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A synopsis of my trip to Europe
5 to 27 September 2000

     When I arrived in London, the first thing I wanted to do was to go on the red, double-decker bus tour. It cost 12.50 pounds, which sounds a bit steep, but it allowed me to hop off and on as I pleased, use the pass for 24 hours, and listen to a funny Brit talk about his home town. I pretty much spent the whole morning on the bus tour. In the afternoon, I went to the British Museum, which was cool, huge, and free. I couldn't believe how many mummies they have there. Plus, they have a lot of other huge artifacts that they stole, er, took from Egypt and other ancient places around the world. What I really wanted to see was the Rosette Stone. After wandering through many rooms, I eventually found it. What's funny is how the gift shop tries to capitalize on it. They have Rosetta Stone notepads, Rosetta Stone chocolate bars, and Rosetta Stone mouse pads.
     The second day there, I went back to the British Museum to see what I had missed on the first day. Then I went to the National Gallery to see countless works of art, many of which are by famous artists (Michelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo). Then it was on to the National Portrait Musuem, which houses portraits of famous people. Then on to St. Paul's Cathedral, which is just immense. Then, it was on to the Tower Bridge, although I arrived too late to enter.

Tower of London Bridge, London, Great Britain

         On my third day in London, I bought a ticket on the Eurostar for Paris, then headed out of London. I went first to Kew Gardens, which is basically this huge place with a few giant greenhouses full of plants from all over the world - sort of a zoo for plants. After a ham baguette lunch and looking at more plants, I headed out for Hampton Court Palace. Then, I headed back to the Waterloo train station in London.
     It's a three-hour train ride to Paris - plus one hour for the time change. I pretty much slept through it, including the ride through the chunnel. When I arrived, I had some trouble finding my youth hostel, but I finally found it around midnight.
     On the next day, I first went to the Pere Lachaise cemetary, where I found the grave of Jim Morrison. Then it was on to Sacre Coeur, a big, old church on a hill at the highest point in the city. It commanded quite a view. Then it was on to La Defense, the modern section of Paris located on the fringe of the city. From there, I walked down Charles de Galle Esplanade and continued down the Champs Elysees, seeing the Arc de Triomphe. Further on, I saw the Egyptian Obelisk given to Paris in the 19th century. Then I walked past the Louvre and finally found Notre Dame. That was quite a sight. Finally, after reloading film at the hostel, I walked to the Eiffel Tower. By then, my legs were killing me. I had probably walked around 10 miles or more. The funny thing was that I was even limping on my right leg. Anyway, the Eiffel Tower is HUGE. It's quite magnificent in person. But there was a long line for tickets and the top floor was closed. So, I just took a bunch of pictures and headed back to the youth hostel to crash. My legs needed the rest.

     The next day, I headed to the Eiffel Tower in the morning. There was still a long line, but I didn't care. The line to the first lift was probably about 45 minutes. At the ticket booth, I said, "Un pour troisieme etiage, s'il vous plait." I'm so proud of my French. It cost 62 francs to go to the top, less to go to the second floor. They weren't letting people walk to the top, however. Inside, we had to wait for the lift to the second floor. Then, on the second floor, we had to wait in line for the lift to the top. The view at the top is magnificent, of course. Then, I had to wait in a line for the lift down. The Eiffel Tower is basically just a bunch of lines. Still, it's quite impressive.
     Next, I left Paris on a train headed to Versailles, the Chateau (or palace) of King Louis XIV. This thing is HUGE and amazingly ornate. It cost 45 francs to get inside where you basically move slowly through crowds, gazing at richly decorated rooms, and listening to French guides explain things in French.

Arc de Triumphe, Paris, France

         On my third day in Paris, I planned to see the Louvre. First, I had to do some laundry at the local laundromat. That was an experience. I may be able to order a ticket, but reading French laundry machine instructions was a little more difficult. I figured it out, but then I didn't have enough change for the dryer. So, I walked around the neighborhood looking for change. But it was Sunday, and the banks happen to be closed. So, I ended up buying a large bottle of OJ at a fruit store to get some change. Then it was on to the Louvre. That musuem is HUGE. Maybe I use that word too much, but I mean it. A lot of stuff in Europe is just huge and old. Every time I walked into a new room in the Louvre, I continued to be amazed. The Louvre houses countless artifacts from Egypt, Rome, Greece, and the Orient plus paintings and sculptures from Europe. After that, I took a 13-hour night train to Florence.
     Florence is such an old city. It's full of narrow, cobble-stone streets where scooters weave around pedestrians and bulky cars are too big on the narrow roads. First, I headed to the Duomo, this huge church made some 500 years ago. The center dome is amazingly high. It was about a twenty minute wait to get in. Then outside, there was another line for climbing the 463 steps to the top. It took about 45 minutes to get to the door, then the line just stopped. An ambulance pulled up and paramedics went inside. Something must have happened because I had to wait a whole hour longer before the line moved again. But it was still worth it. The hike through the narrow staircases was cool, and the view from the top was out of this world. After that, I headed to the Uffizi Gallery only to learn that it was closed on Mondays! Then it was off to the Boboli Gardens to wander around. Next stop was Rome by way of Pisa.

Florence, Italy as viewed from the Boboli Gardens

         Did I say that Florence was an old city? Well, Rome is even older. The first thing I did was head to the ancient city. I walked out of the metro station, and there was the Collosseum. It was very impressive. Then I saw the Roman forum, which are just a bunch of fenced off ruins. Walking around Rome, I realized that the whole city was a living museum, Everywhere you turn is some ancient church or building. I also saw the Pantheon - a 2,000 year-old building with a domed roof made of poured concrete.

Colloseum, Rome, Italy

     The next day I headed off to Vatican City. I saw the Vatican museum, which has a bunch of Egyptian and Mesopatamian artifacts (don't ask me why) and a maze of rooms through which you must walk to arrive at the Sistine Chapel. When I looked up at the restored ceiling painted by Michelangelo, I could almost see him lying on his back painting. Outside, I went to the Piazza di San Pietro, where the Pope was shown on a large TV screen blessing some priests. He was too far away to see in person. And the Basilica was closed. So, I took some pictures and headed to an old castle.
     Then, I took a day train to Venice. On the next day, I awoke to do some sightseeing. The main plaza, the Piazza di San Marco, was littered with tourists and pigeons, both of which get in your way. There were also guys trying to sell roses to couples. As a solo traveler, I was never bothered by them. I ascended the Campanile to get a view of the city from above. Oddly enough, you can't see the canals from up there. They're hidden by the buildings. After listening to a local Italian evening concert, I waited for my train to Vienna.

Grand Canal in Venice, Italy

         Unfortunately, I got on the wrong train car, and ended up in Trieste, Italy at 3 the following morning. I then had to wait outside the train station until it opened in the morning, where I could take a 9:52am train to Vienna. By the time I arrived in Vienna, it was 5pm, and I only had one night to explore the city. The next morning, I headed off to Munich.
     Munich definitely made up for the disappointment in Vienna. When I arrived, it was in the evening. I locked my bag at the train station and headed straight for Oktoberfest. It's just insane. They have these huge beer tents filled to capacity with people drinking, singing, and dancing. It's quite the spectacle. After admiring the sights, I bought a big pretzel, a mug of Augustiner beet (a 1 liter mug, that is), and made friends with some locals, a couple of whom were 16-year-old boys drinking like champs.
     The next day, I walked around the Aldstadt (old town) and caught the sights, including the famous Glockenspiel show. Then, I saw the tail end of the parade. In the afternoon, I met up with my cousin Heather and her friend Lisa, and we headed straight for Oktoberfest. After several hours and three or four beers later, I was in quite a good mood. A German band was playing plenty of drinking songs, some of which were in English. Everyone was toasting and saying, "Prost" in the friendly atmosphere.

Street in Munich, Germany

         On the 19th, I headed to Rothenburg, the only city in Germany with a complete medieval wall surrounding the Aldstadt. I walked on the wall with a pair of Australians I had met on the train. Then, I visited the Criminal Museum, which displays a history of torture and punishment devices, including one oddity called the head violin. Two quarelling women would have their heads locked in a single wooden frame until they were able to work out their differences.
     On my first day in Switzerland, I took a train south from Bern to Interlaken, then another to Lauterbrunner, a town at the foot of the mountains in the Jungfrau region. From there, I rode a cable car up the mountain and took another train over to the mountain town of Murren. (It takes a while to get through the mountains!) Since it was cloudy, the cable car operator said that the view from the top of the mountain was bad. So, I decided to hike down to Stechelburg, 728 meters (2388 feet) below. I saw many wonderful waterfalls along the mountain ridge. It was very beautiful. Then I took a cable car back up to Murren and decided I would hike up the mountain as it was now sunny. That was quite an adventure. It took two and a half hours and the weather changed from moderate with cows munching on the grass to cold with deep snow covering the ground. A couple times, I lost the path and wondered if I should be climbing this steep mountain by myself. But I finally arrived at a cable car station called Birg at an altitude of 2677 meters (8783 feet), where I luckily caught the last cable car down the mountain.

Looking down the path I took up the mountain in the Jungfrau region, Switzerland

         The next day, I explored Bern. I saw the clock tower, many fountains in the road, the bear pits (which contain actual bears, the mascot of Switzerland), and I climbed up the spire in the Cathedral. My legs didn't quite like climbing up the never-ending spiral staircase in the Cathedral. After all, on the previous day, I had just hiked up a mountain! Still, the view from the top was quite nice. After that, I went to the Albert Einstein House. They've restored the flat where Einstein lived and where he came up with the Special Theory of Relativity. It was small, but it was pretty cool to be there. And lastly, I bought a Swiss army knife, so that every time I use it, I can brag about how I "picked this up when I was in Switzerland."
     In Brussels, I took things a little easier. I went on a walking tour given by this funny, old Belgian guy. We saw the old town square and the famous fountain called Manneken Pis. It's a fountain of a little boy and the water streams out of his you-know-what. Then I went to the Atomium, another tall structure in which you can go to the top. It's supposed to be an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. Of course, while in Belgium, I ate a waffle, tasted some of their chocolates, tried some local beer (Chimay), and ate a pot full of mussels. My taste buds were quite satisfied with all of it.    

Manneken Pis in Brussels, Belgium

         Next stop was the Netherlands (or Holland). Amsterdam is a compact city, filled with canals as well as roads. I first went to the Anne Frank House, a museum created at the house where Anne Frank and her family hid during World War II. You were able to climb the narrow stairs up to the tiny rooms where they lived in secrecy. Her original diaries were on display as well. After that, I went to the Van Gogh Museum.
     The next day, it was raining, but luckily I had my umbrella. (Semper Paratus.) I walked down to the Rijksmuseum, the biggest museum in Amsterdam. I suppose I could have taken the tram, but I didn't want to figure it out. Besides, you learn more about a town by walking through it. Anyway, I spent over three hours at the Rijksmuseum, which is full of Dutch paintings, Asiatic art, Dutch history, and, of course, the Rembrandt collection.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

         On the third day, I took the train to the airport. It was tough seeing my adventures coming to an end. Before boarding the plane, every passenger was grilled with questions. How long have you been here? Where did you go? Did anyone else have access to your bags? They had to inspect my bag, too. After flying to Newark and then to Orlando, I eventually made it back to Gainesville, Florida about 12:30 am local time, which was around 6:30 an Amsterdam time. What a long, strange, yet interesting trip it had been.

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