Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ok, enough with the blog already

So, we are home now and have told everyone we know and love how much fun we had on the trip, so no one is obligated to read this post. But, in case you need something to pass the time, we have compiled a list of the things we will and will not miss about traveling Europe for two weeks with only a backpack.

Let’s start with the positives. We will definitely miss the following things:

Communicating with non-English speakers. We really enjoyed learning the tiny bit of French we knew, and welcomed the challenge of communicating with those people that did not speak English. We found that our “bonjour” was incredibly convincing as it often resulted in people starting conversations in French while we stared back blankly.

Train travel. While it can be uncomfortable, and hit or miss when it comes to the other people in your car (see the post on the stinky folks on our train from Paris to Berlin) it is the quintessential European experience, and really convenient. Without it, there would be no way we could’ve seen five countries in two weeks without breaking the bank on plane tickets.

Everything being so close. The US is really huge and there can be very little differentiation from state to state, but Europe is totally different. In comparison to the states, Europe is tiny. And, despite all the countries being so close to each other (and thus so accessible), they all seem to have a distinct culture.

Globetrotting. Neither one of us has ever had an experience that allowed us to see so many incredible places in such a short amount of time. Backpacking around Europe seems to be a right of passage for a lot of Americans, and we feel lucky that we were able to do it.

Now, let’s be honest. This sort of travel is not glamorous. Now, what we will not miss:

Wearing the same three outfits. Carrying only a backpack doesn’t allow a lot of room for “options”. You pretty much have to bring two or three outfits and wear them over and over. This was especially difficult for two girls who tend to be chronic overpackers. We managed to make it happen, but were both thrilled to get home and wear clean clothes (five countries in two weeks doesn’t allow a lot of time for laundry). We both hung our North Face softshell jackets at the back of the closet. We’ll think about busting them out in a few weeks.

Hemorrhaging money. The cities we chose to visit were some of the most expensive, and we definitely felt it. In addition to that, we never quite mastered the conversion from Dollars to Euros and Danish Kroners so it was as if we never knew exactly how much money we were spending. It’s nice to be home and have a grasp of whether or not we are overpaying for something.

Feeling like an idiot. Something about us (probably the matching North Face jackets, or maybe the flips flops) screamed “Americans!!!” and we got funny looks a lot. This was especially true when we stood together on street corners with a giant map open, trying to orient ourselves. It is nice to be back in a place where we know where we are, how to get around, and what all the customs are.

All in all it was a great trip, and we are excited to go back sometime soon, but next time, probably in hotels. The hostel experience is a must, but once is enough. Thanks for following our trip!

Mandi and Bekky

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Homeward bound

Copenhagen was a breath of fresh air after leaving Berlin. We started the visit with a trip to Tivoli Garden, the amusement park in the middle of the city. Being the extreme young women that we are, we rode the most x-treme (oh yeah, we went there) rides over and over again, elbowing our way through crowds of pre-pubescent Danish kids with their jeans tucked into their socks (some odd fashion craze in Copenhagen...maybe part of a bicycling culture?). After a very exciting day, we spent the evening with our Danish friend, Johan, and a friend of his. They took us out for traditional Danish food (pork, pork, and more pork) and a pub crawl.

Yesterday was a magical day, and a great way to end this fabulous trip. We spent the day with Johan as our tourguide, picnicing by a lake, riding bikes around the city, visiting the queen's palace, and wandering Christiania (a weird counterculture sort of hippie commune right outside of downtown). To top it all off, Johan cooked a delicious "lasagna". It was a Danish version with bacon and carrots...weird but awesome. We are now checked out of the hostel and about to make our way toward the airport for our ten hour flight home. On the way, we'll try to spend what Kroners we have left. We'll do one more post when we get home and upload the remainder of our photos. Check back to see our lists of what we will and will not miss about traveling Europe for two weeks out of a backpack.

Mandi and Bekky

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Ich bin ein Berliner...NICHT!!!

So, Berlin has been interesting. Let's start with what we've liked. To be fair, we have learned a lot. Our public school education seriously failed us when it came to the saga surrounding the Berlin Wall. The Checkpoint Charlie museum that we visited yesterday, while poorly organized, was incredibly interesting and informative. They actually had the modified cars that people used to smuggle their loved ones out of East Berlin! Today we visited Sachsenhausen, one of the first concentration camps built in Germany that was in operation until the 50's ( it was used by the Soviets as an internment camp after the war). It was depressing, but incredibly moving. In addition to learning a lot, this city is incredibly cheap compared to Paris and Amsterdam. Our hostel costs about $15 a night, compared with our $40 per night hotel in Paris.

Now, Berlin, here comes the hard truth...we hate you. While your train system is relatively efficient, it is difficult to figure out your "shades of gray" zones. One would think that accidentally underpaying by $.40 for a train ticket wouldn't warrant a 40 Euro fine, but apparently you disagree. I guess we can't blame you, Berlin. After all, you've got almost nothing else going on. Thanks for the memories, but peace out.

Mandi and Bekky

Monday, May 11, 2009

Güten tag

Lemme tell ya about our overnight train from Paris to Berlin. OMFG. After our first experience passing on a couchette (a small bed in a sleeping car of an overnight train) we decided to invest the extra Euro to have a good night's sleep this time around. If you'll recall, our first experience on an overnight train was a relatively sleepless night, mostly in the fetal position, on uncomfortable seats. We were interrupted by another passenger taking up his ticketed seat (jerk) for several hours in the middle of the night. This time, with tickets for a reserved couchette in hand, we happily made our way to the train looking forward to a relaxing and comfortable trip.

Now, we understand that traveling by train has its compromises. We can understand that the French have different hygiene standards and so a little body odor is expected. And, yes, sometimes people travel with children who can be a little fussy. Again, understandable. But what in God's name did we do to deserve the two stinkiest French women and their crying child in our sleeping car?!?! Not only was it the two of us and the three of them, but there were two other passengers squeezed into the six-bed car (that is the size of a closet, mind you). Seven of us, two stinky, one crying. Are you understanding the horror of it all?

Luckily, within minutes of settling in, Mandi managed to break her bed and enlisted the help of a friendly young Frenchman from the sleeping car next door to fix it. Twenty minutes later we were chatting with that same helpful young man, Maxim, from Paris, and the two other gents in his sleeping car (Matt, 20 year old from Michigan whose parents had both been laid off from their jobs in the auto industry and Mirko, the Italian who had just lost his job as a mechanical engineer). We were joined shortly thereafter by a nameless young French musician who busted out his guitar for an impromptu serenade/sing-along.

Sadly, at some point we had to go back to our own car to attempt to get some sleep (with the window now open, of course). Long story short, we made it to Berlin early this morning and had a busy day exploring the city including the Reichstag (the home of German Parliament - the building has a glass dome at the top that provides an excellent view of the city), the Brandenburg Gate, and Checkpoint Charlie and its adjacent museum. The computers at this hostel suck too (but at $11 Euro per night, who can complain?) so we can't upload all the photos now, but we'll get to it as soon as we can.

Mandi and Bekky

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Hooray for cheap internet...

...but you get what you pay for. For instance, the q is where the a should be and you have to shift to use the period key. Anyway, we were able to upload more photos before we head to Berlin. For those of you that do not know, you can view all of the photos from our trip by clicking on the slideshow on the right.

Mandi and Bekky

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Au revoir Paris!

Yesterday was a super-busy day. We found that we were difficult to impress after spending the previous day in Versailles. We visited Notre Dame, but we have tired of climbing towers so we decided to skip this one. Next we wandered along the left bank and perused Shakespeare and Company bookstore. The store has a huge collection of new and used books and also offered a few cots for writers who volunteer at the store to stay for free while they work on their books. Lunch in the Latin Quarter was dreamy...a banana and salted caramel crepe and espresso (we're on vacation, so lay off!). After a quick tour of Pere Lachaise, the largest cemetery in Paris, we collected supplies for a magical birthday picnic during sunset at the Eiffel Tower. Nothing says "fun" like climbing 600 steps on a full stomach so we climbed to the first and second levels of the tower (Bekky was too cheap to pay for the lift). We witnessed the sparkling lightshow once from inside the tower and once an hour, and two cappuccinos, later from the ground below.

Today was another action-packed day. We started the morning with a trip to the Catacombs - probably one of the most eerie experiences of our lives. The visit basically consists of a 45 minute walk down dark, damp, and narrow hallways full of stacked bones and skulls. Creepy, yet fascinating. On a lighter note, we then wandered over to the Rodin Museum to stroll through the garden and see such famous sculptures as The Thinker and The Gates of Hell. Our next stop was the Opera Garnier, the opera house that the Phantom of the Opera is based on. Unfortunately, there was a performance going on so we were unable to take the tour. When it started raining, we decided to take shelter at The Louvre and spent a couple of hours wandering the museum with the thousands of other tourists and locals who thought that Saturday would be a good day to visit the museum. The Mona Lisa was underwhelming.

After a little break, we headed to the Montmartre neighborhood to take in the view of the city at the Sacre Coure, wander the artists square, and stroll the mile or so down the hill to see the infamous Moulin Rouge (also a little underwhelming). All in all it has been a crazy couple of days and we weren't able to fit in everything we wanted to do, but did get around to most of it. Tomorrow will be a relaxing day of shopping around the city before taking an overnight train to Berlin. Since everything in Paris is wildly expensive, including internet access, we don't have time to post all of our most recent photos now, but check back in a day or so and we'll post again when we get to Berlin.

Mandi and Bekky

Friday, May 8, 2009

We love Paris in the springtime

There are so many things to see in Paris. Within our first three hours here, we had wandered the exterior of the Louvre, casually strolled through the Jardin de Tuileries, shopped along the Champs Elysees, and climbed the insane amount of stairs to the top of the Arc de Triomphe where we had an amazing view of the entire city, including a gorgeous sunset view of the Eiffel Tower.

Yesterday, along with Kevin and Shanna, we took a train out of Paris to Versailles. It's amazing to us that we met them barely a year ago and here we were yesterday, having a picnic in the gardens at the Palace of Versailles. The weather was gorgeous (75 degrees and sunny) and the property was incredible. Our favorite part of the visit was the hour we spent wandering the Domain of Marie Antionette. She was so bored that she had a compound created that housed her own palace and a miniature peasant village that she could walk around and pretend to be a normal citizen. We ended the magical day with a birthday dinner for Mandi at Chez Papa, a Basque restaurant in the Montmartre.

Today we are out and about visiting Notre Dame and wandering the neighborhoods of the left bank.

Mandi and Bekky