well, here i sit, on a 9hour train to switzerland, after my flight was cancelled this morning due to the historic and unprecedented volcanic flight disruptor. or, as mark, our friendly hostel staff member, said (with his great german accent and contagious smile), “the capitalism disruptor”.
one of my favourite quotes, taken from the hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy, reads, “in cases of major discrepancy, it’s always reality that’s got it wrong”. i would say that my being on this train is a discrepancy that can only be explained through the fact that i prayed and prayed as i sat on the metro on my way to the train station that i wouldn’t miss my train. at the 4minutes remaining mark and one stop still to go, i was 100% sure i would miss it. i think God actually slowed down time for me, and it was probably a miracle that the platform i needed to be on was just one over from where i got off. i ran off the metro train, down the stairs, up the stairs, and frantically checked whether i was running on to the correct train to take me to switzerland. i was still asking a friendly german if it was right when the conductor motioned for me to get inside so the doors could close. thus, once again sweaty and out of breath, (and once again having run a portion of the way with my giant pack and my hip rotator threatening to give out on me) i have managed to catch my train and am onward bound to thun, switzerland. i think it can be argued – academically or amongst friends – that i am possibly the most scattered and scared-looking traveller out there. i pack bags that weigh as much as me, then, thinking i’m leaving myself plenty of time, i leave with barely enough time, and end up running – with great difficulty – to catch my bus, train, plane, whatever. along the way, my (already fairly large) eyes wide and threatening to well up, i ask other travellers, out of breath and praying they understand english, if i’m on the right path. thankfully, germans are extremely friendly and intelligent people. this morning would have been fine, had my flight not been cancelled, i arrived with plenty of time (thank you 30€ taxi… ugh). but having checked only the night before whether my plane was running and not this morning before i left, i didn’t find out until i got to the airport at 5:20am that the entire place was closed until further notice.
another case of robyn the traveller, (more commonly known as the giant piece of luggage struggling to live), closes (hopefully), and i’ve got a nice long journey ahead of me in a quiet compartment on car #2 of this lovely and friendly train. and i just realized there is even an outlet under my seat for my computer charger! amazing!! (also, claire and other fellow harry potter fans: i’m actually in a compartment of the train, closed off by sliding doors, and a guy just went by with a snack trolley, assumedly saying in german “annnnything from the trolley dears?” didn’t see any chocolate frogs though, too bad.)
wow, i’ve also just realized how many windmills there are in this country. was it fate for me to take the train? this is such a fabulous view of german countryside! but i digress. i’m trying to write about my last week and a half in europe!
i need not recount the precursor story of robyn the struggling piece of running luggage bit where i nearly missed the shuttle to the airport last week for my flight from marseille to eindhoven, netherlands; and based on this morning’s escapade, i’m sure you can imagine. i made it, sleepy and dazed, with literally no issues. it was as if france wanted me to leave, and for once made it as easy and seamless as possible. i made it to amsterdam where claire met me at the station, and her, josh, tom (another friend of the aussies, who is studying in amsterdam) and i spent a fabulous three and a half days exploring amsterdam and the surrounding area. we travelled around like local dutch people on two bikes, with one of us on each bike sitting on the back, visited the van gogh museum, went to tom’s favourite brewery, went to the hague – where we visited the peace palace (and like good polisci students, got more excited than should be considered normal, and even got a little emotional around the world peace flame), the escher museum, the rembrandt museum with the vermeer paining of ‘the girl with the pearl earring’ – and i got blisters on my feet from all the walking. we went to gouda one day, and not only ate a lot of gouda, but purchased a lot of gouda… and we also ate a LOT of poffertjes and stroopwaffels. in fact, i don’t think a single meal i had in amsterdam could have been considered ‘healthy’ necessarily…. but so delicious!
at the escher museum
escher up close. amazing. me at my future workplace, the peace palace. den haag, netherlands
canada around the world peace flame
claire, in gouda
ugh soooo good tom and me, gouda
humour me a minute while i go on about amsterdam. it is absolutely gorgeous. they’re not kidding when they say there are a lot of canals and a lot of water. it’s everywhere. and EVERYONE bikes, this stereotype is 100% true. supposedly 80000 bikes get stolen every year there. eighty THOUSAND. that means that there are at least twice that many (and almost certainly more) that don’t get stolen! the whole city revolves around the ability for people to bike around. it’s fabulous. also, it’s clean, and the architecture is beautiful. every apartment that i could see inside (creeper much?) from the street looked super nice. unfortunately, we were just a little too early for the tulips to bloom, but daffodils were everywhere, the flower market was a sea of colour, and the trees were budding. spring in europe – it’s fabulous! anyway, suffice it to say that this was a city i could envision living in at some stage. and yes, we did go to the red light district one night to see it. it was bizarre and extremely surreal, but also very safe.
claire and i flew onward to copenhagen friday evening, where we met caitlin at our lovely “sleep in heaven” hostel around 1am. she’d arrived earlier that day, scoped out the city, and informed us that it was going to make us fat and broke. her reasons? 1. it boasts the longest shopping street in the world, and 2. they put marshmallow fluff and chocolate covered marshmallows on your ice-cream cones. copenhagen was beautiful and grande, but maybe a little too big (and too expensive) for me. however, their hotdog stands (street meat) are delicious and they DO have bacon wrapped sausages, on which they put slices of pickle, so, you know. can’t complain really. we spent an afternoon shopping and sitting at a pub where a great band was playing covers, we went to the national museum, the danish palace where they house the danish crown jewels, and climbed the rundetårn – “round tower”, the oldest functioning observatory in europe (everyone now: “tooooo the observatory!!”). and we remarked on how incredible of lives we lead whilst eating ice-cream and walking down by the harbour in front of the opera house. OH and we went to ‘christiania’, a semi-autonomous hippie commune in the city where we saw a lot of weed for sale and bought cool rings from the market.
after copenhagen we all flew together to berlin. the flight was early enough on tuesday morning that we arrived at what is now my favourite hostel before noon. the hostel, called “jetpak alternative”, is located near görlitzer park, in what my cousin eben calls the more authentic and cool part of berlin. but i think it’s pretty safe to say that ALL of berlin is cool. the staff at the hostel were famously friendly and helpful, and the common room is essentially a café where the staff make you espressos or cappuccinos or whatever at any time of the day – for free! you could literally have ten coffees a day (dad thought i was ‘on something’ the other day when i spoke to him on skype. i think it must have been all the caffeine). and then the bedrooms, with cozy comforters, brand new everything, and lovely bathrooms (with heated floors and sweet motion sensored lights in the mirrors). also, free and fast wifi everywhere, and laundry services! could you ask for more from a hostel that cost only 20€/night?? no wonder people extend their stay there all the time.
anyhow, enough raving. we had recommendations from everyone on what to do in berlin, and were told that “if you’re tired of berlin, you’re tired of life”. so there was certainly no shortage of things to do. we visited the turkish markets and ate a lot of fried goodness (and fairy floss! more commonly known as cotton candy…), went to the hamburger museum and saw a super cool exhibit by walton ford, plus iconic paintings by andy warhol, and tried to get tickets to the ballet but it was sold out. on wednesday afternoon, after the hamburger (hamburgler?? there were no hamburgers in that museum, someone must have stole them!!) museum, we walked to the brandenburg gates, the extremely important historical gates separating east and west germany. for the disappointingly low amount of knowledge i have on the history of the berlin wall, it was incredibly moving. as we walked through the gate in awe, i involuntarily started tearing up. it was like the weight of the place was tangible for me… the meaning of the gates, and the turbulence the place once represented, and what progress has been made by way of peace with the fall in 1989… but it didn’t end there! around the corner is the impressive and poignant holocaust memorial site. in an old bunker underneath the site is a powerful and extremely well presented holocaust information centre, where we spent the better part of an hour and a half walking through and fighting back both horror and tears. at one point, in a dark room with lit-up floor plaques presenting select testimonies, postcards, letters and poems from victims (some written on pieces of toilet paper and hidden, others written on postcards and thrown out the moving trains bound for concentration camps), i just about started sobbing reading a letter from a mother to her children whom she would never see on earth again. needless to say, it was an intense and emotional day. we finished the day by getting some great spätzle from a little shop recommended to me by eben, and seconded by the hostel staff. germany for the win!
yesterday was great also. we were told by numerous people to do the “alternative walking tour”, which is free (with suggested donation), and takes you all over berlin showing you incredible (or just plain funny) street art, the stories behind some artists and tags, historical underground stuff like student movement sites, some bombed out warehouses and train depots now turned into cool artist collectives and skate parks etc., buildings covered in bullet holes, and just an entirely different side of berlin than what a tourist there for only three days would normally see. it was WELL worth it, even if it was 5hrs of walking with my already hurting feet. after that we visited the east side gallery – the longest remaining stretch of the berlin wall now covered in really cool murals, and went later for a great german dinner at a lovely restaurant (wiener schnitzel anyone?), including a shared bottle of delicious austrian red wine!
oh and feel i should add that a portion of the metro ride back to the hostel last night after dinner was spent discussing, at claire’s questioning, which classic disney princess we would be if we had the choice, and why. after giving our answers (i chose jasmine, claire and caitlin both wavered between aurora – sleeping beauty -and ariel – the little mermaid), we then had a very serious discussion on how ugly the two dresses ariel wears in the movie are. yes folks, we are university polisci majors studying abroad in a foreign country. this is the height of culture.
and that brings me to today. i’m heading to thun, switzerland, to visit my good friend rebekka, whom i met in ywam in hawaii over four years ago. i’m very excited to see her, to catch up, and to see a bit of switzerland. i’ll be heading back to aix (provided those french aren’t still on strike) around the 20th. the following weekend a bunch of us are going up to lyon for a night to see mumford and sons in concert, and on the 28th erik arrives to visit for a few days before he and his girlfriend heather take off to travel europe together. after that, my first round of exams begin! time is going fast now, when i get back it will be only two months until i am home. so crazy. and also so exciting!
for now, as i admire the lovely, green german countryside out the window of the train, i’m going to quit this already very long post and hopefully upload it with photos when i arrive at rebekka’s later tonight.
cheers, and prost, gesundheit, santé and tak!
p.s. this train has gotten so full i can’t even hope to make it to the food car (and i’m starving). my fellow compartment travellers were quite surprised i managed to make a reservation on the train – and as fate would have it, i thankfully decided to pay the extra 2,50€ to reserve a seat – turns out it was an extremely good thing i decided to book the train while i was still sitting at the easyjet terminal at schoenefeld airport in berlin. if i’d waited any longer i would probably have been out of luck! someone was watching over me today, that’s for sure. 🙂