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,


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,


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,


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,