Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Semanas Catorce a Dieciseis: The Final Moments


29 April ~ 22 May 2011

I was robbed the other week—yup, you heard right. My time with my iPhone, which I had only possessed for a mere five months, had apparently expired. I’m not proud to reveal how said action occurred, but to be frank, I was outwitted by a ten-year old. In my defense, I would like to believe he had some kind of formal training—a klepto apprentice, if you will. The fact is, being duped by a child does something to a person… it really does.

So here is the full story: I was sitting outside of Dunkin Coffee studying French…in Spain…and was using my phone as a paperweight for the stack of flashcards I was making. The flashcards were at most seven inches away from me when this dirty young boy approached me with a cardboard sign with some black scribble on it. This is nothing new in Spain as there are always people, mainly the Senegalese men trying to sell you knock-off sunglasses and watches, pestering you when sitting outside. Like I was always do, I shook my head and said no, and continued to work. Ten minutes later when I was packing up, I had realized what had happened: that scumbag low-life loser put his sign over my stuff, and used the hand not holding the sign to grab my phone and slide it back to himself when he pulled back his sign. I mean, you could have at least given me my SIM card. And, if you’re reading this—from my phone—would you like the charger seeing that I have no need for it now?

After I packed up my things, I went on a wild goose chase through the alleyways of Granada with bulging crimson eyes and a little bit of steam spewing from my ears. I had absolutely zero qualms about linebacker-tackling a child in public—none. But let’s get even further into the ingeniousness of it all; it was a holiday in Spain, Día de la Cruz, and there were thousands of kids everywhere! After nearly an hour of hopeless circling, I gave up and went to Lauren and Ashley’s for emotional support. Only Ashley was home, but she let me use her laptop to temporarily suspend my account so whoever now owned my phone couldn’t make calls or use data and rack up a dizzying phone bill.

As would be expected, an awkward moment regarding the aforementioned catastrophe would follow. It was roughly 2 am the night my phone departed, and I was nearly asleep. I was still in limbo and could hear what was going on in the apartment. I could hear Tina informing Rosa and José about my phone situation—not only the fact that it was stolen, but I had no alarm clock now—when I hear footsteps nearing my door. I knew José was going to come in so, I leaped up and began throwing on my t-shirt and dorm shorts, the latter never making it on before he knocked and walked in. “¿Estabas dormiendo? Were you sleeping?Like an idiot, I said “no….” as if he couldn’t see the internet alarm I had found that was set on my laptop, and a completely dark room with me holding my shorts in place like they were on. If this was not awkward already, when Rosa and Tina both poked their heads in around José’s body, it most certainly was—me, half-dressed, face-to-face with all three roommates with a prevailing uncomfortable silence that could kill.

Thankfully, there was a pizza party at Patrick’s to lighten up the rather awful week. We ordered 100- euros worth of pizza like the lot of fatties that we are and tried to decide upon a movie. At one point, I thought we had all agreed, with the exception of myself, on a horror movie in Spanish—great, the last thing I want is to be scared shitless AND not understand what is even being said. It turned out to be Shutter Island in English to my great fortune. What is with all of Leo’s latest movies having to be seen twice to understand what the hell just happened? –Just a random thought.

This next part might be a bit graphic for some of you, so if you want, skip to the next paragraph, but I need to let the world know this. I had a bit of a bad bowel movement the other night; there was blood. Sometimes I have a bit of blood every once in a while, but never this much. It was no big deal until the morning after. I decided to wear my new white shorts to class the next day and every single time I felt a bit of gas coming, I panicked and tried my absolute hardest not to let it pass. The only thing I could envision was somehow causing blood to come out again, and seep through my thin white shorts. I did not want to look as if I had just somehow had a period. I've been trying to keep my uterus a secret.

One night, when I was just bumming for company, I went to Lizzie’s. I was standing in the kitchen when I could vaguely hear Adele’s “Turning Tables.” I just assumed Valerie was jamming out in her room, which is, to be fair, roughly on the opposite side of their kitchen wall. I had mentioned to Lizzie that I could hear her music and we both had our ears up to the wall listening. We then began to try and freak her out by punching the wall and raking it with our fingernails. We then wandered into Lizzie’s room, where I could then hear Pitbull and Ne-Yo’s “Give Me Everything.” That’s odd. I then just said it must have been her upstairs neighbor the whole time. I clearly remember standing by her door looking up at the ceiling and saying “Yup, it’s your upstairs neighbor, I can hear it clear as day right here.” I walked over to her bed to sit down and she remarked that the music “seems to be moving.” Nothing caught my attention more than when I next heard Zoe Badwi’s “Freefallin.” Zoe is an Australian artist I came across on the Internet, and I found it too much of coincidence that all of these songs were on my iPod as well. I reached into my cargo pocket where I discovered my iPod blaring at full blast on shuffle. Whoops. Can you spell r-e-t-a-r-d?

Sadly, my days in Granada were winding down. I could not believe how quickly four months had managed to fly by. I don’t remember many details from these final moments as I got lazy with my blog note-taking, but because I was spending every moment taking it all in for one last hoorah. I remember having another rendezvous with Ariel’s cousin again; she was deported from Italy and needed a place to go. I don’t recall exact details for the deportation, but I’m suspecting they were mafia-related.

Oh yeah, I had my 21st birthday during my final days. It was an absolute disaster. Well, it was fun, before I fell asleep for two-and-a-half hours clinging to the porcelain god. That was…a blast (no pun intended). Normally, 21st birthdays aren’t a cause for extra celebration in Europe since they crawl out of the womb alcoholics, but I had my caring circle of American pals that ensured it was a celebration. You would think it would have been the burning Absinthe shot I took that put me up over the edge after roughly four mixed drinks, a couple of apple schnapps shots, and a beer, but no, it was the rum and Coke I had nearly an hour and a half later; thank you for that again, Lauren. The next thing I knew, I was sitting outside the club on the sidewalk trying to make my world not do summersaults. At some point, Valerie began entertaining us with a dazzling story about Gandalf and the stick, not to be confused with Harry Potter.

                                                             Before
                                                         Some point later...

Knowing the day after my 21st would most likely be a pounding, nauseating affair, I somehow, by the grace of all of the world’s gods, to pack my suitcases three days before I left. I was reviewing Air Berlin’s baggage policy when I came across this…interesting rule: “The following articles may only be carried in checked baggage: toy guns and commercially available toys that could be used as a weapon.” Hmmm…I really don’t believe you can club someone to death with a squirt gun—or! Oh, no! What if someone holds up the plane with a Nerf gun?!

My flight home was a bit stupid—well, I was stupid for booking it. I had not even realized I booked a flight that left Málaga Sunday afternoon and arrived in Berlin Sunday night for a twelve hour layover. In the U.S. I wouldn’t think twice about potentially spending the night in the terminal outside of my gate, but such initially seemed impossible in Berlin. I had arrived around nine Sunday evening and my flight to New York left at ten the following morning. I went to the gate my flight was supposed to leave from, but there was a passport check station before you could even enter the gate. I then decided to do a lap around the terminal to find a place to camp out to find, there wasn’t any. What the hell am I going to do? I asked a lady at one of the check-in counters, who was getting ready to leave, if the terminal was open all night. She told me it was not, but terminal D was. “Ok, great. Thanks” She looked rather puzzled, but I made my way over to the adjacent terminal.

This was just awesome might I add…sitting…waiting…alone…in the empty terminal with ten-and-a-half hours to go until my connecting flight. I even kept a log of my mind-numbingly boring night:

10:50p: Watching the night man on his squeegee machine washing the floor.

10:57p: The cleaning man just ran into the airport directory sign on his machine…quite funny.

11:01p: Discovered I have Bejeweled Blitz on my laptop! Mildly entertaining!

11:50p: Done with Bejeweled. I now have company: a drunk who is walking laps, two other passengers waiting patiently, and what I thought were two more drunks might just be two hobos because I am currently watching the one dig through the trash.

11:57p: And now there is a lost Asian man wandering aimlessly with his luggage cart.

1:01a: Finished an epic doodle. One passenger must feel unsafe sleeping with us, which may explain why he is now sleeping behind the ticket counter.



1:25a: Can’t possibly do anything else. I’m going to attempt sleeping.

4:45a: Just finished taking nearly 16-18 fifteen minute naps since comfort was not available on these metal chairs. Off to my terminal to the Starbucks until boarding.  

Un saludo,

Bryce

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Semana Trece: Lisbon the Plagiarizer

22 April ~ 28 April 2011



I was finally bullied into going to Portugal through the passive-aggressive tactics of Lizzie and Emily. For those that are geographically challenged, Portugal is the small, random entity attached to Spain, much like the state of Delaware to the U.S. Despite Portuguese being a romance language, it sounds nothing like one; it sounds more-or-less like German or Russian. And let me just say, Lisbon is totally stealing multiple chapters out of San Fran’s book, and is getting away with it: street cars, a golden gate bridge, hilly terrain with steep-angled streets, and proximity to water. If I were to plagiarize, I’d get a zero on the assignment and have a botched school record so, I would like to see some sort of punishment exercised on Lisbon.


Lemurs are awesome.

To start the final voyage of my semester, I took a bus from Granada to Sevilla where the gang had already been for a few days. As soon as I arrived, Lizzie and Emily met me and we sprinted to T.G.I. Friday’s which I had been fantasizing about for some weeks. As a food junkie, leaving all of your accustomed foods takes a toll, and as the weeks have creep on, the more and more you drool for all of the things you can’t have. I started making a list for the things I need in the car ready for me when I get off the plane (Shelby be prepared) and other places I’ll need to visit in the ensuing days. In the car, I will need a mint Oreo blizzard (Shelby, get a cooler), a Thanksgiving dinner, ginger snaps, golden Oreos, cherry cheesecake, and possibly Olive Garden breadsticks with a side of alfredo sauce for dipping.

As if dinner was not enough, later, we went to a little place called Wankandy—yes! Basically, it is a Spanish equivalent to Dylan’s Candy Bar. I was slightly unhappy with them, however, since they did not have my cherry gummies…as if that stopped me from still getting way too much candy than is necessary for someone not 8-years old. If you were wondering, no oompa loompas were present in the store, I checked.

Eventually we had to make the walk to the bus station for our midnight departure for Lisbon. Given it was a seven-hour journey, I was quick to take Emily up on her sleeping pill offer since I can’t ever sleep on buses. Well, I still didn’t sleep. Go figure. The entire time I was in a weird limbo land straddling consciousness and dreams, and had a brief nightmare that I went fishing. It was horrible. When we got to the bus station, we found out that the metro did not open for business for another hour and a half.

It was quite dead in the metro station, minus the few waves of people arriving by train. It was rather hot and sticky, so I decided to go one floor down, stand behind one of the support columns, and change from my jeans to shorts. As luck would have it, while in my boxers sifting through my backpack for my shorts, one of the said waves of people came flooding down the stairs. “Be a chameleon. Be a chameleon. If you don’t move, they won’t see you.” After releasing a sigh of relief once they had passed, I turned around to see one of the janitor ladies looking at me with disdain. It’s not my fault the bathrooms were closed. You should just be lucky I’m not peeing in the lobby. Yeah, take that!

Upon our arrival at the Oasis Hostel, we crashed in the living room (on one of the most fantastic couches ever, I must say) until breakfast. We ventured out after having the best scrambled eggs I had ever had. Our first stop, after hiking up through the Alfama quarter was the fle market. Here in Lisbon, flea markets offer everything you could ever need: out-of-print European coins, jumper cables, medieval swords and shields (if that’s your thing), chargers to every cell phone made before the new millennium, and tampons, if you’re really in a pinch.


I did come to Portugal fully-prepared with my list of things to do: two separate pastry shops, one in Lisbon, and one in Bélem. This is very important stuff. We visited the first one, Versailles, and had delicious, caramel I-don’t-know whats and the best coffee I have had in Europe thus far. The only annoyance was that you had to stand and eat at the bar—too much physical exertion. I’m here to eat sweets and get fat; I don’t want to have to engage in modest exercise in order to do so. Like in all similar places, I was in such a trance of bliss that I left my umbrella on the floor when we left. I’m not having much luck with umbrellas on the road.


What is the logical thing to do after leaving a pastry shop? Cross the street and go to McDonald’s! But let me just ask, have you ever SEEN Portuguese McDonald’s? They have computer kiosks where you can order your food! Other than the fact that it took me four tries and two different employees, it was the coolest thing ever. On the way home, we stopped at one of the many miradors (like Kodak photo spots for the Disney World connoisseurs out there). Dinner that night was prepared by either a hostel worker, or a guest, I’m not entirely sure. I really don’t think I was paying attention to anything this trip. Anyway, it was some sort of red curry dish…with some other items, one of which was crunchy…

video

The unique aspect of hostel stays is the wide—wide—variety of people you meet. After dinner, Emily and I decided to take up a competitive game of tangrams. It was over the course of playing I met one of our fellow hostel mates: NAB (New Age boy). What started it all was Glee. Lizzie is holding out on watching Glee, for some odd reason of wanting to live above others, and maintain an authentic theater snob disposition (as if there is a secret Broadway agency that would know who became a theater lover after Glee made it popular). Regardless, I still thought she had to see the “Umbrella/Singing in the Rain” video, at least for its cinematographic value.

Seconds from being over, NAB said something to the effect of “Wow, are you really watching Glee?” That’s an odd statement to make first of all, because you are mocking me, yet you somehow know what we are watching. Well from that point on, NAB couldn’t keep his mouth shut. He is a self-proclaimed New Ager (if that even still exists) born and raised in San Francisco, and now attends school in Iowa—IOWA. What New Ager would leave one of the most New Age-y places in the country, to go to school in IOWA. Does anyone even live there? He also kept rambling on and on about luh-coast-ay (Lacoste for us who speak English), and at one point asked if the three of us were dating—rather enthusiastically.

The next morning, we found a package on the couch that was Bianca, who came to join our mad little tea party. After my routine peppermint tea, toast and nutella, and eggs, we were off to catch a train to Sintra, a town on the Atlantic coast. Rolling into the station, we saw a Pizza Hut attached to the train station, and had no other choice but to go. Not only was the pizza the best since leaving home, but they had a cookie dough pizza that was to die for. Completely satisfied and lethargic, we had to slowly make our way into town to get to the palace and gardens.

The palace complex was amazing and was fully-equipped with caves, spiral staircase wells, observation towers, fountains, and trails. The scariest part was the one bit of the underground cave system. We thought we had hit a dead end, but it wasn’t until someone took a picture that we realized it continued on in complete darkness. For some reason, they told me to go first. A while back, I changed locations in the park because a rather large ant was crawling on me, and now you think I’m the best candidate to lead y’all into a creepy, dark cave?


The worst part of the day was just about to come, the walk up to the Moorish castle. I have never—ever!—walked up such a steep incline for that amount of time. Holy cowballs. The best part, the part where I about fainted, was when we got to the entrance to the castle, and the guard asked us for our tickets. “…Tickets?” He then showed us on the map where tickets were to be purchased, at the bottom of the hill. Seeing the utter depression that came over our faces, he allowed us to enter the gate and buy tickets inside. The climb was so worth the views we had from atop the castle wall. Our little happy dance took a bit of a  blow when we saw another fortress even higher up on a different hill. But the chances of me willingly going up the other mountain was equal to the chance of a Taylor Swift song not being about fairytales, unicorns, and rainbows.

video

Exhausted, but with a whole night remaining, we decided to go to a bar called The Bedroom. Unfortunately, The Bedroom did not appear to be open. What the hell? It was around 9 p.m. so it should have definitely been open. We tried banging on the door, ringing the doorbell, knocking on the sliding peephole door (the technical name of which I don’t know—who would?), and anything else remotely annoying. No one felt like letting us in—they’re loss—so, we headed to another bar where we were surrounded by miniature plastic people a.k.a. figurines. It was fantastic. They even put a clown in Emily’s drink, not literally—how gross?—but a paper cutout of a clown head was attached to her straw.

Fast forward to the next day and we were off again on a train, but this time to Bélem. We first went to a modern art museum; you know how those go: statues of thumbs, blinding white lights with creepy white plastered men, garbage cans lined up in a row (very emotional and inspirational), a movie with ants, and photos of a random lady eating lunch in a field. Afterward, completely confused and exhausted, we went to the second pastry joint on my list. We got the pastries to-go and went next door to Starbucks. It was a pastry dreamland and it was fantabulous.


We also visited a monument dedicated to the Portuguese explorers. While there, Emily shut the elevator doors on the elevator operator who got off on a random floor to grab something and most likely disrupted the entire logistics of the monument. We ended our day in Bélem with a visit to the Torre Bélem, which is like the emblem of Portugal tourism. 


After the tower, we then went for dinner and dessert… again at McDonald’s. The man taking my order single-handedly ruined my Portugal experience. I didn’t believe my order was of the complicated sort, but apparently, it was calculus to his dumb ass. I ordered a double cheeseburger with NO toppings, just cheese, and an OREO McFlurry. What did I get? I got a double cheeseburger with ALL of the fixings and an M&M McFlurry. Really, man? Really? Oreo sounds nothing like M&M. As if this was not enough, we all ordered two apple pies afterward for an amazing bargain of one euro.

Returning back to Lisbon proved to be a very sore spot in my mind. I won’t even delve into the complicated workings of the Lisbon public transit ticketing system, but just trust me, it was complicated. I wasn’t sure if I had somehow nullified my card when I swiped it under the wrong machine so, I decided to walk closely behind Bianca as she walked through the gate. These gates were the kind that required you to wave your card over the sensor and the doors would slide to the right to open, and then close quickly after you walk through. It was a complete and utter failure. The doors tried to slam shut, but this time they couldn’t because my body was preventing that from happening—Oww! I’m surprised I didn’t have dislocated shoulders as the slamming action created quite the sound. I so hope the surveillance coverage of this ends up on YouTube.

It was then time to pack up and head to the bus station for our overnight bus back. There was  just a truly irritating Asian woman on our return bus—what a monster she was. Apparently, China woman felt entitled to both seats in her row, and on purpose, scooted over to the aisle seat when we made our first stop and put her extra luggage on the window seat. Appalled by this, it was soon outdone when someone asked to sit next to her and she shook her head and pointed to the back of the bus! WTF?! The nerve! Who stepped on your fortune cookie?

Thanks to Lizzie, Emily, and Bianca for an awesome time!......seriously, IOWA?

Un saludo,

Bryce

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Semana Doce: What day is it?

15 April ~ 21 April 2011

With all of my recent excursions out of Spain, I have completely lost any sense of time or date. I decided that instead of writing the blog dedicated to my most recent outing to Portugal, I should honor all of the in-and-out experiences in Granada from the past three weeks.

I am gradually becoming more and more deathly afraid of my amiable flatmates. It has gotten to the point that when I hear one of them coming, I drop everything I’m doing and make a mad dash to my room where I quickly shut the door and breathe heavily while still resting on the door like I just escaped an encounter with Michael Myers from Halloween. Similarly, I check to make sure the coast is clear when I leave my room. The root of the problem is my inability to small-talk in Spanish; I can barely do this in English without feeling awkward and stupid so, I’m definitely not equipped to do so in Spanish.


Classes are, well, getting more and more irritating as the semester progresses. Really, the hardest part about classes, we have all agreed, is either getting up, or the walk to class. The worst of them all is geography of Spain. Oh, my. That class is…a train wreck—a really bad one where all of the passengers onboard become seriously maimed or dead. Most of it falls upon the teacher, Javier. As a human with feelings, I do feel bad for him a bit but, it is his fault. Whenever you walk into the computer lab for that class, it has the aura of a human jungle since the windows are kept shut all day and the bad odors of poor hygiene students blends with the hot, humid air already present. The next irritating part is Javier himself. He wears clothes five-times too large for his body, he looks in utter pain when he speaks, and his body language screams I just had an entire six pack of Red Bull and a line of coke. He imparts that feeling of intense anxiety upon me. We won’t even delve into the mounds of busy work he gives us.

The only redeeming class is my POE class (basically writing and speaking class). Each Monday, a select few of us give news presentations to explain and then discuss. Many choose to do rather monotonous topics such as the Japan nuclear crisis with their discussion question being: “What do you think we can do to solve this?” Well, I don’t know. Why don’t you just ask me if I know the cure for cancer? Maybe that person thought we were all skilled in nuclear science. I, however, decide to lighten things up pretty drastically like discussing such world-shaking topics as Rebecca Black, or American Idol. The other week I spoke about the oddly huge success of Black’s “Friday.” There were some classmates, including the teacher, that had not seen this object with intense comical value so, what did we do? We watched it in class, that’s right. And then what was our homework? We had to translate the lyrics into Spanish!

The second most irritating class is grammar. Grammar is a bit of a mixed bag, though. At times I’m enjoying myself, and others I’m suicidal. However, this past week we had a pretty fun game called “Problems.” We were reviewing commands in Spanish, and to practice, we each had to write down a problem we have, real or not, and then tape it on the back of someone without them seeing. Then, the teacher would call people up to the front of the room so we could all read their problem and then help that person figure out their problem by giving them commands that would help solve their problem. Most people wrote lame phrases like: “My parents are coming to town but I have class. What should I do? Sadly, the person with the best “problem” was not called up for us to help because we ran out of time. Here’s what she had:

                                                    "Tengo noventa y nueva problemas y todas son putas." 
                                                    (AKA I got 99 problems and all of them are bitches)

Also, after all of this travelling, I have been able to revisit my favorite café with regularity. This past Wednesday I had the honor of being indirectly involved in the most awkward and random conversation ever. Mind you, this guy was on Skype so there are no responses from the other person, just the freak in the café.

                -Are you still talking to (person x)? ….(I didn’t catch the name)
                -Is he still doing the whole dildo thing?
                -Alright, because I’m going to need supplies.
                -OK, I’ll let you know when I’m in London and we can go to a rave or something.

I’m not sure if you, freak man, are aware, but you are sitting in a dead-silent café with two other people, and you are screaming into your microphone. We can hear you. Lastly, I hope those products are not for you. Now leave, and let me finish studying French in Spain.

Lately in Granada, we have been under fire from Mother Nature. When I came back from my three days in Portugal, the once sunny, warm weather we had, instantly dissipated and the cold, rainy weather from late February resurfaced. Also, that puta has decided to attack us with cotton balls—seriously! The trees are shedding some fluffy white material that we are calling cotton (it might be but, I don’t know—plants aren’t my strong suit). They almost resemble those white things you picked up when little, or still do, and blew to make all of the white things (sorry for this realistic depiction) float away while you made a wish. Well, whether that made any sense or not, these damn things come off the trees in droves when the wind blows and it almost appears that it is snowing.

Most of the time you can see them, but such isn’t always the case. Sometimes, just a fragment of the material floats and gets into your eye, or as it was in my case, both eyes! I was walking to my potato shop (more on that piece of heaven later) when all of the sudden—BAM! I had just yelled some expletive and cupped my right eye when—BAM! What the hell! Now I had cotton in both eyes and was blind as I had to cup my left eye as well. I’m surprised I didn’t get hit by a car, because, for some reason, I kept walking while covering both eyes until reason settled in and I pulled over and attended my burning eyes. Yes, I did just say ‘pulled over’ like I was a car.  

The next night, after Mother Nature attempted to blind me, we all went up to the mirador (lookout point) with Ariel’s visiting cousin. We were all sitting on the wall watching the sun set over the Sierra Nevada and Alhambra when the funniest accident happened that didn’t involve me. There was this guy on the street beneath the wall who, actually, looked as if he had fallen in the bushes that produced those cotton balls as his hair was spot-dyed white in the front part, which was rather long, while the back half of his head was short? Anyway, he was starting up his moped for his girlfriend trying to be cool and suave when he hit the throttle thinking he was in reverse to get out of the parking spot, but was really in drive. Needless to say, his ass went straight into the wall in front of him. Instead of taking a taxi like I would have at that point, dumb dumb girlfriend hopped on the back and off they went.

A couple of weeks ago, most of the gang decided to go to the beach and asked me to go with them. I normally don’t say “no,” but this time I had to. Bryce doesn’t do the beach. I like beach atmospheres, being near/around a beach, but typically not on the beach engaging in beach activities. There are many things I’m paranoid of in addition to the gross and undisputed outcome of sand plus water all over your body. Here is my list of apprehensions:

1.)    Drowning.
2.)    Impaling myself with my own surfboard or flotation device.
3.)    Getting eaten/marred by a shark.
4.)    Getting eaten by Loch Ness monster. I’m closer to Scotland than ever.
5.)    Drowning.
6.)    Getting stung by a jellyfish or sting ray. If it can happen to Steve Irwin, it can happen to anyone.
7.)    Coming face-to-face with an octopus. This one would cause immediate death.
8.)    Getting caught in a plastic bottle carrier.
9.)    Getting electrocuted by an eel.
10.) Stepping on a sea urchin.
11.) Getting caught in a school of seahorses.
12.)  One of the above causing me to crap my wetsuit and have it evenly disperse throughout.

In the event I ever do choose to go, I hope you don’t mind my floaties. Also, someone will have to be strapped to my back like they do in two-person sky diving. My life vest will also be worn at all times on land, including seaside bars—floaties up!



Un saludo,

Bryce

Monday, April 25, 2011

Semana Once: Berlin: Salvation


8 April ~ 14 April 2011

The last time I wrote I was cowering in a corner holding all of my possessions dearly in a sketchy alleyway in Prague praying to the only god I know, Oprah, that I make it out of this twisted, evil carnival land alive. Elissa was with me as well praying to her god, sweet baby J. Feeling the presence of our gods rushing through our bodies, we made a dash to the bus station before it wore off and we woke up in one of Jigsaw’s puzzles—please not the head trap with a padlock one--that looked so complicated. The people onboard this bus from Hell to Berlin must have thought, “Oh, here come the stupid people” as we greeted the bus with open arms and embraced it, unlike I do with stranger’s babies they try to pass of to me as if I want to hold them. Really?

Our euphoria was quickly brought down to Earth as we again got lost getting to our hostel. We walked the Friedrichstrasse for a mile in each direction multiple times before getting the right direction. Checking in to our hostel was a bit of a mixed bag as we were greeted by the lead singer from Twisted Sister who was rocking out to some metal soundtrack. We seemed to be the only ones there under the age of 40 to stay at a sleeping establishment and sightsee and not waiting for the Motley Crue concert to start. Hopefully this was due to the fact that everyone our age was wasted and still in bed with hangovers and not up rocking out at 10 a.m.

Up first on our German visit was Checkpoint Charlie. When we arrived to the small hut with a fake American guard played by a German, we were a little confused as to who exactly Charlie was. There was a large pole with a sizeable photo of an American soldier. Is this Charlie? After a confusing couple of minutes we decided to bid adieu to Charlie, wherever he was, and go to the Brandenburg Gate. One of the most irritating things about visiting touristy places is the photo debacle that ensues. I’m so used to envisioning these places of importance as I see in National Geographic Traveler magazines clear of people and with optimal visual effects i.e. a beautiful sunset, an apocalyptic storm cloud, nighttime with streams of headlights and taillights, or pristine snow cover. So, when we arrived to Brandenburg Gate, there was not a sunset or any of the other cool things you see in pictures and even worse, there were people. I wanted to grab a megaphone and ask if anyone minded if they cleared so I could get my pictures. It would just be a few minutes. I mean, they did owe me, I had to listen to the Germanic language for far too long than my ears could handle--no offense :)

                                                                                  Brandenburg Gate

We then thought it would be cool to go into the Reichstag and see the city from the glass dome that was built on top. Unfortunately, some a-hole decided to call in a bomb threat at some point last November and it was not shut down to the public, unless you had reservations to the expensive restaurant up top. So terrorists can’t enjoy a nice meal? I don’t know if the Germans were too busy beer-guzzling on 9/11 but these people learned how to hijack and fly effing jumbo jets, so I think they will figure a way around the “dinner-reservation only” method of getting into the building. Not so difficult.

The next morning we went to the Neues Museum to see Egyptian and other ancient artifacts. The museum was spectacular on the inside and I plan on stealing many of their ideas for my future home. I should say everything was spectacular minus the asshole and sauerkraut-scented bathrooms which was…pleasant. The US Open could also gain some things from the museum, particularly their imposing and Hitler-like museum cops. Not only were these guards extremely physical as one literally pushed me back when I walked in a wrong door, but their eyesight was incredible. Elissa was “reading” the hieroglyphics to me when this German lady appeared next to Elissa and said, “Don’t touch!” This lady should definitely be working the lines at the US Open in place of the Asian woman that rocked Serena’s world (which I thought was uh-mazing). I would like to see the German guard and Serena go at it, although I still think Serena would literally eat her, but she’d put up a better fight than the cowardly Asian woman who was for some reason intimated by a pissed-off Serena.  

                                                Not that scary

 We left the museum to join up with our walking tour group of Berlin. The tour was OK minus the two losers that were with us as well. The one had asked the tour guide if he had ever seen this special series on the History Channel. Really? Yes, Germans get our basic cable line-up too. Why don’t you ask him if he watches American Idol while you’re at it? The other loser had a ridiculous ginger mustache and shabby baseball cap to cover up his equally obnoxious and disheveled ginger locks. Besides sleeping with one eye and listening to the tour guide with the other, he asked, when we visited the Empty Bookshelf Memorial if there were ever books in the library. This almost compares to the time when my brother argued that gravity is what held things up. (We hope he was just very tired).


Elissa and I kept remarking for the past two days at this point about the ubiquitous presence of sand everywhere—like it was sandier than boardwalks. We soon found out that Berlin, which is part of the province of Brandenburg, is known as the Sandpit and that it was built on top of sand, much like Florida. That explains that. The most amazing thing I learned on our trip is that Hitler’s former office and headquarters is now a Chinese restaurant. Oh, the irony.

The next morning we had to meet our other walking tour group for the tour of Sachsenhausen concentration camp. The camp was about twenty miles north of Berlin and we had to catch a train up to Oranienburg and then walk to Sachsenhausen. Of course, as the Universe would have it, there was a lady with a walking problem on our four-hour walking tour. I don’t mean to be rude to anyone with walking problems, but I find it rather selfish to sign up for a walking tour (as the website makes specifically clear) and then expect for everyone to wait for you. Not only did she hold us up now and again, but she was the bozo of the crowd that kept asking the questions that our tour guide had just explained, or better yet, as I deemed, completely stupid questions like “So what was it about the Jews that Hitler didn’t like?” Maybe it is a bit unfair of me to expect for someone to know the fundamental platform that launched the Holocaust when visiting a concentration camp, or perhaps in Australia (where she was from) they don’t learn about the Holocaust for seven straight years like we do.


Many of the original structures weren’t standing anymore, but that almost augmented the eerie and somber ambiance that envelops visitors when they enter the grounds. The worst part was walking to station Zed which is where the furnaces were that just make your stomach turn. While in the barracks, Elissa told me she saw a couple making out in the corner which, to me, just seemed a bit insensitive. As the tour progressed it became colder and colder, and the wind all the more strong. At this point, being improperly dressed, my concentration was lost and all I could think about was our reservations at the warm TV tower, also insensitive in retrospect.

Eventually, we did make it to the TV tower for our wonderful dinner after trying to break in through, apparently, an employee’s-only area. I still have yet to figure out how we ended up there. We both had the cream of parmesan soup to start which was divine. For our entrées we both chose the tortellini with ratatouille which was again, really good. The fun part was dessert. I had a normal, hazelnut-pecan-caramely sundae, while Elissa chose to have the “fitness sundae.” The fitness sundae includes what most people prize to eat for dessert: sour cream, poppy seed ice cream, raspberry vinaigrette, pesto pineapples, whipped cream, and more disgusting items I cannot remember at this point in time. And that freak liked it.



The dinner, with a 360° nighttime view of Berlin, was a perfect cap to a near-perfect hooky vacation. The following morning we made the rather long trip to Berlin Schoenfeld airport. This was my first time riding Ryanair and boy do you really get what you paid for. First of all, the seats do not even have seatback pockets. Secondly, there is not even a slightly organized system for seating as everyone stands like a bunch of animals penned up until the gates are opened and everyone goes crazy running to get on the plane. Thirdly, due to the absence of seatback pockets, the safety card instructions are printed on the seatbacks because yes, I do wish to stare at the crash-landing instructions for the entirety of a flight. I was just hoping that, in the unlikely event of a “water landing,” they weren’t going to whip out the waterproof credit card machines and charge for the life vests.

Other than that, Elissa, it was a pleasure, and I’m sorry for allegedly repeating things you had just said five minutes prior. 

Un saludo,

Bryce

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Semana Diez: Prague: Earth's Hellhole

1 April ~ 7 April 2011

I left off last at yet another failed attempt to use public transportation in Zurich. Our next step was to make it to the bus station to catch our overnight bus to Prague. This was definitely not a bus to miss or a time to get the wrong bus. And I use “bus station” loosely; it was more or less a parking lot designated for buses. We went to the stop/curb and sat down next to our two drivers. It was practically time to leave and the bus and the rest of the passengers had yet to show up. We, reasonably, fantasized about having the bus to ourselves on the 7-hour trip and being able to spread out. If only that were anywhere near what actually went down. The bus pulled up already full from the origination point of the bus, Zurich was just a stop.

We walked on the bus to be greeted not only by the absence of two free seats, but an overwhelming fart aroma. I walked toward the back of the bus and Elissa toward the front. We stood at either end of the bus looking at each other confused as to what to do. These assholes were sitting one row apiece with their bags on the adjacent seat. Did anyone offer to move up next to someone so we could sit together? Nope. Most of them were French so God forbid I ask them to do such a courteous favor. Even more irksome was that most of them were with a friend who was sitting in front of them! I sat down disgruntled and let out an audible "Je deteste le monde" (I hate the world). This fartmobile was going to be a nightmare.

I tried to sleep on the bus and failed to do so. Our first stop was Swiss border patrol. I didn’t know we were going to need our passports as mine was down below in the cargo hold in my backpack. The officer got on, and for some reason, could have cared less if I were an illegal immigrant/terrorist as he took Elissa’s word for it that I was studying abroad with her in Spain. We got into Prague around 5 a.m. and headed straight to the Charles Bridge for sunrise; this was the beginning of all extremely creepy and rather unfortunate events that tarnished our Prague experience so badly that we thought there were two Pragues, and we went to the wrong one.

As we got off the Straometska metro station there was a very shady old begger man that was trying to get our attention as they usually do. We ignored him, again, as you usually do. What is not usual is for the man to follow you all the way to the bridge! In the process of trying to avoid him, Elissa dashed across the street and got honked at by two cars that apparently thought she was stupid and was going to walk out in front of them. Our grand plan to once-and-for-all ditch the creeper was to stand directly behind an artist we saw sitting on the bridge sketching the city skyline. Our plan worked as the hobo walked up to the artist and was cast away. We had been there for maybe 20 minutes and I was ready to get the hell out of there.

The sun took its grand ol’ time rising and it was bitterly cold—not to mention the wind which was at least Category 2 hurricane strength—and I was in the early stages of frostbitten hands. I had never in my life ever thought I would want be wrapped up in an American flag Snuggie with a giant mug of peppermint mocha watching a documentary on Heidi & Spencer or a dramatic Mexican telenovela, but I was so there.

Eventually the clouds cleared and the sun rose and we snapped our National Geographic-worthy photos.


Now it was time to head to one of the few things I had on my Prague list—BakeShop. Any time I travel, the first five things on my list are always places to eat, with the top two normally being bakeries. After having a -2 on the scoreboard, BakeShop took Prague back to a level 0 score; there were so many things to choose from: breads, muffins, croissants, cupcakes, coffees, cakes, brownies, and more! I was in a heart attack paradise and seriously took about ten minutes to order; I took so long that the worker behind the corner got fed up with me, rolled her eyes, and walked into the back. I eventually decided upon a ham and cheese croissantwich, a chocolate espresso muffin, and a mocha with a shot of almond, the latter turning out to be the most amazing coffee drink I had ever had. The mocha was so good that by the end of our three days there I had three, two of which being on the same day.


You know things are a little awry when you’re in one of the timeless European capitals that is extolled by the world and the highlight of your trip thus far has been a cup of coffee. Did I mention by this point we also had nowhere to stay for the night? Yeah, we had sent out a message on the emergency couchsurfing board for Prague and nothing was coming through. We soldiered on after breakfast to the next important attraction in Prague—Starbucks. Finally I get to have my first Starbucks in 4 months! But really, we just used it for their free wifi to plan the rest of our day and possibly find some rather safe parks to sleep in for the night. Maybe that guy from earlier had availability at his place…

After my delicious Chai latte, which is the best I have ever had at a Starbucks, we decided to go to Prague Castle—this should certainly be exciting. Ok, now my patience with Prague was reaching a shaving-my-head-á-la-Britney crisis level. Prague “Castle” is simply a large Gothic church (nothing new in Europe) with a village wrapped around it. Where the hell are the towers, dragons, moat, and drawbridges? Where are Belle and Gaston? This was especially depressing after we climbed a damn mountain to get up there in the first place—we had to take a breather when we got to the top. At least the view from the hill was spectacular, that is, until dumb Asian woman decided to ruin that too. I was standing in between two brick columns looking out over the city when this woman walked up beside me and took a picture. Apparently she was dissatisfied with this photo and decided to move horizontally into/in front of me for a better view/my view. Ok, yeah, awesome, just push me aside. No need for ‘excuse me’ here. Take you and your nasty black dandruffed hair away from me—don’t make me play the Godzilla card! They’ll clear out real fast then.

Unlike my first priority (BakeShop), Elissa’s was a little more normal, Lennon Wall. After our downer of a day thus far, we decided to go see the graffiti wall dedicated to John Lennon on Kampa Island. Again, we’re beginning to think this was to prove another disaster as we searched the entire island and could not even find the wall. In the meantime, we passed some large, black sculptures of babies with smashed faces—what the f*** is wrong with this place? We found the wall which, let me say, is NOT on Kampa Island as it is said to be. I don’t know if we need to lecture the Czechs on what is/is not an island, but it was clearly on the opposite side of the bridge. The wall proved to be one of the few highlights of Prague and we spent a good bit of time there. 


The best part of the day was soon to come: Cantina! The following thing on my list of to-do’s was a restaurant called Cantina which happened to be conveniently located near the Lennon Wall. This place was simply incredible—best Mexican food ever! I never thought I would find such great Mexican cuisine in a hellhole like this, but my, oh my was it ever good. We started off with tortilla chips con queso which were so ridiculously cheesy and yummy. For my entrée I got a chicken steak with a creamy cheese sauce, corn, tortillas, rice, jalapeños, and a cheese quesadilla.


Our lives almost ended after Cantina, which wouldn’t have been too bad considering we would have had a wonderful last supper. We ventured to our a “3-star hotel” that I managed to find on Hotwire while at Gloria Jean’s (yes I'm aware that's 3 coffee joints in less than half a day, but I have a problem) for $15 apiece for the night. When we arrived to the ghetto where our luxurious resort was located it was already completely dark. We walked up the main street trying to find our street but to no avail. I stopped in one of the convenient stores and asked the clerk if she knew where the Hotel Jasmin was, but she did not—of course. Not knowing where to go, we saw a tall hotel in the middle of a random industrial area and decided to go ask the reception area for directions to our hotel. 

We followed their directions and when we arrived to our street we could still not find our hotel. We walked the entire expanse of the street and had no clue as to where the hotel was. There were random groups of guys that kept passing us and we were both a little uneasy. I began to walk in one direction of the street only to dead-end into a parking lot with barbed wire fencing—definitely not it, I hope. Elissa walked in the other direction into what seemed to be a group of small apartment complexes. Turns out this was the hotel and the reception was a small building in the middle of all of the other buildings. I’m not asking for much, but maybe a lit sign on the street with the hotel name would be helpful—just saying.

After having a mild battle with the receptionist who was telling me I needed to pay for the room even though I already did, we made our way to the room to relax and forget all of the day’s missteps. Our wonderful room featured a TV from the 1930’s with about ten channels, three of which were the same, a floating creature in toilet, the absence of a shower curtain, a chair that looked as if a psycho cat attacked it after finding a stash of catnip inside, water that took ten minutes to get hot, a shower that I had to place my head at a 45-degree angle to fit in, and oh, a third bed. We were slightly skeptical as to the presence of the third bed—was a roommate going to be showing up at some point? To prevent this from happening, I took the war-damaged chair and propped it under the door handle. The only good thing about the room was the ever-present Bible that I used to prop up my flipcam while it was charging. Thank you, Jesus. Side note: we also believed the carpet was the same material used for pool table tops—such a nice touch. 

The next day we tried yet another castle, Vysehrad. Yet again it was deja vu: a church in a field with a town around it. At least this castle had a “watch tower” wich, not surprisingly, was maybe fifteen feet high and also functioned as both an art museum and a gift shop. After the castle we did some more mild sightseeing before we made our way to Ariana for dinner (the third thing on my to-do list). Ariana is an Afghan restaurant and our dinner was plentiful and delicious. The last thing on the day's agenda was a show at the Krizik Fountains. The theme for the show was the music of Metallica and The Scorpions by an orchestra and I was quite pumped for it. As I was starting to learn, everything outside of the Historic Quarter was automatically creepy, carnie, ghetto land. Under the bridge, past the barbed wire fences and large abandoned warehouses, through a damn carnival, literally a carnival, we went—and guess what? No show; the sound was malfunctioning. Good night Prague. I hate you.


For our last day in Prague, we decided to take a day trip to Kutna Hora to see the bone chapel. Of course things would not be easy—why would they? We arrived at the train station in Kutna Hora without a hitch, but it was getting to the chapel that was the issue. We were told by a local to take the small, public train to get there since it was too far to walk, so we did. However, she did not tell us where to get off, and I couldn’t find her again. We thought we saw the chapel at the edge of the city due to the presence of a large gothic church and would get there in no time. There was one stop after the train station, but we didn’t get off because the church still looked pretty far up—wrong move. When the train continued on after this stop, it kept going, kept going, right past the church and further out. We were now in the middle of the Czech countryside on a train full of beer-guzzling hillbillies at noon. Completely stunned and confused, we were then confronted from the conductor who wanted to see our tickets. Our tickets apparently weren’t valid for the leg of the train we were on and he kept scolding us in Czech as if we understood. The couple next to us then stepped in and tried to help us out—in Czech—by hand signaling to get off at the next stop and take the train back four stops.

Long story short, we took the train back to where they suggested, we walked ten minutes to the bone chapel which turned out not to be the bone chapel so we walked some more and waited close to two hours for a local bus to take us to the bone chapel. We finally got to the bone chapel and enjoyed it and all of its creepiness—of course there is a chapel filled with the remains of 40,000 humans in the Czech Republic. Getting ready to leave, we did a quick spin around the cemetery that encompassed the chapel to find a couple that appeared to be unearthing a grave? Maybe the large trash bag and the woman raking at a grave gave it a way but we were a little concerned. Should we notify there are some psychos outback digging up graves? We didn’t have the energy to do so and instead booked it to the train station and rewarded ourselves with Cantina again for the hard day we had.


The next morning we were off to Berlin—thank God! I must also note that we joked while in Prague that Saw I-V, Hostel, and any other horror movies were probably filmed in Prague only to find out that Hostel actually was—go figure. 

Un saludo,

Bryce

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Semana Nueve: Zurich/Ricola and Yodeler Land

25 March ~ 31 March 2011

Sorry, it has been so long since I last wrote, but it is not without cause. A friend from school, Elissa, and I went vacationing—well tried—across  central Europe for a week and a half. Instead of ending my blog material when I normally do, after just 3 days of traveling, I decided to dedicate one weekly blog to each city we visited (Zurich, Prague, and Berlin).

We began our grand journey on a bus from Granada to Malaga where we were catching our flight to Zurich. I have learned, after multiple tries now, that I cannot sleep on public transportation—not even smooth overnight flights. As I tried to get some rest on the 2-hour bus ride, I could only hear, “…party and party and Hey! Fun, fun, fun…” Damn you Rebecca Black.

Beginning our trip on the wrong foot should have foreshadowed all that was to come, but it was unbeknownst to us; we stood in line at the Air Berlin check-in counter for what seemed to be eternity, even though we had already printed our boarding passes and weren’t checking luggage. I know better than that! Already immersed in our own stupidity, we decided to have a well-balanced breakfast at Pizza Hut.

When it was time, we boarded our Air Berlin flight to be greeted by one of the three German Charlie’s Angels holding out a basket of welcome candies. I truly felt like any one of these flight attendants could have me tied up in the shape of a pretzel and thrust from the aircraft in a matter of seconds. It all started with their appearance: red leather gloves, a very slim and chic navy uniform, red and white ascot tied to perfection, and (the one) a fierce blonde bob. Elissa and I agreed they were most likely not even flight attendants, rather German undercover intelligence agents who had multiple passports, currencies, and identities in their possession. I made a mental note not to cross lines with these gals.

Air Berlin turned out to be such an amazing airline. They earned brownie points by a.) giving me free food which is unheard of these days, especially for a 2-hour flight and b.) playing Carrie Underwood on the plane. The only slight damper on the flight experience was the lady a couple of rows behind us who had her extremely adorable puppy stuffed in her purse. Its cuteness faded real quickly after it kept whimpering and crying the entire duration of the flight. I did feel somewhat for the dog as it most likely had keys digging into its side and a nail filer jammed in its eye, not to mention the lack of light and oxygen in a purse. I had earlier mentioned to Elissa how I wanted to steal the dog, but wouldn’t know what to do with it on our travels other than plugging its butt with a cork to be more travel-efficient. To her this seemed horrible, but it was ok, after her irritation grew in response to the whimpering, to flush it down the airplane toilet.

When we landed in beautiful Zurich, we once again started on the wrong foot. I have never felt more like an idiotic American tourist in my life. We were waiting for the complete wrong mode of transportation, realized this, then sprinted down the street to catch the right one, which turned out not to be the right one. We quickly got up to get off…if we could just figure out how to open the doors. I stood there pushing all the pictures and symbols on the door before a man leaned over and pushed a button on the handrail which opened the doors. We bolted across the tracks in front of an incoming trolley to catch the one we needed, but it left anyway. At some point during this hellish span of about five minutes Elissa said “hola” to a man who said “hello” to her in perfect English (more on that later). This was going to be an awesome trip.

I must also comment on the Swiss public transportation system: not only do they run with the esteemed Swiss-precision, they are extremely fancy, and more bothersome, extremely quiet. After debating whether or not we boarded a first class train on the subway accidentally, we were taken aback by the utter silence we were rudely interrupting—it was so quiet! The glass must have been sound-proof, the subway barely made any sound as it moved, and all of the people were sitting in silence. Of course, we had to giggle at the ridiculousness of it all and I tried to film this on my Sony Bloggie, that is, until one man seemed to disapprove of my actions and stared at me for the longest time after turning the camera in his direction.

After the whole transportation debacle, we managed to arrive at our couchsurfing host for the night, Melany. To our great delight, Melany turned out not to be a 45-year-old meth addict with a penis as we feared, given this was our first couchsurfing experience, and instead was such a sweetheart. We loved her and her cute little apartment, even if it was decorated by a seven-year old schoolgirl with a passion for teddy bears as the toilet seat and toilet paper were covered by hugging bears. We walked into the living room to find two beds made with maps and attraction pamphlets fanned out across the top with a “Willkommen in Zürich” and hazelnut chocolates. After dropping our stuff down, she poured us some water and helped us plan out our day on the map. We wanted to stay and talk longer, but we were pinched for time and had to go.

Our first stop in Zurich was Uetliberg, which is a mountain adjacent to downtown. The views from up top were phenomenal and among the best I’ve ever seen. Not only could you see the city sprawling out along the banks of Lake Zurich, but the Swiss Alps in the distance and the folds of other green mountains all around. It was in the park we realized how fit the Swiss are; everywhere we looked there was someone jogging or gasping for air on the bikes. Did they seriously run/bike all the way up the mountain? I wanted to tell them there was a train that had service to the top, but I was pretty sure they might already know that, and still made the decision to bike it? I don’t understand this country. There were also very bizarre reindeer-like lamps throughout the park and a group playing a random game of charades.



After my dose of nature, we returned to the center of town and walked along the Bahnhofstrasse which is one of the most expensive shopping streets in the world, to the historic center. It was here that the overwhelming charm and beauty of Switzerland in general was hitting us as we were practically drooling and glossy-eyed as we walked along the lake. I stopped to take some pictures of the lake but had to take a break and watch the lady next to be wipe out down the steps—more like go sledding on her stomach. Dinner was the next priority, but proved to be an obstacle considering the crazy prices of Zurich. We knew Zurich was Europe’s second most-expensive city going into this, but seeing price tags in real life were just shocking—8 Swiss Francs (practically the same as US dollars) for a Starbucks! We eventually settled on an Italian restaurant and had very tasty pizzas. We were slightly confused after dinner as we had managed to overlook the whole tipping situation in other countries which varies greatly. In Spain, you don’t have to tip, but we knew this wasn’t the case everywhere, so we left what we hoped would be sufficient and ran out of the restaurant in case he came chasing after us—literally ran.

Before heading home we swung by a souvenir shop so Elissa could check out the shot glasses which she collects in every city. For some reason, there was a large congregation of Japanese tourists hovering around a table with the store’s entire stock of Swiss army knives as one of them was buying the entire lot. Why? It was rather scary. I’ve seen Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, I know what Asians can do with sharp objects—time to go as their intentions were unclear.

By the time we returned, Melany was already in bed and we decided to go to bed as well. We tried our hardest to be quiet but Jesus Christ walking across the floorboards sounded the symphony! Even if you shifted your weight to the other leg it sounded like fireworks going off. We looked like a bunch of idiots leaping across the living room with giant steps to get to the bathroom while making the least amount of sound. Thankfully the house was really clean and we felt comfortable so we took showers in the morning—well, at least I showered, not quite sure what you could call what Elissa did: she bathed in a squatting position since she could not figure out how to turn the shower head on and then dried off with a t-shirt… which she then wore.

We began our second day with a visit to the Kunsthaus modern art museum. These types of museums always have odd pieces on display but the Swiss took it to a whole new level. Apparently carcasses are seen as art in Zurich, as Elissa and I were frightened by not only what seemed to be a plastered human lying on the ground, but a dead, mutilated horse wrapped in some sort of binding fabric. That is not art, that’s sick and twisted, and that artist is a psychopath. We might as well put BTK’s “work” out on display as it’s just so…artsy?


After leaving the Saw museum, we strolled through the eastern side of the historic quarter. Things were normal and mature until I came face-to-face with my inner eight-year old’s dream store, Baerenland, a store filled with nothing but gummy candies. I didn’t warn Elissa about my erratic and sometimes irrational juvenile behavior when gummies are on the line, but she was quickly introduced to this side, as well as my Achilles’ heel for pastries and coffe/tea products. The man working inside the gummy paradise obviously had not had human interaction for quite some time as he kept bombarding us with samples of all of their products which I didn’t object to, naturally. I left the store with the most amazing of them all, mango and passion fruit gummies, in addition to Red Bull gummies, spicy chili pepper gummies, and a little wet spot of excitement.


We then headed across the lake to the other side to go to a grocery store, but after meeting Barbie herself:


After purchasing my essentials: peach tea, Swiss chocolate, and pretzel bread, we walked to the lake promenade to sit and enjoy our…lunch. The lakeside promenade, like almost anywhere in Europe, was the scene of intense teenage cuddling and P.D.A.s. I’ve never seen the way these people interlock themselves and remain in that position for hours ever. I was soon interrupted by the screams of some child who had fallen off of his scooter for the third or fourth time. I don’t know mom, maybe scooters aren’t a good idea for a four-year old, especially not on a concrete slab next to a large body of water with rather large and aggressive geese.

Before bidding adieu to Zurich, we decided we wanted to rush and see the Lindt & Sprungli factory in the south of Zurich. The Universe had to yet again interfere with our plans—and by that I mean the Universe being the scapegoat for our own stupidity. We only had 45 minutes to get to the factory before it closed so we had to act quickly which was hard considering it took maybe 10 to figure where the factory even was and the fastest route to get there. We eventually got on our train and were off to the factory. There was a very large Swiss woman on board who I assumed took a liking to Elissa as she stared her down for a good percentage of the ride. Elissa said the first time she made eye contact back with Olga (as I’ll call her—sounds large and Swiss) she  looked away, but the second time Elissa looked at her, she continued to stare back—how creepy? All excited and pumped for chocolate we got off the train to realize we went in the complete opposite direction and it was now 4 and the factory was closed.

(To be continued….)

Un saludo,

Bryce

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Semana Ocho: Lions, Camels, and Idiots--Oh, my!

18 March ~ 24 March 2011

I began this past week with a weekend jaunt to Africa—sounds wild, eh? Well, Africa wasn’t wild, the people were. When you book group travel, you would expect to be traveling with a group, right? Well, not me. For some reason, I thought Lizzie, Ariel, and I were just going to be in Morocco on our own, doing our own thing. I’m not entirely sure where this assumption came from. It was like the time I assumed—actually, audibly proclaimed—I wouldn’t get sunburned lying out in the pool in the middle of July without sun block. Waking up the next morning with first-degree burns was just a hell of a good time and a reminder of just how much of an idiot I am.

After our three-hour bus ride from Granada to Seville to meet up with the group and board our additional two-and-a-half hour bus to the port city of Tarifa, I was not in the mood for general human interaction, let alone those of the retarded Barbie and Ken group we happened to be traveling with. All I wanted to do was sit in my seat, as you would on a bus, and go to town on my mixed bag of gummy candies. Instead, my poor ears were subject to typical meathead comments like: (on a calculator)”If you multiply this by this, and add this to that, and then divide by this, it says “BOOB.” If the comment wasn’t irritating, the jacked-up, macho, hyena cackle was enough to make me slit my wrists. Seconds later, one of the Barbies wanted verification that the Strait of Gibraltar was “a rock, right?” No stupid, that would be the ROCK of Gibraltar. I didn’t have alcohol, or Nyquil so, I was stuck with these examples of reverse evolution/primeval middle schoolers at least until the port, where they could mysteriously disappear into the Mediterranean. I was just waiting for someone to say, “Pull my finger.”

At one point, after expressing my thoughts on our peers, Ariel chimed-in in support: “I’m glad you guys are jaded on general human behavior (like I am).” At least my companions were on the same page with me so, it was just a matter of surviving this Laguna Beach nightmare. Don’t get me wrong, there eventually proved to be some worthy, normal humans with us on the trip, but they were the minority. After watching a few people ram into my armrest while maneuvering their way through the narrow aisle with their luggage, I decided to put it down. Ten seconds later I put it back up. There would be no sympathy for this crowd, plus it was pretty amusing watching them take a blow to their kidney and literally being stopped in their tracks. One-by-one all of the passengers were being impaled or thrown backward due to my incredible object of amusement and it was delightful.

To add fuel to the fire, the tour guides, which were practically our age, decided to put on Superbad. Why? Yes, it is a very funny movie, but it would be like putting on Never Say Never for a group of teenage girls, or Spice World for me. I could just see the headlines now: “3 students (Ariel, Lizzie, and I) were found dead after hanging themselves with their backpacks in Tangier. Officals said they had been there for approximately four minutes.”
                                                           African coast

After about ten bus rides, three boats, two flights, and bicycling, we finally arrived in M’Diq at our hotel. I was absolutely starving as was everyone else. There was a group of Moroccan performers dressed in traditional Moroccan performing apparel at the entrance of the hotel playing music for us. While I appreciated the welcome, my stomach was on the verge of throwing a huge PMS episode and I did not have the time to wait for people to stop and take pictures, it was time to eat! The pasta with Bolognese sauce was very good, but it was the Moroccan tea and homemade ice cream that stole the show. The banana and vanilla ice cream was the best ice cream I had ever had. There must have been a cat farm in or around our hotel because our dinner was interrupted a few times by the pack/school/group/flock/whatever of cats that were roaming freely through the restaurant.

Fat, full, and happy, we finally got to go check out our room. We were already halfway to the room when one of the bellhops decided to join us and try to take our bags for us, which we didn’t give him as we only had a backpack each…that were ON our backs. He opened our door for us and showed us to the beds as if we weren’t capable of doing so ourselves and then practically broke my arm trying to take my backpack off to set it on the bench behind me. He then expected some kind of tip, but we had only just arrived and only had large Moroccan Dirham bills. Do you honestly think I’m going to tip you for the arduous task of taking my backpack off and setting it directly behind me?

As if this employee wasn’t irritating enough, the electrician/resident hobo certainly was. I shouldn’t say he was irritating, rather mysterious—a magician of sorts. Our bathroom light didn’t work and we had asked if someone could come fix it. A couple of minutes later this guy comes rolling in hair disheveled and sporting a tattered blue jumpsuit and goes to “work.” After fidgeting with the light switch for a bit, he opened our closet and was searching for something on the top shelf. I saw him pull absolutely nothing out of the closet, but afterward we walked back into the bathroom and the light was on. Either this guy was a wizard, or he pulled out a screwdriver and light bulb without me noticing. After he left, we went and tried to turn the bathroom light on, which didn’t work—again. There was something fishy going on, but we decided to leave it be and go to the bar. I was hesitant to leave because I just knew we would return to find the hobo asleep in one of our beds. At some point during the night, Lizzie rudely obliterated a poor snail outside of our room.

                                                                                     R.I.P. Gary

The next morning we were off to the blue-and-white washed hilltop town of Chefchaouen. After getting off the bus we met up with our local tour guide who took us on an extensive hike through the city. There wasn’t one corner of the town that wasn’t photogenic. When the tour was done we headed to the restaurant near the town square for lunch. The restaurant had your typical Moroccan design and furnishings, but more importantly, the pastilla. It was incredible. It was a curried chicken with nuts and other seasonings in a baked pocket of filo dough topped with powdered sugar and cinnamon and over a bed of mint leaves. Although it was delicious, at about the halfway point you begin to be overwhelmed/nauseated by the entire use of their seasoning pantry’s collection. After lunch we had free time to shop. Exiting the restaurant, I got a warm welcome from one of the local children who made a gun with his fingers and gestured shooting me in the face. Nice to meet you too, you little f***er.

                                                                                 Pastilla!

Shopping in Morocco is tiresome and flat-out infuriating. I can’t even handle retail employees in the States coming up to me and asking me if I need help finding anything. Well, I don’t know, I did JUST walk in the damn door. Give me a minute to breathe. In Morocco though, they follow you, and they keep talking, keep talking. They tell you how good everything looks on you, and how it’s a good price and a good size. I just wanted to scream. I was in one store looking at traditional Moroccan poncho sweaters when Lizzie and Ariel decided to ditch me. I left the store and couldn’t find either of them. I began walking through the winding alleyways trying not to wander too far off the main path as I did not want to end up lost in that labyrinth of blue. I really wanted to find them after I was called a “mother fucker” by an older man trying to sell me hash, who was “talking” to me from behind me. How, just how am I supposed to know you are talking to me when I can’t even see you? He was apparently trying to ask me if I wanted hash and took my blissfully ignorant stance as an offence and then walked by me with a dirty glance and said, “mother fucker.” The best part was after walking ahead of me a bit, he turned around and asked me again if I wanted to buy from him—seriously? Well, I was contemplating, but since you decided to call me such an endearing term, the deal is most definitely off. Such savvy business tactics these men have. 

When we got back to the hotel, we decided to hit the beach to check it out. Besides the mounds of trash everywhere, it was a pretty beach. The coolest part of the time on the beach was watching the tour guides play an impromptu game of soccer in the fading light--it looked so full of life and majestic, and I would have liked to have been a part of it, if I were at all coordinated and could kick a ball straight without it managing to go backward and me falling into an awkward shape.


Returning to our room I was stricken with another tragedy—the cleaning lady took my empty, glass Coke bottle—obviously I was keeping it as a souvenir lady! Luckily, it was time for dinner and could preoccupy myself with food, as I often do. Tonight on the menu was chicken couscous served family style! It was simply amazing. We then had a very lengthy conversation about strobe lights. I know it sounds a bit odd for dinner talk, but for some reason it was weird to Ariel and Lizzie that I, on occasion, take a shower in the dark…with the strobe light on. I don’t see any problem with this. The fun-filled spirit of dinner was quickly interrupted with news that the one tour guide received word from his Moroccan policeman father that the countrywide radical protest would be taking stage tomorrow afternoon. At first it seemed rather frightening,  the fact that if we didn’t leave before the riot took place we would be stuck in Morocco at our expense, but then it kind of seemed like a fun challenge—a real episode of Survivor. It would be kind of badass to say that I had to flee a country in revolution and in the process had to scale a few walls, dodge a couple of car bombs, and swim across the Strait of Gibraltar back to safety. I knew none of this would happen, given my track record for grace and adequate fitness.

The plan was to cut Tetouan out of Sunday’s agenda and head straight for the Caves of Hercules and the camel rides which were near the Tangier port. On the way to the caves, poor Daniel’s bladder was on the verge of rupturing. There weren’t any bathrooms on the bus, and the tour guide had told him to wait 20 minutes until we got to the caves. After a couple of more minutes he feared for our safety and his own sake as he for sure did not want to be known as “the kid that peed on the bus,” and had the bus driver pull over. I thought he would have gone to the bathroom the minute he hit the grass, but he instead took off full-speed into the jungle. Soon after, he came riding out of the African bush on a mountain lion and then jumped a barbed wire fence and got back on the bus.

Our tour of the caves was very short as the revolution timer was counting down. It was actually a savior because there wasn’t much to see or do in the caves. The tour guide tried to dupe me into thinking the entrance of the cave to the ocean was in the shape of a map of Africa, but it was a very liberal interpretation. He then tried to have us put our hands in a dark, wet hole to feel God knows what. No thanks. To add to this, the cave drippings were grossing me out and there selling product of choice was marble eggs(?) When we exited the caves I saw two camels in the parking lot and I had to laugh to myself. I thought this was our “camel ride on the beach.”—how ghetto. Thankfully, these weren’t for us and we hopped back on the bus to go ride the camels. There is not much to say about the camel rides, other than I got on, rode for five minutes, and got off. Fortunately, I guess, we made it back to the ferry and departed for Tarifa without any problems.

Thinking I had enough excitement for the week, my geography professor had a trick up his sleeve. In class Wednesday, we were discussing the metropolis of Barcelona. Suddenly, we were watching a music video featuring a Spanish drag queen version of Prince. I don’t even know where it came from. He tried to tell us it was a famous Spanish film director before his directing—and sane—days, but I’m still convinced it was/is him at his night job. The video then morphed into another, but this time it was a duet with a Spanish KISS member. The song was called “Suck It To Me.” Our teacher then began to sing the not-at-all creepy chorus of “Suck it to me. Suck it to me. Suck it to me. Suck it to me.” I thought I had been scarred by many things in my life, but this put an end to anything else previously deemed scarring. I’m still trying to connect the dots between “Suck It To Me” and anything, anything geographically related.

                                                   ¡Por que esto es Africa!

Un saludo,

Bryce