Live Tired!

So, I tried to figure out how to make these four videos play seamlessly on one player–I had the embedding code and after reading forum after forum on how to get a video longer than 10 minutes to play on youtube, or at least in the same player… I have given up… It has been a three day process and youtube has won this battle… BUT, you can just press play four times and pretend it’s one long video ;)  Enjoy (if you have 35 minutes to kill):

Final thoughts on my time overseas:

I have heard a lot through this journey how lucky I am.  How people wished they had this opportunity or would love to do something similar to it.  I have been lucky–from the beginning, having a random conversation that led me to Terry, all the way to the point at which my dad got the buddy pass for me to get over here 5 days before I left.  I have been lucky that I lived with such a giving and gracious host.  I have been lucky to have many people around me to fellowship with, learn from, catch rides from, shares stories with, play ball with, travel with.  I have been lucky to get to play and coach the greatest game on the planet for 22 years.  I have been lucky; probably more accurately called—blessed.

But… You can’t get lucky if you’re not willing (yes I know, that’s what she said).  Many opportunities get dismissed right away and completely forgotten.  I don’t remember very many things that I have never done.  David Daly (President of FCA Baseball) mentions playing baseball in Hungary and coaching kids.  I could have laughed that one off and my life would have been totally different.  Maybe not worse, but it certainly would have tasted more bland in many ways (substitute teaching; A.K.A. pushing the play button, passing out worksheets, giving tests, and telling kids to be quiet while doing it).

Yes I missed my fantasy football draft and 2 ½ months with my fiancé, family and friends (items not listed in order of importance, I promise).  Those things crossed my mind, but when you want something and there is a remote possibility it could happen, explore it.  So many times I talk to people trying to figure out God’s will and so many times I have told them that God puts passion in our hearts for a reason—follow them within His standards!  I wanted to do this so bad… That was enough.  Nothing great was ever done without passion nor was anything great ever done out of complete and utter duty.   If I am passionate about something, I can make great things happen.

One does not have time to maintain one’s regrets when they are furiously following their passions through the lens of Christ.  It’s impossible.  It’s not a running from the past, but rather a way of honoring the past and learning from it.  It’s scratching and clawing with your fingernails for every inch :insert Al Paccino here: when there’s nothing left: energy, money, faith, discipline, focus, time, patience, love, fill-in-the-blank.  It’s tiring living this way.  People ask me how I have so much energy sometimes—I don’t!  But, I have learned to live tired.

Adventure.  For some reason I cannot live without it.  So many are busy; they have many tasks and run around accomplishing many things.  I am one of those people.  I want to be productive and I never want to be bored.  I never want to be still.  But, when one is too busy, the question inevitably surfaces, is anything truly happening?  Here I have learned to take a 20-minute bike ride to get a cup of coffee, 20 minutes to relax and enjoy it, and 20 minutes back—an hour for a cup of coffee was torture in the beginning!  I could be doing something!  I could be accomplishing something!  Now, I enjoy the freedom my mind receives, the fences I pass, the people I watch, and the ladies that I can’t speak to in the bakery, but I can tell they are happy to see me and the feeling is mutual. With boredom comes death.  With meaning, there is no such thing as boredom… It is replaced with purpose.

I have also come to discover that an adventure is only as good as the people involved and the those touched by the labor of it.  This has been a special trip because Tomi relentlessly tapped me on the shoulder; because I have shared the fundamentals of the game without words to kids and adults forging strong wordless relationships; because I have gained membership in the Lingenhoel family; because I have gained a lifelong friend in Joey; because I was taught much about many things by Suzanne; because I was a part of 9 different teams; because I know my steps were guided by the Maker of the Universe.

So, what have I learned?  You don’t need words to communicate.  There is more wisdom in hard work than there is in knowledge.  A day at the ball field is better than a day at the finest Turkish baths in the world.  Belgium has better chocolate than Germany.  Budapest is more beautiful than Prague.  Many times who you are with is more important than what you are doing.  Most of the lessons I have learned on this journey, I am sure, will surface more as life moves forward.  Now… Substitute teaching, possibly some part-time sales, and of course coaching is calling my name!

 

Home Sweet Home

Pretty uncomfortable conditions int he airport...

After a a great time in Budapest and tour of Europe, it unfortunately ended with not-so-fun final 45 hours.  I knew it was going to be difficult to fly out of Paris on Saturday, but I knew I was in major trouble when I found out it was the French holiday.

When you are on a buddy pass, they put on a list and your priority is based upon how long the person you received your buddy pass from, has worked for the airline.  I was not high on most lists.  I checked every flight leaving from Paris to anywhere in America on Sunday and they were all overbooked–meaning that they have actually sold more tickets than they have seats on the plane!  Couple that with the fact that there were at least 15 people trying to sly stand-by back to America, I had prepared myself to sleep in the airport again and get home Monday.

The next day, after about 2 hours of sleep, I was ready to at least try.  How it works is, you can only list yourself for one flight at a time.  The problem–there are flights going off at similar times.  You wait until about 5 minutes before take-off and tell you, inevitably, that you didn’t get on.  They then have to list you for another flight… They refused to list any of us on another flight.  They made all of us leave the terminal and go back through secruity!

TSA did a pretty good number on my pack... I think they were suspicious of the big chunk of rock (AKA the Berlin Wall)

I ducked off to the right to terminal 35 where I had heard there was a flight to Pittsburgh that was no overbooked (people were looking up all this stuff up on their smartphones).  After some chatting with the terminal manager, she agreed to roll me over without making me go through security and I got the last seat on the plane!  Jackpot.  I was so excited, but then there was a problem in Pittsburgh–I couldn’t get to Detroit! Bottom line, I caught the last flight of the night to Detroit which got in with 20 minutes for me to go and catch the 10 PM flight to Columbus.

After A LOT of stress… I was, once again, the last passenger on the flight to Columbus and my 45 hour airport adventure came to a close in Columbus!    It’s good to be back and the BudaBlog is coming to a close…

I will am going have a final entry and and a final video before the end of the week… It feels good to be home.

The Worst Part is Missing the Series!

Well, things don’t always turn out as planned.  Today has not been a good day.  I woke up early, got breakfast, and prepared to head to the airport.  As I was preparing I could not find the plastic bag in which I had been keeping all of my souvenirs.  I hadn’t bought any souvenirs, but the cake Maria had gotten for Sarah, I did have 50 Euro worth of chocolate I was bringing back for everyone, and all of my maps, a few postcards, train tickets, and anything else I had picked up along the way.  It was gone.  My best guess is that I left it in the lobby of the Holiday Inn when I was asking directions to my hotel the night before (I back-tracked in my mind and that is the last place I remember having it).  It is probably gone, but I shot them an email.

I was supremely disappointed because I am traveling lightly and on a budget.  I can’t carry stuff back for 12 different people and the Belgium chocolate was unbelievable.  I was really looking forward to giving gifts to people when I got back.

Oh well, no time to mope, so I hopped a train to the airport.  I arrived after a bit of a stressful ride and three switches, over an hour later.  I checked in and they told me, “You picked a bad time to fly stand-by”.  I asked why to which they responded, “French holiday just began yesterday”.

Crap.

So, I have tried three times to get on a plane and three times have failed.  I will be spending the night here in the airport and trying my luck again tomorrow.  I was more down than mad I guess.  I was really looking forward to getting back and seeing family, but there is nothing I can do.  After the initial shock of, “what am I going to do for the next 24 hours???” I began to explore the airport a bit.  I found a PS3 I can play (it has tennis)… I found some leather chairs I can sleep in, one of the ladies from Delta gave me a blanket, and I am going to try my luck tomorrow one flight at a time.  I had to check my pack because it had the huge chunk of the Berlin Wall in it (haha) so, I don’t have my Mac charger or really anything else besides a book.  Diary of a Young Girl: Anne Frank should be read by the time I get on the plane.  If Tom Hanks can survive in Terminal than I can make here for a day and a night.

Keep in mind that that the last flight was around 2 PM and I have already checked everything I have… If I don’t hop a flight tomorrow… I am making a run to the perfume shop and dousing myself :)  See you in America (hopefully)!!!

Move Over Michelangelo!

Smitten with the Eiffel Tower...

I am exhausted.  It was a great day in Paris and the city did not disappoint.  I will start with my favorite moment of the day a room that I thought blew the Sistine Chapel out of the water!  The upper chapel of the Saint-Chapelle, which was issued by St. Louis to house the relics from the passion of the Christ.  The upper chapel is 20.5 meters high and primarily stained glass.  Seriously, I would bet the walls are 70% stained glass and 30% wall.  Most of this stained glass dates back to the 13th century and is gorgeous.  1,113 religious scenes from the beginning to the end of the Bible are depicted on the 15 gigantic panels in tiny detail.  It was unbelievable.  It is simply put, the most breath-taking place I have ever been.

Back to the beginning of the day, I was staying in the Opera district which is about a 15 minute walk to the Louvres.  The most important museum in the world deserves my full attention, so I decided to forego the Louvre, but to rather walk through the courtyard to start off the day.  Connected with the Louvre is the Jardin Des Tuileries—a big garden with statues, fountains, and an elevated terrace to view Paris and the Seine River.  This garden is gigantic, detailed, and filled with Parisians.  I walked this past the palace and towards the river.  I decided to head away from the Eiffel tower and towards Notre Dame.

More magnificent than the Sistine Chapel...

I was pretty pumped because I enjoy churches, and looking at the details of the paintings, interpretations by artists (whether it be sculpture, painting, or stained-glass).  There are two little islands that are at the center of Paris—Ile de la Cite and Ile St-Louis.  On my way to the island I saw the French version of the Statue of Liberty—they definitely gave us the better of the two.  And finally, I was at Notre Dame.  I was very let down.  It was the first time on the whole trip that I felt a place, sight, or activity didn’t live up to the reputation.  It was BIG, but that was it.  There are a lot of important Frenchman buried there, but in terms of beauty it was mediocre and felt cold and distant.  But, it was alright because the St.-Chapelle was around the corner (literally—they are a block apart).

I decided to a little detour and made my way towards the Le Jardin du Luxembourg (the Luxembourg Garden).  It has been the subject in a few famous poems and I wanted to see what it was all about, plus the Pantheon was near by.  The garden was the best of the three big gardens I visited (I would late visit the Champs de Mars just behind the Eiffel Tower).  The Panthenon was pretty impressive as well.  I sat down and recouped for a bit here as I had been walking non-stop (and would continue to do so until 10 PM).

I suppose I could go on and on about the day and what I did in what order, but that would make for a boring blog.  Today was all about the sights and I saw them—every single one I wanted to see… In a day.  It was nuts and I am beat!

Best view in Paris

A few notes on the day… I was embarrassingly awed by the Eiffel Tower.  I went there, almost only to make my obligatory visit and I was stunned.  You see it in pictures and I assumed I would just take a peek and move on, but I became your stereotypical tourist in 5 seconds flat.  It is truly amazing.

That being said, I did not go up into the Eiffel Tower because I had heard there was a better view of the city and it was free.  The steps leading up to the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur are 129 m above sea level and the view is unreal.  There are a lot of people, but there is a lot of fun stuff going on all around.  Live music, games, sales, etc.  It was crazy, but definitely a place I could see myself just hanging out at for a few hours if I had brought Sarah with me.  The view did not disappoint and don’t waster your money to go up the Eiffel Tower without taking this free climb first.

Code of Hammuriabi !!!

Not too far from the hotel I checked in with the front desk guy to see how long the Louvre would be open.  He said it usually closes at 6 PM (it was 6:15) but one night a week it stays open until 9:30 PM… It was Friday night!

I decided to hit the Louvre up, because I had done everything else I wanted to do and I figured this would allow me to get to the airport bright and early tomorrow to catch a flight.  I will spare you the details of the museum, but it’s BIG.  Miles of exhibits ranging from the ancient Mesopotamians to the artists of the Renaissance.  I saw many DaVinci’s (and yes the Mona Lisa), Caravaggio (Michelangelo), Raphael, and many others.  I had read everywhere that the crowds would be huge and the museum a madhouse, but from 7-9:30 it was very calm.  I could walk up and take a picture of the Mona Lisa without a problem—I enjoyed it.  My favorite thing in the entire museum :drum roll: the Code of Hammurabi!

The Code of Hammurabi is a Babylonian law code from 1700 BC!!!  How cool is that?  I was amazed at how closely you could stand next to it.  There is a little fence ankle-high about a foot away from the statue.  I could have touched it easily if I wanted to.  I thought it was amazing to get up close and personal with something created 4000 years ago… maybe I’m a nerd.

Paris was the best city to walk.  Gardens are frequent and striking while the Seine River and Eiffel Tower can usually give you points of reference so you don’t get too lost (which isn’t bad).  Certainly somewhere I would love to take Sarah someday.  After walking an average of 7 hours a day over the course of the past 10 days I am ready to come home.  I will see you all on Sunday!

I Leave Bruxells with a Good Friend…

It was a bit of a sad goodbye today...

I am done with my time in Bruxells (Brussels as they like to call it in Belgium).  It has been different from the other cities because I have been able to spend much time with a friend.  Gabor and I were never close in Hungary, much because neither of us had transportation.  He has been in Belgium working or going to school for 8 years now and is going back home for good in two months.  He treated me so well that it was hard to take at times (in a good way).  I had gotten there with very little sleep over the past three days and so I slept in the first day (a lot).  When I awoke, he had made a copy of his key, gotten food for breakfast, found me a public transportation card, and washed a towel at the Laundromat for me to use.  I was humbled and it was difficult to let him give so much, but he said I was his guest and I could tell it made him happy (and me as well).  Plus he refused any of my offers—to clean, pay for groceries, anything… I did manage to let him let me wash dishes thought J.

We would cook both breakfast and dinner together, talking and laughing the entire time.  I told him about my travels, about America, baseball, Sarah, family, etc.  He talked about his family, life in Hungary, how it has changed, how he misses it, his dreams and hopes, etc.  We spoke about our spiritual beliefs and a few other things as well… It was nice to have real conversation.  The dinner of my second night in Brussels was one of the most special parts of the trip so far… There was a lot of laughing, some crying, moments of sadness as Gabor spoke about being away for so long and the difficulty in finding work in Hungary, and moments of hope as he spoke about going back.

The man, the myth, the legend… The Manneken Pis!

I have not spoken a lot about the conversations I have had with different folks about spirituality.  I have mentioned quite a few times about sitting and eating in a pub, or hanging out on the rooftop hostel bar and I hope that does not get misconstrued as me simply going out and drinking.  One of my goals before this trip began was to have as many conversations with people as possible about anything (because it usually leads to faith).  You don’t get to have conversations with people in restaurants, or sights, or coffee houses…  Maybe if you are really aggressively outgoing.  In the European culture, you make yourself available by sitting down at a pub—inevitably I have been approached by someone, or a group and we end up chatting every time.  Sometimes it leads to my faith, sometimes it never gets that far.

That being said I have had many quality conversations with people—a man who is traveling because he found his girlfriend is cheating on him (they had dated for 4 years).  I asked when this happened and he said, “last week”.  I could tell he was still hurting and will be hurting for a long time to come.  I told him I would pray for him.  I would not say I have drummed up any deep and meaningful relationships along the way (outside of solidifying my relationship with Gabor), but there has certainly been meaningful conversation and seeds planted along the way.

The chocolatier I talked with for over an hour with today...

Back to Brussels:  I am shocked at how many churches there are! I decided to walk around and get lost in the city (very easy for me to do) and there were more old, big churches in a condensed area than in any other city I have been.  They were not quite as lavish or sumptuous as in the other cities, but still very large and detailed.  There is a portion of the city that reminded of Michigan Avenue in Chicago—all the trendiest and most expensive stores were there.  I had more fun watching the people than window-shopping.  I would say you would need at least $10 K in your pocket to begin to even think about shopping on this strip of Brussels.

I did see the Manneken Pis.  Literally translated is “little boy pissing”.  It is the most famous statue/monument in all of Brussels and it is literally a little boy pissing… haha!  I found the sister of the little boy… She is tucked away in the corner of a gallery less than a kilometer away.  She was made to create more tourism, but she never quite caught on.  I was amused and a bit embarrassed when I had to ask locals, “Where can I find the little girl pissing?”  I say pissing not to be vulgar, but because that is simply what they are called (sorry mamma).

Can't beat a Belgium street waffle!

Some quick observations about Brussels:  The government makes it very easy to navigate for tourists.  Maps are readily available and there are signs pointing you in the right direction constantly.  The people have been the least helpful and downright rude.  If you are getting off the tram or subway, the culture here is to try to get on before the people exiting get off… I don’t get it, but I just started plowing people who tried to get on before I got off.  This is the only city I have to found to be like this: the government more helpful than the citezens.  The public transit was by far the slowest and the least user friendly. A fight almost broke out between a group of guys because it was so crowded—I had my camera out and ready for youtube gold!  It is by far the most diverse city I have experienced thus far.  There have been more middle-eastern, Indian, and African folks than in all the other cities combined.  Prague gets the least diverse city award.

All that being said, Brussels was the most fun to get lost in.  They have second-hand stores, pubs everywhere, chocolate stores, and stores for everything.  Mixed into these neighborhoods are ornate older buildings that appear out of nowhere.  It was pretty cool.  The Grand Place was the most beautiful square I have seen in my travels so far.  I have seen some pretty nice squares especially in Berlin, but this was unbelievable.  Video posted below:

The Womanneken Pis (guessing the name... haha)

Musee Du Cacao Et Du Chocolat was a deliciously educational activity on everything chocolate.  I got a background on the history of chocolate—actually used as currency by the Aztec!  The museum debunked some of the myths about chocolate along the way—it does not cause acne.  It was topped off by conversation and demonstration with a chocolatier.  She showed me the inns and outs of keeping the chocolate at 31 degrees Celsius and what the right consistency looked like.  We spoke for about an hour (not all about chocolate).  She said, “I hope you tell people that Brussels is more than just pissing statues”.  That made me laugh for about 5 minutes and I promised her I would let everyone I knew, know about the depth of Brussels.  I had a lot of fun talking with this woman about chocolate and about Brussels.

The grand place was by far my favorite place in Brussels, not just because it is breath-taking, but because of the surroundings.  As I said before, there are sores for everything, but it is shockingly  not overpriced (except the occasionally upscale chocolate stores).  I grabbed a true Belgium street waffle and I was on my way.  It was piled so high with chocolate and cream that I had to pay 30 cents to use a restroom and clean up!  It seems to be the perfect mix of beauty and fun.  Any city that can make a monument of a little boy pissing (supposedly the legend says he pee’d on a fire and saved the city) is alright in my book J.

Though the city was fun and beautiful, the thing I will remember most about Brussels is the kindness shown to me by Gabor.  There are certain people that are genuinely authentic… Gabor is one of those people.  He sent me off with a bottle of Palenko as a gift from Hungary to my parents—it is the best liquor Hungary has to offer and is obligatory to have a small amount whenever you enter someone’s home.  He said he wanted my parents to have it for lending their son to the country of Hungary for a few months.  So mom and dad—pucker up because I don’t think this is for the faint of heart ;).  After the 4 ½ hour bus ride I arrived at my hotel—yes hotel!—at 11:30 PM ready to tackle Paris tomorrow morning.  Laurel Call has set me up with a few free nights in Paris—I will talk more about Laurel later on in the blog.

Blitzkrieg to Brussels

I would like to think that Hitler and myself don’t share too much in common, but there is one area that we think alike: how to attack.  After a 10-hour bus ride to Amsterdam, I did some research and found that if I wanted to get it done as cheaply as possible I needed to catch a 3:30 PM bus to Brussels that same day… At that point it was 8 AM.  There was a huge line and I had 40 seconds to make the decision—buy the ticket, hammer out as much as I could in the 7 ½ hours I had or find a hostel, take my time and catch a bus tomorrow… I bought the ticket and decided to blitzkrieg the city of Amsterdam (on my way to Brussels).

Amsterdam in a word--Bicycles (everywhere!)

I have a friend in Brussels from Budapest and I do not want to spend 20 Euro on a hostel tonight.  I sat down for a half an hour and planned out what I wanted to do.  I had no map, and no time to try and find one.  What I did have was a book reviewing all of the sights of Amsterdam complete with a review of each (and there are verbal directions to each sight which is what I followed).  The must-see is the Anne Frank Huis (House).

Things got off to a very frustrating start.  It was raining and I have no idea when this happened, but I lost the umbrella that was given to me by Maria.  I had not eaten in a while, so I grabbed a bite to eat at a little bakery on the side of the street somewhere (I had no idea where I was).  I was worried about all of my electronics getting wet, so I bagged them all up and bought an umbrella.  Meanwhile, all of the lockers were taken back at the station so I had to carry my pack everywhere today.  The trams here are very skinny and I was stressed out to the max.  I couldn’t fit anywhere with my pack, the tram is packed, I didn’t know how to used my tram card (you check in and then check out, but if you forget to do one or the other you card is void).  I finally bought an umbrella for 5 Euro, and within 5 minutes it blew inside out.  Right as I fixed it, it blew again and came completely off of the wooden handle.

It was at this point that I just started laughing and stopped being so mad and frustrated.  It was a good moment believe it or not.  It was at that point I was going to stop worrying about getting things done and just enjoy the ride…

Becoming the bottle...

After looking for this totally random laser light museum (quirky but sounded awesome to me) I quickly switched gears and headed to the Anne Frank House.  Thank goodness I did or I never would have gotten in.  When I left the museum there was a line that spanned an entire block.  It was an estimated 2 ½ hour wait (my book warned me of this).  It was a very sobering experience for me and the exhibits were well set-up.  It painted a very vivid picture of what the Franks went through in that little living area.  The 24-hour stress of possibly having your family killed is unimaginable for me.  They could not make peep for really most of the time they were no asleep.  Never got to see the outside… Brutal lifestyle when they were in hiding from the Jews.  I bought the book since I never took the time to read it in school (already on page 40).  I was able then to hit up the famous church in town and hop another tram towards…

The Heineken Experience.  Seriously, it’s not called the Heineken Museum or Memorial.  It’s called the experience and for good reason.  I had a blast!  After exploring some pretty heavy sights the past three days—checkpoint Charlie, Jewish Memorials, Berlin history, the Anne Frank Museum—I needed to do something that was a little less educational and a little more fun.  I had read about this place and the culmination of the experience is in a room where you become a Heineken bottle and go through the entire process a bottle would… Yes, you become the bottle from start to finish!  It was actually a lot of fun.  The floor shakes as you roll down the line, water flies as you are cleaned, the room heats up when you are dried, more water, then the beer is poured in (which is still water, wind begins to blow as you fly down the line and have a label slapped on you… It was a ton of fun and I actually did learn a lot in the process.

I was able to visit another church, and the palace that had a few Rembrandt paintings.  It was a gorgeous place covered with chiseled marble and gold plated everything—I am sure T-pain and Lil’ Wayne would have been in heaven. From there I hit up Vondel Park for a quick cup of coffee (no I did not say a coffee house).  Vondel Park is THE park in Amsterdam.  It is gigantic and comparable to Central Park in NY.  It was great to relax for a few minutes and just people watch.  Gorgeous place.  I walked around a bit and made it to my bus with 15 minutes to spare… I don’t know how exactly I am going to find Gabor when I get there, but I have a general direction of where he lives and a phone number.  I am going to have to ask someone on the street to use their mobile I imagine.  Should be interesting ;)

The park was the most relaxing part of the day...

Final reflections on Amsterdam… I would not describe it as strikingly beautiful.  I would leave those titles for Budapest and Prague, but it seemed to have more depth than Prague.  It was not an ugly city by any stretch of the imagination, but I would describe it as more austere than drop-dead gorgeous.  I was running around like a chicken with its head cut-off, so I may go back someday and think otherwise, but so far if there is one place I would go back for a while longer it would Amsterdam.  Not because I want to smoke pot, but because there are a lot of fun things to do.  For the most part, most of what I have done has been about history and growing in experience and culture.  Things like the Heineken experience are a good break (and I still managed to fit in a few Rembrandts along the way)… The laser light museum would have been the cherry on top ;).

Post Script: I made it to Gabor’s fine… it was more of an adventure than I would have liked it to be, but 2 hours later I am here.  He is very kind and we had a meal together.  Tomorrow I am probably going to sit around, not do to much and recharge the batteries a bit.  I am wiped out.  Allnighter on a bus, then 7 hours of sleep, then 3 hours last night on the 10-hour ride to Amsterdam… I have nothing left in the tank.  It has all caught up to me, so tomorrow I rest (well maybe :) ).

Another Post Script: I was reflecting a bit on the statement, “Amsterdam seems to have more depth than Prague”.  I wondered how I came to that conclusion.  Here is Prague with it’s gorgeous castles, memorials, and monuments and here is Amsterdam with it’s beer experience and legalized pot.  Here is the difference I think… Prague is built around tourism.  Amsterdam is a real city that happens to have lots of museums and great things to do.  I seemed to sense more of a heartbeat in the city of Amsterdam than anywhere else (and every single person I met was very kind).

Mission Accomplished

(10-17-11)

Today I slept in until around 9 AM, showered up, ate, and first thing’s first—the rubble mountain with the American tower!  I was more pumped to go do this than maybe anything I have done so far.  It was adventurous, not a tourist spot, unique to Berlin, and probably illegal.  What more can an adventurous traveler ask for!? It was actually outside of the map they give you for the city and took me about an hour on their public transit (because I hopped a wrong tram—probably about a 45 minute ride otherwise).

There have been so many different kinds of victims in Germany that this memorial is for all victims of tyranny and injustice... One of the more powerful sights..

When I arrived I immediately found some abandoned train tracks and a single candle lit with the star of David.  The bar tender in the hostel last night told me I may run into this—one of three places in Berlin where they would ship the Jews to the concentration camps.  It was a sad place with trees growing up right the middle of the tracks a few meters down.  I then began to climb around.  There was some construction going on not too far away and I was getting some interesting looks from the workers.  I got to the top of one hill and it was a pretty nice view.  But, after about 40 minutes of walking around, I never found the mountain I was looking for.  No one I spoke to knew where it was and I was a little disappointed.  I had still gotten to explore some pretty cool things around the tracks and the surrounding area.  I have found that nothing is ever a complete loss when you are traveling (all about the journey).  I had a decent time climbing around and it was still only noon.

:Zack Morris Timeout:

Having my ipod shuffle has been a big piece of the experience so far.  Each day I charge it up and come up with the soundtrack for the day’s adventures.  It has evolved quite a bit and keep in mind that it is a shuffle, so I have no idea what song is going to play next, nor can I choose.  Today’s soundtrack would sound something like Justin Timberlake, Ben Rector, Worship song, Lady GaGa, White Snake, College Lecture on the history of baseball (I have a series of 20 1 hour lectures), David Guetta, Dierks Bentley, A random chapter of Matthew (Bible), etc.  Many times I will take the headphones out and let the city create its own soundtrack.

:Time in:

Pic of the bike (you can see the gurney in the background)... I hate to see that.

I went into all the Museums today along with many of the things we got to see yesterday, but not do.  I had a very good time retracing our steps from the previous day having a lot of knowledge about what I was looking at.  I did the Topography of terror that sits just behind a large section of the Berlin Wall.  It is an amazing exhibit and must-do for anyone who visits Berlin.  When arrived there was a fresh accident on the corner. The motor cycle lay about 4 meters from the entrance to the Topography of Terror.  Underneath the motorcycle was a pool of blood and the police had the man face down on the gurney.  It was awful.  I didn’t stare at the motorcyclist out of respect, but I did look at the car that hit him and the driver’s side corner was smashed.  Not good.

On the inside I was able to grab a big chunk of the Berlin Wall (probably much due to the fact that the police were busy with the accident).  I was pretty pumped to have a piece of history to bring home… It will sit with the 32 cent pebble. I had joked with Joey, that my one goal of the trip was to grab a piece of the Berlin Wall for myself–mission accomplished.

At this point I still had no idea how I was getting to Amsterdam and I was a little worried.  I returned to the hostel around 4:30 and asked the front desk for some help.  They found me a bus leaving at 9:30 PM and would take 10 hours to reach Amsterdam for 40 Euro.  I had to book online, but it wouldn’t let me do it same day.  The front desk folks said to just show up and offer to pay the driver—why not?

Great view of Berlin from the hostel rooftop.

After I had settled on rolling the dice on the bus, I went up to the rooftop pub to snag a pizza and see who I could find.  I sat down and Renzo popped his head in.  Dave an Army man from New Jersey and Kai (the Asian American from last night) showed up around 5 and sat down with her friend.  Within 15 minutes of sitting down there was a group of 6 of us chatting and having a good time at the table.  I was actually pretty sad to have to leave.  It was only 7:30, but I said goodbye to everyone as well as the two bar tenders (they filled up my water bottle for me) and I was on my way.  It was hard to leave and tempting to stay for the night, hang out, and have fun with my new friends, but I knew I had to head out.  Now, I sit on the bus which has yet to take off—the bus driver asked if I had cash… I said yes.  He said, “Speak to no one about no ticket”.  I smiled and said I understood.  See you in Amsterdam!

Just posted because of my lack of internet access and time…

An Allnighter on the Autobahn

I own a piece of the Berlin Wall!

Sarah has been begging me to eat well while I have been on my backpacking tour and for the most part I have stuck with the one big meal a day (breakfast) and then pieced it together along the way.  Last night at the British pub, I splurged a little bit.  I still feel like I am lying when I say this, but the cheapest entrée on the menu was a full rack of ribs!  This was not a fancy place—just picture a little British pub.  They had burgers, fish n’ chips, etc. and outside of getting a starter or a soup, the rack of ribs was the cheapest thing on menu!  Sarah got her wish last night and the live music was a lot of fun.  The guy played everything from Tom Petty to the Eagles.

The bus ride was like a roller-coaster.  I did not sleep a wink, which, by all accounts, is a miracle if you know me.  We arrived in Berlin at 4:30 AM Sunday morning (the tram was still packed with people from the clubs who had their beers to go).  I found my hostel around 6 and relaxed in the lobby until breakfast.  I was not shocked to find most of the hostel still up and partying at 6 AM.  These people are crazy… By my estimation most were in bed by 7:30AM.  At this point I was running on fumes, but I decided to get a room rather than push it and try another all-nighter to Amsterdam.  It turned out great because I had stayed in the Wombats in Vienna I got a free breakfast, immediate access to their luggage room, and a free shower to start my day… Jackpot!  I just re-read that last sentence and m amused at the things I get excited about—meal, shower, not having to carry my pack everywhere… It’s the little things.

In Berlin, the biggest Flea Market in Europe happens every Sunday.  With enough caffeine coursing through my veins to give an elephant the jitters, I was off.  I would hit up the flea market and try to make it back in time for the free walking tour through the Wombats Hostel at 10:30 (this place is sweet).  I found 32 cents (Euro) in my pocket and decided I was not going to leave the flea market without spending it.  There was a man there selling pieces of the Berlin Wall. The smallest was three Euro and the biggest 20 Euro.  I asked him to pick me out a pebble for 32 cent Euro.  I showed him the money and with a puzzled look on his face he picked me out a little pebble from the Berlin Wall.

Jewish Memorial

Things seemed to just click for me today.  Running on no sleep there were only a few times on the tour that I didn’t have a lot of energy.  The tour ended up being amazing as we had a very good guide who relied solely on tips to survive.  You can’t make a living giving tours for tips if you are bad at it.  He was an Aussie named Paul and I hung out with a Canadian named Renzo who was pretty cool as well.  After the 3 ½ hour tour Renzo, Paul, and myself actually went and grabbed a bite to eat together at a local pub. Paul is moving to Budapest in a few days so he was picking my brain a little bit about the city.  He then told us about what he thought was the best view of the city… It was a little ways out there (45 minutes by metro).  You then climb a hill that is actually made from all of the rubble from WWII (now covered with grass and trees).  On that hill is a tall metal tower with a ball on the top.  It was built by America for some reason and is now no longer in use.  It is fenced off, but there is a hole in the fence you can climb through and then the tower is unlocked to climb up in!  I have a pretty good mission tomorrow!

The Scottish guys LOVE hot sauce

There was so much history—3 ½ hours worth, but I won’t bore you with it.  I was a bit stirred by the Jewish memorial.  There is no explanation given for any of the design which sports over 2700 rectangular marble blocks.  Renzo and I would then go explore the oldest building in the city (a church of course).  On the tour Paul said, “…and there is the oldest building in the city.  We don’t know how old it is because it’s so damn old… That’s pretty damn old”.  It was gorgeous with the most beautiful organ I have seen thus far.  I wanted to see the biggest church in the city so we headed that way.  It was closed, but we got in through the exit and got to go through all the hallways of the church, up around the organ (which was humungous), and then made our way to they main floor where they were preparing for a service.  Once we got down to the main area, there were a few people there that were going to service so we blended right in.

Back at the hostel, they have a rooftop pub with a decent view of the city.  I ordered a pizza and this is when things got crazy.  It was 6 PM which was happy hour.  I have been intentional about talking with people and eating in places where I am accessible and I can start convo’s.  The night ended with 10 people at our table (4 Scottish guys that were NUTS, Thai girl, Asian girl from the OC that gets mad every time someone asks her if she speaks English, Renzo, and two English guys).  The Scottish guys were hilarious and they called me coach the entire night.  They asked me to pick them out something very American to drink.  Not wanting them to get hammered, I told them that if they wanted to drink something truly American they should grab the hot sauce and take a shot.  This made for a GREAT video… haha! They were a lot fun and I finally got to bed at midnight.

Torture & A Homemade Yamaka

See you later Prague!

Today I slept in as long as I could because I knew I would not be getting much rest on the way to Berlin and certainly would not be sleeping once I was there.  I made the boneheaded mistake of booking the wrong bus ticket, but the folks at the hostel helped me make a phone call and get figured out, so I am set to go tonight at midnight.

I began the day with another great breakfast from the French Chef.  I didn’t know this, but he makes everything from the croissants, to the some of the jams fresh that day.  Even the juice we drink he blends for us on the spot.  Breakfast the past two days has been one of the best parts of my day.  I sat with a Swiss woman (with only 10 seats available everyone sits together) that was a part of a group of 7.  It was 7 older women that go on a trip together every year.  I can only hope not only that I am still that adventurous when I reach my mid-fifties, but that I can find 6 other people to share the adventure with.  Pretty cool ladies! Sidenote: Here is a video that gives you a rundown of the gear I have with me:

The Pear #Brutal

The very first thing I did today was go into the Torture Museum.  Yes, you read that correctly, The Torture Museum.  It is exactly what its name implies—a museum that gives the history of torture in Europe via pictures, text, actual instruments of torture, and very elaborate wax statues of folks getting tortured… Complete with sound effects!  Why would I want to see this?  I have no good reason.  I had briefly read something online about it and the person said it was a great exhibit that you would never see anywhere else.  It may end up being the most memorable thing I did in Prague (not in a good way)!

When I entered it reminded me of a Halloween USA (I am sure they are opened up right now in every single abandoned Kroger building across America).  There was this creepy music playing with screams in the background and the lobby was decorated with, essentially, American Halloween décor—TACKY!  I thought I was about to walk into a haunted house more than a museum, but boy was I wrong.  The sound effects didn’t stop.  With each exhibit you could hear the sound of the person breathing or screaming, or the creek of the wood as stretched a body out or the whip of a blade cutting off a limb… Eerie stuff.  I felt dirty when I left.  They were describing things like the “pear” stuck in a throat, anus, or vagina, and then the torturer would twist the screw and it would slowly expand, ripping everything in its path.  The toe-crushers, the helmet that slowly smashes your skull, the chair of nails, the plank; I could go on and on… Nasty stuff.  It was certainly sobering and my optimism about the human race was a bit shaken after the exhibit.  But, I managed to gather my bearings and move on.

The packed pack!

My intention for the day was to explore along the river and check out what happened to be in my path.  I did end going inside a few of the churches that I missed yesterday and actually snuck into an old church nestled in the middle of old town (it was from the 1200’s).  I have some good video from that which I will throw in the final video.  I had spoken with the lady at breakfast about the Jewish cemetery and synagogue, and she informed I wouldn’t be able to go since it is the Sabbath.  Well, in my mind that made me think that only those who are not Jewish could not go into the synagogue.  So, I had the bright idea of making a yamaka and acting like I was Jewish.  I mean, there God is my God, and I wouldn’t mind joining in on the worship.  I was sad to find out that it wasn’t just gentiles, but no one was allowed in the synagogue on Sabbath.  This blog would have been a lot better if I could have titled it: My Day in Judaism.

I did get to peek in, but I continued to walk across the river.  I climbed the hill to the pendulum (30 meters high) where the Stalin statue used to be.  The view was great and it led right into the park.  I strolled the entire park and talked briefly with a few people.  I managed my way back to the Old Town Square and popped my head in at a little British pub to ask about the live music sign they had out front.  They told me there would be a pretty good musician there tonight, so I am going to head that way with my bags packed around 9 PM.  It could get a little hectic trying to get out of there at 10:30 to catch my bus via public transport, but I don’t mind rolling the dice a bit.  See you in Berlin!

Sore Ankles…

90% of the sidewalks and streets are cobblestone like this... #SoreAnkles

Today was pretty action-packed.  I awoke before the sunrise and began to map out my day.  I got to breakfast an hour before it was to begin, so I got to talk to the French chef while he made some preparations.  He had the genius idea of taking the Tram 22 before doing anything to give me, basically, a free tour of Prague.  It was a great way to get oriented to the city.   Today I was not on a time crunch because there was not a bus to catch.  It was nice to just relax and do what I do best when exploring cities—get lost.

I managed to tackle the entire castle, which is quite the accomplishment as most guidebooks tell you to take an entire day.  I was able to climb the Petrin Tower which, from everything I’ve read, is the best view of Prague… It did not disappoint.  I saw the church of St. Nicholas (Santa Claus is easily my favorite saint!), St. Vitus Church, along with palaces, museums, and gardens.  St. Vitus might be the most beautiful building I have been in.  It is the most popular building in Prague and many of the most important people that have ever lived in Prague are buried here.

Gorgeous views from many spots... This was the Petrin Tower...

To be honest, the best blogging comes not from sightseeing (unless it is with someone interesting).  The best blogs are drawn from the people I meet.  So, although today was ‘action-packed’ I found myself at the end of the day a bit lonely.  For most of the day I had my headphones in and I had no need for help because Prague is a fairly easy city to get around.  I find it interesting that when I need no help and things go the way they are intended, I make the least memories.  But, I did have a very efficient day today!  I have seen almost all of the major sights that Prague has to offer in a single day.  There was a wedding at Jacob’s Basilica and if I have to crash a wedding to get in tomorrow, so be it!  I will revisit old town square.  I am also going to visit the Jewish section of the city.  I guess it is filled with history and everyone I have talked has mentioned the Jewish cemetery.  I have been nowhere yet that a cemetery has received rave reviews, so I am intrigued enough to make the journey tomorrow morning… In all today I walked 7 hours without stopping… My feet and ankles are killing me!

Statue Christ on the Charles Bridge

Prague is a very beautiful city.  I would encourage you to do a google image search of Prague or Click Here.  I am still bias towards the Budapest panorama.  I have had some less interesting conversations today, one mainly when I sat down at the local brewery.  I was sitting at a table by myself when, to my surprise, a Russian man sat down at my table.  He ended up being an alcoholic that has come here to find as many places to drink as possible.  He hates museums, but likes to walk around and always has a bottle on him.  He was funny, but I could tell he was unhappy, as he pointed out on the map all the best places to drink.  There was nothing I could say as I could already tell he was pretty drunk and didn’t speak very good English.  It wasn’t a conversation that ended with a hug or a genuine wishing of more time (as I have had so many moments like that already).  It was instead a sad goodbye.

On a different note I cannot say enough about the two hostels I have stayed at so far.  Miss Sophie’s is unbelievable in terms of bang for your buck.  They have a great map of the city that shows you the sights and gets you back to the hostel no problem.  The customer service is fantastic annnnnd :insert drum role: a French chef that makes a surreal cooked to order breakfast!  He asked me what I would like this morning and I responded, “Your the French Chef!”  He laughed and decided to make me this dish of eggs and a sweet cheese.  The eggs was made into a crepe-like shape and texture filled with a sweet cheese and injected with a garlic seasoning.  I had two.

Quite the panorama

Tomorrow I get to hang out in Prague for another full day and then I catch a midnight bus to Berlin.  ETA for Berlin is 5 AM on Sunday (going to be a long day!).  So you know, I may be adding some post script to blogs… You may want to check back every once in a while (yesterday’s for instance has a few extra stories).  And, if you are worried about seeing all the pics, I will post a final video of everywhere I have been and everything I have done the day I return to Columbus… Goodnight!

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