is a true miracle that my family, aunt and uncle are even alive. after the liberation of the camp, he changed his last name from Bleier to Blair and moved to the USA where he married a woman named Virginia, had 3 kids (my dad included) and lived a happy and prosperous life. This past week, my family and I went to the concentration camp where many jewish people died and suffered and starved at the hands of the nazi S.S. regime, my grandfather included. At the age of 17, almost a full grown man, my grandfather a bald lump of skin and bone, weighed a mere 80 pounds, less than my 10 year old brother. When my dad took us, we saw where our grandfathers barracks had been, where he had slept after a full day of torture and pain. It is terribly difficult to write down how I felt when I was there, I was beyond shock, pain, and revulsion, beyond anger and beyond ice. The way you feel when you set foot on a killing field, a place of torture, a place where someone you know, you love has been taken apart, a piece removed and in it's place, a piece that doesn't quite fit, one with sharp edges has been put in the place of a soft sphere of light, something not quite human right outside a town of faked cowardly oblivion. The feelings and thoughts and passions you experience are not what you expect but are totally appropriate despair.HungaryI am on the train racing away from Budapest and more importantly, my family. Although I had never met them and they had never met me, they welcomed me and my family with open arms. We stayed with Judit, Istvan, and their daughter, Hanna. I was quickly put into Hanna's bed while jz, mom and dad were assigned the guest bedroom. Hanna, a quiet and shy 10 year old girl, spoke much better English than she first let on and ended up communicating very well with me and my brother. Judit was absolutely hilarious and lovely. Istvan was on a business trip to Paris until the middle of the next day. Hanna and I had an instant connection and started playing games like Da Vinci Code and other games, in English. That night, we ate delivery pizza and salad even though Hanna said that it was shameful that they serve pizza to the American relatives, Judit was busy and knew that we are family not guests and had no need to impress us, a quality I admire. The next morning we all rose early even though I really hate worms anyway, and jack and I went to school with Hanna who is in the fourth grade. We witnessed PE, math, and a literature class. Somehow, the eighth grade English teacher and the principle both found out that two Americans were in the fourth grade and sought us out. The english teacher invited us to join her class and the principle gave us a warm welcome using the six words of English she knew. We ran to English class after conferring with Hanna's teacher and walked into a room full of 14 year olds that looked at us like we had just levitated into the room upside-down and screaming. We were ushered to the two seats at the head of the table and were promptly introduced and bombarded with questions. The class asked us about everything from our food preferences to family and friends. We were asked to define many words and clarify many definitions and descriptions. We rejoined the fourth grade after English and painted trees and drew pictures with the class. Judit came for Hanna Jack and me shortly after one o'clock and we went out for a fancy lunch with my parents who had been exploring Budapest all day. At home we played games and relaxed, I introduced Hanna to Pictionary which she absolutely loved! A few hours later, we went to Kati and Geza's house for dinner. Kati and Geza are Judit and Gabor's parents, Kati is just under 4 feet tall and absolutely adorable but has a 10 foot tall aura about her, she tells you to do something, you do it! My dad tried to pay for lunch later in the trip, boy was he was in trouble! Geza's on the other hand is quiet, loving, so kind it hurts and probably telepathic! The second we got to their floor of the apartment building, they hugged and kissed and smiled at us like we were saints and brought us into the house, we were a part of the family right then and there. They offered us drinks and lavished us with gifts. Once we were done talking, we moved to the table and scooted and shuffled into place where we were served a 3 course traditional Hungarian meal. Including soup, paprikash (a paprika stew over sinker noodle kind of dish), and desert (cake kind of things, sour cherry, nut, apple, or cheese?). It was wonderful, every time I drained my 3 sip glass of OJ, Geza refilled it so I probably drank a liter or two of orange juice. we happily waddled out after sharing every picture we could find. We prepared for the next day, played Pictionary and snuggled up into bed. The next morning, we woke up and got ready to go to the art museum with Kati in her tiny car. At 11, she came for us and we headed out. We went in and paid for tickets (Kati paid, dad protested),looked at a mummy exhibition and ten minute film and moved on to the art. The art was very realistic and plentiful, we looked for an hour and left. On the way out we found a cute little restaurant and kati led us in. I ordered a sandwich so naturally, I ended up having a sandwich, a glass of lemonade, a dish of Hungarian potato, sausage, egg, paprika stuff, and a slice of poppyseed cake. It was good but getting into her small car was definitely a concern. As soon as we got home, we watched a home video featuring a lot of the relatives we have in common and got ready to go shopping. The girls went shopping but the boys went out for a beer or in Jack's case, coke. Us girls were on a mission- too find me a new coat. We went into a few stores like New Yorker and a few others, eventually, we went into Zara and after no more than 5 minutes I found the perfect coat! It was a dark purplish blue down coat. We bought it immediately and hurried to spoon, a restaurant on a boat on the Danube river which divides Buda from Pest, the two cities that eventually became Budapest. Buda, the older side was the side that they lived on. Spoon ended up being very fancy, us kids sat on one side while the adults sat on the other. I had a window and had a gorgeous view of Buda while it was all lit up at night. It was an absolutely lovely night and a nice end to a lovely visit. We stayed one more night, woke up at our own leisure at around eight, carved an "authentic" Halloween pumpkin and roasted the seeds, then we baked an apple crisp. Actually Hanna baked most of the crisp because my dad called me upstairs to help plan Venice with him. Istvan made lunch and 10 minutes later we sat down to piping hot and delicious pepper, paprika sausage, egg stew and bread followed by Hanna's apple crumble which was very good. Shortly after lunch, Kati and Geza came over to see us off and at around 2:30 we left to catch our night train to Venice. When we arrived we were very sad that we had to say goodbye, we hugged and kissed and squished each other goodbye and went into the train station when dad realized that we had an awful lot of forints left so we went and bought a ton of candy soda and sandwiches, especially candy bars. Our family was truly exceptional, I feel that I am a better person by knowing them. Venice:We arrived at Venice after a traumatic night train. Dad was very fussy about the temperature but I liked it, it was cozy. We went for drinks in the dining car and I had a fruit cocktail. We went two at a time so the other two could watch our bags in the compartment. We got to bed after an appropriate amount of giggling and fussing. At midnight and again at roughly 3 in the morning, we were rudely and inconsiderately woken by customs officials. Our door was slammed open, the lights were flicked on and the customs official shouts "PASSPORTS!!!!!!!" we obligingly hand then over and he flicks through them and as loudly as possibly, he stamps them. Then he slams the door closed after flicking of the single glaring bulb in our ceiling and storms down to the next compartment, next comes another customs officer who slams the door open and flicks the light back on and looks under our beds and in the luggage racks to see if any undeclared people are there, because everyone wants to sneak into Slovenia. When we finally arrived in Venice, the sun was rising over the water, the air was warm and we were hopelessly lost, already. Our reservation had fallen through so we had to find a place to stay. We were wandering the streets of Venice with our enormous backpacks on, homeless and perfectly content. Somehow, we wandered into Saint Marks Square with the Basilica, the clock tower the bell tower Doges palace, the Correr Museum and the grand canal snaking by as well as countless tourists and knick-knack vendors. We grabbed a cup of fantastic coffee, and wandered over to tourist information where we got directions to a hostel where we bought one night of dorm beds and left our packs in storage. Jack and I tech-ied In the common room while dad and mom went out to find us a place to stay for the rest of our time in Venice. They returned shortly with good news! We have a three bedroom apartment to stay in for the remaining 3 nights. The next morning we packed up and went to the apartment, it was absolutely wonderful. We each had our own room and they were decorated with old classic elegance. My room was the smallest with the worst view but I was happy anyway because my bed was comfy and the decor was so me! Venice was magical, there just isn't another word for all of the narrow winding alleys and small bridges over canals where boats go zooming by very quickly through the narrow passageways yet never seem to turn. It reminded me of my parent's friend, Mr. Breaux's driving (very crazy). Over our time in Venice I got lost countless times in various parts of the city which I found out is the best way to see it. My map was great but even following it, it was nearly impossible to not be lost. There were only three places I could be that I couldn't be lost while I was there:1. Anywhere in Saint Mark's Square 2. At our apartment 3. The Rialto Bridge otherwise, I was always lost, almost lost, or just had been lost for the entire time I was there. The time I spent in Venice was short and I hope to return soon.FlorenceFlorence was fantastic. We arrived after a relatively uneventful train ride, besides the fact that we had to change trains three times and our first train was so packed that our family had to stand or sit on the grimy floors for well over an hour as the scent of tired and sweaty people packed into a small, airtight box of already stale hot stagnant air settled heavily around us. The area directly nearby the train was seedy and full of homeless people, graffiti covered cement buildings and the overpowering smell of urine and greasy pizza. As we entered the heart of town though, the area became more and more impressive until we arrived at the Duomo, a church so massive that that is it's best feature, it has two humongous domes, a tower and a main part that, on any other church would be the biggest church I had ever been to by itself but was somehow overshadowed by the gargantuan dome. Our hostel although I can't really call it that was just perfect. It was two bedrooms, one for the parents and one for me. Jack had a couch bed in the sitting room and there was also a kitchen and an en-suite all on our own floor of the building. On top. Four flights of stairs up. With no lift. And it was steep. Very steep. Too bad. Once we made it back out, we explored the streets and hunted down dinner. At one point in the evening, we went to the Plazzo Vecchio and say some amazing sculptures including Rape of the Sabentine Woman, a gory depiction of David holding the severed head of Goliath and a replica of Michelangelo's David. In the center of the square was a GARGANTUAN naked man with a thick beard and intense muscles that gave the expression "rock hard abs" a whole new meaning. He must have been twenty five feet tall. He was a great statue of a burly, tough, naked warrior. After the plaza, we went to dinner and arrived right when it opened. Within fifteen minutes of opening, most of the tables were full of locals, Asian tourists and us. There were two options as far as food was concerned, order off the menu or choose from three of four options for each of the two courses and a side for a fixed price. We all went for the fixed price meal and worked through our pasta, meat and fries or a salad. By the time we were done, we were well fed and bursting at the seams. Luckily, the restaurant was almost next-door to our place so we waddled up the stairs and all separated for the night. The next day, we woke up late and met my dad at the Uffizi museum where my mom had left him in line to go fetch us from the apartment. We arrived right before he went in and went in without having to wait at all. The Uffizi was originally a private collection of the Medici family but the last of the Medici donated it to the city before her death. It was pretty cool, its hard to believe it was a private collection, there were a lot of very good and very naked sculptures and even a round painting of Madonna and child as well as Joseph by Michelangelo and quite a few Botticelli's, a room full actually. Jz and I finished before our parents so we went to share an ice cream on the terrace cafe overlooking the city. It was quite pleasant, and expensive. After the museum we ate, again. We do that a lot lately I've been noticing. The next day we went to the museum I had been waiting all trip to see. The academia museum held much famous and prominent art including the famous, the angelic, the naked: Michelangelo's David! Not a replica this time, the real thing. This seventeen foot tall monster in a pose of cool and collected glory and victory has an angular nose and looks very pouty, almost like a child who hasn't gotten his way but knows better than to scream. His body language though is nonchalant and perfect, like a mold of a real person with thick locks of curly hair upon his head and proportion and muscular perfection from head to toe. The room next to the one holding David (yes, that one) was full of sculptures used by students at the academia with black dots marking proportion so that the students could replicate them. The walls were covered with hundreds of busts and we spent almost an hour comparing them to people we knew and left sad, wishing we were home with our family and friends. Truthfully, I am almost missing school. Don't get me wrong, this is great but there is no structure at all. What its like:Believe it or not, when you are within a 10x10foot square of space with you family for two months, you start wondering why you signed up for this kind of torture. The only thing you dream about is spending time with your friends because your family has overstepped their welcome two months too long. Yes, I am blessed to be on this trip, seeing the things I'm seeing and doing what I'm doing but for golly's sake, does it have to be with my brother while he pokes me and makes fart jokes or while my dad gives me a lecture on some incredibly uninteresting subject or my mom tells me that I have a feather on my back (it's not my fault I'm molting, it's the coat!) you wonder why, why oh why does my trip have to be so fantastic and torturous at the same time. I long only for freedom and my own pillow.Rome:Roma, Italia was a fantastic town to visit. Around every corner, another beautiful site or history filled object building or structure that we needed to go see. Over our time there we saw the Spanish steps (I couldn't tell you why they are famous if my life depended on it, they're just steps!), the Trevi fountain (magnifico!) the Pantheon (a humongous building that is a billion years old with an intentional hole in the roof!), The Forum (cool ruins) The Palintine (yet more ruins), the Vatican and the Sistine chapel (these were absolutely fantastic, awe inspiring, and depressing because although the giant collection of beautiful and often priceless art was magnificent, it was sad that they had used their money to collect art instead of helping the hungry and suffering people right outside their gates. The Sistine chapel especially blew my mind.), Saint Peter's Cathedral (the biggest church on the planet, covered in gold and dipped in chocolate.) and, (drumroll please) The Colosseum, yes THAT Colosseum the Giant, famous, Roman Colosseum where gladiators fought and killed and died, where thousands of rare and endangered animals died, where triumph was celebrated after war, and failure was forgotten, the center of Rome, then it's quarry, then it's center once more. The drivers in Rome were a real danger because they had the right of way. Rome's winding streets, and never-ending rivers of tourists (many Asian) made it an interesting town to visit and I hope to return soon. MilanMilan, home of the last supper, the magnificent Duomo and the Last Supper, the world capital of fashion, a magnificent city. The last supper was housed in a humble brick church that, if you hadn’t had directions, you would never know it was there. We passed through a set of Dehumidifying doors and into a small long room. at one end, a traditional fresco of the crucifixion and at the other end, the magnificent painting by Michelangelo, the Last Supper. It was a 30 foot long painting, spanning the length of the smallest wall in the room. from head to foot it was ten feet tall. portraying the moment after Jesus said, “one of you will betray me” their various reactions obvious as a timeless moment is frozen and somehow carried through the ages. The church was filled with spires and statues to the point of overwhelming beuty almost lost in the multitue of great sculptures, spires, columns and other bedazlements. Milan was magnificent and awe inspiring.