Friday, September 26, 2008

Food. It's what's for eating.

Food is quite possibly going to be my downfall while I'm here. That or stockings.

See, I like to try new things, and when I'm in a place like the Victuals Market of Munich, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of new things to try. From fruit stands to vegetable stands to meatshops to honey shops to bakeries...for a sensualist like me, it's maddening.

So today I had my first bratwurst and my first taste of sauerkraut. The brat was delicious, of course, but the wasn't bad, but my tastebuds definitely aren't used to the flavor. Every bite I took startled me all over again.

The seafood portion of the market had a stall where you could pick out fresh fish and get them to cook it for you right there. I spied some shrimp big as lobster tails (no joke) and got those sauteed in garlic and butter and spent a couple of extra Euros on a glass of sparkling wine. If you're reading this and don't know me, you should know I don't drink alcohol (and therefore have no alcohol tolerance) so casually buying a glass of anything is a big deal for me. The goal is to work up to a mini mug of beer before I leave Bavaria; it would be sad, truly, to have come all this way and not sample what the region is famous for.

After the shrimp, I had an apricot jam filled doughnut and a cappucino, and later I had a chocolate covered cherry steeped in some kind of alcohol. Gods. If indulgence is a sin, then I'm a sinner through and through because I'm not holding back.

But that's not all. Yesterday, I had a rum, raisin, and hazelnut chocolate bar, the vanilla creme filled doughnut from Oktoberfest (rivals Krispy Kreme, it's so good, and I don't say that lightly), and several Bavarian pretzel sandwiches. Oh, the pretzels...before now, I've only had cheap and pasty imitations. The pretzels here are amazing, and they're everywhere.

A small, plain pretzel (about the size of one you'd buy from a mall vendor back home) are around half a Euro. Buy it with butter and that's about 1 Euro. With butter and cheese is 1.5 Euro. And you can keep going until you have Bavarian pretzel sandwiches with everything from tomato and mozzarella to three different kinds of meat on them. And the pretzels come in sizes other than small; at Oktoberfest, in some of the beer tents, I saw pretzels the size of hubcaps.

Random: BMW manufactures the citybuses here.

I'm back on my preplanned schedule which is reassuring because 1) I like direction and 2) I don't like finding last minute accomodation. Now that I've seen the city, I'm ready to venture outside it. Tomorrow, I go to Dachau and hopefully I'll be able to post about my experience there soon.

Oh, oh! I forgot to mention, I saw the German chancellor today, Chancellor Merkel. She was giving some kind of speech in Marienplantz and it was crazy. Police everywhere (police here carry the largest batons I've ever seen--not that I've seen many--they stretch from hip to knee), people everywhere, cameras everywhere. I need to find an English language newssource to see what all the hubbub was about.

The cafe is about to close so I have to leave, but I should be able to come back later on this week and finish my updates. Ciao.

Thursday, September 25, 2008



Today, obviously, I went to Oktoberfest. Before I begin, I have to explain to you my method of wandering around new cities. I basically start in the direction of the biggest, oldest, most important looking building, and, once there, look for the next biggest, oldest, most important looking building and wander off in that new direction. Sometimes I take side streets because they look cool, or hop on a bus going to a completely random place. I've found that this approach not only makes me learn my way around, it (more often that not) brings me directly to the sights I want to see. Which is exactly what happened today.

Usually I have my map when I wander but today, I forgot it. As it was cold, windy, and rainy, I really didn't want to walk the several blocks back to my hotel to retrieve it, not least of which was because I didn't trust myself to leave to leave my warm, dry, windless room again. Completely directionless, I stumbled into what appeared to be an Arabic-speaking neighborhood before spotting a church at the end of a long street and heading in that direction. Churches make for excellent landmarks, by the by; you can spot their spires from almost anywhere.

I make it to the church (stopping to get a butter filled Bavarian pretzel along way--Yum!) only to find that it was locked tight. My dissapointment was soon replaced with curiousity when the faint strains of "Oom-Pah" music began to reach my ears. Starting off in this new direction, I soon found myself face to face with a huge wooden wagon stacked high with beer barrels and decorated with assorted flowers and verdant wreaths and drawn by six of the brawinest horses I have ever seen. The impressive sight was diminished only slightly by the steamy, grassy, poo balls the horses dropped every few feet or so.

Turning to my left, I saw sea of women in dirdnls and men in lederhosen and realized I'd stumbled quite accidentally into Oktoberfest. My first impression was "This is just like Georgia State Fair only with fewer pigs and more beer." My second impression was "This is nothing like the Georgia State Fair."

The carnival like atmosphere was there, but there was something more, a feeling harder to pinpoint. It was like someone decided to throw a huge party and invite a few thousand of their closest friends. Everyone seemed happy and happy to be there. The whole thing made me smile immediately.

There were beer tents of course, filled to the brim with busty lasses clutching a half dozen beer mugs in each hand, people sitting at long wooden tables slinging back long draughts, bands playing what I guess was traditional German music (while drinking entire glasses of beer between songs and between verses too if they could manage it), and even some people dancing on tables.

Aside from the beer tents there was a midway with carnival games and rides whose only purpose seemed to be making people throw up all that beer. There was plenty of food too. Most of the stalls seemed to fall into three main categories: roasted and sweetened nuts, bavarian pretzels, and assorted pastries. There were also quite a few sausage stands of course, but they seemed to be quite outnumbered by these other three. Some of the pastry stands sold what appeared to be gingerbread hearts covered in icing; it seemed that men would buy the hearts and give them to their female sweethearts.

Not really wanting a beer (the beer tents aren't really set up for people traveling alone), I found the pastry and coffee tent and bought a mug of steaming coffee with a vanilla creme filled doughnut. Heaven. While on the midway, I bought a ferris wheel ticket so I could take a ride to the top and look over everything. After a few hours, I was tired of swimming through the sea of people, but I have to say, it was quite an enjoyable experience and I'm very, very glad I went.

Plans for the rest of my time in Munich include the Glockenspiel, daytrips to Dachau, Salzburg, and Neuschwanstein Castle, and a train trip to the Black Forest if I can manage it before heading off to Amsterdam.

Friday, September 19, 2008


I didn't update my journal, either paper or online, yesterday. My stomach feels a bit queasy; I'm not sure why.

I did something very, very stupid today (stupid in the financial sense, not the personal safety one). I forgot to check my Eurail pass for discounts which means I spent twice as much as I should have on my ferry ticket. As Aki sensibly pointed out to me, it would have been cheaper for me to fly back to Stockholm. I hate it when I don't think and I hate it when I miss obvious things; it makes me annoyed with myself.

Helsinki was quite nice, not least of which was because I met up with L.'s friend Aki who very generously showed me around and let me crash on his couch. We saw (and I am likely to get the names wrong here), the Helsinki Cathedral, the Russian cathedral, the market on the shore, the fortress island complex of Suomelinna, and the Tower to get a view of the city.

The highlight of the day thought was going to Fazer Cafe, a posh little place I'd passed the day before, but hadn't stopped at and so couldn't stop thinking about.

I quite believe the cake I had at Fazer is going to be the closest thing I have to sex for quite some time. I ordered a jewel-like, glistening, raspberry topped sweet, filled with custard, and nesting on a crust which tasted exactly like shortbread cookies. I wish my writing weren't so blunt so I could convey the full splendor of that dessert, but I'll try as best I can.

As good as that confection looked (like a ruby, only better because it was edible) the taste...oh gods, the taste. First, there was the tart sharpness of the raspberries prickling my tongue and making me salivate, followed by the smooth, sweet, creaminess of the custard, warming in my mouth and spreading across my tongue as it melted, and finally the crisp bite of the shortbread, a textural contrast with both the jellied consistency of the raspberries and the sensuous richness of the custard.

The first taste made me dissolve into a puddle in my chair, and the feeling didn't diminish with each subsequent bite. Over and over again, there was the tartness, the creaminess, and the crispy finish, every taste as intense as the last. For the first time, I understood the full meaning of the phrase, "Having your cake and eating it too."

The mint macchiato afterward, with it's harsh yet flavorful bittnerness, felt how I imagine a cigarette would feel after an evening of great sex. After the whole thing, I left the cafe with an improbably inappropriate grin on my face, stumbling into the street.

I'm on the ferry for the rest of the night, and don't imagine I will have much to report whilst I'm in the middle of some unknown body of water. Tomorrow, I'm back in Stockholm, and will see the VasaMuseet, Nobel Museum, Ikea, and the Ice Bar before moving on to Copenhagen, the birthplace of The Little Mermaid (squeeee!!!).

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Thing I'm glad I pashmina shawl--functions as a shawl, scarf, and headwrap.

Thing I wish I'd brought...thermal underwear. Maybe a cell phone. It's a toss-up.

Thing I appreciate...not needing an internal passport to travel within my country's borders.

Thing I don't appreciate...being monolingual.

Thing I like the most...(almost) everything. Sometimes I can't believe I'm really doing this!

Thing I dislike the most...the cold. Seriously. It's fucking cold.

By the by...

In case you haven't noticed, the times on my journal entries are utterly wrong. All my entries are in chronological order but as I can only update my blog en masse, I write my posts longhand in a paper journal and then transcribe them to the 'net once I have computer access.

Just on the off chance you were wondering...


I'm in Helsinki now. The hotel I'm staying at is in the city center, per my preference; it tends to cost a bit more, but it's also a bit easier to navigate.

I didn't know that Marimekko was a Finnish company. There's a store practically on every corner and I'm in love with their prints. My beanbag chair is a Marimekko pattern for those who've seen it. Sadly, I can't afford any of their really nice things, but I did pick up a daily planner for 2009 (it was pricey but I told myself it would amoritize over time, plus I'd be reminded of my Europe trip everytime I used it) and a couple of things for a certain sugarbaby.

There's also a grocery store closeby which is good news as now I can pick up certain items I'm consuming frequently like tea and bread. I figure tomorrow, I'll buy some fruit, cheese, bread, honey, and perhaps some olive oil. Not only will that give me something to graze on during the day, but I'll have something to eat while I'm in transit.

More walking around tomorrow and a 15 hour overnight ferry to Sweden the day after that.

For now, I think I'm going to have herring for dinner. Again. Good thing I like fish.

And I'm out.

I'm on the train to Helsinki, perhaps two hours away from my final destination and my demeanor is much improved.

My cabin was with a nice married couple who practiced their English with me, and graciously allowed me to practice my decrepit Russian with them. Upon finding out I went all the way to Russia, but hadn't drunk any vodka, they promptly produced a bottle (like magic!) and started pouring shots. They also shared their bread, meat, cheese, fruit, chocolate, and tomato juice with me.

I think they sensed I was a drinking lightweight as they insisted I have a sandwich and a glass of tomato juice after every shot. They would say in thickly accented English, "Eat, Cora, eat," but once I had finished my sandwich and juice, they would immediately pour another shot. I had four shots total.

In retrospect, I wonder if I was being very stupid by accepting food and drink from strangers, but I had a good feeling from them, especially the woman and they helped the 13 hour train ride pass a bit faster. All the same, I slept with my purse under my pillow and my backpack latched to the railing.

In the morning, the train attendant knocked on all the cabins and told us to get ready for customs. All bathrooms were locked as were all the doors between train compartments. An announcement was made that the train was under customs control and we were to sit in our assigned cabins until customs was over.

The process was much less painless than I expected. I told the customs agent that I did not speak Russia (this is, quite possibly, my best phrase in Russian) and responded to all his questions with "I don't understand" (also said in Russian). Satisfied that I was a dumbass who couldn't possibly have the sense to smuggle anything out of anywhere, they quickly left me alone.

My travel companions were less fortunate. The customs agents gave them much grief over the bottle of vodka, and made them fill out several forms but were still unsatisfied. Only when my companions gave them money did they leave our cabin.

About an hour that, we reached the Finland border and Finnish customs. The officials seemed genuinely surprised to see an American passport, and asked several useless questions ("Where are you from?" "America.") before returning it. About a half hour later, they came back and asked to see it again, bringing "an expert in American passports" with them. The "expert" studied the passport very intensely, asking me to take off my glasses and headscarf (I woke up with a serious case of nappy head and so had tied my shawl over my hair). They consulted with each other in Finnish, flipped through my passport several times in each direction, stared at me, and then, finally satisfied, handed my passport back.

I exchanged e-mail addresses with the female half of the couple and then my trip was over.

Oh, I forgot to mention that the hotel bellhop (in his street clothes) escorted me to the train station last night as my train did not depart until 11 p.m. I noticed that no one, no one at all, bothered me during the walk. Not a glance, not a stare, not a request (or mobbing) for pictures, not a shove. Nothing. It was a relief and only reaffirmed that I was right in my decision to leave.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Mmmm...I just had some incredibly good sugarfat.

I'm sitting in the lobby of the hotel (where I will remain until my train leaves tonight) catching up on some Lovecraft, eating decadently, and staying warm. That last bit is especially important.

Mostly though, I'm planning my itinerary for these next two, suddenly free, weeks. I'm thinking of going through Helsinki then on to Stockholm down to Copenhagen and finally to Germany, either Hamburg or Berlin. The first thing I must do, however, is get on that train.

Anyway, back to the sugarfat. On the menu, it's called the chocolate and cherry cake but really it's just a brick of chocolate mousse (brick referring to the shape not the weight of the fluffy confection) on top of dense, nutty chocolate cake covered in chocolate with chocolate cutouts pasted to the sides and served with strawberries and whipped cream. I asked for a glass of milk to go with the cake (must be proactive about my bone density after all) and they brought me a huge mug full of warm cream. Cream. I swoon.

This morning, I had an unpleasant e-mail waiting in my inbox from my Russian associate calling me, among other things, selfish and I suppose I am. I was unhappy. I was tired of being unhappy. And so I took drastic steps to increase my happiness. As my friend K. says, "You are responsible for your own happiness" and if that's not true while I'm on my own half a world away, I'm not sure when (or where) it is. I also suppose that stance can make a little unpleasant at times, but I don't think I can avoid that.

In the heat of panic last night, I called my parents to inform them of the whole gory situation and now that everything is calm, I almost, almost wish I hadn't. Here's why I'm still glad I did, 1) they needed to know my approximate whereabouts in case something did happen to me and 2) they have access to resources I don't. A bit of hyperactive worrying (which I hope will pass once I'm back in more westerly Europe) is a small price to pay for extending a safety net I desperately needed a few hours ago.

The point is, things are looking up. My father suggested, in his blunt way, that I need emergency funds, and, after getting over my hurt feelings, I agreed with him. After two mishaps, I'm much better prepared psychologically to deal with failed plans, but it wouldn't hurt to have more tangible resources.

And with that, I'm off to bask in the wondrous glory of my sugarfat induced haze.

Monday, September 15, 2008


I'm done.

After being left outside in the cold for three hours, it started to rain. Immediately afterwards, I began to think I'd have been better off planning this portion of my trip on my own and by "better off" I mean warm, dry, full, and with a room of my own.

Once I began to think that, I had the necessary resolve to navigate my way back to the train station and begin the horrifyingly daunting task of finding the rail station I needed to get out of the country. Grateful that my sense of direction has no language barriers, I found my way back to the metro with relative ease, but that still didn't solve my problem of actually getting on the metro.

I had just enough rubles to buy a single rail pass so I knew I needed to make this trip count. Standing in front of the metro map, I tried to match the Anglicized names in my guidebook with the Cyrillic names on the station map. Once I unlocked one name, it became easier to find a few others. A teenage boy who knew some English was invaluable in helping me the rest of the way.

Going through the gates and passing yet another gaggle of police, I boarded the train and promptly missed my stop. I was able to get on a train going the opposite direction, and got it right the second time but there was still the matter of how exactly to get out of the country. I had no contacts. No Russian language skills. And no rubles.

I wandered towards the first thing that looked like a ticket station, asking in feeble Russian, "Please, a ticket to St. Petersburg?" The woman shook her head no, said something in Russian, and pointed in the direction from which I'd just come. Wandering back that way, I asked at the metro ticket counter, "St. Petersburg?" only for her to shake her head no and point back in the opposite direction.

Frustrated, I sat down on the ground and pulled out my map again then instantly realized something I hadn't noticed when walking with my Russian friend...she provided a buffer to me. Without her around, I was suddenly aware of everything. The most personally invasive incident happened when a group of young women surrounded me and started shouting. At first I thought they were demanding that I get up and move, then they started poking and prodding me and waving their hands directly in front of my face, and finally they all pulled out cameras and began taking my picture. When I tried to move out of the circle, they pushed me back in. Though I haven't had any incidents with Russian men, many of them shouted things to me as I walked by, waggling their eyebrows and making kissy faces.

I felt stupid for even coming to Russia, or at least stupid for relying on only one person. That will never happen again.

I'm almost surprised I didn't start crying while I was walking around desperately, but perhaps my subconscious knew better. Tears would surely have only made things worse.

Friday, September 12, 2008

random notes

I'll likely want to do full posts about these topics later, but for now I'll just mention them.

BBC is amazing. The concept of international news is wonderful.

Ethnicity is much more salient than race here. This makes sense, of course; I'm simply commenting on how novel that appears to me.

I'm very obviously American and have very obviously American mannerisms that I didn't even notice before coming here.

Notes from Today

Today I learned that it not enough to merely attend the breakfast buffet. One must be sure to arrive there before everyone else as well. Failure to do so will result in one being deprived of the good parts. By good parts, I mean bacon. My need for bacon has resulted in me waking up at 6:30 a.m. every morning, an ungodly hour no matter which time zone you're in.

In the afternoon, I visited the Royal Palace and the Grand Hotel today and spent more time than was necessary in both. For the Royal Palace, the reason was that I wanted to get my money's worth as I had purchased the full tour tickets. For the Grand Hotel, the reason was that I needed to satisfy my curiousity that it was indeed too grand for me.

I was too tired to walk to any of my other planned excursions such as the Vasamuseet, the world's largest Ikea, or the Nobel Prize Museum. My chest and throat feels like a mouse went scurrying about in them and left tiny scratches with its paws.

Today I learned that Stockholm is actually composed of islands connected by bridges. Today, I also found Old Town which is a lot like Little Five Points in Atlanta, only blonder.

I am rapidly becoming addicted to European chocolate. Chocolate covered candied orange peel may well be the new crack and I mean that in the most affectionate way possible.

I also get lost everytime I go outside. This doesn't bother me much as I don't really have an agenda and I often have interesting experiences along the way (like explaining to the Swedish Parliament security guards how exactly I found my way into their building).

Tomorrow I leave for Russia and will be there for the next two weeks. I think I can I call my brief time in Scandinavia (one week already?) a success.

Oh, and today for dinner I had buttered salmon with potatoes for 135 kr. I'm beginning to see a pattern here.

Nothing happened today


I woke up with an achy head and a scratchy throat and decided I might be better off taking it easy than jaunting off around the city.

I pretty much slept all day and only woke up to visit the breakfast buffet, the apothecary, and a cafe for lunch (where I had tomato and herring soup).

I don't really feel bad, but I'm scared to death of feeling worse. I'd rather have to take it easy for a day now, than spend a week in bed later because I didn't listen to my body. Despite bundling up in layers with my hat and tights and gloves and scarf, the wind is still cutting me to pieces.

Speaking of hats, my hat seems to be getting a few stares. I bought it in Norway from a local handicrafts kind of shop. It's turquoise and brown striped with a lime green stripe running up the back and a pointy top and ear flaps. I like it; it makes me smile. It also keeps my head warm which is of the utmost importance now.

I visited another street vendor tonight. Around midnight, I got an incredible craving for a chocolate bar, so I wandered up to the 7-11 (they're on every corner here), bought a chocolate bar I've never heard of before (the Lion bar) and stopped at hamburger vendor on the way back to the hotel. I got a drink, fries, and burger for 65 kr or roughly 10 USD. Not McDonald's prices, but quite inexpensive for where I am. The food wasn't great, but it was tolerable, which is all I can really expect.

I think I'm going to go back to bed now. I'd actually like to do some sightseeing tomorrow.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Eat where the locals eat

Turns out that old adage is true after all.

I just had the most delicious meal of mustard fried herring with mashed potatoes and a cappucino, all for around 150 kr. The exchange rate is slightly better here (6 kr equal 1 USD as opposed to 5 kr in Norway) so expenses should a bit cheaper.

My train arrived in Stockholm around 10:20 p.m. Unfortunately, because of a profound scheduling snafu, I don't have a room yet.

You see, I originally planned to take the overnight train from Oslo to Stockholm which would not only save me the expense of a hotel reservation but also save me the tedium of back to back seven hour train rides. Alas, the rail service canceled their overnight train from Oslo to Stockholm so I had the option of either arriving in Sweden tonight or tomorrow night. I gambled that a hotel somewhere would have a room available for me and thus I could get a jump on my time in Stockholm by arrive 12 hours or so earlier than planned.

I lost my gamble.

Turns out there's some kind of big deal medical conference in town and all the rooms everywhere are booked. Those rooms that aren't hotel rooms are booked by travelers like me, so I'm left without a place to sleep tonight. The hotel was kind enough to hold my bags for the evening, and I've checked my e-mail in the business center and the like, but I'm really not sure what to do other than wander the city.

Update: So I wandered the city. It was cold, and it was rainy, but it was pretty safe. I'm near central square and plenty of bars and pubs and the like are open late. Around 4 a.m., my throat and head started bothering me so I wandered back to the hotel and they found me a room because someone no-showed. I'm going to go upstairs and crash now, I think.


People who wear too much perfume on trains should be shot.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Adventures in Street Eating (first in a series)

Tonight, I bought my first meal from a street vendor--a fishburger for 60 kr. I had high hopes despite the alarmingly low price (after all, the waffle I had earlier today was quite tasty) and even splurged on a Coke.

Oh, how dissapointed I was.

The fishburger can best be described as a mealy, fish-flavored, carbohydrate heavy, slightly gelatinous patty slathered in mayonnaise without even a hint of actual fish meat contained therein. It actually had me craving a McFish or whatever McDonald's calls their fish sandwiches.

At least they couldn't mess up the coke.


Who knew the cheapest meal I'd have so far would be on the ferry? Granted, it was only a waffle and coffee, but it cost only 40 kr which is baragin basement around here.

Tomorrow, I have a very long train ride to Stockholm (about 14 hours) so I need to pack snacks accordingly, even if that means pilfering from the breakfast table again. The morning spread here is nice. Bergen is a fishing village so there are a lots of shrimp and salmon and various fish dishes on the table in addition to bacon, eggs, yogurt, fresh fruit, and bread.

The fjords are beautiful. There's not much else I can think to say about them though.

Monday, September 8, 2008


Right now, I'm on the 6:35 a.m. train to Bergen.

I'm still quite jet-lagged. I woke up at 3:30 a.m. and couldn't fall back to sleep. Wanting to give myself enough time to get to the train, I checked out my hotel at 5:30 a.m. and asked the desk clerk if there were any cafes open. He laughed and said, "This is Norway." It felt a bit like he was saying, "Silly rabbit, 24 hour conveniences are for Americans." Fortunately, they had some bread, meat, cheese, and fruit laid out so I ate my fill before walking to the train station. I also took a slice of bread and honey with me for later and only felt slightly guilty as I did so. I pretend like I'm playing Oliver Twist, "Please sir, may I have some more?"

Oh, and my throat is hoarse.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A full day

Today I saw Munch's Scream, Viking Ships from the first millenium, the U.S. Embassy, City Hall (where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded), the Harbor, and the Royal Palace. Considering that I spent the first half of the day lost, I'm quite pleased with all I saw.

Several of my bus driver's today were Iraqi Kurds, and, upon finding out I was American, offered their opinions of the war. They ranged from "Bush is a courageous hero who saved my people," to "War is evil, and new wars do not fix old wars." They also wanted to know what I think of Obama.

Though I may regret it later, right now I'm quite glad I booked hotels ahead of time. After a day of adventurously illiterate wandering, the last thing I feel like doing is figuring out where I'm going to sleep at night.

Oh, something else I noticed today...Oslo doesn't have stop signs. Not a single one.

Tiny Victories

Today's small triumph--finding the rail station.

It was even colder when I woke up this morning. Getting a hat and scarf is definitely a priority; I'd hate to catch cold.

I forgot to change any of my money into Kroner before I left Heathrow, and I paid for that error this morning. Turns out businesses are required by law to be closed on Sundays here. So I went without breakfast (slept too late to get the hotel's breakfast--which will not happen again) and set off to find Grand Central.

After wandering in the wrong direction three times, I finally found it. Now I'm sitting in a local kebab place, eating something that vaguely resembles a beef pita sandwich with corn and onions.

The train to Bergen is 7 hours long and leaves at 6:30 a.m.

I also bought an Olso rail pass so after finishing my sandwich, I think Í'm going to ride the bus for the rest of the day.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Where Nobody Knows My Name

First night in Europe and I'm in Oslo, Norway. I've just paid for the most expensive cab ride in the history of cab rides-895 Kr. You're going to have to do the conversion yourself as I'm much too embarrassed to post the USD equivalent here. It just proves (for any remaining unbelievers) how much the dollar sucks right now. Ah well, I won't complain.

The good news is that my hotel is in city square by lots of restaurants and shops and the like. I settled on eating at Applebee's-esque chain named Egon as I promised myself that my first meal here (or any meal, if I can help it) would not be at a TGIFriday's or McDonald's.

For dinner, I ordered a corn, red onion, and butter baked potato and a blueberry crepe and a coke. Tired as I was on the plane, I'm not even a little sleepy now, so I imagine I'll go back to my room and stitch a bit.

Soooo...first impressions--wow, everyone's tall here. Second impression--wow, it's cold. I'm really wishing I brought the hat and scarf Karen knit for me now.

Tomorrow, I'm going to sightsee a bit and figure out how to get to Bergen.

The Morning After

I cross-stitched a bit before napping.

Breakfast was quite a bit better than dinner, but I imagine that's because it's a lot harder to screw up a bagel and banana.

Our flight landed at Heathrow-London about an hour early. While trying to find the terminal for my flight to Oslo, I couldn't help but notice that Heathrow has pretty much only one sign--"Baggage Claim." I interpret that to mean "Get the fuck out."

I took a bus to my next terminal and went through security again (where my nipple rings set off the dinger) and am currently waiting in the general lobby.

You see, at Heathrow, they don't tell you where your gate is until approximately 15 minutes before your flight leaves. Then it's a mad, Ben-hur like dash to sprint down the terminal just in time to watch your (empty) flight take off the runway. I think the Brits still like a bit of the old ultraviolence.

Only 300 minutes to go...

Don't Know if God Exists

I'm not a picky eater, but I do believe I've just finished the worst meal of my entire life.

I got the chicken. It smelled a bit like tire rubber, and tasted exactly like (don't ask me how I know what tire rubber tastes like).

I'm also turning into a bit of a germaphobe. The guy in front of me has a wet, hacking couch and everytime he gags and gurgles into a hanky (I'm an optimist; let's assume there's a hanky), I shudder.

The plane is going super fast. In an hour, we were flying over Pittsburgh. Why don't they always go so fast?

I think I'm going to try to nap now.

Friday, September 5, 2008

And the spirit struck me...

I'm in the plane, approximately 20 minutes away from takeoff. I have an aisle seat, per my request, and I feel like the only person not adding to the indistinguishable chatter in the cabin.

Last minute prep work went more or less as expected. Around 6:00 p.m., I realized that whatever wasn't done wasn't going to get done--okay, someone just farted; that was disgusting--and I should just get ready.

I thought I'd feel differently once the day arrived, but I don't. There's a vague sense of leaving a former life behind, of beginning a new chapter in the never-ending story of me, but mostly I feel exactly the same.

I told my Dad goodbye on my Mom's cell phone. I told my Mom goodbye at the airport and was surprised to see her cry. As much as my parents antagonize me, I never try to hurt them; it bothers me that something which is so important to me makes them so sad.

While waiting in the airport lobby, I cross-stitched and started reading a history of patriarchy while trying not to feel like caricature of a spinster.

The flight attendants are passing out eye masks, earphones, and a dinner menu with several impossibly unpalatable options now. And I just remembered I forgot my camera.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Tomorrow, tomorrow...

In something like 18 hours, I'll be boarding a plane to Europe.

Between now and then, I need to check, double check, and triple check that all my stuff is together.

In other news, my Russian visa was approved, so yay!

In slightly worse other news, my international phone doesn't work, so boo!

And I'm off!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

well fuck a duck

The thing I received in the mail that I thought was my Russia visa?

Turns out it isn't my Russia visa but is just an invitation to get a Russian visa.

Now I'm supposed to go to Washington and apply for a Russian visa.

I may not be going to Russia after all.


Thursday, August 21, 2008


So I decided against taking my laptop with me. There simply isn't enough room in my backpack, and the rule for this trip is, "If it won't fit, leave it." Instead, I'm taking three, smaller, more portable pieces of tech: a GPS, an Ipod, and a cell phone.

The reason for the cell phone should be obvious. I need a way of calling out and having others call in, though, with the exorbitant call rates, there probably won't be much talking in either direction.

The point of the Ipod, while less obvious, should also be readily apparent. I'm taking quite a few plane, train, and ferry rides and I want to have a bit of music along with me to pass the time.

The GPS, however, is something I was undecided about for a long time. I'm not a gadget geek by anyone's imagining. In fact, I'm more of a luddite; technology scares me. However, I did want to have a way of a) figuring out where I was and b) figuring out where I needed to go without having to pull out a map everytime.

Therefore, I settled on a small, outdated GPS (mine is a 200 version while the company is making 800 versions) which comes pre-loaded with maps of America, Canada, and Europe. Now that I think about it, I should probably play with it before I go.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

3.5 weeks to go

Not surprisingly, I've been slacking off a bit lately. Haven't been going to gym, haven't been looking for a mailbox, haven't been putting my stuff into boxes, and so on.

With only 3 and a half weeks to go, my slacking off has to stop. Like now.

This morning, I drove back up to Athens and my uncomfortably empty apartment. In the next couple of days, I'm tossing the rest of my crap (mostly magazines, dishes, and a few linens) into the trunk of my car and closing up shop. After that, I'm driving down to my parents house in Macon to spend the weekend.

Next week, I'm cleaning my apartment and handing the keys back to management. The week after that, I'm putting all my stuff into storage. That weekend is Dragon*Con, and the very next weekend is when I leave. really doesn't seem like long when I put it that way.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

good news

My travel visa to Russia was definitively approved and is on its way to me as I type.

Russian bureaucracy is notoriously unreliable. So, even though I applied back in April, it was still up in the air about whether I would get one or not until last week.

Fortunately, none of the other countries I'm visiting require visas.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


For the past couple of days, I've been ordering my travel clothes from online. Several people have recommended cargo shorts and nylon pants and hiking boots and that sort of thing. Maybe I'm just naive (actually, I'm almost certainly naive), but I don't want to look like a backpacker for my entire trip.

I want to have a nice dress in case I decide to go out to dinner. I want a skirt to change things up from pants. Hell, I want semi-nice pants. I'll bring a pair of hiking shoes, but I'll also bring a pair of ballet flats. In other words, because of where I'm going and when and what I plan to do, I don't think there's any reason for me to spend everyday looking like a camper.

So...I bought this dress from REI:

This skirt from Columbia:

These pants from North Face (in a couple of colors):

And shirts like this one from Patagonia:

It's still a travel wardrobe, just a nicer one. I'm also starting early enough that if I don't like one thing I bought, I have enough time to find something else. In other words, no last-minute packing here.

Come to think of it, this is quite possibly the first time I haven't procrastinated.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

one month to go

I'm now in the final countdown until my big trip to Europe. I've bought my plane tickets, my travel insurance, and made all my hotel reservations (a major gaffe, I later learned, but this is my first trip outside the country).

I'm a little tentative, a little nervous, and a lot excited. I've wanted to travel for as long as I can remember, but couldn't--or wouldn't--for one reason or another. Now that my dream is becoming a reality, I'm practically vibrating with anticipation.

My itinerary, which is long and crowded, looks like this:

9/5-9/8--Oslo, Norway
9/8-9/11--Bergen, Norway
9/11-9/13--Stockholm, Sweden
9/13-9/26--Russia (Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kazan, Irkutsk)
9/26-9/30--Munich, Germany
9/30-10/2--Amsterdam, Netherlands
10/2-10/4--Brussels, Belgium
10/4-10/7--Geneva, Switzerland
10/7-10/11--Vienna, Austria
10/11-10/26--Italy (Padua, Venice, Florence, Rome, Vatican City, Naples)
10/26-11/3--Greece (Athens, Paros, Crete, Delphi)
11/3-11/15-Paris, France
11/15-11/23--Spain (Barcelona, Madrid, daytrips to Cordoba and Seville)
11/23-11/26--Edinburgh, Scotland
11/26-11/28--Belfast, North Ireland
11/28-11/29--Dublin, Ireland
11/29-11/30--Cardiff, Wales
11/30-12/12--London, England (and surrounding towns)

Wow...if just typing it out makes me tired, I wonder how traveling it is going to feel! Nonetheless, I'll find a way to make it work. The thing I have to remember is that this is the trip of a lifetime, and I should treat it as such.