Jul 31, 2005

French Riviera




We stayed in a converted convent in the hills around nice, and traveled to Cannes, Monaco, and Eze-Village, a hilltop citidel 500 years old.

Barcelona Pics






Barcelona! City of Gaudi, Paella, and la mar

Paris Pics







Alright folks, here are a sampling of some of my better pictures from this trip. This one's for Jen.
Here a few pictures from Paris: the gardens of Versailles, the Eiffel Tower, Sacre Cour, Notre Dame, and LaDefense.

Jul 29, 2005

Welcome to LeninLand!


Fearless Readers:
I've been taking it very easly up in our apartment, although I have forced myself out and into Moscow at least once a day. It is disturbingly easy to slip into the habit of lethargy, especailly after a trip such as my own. A few notible excurisions:

The Tetrakov gallery was interesting, the best of Russian works before the rise of Communism. Russians came from tightly controlled artistic backgrounds: all works of art were church related up until after the renassance in Europe. Then all of a sudden, Russian artists had to learn how to paint people, landscapes, and battles. They love thier battles. It was interesting to see how they progressed in that short time from ikon-like simple portraits to the verge of impressionism. There were a few really striking peices, but on the whole, it was nothing spectacutlar.

The Red October Chocolate Factory was one of the more interesting things Ive done here. We donned our scrubs and toured a confectionary. The entire factory floor was crewed by women, as it is a low paying unskilled job. They mostly glued labels on boxes, and picked out defective chocolates. We actually passed a crowd of people in the lobby looking for work here. In the musem I was surprised to hear the guide casually mention that during WWII, the chocolates were laced with something "to take away fear" from pilots and submariners. Made me wonder what they drugged them with, probably cocaine. Anyway, we got to try a lot of chocolate and in the end, we got some more and listened to music to eat chocolate by while we had a tea and chocolate party. Everyone else in the tour group was over 40 and american.

Gorky Park is the name of a book I am just finishing and the name of a park in moscow. Taylor and I went there today to see the amusement park part of it. To enter, we had to walk through a marble gateway with bronze reliefs of Lenin and Red Army flags. In typical russian fashion, we had to buy a ticket to get in from a ticket booth, present it to the gate guard, then for every ride, go to their ticket booths, get tickets from them and then take it to the ride ticket collectors. We took three rides, the best one being a kind of platform that flipped around and upside down as it spun around, kind of hard to describe. I wonder where they got thier rides. It looked like a collection of decent german imports (the rides titles were all in german) and american carnie rides (with titles in english in bright bulbs). One ride we saw looked like someone had installed pirates of the carribean in Mt. Rushmore.

Here is a picture of me on the Cinque Terre hike in northern Italy.

Jul 23, 2005

Moscow R&R

So far this week, we've mostly just hung around here, watching DVDs. On the tourist side, we saw Red Square, with St. Basil's, the Kremlin, and GUM. Yesterday, we went to Novoditchi Cemetery beside the convent of the same name. Really interesting. Lots of granite monuments and huge busts. This was their field of glory: Military heros, generals, cosmonauts, composers, surgeons, and ballerinas. It was all more than a little overgrown, which led it to have a very garden feel. We also went to old Arbat street and ate at Hard Rock while we played "spot the tourist." Today we went to Ismalavad market and we bought a bunch of movies and some music. I looked at the chess sets but just didn't see any that I liked.
We watched Mr. and Mrs. Smith as we ate McDonalds back at the apartment. A dumb summer flick, but still fun. Chase got all his stuff together and we said goodbye before he hopped into the company taxi to the airport. He's got a long long long layover in London. I dont envy his ordeal getting through all the lines and russian beurocracy at the airport, but he'll be fine.

Jul 19, 2005

Mockba

Just arrived safe and sound back in sunny Moscow, after a five hour train ride inexplicably filled with loud Italian tourists. The last time I was here in the apartment was less than two months ago, but it feels like years.
On our tour of St. Petersburg, we saw the Hermitage, the Peterhof, Catherine's Palace, a few cathedrals and the Peter and Paul fortress. The six of us actually stayed in a hotel apartment, next door to Pushkin's old flat. The best and brightest by far was the Hermitage, located in a sprawling winter palace done in guilded baroque and luxuorious neoclassical style. The combination of amazing archiecture and amazing artwork is overwhelming. While the palace itself far outstrips the Lourve, the scope of the artwork matches it, although the quality of the masterpieces is not up to Lourve standards. They had all the masters of the lourve, but not thier best works. Also notable was the amber room in Catherines palace.
What amazes me was that of the many numerous palaces the Nazis gutted in thier advances into Russia, the Soviets rebuilt and restored them. Inlaid wood floors painstakingly relaid, statues carved and guilded, paintings redone.
Now, 13 countries and 26 cities later, its time to go to work writing and compiling my extensive notes on this trip. With nothing but time on my hands between now and when I head back for home, I should have a working copy of my travelouge/guide.

Jul 16, 2005

St. Petersburg

After Chase's Dad saw us off from the bus terminal to the sea station, we took our free cruise ferry to Helsinki. It was a huge ship, but not quite the Royal Caribbean. It was the holiday inn of cruise lines, with computer slots everywhere and all the food you have to pay for. Our initial excitement of getting aboard was dampened by the fact we have to take a special elevator down to our cabin floor, and the fact that its below the car decks. To be fair it was a nice cabin, with four beds and a bathroom and shower, which we shared with two other guys. Really not too bad for our last hostel. 15 hour cruise to Helsinki overnight, where we walked around a bit and got something to eat. I also happened upon Holl's Kiasmus museum, heavily used in examples in my architecture lecture. We caught the train to St. Petes in the afternoon, and sucessfully had our tickets and passports checked no less than three times along the way. At the train station, we were met by a man holding a sign with my name on it, a welcome entry to a Russian city. We took it straight to the hotel to meet my family and my grandma Case. We actually have an apartment on the upper floors, next door to Pushkin's old flat.
Today we went to Peter the Great's summer palace by way of Hydrofoil, where we walked around the amazing palace interiors and the gardens outside. Lunch on the gardens, then hydrofoiled back to see two churches, one amazing one which seems to be on the scale of St. Peters, and the other which looks like St. Basils but is completely covered with glass mossaic tiles inside, floor to ceiling.
The Soviets just trashed these amazing churches, putting an ice skating rink in one, a morgue in another, and an atheism school in a third. Thankfully, all of them have been restored to their old glory.
Tomorrow we see the Hermitage, the largest collection of art in the world.

Jul 13, 2005

Goodbye Hostel, Hello SAS Radisson!

Well, we are living the sweet viking life at the SAS Radisson Grand Viking Warlord Dominator Hotel, thanks to Mr. Kerry Kimball. Woke up at 9:45 and went down to a breakfast buffet. I dont think we have ever been more excited about a breakfast buffet, but we loaded up on pancakes (read mini crepes) eggs, sausage, and pickled herring, in the true viking style. Slept really really well, after getting 4 hours of sleep on the night train from Bergen to Oslo yesterday morning. Got to get going, ah yes, we are in Stockholm, departing the 14th for Helsinki.

Jul 10, 2005

Bergen

Scandinavia is expensive. Europe is expensive, but Scandinavia is really expensive. We are talking 10 dollars for a hamburger at burger king. It's insane. Every meal we eat, scrounging for the cheapest of what we can get away with is about ten dollars. We changed trains in Malmo, Sweden, and took another train to Trollhatten, a tiny town which prides itself on its old river locks and mentions a Saab museum as the premier tourist attraction. We were stuck here for 4 hours waiting for a train to Oslo. The weather is lovely, cool, sunny days. Oslo is small, and the part we saw, dissapointingly like all other european cities, except a bit smaller. We stayed one night at a hostel with some potentional. This is the farthest north we had been. It doesnt get dark here, just a dusky blue sky past 11 pm. The sun sets at 10:30, which is a little odd. We got up at 8 and caught a train to Flam, never seeing the city in its waking hours.

So much for Flam.

Now we are in Bergen, which is larger, but a much nicer city by the sea. It feels much smaller than it actually is. Nice fish market right by the wharf, old wooden buildings, and mist floating in the pine forest in the surounding hills. Today we took the funnicular up to seee the town from the top, and hiked back down to save the 3 dollar fare. Nice woods, one can easily see the vikings of old coming back from a hunting or looting expedition. It gets more rain here than seatttle, which makes a lot of ferns and moss. Saw a maritime musem (free for students!) and stumbled on a Stave Church, made completely out of wood, almost by accident, even though we were looking for for it. Signage and ease of use is definately lacking in this town as far as the busses are concerned. The outside of the church was cool though, made back in teh times when the vikings became Christianized. Back in town, we had dinner at the fish market, our "nice "dinner was fried fish and chips from a stand, about 12 dollars, and no drink. To be fair, its was a nice whole fillet, and it was the best fried cod I've ever had. Trying to figure out what to do tomrrow before we catch another night train to Oslo so we can meet Chase's dad in Stockholm. Sea Kyaking is sadly out, due to the difficulty of getting there and the expense, plus the price of the ferries, not covered by the railpasses. Be nice to see a coastal town though, a small fishing village.
We shall see.
Fjords not as severely rugged as I thought, maybe see more tomorrow. Time for bed.

Berliner

Lets see... lot of ground to cover. Berlin was interesting, 4th of July, we had duncan donuts at at the Brandenburg gate, drank cokes at Checkpoint charlie and, hunted down the American Embassy to see the flag. The embassy is well protected by all the streets blocked off with massive concrete barricades and a roving squadren of police. For dinner, we splurged on burgers at Andy's American Diner. The last day we were there, we visited schausenhausen concentration camp, the first camp and the one all others were patterned after. It was the site of horrific medical experiments on children, mass murders, and torture. It rained the whole day, a fitting tribute. Everyone should see a concentration camp. After the Nazis, the Soviets refitted it for thier special prisons run by the NKVD. Its now a haunting memorial.
That night, we almost didnt make it to the night train. Getting to Flåm is a bit tricky. We had to take a night train to malmo, and another train to oslo. Twice, we have gone to the station and discovered that the train leaves from a diferent station, making the trains with mere minutes to spare. I triple checked the tickets, and the timetables, and we arrived 30 minutes before the train was scheduled to depart. We asked which paltform it was on and they told us it was at another station. We ran to check this with a platform attentdant, and he said that we shouild catch one of the metro trains to the next station. We waited and waited until five minutes befroe oour train was supposet do depart at 11:08, and gave up. We would be forced to lose a day and would have to call all the hostels to change the dates. Chase actually changed Olso, and I calle dour hostel in berlin to reseve a bed. We were sitting on the platform steps when he attnedant found us. He said we could still make the train. Keeping our berlin resrvation, we skepitcally boarded the metro, nothing to lose but sleep. It was waiting for us, held back 50 minutes due to the station shift. We made it with 10 minutes to spare. Teh train actually boarded a ship across to sweeden from Germany, and rolled of in the morning. More later, as people want to get online now.

Jul 8, 2005

Safe in Oslo

Hey everyone, family and friends,
Safe in Oslo, from Berlin, will be in Flam tomorrow, and stockholm the 12th. Holding up well. Scamdinavia is outrageously priced with a 24% value added tax.
More later

Jul 4, 2005

Prague

What we heard from other backpackers we talked to was that Prauge was a major tourist trap, hardly worth spending any time in. We cut back our time there from five nights to two to make room for our Budapest excoursion. Of course, Prague turns out to be the most beautiful eastern city we have seen so far. Tourists are bad, but no worse than Rome or Venice. The city went through WWII unscathed, so has all of its historic district and buildings intact. Its a surprisingly art deco and industrial arts city. We are staying at the nicest hostel Ive ever seen, with treated concrete floors, amazing walk in showers with dinner plate sized shower heads, and light airy rooms.
Our first day here, we walked around, had dinner, and later went to see War of the Worlds at the theater which premired LXG. I was unimpressed overall, although the action sequences were pretty cool. When I got back, I was immensely relieved to be informed that I had been accepted to upper division.
We also saw dragon boat races, which turned out to be crewed by Irishmen because we saw huge groups of the wearing thier team shirts going between pubs at night.
Yesterday, we walked to the Prauge castle, completely packed with tourists, so we decided to come back today. We also went to see Frank Gehry`s Dancing building, which I actually liked better than his big shiny swoopy buildings. White Stripes was playing at a small venue, but we were too late to get tickets, very sold out. Instead we walked around the Jewish district, the oldest in europe, if not the world.
Today we will go see the castle and perhaps an art exhibit before we hop a train to Berlin. Today is the 4th of July, and how better to spend it than by going to Checkpoint Charlie on the Berlin wall, where the Commuist reign ended and where American democracy broke through.

Jul 1, 2005

House of Terror

Man, the Hungarians have had it bad. After siding with the losing side, and being beaten by the Ottomans and the allied powers after WWI, they lost 2/3 of thier land. Then they were invaded by the Nazis for a short bloody reign, followed by the Soviets, for an even bloodier long haul. Today we went to a museum/memorial in the old Soviet NVA headquarters where the communist party ran the city and tortured and interrogated dissidents. It's an extremely well done, never too heavy handed, but always extremely moving documenting occupation by the nazis and the communists.
After we left there, we went to the castle hill district, and wandered around a free national museum of hungarian impressionists. The Hungarians are working really hard to foster tourism, with tourist kiosks near large attractions, free maps, and the angels who roam the trains looking for helpless backpackers. Tried to see the largest Synagogue in europe, but it had already closed. Rain today, light Seattle rain, according to Chase. Makes wandering around less comfortable. We strike out for Prauge tomorrow. One more amazing dinner for an amazing price.

Medium is the message

I moved the blog again. I deleted the Tumblr account and moved everything to Medium.com, a more writing-centric website. medium.com/@wende...