Jagerschnitzel and Curry Wurst

I am a huge fan of Blablacar. We paid 16 euro to get from Sant Galen, Switzerland to Memmingen, Germany, a town about an hour outside of Munich by train. Seriously, I am back in Seattle now and have been procrastinating finishing this blog up, but since being back. I envy the driving of Germany; Europe for that matter. Something about people understanding the left lane of an autobahn/interstate is for passing, not for sightseeing, lolligagging, or day dreaming. It is a law you are not allowed to drive in the left lane in Germany unless you are passing. HEY! Guess what America, it is a law here too, oh but wait, that doesn’t matter here cause your stupid. Seattle you have a lot to learn. It is unbelievably frustrating driving with so many clueless jack asses. There are stupid people everywhere, I get that, but there just seems to be a much bigger concentration of them here. Ok, I digress. Enough Ranting, back to story time.

Our end goal was to get to Munich for Oktoberfest but we had 2 days until the first day of the 3 week event, so we decided to spend the first night near Fussen. The train heading south ran only every hour allowing us some to have our first meal in Germany so we grabbed dinner at a smaller shop next to the station. The place was covered in coo coo clocks, steins, trinkets and doodads. Most definitely a mom and pop kind of place. We loved the place, so weird and kitschy. We ordered two of my favorite dishes, Jagerschnitzel and Curry Wurst. They were both delicious. The lady that took our order also cooked our food. We could hear her pounding out the schnitzel after we ordered. It was a perfect way to start this part of our journey.

From there we headed south towards another smaller town called Fussen just north of the austrian border. We got about halfway there and stopped to camp for the night next to a very large, very loud rushing river. We woke up super early in the morning around 530 or so to catch the first train out to get to Fussen.

The town Fussen isnt particularly famous for anything, but just outside of it, is one of the most famous castles in the world. Neuschwanstein Castle. The Disney castle is designed after it. It is beautiful; built on the ruins of another castle of the past. It is built on top of a small hill nestled in front of a waterfall at the foothill of a mountainside on the northern edge of the austrian alps. Spread before it are wide meadows, forests lakes and the rest of Germany.

The place is beautiful, but the only way your able to go inside is via guided tour. They also don’t let you take pictures inside and if you try they yell at you. Too many people come and visit the every day. Thee guides are rushed through so quickly you can’t really stop and appreciate its true value. It really takes away from the experience. My recommendation is if you decide to take the tour try to get the last tour of the day. You may get lucky and get to take a little more time and I am sure sunset there would be amazing, as it faces northwest.

One of the entertainment halls is still used. Once a year a concert is held in the hall. I don’t know what it takes to go, or how much it would cost, but I am sure it would be breathtaking. The design of the hall was engineered to amplify acoustics. The hall was intended for opera and theatre. I couldn’t imagine experiencing that. I only know this because when our tour went through, the seating and instruments were still set up. The concert was the night before and our tour was one of the first to go through.

I wish I could share more about the castles history, but honestly, we were rushed through so quick we didn’t really get to ask too many questions or get too much information. We were in and out in about 30 minutes. It was built by King Ludwig II and wasn’t completed and costed too much to maintain. The family cut all funding to the construction after the king’s death. Which was and still is a mystery. The King was help captive against his will in another palace by his family for a short period. They say that he went mad and 2 days later was found dead. No one other than those that were there truly know how he died, but if you ask me, history has a way of repeating itself. Royalty are assholes and have to have things done their way. And if they aren’t, well, they shunt you from the world, even if you’re a king, and write history how they please. So in the end, this beautiful Castle was never completely finished and sold to the German government because the cost was too great to keep it maintained. I believe the guide had said its annual budget is greater than what it cost to build it in the first place.

After walking around the castle grounds and up to the waterfall we hiked back down the hill and grabbed the bus back to the station. Now that we knew what to look for we got another regional day pass for the two of us and took the next train to Munich. 

 

Wine, cheese and chocolate in motion

The next morning we checked out of the Matterhorn hostel, left a thank you gift for the unbelievable hospitality and headed out to explore Switzerland with the end goal to be in Chur by the 9pm or so. With no real itinerary other than our final destination we decided to play a little game stolen from Denise. Since we had all day, we rolled dice to determine which direction to take and another roll to determine which stop we should get off and explore. East or south, by odd or even, and how many stops before we get off, from the total number of dice. We ended up going south towards the center of the alps. We hopped off 3 times to explore smaller towns and change directions. Our last hop off  in a small town called Andermatt smack in the center of the Alps. With only one direction to take the game ended there, east, straight through the alps, towards Chur.

This last train was the coolest. The Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn, a 2 car slow train that cuts directly east/west through the alps. It is slow not because it is old and rickety, but because of all the sharp turns and steep grades. The views were non-stop amazing. The conductor was pretty chill and chatty and kept coming by to tell us about the area. The coolest part of the ride; the windows roll down completely allowing you to hang out of the side of the train!! Freaking cool.

From the attendant, we learned that hunting ram requires custom made bullets and being hunting season you could hear gun shots every now and then from the train. As long as your hanging out of the window 🙂 Also, there are little houses that are sprinkled all over the fields near the tracks and on the sides of the mountains, they are not all houses – they were camouflage for the flack cannons during WWII and would split open right down the middle to reveal the cannons when needed. We saw where streams collect from the alps become two rivers and where they come together to create the start of the Rhine. And if your wine key sucks and you find that half of your cork breaks in your bottle, the attendant is more than happy to help you open it for you 🙂

3 hours of steep grades, twisty turns, sharp cliffs, mountain villages, rivers, sky scraping peaks, 2 bottles of wine, and one of the coolest sunsets in motion ever we arrived in Chur. Epic! If you have the time, take it, and if you get a pass, well, thats a no brainer. There is another train called the Glacier Express that runs the entire length of the alps in about 5 hours or so. This has a glass roof to see the sights, and serves dinner fine-dining style. This one is much nicer and a lot more amenities. We didn’t take this one 🙂 And it isn’t included in the pass, but you do get it 1/2 price if you have one. So keep that in mind.

We got in to Chur (pronounced something like, phlegm-long U-rolling R, hard to say, but fun to try) right about when we planned and walked to Kristin’s friend’s, Rafie and Fabio’s, place. Pretty much de ja vu all over again…a short walk, great place, great people, great hospitality. One of the coolest apartments I have seen; they had a huge private roof deck with a great view of the entire city.

They had just eaten dinner and had plenty for us so we joined them for what felt like was going to be an easy night chatting, and drinking some good south african wine. I couldn’t be any more wrong. We quickly learned how to count in swiss german with a new drinking game using dice, lies and truths. I dont remember the name. After that it was, drink, shot, drink, shot…you know the drill. Fabio is a trooper, stayed out with us till 4 in the morning, then got up and went to work at 630.

At some point in the night we had gotten Donär somewhere near where we went. I have no idea what it was or what was in it, but all that I can say is that it was by far the best Donär we have had this entire trip. Hands down. Drool.

The next day we woke up and made breakfast with Rafie. It was a beautiful day so we hung out on the roof deck or a bit and wandered around the city checking out the views. We stopped near his place and grabbed a cider and relaxed in the sun. About midday we headed off on the last train out of Switzerland to catch a blablacar from Sant Galen, a town on the Switzerland/Austria border. From there we planned to head to Fussen, a small town 2 hours or so outside of munich, to camp out for the night and visit the most famous castle in the world, Neuschwanstein castle.

Swiss burgers and beers

When we first arrived we went to the tourist center and grabbed a map and ask what there is to do. Right next to the city is a giant mountain called, Mt. Pilatus. It has the steepest incline railway in the world! A single car barreling up the mountain on a greased up rail. At its steepest point angled somewhere around 49 degrees. So naturally we had to go. Plus, an amazing 360 degree panoramic view and a sweet gondola ride down; the trifecta of mountain madness. On one side of the mountain, is the railway, and the other is the gondola. Also, another bonus for buying this pass, tickets for the mountain train up and the gondola ride down, usually costs about 70 francs each, but this pass gets us half off all non-included trains like this one. Win, win.

At the top, there is a a few short trails one can take around the peak for a variety of views. They are all fairly short, but each have great views. The one we chose to take felt like an old mining path that was converted into a walkway cut through the side of the peak. Half cave, half walking path complete with rails buried in dirt. Although it doesn’t make sense to me  since the mountain peak was only about 50 feet above the path, why would there be a mining path there :/

Either way, it was cool, there were some stalactites all over the ceiling of the walkway from a summer of melting snow. All along the cliff side were cut outs, peak holes and wide open areas that made for some pretty unique views. I love Europe, there was a huge opening with only a metal railing keeping you from plummeting a thousand feet down to mountain cows and death. Here in America, there would be a chain link fence, maybe some barbed wire, a standing guard or 2, warning signs and most likely a law suite currently in the works. Also at the top is a hotel and restaurant that had been there forever; since before the incline railway and the gondola. But now the area has been upgraded to accommodate tourists with a number of lookout points, walking trails, a picnic area, and a welcome center, complete with snack bar and gift shop.

By this time it was midday and we headed back down the mountain in the gondolas (turns our there are multiple sections). The first was packed with military trainees geared to the teeth, guns and all. Safest gondola ride ever. The second section reminded me of a typical ski resort gondola, it was just missing the snow and the skis and it was going the wrong direction 🙂

Once back in town we made our way to the station and had originally planned to head down to explore Geneva for a bit, but when we talked to a train attendant, it would take 3 hours to get there from Lucerne and three more to get back up to Olten, so instead we decided to go to a neighboring town called Thun. There was no particular reason why. We just had time to kill, wanted to explore somewhere else and they have a castle in the center of town and another cool looking covered wooden bridge. I think every town has one over a very large very fast river. Once there we strolled around for a bit checking out the sites and headed back to Olten to meet Michael, Denise and Denise’s sister for our last night out.

Amongst the many famous sites of Olten, is their one famous pub Rathskeller, but all the locals call it, ‘the pot’. I don’t know why or how, cause it isn’t correlated to the original name whatsoever. But they have delicious burgers and a good beer. Afterwards we visited a new pub that had only been open a few weeks. It was nice and they had a drink on their menu that Michael had made up! It was still mid-week and a school night for the kids, so we felt we had to be responsible and call it an early night.

 

Zucher Geschnetzeltes and roclette = nom de nomz

The town Michael lives in is called Olten. It is a small town that doesn’t show on google maps until you zoom in, but it is cute and welcoming and has it’s own bit of history. It is also relatively equidistant from Basel, Zurich, and Bern making it a central hub for commuting trains and an ideal location to live. Not to mention cheaper rent.

Our first day there was pretty much a lazy one, recovering from a long night out and nursing a individual hangovers. We meandering aimlessly throughout the town looking at the ‘famous’ sites of Olten. Their one famous bridge. Their one famous river. Their one famous house with a golden roof that shines sun into other peoples houses when it is sunny and creates a bit of small town controversy and gossip. Also making it the one famous house of Olten. I like this small town.

I’m glad it was a lazy day because Sundays in Europe suck as a traveler. Basically plan to do nothing or maybe have beer in the park and chill. Also the markets here close at 630 everyday and aren’t open at all on sundays. Can you imagine what that would be like in the states. Think Costco, Mayhem.

Denise had to write a 15 pg essay for a class, so for leaving the house so she could work we were rewarded with food! You win Pavlov. ANd not just take out, a special, from scratch, Swiss dish called,’Zürcher Geschnetzeltes’. Thank goodness for cut and paste 🙂 This delicious dish consists of thinly sliced veal in a mushroom cream sauce over a potato hash-brown kind of stuff. It reminded me kind of like a beef stroganoff my mom used to make. All I know is I could eat this for days. Tip of the hat to the chef, it was amazeballs.

Finishing our lazy day we shared a couple of bottles of wine chatted about our best means of transportation during our visit, watched a movie and called it a night. Not the movie we watched, but the Watchmen dubbed in Swiss German was quite entertaining for a bit.

Part of our conversation from the day before was what we were going to do about getting around Switzerland. It is an expensive country to begin with but the rail system really presses the bank. Getting from Basel to Olten had cost a lot more than what we expected after spending times on trains in two other countries. I can not recall exactly the price but I think for the two of us was about 70$ for the 30 minute ride. The same price for the all day regional pass for 5 people in Alcace France. We had 4 more days in Switzerland and still needed to get over to the other side of the country to meet up with some of Kristin’s friends. We needed to figure something out.

Michael and Denise had both looked onto a number of options for us to get around, but all of the train passes were still a few hundred dollars more than what we were wanting to spend. So we tried our luck and went to the station with Denise to figure out our best option by talking with the station office. By some strange act of Zeus, the rail company had a special on their passes starting that morning.

Like most countries or rail companies SBB offers a variety of passes for travelers, commuters and general citizens, but from what I could make out in the end, there are passes for swiss citizens and then passes for every one else. As a citizen passes are at reduced rates depending on what type you get and frequency of use; distance, for a month, a year, etc. Since Denise is a student her pass is basically free and Michael pays a flat rate once a year which seems like it would pay itself off quickly. The SBB site is pretty extensive and shows a number of options so make sure you know what your looking for and ask specific questions when talking to someone.

Anyways, the passes we ended up getting were a citizen only pass that for this special offer had been opened up for everyone and then reduced from 270 to 140 swiss francs. So to travel anywhere we please, for the 4 days we had left, put it around 150$ for us. The best thing about this pass, is it works for everything, bus, tram, train, boat, ferry, all of it. Lucky! Having a native speaker really helped too, but the attendants were extremely helpful and would have probably pointed out the best option for us in the end, either way, once again, thank you to Denise for the help.

Now with pass in hand and no limitations on where we can go we rode into to Zurich with Denise and split ways for a bit while she went to class. I found a new pair of shoes and immediately threw away the Pumas that had been killing my feet. We grabbed some pastries and a coffee and met back up with her 2 hours later to ride the tram around, cause we could. She showed us that you can see the University from almost everywhere in the city 😉

I don’t know if it is me, but you hear a lot about Zurich as being a financial capital and you would assume it would be a large city. It isn’t. Ends up most of the cities in switzerland are relatively smaller than many other European cities by comparison. I can’t speak or all of Switzerland so take this with a grain of salt, this is only through interpretation.

We met Michael for lunch for the most expensive dönar you could ever buy, for around 11 francs. Then decided since we could, we would tour the city by boat and after ride on to Bern to explore that town for the rest of the day 🙂

Bern is a city names after bears. They have bear beer, bear wine, bear fountains and you guessed it, live bears in their very own bear park. When we arrived at the station the first thing Denise wanted to show us the parliament building. For some reason it is one of the main sites to see in Bern. Unexpectedly on this day was a festival called Alpabfahrt (I had to look it up). It means bringing the cows home. Basically every year the cows spend 100 days of summer in the alps grazing on grass and mountain herbs. This is all they eat. As they are milked at altitude the milk is made into mountain cheese. In the fall, always in september, the cows are brought down from the alps to spend the winter in the safety of the farms. All over Switzerland 10s of thousands of cows are paraded into town wearing gigantic traditional bells by farmers also sporting traditional attire. In the square they show the livestock off, and parade them around, sample cheeses and milks, play games and drink beer.

We played a game that involves a stump, a rock hammer and a nail for each person. I cant’t remember what it is called but ironically I was talking to Michael about it the day before. Drinking game involves taking turns hitting the nail in with the smallest part of the hammer, last one to finish buys the next round of drinks. Kristin was doing horribly and won in the end, of course.

After the cows, we went down to check out the bear park and then back up to get groceries and head home for another delicious dinner. Roclette. Another traditional meal in Switzerland that requires a two level griddle: you cook all your ingredients on top and on the bottom, underneath, cook your cheese in a tiny cooking tray. It is hard to explain but it is focused around the cheese of course, you can put whatever you like in it: bacon, sausage, veggies, pickles, anything! Again, it was delicious. Now I have to get my own Roclette cooking thingy.

Full of cheese and another day down we watched another movie to appease our cheese coma and called it a night. Tomorrow we adventure on our own. Michael left us a key and now that we had free reign to go anywhere we liked in all of switzerland we decided to head to Lucern to check out the famous bridge there and walk the city for a bit.

Flembe, creme brulee, and wine d’alsace

Lets see how do I describe Colmar… I think disgustingly cute will work. Every direction, every corner, every shop, every house are all disgustingly cute. We spent the day window shopping eating pastries, planning the next few days and wandering the streets.

The evening came and we were still wandering around gawking at the fountains and architecture. The city lights some of the facades up  with different colors at night adding to the uniqueness of the original color of the building. We grabbed some donars for dinner and slowly walked back to the tent for an early night. I had acquired World War Z sometime in spain, so we watched that together on the smallest screen known to man and went to bed.

In the morning we packed our camp up and grabbed the bus to the train station to stow our bags for the day. We didn’t have a plan; was just going to try asking a hotel or something. Turns out, next to the station on the north side is a bicycle rental. They do not advertise it but they will hold luggage for free. If you plan on visiting Colmar and do not know were your planning on staying, this may be handy for a bit. They like tips.

We spent the day shopping and wandering the streets again trying more pastries since they will be the last french ones we get to end our 6 day pastry binge. Thank you France, we came, we gorged, and now I’m sure we are both 10lbs heavier from from your flakey buttery confections.

At the station we talked to the attendant about a ticket to basil and he informed us the cost for the both of us would be close to the regional pass for 5 people and we should just get this. Basically what this meant was, you and 4 of your friends could spend the day exploring all of the Alsace region from Basil Switzerland up to Strasbourg, France hopping on and off the train where ever you please. When we heard this we decided to only spend a few more hours in Colmar and grab the train up to Strasbourg for dinner then head back down to continue to conquer our next country, Switzerland.

I met someone from Strasbourg in Valencia and he told me about some great places to visit and some unique things to eat. I tried to reach out to him to meet up, but he was away at a festival for the weekend so we wandering with a tourists map we acquired at the station instead.

Another suggestion. If you plan on visiting Strasbourg for only a day or so, stow your luggage somewhere else, IE back in Colmar where it is for free, because the lockers at the main station cost 9eu for each one. Luckily we were able to cram both our packs into one locker.

It happened to be a saturday and the entire city was in a hustle bustle. We had arrived just after 4pm and as we walked around we started seeing people with make up and shredded clothes all over the place. We had just missed their zombie walk by minutes 😦 Imagine walking out of a train station and seeing that as your welcome to a new city. Damn.

The women working at the information counter had told us the cathedral was a great sight to see and today was special. The normal fee to climb the spires was waived and we were able to explore the buildings roof and see the view of the city. We had considered doing this in Paris, at Notre Dame but didn’t.

Free is nice, but you don’t just hike up a spire, look and then hike back down. You get to walk across parts of the roof and explore some fascinating area of these larger churches you would otherwise never see. At the very top, they have a ancient human powered elevator wheel. People used to walk in it like mice to haul equipment and other items up and down the church. The main spire had engravings in stones of people dating back to mid 16th century. I didn’t ask but it entertains me to think it is 5 hundred year old graphiti  🙂 On the way back down it down-poured. It rained so hard the gargoyles were overflowing and rain was running down the steps in the staircase we walked down. This just added to the unique experience.

After the rain died down we headed over to old town to have a try at some regional cuisine. On the way over we ran into a parade having to do something with music or cultures from around the world. There was all types of music and dance in motion one style after another. Another great thing to stumble into to make our day even better.

Once in old town we looked for a good place to try flembé, or flammkuchen. Traditionally it is a flatbread crispy pizza thing with a cream sauce, onions, cheese and bacon, but you can make it with other toppings like salmon and capers. Either way it is amazing!! I made sure to get a recipe.

We also tried some wine from the region and finish the evening off with a creme brûlée. After that we grabbed the next train south to meet up with a friend who was expecting us in Olten, Switzerland.

People ask me why I love to travel. It’s not only the great places to visit or get wasted at but half of it is the people. It is also the same reason I am an advocate of using hostels vs hotel rooms. Traveling is meeting people and experiencing their stories. Think of it like the Yelp version but with more emotion, more personal, less corporate and with a lot more drinking involved. 🙂

Any ways, Amongst many others, I met Michael in Belize on a tiny island where there are no cars, sunsets are amazing and I didn’t wear shoes for 9 days straight.

Since I was late I missed him at the station, but luckily I had his address and he lived close to the station, so we walked. When we got to his place, I was greeted with yelling out the window, “We don’t buy any!” and scribbled on a piece of printer paper taped to the front door, “The Matterhorn Hostel”. He was gracious to give us his spare room, also taped on the door another piece of paper, “The Dorm”. Inside was a cozy bed, towels, even the code to the wifi. Everything you look for in a hostel when you get in. This is my review for The Matterhorn Hostel. If you can find it. It is the best hostel I have stayed at, ever. Most gracious host, hospitality and entertainer. I am grateful to have such an amazing friend.

We settled in and joined michael and his girlfriend Denise for an amazing assortment of sliced meats and delicious Swiss cheeses and some wine for dinner.

After talking, catching up and sharing stories we went out to one of their favorite bars down the street. Literally, it was like 5 doors down, on the same block, but around the corner so I will say, ‘down the street’. You could see the balcony of his apartment through the window. Denise’s sister also lived on the other side of the courtyard behind his apartment. 3 doors down the other direction from the bar. Yes it is a smaller town.

Anyways. The rest of the night gets a little blurry after that, but the abridged version goes something like this. Beer, shot, beer, shot, beer, walk to next bar, beer, shot, beer, shot, beer, cram all of us into a passport photobooth and make funny faces, walk to another bar, beer, beer, walk to the civic center with more beers, go swimming, walk home make more foods and proceed to play drinking games until around 6 am. Honestly, I really don’t know when. Just that Michael went MIA with a handful of pistachios for a bit there. Welcome to Switzerland.

Hot Wings!

Thursday was a long day. We woke up early to explore our travel options for leaving Paris. Jonny is and was a gracious host, but we don’t want to out welcome our stay. That and his brother was coming in the same time we were leaving and family trumps friends in the battle for free places to stay. After a bit of discussion and a few more delicious pastries we worked out a plan to leave around 6pm that evening.

Neither Jonny nor Erika had to work and we decided a fun and chill thing to do was check out the famous pet cemetery. Apparently this cemetery has all sorts of famous pets from all over the world buried here, but when we got there they wanted to charge entry so we decided to look through the fence, imagine the stories behind those amazing animals and walk through the park next to it. We met up with one of Jonny’s coworkers and went to his place to make hot wings for dinner. It was a delicious surprise to find out he had a deep fryer. So good.

6pm came around and we planned to leave Paris and head to a smaller town in eastern France called Colmar. Our earlier discussion was about two concerns, the first being the immediate cost of travel through the rest of France, Switzerland, Germany and so on…and the second, determining our travel plans later in the trip with ferries and such once back to the Mediterranean. We had to figure out an alternative economical means of transportation other than the trains and boats.

Our original tour goes as such: Me in Spain and Kristin in Portugal, meet up Barcelona and fly to France, visit friends in Switzerland, Oktoberfest in Germany, a day in Austria and Italy on the way to the beaches and parties in Croatia, ferry down to Greece see some ruins and more island fun, then lastly over to Turkey buy some spices, see another friend, and fly home from Istanbul. 7 weeks touring Europe, but we discovered that once we left Munich we would end up spending 4-5 days just traveling from one city to the next and lose too much time and money in transit instead of visiting and exploring places.

The costs for ferries from northern Italy throught to Greece would end up costing much more than a flight as well so we nixed Croatia completely and planned to visit Berlin then fly out of Frankfurt directly to Crete. This allowed us to visit more friends, see more of Germany and relax on the beaches of Greece like we intended.

After we figured out this plan we still needed to figure out how the hell we were going to get from Paris to Colmar. The prices of the trains ran from 80 euro and up and we needed to save money where ever we can.

Enter Blablacar. Yep, Blahblahcar.

Blablacar.com is a ride share website. You create an account, enter your information and verify who you are: phone number, email, etc. Once your account is set up your free to message or call drivers who are offering rides for all over Europe. Thats really pretty much all there is to it.

It’s simple, search your starting city and your targeting destination like you would any flight on any airlines website. It shows the current rides offered with departure times, seats available and how much per person. The cost from Paris to Colmar was between 25 to 40euro depending on the drivers. We messaged 3 drivers, 2 had full cars and the third came through. We had our ride. Now to figure out how/where to meet up with them and head out.

Wait. Let me step back a second. To set up an account with blablacar it states you need a phone number from the EU. This introduces the issue of setting up a phone in Europe. Which is a pain in the butt. Basically there are 3 options, buy a prepaid phone, buy a sim and put it in an unlocked phone, or use your existing cell service and get raped with ridiculous fees, charges, and other BS they come up with.

Getting my phone unlocked from the EU is next to impossible with ATT. How do I express my utmost hatred for them. Woooooosaaah. I canceled my service before leaving the states but somehow still have to pay another month of service. Also, I didnt know they offer an official unlock service for those outside of a contract nor did the service rep mention this when I called them and explained why the cancelation and how long I was planning on being abroad. I even asked for my options for christ’s sake, seriously!

My recommendation for you is this: unlock your phone through their service and buy a prepaid sim here, done. How do you do this? Submit your information at ATT.com/deviceunlock, wait 2-6 days for their computers to warm up and send a telegraph, then get your response. Official from Apple. But for me, some stupid reason ATT says my iPhone never existed on their service and they can not unlock it unless I call them. When I called from France, they stated they do not offer the service over the phone and direct me to the same site. And finally finding an email address and contacting them like any other company is next to impossible. ATT can suck it. I never liked them as a company in the first place.

Ok enough with the ranting…since we do not officially have a phone, we fudged that part and used a useless sim we purchased for 5eu and simply told the drivers our phones do not work in that country. No problem. Drivers message back, give us a location and we meet them there at a given point and time telling them to look for the two backpackers with huge packs on their backs looking desperate for a ride out of town. Done.

As our first time trying this, it did make me a bit nervous and I had kristin take a picture of the license plate just in case, and Jonny knew where we intended to go and where we were meeting. But the driver showed up as promised and next thing you know we are in a complete strangers car heading east at 130kph towards Colmar. Yep, no problem. This casual attitude to ride sharing here further reinforces my idea of the ridiculous paranoias of America for me. Knowing my luck I just introduced a new ‘based on a true story’ horrible horror movie idea into the universe. Anyways.

5 hours later, a whole lot of bla bla bla and we arrive in Colmar at 2am. We hiked to our camp grounds and were nestled in our sleeping bags by 330am.  Im glad I found a spot under a tree because it rained a bit that night and any deterrence from direct rain is good. Exhausted from a very long day and only getting about 3 hours sleep in the last 48 hours we slept in till noon again. This time, I don’t care. Enter disgusting cute towns galore in beautiful Alsace.

Wine in Luxumbourg Gardens

The next day we got bikes again, but now we knew what to avoid  and how to get around better. We rode down to the Louvre to check out the line. It was pretty out of control so we rode over to Le Pompidou and walked around there for a bit. This is their museum of modern art and a unqiue building in itself. Our next stop was Notre Dame again the lines were retarded so we rode around outside  considering standing in line to go to the roof and decided to check out another church a block away called, Saint Severin. This is one of oldest churches in the area still standing. Built in the 11th century, now in the shadow of the Cathedral, it probably gets neglected like the red headed step child of the catholic church. Poor little thing.
We left there and rode just further south to take a break and relax in the Luxembourg gardens with a bottle of wine. Riding bikes is forbidden in the gardens so don’t try it. we walked to the center and found comfortable lounge chairs next to a large fountain, drank our wine, ate pastries (again) and watches kids sail little wooden boats across the water with long sticks. It was very relaxing.
We didn’t plan on meeting up with Jonny and Erika until after 8 and we still had a few hours left so we decided to try the Louvre again. It was now about 530pm and the line outside was basically gone. We went inside and had a espresso and a croissant relaxing again and deciding whether it we should still go in given our time limitations.
Tickets are very reasonable considering the reputation. Only 11 euro for all day entry and free for students! So don’t forget your student ID. Also I believe the normal hours they close around 6pm or something and being the first wednesday of the month they are open until 9pm. So you can spend more time there with less crowds. From what I can tell so far most every city I have been to has some form of either free entry or very reduced rate on a specific days of the month. So if your planning on visiting, look into what days are special. You may get lucky.
In the end we figure were basically on the front door, why wouldnt we go inside. That would just be stupid not to. We ended up walked through the entire place with little issues of crowds. And since we were on a time crunch we decided to only to really spend time at the pieces we really wanted to see cause you could spend a lifetime there. If I lived in paris, I would get an annual membership.
My shoes are really crappy and my feet have been hurting pretty much since I have arrived in europe. Stupid shoes. At this point they hurt so bad I ended up taking them off and walking around in my socks. I like to think that everyone was too busy looking at the art no one noticed my feet. 😉 No disrespect to the art, but I got to walk around the louvre basically barefoot and in comfort. Not a bucket list item, but unique and fun nonetheless.
A few hours later we were all arted out and heading back to Jonny’s for stir fry I made for everyone. We ended the day around 3am with more wine and a few episodes of one of my favorite classy and tasteful comedy TV shows, Archer.

Wine and cheese on a helicopter pad of a 59th floor building.

 It has been fairly crummy weather since leaving Beauvais raining on and off the entire time. It makes it hard to want to get up and get out and walk around a city in. So we slept in a bit more than we wanted again. Lets say around noon.
We planned to meet Jonny at 6pm under the Eiffel Tower, but until then, we were free to do whatever we like. The night before we talked about renting bikes through the city bike service and exploring the city that way so we went online and got day passes for the both of us for 1.70eu each on the Velib site. That doesn’t seem like much but they charge you more and more the longer you keep the bike. Your first half hour is free, the next half is 1 euro, the next is 2, next is 3, and 4 and 5 and you get the point. The bike stations are located every 300 meters (at least that is what they advertise). So we set an alarm for 25 minutes or so and ride on until the alarm goes off and we park the bike. We wait 2 minutes and check out it out again. From there you basically have free transportation all over paris.
It’s a great way to get around on the cheap and cheap, but it is most definitely not for the faint at heart. I would not recommend this for beginners, and some roads, I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone at any level. Drivers seem to disregard cyclists completely, be careful. On the other hand there are some roads that have bike dedicated lanes. Bikes can also share the bus lanes, but apparent so do the scooters, taxis and delivery drivers, so pay attention even in the dedicated lanes. Kristin got her crash course into riding a bike after 12 years here. But she’s a beast and did her best. We even rode up Champs d’Elysee. Not recommended, that’s a shit show to begin with, without adding in bikes.
We rode over to the Arc de Triumph and walked around the base, took pictures and hung out for a bit while it rain some more. When the sun came put we walked around a bit in the are and grabbed some more bikes and road along the river towards the east side of the city eventually ending up at the Eiffel tower. We grabbed another bottle of wine and some fruit and relaxed in the little bit of sun while we waited for Jonny to meet up with us.
After we met up, we walked over to the Trocadero across the river. We were hoping to sit in the cafe inside the Architecture wing because it gives a discreet elevated view of the Eiffel tower and tourists don’t typically know about it, but unfortunately it was closed. Fun fact, in the 1937 worlds fair there were two massive towers erected on each side of the palace one for fascism and another communism. They were to recognize these movements as part of modern life. Pretty crazy, could you imagine what they would look like now if they weren’t removed after the exhibition.
While at work that day, Jonny had been gifted some good quality cheese from a shop he stops by while touring. After talking about the history of the area we decided for dinner to grab some baguette, meat and some more wine and go to the top of Montparnasse Tower and have a little picnic at 210 meters above the city. The building was erected in the 70s and the french consider it the ugliest building in the city and I believe if I recall correctly voted the second ugliest building in the world in 2008. It is also the second highest point in the city, so what better to stand on than the eye sore of the city to watch the sun set. We got to the top 20 minutes before sunset ad watched it fall almost directly behind the Eiffel tower. Absolutely beautiful.
Now dark and getting cold we went downstairs to the top floor to have dinner there instead. Ok, so it isn’t the helicopter pad, but we did get to walk all over it and we could probably had a picnic there if it was still sunny. The cafe on the 59th floor already had stuffs we needed so we ‘borrowed’ 3 glasses and sat in a window table and ate dinner. Did you know every hour on the hour for 5 minutes the Eiffel tower lights up and flashes until the last show at 1am. That last show they turn off the normal lights that are always on and all you see are the flashing ones. I didn’t get to see this but cool to know. Supposedly it runs the city 2000 euro every night to do it. A great ending to another good day.

Crepes and 1-of-a-kind ice cream

Our first day in paris was kind of a lazy one. We woke up late and spent the first part of it catching up on email, internet stuffs, doing laundry, and just relaxing. I think we slept until noon or something. 🙂

Jonny came home around 1pm. We were all starving so we made a trip to the market and made a huge lunch. For some reason I was still craving pasta and it sounded good to everyone else so we made that. Afterwards we continued to relax and talk. Later that evening we went out to explore paris after the majority of the crowds, tourists and traffic die down. Our first stop was a favorite part of town Jonny really liked and we stopped in a bar for some ciders. After we walked down the street a bit more to a crepe place that had a good size crowd around it. Regardless that it was one of the only spots open on the whole street, there was a line and according to Kristin and Jonny who both got crepes, it was worth the wait. I went next door and got a donar, I could’t handle all the cheese. We decided to do the rest of this night right, so we grabbed three bottles of wine and set out to explore paris at night.

Having a friend in a foreign city is awesome, having one that speaks the language and is a tour guide for his job is on a completely different level. Everywhere we went he shared something interesting about history, buildings, architecture, people, you name it. It was like our own private tour. Thank you Jonny, that was absolutely amazing.

Notre Dame has a lot of interesting history aside that it is a monumental landmark; like rebels with molotov cocktail, assassination attempts, hunchbacks. Did you know you could go to the top? yup but it will cost you 13eu or something like that. Did you know they use lasers to keep it nice and clean!! That’s right, pew pew, clean building. To show you what the building would look like if it wasn’t cleaned, they left the spire dirty and black for comparison. It’s pretty dirty.

Of the 3 islands in the middle of the river there the cathedral sits on the furthest west. The center island was left undeveloped for a long time, but now is considered the most expensive real estate in the city. They also make an ice cream there that is one-of-a-kind. It is only made on that island in a very specific way, you wont be able to get it anywhere else in the world. So if you like ice cream, I suggest trying it out. It is really good. The third and most eastern island either was swallowed up by the river over time or added to the mainland, either way it no longer exists.

We walked over the lock bridge on our way up to the pantheon. I have seen this in other cities also, but this bridge was probably the most I have seen in one location so far. It is pretty impressive. For those who don’t know what this is, couples buy locks and attach them to the bridge and throw the key away to show their commitment to the relationship. I wonder what the ratio of couples that are still together vs. the ones that aren’t…You can also tell the couples that aren’t entirely confident in their relationships, because they use combination locks.

In 1744, King Louis XV was sick with syphilis. He made the promise to god that if he were to survive he would build a church. Almost directly after his vow, he got better and had to stand up to his promise. As soon as the building was completed the separation of church and state happened along with the french revolution and the government decided instead to make it a mausoleum. The Pantheon’s crypt is now the burial-place of many French icons and bears the inscription ‘Aux Grands Hommes La Patrie Reconnaissante’, meaning “To the great men, the grateful homeland”. Sited I didn’t have a chance to go in but I am sure it is pretty cool looking. It is gigantic.

By now it is getting fairly late and we didn’t want to be stuck to far from home and miss the last train. We marched back down to the station and rode three stops shy from the apartment at the Moulin Rouge. I have been here before, my suggestion is to see it at night when it is completely lit up, not during the day it just doesn’t do it justice. From there we slowly made our way back to the apartment to finish our last bottle of wine. Seeing the sites, getting the lowdown on the city and some good wine, was perfect.

All Chicken

Sunday morning we woke up to a beautiful day. My friend Jonny was still in Iceland hiking and wouldn’t be back until about 10pm. We were excited to spend the day in a small town and our stuff was so hidden from anything, we left everything that wasn’t super important in the field where we camped. Hidden even more under some brush we walked into town.

We were hungry and Kristin needed to go to the bathroom. As we walked down the street we could smell a pastry shop from blocks away and followed our nose. The only problem was no bathroom so we walked across the street to the only other spot open called All Chicken. They had a posted sign ‘bathrooms for customers only’ so we felt inclined to eat there. We shared a wrap and some fries and sat down. What we think is the owner of the place was working behind the counter and was interested to have travelers to converse with. He logged our phones into his wifi for us and even looked up stuff for us to do. Neither of us speak french and he could barely speak english but it was great talking to him and an even better welcome to france.

The Cathedral of Saint Peter of Beauvais “is, in some respects, the most daring achievement of Gothic architecture, and consists only of a transept (sixteenth-century) and choir, with apse and seven polygonal apsidal chapels (thirteenth century), which are reached by an ambulatory.”wiki reference. What does this mean; I have no idea. I think it means it is the highest vaulted cathedral in the Europe. It also houses the oldest fully functioning mid-evil clock in Europe as well. Who would thought this little town would have this monster of history there. 

The height of the church looms over the rest of the buildings in the town as it stands now. Shortly after it was built, and after a few good fires, rebuilds and who else knows what, the original spire of the building collapsed. With it, it more than doubles its height. Now this would have been a magnificent sight to see 500 years ago. Unlike many churches of this size that have gotten constant attention and maintenance, this cathedral has had almost none. It has lost complete wings, and currently has massive structural supports to keep it from caving in on itself.

At the airport was an information center for the entire northern region above Paris. Before we left we got a map of the region. There are some amazing things to see there and I wish we had more time to explore the palaces, castles, wineries and mid evil towns. I have been to Paris before and it was just ok. I personally didn’t care too much to come back to france, except to visit my friend Jonny who had moved there almost 2 years before. But after exploring Beauvais alone, I can’t wait to come back to France and explore the country side. Ok, you win Rick Steve, there IS so much to discover here. 

We hiked back out of town and grabbed out gear and made our way into paris. the ticket we had gotten from Beauvais to Paris was only about 16eu and after talking about it we discovered it was an all day pass for the entire region. We watched disgustingly little towns fly past as we got closer and closer to the city. In retrospect, if you have time get an open day pass.

It was still early and we had a few hours to burn and the sun was setting so we walked up Montmarte. Another huge church on the top of a really large hill. If you ever saw the movie Amelie it was in that and other I’m sure. Word of the wise, if you come from the bottom and walk to the top, watch your pockets and ignore all the guys trying to scam you it’s like a gauntlet of thievery.

After wandering through the church we sat on the main steps and watched the sun set over Paris. Romantic, beautiful and a great way to begin a visit here. I swear I have pictures for all of this. I will eventually get them uploaded.

After the sun set, we walked down the west side of the hill towards Jonny’s place. With still a little time to burn we stopped by a small cafe and each had an expensive beer. Wifi is hard to find in Paris, McDonald’s should have it, but they shut it down after typical hours or some crap. So you can do what we did, had kristin play the girl card and ask the local bar to sign us into their private network. By 10pm we were sitting in Jonny’s couch drinking, laughing, talking, and catching up and each sharing recent adventures. The best welcome to Paris I could think of.