Saturday, May 30, 2009

Blog from Avignon 5-30-09

What a day. I spent most of the day on trains and in stations. The scenery was nice though. The French countryside was beautiful, and the small towns I passed through were quite picturesque. The problems came when my first train was late by an hour. Really? An hour? In perfect weather no less. Modern technology should be able to do a little better than that. That episode caused me to miss my next train from Marseilles to Avignon which was a TGV high speed train (which are awesome BTW). A 25 minute stop at the station turned into an hour and a heif, and a 40 minute train ride turned into 2 hours. Oh well. I'm now sitting in my hotel lobby where I can get free wifi.

It looks like I don't get to do a Rhone Valley wine tour either. Tours don't typically run on Sundays, I guess. Oh well. I'll be another nice time of rest before I hit Rome. I'm sure I'll be doing a lot of walking around there.

One of the biggest annoyances so far on this trip for me has been the disconnect from technology. It's even cost me a fair chunk of change at internet cafes and the like. Back home I always have an internet connection through my phone which often gets me out of trouble relatively effortlessly. Here, I have no data. Instead of getting on Google Maps to find my way from a station I have to find a map and start walking hoping I can remember enough of the station map to get me where I need to go (often to a hostel/hotel where I can get a paper map). Then there are the e-mails that would be helpful to have on hand. More than once, I've had hostel addresses and directions in an e-mail which I can't access when I need because they're on an online server. These are usually pushed to my phone and (now stolen) iPod touch so they're always on hand. None of that here. Now I'm just complaining, but I needed to throw that out there.

Hope everyone is doing well back home. See you in a few weeks.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Blog from Bordeaux 5-29-09

Go Barcelona!!! Sadly, I didn't get to see any of the game, but I did see the results.

It's noon in Bordeaux, and I'm getting ready to head out for a little while. I didn't get into a wine tour partly because I didn't plan ahead and get one set up, partly because most tours want groups to sign up rather than individuals. Oh well, it gives me another reason to come back. It's kind of nice to have a leisurely day, though. I've done a lot of walking since I landed in London nine days ago. Yesterday was quite interesting. When I arrived in Bordeaux, I realized I didn't have a map. Moreover, I also realized I didn't even know the address of the hotel I'm staying at. Luckily, I was able to grab a wifi signal that allowed me onto the Google servers. I found the address of the hotel and directions via google maps. I was even able to check my gmail accounts and send an e-mail. Good road. Finding the hotel wasn't as complicated as the instructions indicated. The tricky part was that road names change constantly; for about a 1km stretch the road changed five times. Shenanigans.

Hopefully, I'll be able to find a Rhone Valley wine tour tomorrow when I'm in Avignon, but if not, oh well. It's fun exploring new cities. And, in a few more days I'll be in Rome where I'll be drinking phenomenal coffee whilst seeing sites that were around when Jesus walked the earth.

Yesterday, David told me that our friends from the station were also Christians. Very neat. They seemed like they might be, but you can never really know and it didn't come up in conversation. I was glad we could help them.

Blog from Paris 5-27-09

Versailles was beautiful. I got there right before it rained, but it ended up clearing up after a half hour. I walked around a lot of little side trails which made me want to go backpacking. The fountains in the garden were really neat, but I didn't get to all of them. Half of the ones I saw weren't even on because they only run for certain hours of the day. I didn't realize this when I first got there because I couldn't really read the French map of the area.

I met up with David last night. We went to an awesome little restaurant called Cav du Vin (I think) which is translated as The Wine Cave. It had a great selection of wines, and we had a Rhone with cheese and meat plates. It was perfect. Then, we went to Sacre Coeur which is the highest point in Paris where we got a great view of the whole city.

Today, the day we had planned turned out nothing like our plan. Our day started off late (big surprise), and at Gare du Nord we ended up meeting a group of three travelers from the States who couldn't get a train to Bordeaux. Their names are Meredith, Robert, and Mike. They hung out with us for the day. This we did in place of visiting a well-known cemetery. We had lunch on the Pont des Arts bridge across the Seine River because another picnic we had planned was cancelled. Then we walked around all day. We then had dinner at Thomas's apartment (not really his apartment, but he's taking care of it for the Plasters). David made quiche and a mushroom appetizer and we had a 2006 Bordeaux from Haut Medoc. It was very tasty. Now we're just hanging out. I think we're going to head to a pub to catch some of the Champions League final. Manchester United v. Barcelona. Fantastic. I've been craving some soccer in my life.

It was really good to see David. First, it was good to see a familiar face. Second, it helped to have someone who could speak French. The last night we talked for a while which was really good for me. And, I was able to go to more "French" places to eat instead of just the sandwich shops I could find (although those sandwiches were very tasty). Hanging out with David was cathartic, and I feel quite refreshed.

Blog from Paris 5-26-09

I'm sitting at a station right now waiting for my train to Versailles. I got on the wrong train at the last stop because trains for three different destinations run on the same line for a little while. Good thing I figured it out before lines split!

Paris has been an interesting experience. Not knowing any of the language has been an encumbrance, but not as much as I had expected. I certainly am not getting as much out of this city as I should because of it, though.

So far, I've been to Notre Dame Cathedral, The Louvre, and the Eiffel Tower. Those are the big tourist spots; I don't really know where else to go. Otherwise, I've just been wandering around the city. I'm trying to find a convenience store of some sort because I left my toothbrush at the last hostel, but I can't seem to find one. I think it's because I'm in the touristy areas and not where the locals spend their time.

I'm supposed to meet up with David Thornton sometime, but he hasn't called me yet. That's why I decided to go to Versailles. Maybe we'll get together for dinner.

I've noticed since shortly after I arrived in Paris that I've become "numb" to much of what's going on around me. At the Louvre, for instance, I was looking at some of the most celebrated pieces of art in history - Venus de Milo, the Mona Lisa, the Rosetta Stone - and I wasn't filled with the overwhelming awe that others speak about and that I have experienced before. I think it's because so much is going on - new experiences, places, languages - that my mind is closing itself off so I don't become too overwhelmed. In a sense this is good in that it will allow me to get through this trip without any major difficulties, but bad because I won't have as many of the persistent memories and emotions that others usually have. This trip is certainly stretching me. Next time, I think I'll be able to handle much more before this numbness happens. Also, being with someone else would help. Aside from ordering food, I haven't said much since I arrived. We'll see what happens.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Troubles from afar

What started as a great trip has proven to result in much angst. Tickets to Paris by train or air are exorbitantly expensive and travel by bus takes over 8 hours and seats are no longer available. Neither of these options is preferable. On top of this, more of my reservations for the planned Comfort Inns are wrong. I’m down to 2 hotel stays. However, if I can find good hostels to stay at, I may be able to recoup some of the additional travel costs. The internet also went down at the Hostel a little while ago so I am unable to do anymore research for hostels. God is testing me pretty hard, but it will all work out. On the bright side, I’m going to see Nathanael tomorrow, and I can work on my French (which is currently non-existent) on the bus ride.

Blogging from London

Now that I have a moment to sit and breathe, I can talk about how this trip is going. Even though I’m only a couple days into this, a lot has gone on. My first day getting to the city was a little hectic. I booked my hostel in the car on the way to O’Hare because my hotel plans were scrapped. Pretty interesting. I managed to make it to the subway station in the proper area without much difficulty; the Tube is pretty easy to figure out. I tried to find my way to the hostel with an address and vague memories of the map I looked at in the states. Didn’t go so well. I knew it couldn’t be far though. I noticed there were maps on the inside of the bus terminals. After looking at a few terminals, I found the road my hostel was on, and I was set.

Everyone in the hostel was very nice. Most people there seemed to be doing the same sort of thing and got along really well. Everyone gave each other tips and tried to help whenever they could. I did a walking tour of London with a few people I met there that happened to be from Illinois. It was nice to be with some other people. We ended up spending most of the day together and even went on the Pub Crawl later that night.

Initially, I was only going to stay out for a couple of the bars of the Pub Crawl because one of the guys wanted to get some sleep because of an early day. How quickly plans change when alcohol (and girls) is involved. He is a bit of a partier and ended up staying for all the bars. Consequently, so did I. We had a good time, but it got expensive in a hurry. This experience further reinforced the fact that I am totally NOT into the bar/club scene.

Today (the 22nd) got a little hectic. I was busy getting plans finalized for my trip to Oxford tomorrow and figuring out how I’m getting to France on Sunday. I had to find tickets and pick them up which turned out to be a huge hassle. Getting to France is going to be a little tricky. Because I am awful at planning anything, I didn’t book my tickets early enough, and it might end up costing me over $200 to get to Paris; that’s over double what it was supposed to be. I’m now trying to find a cheap flight so I can make my hotel reservation. Otherwise, I think I’ll have to suck it up and pay the extortionist price for the chunnel train ticket.

Other than those hang-ups, the day is going well. I had a late lunch at Trafalgar Square and did some reading in the lawn in front of Westminster Abbey. I had initially gone there to hear the choir, but, of course, I was 10 minutes late. Now, on my way back to the hostel, I stopped by Caffé Nero for a ristretto and a bite to eat while typing this post.