Emily graduated from Cal in December of 1988 and her parents gave her a trip to Europe as a present. She initially flew over and spent about 6 weeks gallivanting around with Liz, her friend from high school in Maryland. About the time that Liz left I flew over and we did the whole thing again.
To make cash for my trip I took a job as a construction laborer, in addition to working for Peter Isgro at his antique store on the weekends. One day, the 10th of February to be exact, I was digging ditches in the rain at a house in the Santa Cruz mountains off of highway 17. I was working for a Contractor who was adding onto a house and doing all of the tasks that he and his assistant didn't want to do, such as digging ditches. A few days prior I had made the grave error of telling them that I had graduated in the summer from Berkeley with an engineering degree so they were already giving me a hard time. Anyway, the boss called me away from the ditches to help him with something and I ended up kneeling over on the muddy ground. Suddenly there was a shout and a ladder slid off of the post it was propped up against, along with the 220 pound assistant carpenter. Both ladder and man crashed down directly onto my back, driving my face into the mud. That day was my birthday.
We met at the end of March at Charles de Gaulle Airport. I had scabies (flea bites) and bells which I got on the overnight train to Amsterdam from Budapest (the flea bites, not the bells, the bells were from Krakow). We stayed at the Hotel Nesle for about 3 days. Poobie brings an assortment of Kama Sutra massage oils but much to everyone's chagrin, after some experimentation, they succeed in giving me a slightly bizarre rash on the back of my neck. Every morning when we left the hotel, the Large Egyptian Lady would hold out her hand and yell at me, "Pay me! Pay me!" This is the beginning of our excellent picnicking technique. Most mornings I would go and exchange some money, then pay the LEL and then walk around the neighborhood and get all of our groceries for the day. Our single bulk purchase was a small tub of butter that I learned would last us for at least a week. So we tour around Paris to all of the normal tourist sites, but I knew Notre Dame would especially interest the civil engineering side of Poobie. Little did I suspect that The Climbing begins at Notre Dame. So Casey looks at the front of the cathedral and says, "Wow! That must be the biggest church in the world!" And of course, being the adventurous type as well as the I-want-to-see-everything-from-a-different-perspective and climb-to-the-top-of-everything type, we joined about 500 other tourists and followed Quasimodo's footsteps. It was kind of cold in Paris, so we decided to go to warmer climes and headed for Barcelona.
Wall at Hotel Nesle.
This is a great picture as it allows you to see how large the Arc de Triumph is. For reference, I am standing in the bottom/middle of the picture wearing a red shirt. .
I was surprised to see that the tower was brown.
Heading to the Louvre on a drizzly day. The glass pyramid is visible through the center arch.
And here we have descended through the pyramid. Onto the stinky feet?
Ah yes, feet that are thousands of years old don't smell to good.
What can you say about Versailles? Julien once referred to it as "a big dumb castle." Yup. I'll bet I can move every single person I know (and that's a lot of people) to Versailles, and still have room to spare.
Gardens of Versailles. This picture shows the canal that used to host boat races.
Hall of Mirrors in Versailles.
Casey in Versailles tree.
Casey on perfumed sheep bridge.
Upside down umbrella.
This is one of my favorite cities because it reminds me somewhat of San Francisco: a port city with laid-back folks and an artsy, funky attitude. We arrived at one of the worst times possible, of course. Easter weekend was upon the world, and most of the world was in Barcelona. After calling from a train station in Paris, trying to get a room at the Hotel Peninsular and failing miserably due to my lack of Catalàn skills and general lack of vacancies, we decided to wing it. Upon arrival in the city, we trudged over to Las Ramblas and promptly found a room in a hotel near the Peninsular. We were fortunate enough to get a room with a balcony that overlooked Las Ramblas. It was great fun for us because at any time of the day, there would be entire families strolling along the paved walkway, just taking their ease and watching the street performers pulling gags on unsuspecting tourists. We had several good meals on the advice of the people at the hotel but were surprised that their dinner hour didn't start until 8:30 p.m. La Fonda was the first place I ever had fideus.
Exploring Barcelona was hilarious. It's a bit more sprawling than Paris or maybe it was my imagination, but I remember walking a lot and trying to follow a confusing bus route. We climbed the unfinished spires of the Sagrada Familia and marveled at the sculpture adorning it. So intrigued were we at Gaudi's style, that we took a trip to Parc Guell. It truly is a wonderful and whimsical place. While there, Casey acquired a stalker in sky-blue pants. If it weren't for her pants, and the fact that she was looking at Casey every time I saw her, I might not have noticed the little tramp! But she showed up (I'm sure it was by coincidence of being tourists in the same city) in several places that we visited.
The second day we were in Barcelona, I decided to walk in to the Hotel Peninsular to see if they had any rooms because our hotel was a bit pricier than I had anticipated and I really liked the Peninsular and the staff there. The manager at the desk immediately started up with, "Remember me?" And I said, "I was just about to ask you the same question!" I asked him if there were any rooms available and he told me, "For you? ALWAYS!" Sadly, the next two days were filled with stomach trauma for me. I subsisted on Spanish Saltines and 7up until we left. Of course, Casey was well pleased with an unbelievable looking Belgian waffle we bought while strolling around. I was still too sick to even contemplate taking a nibble and only assuaged my waffle-envy 4 years later in 2002 when we actually went to Belgium! On that same stroll we came upon a 100 peseta store. It was the Spanish version of a dollar store and we bought a very lovely plastic canvas shopping bag that we still have to this day! That store and that bag started Casey's addiction to plastic canvas shopping bags.
Our hotel had a balcony that opened up right onto "Las Ramblas", allowing us to watch the people stroll by into all hours of the night. Walking about 5 minutes to the right put us at the sea.
The famous "Sagrada Familia", under construction but still open for tours. Perhaps tour isn't the right word, since after paying the admission fee we were allowed to run amok throughout the entire structure. At one point I squeezed through some bars and was about to head up into one of the spires before better judgment prevailed. Weeks later in Florence, when scrambling around the duomo, I would not exercise such sound thinking.
Two faces, which one is the statue?
Sagrada Familia style sculpture.
We are in the tall section of town at Yao Mings house.
Casey hugs a Parc Guel local woman.
Emily rides the blue iguana.
Gaudi design in Parc Guell.
Girl (stalker) in blue pants.
Our next stop was to visit our friend Big G (Genevive) in Bologna. She was due to leave on another trip, so we had to quickly get there or miss her altogether. We were also trying to avoid a train workers strike in France and so, without much fanfare, we got the hell out of Barcelona. Of course, because we were suddenly in such a rush, we didn't think to provision ourselves properly and ended up paying the price... literally. We were on a super long train ride along the Riviera with a small bag of clementines, the leftover package of soda crackers and two half size 7ups and a small bottle of water. Soon most of the food and drink was gone with just a single packet of soda crackers remaining. I had saved a little water and dared Casey to eat the packet of soda crackers within a minute without anything to drink. (I had heard somewhere that it was a physical impossibility.) He considered the 12 small squares, and knowing he would fail, went for it anyway... He failed. At the third cracker, already he was struggling to chew and swallow. The remaining water was used to wash it all down. Luckily for us, the food service cart guy came by just in the nick of time to prevent utter starvation. The man would accept any currency, but we didn't have enough of any ONE European currency to pay for our two $5 sandwiches, two bottles of water and package of HITS. He then told me slyly that he accepted American dollars if we had any. With Casey nearly hysterical that I had held out our last remaining American cash on the brink of starvation, I paid the man.
Changed trains in Nice to go to Bologna and got the last remaining standing-room-only tickets. We sat on the little fold-down seats in the corridor outside of the actual compartments. It was a LOOOONG ride. We started the trip in Barcelona at 7 a.m. and didn't get into Bologna until around 2 a.m. We spent a day and a half hanging out with Genevive, walking up under the world's longest portico to the church on the hill. Along the way, we passed by the secret door/window on a street wall. When we opened it, much to our surprise the road we were standing on was a bridge and the window opened onto a small canal.
Many people don't know this, but there are TWO leaning towers of Bologna. These towers were built by the ruling families of Bologna to defend against invaders back in the day. Well, the lower one was closed because it was unsafe. (By the way, it must have been really unsafe to have been shut down for visitors. Most places we walked around would have been off limits due to liability issues in the U.S. I'm glad Europeans don't have such restrictions because of a sue-happy public.) But the higher tower was open and as always, we had to climb it. The inside was really interesting and divided into floors, maybe six in all. The staircase actually spiraled around each section along the walls. The only thing was, there were no rails along the staircases. And because the tower was divided into sections, you couldn't tell how far left you had to go to get to the top. It seemed like a never-ending staircase, but eventually we got to the top and the view was breath-taking.
That night, we went to Big G's favorite pizza place. I got the spinach and Gorgonzola, Casey got the one with an egg on top and half stuffed with mozzarella bufala.
The next day, we were off to Florence.
Bologna towers from below.
Towers from above.
Casey with poster of Marco Pantani.
CLB in tiny Bologna tub.
So after being at Big G's for a couple of days, we arrived a short while later in Florence. The first order of business was to find a hotel and that was done without much fanfare. Our room was quite big by European standards and even featured our own shower... in the corner of the room. The we promptly went to the leather market and bought a jacket for Casey from a friend of a friend.... You get the picture. Then it was onto sight seeing.
We hit all of the hot spots, starting with the Duomo. Climbing up was really fun and fantastic, but at the top, Casey said to me, "Now wait here and when I call you, take my picture." So I waited, and after about five minutes, I hear, "Psst! Hey, Em, take the picture!" I look down from the top and see Casey standing on a little concrete lip that comes out of the dome. After my heart attack, I take the picture. And then a few years later, I marry him. You can't say that I didn't have any warning...
So we run around some more, going to the DeMedici Tombs and Santa Croce home church of Michelangelo and where Enrico Fermi is buried. That night, we decide to take a chance and have dinner at a little restaurant across the street from our hotel. We each get the menu and start with a little salad and for my main course, I chose some pasta dish. Pretty good. Casey, who decides to be adventurous, goes for the Fontina, thinking that they wouldn't just serve him a wedge of cheese for dinner. WRONG!!!! So having finished dinner, we're sitting and laughing at his predicament, when the couple at the table beside us are served dishes of something white and quivering, covered in chocolate sauce. We quickly tell our waiter that whatever that is, we want it, and thus we discover the joys of panna cotta. Because I had never seen this dessert before, I ask the waiter if he knows how it is made and he in turn, tells the chef. The chef comes out and chats with us for a while, and I, being the charming and sly girl that I am, wheedles the recipe out of him. "It is very simple," he said, "Just one litro de panna, two sheets of fish glue, four large spoons of zucchero (they are a bit bigger than our tablespoons) and a small cup of amaretto." Hmm... I'm not sure that I remember that right, but I'm going to try it out soon...
The next day we visit stood in line for the DAVID and the Uffizi. Now most pictures of DAVID never do him enough justice. That's because there's no perspective and no way of knowing that he's around 20 feet tall! When we walked into the hall with him at the end, Casey's jaw dropped. The closer we got, the more he said "WOW!" When we got up close, we had to sit down like a couple of art students and just look and contemplate. Pretty awesome.
As for the Uffizi, Casey didn't really care for the Fra Angelicos, barely any of the religious art or for the most part any of the paintings. He did stop for a while in front of Donatello's Printemps and Birth of Venus, and also Michelangelo's Sagrada Familia, but that's pretty much it. And then there was the sculpture of a guy lashed to a tree... but for the most part, I think that he was unappreciative.
We went on a hunt for riso gelato at a place recommended by Rick Steves and found it. To this day, it's Casey's favorite flavor of gelato, but rarely found in the U.S. That night we went to a small, self-serve, but decent place recommended by our landlord. I can't remember much about it, and then the next day we were off to Pisa and then ROME!
Emily in Florence.
I wonder what happens if Casey climbs out of this hole?
Idiot! It was such a tight squeeze his shirt was ripped off. Ok....he ripped it off. WAAAHOO!
This photo gives a better perspective of the hole I climbed out of. Actually, looking at this picture I can't believe I was out there, that I didn't get in trouble or caught, and that it really wasn't very hard.
Wow! Look at that hunk! He really deserves his own page. Oh, and DAVID is pretty cool too.
So we went to Pisa... I think most people only stay in Pisa for the 30 minutes it takes to get to the tower, take the funny pictures of them holding up or pushing over the tower, walking around the grounds, and then getting the hell out of there. We pretty much did the same thing, only it took us a bit longer because Casey had to make the sign with a ball-point pen and it takes a lot of filling in to make the sign legible. We bought ourselves a great lunch at a local delicatessen and then headed to Rome.
What can I say about Rome? Having been there before, we immediately sought lodging, which was marginally successful. OK, we were successful, but paid through the nose. On my previous trip, we spent the time on a friend-of-a-friend's floor, this time, we rented a room for $85 per night. We only stayed one night.
We wandered over to the Forum and then over to the Coliseum and then to the Fountain, then the Steps, then some gelato and then the Pantheon. We pretty much covered the major tourist sights. At night we dined at my favorite little place at the Campo de Fiori. The next morning we trooped on over to see THE BIGGEST CHURCH IN THE WORLD. Of course, St. Peter's. When we were in Paris last, he thought Notre Dame was the biggest church in the world. From what I hear of St. Peter's, you can fit Notre Dame inside with room to spare. Of course, I decided that Casey (having been so enamored with Michaelangelo's work in Florence) should go see the Sistine chapel. I had read about the mural and retained most of my Christian school education, so I knew the stories depicted. Not so with Casey. First, I stood in line for two hours while he went over to St. Peter's. The line got seriously short when lots of people left because of a bomb threat. When that proved to be false, I found myself near the front of the line. Meanwhile Casey gets back with big eyes exclaiming, "Now THAT HAS GOT TO BE THE BIGGEST CHURCH IN THE WORLD!!!" I smiled and nodded my head in a supercilious fashion.
So we finally get inside and although lots of people don't know this, you have to go through miles and miles of corridor and museum to get to the Chapel, squeeze in with a thousand other people, craning their necks to see the images 40 feet above you, all the while, trying to avoid the dog-pile that happens when someone raises something like a camera towards the ceiling and the guards all tackle him/her. So we get in there, and Casey says, "That's it? It's nice, I guess... I'm just not really interested in painting and I don't know the stories, so I don't really care." After all that... Yeesh.
So we go back to the Basilica and climb the dome, as I knew we would, and then putter around town, killing time until our "overnight" train to Venice...
Gelato and the Pantheon. (The lady watching us take the picture started to belly laugh at this point.)
On top of St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. Yes, he made me climb that one too! But the lines were shorter than the elevator...
CLB in St. Peter's.
Where is the Coliseum?
The Forum near the Coliseum.
So my first mistake was not knowing that our train from Rome arrived at 10 p.m. By the time we got to Venice, the city was shut down and we were too tired to go in search of lodging. We ended up trying to sleep on the train station floor, currently being occupied by some other travelers with no other prospects. They seemed well prepared as they had sleeping bags and pillows. I had a small throw that my grandmother had knitted for me and my backpack. Casey had his backpack. So we lay down between the bars that marked off the lines for tickets and tried to go to sleep. By the way, I found out that night that it is almost impossible to stay warm without insulation on stone. Oh yeah, did I tell you that I can't sleep if I'm really cold? So Casey at first, says, "This is great! Usually I feel too hot when I sleep." So about an hour later, I've moved to the wire bench and he gets up and tells me he's really too cold to sleep. We pull out our train schedule and decide to hop on the train to Verona which leaves at 6:30 a.m. and arrives at 7:30 a.m. at which we can hop on a train coming back fifteen minutes later to arrive in Venice (again) at about 9 a.m. We get in the train compartment, close the door and draw the curtains. We pull the seats together to form a sort of lumpy sleeping platform and go to sleep.
We wake up in Verona the next day, hop back on the train to Venice, and we're right back on schedule. We take showers in the train station for a reasonable fee, check our backpacks, and start to wander around. We stop off for breakfast at McDonald's. We feel a bit guilty, but we are in need of comfort. Everything gets better from there... It's a wet, drizzly day but we don't care. Life is grand, we are young, in love and in Venice, one of the most romantic cities in the world. Casey takes a moment in our wanderings to buy a pair of leather gloves to protect his cold-prone hands. We don't splurge on the private gondola ride, but take the easy way out to say we've done it by taking the gondola ferry to the market near the Rialto. At the market he buys himself a great stalk of broccoli. The lady we buy it from looks at us curiously. We head to the fountain behind her for some water and to wash off the broccoli. Then he strolls past her, munching on the raw stalk and she bursts out laughing and makes strong-arm gestures, jabbering about vitamins.
We try licorice gelato near the Rialto and at the end of the day decide to buy a picnic dinner and head over to Budapest. At the station, we get our bags back and head over to a bench to make dinner. We had a ceci salad with mozzarella, tuna and tomato and a squeeze of lemon, mixed in a water bottle. Some terrible focaccia accompanied our meal and we had a passable packaged panna cotta for dessert. To season our salad, we had purloined a salt and pepper shaker from the cafeteria. Right before dinner, Casey decided to board the Orient Express and take a picture. Shortly after I took the picture, he was booted off the train.
Gotta dance, gotta dance, everyone look at my pants.
Ceci salad at Venice train station. Purloined salt and pepper in foreground.
On the overnight train from Venice to Budapest, we passed through Croatia and Slovenia. Usually, in Western Europe, the train conductor takes the passports and tickets of the passengers in couchettes and deals with the immigration officers at each border, allowing the passengers to continue to sleep, undisturbed. At each border crossing in the former "Eastern Bloc", armed guards would board the train and go down the aisles, pounding on the doors and screaming, "PASSPORT CONTROL, PASSPORT CONTROL!" and basically scare the shit out of the sleeping passengers. The first time it happened, Casey was a bit groggy and slow in opening the door. I was yelling at him to hurry up and open the door so they wouldn't have an excuse to knock down the door and shoot us with their handy Uzi's. Between Venice and Budapest, passport control happened about 5 times. Yeesh! Talk about a sleepless night!
Once we actually got into Budapest, the high living began. We went to stay with our friend Kata, who was watching the apartment of her friend, Ken Frost, better known as Frosty. (I had met Frosty on my previous tour, but he doesn't make an appearance in this particular story.) Frosty's flat had an extra bedroom and we were installed therein for the next week or so. Kata was in Budapest on a Fullbright scholarship.
Our first action was to go and get money out of an ATM, having spent the last of our cash on sandwiches between Spain and France. This is where it gets a bit complicated. While we were there, the exchange rate was roughly 200 forint to the dollar. Casey, operating the foreign ATM or just suffering from a bit of stage fright, was supposed to take out 2000 forint, at that time, a good bit of money for just a few days. Instead, he took out 20,000 forint, and since we weren't paying for lodging, that was really a LOT of money! We would have lost a bit of money in the exchange if we tried to turn the cash back into some other currency, so our motto became, "Do whatever, buy whatever, drink whatever, eat whatever! We MUST spend this money!"
Every morning, our ritual was to go to the Cafe Muvez across the street from the Opera House for breakfast. This venerable old establishment was one of the oldest cafes in the city and much of the old-world charm was visible, albeit from under a thick veneer of cigarette residue. Silk cloth papered the walls, yellow with tar and nicotine and large silvered glass mirrors bloomed with age spots. The decor inside was all gilt and white (yellow) silk. Really quite beautiful, if a bit sad that it had faded so.
Kata and I would each order a cappuccino and two pogatcha (flaky cheese scones) to start, followed by the same again. Casey at first started with the cap and biscuit, but then moved on to the formidable cake and sweets counter instead. We realized that there was no limit on our spending and therefore no limit to our diet. So one morning, he started with the most likely looking cakes and then went on to ice cream sundaes. The locals thought he was crazy, but amusing.
Every day was punctuated by our meals. We went on a mad spree of breakfasting, luncheoning, afternoon tea, followed by drinks and then dinner. My two favorite places was St. Jupat's off of Moskvar Terr. and Fâtal, close to the public market. Fâtal had the greatest fried Camembert plate, with plum preserves and fried apple rings, as well as my favorite duck confit on a bed of svekedli (caramelized cabbage with egg noodles). The noodles were nice and crisp on the bottom from frying in duck fat. Yum!
The other place St. Jupat's has a great story behind it. In the late 80's, a team of Hungarian sailors returned home after competing in on of the great Cup races, I'm not sure which one. They arrived rather late at night, and having been rather home sick, wanted to just go out and have a good Hungarian meal. But because this was shortly after the fall of communism, the city's habits were still to close early, so the sailors were out of luck. Out of the disappointment of their first night home, these sailors put together their resources and opened up a restaurant that served large portions of delicious, hearty Hungarian fare and was open 24 hours a day. No other Hungarian sailor would arrive home and go hungry in the middle of the night. The food there was good. Meat and potatoes, mainly, but inexpensive and genuinely sailor-size portions.
Casey's favorite place, was, of all things, a bar. Sixtus or Sistine Chapel, was a small place near the university that served dinner. There was only one kind of dinner every night, and it was always vegetarian, but it was wholesome and very tasty. All you would say to the bartender was that you needed dinner and then how many. I think between the three of us, we had about four dinners. An Irish woman in need of some extra cash cooked it up every day, the plate changed every day and it was sold out every day. Sixtus was also the place where I tasted my first palinka. Normally it is a type of brandy distilled from plums, but one of the Fullbright scholars we were with, ordered a round for all of us and had me try the pear palinka. It was icy cold, but went down like a trail of fire. Whew!
Most of the time we were in town, we went around with Fullbrighters and their various friends visiting from back home. Time has erased most of their names from my memory, I am ashamed to say, but some still linger... The FABULOUS Raphael, the barrel- chested Polish modern-dancer with his model girlfriend and an amazing ability to score spliffs. Mark, the filmmaker who may or may not ever come back to the U.S. Wardell, who worked for the X-Games and we saw once in L.A. shortly after coming back. The girl with the bottom half of the villa. Johnny and his fiance who were just trying to get married but had to slash through some horrendous red tape... Then there was Bolash, the Hungarian filmmaking hanger-on of all of these American kids...
Every night there were new entertainments, a giant party sponsored by a local radio station (we had to wade through a downpour and dodge the street-car ticket police because some of us were traveling gratis), a foreign-foreign film festival, Johnny's one-man act, followed by the crazy fashion show upstairs where we had really good mushroom palacintas (crepes).
To thank Kata and all of her friends for their hospitality, I decided to cook a giant Chinese dinner. We spent one whole day getting ingredients, chopping at the public market. I remember Casey helping me roll the green-onion pancakes we passed around as appetizers. I made nine dishes that night and as each group of people left, someone would ask me how I made the cabbage. THE CABBAGE!!! It was just stir-fried with a little garlic and salt. THAT'S IT! I spent all day shopping and cooking, all of the labor that went into the meal and it came down to the most insignificant dish, the one that I included because I thought we needed something without meat... (sigh). Raphael was the only person that commented on something else, he liked my braised beef shank... We brought some of that and the rice to Kata's grandma and great-aunt. Later on, we passed by to see how they were doing and she told me that she liked the beef, but that it was very unusual. She asked me what did I use to flavor the beef and I told her, ginger and star anise. She nodded her head and said that it would never occur to her to use those flavorings in something savory and then closed the door on us.
A couple of nights later, we were on the train to Krakow. Thus begins the four night epic train-hopping journey.
Casey kisses local woman.
On the night train to Krakow we passed through Slovakia with much the same fanfare of PASSPORT CONTROL as when we went to Budapest. Only this time, we were closely questioned by the officer. Do you have any cash? No. Do you have any traveller's checks? No. Well, do you have any credit cards? Yes. He seemed relieved that we could somehow pay our way, but disappointed that we didn't have anything to bribe him with. Of course, I can now say that we lied to him. We're such rascals!
This was the first of our planned hops, we decided that we didn't really need to stay in a hotel when we could just board the next overnighter to Prague and so-on, so our trip to Krakow was rather hurried. In one day we visited the Welizka Salt Mines, ran around Krakow and had a couple of really good meals. We contemplated going to Auchwitz-Birkenau but Casey decided that he didn't want to go alone and I absolutely cannot go there again. I highly recommend everyone going once in their lives, to remind themselves of what humans are capable of doing to themselves and each other, but I will never step foot in those places again.
We started off the day by going to a milk-bar, recommended to us by a Fullbrighter in Budapest. There, we were pleasantly introduced a relic of the communist era. Milk-bars were concieved by the government to provide a nutritious, wholesome place where the proletariat could go out to eat. We found it largely to be true. Of course, we could not read polish, but upon the good advice of that wise scholar in Budapest, we were instructed to order the last line of perogis. We ordered two bowls, but not being sure if that was going to be enough, we also pointed to the egg salad sandwich rolls that some other patrons had ordered and got four of those as well. The egg salad was very oniony, but being famished travellers, we just dug in. Our perogis arrived, to our delight, just as we had envisioned, accompanied with a jug of cream and a bowl of sugar. We had ordered strawberry perogis! The dough wrapping was thin, but with a nice chewiness. The strawberries inside were unadulterated and very fragrant with a bit of tartness. The cream was cold and the sugar was coarse grained and I was in heaven! I have never had the like again, sadly, but I vow to learn to make good perogi dough.
Our next stop was the salt-mines. They did not have an English tour within our time-frame, so we went on a French tour, with me as translator. It didn't really matter since the pamphlet we received was very informative and I had already taken the tour the previous trip. The salt-mines were very very old and Nicolae Copernicus had once visited them. There were all sorts of beautiful statues around, carved in salt. The very oldest statues had melted from the moisture in the air, but we walked through various beautiful cathedrals all carved from salt, with great chandeliers, also made of salt crystals. The most interesting was an area underground with a giant salt lake and a pretty gazebo. Apparently in the 1800's it was a popular boating area and as such with it's share of mishaps, but thankfully no drownings because the water is so salty, everyone floats, like in the Dead Sea.
Poobie and Copernicus in the salt mine!
Upon our return from the mines, we walked around the town, looking in at the leather market which really sells more amber and silver. We went up the church tower and took a picture with the trumpeter who plays the legendary alert that saved the town of Krakow way back when. The story was that a guard spotted invaders and sounded the alarm, but mid-way through the signal, the guard was shot and killed by an enemy arrow. Thus today the trumpeter in the tower signals every hour, but only the segment sounded by the heroic guard of long ago. We went up the hill to the castle and explored the castle grounds, only to come down behind it to my favorite restaurant in Krakow.
Unbeknownst to me, the quaint little restaurant is well-known in Poland, having won a national award for preserving cultural heritage. The restaurant was modeled after a farmhouse and many of the tables were constructed from what you might find in a real farmhouse. One table was a horsecarriage, another was a sleigh, and yet another a sleigh bed cut in half and turned into a booth. When you sat down, they brought you a bread board with good, dense country bread and two mugs. One mug was filled wtih garlicky soft farmer cheese, the other with herbed lard. Both were good and we both had quite a bit of bread smeared with alternately cheese and lard. The salt at the restaurant came from the mines we had visited and was served rough, so it was grey and a bit gritty. I can't remember what I had, but the ambience was great, the food was good, and the band was Polish folksy.
After dinner, we were on another train to Prague.
The tower trumpeter tries to tell Ted that tasty tripe tacos triumph tostadas.
Emily fed the birds as well.
Prauge, Czech Republic
So we took another overnighter from Krakow to Prague and sharing our couchette was a Canadian English teacher named Matt (?). He told us that he was meeting his mom in Prague and that when he was there he like to stay at Josef's pension, just outside the city. We were looking for a place to rest a little and wash-up before our next overnight train, so we asked to tag-along. Apparently, many private citizens rent out rooms in their houses for very cheap (I think we got the room for the whole night for $12.00) and often it's nice to interact with the family that actually lives there. People will meet the trains with cries of "Accomodation" and albums showing pictures of people who have come to stay with them and hand-written testimonies of their stay.
We tagged along with Matt and were rewarded with a room large enough to house three or four people comfortably. We took showers and hopped back on the suburban train back to Prague.
Prague is beautiful, the architecture is amazing and back then, dirt cheap. We wandered the city for a while, taking in the amazing "clock", and a variety of street performers. I even ran into some girls I met en route from Patras to Brindisi (that's another story).
Honestly, I'd like to go back to Prague after I've read more about it and actually explore it more, because that particular trip we didn't spend enough time or do it justice.
After wandering about the city all day, we decided on another couchette to Amsterdam, but with four hours to kill, we went back to Josef's and the grocery store nearby to get some rations for our trip. We got some cold-cuts, rolls, probably some fruit, but we decided to splurge and got an Apple Viennetta Ice Cream cake. It was pretty bad, but we ate most of it just the same. During our dinner at Josef's we encountered an item we still retain to this day... a big aluminum soup-spoon. We used it on the Viennetta, and then we decided that we couldn't live without it and took it... We are so sorry, and we vow to someday repay Josef for his spoon. But we DID use it a lot for the rest of our journey and we treasure it still.
A few hours later, we were on our way to Amsterdam....
Casey crossing the Charles Bridge, can you find him?
So Amsterdam was the third leg of our overnight train hopping odyssey. Having just been in Prague, we once again skipped Germany and headed straight for the Low Countries. The ride on the couchette was uneventful and we stepped fresh into the land of Van Gogh. My first order of business was to call my friend Ivo Daems whom I had stayed with my previous tour through. We called and called, but he was not to be found. (Later on we found out he was out at a bar playing darts.) So we rented some bikes and made our way towards a hostel recommended in our guidebook. The hostel was at the far end of the red-light district, and as we made our way over on our bikes, dodging pedestrians, Casey called back to me, "Hey, where's the red-light district." Duh! We were so busy trying not to hit pedestrians, we weren't paying attention to our surroundings and we were half-way through before we even noticed. So we checked into the Christian hostel because it was the only one in our book that still had vacancies. I didn't have a great feeling about it, but what can one do? It was Queen's Day and the city was booked! I remember it being really big, with giant common rooms and none too clean. I mean, we had our share of hostels, but this one made me feel uneasy. I don't think the religious pamphlets given to us at check-in helped either.
We visited the Van Gogh museum and spent some time just wandering around the city, taking in the sights. On my previous trip there, I really enjoyed munching on French Fries Oorlog (french fries with peanut sauce and mayonnaise and chopped onion), so we tried a giant cone of that, and Casey really liked them.
Towards the end of the day, we decided that we should just hop the train to Bern and check out of the hostel. A few minutes later, we had gotten our money back and were on our way.
A more tranquil place to bike...
Moments before terrible accident. The man on the bike behind was the victim. He yelled at us.
Our next stop from Amsterdam was Switzerland. That sounds a bit vague, but I truly didn't know where we were going to end up. Casey had the book about where to go in Switzerland, but all I knew was that our train was going to Bern, but we weren't going to stay there. The journey was uneventful and when we woke up, we were in a totally different setting. Gone was the flat terrain and in its place was beautiful snow- capped mountains. We got off the train only to get on a bus for Interlaken, which means "between lakes."
We went directly to Balmer's Youth Hostel (Casey can't remember the words in German for "youth hostel" so he calls it the Herber-Schmerber). We were fortunate to get a private room at the hostel so we took a nap and woke up in time to have dinner in the canteen (fondue... yucky... so full of kirsch) and watch part of Star Wars with 40 of our housemates. We signed up for something called canyoning in our fondue-induced alcohol haze and went to bed. The next morning, bright and early, we were driven to the outdoor center to be outfitted with wetsuits, life vests and wet socks (not to mention serious helmets and harnesses). We were trucked with 10 other adventurers to our destination... An icy cold river with lots of big rocks and steep falls. Luckily, with us were about five New Zealander guides who seemed mad, but sure of themselves. We were told in advance that they hadn't lost anyone yet... Great. So we spent the better part of the day ducking under big rocks and shooting out the other side in the icy glacial-runoff stream, rappelling down a waterfall and jumping into great pools of, you guessed it, icy glacial-runoff. It was pretty cold and the equipment smelled of mildew and fear... I nearly peed in my suit to warm up, but the thought of marinating in my own pee and the next person to wear my suit dissuaded me from going that route.
The next day we decided to head up into the hills (read: the side of giant mountains surrounding a glacial valley) and took a train and then an aerial gondola to Gimmelwald. Before we left Interlaken, we stopped by one of my favorite supermarkets in the world: Migros. Large or small, all Migros are super clean, well-lit, logical, and efficient. Oh, and stock enough chocolate to kill several herds of cows. For our three night stay in Gimmelwald, we walked out of Migros with no less than a dozen chocolate bars. They came in every flavor and in very colorful packaging. We did not stick with the ever-popular Lindt, but tried many local, small brands as well. To think of it now makes me giggle quite a bit, but looking around me then, all of the grocery carts in that store had no less chocolate than we did. Besides, we were going to do quite a bit of walking and hiking and we needed the energy. Besides, Switzerland is THE LAND of CHOCOLATE! You could hardly stay in the land of Milka and not buy lots and lots of it. That's my story and I'm sticking to it!
On our way to Gimmelwald, up the valley, we saw some wires stretching way up into the clouds, presumably to the top of the mountain. Halfway up the wires was suspended a gondola, exactly like the one we were about to take. This one was being used as the platform for bungee jumping. One of our friends bungee-d off the same gondola shortly after we were there. (Hannah Wood, send us the picture!)
There were a couple of options for us to stay in Gimmelwald, and we opted to stay at Walter's. Mr. Walter is a my classic ideal of a Swiss gentleman. Not gentleman in the sense of nobility, but in the sense of proper manners and comportment. At Walters, we got a room with two comfortable twin beds (we pushed them together) with the fluffiest down blankets on top. We received the corner room in the back of the hotel that butted up against a steep hill. Just outside our windows was some pasture for sheep and goats and every morning we could see them not 10 yards from our window taking their breakfast. I often opened the windows and tried to call them over, but I think they were too wily for that.
While in the area, Casey and I took a beautiful hike around the valley. The trails were immaculate and there were many small run-off streams crossing the path. At one point we ran into a little patch of snow and all of the sudden realized that just across the way was a glacier! Casey slogged through the snow a bit to touch it... I stayed behind, content to watch him do that and not get more snow in my shoes. Finally we reached a point where there was too much snow for us to continue and we turned back. We took an alternate trail down and ended up in the valley instead of back to our mountain perch.
End of the line.
Emily and view of valley.
Fence balancing is a traditional Swiss pastime or "The Swiss Karate Kid"
All along our stay, we tried monitor the view of the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau from the top of our mountain, capped with the world famous Piz Gloria. Anyone who is a fan of James Bond movies knows that the Piz Gloria was featured in "In Her Majesty's Secret Service" with George Lazenby as Bond. Well, there are cameras that broadcast real-time images of the view from the top to the gondola stations below. That way, we would know if we should take the gondola to the top or not and the one time we saw clear skies up top, we went for it... Of course, it's Murphy's Law that what can go wrong, will go wrong, and as soon as we were half-way up, we saw the clouds roll in, so that once reached the top, it was pea soup. Disappointed that we were thwarted we decided to make the most of the day and stay up at the Piz Gloria for as much time as possible... watching the video about the making of "In Her Majesty's Secret Service," even constructing our very own snowman and dressing him up. A group of East Indian tourists even took a picture with him, and then, in what seems to be their very first snowball fight, one of them ripped our snowman's head off for more ammuntition.
We spent the rest of the day wandering around the village between Gimmelwald and the top of the mountain and even took a walk along a trail that led to a funicular that took us near our village.
A day later, we were on all the transportation that would take us back to Paris. We stayed one night in a noisy hostel and without much sleep, we were back at CDG and ready to go home. At the airport, in my hiking gear and backpack, I stepped in the First Class line to check in my luggage. A very smart-looking middle-aged woman bustled up to me and haughtily said, "Zees eez zee FIRST CLASS check-een. You 'ave to 'ave a FIRST CLASS teeket to be 'ere." So grumpy from the restless night before, I whipped out my ticket and waved it in her face with a, "You mean like THIS ONE?" (My parents had used their miles to get me a first-class ticket from SFO to CDG as a college graduation present.) She immediately changed her attitude and apologized and led me to the next available check-in. After being all checked-in but with no where to go for a couple hours, I took my guest (Casey) with me to the First Class lounge where we snacked on first a continental breakfast, and then canapés and cocktails. I took the first-class seat on the first leg of our flight from CDG to Washington DC. Then Casey took the domestic first-class seat while I took his seat back to San Francisco.
Snowman we made.
And the Indians that decapitated it.
Hey man, no wiener dogs!