Travel Around Europe

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While I was studying in Florence, Italy, during my first semester junior year in 1992, I had the chance to travel around Europe. My parents purchased for me a Eurorail pass, which basically gave me free reign to travel anytime in Europe for free. Here are a few cities that I had the chance to visit...

Prague - In 1992 Prague was just emerging as a democratic nation and the people loved Westerners. I arrived in Prague extremely early in the morning, and it was really dead on the streets. Old women were hanging around the train stations, offering rooms in their homes for people like us to stay. I was using my "Let's Go Europe" book and decided to stay at a hotel in Prague.

Prague was a city frozen in time. Like many communist nations, the original archeticture of the city remained constant, untouched by modern development that was rampant in Western cities. Prague was gorgeous, absolutely stunning. I would walk around marvelling at the cobblestone streets and rejoicing in the strength of the dollar. It was a students paradise, with cheap beer, inexpensive food and an European mystique that only Prague captured.

I tried goulash for the first time in Prague, which was a stew of beef and vegatables, seasoned mainly with paprika. I washed it down with "Budvar" - the original Budwesier beer from Prague. The people were very friendly to westerners, and the city was alive with a new sense of freedom. One local man told me how they have a "Saint of Democracy" now.

I walked across the Charles Bridge in Prague, it was strewn with buskers, entertainers and vendors. Its a very beautiful place to walk after a good meal with a beautiful girl. Lots of students would congregate on the bridge, mingling with the locals.

I'd like to go back to Prague someday - but from what I have heard things have very much changed there in the last 13 years.

Paris - Paris was in a word, stunning. Nothing can really prepare you for Paris, its very much overwhelming with its culture and history. The beauty of the city, coupled with the history of the buildings - makes you feel very, very small. I felt very insignificant while walking the streets of Paris. I also felt very alone. Its a very romantic city. You walk down the street and a couple are sitting on a moped kissing. You go into a park, and people are kissing on a park bench. Lots of love in this city.

Of course I went to the Eiffel Tower, once at the top, viewing the skyline I really wished I could have shared the moment with someone. I was with a companion, a girl friend, but we weren't "together" - so to speak.

Being the Americans that we are, we decided that night to head to The Hard Rock Cafe. That figures about right. We are in Paris, we have the chance to sample some of the local fare - we go to the Hard Rock. Of course fate decides to laugh back at us.

While dining, I ask the waiter where the bathroom is located.

"Ah, sorry sir. The bathroom is under repairs. If you ask the bartender, he will have the key for you."

So I walk over to the bartender and ask for the key. He says,

"Oh, I gave it to someone, oh, yes, that girl there. The waitress has it."

I walk to the waitress, across the restaurant.

"Hi - do you have the bathroom key?", I ask politely.

"No, its a joke.", she said.

"Um, no - I really do have to go to the bathroom.", I replied a bit confused.

"It is a joke - they are joking with you. The bathroom is there.", she gestures to a stairwell.

Horray for France - you tricked a 20 year old American student! You fucking bastards are so hilarious.

Of course I got the last laugh. You see, my dear readers, is that you don't play tricks on patrons when you are the waiter. He got a nice tip of $1 franc.

Who's laughing now, you cheese eating surrender monkey!

Munich - the same time of my European tour, we swung into Munich. I was looking to find some Blonde haired babes who wanted to get drunk with a cute American and was surprised now many Germans don't look like the nordic ubermen (and uberwomen) that I was expecting. They were all dark-haired & very drab in Munich, and I saw more shades of grey colored clothes there than in any other city.

Don't get me wrong, Munich was great. If you were color blind.

I went with Oktoberfest with two American girls. One was kind of a plain-jane and the other one was a smoking hot blonde American. Of course i'm now the Hugh Hefner of the student set - because I was hanging out with a seriously cute 20 blonde haired, blue eyed American girl. Even the PLAIN girl was getting a shitload of attention simply because she was American.

Advice to American women - you want attention? You desire to be worshipped by men? Head to any European city. Trust me.

Oktoberfest is like the Hoboken Arts Festival times ten. Or maybe twenty. It was a big festival that had a mob of people that has one goal - get piss drunk. Unlike the Hoboken Festivals when Nazi Police Officers don't want anyone to have a good time - the organizers in Munich were more than happy to let everyone fall into drunken stupors and enjoy themselves.

In Munich there are beer gardens that each major German brewery sponsors. Each beer garden is an extremely large open building, with long picnic-type tables, where everyone sits in a communial atmosphere and drinks together. French drink with German. American drink with Italian. English drink with Spanish. Everyone avoids the Puerto Ricans.

Just kidding! Everyone gets along great. There is a large German band that plays German folk songs - there are women who serve beer that have Popeye-sized forearms, from carrying the glass steins of beer. You sit down, they come by with beer and you drink and clink the glass steins together and say, "Probst!" - or "Cheers!" in German.

I learned a few things that day, and here is what I will warn you about going to Oktoberfest.

1) Have a room to stay. We, the girls and I, planned to stay in the train station overnight. That plan quickly went out the window after The Popularity Twins were meeting like a trillion European men. At the end of the night both of them ditched me for some other guys they were hooking up with - and stayed at the guys hotel rooms! Me? I did try a few hotels there and they basically laughed at me for trying to get a room. I even walked into a 4-star hotel, plopped down my parents Gold Visa card and said "Name your price". They simply couldn't help.

I had to go to the train station, alone, and sleep on the floor. Fortunately, there were a lot of other tourists there and I wasn't alone. Plus, since I planned for this, I did have a blanket and small pillow. So it wasn't so bad.

2) If you don't have a place to stay. Don't lose your friends. The next morning i'm sleeping in Munich's Train Station, on the upper tier near some shops. I sense something approaching, I open my eyes to see...

Awwww! A cute German Shepherd is looking at me...BARING ITS TEETH -ITS ABOUT TO EAT ME!

"BARK-en! BARK-en! BARK-en!", said the dog in German. I think it translated to "BARK! BARK! BARK!"

"Mach schell! Wake up, American. Move.", growled the policeman with the evil Shepherd.

By the way, it wasn't THAT hard to figure out I was an American. I was wearing my Delta Tau Delta baeball hat and nearly every article of clothing I owned was out of J. Crew. I'm just happy they didn't offer to take me to the "showers". I scurried away from them. But it did get me to thinking.

I was thinking of my latest invention. I'll call it GermanShepherdAlarmClock. I'm going to tether a German Shepherd to a rope in my bedroom and put electrical cables to his balls that go off at 7am. Have him bark his ass off at me - while trying to bite me. Nothing wakes you up faster than an angry German Shepherd who wants to kill you. Yes, i'm kidding, for all you horrified dog owners.

3) If you lose your friends, find them quickly. It was 7am in Munich and after visiting The American Embassy (aka McDonalds) for breakfast I went back to the beer gardens. While looking for my friends a dark haired European teenager walks up to me and says, "Are you an American?"

I say, "Yep."

He says, "Ah, I like Americans. Yes, I like them. I like you." with a wide eyed leer.

Ok, this is just TOTALLY making my day. Shall we recap?

1) I slept in the train station ALONE
2) The Killer Dog woke me up.
3) I'm trying to find my friends.
4) The Gay German Teenager is hitting on me.

I mutter, "Um, thanks." and walk away. I guess the bright side is that I can say I was hit on a German while I was there. The downside is that it was a guy.

Not that there is anything wrong with that.

I eventually found my friends, who looked well rested. Their concern for me lasted about 30 seconds - until I told them my tales of woe. One thing I liked about Munich is that everyone was basically very friendly to everyone - German teenagers were very friendly to me, for example. Also the German Band would play "New York, New York" at least 8 times a day and any American in the crowd would get on top of their tables and dance. Usually this meant that in a room that held 10,000 people you would see about 1,000 drunken Americans who would cheer each other from across the room and you would make new friends instantly.

Munich is worth going to. If you haven't been to Oktoberfest, book a room and go. Its a blast.

Amsterdam - This is my favorite story. We were on the train to Amsterdam we get to the train station. A guy is holding a sign for a hotel, and asks me if I want to stay there. I brush him off thinking he is some con artist trying to shill students to stay at his trashy hotel. I walk a few yards away, and whip out my "Let's Go Europe" book for its hotel recommendation.

The joke is on me - his sign had the same hotel I wanted to stay at. I briskly walk back to him and take him up on his offer, changing my attitude from "can't be bothered with" to "i'm your best pal!".

We walked down the streets of Amsterdam and I was struck by two thoughts about the city. First, its gorgeous with its old architecture which reminds me of Boston's Historic Zone. Second, the city has an underlying seediness - sort of like Atlantic City - that I didn't like so much. I felt like there were some safe touristy places and city center areas to be around - but wouldn't want to be walking alone at night on a dim street.

We get to the hotel and the owners are very cordial and businesslike for my friend and I. They offer a room, ask how many days we will be staying and how much pot do we want.

Pot? Did he just say pot?

I thought I was on "Candid Camera" - but I looked around, and in the common room of the hotel there were a couple of guys openly rolling up joints and smoking them.

So I ask him how much for pot - and the price is great. He offers to charge it to my room.

Charge it to my room?

He explained it would just be part of the costs of the room, like if we ordered food.

Ch-ching! The Visa card comes out and I felt like I was in a commerical - "Visa - its everywhere pot smokers want to be!"

We strolled around the cobblestone streets of Amsterdam very stoned and happy. I noticed that the cobblestones of the street are very tricky when you are stoned - the uneven surface plays havoc on my balance. Plus they have some very trippy places to visit around town like the Museum of Sex - it was a kind of shady museum which had a bunch of dusty dildos and sex devices from over the years.

We checked out the infamous "coffeeshops" in town. I visited one called "The Grasshopper" and another called "Coffeeshop 36". The Grasshopper was more upscale, and looked like a regular bar - kind of like City Bistro or Madison's. It was 3 floors tall, with alcohol, food and pot on the menu.

Coffeeshop 36 was a bit more like Farside/Dipper's/Moran's, it had a neighborhood pub kind of feel to it, and had a cool vibe to the place. They actually had on their menu "Heroin Chicken Soup" which was 10% heroin or something. I didn't try that. But they did sell "Space Cakes" - which were muffins with pot baked into it. They were GREEEEAAAAAATTTTT. I split one with a friend and we were blasted. We watched MTV Europe and chilled out with other students from around Europe.

You really can't stay very long in Amsterdam - we were there for 3 days and that was PLENTY of time to see what any student wants to see in town. I didn't get out to the red light district - I was with a female friend and wasn't going to suggest that. I think I single handedly jumpstarted the Greek flafel market in Amsterdam with my purchases over the 3 days there.

Vienna - I don't have any good stories because we stayed 2 days and 1 night. It was simply not enough time to spend there and it was towards the end of our trip - so we were beat from our whirlwind tour. I went into as many museums as we could, but my impressions of Vienna is much like Paris - an unbelievable amount of history and culture. You need a solid 5 days to really take in a good portion of that city. Plus, you don't need to be nursing a pot hangover from Amsterdam, either.

One thing I know about travelling around Europe? If anyone can open up a really good bagel chain in Europe - make New York city style bagels in Paris, Prague, Amsterdam or Vienna - they would be multi-millionaires. I have zero doubt that it would be a big hit. Also that includes pizza. Pizza in Europe is mediocre at best. Even in Italy its not that good. Someone tried to convince me it has to do with the water. The water from New York/Philadelphia makes a big difference in cooking food - and in Europe it just isn't the same kind of water (due to minerals and such). I'm not sure if that is true, but maybe that does explain it.

I'm sure things have changed over there in 13 years since my last visit. I'd like to get back there someday, but here are the places i'd like to see:

1. Greece
2. London (my first trip was when I was 16)
3. Japan
4. Any beach resort
5. Portugal

Random Thought of the Day: Ok, a bonus section for those of you who read my whole story.

You know how elevators all go to the first floor of a building in the event of a fire - its an automatic feature of elevators to do that. What happens if the fire is on the first floor of the building, in the lobby? The elevators all go back to the first floor - DING! - and the doors open to FLAMES AND SMOKE!

Next time you have a fire safety class in your office building ask them that. Its great to watch them stammer and start to sweat trying to figure out a good answer to that question.

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This page contains a single entry by Furey published on April 11, 2005 11:02 AM.

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