Man o man, so much has happened since France. France! That was aaaaages ago! Seeing as I just got home yesterday, a month and a quarter is far too much to cram into one post, and so I’ll break it up into two. One today and the last section a day or so after. Then it’s off to Peru for two weeks with my dad so you are still in store for another few posts. So I last left off with me in Toulouse. I’ll pick up from there.
Here it goes though. So the deal was this: Brieanna and Casey (Brieanna’s friend) didn’t have school on Friday and were looking to go to Spain, and seeing as I didn’t have school on Friday either (and haven’t on any other day for about two years now), and also wanted to go to Spain, we decided that we would go together. Their plan was to go to this little country called Andorra in between Spain and France after, so it would all work out. We took the train early in the morning and ventured south, eventually arriving in Barcelona after having to wait around at a few stops for connecting trains. We wandered around looking for our hotel and eventually found it. That began my Spanish adventures. Our two days in Barcelona consisted of wandering around all day and visiting the sights, buying lots of beer in the evening and sitting out on the balcony talking about life and psychology until the wee hours of the morning. We visited some of Anthony Gaudi’s buildings (a famous Spanish architect) and those were pretty crazy. All his buildings are really wavy and colorful and stuff. He also started building a cathedral called “La Sagrada Familia” which looks pretty insane (like a melting ice cream cone), but which he never finished – and actually never even intended to finish. He wanted the completion to take several generations, like the gothic castles of the past. We took the elevator up to the top of one of the towers and that was pretty cool. This guy was pretty remarkable. He didn’t have computers or anything, he just used stones and ropes to build the models of his buildings and for the cathedral, he had a plan to build a 350 foot high tower in the middle of the cathedral and when all the modern architects looked at the plans, they insisted that he was mistaken – that it was impossible. But when they plugged it all into the computer, it turns out that he was exactly precise and would work perfectly. So they will build it. But it’s slow going seeing as it is only being build with funds from donations.
Barcelona itself is nice, but I wasn’t as blown away by it as I thought I would be. It had some nice museums (including a Picasso museum with 3000 paintings by the guy) and lots and lots of stores and stuff. Wide streets and interesting architecture. A beach. I went to go buy some coffee at Dunkin Donuts (they sold big cups) and some guy named “Anass” served me. I tried not to laugh. Then I went upstairs and tried to open the bathroom door but it turns out that a women was on the other side and I really had to shove the door because it thought it was stuck. But it ended up smacking her on the ass (she was leaning over the toilet or something) and she started to cry. I ran. After Brieanna and Casey left, I moved on that evening to Madrid.
Madrid was pretty cool. The subway system had signs and telephones everywhere assuring everyone that they were safe and cameras were watching them. This is in the wake of the Madrid bombings. I spent lots of time wandering around Madrid with some people I met in the hostel – a really cool and crazy Greek girl, a cool guy from New York and a funny French guy. We had a great time going around town and visiting museums and hanging out in the parks, then going out with everyone from the hostel, at night. This was one of the rare experiences I’ve had where everyone in the hostel just kind of clicked as a group and we all had a great time together. In the evenings we would all go to a pub or two together and then stumble back to the hostel in smaller groups at night.
One night at about 3AM, after asking a transvestite prostitute where a strip club was (the crazy greek girl wanted to go to one), we were walking around and a little Chinese woman appeared out of nowhere and started selling sandwiches, beer and coke. This blew me away. I chatted with her in Chinese and she gave me free gum with my purchase because she liked me and my friends all bought something. A little while later, some beggar approached me and asked for some money.
I looked at him and told him that there was a woman down the street who came to this country “from China. From Chiiiiina!” with nothing and sat around and thought about how she could get ahead. Drunk people like food and beer since they can’t buy it after a certain time at night, so she would sell that. She sets her alarm clock for 2:00am every morning and tries to make a buck. I looked at him in the eyes and asked him (I love speaking Spanish as well as I do in these situations), “My friend, tell me. Why should I give you some money? Why wouldn’t I go give it to this woman? Why do you deserve it over her?” He shrugged his shoulders and said “all right” and walked away. Then another guy came up and asked me the same thing and my friends all laughed as I told him the same story (“From Chiiiiiina!”) with the same intensity. He walked away too. I’ve got all night, folks. That Chinese woman really impressed me.
So after hanging out in Madrid for a few days, I decided to head south to Sevilla to get a taste of a different part of Spain. I fell in love with it, let me tell you. The women are beautiful, the houses are all different colors, there are tons of narrow and winding cobbled streets leading everywhere (some not even wide enough for a car and a person to pass) and there were all sorts of cool castles and churches to check out. I really enjoyed my time there, but one of the coolest things I saw was a Flamenco dance show. I don’t have time to get into detail as to why it was so incredible, but if you ever run into me and want a really cool explanation, buy me a beer. It really was one of the coolest things I’ve seen in my life, though. I ran into a guy from the US and we went out to a really cool pub together (La Carbonaria) which had another Flamenco show and live music. That was pretty awesome.
The next day, I headed up to Paris. It was a long train ride and I eventually arrived. The first day was spent wandering around and checking out the buildings, while I tried to get a feel for the city. I met a Mexican girl who was studying there and we got some coffee and then I visited the Lourve, which was free after 6:00pm that day and spent a few hours in there checking out some pretty incredible art. What a massive complex that place is. Imagine this: it took me 3 hours to get through about one half of one floor and there are like 5 floors. It’s insane. After that, I visited some other churches and stuff and realized that I really didn’t like Paris that much. I tried to figure out why. I don’t get this feeling very often, so I was trying to put my finger on it. For one, the French in Paris weren’t all that friendly. Next, the cultural dimension wasn’t all that interesting: just a bunch of nicely dressed people going to expensive cafes. Next, it was almost as though they were whoring out every building of any conceivable interest for a price. There is a difference between Paris and a town like Zurich, Sevilla, or Rome that has lots of interesting stuff where some of the stuff you can visit, some of it you can’t, and some of it that just has a plaque or something out front explaining a bit about it. There is a bit of beauty and innocence about it, saying something to the effect of, “listen, tourist, we like you and all, but we don’t revolve around you. This building is cool. You can’t look in it because it’s not yours. But you can go look in some others, if you want.” Paris flung its doors open and charged you for everything. Even the lame stuff. It was the difference between a beautiful fresh faced girl who doesn’t reveal everything and doesn’t need makeup but is still stunning and then a supermodel with a bunch of makeup on and lots of fancy clothes and for whom you needed to buy lots of expensive stuff to keep her happy. They are both nice…but which would you like to spend any amount of time around? A Slovakian guy also pointed out that it was like everything was focused on the past; the dead. And I got that feeling too. For all these reasons, I didn’t like Paris all that much. But everyone else seems to, so I’m glad for them.
A crazy thing happened to me while I was there, too. So I was walking down the street and all of a sudden, I heard a girl screaming hysterically and at the top of her lungs. People were running away and freaking out and this 16 year old girl was just screaming her lungs out. I walked up to see what was happening and her father was in convulsions on the ground. They were both English and she didn’t know what to do. Her dad just laid there shaking, with his eyes in the back of his head. A man quickly came up and undid his belt and put him on his side and then he had to leave. Everyone just stood around him looking and the girl was just screaming that nothing like this had ever happened and she didn’t know what to do. The police were just kind of scratching their heads while they waited for the ambulance and I just stayed there to help the girl if she needed anything. I thought that if her father had to go to the hospital and she were left alone, she would need some help if she was still in shock and stuff. I just told her to relax and to let the police do their job – and that everything would be okay. A woman took her into her office so she could call her mother in England and while she was gone, I just sat there and looked at the man. He had stopped shaking and was just laying there kind of comatose which bloody drool oozing out of his mouth. I thought to myself, “this guy just died…my god…I just saw this man die…” but one of the cops pinched him and he responded, so he was still alive.
Just then, as quickly as I can snap my fingers, his eyes snapped open and he looked around at everyone standing over him in confusion. He tried to get up and the French kept obnoxiously asking him, “where are you???! Do you know where you are??!” and he didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t figure out why he was on the ground. I kneeled down and asked him if he knew where he was (with no obnoxious French accent).
“I’m in…bloody Paris. Why are you asking me this?” he said.
“You just had a seizure. Your daughter is all right and will be back in a minute,” I said.
He looked at me sharply.
“Who had a seizure?” he said.
“You did,” I replied.
He had absolutely no idea what had just happened to him. Absolutely no idea. He looked at the blood from where he had bitten his tongue with disbelief and tried to get up. His daughter came back and she talked with her father for a minute and then looked at me and asked if he was going to be okay. I said that I didn’t know. She told me that nothing like this had ever happened to her father before – that he had never had a seizure before. When I saw that there was nothing else I could do, I told her that I was glad that they were both all right and I slipped away. The thing that didn’t settle well with me was this: People don’t just get epilepsy at 55 years old. The fact that this guy just randomly had a seizure means that he probably had a brain tumor that changed his brain and caused the seizure, which means that I just saw the beginning of a massive change in two people’s lives, not to mention the rest of the family. Their struggle was only just beginning. My god…
I moved on pretty quickly to Belgium. That was the plan, anyways. When I got to Brussels, I met a girl in the train station who was headed to this place called “mini Europe”. I had nothing else to do so we left our stuff in the train station lockers and headed there together. It was pretty lame: just a bunch of models of famous European places and then a bunch of European Union trivia games at the end and so we walked around Brussels for a while and chatted. She was meeting her friends later and then heading to Amsterdam. Seeing as I had no plan, that was as good as any, so we met up with her friends (they were all Mexican) and we all headed to Amsterdam together. We had a great time – everyone was a lot of fun. Amsterdam was cool. The Dutch people were incredibly friendly and witty. The city itself was beautiful and there was the infamous red light district where you walked down this long street of women displaying themselves in windows and trying to lure you into the room so you could pay them to have sex with you. We spent the nights there just wandering up and down that street and looking and stopping in pubs in between. Marijuana is legal there so you can also walk into any store and buy all sorts of different kinds. Drug dealers walk around and sell all sorts of other harder drugs illegally. It’s 30 euros for a gram of either coke or heroin, I found out after talking with some guy on the streets. Crazy, huh?
After two days, we headed to Brugge in Belgium, which was beautiful. We didn’t do much but wander around there, but the town itself is stunning. I also spent a bit of time buying some of the most incredible beers in the world and trying them all out. Belgium is world renowned for its beers. We all split up from there and I headed to Germany – Cologne to be exact.
Cologne was nice, but nothing spectacular. They have the largest cathedral in Europe and that was interesting, but I just spent a day wandering around the town after sleeping there one night and continued on to Hamburg. I liked Hamburg, but it was always raining and so I couldn’t snap any really incredible pictures. I just spent a day there wandering around and looking at stuff (most places were closed) and after spending a day and two nights there, I continued on to Berlin.
I actually really liked Berlin. It had a ton of personality. I saw where the SS camp headquarters was, checked out some monuments and the next day checked out a museum with some a really funny Argentinean girl and a cool guy from New York and then headed back to the hostel where me and everyone else from the hostel (quite a fun mix of people) hung out together. The following day, I took off to Prague and Isolda, the Argentinean girl, came with me. I was going to Prague to meet up with my old Physics teacher and friend, Chandler, who packed up his stuff and family and moved there from California to teach at an expat school. He had had a daughter since and I really wanted to meet her and his wife who I had been talking to via email for quite a while. When we finally arrived, I met up with Chandler and we headed off to get Isolda checked into a hostel and then we all had dinner at his place together.
The next day, Isolda and I checked out Prague and then Chandler, Genevieve and I went out to dinner together and wandered around town. It has been really great to meet back up with him and chat about the incredibly wide range of stuff we chat and debate about. I’ve really been enjoying my time here with him and his family. His daughter is absolutely adorable. It is incredible to see how clever 5 year olds can actually be. We just got back from a 4 day trip to Austria with his friends, Dapo, Shola and their kids. Dapo is from Nigeria and manages the P&G cosmetics plant here, and also happens to be an incredibly intelligent guy and excellent business man. I’ve been enjoying my time chatting with him.
So anyways, Chandler and I are supposed to go to Pilzen and Budjevice to visit the breweries there tomorrow. I think that will be pretty cool.
And I’ll be the first to admit that this post sucks. It’s just impossible to cram the past month into a post. There is so much to write, so many interesting and funny stories. So many descriptions. When you sit down and try to pour all that out, it is incredibly frustrating. Stay tuned for the rest of the trip, which will include the rest of the Czech Republic, Luxembourg and England. Then the trip home!