Slow down, you crazy child… take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while

Hello dear readers!

Here I sit typing to you, whilst Haitham snoozes in the smooshy chair next to me via a ginormous ferry from Zadar, Croatia to none other than Italy itself! It’s a long voyage (perfect time to hammer out some bloggage), but lucky for us, Haitham and I snagged some comfortable and spacious couches right in front of a TV so I believe we’ll fair this in style!

As usual, my trusty cohort and I have been busy as bees here this past few days! We began our next leg of the journey to eastern Europe by way of train after conferring with a train attendant in the Munich station. This guy had what can only be described as an odd manner–perfectly enunciated, clipped English that would seemingly be accentless if not for just how elaborate it was, and to me a slightly creepy manner with his extreme politeness, strange, almost archaic phrasing coupled with an almost expressionless (I found it borderline psychotic) face. Strange characters abound dear readers! Regardless of his interesting persona, he advised us perfectly and we ended up on our train with no trouble at all. It was a relatively uneventful train ride, with me playing with my new camera (using Haitham as my guinea pig)

Image

and Haitham working on his next blog post. Before we knew it we were in our next country along the way–Austria! Where Vienna was waiting for us.

Or so the song claims. I’m not so sure cities wait for anyone, ya know what I’m sayin’?

Our first stop in Vienna was to our hostel, which Haitham and I both agree was THE CUTEST THING EVAR. It was a little place called MyMojo, with a fantastic location, even better decor, and wonderfully helpful staff. Just take a look at the lounge of this little guy:

Image

Like I said. SO CUTE!!! Definitely our favorite of all our hostels that we’ve stayed in so far. If you’re ever looking for a neat place to stay in Vienna, well, MyMojo is the place!

After our arrival at our new home-away-from-home, we fluffed around a bit playing with the instruments in the room, looting for leftover snacks in the cupboards, taking advantage of the free tea and coffee, linking up to the wifi like the internet-starved scavengers we are, and general primping. By the time we finished with these important endeavours it was a bit late, so we decided to take a walk around the immediate neighborhood and check out some of the bars/cafes along the way (as much of the other youngsters in the area also seemed to have decided to do as well). We ended up getting some wine at a place called Espresso–it seems that Vienna shops don’t pigeonhole themselves into being merely a bar, or merely a cafe, but often tagteam both. A swell idea in my opinion! Kudos, Vienna, you know how to please both caffeine addicts and alcohol-seeking young adults both.

Anywho, here’s a quick shot of Haitham blabbing his trap over some wine, like the classy type he is.

Image

The next day, due to our shorter than normal amount of time in Vienna, we headed out rather early after breakfast to take in the sights.

Initial impressions of Vienna were as follows:

1.) Vienna is a lovely, clean, dare I say even elegantly classy place.

Image

2.) Despite this, we managed to pick the time to visit when it seemed Vienna had decided to renovate EVERYTHING. Thus, the buzz of construction work followed us everywhere and huge scaffolding blocked off large portions of otherwise gorgeous buildings.

Image

3.) Vienna is OBSESSED with statues. Particularly those with strange, somewhat unexplainable action-packed events taking place.

Proof:

Image

Image

Image

Really though guys.

Our first little chunk of time in Vienna was spent doing a little walking tour of the place with the help of this small guide book our ever-so-excellent hosts at Mojo had left us. When we got tired of seeing such-and-such building that was old and was pretty, and this-and-that building that was also old and pretty, we decided to check out a few of the sights one of our hostesses in particular had mentioned–Demel, the oldest cafe in Vienna, as well as her personal favorite. The oldest cafe was definitely one of the classiest, most elegant cafes we’d stepped foot in–and that’s all we did. We walked in, took a quick glance around in awe at the splendour of a coffee shop when it seems like most coffee shops have no business being full of splendor, and dipped out, fearing that our lack of boujie-ness expelled us.

We wandered a bit more to the second coffee shop, called Central Cafe, named aptly for its location. It was also an incredibly boujie place…

Image

…but despite the loveliness of the picture it was less so than Demel, so we decided to grab some delicacies. Yeah, Haitham and I try not to take pictures of our food, but come on.

Image

Can you blame us? That’s pure decadence in coffee-shop form, right there.

After fueling up on coffee and sweets–and dayumn, was my ginormous monstrosity of a coffee sweet–we made a quick decision to try and chunk one more sight-seeing expedition in for the day by taking the metro out to Schönbrunn Palace, a castle-thing we’d seen listed on the map and had a fellow resident at Mojo tell us about, but knew relatively little about. After arriving, we wandered about a quite cute little park seeking out ambigious signs to this place. Eventually we found it… geez!

Image

Vienna really knows how to bouj it up, doesn’t it?

After being suitably impressed by the fanciness of the external palace, we decided to head for the real reason we’d come out–we’d heard the gardens behind the palace were free. Yeah…we’re thrifty like that!

Hearing about the free gardens turned out to be a FANTASTIC stroke of luck. I’d highly, highly recommend checking out the gardens if ever any of you decide to visit Vienna. Not only is it a huge, sprawling thing that Haitham and I easily wandered about in quite happily for hours, but it feature’s the world’s oldest zoo (you do have to pay to get into that guy, but by peering through some bushes industriously we managed to peep a lion grooming his gigantic paws, some bison, and some strange piggy guys), but also large, lovely water features, beautiful gardens, and a view of the city and the palace below.

Image

We even found some ancient Roman ruins!

Image

Just kidding. Yeah, it’s a fountain. Still, pretty cool, huh?

We easily spent until dark wandering around in that garden, and the pictures of this escapade are numerous, but for the sake of this blog post I’ll keep it short. After, we headed back, had a delicious Indian meal near our hostel (we’re good at having the wrong nationality of food while on our trip), and headed back to Mojo. Although we only had that one full day in Vienna, I feel as though we had a good go of it, and we headed out the next day to our next stop–the mysterious Slovenia!

Image

Advertisements
Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Ich bin ein Munchener!

Hello again, Mysterious Readers. You probably all expected Clarissa to be writing next, but we had a think about who wants to write what regarding the last few stops on our trip and Clarissa really wants to cover Vienna, Slovenia and Croatia, so I’m going to catch up to Vienna with a mini-post about Munich and then Clarissa will take it from there. Mini-post ahoy:

I last left off at us leaving Bern to head to Munich, pleased to have visited such a charming wee place but also mightily tired. I think we were both starting to feel a bit of sight-seeing-fatigue. Marching around city after city is certainly lovely when you’ve got such great places to be marching in, but after a while everything blurs together and it’s harder to muster any sort of enthusiasm for the umpteenth castle or fortress or bronze-age haberdashery or medieval backscratchery or whatever. It’s a lot like walking around the Louvre, but on an even larger scale. Our primary (and really only) reason for going to Munich was to go and see the castle Neuschwastein, which is a short train ride outside the city. Clarissa had little interest in whatever else Munich had to offer and I had already been there twice before. Nevertheless, we boarded the slightly overcrowded but also rather scenic train into Germany without incident.

A chirpy and very pretty young German lady with perfect English and a charming accent sat opposite and helped to point out some of the things we were seeing out of the window and told us when we were crossing the Swiss/Austrian and Austrian/German borders. Clarissa wrote her blog and I sorted out some photos and before long we pulled up in Munich central station around dinner time.

As has become par for the course on this trip, we had some amount of difficulty navigating the public transport system on arrival and ended up confused and frustratedely wandering from platform to platform in the subway. Suddenly the pretty German girl from the train appeared and explained everything to us. Our chirpy wee saviour. I love the sort of random, fleeting connections that you make when you travel. It reminds you that there’s some genuinely nice people out there.

Finding the hostel was easy, although it turned out not to be a hostel at all but a hotel. Minus points for there being no opportunity to socialise with the other guests; super plus points for the oppulent breakfast. With youth-hostel breakfasts normally being pretty basic affairs, Clarissa’s eyes (and probably stomach) enlarged with the sight of so much decadent and unlimited food. They even had a bottle of champaign up for grabs. If we had boots we would have filled them, but instead settled for our bellies.

After our gigantic breakfast, we found our first stumbling block: the Castle Neuschwanstein website told us that the castle was covered in scaffolding until the end of the year for some reason. Given that we both wanted to see the castle primarily from the outside, there didn’t seem much point in making the journey there only to be confronted by a wall of scaffolding. So we ditched that idea and went into the city.

We caught a free walking tour just before it began in Marienplatz, right in front of the famous Glokenspiel. It was pretty funny hearing the tour guide talk about how truly disappointing this tourist attraction is. Tedious and underwhelming to the point of hilarity, on par with the Astronomical Clock in Prague. Despite the Glokenspiel being terrible, Marieplatz and the building in which the Glokenspiel is housed, the Rathaus, are beautiful.

Hooray!

The tour took us around a bunch of cool places: the church that the devil built, the places where Hitler staged the Beer Hall Putsch, various beer halls including the Hoffbrau House and numerous places of historical interest that I cannot summon the enthusiasm to recall. Finally the tour finished in this large open-air market in the city centre where we bought a filling lunch primarily consisting of olives.

Mmmmmm.... olives.

By this time we were both suffering some SERIOUS tourist fatigue and neither of us could seemingly bare to look at another sight. For something to do, we climbed up a large church tower to get a view of the city. This is all the enthusiasm Clarissa could muster for her photo, though:

Boooooored

“Yeh, very nice, whatever”

It seems like the cure for tourist fatigue is just to do bugger-all for a little while. We sat on a random step somewhere (that somehow had free wifi), ate a bunch of chocolate and fiddled around on the internet until our emails and facebooks were most thoroughly checked. Suddenly a man and a woman walked in front of us, both with fresh-from-the-salon tans, the woman with as much fakery as it was possible to fit in and on her body and with the man all pumped up and muscular with long hair and wearing a skin-tight white vest and a pair of wrap-around sunglasses. Quite the sight indeed. As they passed right in front of us, the man made a (very masculine) ‘swoosh’ motion with his head to swing all his hair back behind him. It was honestly one of the most ridiuclous things I’ve ever seen someone do without a hint of irony. Clarissa and I managed to maintain our composure until they were a few meters down the road and then proceeded to piss ourselves laughing. He bacame forever known as The Swoosh Guy.

Newly buoyed by our little rest, we marched onwards to explore a little more. “Look at all this boujie shit”, Clarissa was heard to say several times as we passed through some rather up-market shops and whatnot. It was boujie indeed. Soon enough, Clarissa needed to make a lady-tinkle (is that the super-euphemism that Americans like to use these days? Maybe I should say she wanted to take a ‘bath’ in the ‘bathroom’? Or have a ‘rest’ in the ‘restroom’?) and so we embarked on another long voyage to find a bathroom in the Englischer Garten. This was a mistake. I… I honestly don’t know how to describe how badly this excursion went. No one peed their pants, so that’s something I guess.

We got lost on the way back and ended up walking for literally miles before finding ourselves back in the city. We saw this on the way back, though:

Cowabunga, mein freund!

Surfing on the river: sure, why not?

I think that at least part of what was keeping us both in a bit of a crappy mood is that we were still getting used to Clarissa no longer having the camera that vanished during our last jaunt. From Munich, we still had a long way to go on our adventure, and the idea of completing it with only one camera between the two of us seemed a pretty terrible one. So we found a nice little camera shop operated by a pleasant and chubby Bavarian gentleman and therein Clarissa got a new camera! Full of giggly excitement, we took some photos immediately. Here is the first one, right outside the shop:

Click!

Our mood immediately improved and we ditched any intention of doing more serious sight-seeing in favour of eating and drinking our way through Bavarian culture. First stop: coffee. Then a massive Bavarian meal and a massive Bavarian beer in a Paulaner beer house (we each ordered one of the total of two vegetarian options on the menu, to the barely suppressed snickering of the waiter). Finally, we wandered around the charming cobble-stone streets and soaked in the bustling night-time ambiance of this quirky old city. Clarissa decided that we really ought to try the ice-cream from the store that won the prize for the best ice-cream in Europe. So we did:

Fatty fatty chub chub

And it was good.

So ended our trip to Munich! We were up pretty early the next morning to get that train to Vienna, where Clarissa will pick up our story very shortly…

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Miserable Fat Belgian Bastards

Hello again, mysterious readers! Today I’m writing to you from the super-futuristic Railjet train from Munich to Vienna. Germany has, by far, the best trains of any country I’ve ever been to. And since I’ve been to basically all the good countries, I’ll go ahead and assume they’re the best in the world. I know I’m posting only a day or two behind Clarissa, but since it took her about a week to write her last post I have some catching up to do.

As Clarissa said, we had a blast in Amsterdam. I knew one of the things I would certainly miss once we crossed into the francophone countries is the extraordinary politeness and courtesy of the Dutch. It would not be long before my concerns were realised in full.

Our next rest after Amsterdam was Paris, but since the Belgian capital of Brussels is conveniently en route, we decided that we would stop over and have a few hours perusing the de facto capital of the European Union.

Just in case the hamburger-consuming readership of this blog is unaware, most Europeans aren’t so keen on Belgians. Not for any specific reason, I don’t think, but we still take much delight in ridiculing them at every turn. I submit the following compilation of Belgian jokes for your consideration:

Anyway, the train ride from Amsterdam went off without hitch, although I was still feeling like crap as Clarissa alluded to in her last post. I don’t think she granted my condition quite enough emphasis, though! I was suffering from a most grievous case of man-flu that would have consigned any lesser mortal to their beds or perhaps even their graves. As a result, I was hoping for a smooth transit…

As soon as we arrived in Belgium, we attempted to negotiate our passage to Paris for later in the afternoon, but were told that we could either take three different trains over a course of six hours or pay a €30 supplement each to take the direct train. Unfortunately, it was far too late to be taking a six hour train so we had to cough up. Feeling a little butt-hurt, we put our bags in a locker and wandered into Brussels.

Ok so Brussels is quite pretty really. Here Clarissa demonstrates:

Scouting for Belgians

We had two goals before our time in Brussels ran out: buy some Belgian chocolate and take a photo with the Maneken Pis (Brussels’ most famous and also reputedly most underwhelming site: a small statue and ‘fountain’ of a little boy urinating). The first of these objectives was achieved within minutes, the latter, however, eluded us to the last. Clarissa even purchased a Belgian waffle with chocolate sauce purely so she could ask the vendor directions to the statuette. Even that didn’t help. This is the closest we could find:

Classy

Close enough.

Feeling somewhat defeated and with me still sniffing and sneezing like the Sick Man of Europe, we headed back to the train station to get the fancy, high-speed, luxurious train that we had paid our hard-earned monopoly-money for. At least that would be nice and comfy. At least we could get a rest then. Yes, that would be nice. Yes…

Nope. On boarding the train, we were casually informed without apology that our train had been combined with another train to produce a train with twice as many passengers as seats. Despite us having reservations, no seat could be found for us weary travelers and so we would have to squash together with all the other grumpy, smelly and irate passengers (some of them even FRENCH), sniffing and sneezing and sweating all the way to Paris.

I’ve been apprehensive about going back to Paris since the inception of our little jaunt because it is, in spite of its illustrious reputation, a smelly, dirty and dangerous city. There are, however, a number of very nice aspects to the city that I was determined we would experience. Paris would be a lovely place if only it weren’t for the Parisians.

We made it to our hostel, right at the very end of one of the subway lines, without too much bother. Our hostel was run by a tiny Korean lady called Sun-Yung and her non-English speaking sister in their own house with their little yappy dog that was bafflingly called Google. It was small and a bit… ramshackle? But the lady was so welcoming and her house so cozy that it was a lovely place to stay indeed. The other residents of the hostel (an English girl called Maddy and a Finnish girl whose name escapes me) were also lovely. The only person we didn’t like was an American chap called Zane who turned up late on the same night as us and was our only room mate. Clarissa would be better at explaining why he was annoying, but suffice it to say that he came all the way to Paris from Colorado and the first thing he did was go to Disneyland. Sun-Young also kept calling him “John”, which I found secretly hilarious.

We started our first day in Paris as most tourists do: visiting the Arc de Triomph and then strolling down the Champs Elysee. Here is proof:

This day started off OVERCAST. Like most cities, Paris is so much prettier in the sunlight. Our grey walk down the Champs Elysee, therefore, failed to impress Clarissa. She kept complaining about how the trees lining the boulevard weren’t being looked after properly, about how the everything was “so boujie” and about how many American chain stores there were. On that last note, I suspect Clarissa is not alone.

Raging against the machine

After we passed Place de la Concorde and reached the Palais de Louvre the sun came out just a crack and Clarissa started to be impressed again. I could tell because she resumed her regular exclamation of “oh mah gahd it’s SO PRUTTY” that I hadn’t heard since Amsterdam.

Swagger

Before we ventured inside, we took a quick diversion to consume some freshly baked goods from a nearby Boulangerie. Oh man, one thing I think the Parisians really get right is their baking. We actually had to go back in for seconds. Stomachs full of butter and flaky pastry, we ventured inside this most oversised of art museums. We took about a million pictures in there, most of which ended up looking like this:

Guuuuuuuuuu

There’s only so much art you can take in one day and we didn’t hesitate about bailing as soon as the mood took us. A refreshing walk along the Seine, a brief potter around Notre Dame and finally indulging in the great Parisian tradition of sitting outside a cafe, drinking tiny cups of black coffee and large glasses of red wine and staring at people with little regard for politeness soon had us feeling awake again.

So tiny!

Our last objective of the day was to go to my favourite place in Paris: the Jardin de Luxembourg. I have nice memories of sitting here years ago escaping the heat in the late summer with my friend Matthew underneath the chestnut trees. On this day, however, it decided to rain. Heavily. We managed just a couple of photos before we were forced to take refuge under a tree.

We also managed to visit the building housing Napoleon’s tomb, but it was closed. Frankly, we only went there because Clarissa really needed the toilet and we thought they might have one we could use. Walking through odd places looking for a toilet for Clarissa has become a regular fixture of the trip and I’m sure she won’t mind me telling you that.

To end the day, we headed back to our wee Korean hostel for a Korean meal cooked by Sun-Yung’s sister. That’s right: not only does this hostel include breakfast, but also dinner. We really do have our hostel-selection priorities sorted.

On our second full day in Paris, we decided to go and see the palace of Versailles and witness for ourselves the staggeringly gaudy decadence that the last kings of France decided was the way royalty ought to live. It was gaudy indeed. Here Clarissa points out some of that gaud for us:

Pee pee

There was an audio guide included in the price of admission, so we plugged in our headphones and were lead around by the dulcet tones of some pompous Englishman through room after room and hall after gilded hall. “This is where King Louis XIV would have his feet tickled”; “This is where King Louis the XV liked to consume his morning vat of fois gras” and so on. There was all sorts of fine art adorning the walls and so eventually it became a lot like walking through yet another museum. Soon we decided that enough was enough and headed out into the palace gardens. Somehow, the opulence of the gardens manages to compete with that of the palace itself.

Decadence

As it happens I am rather partial to a nice bit of landscaping and Clarissa is obviously a fan of anything that’s green and grows out of the dirt, but we didn’t hang about too long in the garden on account of the arctic bloody wind that was blowing through. We took some quick snaps and called it a day. This is some efficient tourism we’re doing here, you know.

When we got back to the city itself, we had to go to Paris Gare du Nord rail station to find out about our train to Bern the following day. Oh man, so much hassle. We had to push our way around in this busy, noisy, overcrowded station for about half an hour and ask five or six different people before we even found the correct window to enquire at. After queuing with seemingly the worst parents in Paris and their hoards of unruly children, we were treated to a truly typical bout of French ‘politeness’ by the woman behind the glass who flatly told us that it was “not possible to go to Bern tomorrow” while texting on her phone. We adopted the strategy of simply queuing and re-queuing until we spoke to someone with enough patience to actually help us. Eventually a bright-eyed young lady found a train route that we could take, starting at seven in the morning.

Exhausted by our ordeal and swearing never to go to Gare du Nord station again, we headed to Montmatre for our last evening in Paris. The whole area used to be a bit sketchy but it’s now become somewhat more gentrified since the romanticized depiction of Montmatre in the film Amelie made the area super-trendy. There’s still plenty of weirdos around, though. Clarissa witnessed how the Moulin Rouge really isn’t so exciting without Ewan McGregor dancing on the table or whatever. Or was that Coyote Ugly? I actually haven’t seen either movie. Anyway, we then headed up the hill to the basilica of Sacré-Cœur.

Sacre bleu!

There were loads of people hanging around looking at the view over Paris as the sun went down, listening to the buskers, watching the mimes, drinking beer and trying not to get their bags stolen. We leaned against a balustrade for a while and engaged in some intense people-watching. For a wee treat on our last night in Paris, we went to a cute vegetarian restaurant on the way down from the hill of Montmatre. The food was GOOD and we both enjoyed it immensely. Walking back towards the metro with stomachs full of apple crumble and wine, gazing at all the cute bars and beautiful people, I think we finally came to terms with Paris. “Could you ever see yourself living here?”, Clarissa asked me. “Probably not, but if it was your style I think it’d be a great place to live”, said I. Oh Paris, you crazy city! Have we found a way to appreciate you at last?

No.

As it happened, Paris had one more trick up its sleeve to ensure that we would not leave with smiles on our faces. After walking for ten minutes to get to the metro, waiting for the train, riding for a while, changing lines through a maze of subterranean tunnels and riding another train some more, Clarissa realised that her camera was no longer in her possession. So off the train we got and back on in the opposite direction to go back to the restaurant. As if by magic, all the crazies, weirdos, drunkards and beggars appeared to now be riding the subway. Walking back through Montmatre, now very much after dark on a Saturday night, felt threatening indeed. When we finally got to the restaurant, the camera was nowhere to be found. We then had to negotiate the long journey back to the hostel while coming to terms with this highly unfortunate event and also dodging all the inhabitants of the late-night Paris metro. It was not a pleasant experience. As to the fate of the camera: I guess we’ll never know. Just one of those things.

As a side-note: on the advice of my friend Dave, I had been making semi-regular backups of both our photos. The last of Clarissa’s backups was taken just after Amsterdam so she only lost her photos from Paris. So it wasn’t as great a tragedy as it otherwise could have been.

The next morning we were up at the greasy-faced crack of dawn to get the first of our trains towards Switzerland. The first train was a nice, compartmentalised train to Lyon. We found an empty compartment and then dutifully spread all our things out over the other seats and talked loudly in English every time someone came down the corridor to discourage anyone from joining us in our little party box.

That was one of the nicer train rides we’ve had. We both slept a little, Clarissa did a spot of blogging, we listened to some music and ate more baked goods.

The Mona Lisa

In fact, when we stepped off the train in Lyon, Clarissa paused because she felt she had something in her shoe. Upon taking her shoe off and giving it a shake, the cause of her discomfort was found to be a shower of croissant crumbs. We both supposed that shaking the croissant crumbs out of one’s shoe is how most French people start their day.

In Lyon we bought some food and I incurred the wrath of some disgruntled old Frenchman when he walked into me. We also observed numerous further examples of terrible parenting. We were now absolutely ready to get out of France. A train to Geneva and then a quick change to the fancy Zurich train got us to Bern around dinner time.

When we got to Bern it was raining a little, but the nice, clean train station, the lack of screaming infants and geriatrics, the pleasant aroma of baking (and the absence of any aroma of bodily fluids) and the generally non-threatening atmosphere made us feel like we were definitely going to enjoy this change of location.

Chub chub

After I pulled Clarissa off that window and several others like it, we marched on towards the hostel. The walk also included a brief trip on this fancy… train?:

Choo choo?

After a far-from-great sleep in a large dorm full of noisy snorers and drunk Russians (one of whom did not like Clarissa shooshing him!), we had a few hours in Bern before our next train to Munich.

Bern is full of more oldey-worldy charm than you can waggle a stick at. Switzerland has lots of large, famous cities: Zurich, Geneva, Basel, Lausanne etc. But Bern is the understated and cutesy capital city. Also, incidentally, Einstein’s home town!

We wandered through the maze of ancient and beautifully maintained limestone buildings of the old town, just strolling semi-randomly and taking in all the sights, sounds and smells.

So continental!

It was peaceful and quiet, with hardly another tourist to be seen, apart from a few at the Zytglogge. We found Einstein’s apartment, Clarissa became adhered to the window of several more Swiss chocolate shops, we took a bunch of dumb pictures in front of a cathedral, the Rathause and a load of fountains and then finally it was time to go to the train station to head out of Bern and out of Switzerland.

We both agreed that we wish he had another day in Bern. It’s a very pleasant place to be, although perhaps not as easy on the wallet as it is on the eye. My one real regret, however, is that we never did find out what “fahrt” means.

Fahrt

That’s all for now! Clarissa will be enthralling you with her tales of Munich and Vienna shortly. I heard it’s going to be the best post yet so anything less than that will be crushingly disappointing. No pressure, Clarissa!

Categories: Uncategorized | 4 Comments

London calling to the faraway towns…

Hello dear readers!

Greetings from a train on its way from Bern, Switzerland to our next stop in Munich, Germany!

In Sir Haitham’s last blog he mentioned our stay in the lovely city of Bath, seeing the Cotswolds, Stonehenge, Salisbury and the like. On the 24th–was that really just some odd days ago?–we departed from our quirkily memorable stay at the YMCA in Bath and headed on our way via train to London. A remarkably short ride later we arrived in London in the early afternoon. Seriously guys, you have no idea just how lovely U.K. public transport is, and just how cheap! I was constantly marveling at how efficiently all the train lines and buses seemed to navigate from city to town and such. To a Tennessee gal used to relying on my own trusty steed, my little Sunfire, it was pretty magical, and often seemed like Haitham knew what to do and where to go just based on some instinctual Brit level.

Magic.

Anywho, we hop-skipped around to navigate through the outer realms of the city to our first real hostel experience, Palmer’s Lodge. This was a cute little place a short metro ride to the inner heart of the city itself, complete with a bar, free breakfast (yes, we have priorities in our hostel selection process) and lots of interesting (and much younger) travelers than we’d seen in the YMCA prior. After our arrival we wasted no time in stowing away our things and heading out into the city (we’re quite ambitious, that we are!). I have to admit that I wasn’t entirely won over by London upon stepping off the metro. It was a pretty overcast day, and after leaving the lush greenery of Scotland and the charming villages in the area around Bath, the hustle and bustle of busy Londonites and tourists and all the gray buildings didn’t quite knock my socks off. Have no fear though folks, London won me over eventually!

As soon as we stepped off the metro we clapped eyes on one of the most classic pieces of London architecture, Westminster Palace, and with it, Big Ben. Now for those of you who don’t know, U.K. government operates a little differently than America–surprise! Not everybody does things the American way, y’all, even the people who helped spawn us. Anywho, Westminster Palace, also known as the Houses of Parliament, is a gorgeous building absolutely bursting with history, where monarchs and government officials both have trod, where treasons have taken place, where legislative business has taken place for longer than America has even been around! Fantastic! I could go on about all the facinating things I learned about British Parliament, but for the sake of time, I’ll keep it to myself. (I don’t want to mangle anything anyway for fear of the reproach of any British readers!)

Here’s a picture of Haitham with Big Ben before we managed a tour inside the palace itself.

The rest of our first day in London was filled, naturally, with sight-seeing. We took a peek at Westminster Abbey, which has existed for nearly a thousand years and somewhere along the way began serving as coronation grounds for the those taking their place on the throne (neat!);

we creeped around the gates and fountains of Buckingham Palace, where the queen and her peeps hang out;

and I even snuck a picture inside the Houses of Parliament during our tour there, which apparently was a big no-no based on the death threats of our tour guide. Sure, it might not be the most lovely picture, but it’s proof that Haitham’s buttocks made an appearance on the very grounds where queens have walked, and also of my daring and rebellious nature!

Amazing!

The next day in London was spent doing some museum-hopping, which I had been pretty excited about considering we only managed brief glances at a few before then in Edinburgh. Not only that, but London is home to a gigantic Natural History Museum, which was the first place we headed–my inner geek was stoked! Here’s Haitham with one of the first dudes we saw, a giant extinct sloth guy.

I don’t know if you guys have ever been to a Natural History Museum on a Saturday in London before (maybe some of you have!). But let me tell you. That place was PACKED. Although seeing all the sights–gigantic dinosaur fossils, stuffed animals galore, and even some animals inside-out with anatomical modeling–was a fantastic experience for a girl who’s accustomed to much smaller places, we quickly grew tired of the crowds and decided to forge out into the rain… Where did we go, you ask? Oh, just another museum!

Hee hee. Can you guess where two nerds in London would go? The London Science Museum of course!

I’m stoked that we decided to leave the hubbub of the NHM now in favor of the second, because it was AWESOME. I mean, sure, seeing all those stuffed dead critters and dino bones was awesome, but the Science Museum felt geared towards those a little bit older and with a nerdier disposition–check on both accounts! We saw tons of things, everything from gigantic steam engines to some of the first computing devices ever created. Not only that, but one of my favorite parts was sitting in large rooms designed to allow listening audiences to feel as though they were participating in an orchestra’s rendition of The Planets. You could travel from room to room, from one instrumental section to another, watching the musicians perform on large screens and even flipping along in the music with them. As an old band geek I totally wigged out about this. Haitham put up with my geekery quite well, I have to say. ^_^

When the Science Museum finally kicked us out into the drizzly London afternoon, Haitham convinced me to try and fit in a few more sight-sees despite the weather. A good thing too, because the weather cleared up and not only did we end up getting to see the Tower of London, but the skyline of London from the Tower Bridge.

Man, was it beautiful.I think it was seeing the London skyline at night that really won me over.

End our travels in the U.K. Next stop, Amsterdam!

Did I mention earlier how efficient U.K. public transport is? Well, another annoyingly amazing aspect of living in the U.K. is just how ridiculously close you are to the mainland of Europe. No joke folks. Haitham and I boarded our British Airways flight after being politely ushered in a way only Brits can manage through checks and bagging–we were even offered complimentary blueberry, strawberry, or vanilla ice cream by a little lady in some kind of patriotic get-up as we sorted out our boarding passes. After that, it was a simple enough matter in boarding our plane and heading to Amsterdam. We’d been granted drinks–Haitham some wine, me some coffee–and had barely made it midway through when we were landing!

Man, what the heck? How unfair that a couple bucks and an hour’s flight can take Brits to AMSTERDAM! I mean, really. You U.K. readers are lucky!

I’m really going to have to rein myself in on this one. Amsterdam was wonderful in so many ways. In the grand scheme of places I’ve seen so far on this trip, I’ve still got to say that Scotland was my favorite, but Amsterdam definitely comes in with a close second. Amsterdam was an intriguing mix of old culture and new, of big city meets a slower, more relaxed pace, of a slightly grungy city with green energy in wind turbines, of the smell of reefer being smoked openly and nonchalantly on every corner along with the wafting of crepes and pancakes from Dutch bakeries, of multicultural people with incredible politeness and general all-around friendliness.

Our first stop in Amsterdam was at our second real hostel experience, called Lucky Lake. We picked Lucky Lake due to its charming pictures online and good reviews, and although it proved even cuter in person with its little campers, comfortable lounge, and wacky decorations, it was rather far away from the city itself via the metro. Not only that, but when we first arrived off the metro we had known of the existence of a Lucky Lake shuttle to bring us the rest of the way to the hostel, but had no idea how long we would have to wait for said shuttle. Eventually the shuttle did come, never you fear dear readers, and we made it to our residence for the time being.

Check it… cute, no?

Anyway, enough about all that crap.

Our first day in Amsterdam was fantastic. Haitham and I maneuvered our way into the city where we were greeted with the site of charmingly beautiful, narrow-faced houses looking down over canals filled with paddle boats, tour boats, and house boats alike. With a little wandering we managed to find our destination for the day, Star Bikes, a bicycle-renting facility. With two “Granny” bikes rented, we headed off on our adventure for the day. Bicycling in Amsterdam was one of the biggest reasons Amsterdam charmed the socks right off of me. There are bike lanes EVERYWHERE, and although things can get a little bit hairy here and there with scooters and motorbikes sharing the lanes with cyclists, seeing literally hundreds of bikes chained up all over the city, watching people of all cultures glide all over the place (even a remarkable amount of incredibly old people–you go guys!), was awesome! Get it, Amsterdam!

After fording our way over by ferry to the quieter side of the city, we headed out on what unbeknownst to us would end up being a 40 km (or so the signs said) bicycle ride through the neighboring towns of Amsterdam. Haitham had found this particular cycle route via the vast realms of the internet, and it ended up being the perfect thing to get a feel for Holland. It was an interesting experience traveling through, seeing the balance between the people cycling on the bike lane and nothing but huge, open, lush green fields full of cows and sheep and trees beyond, but also seeing the road steady with cars that our path followed closely alongside. Every once in a while a wind turbine would poke out its face as well, which I loved!

First we headed out of town to a small town called Broek in Waterland, where we took in the sites, stopped for a bite to eat where we fed some incredibly friendly ducks things that were probably terrible for them (one even took a piece of a Fig Newton out of my hand, hehehe!). A quick bout of rock-paper scissors later for whether or not to be satisfied with coming as far as the town, or to head on still further to the town of Edam, we forged out in the direction of Edam.

I’m so glad we did. Edam was so frikkin’ ridiculously cute. It was like the old town you picture from the movies and the postcards all around.

Edam also happens to be home of, surprise surprise, Edam cheese. We poked about and managed to find some on sale, which Haitham purchased and we have both been snacking on since–delicious!

After wandering around for a while and eating some delicious gelato on a cute patio overlooking the Edam street, we decided to call it a day and make our way back to Amsterdam to return our bikes. The weather had up till this point been perfect for cycling out, but had since gotten other ideas in its head. We road into the wind and occasional drizzle the whole ride back, which made a short trip seem like an eternally long ride. Still, we made it through. I couldn’t help thinking that winds like that were probably a logical reason so many turbines were implemented around the area–flat lands with a lot of wind? Why not?!

Our next day in Amsterdam was mostly filled with wandering around the city more. Haitham by this point had been working on developing a nasty cold, but he and I managed well enough regardless with touristy activities during the day. We started off by eating a massive fix-it-yourself falafel, which provided a lot of pigeons with food from our messy remnants outside. After we wandered about the city, seeing museums but never actually going in any of them (they weren’t free–after seeing museums for free in London this was a sting), and eventually having a nap in the ginormous and lovely Vondelpark nearby. After that we had a wee paddle boat expedition through the canals, which with mainly myself steering, was both delightful and terrifying when trying to navigate past gigantic canal tour boats that seemed neverending at one particular junction.

After that, we decided to explore a particular area that I’ve only heard about in a particular song–Roxanne! You don’t have to put on the red light!

The famously smarmy red light district of Amsterdam! By the time we began wandering in that general direction (which Haitham knew by heart–rather questionable, don’t ya think?) the sun had began to set, but there wasn’t much to see besides neon signs with sexy words and red curtains hiding the contents of people-sized windows. My first glimpse of one of the ladies of the night in Amsterdam was about what I expected–a big fat woman with saggy bosoms. But as the sun set and cute, young girls began appearing in the windows I started to feel bad that I was taking part in the objectification of women, that I was regarding them just like the throngs of other tourists (mainly Asian, for whatever reason) like animals in a cage. So after a quick peek around just for the sake of it, we picked a certain lady in the window and headed inside to negotiate a price.

Just kiddin’. We left and along the way were tempted by another sort of scandalous indulgence–Belgian waffles. Check out this dude that we devoured like the animals that we are, complete with chocolate ice cream on top. It was SO GOOD.

And that, in essence, completes our adventures in London and Amsterdam. Since that time (yes, I’m a bit behind) we’ve been in Belgium, Paris, and now Switzerland, so it’s up to Haitham to pick up my slack. Till next time dear readers!

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A nice, cold Bath

Hello again, mysterious and not so mysterious readers. I’m sitting on the train from Bath to London Paddington now, which has TVs on the back of the seats! Just like on an airplane! How long will it be until good old Scotrail includes similar amenities on the Edinburgh-Glasgow express train, I wonder… I’m going to guess we will have hoverboards and neural interfaces to the global hyper-mind before that happens. Clarissa is watching Robot Chicken and I’m watching Top Gear. We’re both trying to play to our cultural stereotypes as much as possible, it seems.

Bath is a really nice place, you guys! Here is Clarissa taking in some of the sights on our arrival:

Clarissa admires the pouring of infinite water

It was a bit of an odd choice of a place to stay for us, though, since neither of us were particularly interested in seeing the Roman baths for which the city is named nor anything else in the city for that matter. It was more just a convenient central point between The Cotswolds (which Clarissa was super-excited to see in a way that that the sleepy towns of the Cotswolds are rather unaccustomed to), Salisbury (where I had a nerd-quest to find the best surviving original copy of the Magna Carta awaiting me), our origin in Oban and our next destination in London.

Bath is a long way from Oban, as it happens. A total of twelve hours of travelling and three train changes. Despite all that butt-sitting time, Clarissa still failed to finish writing her last blog post and had to finish it in the hostel. I actually enjoyed the long train ride! We had quite comfy seats, ate loads of snacks and Clarissa is a great travel-buddy. We’ve got a lot of long train rides ahead of us, but now I’m not worried in the least!

There is something of a dearth of youth hostels in Bath, so we ended up staying at the YMCA, which is not nearly as cheerful or flamboyant as the 1980s hit song had me believe. It was a lot like a youth hostel, except there were a lot of odd characters hanging around. Our favourite was an old, frumpy-looking lady who brought her own Marmite in her bag to breakfast each morning then sat around giving everyone in the room the ‘hairy eyeball’, as Clarissa called it. And if you don’t know what Marmite is then I pity you, you uncultured caveman, you. We ended up being pretty lucky since we had booked two beds in the ten-bed dorm but ended up being the only people in there the whole time, which Clarissa promptly took advantage of by making all the other beds into shelves for her various needs.

On our first full day, we got the train to Swindon then caught the bus to Cirencester, the self-proclaimed capital of The Cotswolds. Our hope was to hire some bikes and cycle around this quaintest of quaint English landscapes. These hopes were soon dashed when we found that the only cycle-rental shop in the town had closed many years ago. Cirencester itself is plenty charming for a day trip, though.

We had a wee poke around in Cirencester Abbey, where they have a cup that belonged to Anne Boleyn (that is apparently one of a pair, the other belonging to Henry VIII and is still in the possession of Queen Elizabeth II ooooh!). After that, we wandered around a charmingly old and overgrown graveyard, which Clarissa seems to have a bit of an odd fascination with, although allegedly from a purely aesthetic interest.

Classy photos from a classy lady

There’s a charming wee park in Cirencester with a lot of (apparently) interesting plants and trees in addition to a Roman wall and a Norman archway. We spent a long time dallying around in there, climbing trees, talking about ducks and taking lot of stupid pictures. Even though we’re not exactly in The West Country, I made sure Clarissa engaged in the important cultural practice of stuffing a pastie in your face:

Om nom nom nom

Much hilarity was had on her part since, apparently, “pastie” (pronounced differently) means a thing you stick on your nipple in Americanese. I don’t know why they have a word for that.

Once we got back to Bath, we bought some snacks from good old Sainsbury’s (Bath being far too posh for anything further down the supermarket social ladder) and packed some snacks, then walked up to The Circus and the Royal Crescent. Here is a picture to illustrate:

Image

On our next and final full day in Bath, we headed to the city of Salisbury with two intentions: find the Magna Carta and see Stonehenge. It turns out that Salisbury is a really cute place with loads of fun stuff to see and take really trite pictures of. The cathedral, in which the Magna Carta is kept, is totally mind-blowing. Churches can’t charge for admission (I don’t know why, maybe because Jesus said so), but they have a very obvious ‘donate here’ desk and they give you a ticket once you’ve donated. Us being the thrifty and impoverished travelers that we are, just blew straight past all that. Inside was the most face-achingly amazing architecture, ancient relics, glass-work, sculptures, carvings, water-features and even the world’s oldest working clock. I’ve been to a whole bunch of abbeys and cathedrals across Europe and elsewhere and this is easily the best. Clarissa took so so many photos you guys. It’ll be like a whole album on Facebook eventually. For now, you’ll have to content yourselves with this little effort courtesy of the Gorilla Pod:

Thumbs up for Salisbury!

After the Cathedral, we got the bus to Amesbury and walked (again, saving pennies!) to Stonehenge, roughly following this walking guide in The Guardian. Thank you, The Guardian. If any of you were ever thinking about going to Stonehenge, this is the way to do it. The walk was really lovely and Clarissa encountered plenty of sheep, much to her squeaky delight:

Unholy communion

Eventually, Stonehenge appeared on the horizon. Here highlighted by Clarissa:

Just like a special Columbus

Good job. Neither of us knew nor expected, however, that to walk around the stones you have to pay cold hard cash far out your ass. So we didn’t:

Damn you capitalist pigs!

Just say no to commercialism, kids! We weren’t in the least disappointed. In fact, we felt pretty triumphant in having scored one against The Man and we still got a bunch of good photos. Clarissa put a feather in her hair so I had her pose for a picture on the way back.

Yankee doodle

Special needs.

By the time we got back to Bath it was early evening already, so we just went for dinner (Wooo! Pizza Express!) and then back to the hostel. It’s been a real blast in this part of the world. Fun, beautiful and interesting in generous quantities. Now for a brief jaunt in London before we’re off to travel among our odd continental cousins. I suspect Clarissa will leave it until after Amsterdam before the next update, so be prepared for a novel!

Categories: Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Edinburgh and Oban

Riss here checking in from the Crosscountry train on our way to stop number three of the trip–the famous city of Bath!

It’s hard to believe it’s only been five days here in the U.K. I have to admit that I’m already completely smitten. We’ve only just crossed over into England so the verdict remains out here (although I do have high expectations), but Scotland was stupidly, outrageously beautiful. It’s almost ridiculous how lush and green everything is here–ferns and rhododendrons and and butterfly bush and moss growing willynilly out of every rock and crevice, gorgeous annuals growing in every yard and street corner that have long since crisped up in Tennessee, etc. Not only that, but the breathtaking architecture, the insane amount of history, and the lovely accents of the people as well as the new friends I’ve made won me over in a heartbeat!

Saddle up partners, here begins me blathering on endlessly about our adventures thus far.

Our first stop after my landing and meeting my British partner in crime, Haitham, who promptly scared the crap out of me in the airtport by sneaking up on me from the gift shop… yeah that’s right I called you out! This is Haitham with some monkey puzzle trees we saw in the botanic garden:

As mentioned prior in his previous post our first stop of many in our travels was in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. That’s Ed-in-boro for our American readers–I’ve caught myself a few times butchering that and many, many other words, naturally. Upon landing I was swept away in a blur of activity, a lot of which involved us literally dashing from one place or dragging our way up and down endless flights of stairs (okay, maybe not endless but to this lazy American used to the incredibly flat middle Tennessee area it seemed so), as well as walking up and down the very hilly city itself. Edinburgh was packed full of people there for the world’s largest performing arts festival, the Fringe Festival, which provided me with constant people-watching entertainment and the pleasure of seeing some really great street performers on top of everything else. Here’s a picture of Edinburgh complete with Olympic rings and castle upper right:

Like Haitham said, we stayed in his friends Geof and Vanessa’s flat which was located smack dab in the middle of all the pandemonium of Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival. I seriously could not have asked for a better place to stay or more excellent company–Geof, Vanessa, if you guys happen to read this, thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I only wish I could have stayed longer or offered something better than my glazed-over, totally bamboozled company while I was there! ^_^ I had a blast, and definitely expect either to see you in America soon on a trip of your own or on my return later when I can’t stay away anymore!

Thanks to Geof and Vanessa’s expert knowledge of the city we managed to powerhouse through a million different things in the few days we spent there. Obviously I’m a little biased in that I enjoyed the Edinburgh botanic garden immensely (you can go ahead and expect to see too many pictures of all those trees and flowers later via the book of Faces)–it was gorgeous! But walking through castles that have been around longer than America itself was a fantastically fun experience:

as well as squeezing our way up the increasingly narrow 280+ stairs of the Wallace monument (I thought we might end up trapped up there):

taking a turbo tour of the National Museum of Scotland:

hanging out with new friends:

and, one of my absolute favorite parts, climbing up to Arthur’s Seat. Arthur’s Seat sits enticingly close to the city itself. It’s quite something to look around the gorgeous, busy city of Edinburgh and clap your eyes on the huge remnants of volcanic activity a stone’s throw away. I think I could have stayed at the top forever looking down at the city, even though a fierce wind and busy schedule eventually ran us off. Here’s a picture I snapped of it without realizing from the plane as we made our descent:

Blah! I could type for days about the sights and smells I experienced in Edinburgh–but for the sake of time and a relatively short blog entry I suppose I’ll limit myself. I’ll close here with that portion of our trip by saying that I was actually sad to leave Edinburgh. I hope a return is in order in the future… here’s my fingers crossed!

After departing from Edinburgh on Sunday, we headed out by train to make our way to Oban in the north and subsequently the Scottish highlands! I’d read about the beauty of the highlands in the LonelyPlanet trip guide to Europe Haitham sent me, but seeing it in person… oh. em. gee! This is a quick shot from the train before our arrival.

 

Haitham kept bemoaning what we would do to keep occupied in the small town of Oban, but I could have happily sat like an old woman looking at the bay and all of the sailboats and ferries coming and going, the charming bed and breakfasts, or eavesdropping on all the locals/tourists all day. (Yeah I’m an eavesdropper, what of it?)

The next morning after our arrival by train into Oban and meeting Haitham’s father, Hasan, we headed out into the town. Our first stop was Dunollie Castle, the ancient remains of a stone castle that had its beginnings in the 7th century. Can you believe that?? I certainly couldn’t–especially seeing as most of it was still standing. Haitham and I poked about, wondering at what each hollow and floor might have been used for. That’s it on the hill there on the right.

After that, we headed down farther into the town itself where I got my first ever taste of chips! They were delicious, much more flavorful (I feel like I’m betraying my people when I say this) than any American fries. Yuuuum!

And what better to go with some authentic Scottish chips than some native Oban whiskey? My partner in crime and I both went on our first distillery tour then, which was a lot of fun, even though I made a horrible face when treated with a sample of some 9-year-old, cask-strength whiskey. I’m a total wuss when it comes to alcohol, but when faced with the 14-year-old, slightly more diluted product, I think I faced the challenge better. Look at me, getting all cultured alcoholically!

As we left the distillery we finally got caught in a Scottish downpour. I’d been almost eagerly anticipating this event with my new rain jacket, but the weather held pretty amazingly clear up till this point despite what I had expected. We took refuge in a little coffee shop for its duration, which was surprisingly short, and then after headed out to McCaig’s Tower at the top of a crest of hills nearby. Mind you, McCaig’s Tower is not really a tower at all, but a replica of the Colosseum built in 1897. It was beautiful up there! I swear, you could close your eyes and point your camera in Scotland and get a beautiful picture.

After that we spent quite a while farting around, taking pictures and whatnot, when we decided to head back. Haitham’s father happened to be driving past at that point, and he courteously extended our tour by driving us around in the itty bitty streets through the hills of Oban (we had a few extremely tight squeezes past other cars on these roads, already terrifying enough thanks to their driving on the wrong side of the road), and we got to see a lovely view from the top of Pulprit Hill.

 

Here’s Haitham and his father… aren’t they adorable?!

 

Fast forward to now as we hurtle our way through England. That my friends has been only a brief recounting of our adventures so far. Pretty good, I think–hope I didn’t bore too many of our readers to tears out there. Anyway, take care all, and we shall keep you posted! (Post note: we are now in the city of Bath, in England! More updates to come!)

-Riss

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba

Hello all! I’m not exactly sure as to whom I’m addressing my posts on this blog. I suspect a mixture of people I know, people I don’t and the odd handful that have threatened to disconnect various parts of my body. Clarissa is adamant that the words I write here will be well received regardless, so I’ll have to trust her on that.

As hard as it is to believe, Clarissa arrived in Edinburgh only the day before yesterday. Apart from a small delay on her scheduled arrival time, everything went exactly as planned (almost certainly due to my outstanding organisational skills). I’ll admit to having been ever so slightly nervous when I was standing in the arrivals lounge at Edinburgh Airport and waiting for her to walk through the gates. But as soon as I saw her cheeky wee chops it felt as natural as meeting an old friend.

Our first day was pretty hectic and exhausting even for someone on a regular sleep pattern, but Clarissa seemed buoyed by a heady combination of excitement, caffeine and her seemingly endless supply of enthusiasm. We headed from the airport straight over to Geof’s flat, where we stayed for the first couple of nights. For the Tennesseans reading, this is Geof:

Geof showing his charming side

After a very brief pause, we headed out on our super-special, one-of-a-kind walking tour of Edinburgh. The Edinburgh Festival is on right now, so the city is packed to maximum density and there’s something happening on every corner. While very cool for the most part, it makes being a regular tourist a little difficult. We still managed to fit in a march around the old town and grass market, a rub of David Hume’s lucky toe, a quick visit to the castle, a poke around in a special wee fossil shop, a climb up the Walter Scott monument, a hike up Calton Hill, a visit to an ancient graveyard, a photo opportunity outside Holyrood Parliament, a brief spot of whiskey tasting, and the discovery of a hidden herb garden in the middle of the densely-packed tenements of the old city. Needless to say, approximately a million photos were taken in each of these places but you’ll have to look out on facebook for the full set. Here is what Clarissa looked like by the end of our slightly ambitious trek:

Clarissa exhibits exhaustion and interesting aromas.

Glamorous, as always.

A brief recovery was made when we met up with Geof’s better half Vanessa for some brief libations in the charming 1970s ambiance of The Waverley bar and then some tasty veggie burgers at The Holyrood 9A. And then to bed…

Day number 2, somehow still only yesterday, was a somewhat more relaxed affair. After some good, honest water-porridge (and a small vat of coffee for Clarissa), we headed out to the Edinburgh Royal Botanic Gardens, where I became slightly concerned that Clarissa was about to explode given the numerous squeaks and eeps she was emitting at the sight of each new tree or shrub or… whatever.

After we covered about five percent of the Garden we had to rush off to catch our first show of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. My choice, perhaps poorly judged in light of Clarissa’s cultural disability, was a satirical play about the British political scene following the last election. She laughed, but perhaps mostly out of politeness.

After the play, we grabbed a quick, cheap and tasty curry from the mosque (that’s right, I’ll have her converted in no time) and then ran to the Scottish National Museum, which again we only got to see about five percent of before being kicked out. Deciding that we weren’t quite exhausted enough yet, we went for a hike up to the highest point in Edinburgh: Arthur’s Seat. It was windy as hell, but we stayed at the top for a rather ridiculous amount of time, dutifully filling up our memory cards with hundreds of barely distinguishable photographs. Here’s one:

Clarissa gets blown around

Despite having climbed Arthur’s Seat many times before, I’ve never enjoyed it quite so much. Clarissa’s enthusiasm for everything is infectious and it’s hard not to vicariously feel excited too when she sqeaks with glee at each new thing she claps her eyes on.

We spent our second evening in Edinburgh with Geof, Vanessa and my other two excellent buddies Ian and Victoria, eating, drinking and watching a standup show by Hannibal Buress. Then back to the flat to drink tea and discuss real politik like the cultured intellectuals we are.

This morning we capped off our time in Edinburgh with a stroll around the New Town, drinking coffee and eating scones. Then another visit to the Botanic Gardens and some more wandering, trying to jam in as many sites as we could into our last few hours in the capital city. On the train out of Edinburgh and headed for the highlands, as I write this now, it almost seems a shame to be leaving. We had a real blast in Edinburgh, thanks in no small part to Geof and Vanessa. But time and tide wait for no man! Clarissa and I have plans to keep and miles to go before we sleep. The first three days of our trip have been every bit as enjoyable as I hoped they would be and, judging by the fact that Clarissa has had a Cheshire-cat grin for the last seventy-two hours, I suspect she feels the same way.

Now on to Oban! I’ll make sure the next post is by Ms Moditz herself. She’s been practising her Scottish accent (which sounds a lot like Mary Poppins, bizarrely) so maybe that’ll come across.

Categories: Uncategorized | 17 Comments

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Riss here checking in pre-mega-awesome-magical-rainbow-adventure time!

It’s probably terribly cliché to title this post with a line from John Denver’s famous song, but can you really go wrong with a classic?

I’m excitedly awaiting departure at 2:30 pm today from the good ol’ Nashvegas airport. So many firsts are about to take place for me that I only distantly hoped for in the past, I can barely believe it–it still seems unreal that it’s actually happening! My first time using my fantastic new backpack (thanks parentals for an absolutely perfect graduation present)–first overseas plane ride–my first red-eye flight–and most exciting of all, my first time stepping foot on the soil of another country and traveling abroad. And even now, my first time updating a travel blog! I must admit I’m entirely unsure what to say. Hmmm… how about I’m excited to use my new fancy-shmance squishy neck pillow? Or that I’m curious to try the vegetarian food that I opted for on my flights? Or that I’m STOKED to be leaving the heat of Tennessee behind for cooler, albeit much rainier, climes? Or that I absolutely can’t wait to see my cohort Haitham in Edinburgh tomorrow in the a.m.?

Well, I suppose that’s all for me for now.

Love to all of my friends and family, so, so much love!

-Riss

Categories: Uncategorized | 2 Comments

If Music be the Food of Adventure…

Here is what we’ll be listening to while we cycle through the Dutch countryside or fly across Germany in a classy Deutsche Bahn train compartment:

Updated all the time, y’all! I think you’ll find it’s one of the best roadtrip playlists ever created, as long as Clarissa doesn’t add too much more of The Chemical Brothers…

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.