Time frame: March 26, 2000 - April 9, 2000
Countries visited (in chronological order): France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, France.
Backpack contents: If you're wondering what to pack on this type of adventure, check out this link and the commentary at the end of the checklist.
Average day: Ride a train into the new city/country. Find a hotel to stay at and unload our packs. Find an ATM and withdraw some local currency. Walk around the town/city until something attracted our attention. The normal form of attraction was the scent of good food or seeing a patisserie window full of goodies. We decided that Europe was the land of good food. It was never hard to find something really good to eat and at a reasonable price. The analogy Lyn used to describe us was like picking up a little kitten that had a full belly that was twice the size of the kitten. Our bellies were full and we had little use for the emergency good rations I had brought along. Keep an eye out for cool postcards or good gift ideas.
We didn't end up buying many gift items for several reasons. Early in the trip is a bad time to buy stuff because you have to lug it around with you. Late in the trip we were pressed for time and didn't have much time off the train while shops were open. Unlike here in the U.S., at 5:00PM they close the shops, roll up the streets and the cities go to sleep. Lastly, if you do happen to find a shopping center, it's full of shops that sell all the same stuff you can find at a mall in the US. Levi Jeans, Tommy Hilfiger, Gap, etc.. Go into a sporting goods store and it's like walking into Dunham's here. And the point is.... My favorite parts of Europe (all the reasonably priced fresh food) didn't seem like a very worthwhile effort to bring home. So, next time I know to reserve a day or two at the end of the trip to go gift shopping. Yes, it takes that long in a strange country where you don't know where to go looking.
Time line format:
Sun March 26th: Drive to Deerfield (to Heather's). Ride to airport and get dropped off. Try to check in and find out flight is delayed three hours. Wait three hours and board plane. Take two sominex and wake up in Paris. Air France has the worst music playing in the airline cabins.
Mon Mar 27th: Arrived in Paris at 2:30PM. Took train to Notre Dame exit and got off. Walked the wrong way (didn't have a map of Paris yet) and stumbled across a restaurant section that smelled so wonderful I threatened to not leave and stay there the whole two weeks. Lyn didn't protest much but we couldn't figure out which restaurant all the wonderful smells were coming from. Found a map and found our way down to Notre Dame. Wow, big church.
Found a hotel, spent an hour figuring out the safe, and walked to the Eiffel tower. Is the Eiffel tower cool? Yes. Way cool. There is no way to describe how truly massive it is until you're standing under it's arches. Riding the elevator to the top was OK, nice view of the city and the sights but I liked the view from underneath best. Paris is a very clean city, absolutely beautiful at night, well lit, and you don't feel unsafe walking along the riverbanks of the seine after dark. I'm not a fan of cities but Paris was really nice and worth going back to.
Tue Mar 28th: Walked to Arch de Triumph, stopped by the Louvre
and a few other sights that were closed because it's Tuesday. Took a dinner
cruise on the seine. While we were eating we passed the Eiffel tower which
was shimmering. It was a convenient occurrence, I lied and told Lyn I had
them do that for her. We found out later that they do that every other
hour, an hour of lit up, and hour of shimmering. Pretty cool. Met a English
couple on the dinner boat. Shared a cab with them and then stayed out
with them for a few hours.
Wed Mar 29th: Went postcard shopping, found postcards, went back
to hotel and wrote postcards in Lobby. Found a post office and mailed
postcards. Found our way to the right train station and took a TGV (fast
train) up to Belgium. The train stations in Belgium were all filthy and
reeked of some nasty unidentifiable smell. Walking around Brussels after
dark didn't give either of us any warm fuzzy feelings. At 8:30PM we were
eating Belgium waffles in a little diner in Brussels. I've found that Belgium waffles are actually a dessert and a pretty tasty one at that. I tried ordering three of them but the waiter suggested I try two and see how I was doing after that. A strawberry and some other flavor with lots of ice cream waffle had me very plump. We sat at the table for an hour before figuring out that if you don't ask for the bill in Belgium, you won't get it. Booked the last available hotel room in the city. Belgium was packed because of a friendly rival soccer game with their Netherlands neighbors.
Thu Mar 30th: Train to Amsterdam. Found hotel, dropped packs and
went out touring the town. Amsterdam is pretty much what one would expect
in a community where prostitution and drug use is legal. Although the
literature says Amsterdam is "safe" we noticed that every one
of the 50 billion bikes is locked up, "watch out for pickpocket" signs
are all over, the "nice" part of town isn't that nice, and the
people just seemed to be
worn out. Took a tram tour of the city, found a sporting goods store and bought a compass. I had been sorely missing that bit of adventure gear. Later that evening we walked around town again. One of the things I paid the most attention to in Europe was the people. In Amsterdam you could see the toll "free-living" had on the people. I wish we had taken a camera out that night to capture the human misery people had inflicted on themselves. Amsterdam had plenty of wonderful placed to eat. We ate very well, sharing
little bits of this and that so we'd have room to keep eating other stuff. Figured out why the front of buildings lean out.
Fri Mar 31: Train to Hamburg Germany. There were no fast trains so we spent most of the day on trains stopping at every little hick town in the Netherlands. When we started making some progress a train wreck blocked our path so we had to go double back and take the long route. We intended to arrive in Denmark that day but only made it to Hamburg Germany. I ate Wiener Schnitzel for dinner.
Sat Apr. 1: Train to Fredrecia Denmark. Although is doesn't look like a long ways, even at 200km/h it takes a while to get around Europe. Arrived in Fredrecia in the evening and walked around town until we found a hotel. We dropped packs, and Lyn stayed in while I walked the town, down along the ocean, listened to the waves (until natures call sent me packing), visited a Hard Rock cafe, talked to some of my Danish peers about America and Denmark, discussed political and cultural differences, etc.. Denmark is remarkably clean, bikes are parked everywhere unlocked, trains are handicapped accessible (including huge restrooms (by train standards)), intersections have little beepers that change tone so blind people know when to safely cross the street, and the trains were the most high tech with multi-lingual LCD readouts and safe drinking water.
Sun Apr 2: Train to Kopenhavn (Copenhagen in English). Arrived
early, found hotel, dropped packs and started walking the city. Took a
bus tour later in the day, saw the mermaid and other tourist sights. Walked
the city some more, got pictures of royal palaces, and other sights. Noticed
that the people look very Danish, they all seem pretty straight laced
and buttoned up. Probably explains a lot of my temperament. The Danish
architecture is a lot more interesting than the French and Germans. We had also become very curious about all the little communities of tiny houses with gardens. Quite often we'd see a whole slug of little houses with gardens outside of towns. We found out they were garden homes. The owners of the homes had a apartment of flat in the city with no yard and a garden home out on the edge of town. During the evenings or weekends they'd come out to their little garden home and tend their little plots. Pretty interesting. Had the Presidents dinner at St. Gertrudes. What a meal, what a distinctly unique atmosphere.What a wonderful restaurant.
Mon Apr 3: Train ride through Sweden. Spent all day on trains
riding through the Swedish countryside. Needed to start hurrying so we
didn't stop anywhere in Sweden. The countryside was beautiful, just like
Northern Michigan. The origin of big red barns is Sweden. All over Sweden
the farmers have big red barns like ours. They even had a little snow
on the ground, just like home. :-) Realization occurs that Europe doesn't
pay or hotel phones with data ports. This makes sending email a real pain, actually, nearly impossible. Missed a train because we spent way too much time figuring out how to make a Swedish phone work so Lyn could call home. By the time we figured it out she talked to two minutes and had to hang up so we could race to our train which already left us by the time we got there.
Tue Apr 4: Ferry ride across from Sweden to Germany, then train ride to Berlin and on to Frankfurt. Ferry rides are slow and boring. Berlin is a construction zone and the buildings are all very modern and ugly. Thought about looking around Berlin but two steps outside the train station changed our minds. No design flavor at all. Decided that my German knowledge has all but evaporated. Arrived late in Frankfurt at Ray's (a friend of mine). Got my computer fix. I had been deprived of technology for nearly a week as was getting shaky. Installed SSH on one of Ray's machines and logged into my server and got to check my email. Aaaaahhhhhh. I even got to plug my Palm in and download all the messages I wanted to reply to while on the train.
Wed Apr 5: Ray's wife Brigitte drove us to a nearby town that we toured that afternoon. It was a nice little town, clean, well kept, and plenty of shopping areas to buy American stuff. We decided that it can be pretty hard to find stuff to buy that's not "made in America." Took a the scenic train hope (IOW, the wrong train) and got back a little late. Took Ray and Brigitte out to dinner, er rather, tried to take them out. Went out to dinner but when I tried to pay for it Ray stepped in and I didn't know enough German to tell the waitress than I insisted. Spent the rest of the evening updating Ray's iMac and showing him the finer things in computing (read MP3's). :-)
Thu Apr 6: Train from Frankfurt to Bern Switzerland. Another train to Zurich which, upon arrival was pretty ugly so we hopped on another one and got off in the smaller town of Lucerne on Lake Geneve. Lucerne was a lovely little city located on a mountainside above the very beautiful lake Geneve.
Fri Apr 7: Train ride all day from Lucerne to Geneva. We intended to see a bit of Geneva but our connecting fast train (through France) was leaving too soon so we didn't make it very far out of the train station. Rode a TGV from Geneva to Montpellier France and a series of slow trains to Albi France. Arrived late in Albi and realized that the email I had with Denny's address wasn't the email I had saved on my Palm. No big deal, I could easily find it by walking to the cathedral (largest red brick building in the world, easy to spot) and then walking to his house from there. While walking towards the cathedral a nice guy we had met on the train offered us a ride but I didn't know how to tell him to get us there. We ended up calling information and getting Denny's address and he drove us there. It turned out there were two train stations in Albi and Denny and his lovely wife Dominique were waiting for us at the other one. They arrived home just minutes before we did.
Sat Apr 8th: Denny was giving a dog and pony show for the Mayor of his small town. His business had just hooked up two of the local schools online and did a televised technology demonstration. Go Denny! Kids in France go to school on Saturday mornings and have Wednesday's off. They were pretty infatuated by their American guest. It was fun because they spoke about as much English as I spoke French so we had a bunch of very simple conversations. :-) I also had fun flipping centime (the equivalent of French pennies) coins in the air and watching the kids scramble to figure out where the coins had landed. It was as much fun as spreading handful of coins outside the door to a kids show and watching them all hit the deck as they come out the door. After that Denny took us out for a tour of the French countryside. Southern France is absolutely beautiful. We routed a few lovely little mountain towns, a monastery, ate lunch at a wonderful little hotel/restaurant, toured a chateau, and a took an absolutely breathtakingly beautiful drive through the countryside. Southern France won the most beautiful place award. Were it not for the intolerable summertime temperatures and a few cultural differences, I could find the south of France to be a very nice place to live. We were then treated to dinner at the Adelman's home with Denny and Dominique. That is always a treat. We even had creme brulee for dessert. :-P At 9:30PM we boarded our 9:15 sleeper train (the trains in France seem to be a lot less punctual than the rest of Europe) and I tossed and turned for the next 13 hours while Lyn slept like a log in her bunk.
Sun Apr 9th: Arrived in Paris at 7:30. Took an hour to get to the Airport from our train station. Took another hour to find our terminal and get our boarding passes. Some schmuck left his bags unattended in the terminal so we ended up getting bounced around from counter to counter within the airline terminal. Nearly got bumped from our flight because we didn't get seat assignments with our boarding passes because of the security incident and us not knowing where to go to get them afterwards. Rode home on a very full plane (translates to: no sleep). Arrived in Chicago at 12:15PM and found Heather and Ken waiting for us. By then I was starting to feel pretty nasty but we were almost home. Rode back to Deerfield, Indiana and got my car, got us out of Indiana and let Lyn drive us home.