Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Summer Travel Abroad (2001)

My girlfriend just got back from Spain and Croatia.  She had a great time with her family and visited her grandfather in Spain.  I saw the pictures she posted on Facebook: beautiful and picturesque.  She said that in Croatia she felt like she was having an "out of this world" experience; I kind of know what she meant.  I haven't traveled to Europe for 10 years--tough economic times.  Anyway, she kind of inspired me to look at and post my old travel diary from when I traveled to Europe in the summer of 2001.  

Washington, DC  08/02/2001

I had a layover in DC enroute from Miami to Amsterdam.  I had a couple of hours to fill my day; so, I took the train into the mall area and noticed how pretty DC was in the summer.  I went to the Capitol Building hoping to catch a glimpse of Gary Condit.  I actually saw a girl who looked just like Chandra Levy.  She had her hair up in a bun, it was dark and curly, she was medium height and build, wore sunglasses, and had very fair skin.  People walked past her and didn't even take a second glance.  I walked across the street to the Supreme Court and went on a tour.  It was kind of boring; it felt like a seventh grade field trip.  I then walked back across the street and listened to a jazz band from the Kennedy Center playing on the Capitol lawn.  They sucked.  I ate a hot dog and chips while conversating with a guy who I thought was homeless but didn't appear so.  He mentioned in passing that one of the squirrels was his best friend and that kind of gave it away.

Aachen, Germany  08/03-08/05/2001
It was a six hour train ride from Aamsterdam to Aachen.  My cousin, Nelson, picked me up at the train station in a Mercedes Benz cab.  I was impressed.  There were so many storefront shops with apartments above them. The homes were mostly brownstones in the area where Nelson and Yvonne lived.  I met Nelson's wife for the first time: she was cute, sweet, and very talkative.  The things I found amusing about this place: they sold hard liquor at Walmart, it was okay to openly drink beer in public, and they showed erotic movies and commercials on primetime tv.  It also surprised me how similar English and German are--mostly changes in pronunciations. 

Berlin, Germany  08/07-08/09/2001

I was shocked by how dirty Berlin was: full of graffiti, run down, and seemingly poor.  But the people were nice and helpful.  The train ride from Aachen to Berlin went smooth.  I read Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankel during the train ride, which totally bummed me out.  When I left Aachen, we had our sad good byes.  Yvonne and Nelson waited until the very end to see me off. We made funny faces at each other through the train windows. Yvonne ran waving good bye as my train departed.

I took a tour of Berlin.  I saw the Dome, museums, parks, Check Point Charlie, Friedrich Street, The Bradenburg Gate, Parliament, The Charlottenberg Palace, Alexander Platz, and Potsdamer Platz.  I met this Korean girl at the cathdral. She looked like she was about 24 and traveling solo too.  She said Switzerland was very nice, and she'd been to Florida before (Disney World).  While walking around, it appeared to me that  German women didn't care to wear shorts or skirts or open toe shoes or pastel colors, even in the summer.  The women looked dainty, pale, and very slender.  Most of the travellers I saw tended to be older folks traveling on group tours.  The tour groups that stood out in my mind were the New Yorkers with their accents, and the French with their money.

I went to a casino the next day.  The Chinese lady, who looked like she might be a prostitiute, was definately racking up at the black jack table.  I looked out of place.  The big time players were in that joint.  I had dinner at the train station.  I ate at a nice little Greek place. The owner flirted with me for a bit. I think he wanted to take me out. I got on the train and got yelled at for not making a reservation.  Then this german guy, about my age, sat next to me--a social worker--what a coincidence!  We talked for two hours about drug addiction, neo-nazis, illegal immigrants, racism in America vs Germany, troubled youth in urban areas, his time spent in San Francisco, my time spent in Europe, college, internships, and graduation. I fell asleep, and then he was gone.  We talked and talked and never bothered to exchange names.

Baar Zug, Zurich  08/10-08/11/2001

I was in the fucking middle of no where where there were absolutely no black people--only old people and blue-eyed blonds.  Thank God for the few Asian tourists and one or two Arabs who lived there.  It also seemed like there were ten men for every woman.  I was afraid to leave my hotel room and stayed in.  I watched a variety tv show, which was pretty aweful; during one segment, a strange Chinese man in an alpine costume yodelled to a song about chickens.  I noted how extemely proud Bavarians were of their mountains and their culture, but this place just wasn't my style.

The next day I saw the most beautiful lake in the world.  It was like something out of a fairy tale. The village had medieval buildings, houses, churches, and cobblestone streets.  The alps were in the backdrop.  There were swans and ducks in the lake, seagulls, and white pigeons in the sky.  The temperature was cool, the air clean, and fluffy white clouds decorated the light blue sky.  I sat on a bench by the lake and looked out into the water for half an hour.  It was so pretty there--especially the people--very attractive.  Highlight of the day: a wall spray painted: "FUCK THE POLICE"--even swiss kids from tiny alpine villages rebelled.

Zurich, Switzerland  08/12/2001

Very dirty in some parts: garbage on the floor...lots of  teens dressed funky with bright blue or red hair.  I met a Peruvian guy while asking for directions, and came across a Dominican restaurant called Barbarella.  They played Bachata music over the loud speaker, and I could hear the patrons speaking Spanish with a Dominican dialect. 

Thoughts on Switzerland:

Little Hamlet Villages
Cobblestone Streets
Disney World
Canals Filled with Boats
Nude Sunbathers
Snow Capped Mountains (Even In the Summer)
Bavarian Alpine Costumes
Annoying Techno Music
Strikingly Beautiful People
Swiss Bank Accounts
Creamy Foods
Really Bad TV

I tried to rest in the sleeping car on the way to Venice: what a nightmare!  I could barely sleep; but I did.  In my car there were two French girls, a French guy, and a young twentysomething American couple.  The French couple getting it on in the corner next to me made me nauseous; and God, it stunk in there--like dirty feet and an unwashed ass.

Venice, Italy  08/13-08/15/2001

Venice looked like it hadn't changed since 1560--very romatic: "The Merchant of Venice," "Othello," and  "Only You."  Where was my Damon Bradley?  I saw a man dressed like one of the masquerade people from "Eyes Wide Shut."  And the cathdrals were incredible--a love of art: painting, architecture, and sculpture.  The streets in Venice were so narrow and circular; the canals oftentimes looked identical to one another.  I was lost easilly and often. 

That night I stayed near my hotel, which was within walking distance to the train station.  And I did what I set out to do since arriving in Venice: buy a Gucci bag, and I brought it for 120,000 lires=$55 US dollars--not bad bartering.  The guy who sold it to me was from Senegal.  We spoke in Spanish.  He learned Spanish at the University of Granada.  He said he planned to go to America and joked he'd look me up.  He asked that I not tell anyone he sold me the purse for less than 150, 000 lires.  While buying postcards, a Venezian guy, who had a sweet smile but terrible teeth, tried to pick me up. His name was Pascual, and he offered to buy me a drink, but I declined graceously.  He then followed me for blocks.  I appreciated his attention, but I ate my ice cream alone as I sat by the Grand Canal;  I kind of wished I had someone to share that moment with, but not with him or the Senegalese.

The next day I went to St. Marks Square: unbelieveably beautiful.  I brought my nieces Italian porcelain dolls.  My feet really hurt by the end of the day; I walked for six hours around Venice. I was also very homesick; I wanted to talk to my mom and check my voicemail.

During my stay, I discovered Italian natives to be very humble people who had a tremendous sense of style.  I didn't find their looks as appealing as others might describe.  I really dug their accents, though.  And I liked their comedies, which I saw in my hotel room. I also noticed Italians got pissed off if I spoke to them in Spanish.  I was glad that English was spoken in all 50 states.  I felt like a deaf mute relying on so many non-verbals.

I checked out of the hotel and walked to the train station. While waiting for the train, I met two Canadians.  They were a brother and a sister who hadn't seen each other for a year. She lived in England, was a bit on the high brow side, and liked to say words like wicked and brilliant and amazing.  He was a cutie.  I was kind of hoping we'd hook up.  During our pleasantries, he kept covering himself with his souvenir bag.  We talked about traveling, work, youth culture, and compared Toronto and Miami.  Most of my conversation was with Shannon, but I really wanted to talk more to Kyle.  Anyway, we said our good byes in Verona.   And then I spoke with a middle-aged Brazilian woman who traveled to Europe every summer: "Estas viajando sola? Que lastima!"

The train ride from Milan to Nice was breathtaking, particularly the cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean with people sunbathing on huge black rocks.  There were clusters of beach umbrellas that reminded me of the umbrellas you'd find in a tropical cocktail in Mexico.  The water was a deep azur hue and very serene.  I finally saw San Remo; and Monacco was majestic: all of the pretty houses and apartments on cliffs and hills overlooking the ocean.  When I arrived in Nice, I felt like it had a strong North African identity, yet was still distinctly French. I met an Italian/Morrocan guy named Camel (like the cigarettes) who helped carry my bags and offered to take me out for a drink the following night.

Nice, France 08/16/2001

I was amused by the people taking erotic pictures with the statues.  I was a little disappointed by the casino--no big deal--was expecting to see "007" types.  Everywhere was: Gucci, Prada, Versace, Dolce and Gabbana, Lalique, and Baccarat.  The Spanish lady with the long blond hair dressed in black said to her fluffy brown dog, "Dale vamos!"  I went to lunch at Le Marathon and saw French bikers: very cool, and the biker chicks rode braless.  I went to the beach and swam in the Mediterranean if only for 20 minutes.  I then had a McRoyale at McDonalds--had to do it: Pulp Fiction.

The night train was awesome.  I met lots of people: these guys from Spain, two college frat boys from Chicago, and sorority chicks from New York.  We stayed up all night talking about drugs, clubs, work, the Chicago vs NY stock exchange, Fidel Castro, techno music, American tv shows, classical Spanish literature, communism, socialism, capitalism, youth culture, and relationships.

Barcelona, Spain  08/17-08/20/2001

I met this guy at the park, Nordin--very sweet and cute; I don't mean to be mean, but not only do Spaniards stink and have greasy hair, but they have fungus on their toe nails and finger nails. Gross!  Who would think--so much art and intellect.  They spoke beautifully, though; I wanted to store their phonics in a china cabinet: "Ponte chinos...barrios chinos..assasinato..."  Anyway, Joan (the Spanish guy I met on the train coming to Barcelona) gave me his number and so did Nordin.  They both gave me kisses on the cheek.  Nordin wanted to walk me to my hotel room and bring me to his house for the weekend.  He hugged me, took my face in his hands, and kissed me on my lips three times; I'd call him Sunday; I'd call Joan Saturday.  I was so happy to finally be able to communicate with people verbally and do so proficiently. 

It was easy to meet men in Barcelona.  All I had to do was walk down the street.  One guy called me a beautiful goddess, another guy told me I had a great pair of tits, one guy wouldn't leave me alone, and a cyclist kept circling around to meet up with me.  And they all wanted a kiss on the cheek.  I loved it there;  I could live here.  I went to the Miro Art Museum (boy did he sell these people a "bag of air"); I went to the top of Montjic, the Port of Barcelona, and the Pueblo Espanol.  I was amused by a French elderly woman who I met on the bus.  She spoke to me in her native tongue, and I spoke to her in Spanish.  We understood each other.  She said that English was taking over, which was due to the American economy.  She also said that poor people, immigrants, and youth turned to crime as a result of materialism brought on by capitalism.  She then asked me where I was from.  I said, "America."  She couldn't stop laughing.

I woke up really late (1:15pm) the next day and spent half an hour figuring out what to wear.  I was running low on clothes.  I called Nordin to cancel for tonight.  I called Joan and scheduled a date.  Joan picked me up at 9:45pm.  He picked me up on his motorcycle.  It was my very first ride on one. It was totally thrilling.  He took me over to a festival in Gracia.  The neighborhood streets were decorated so lovely.  The grand prize winners had a jail theme: there were large models in paper mache, orange lights inside tubes; they used everything from yogurt containers to rubber gloves, and my favorite piece was a jail cell with a prisoner looking at a tv that had a paper mache woman inside, with big boobs, getting her nipples pinched.  We sat and listed to some Catalan singers sing the romantic and operatic classics.  Then we ate, bloody sausages and other tapas, at a typical Catalan restaurant. We talked about work, explored moral questions, and legal issues.  All night we talked about everything from Spanish dialects to the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Afterward, we walked hand-in-hand to a side street where a live band played horrible Spanish pop music. We danced and danced.  He kissed me: and I felt pure magic.  I cried in the hotel room.  I felt myself falling inlove with Joan and Barcelona, but I had to leave.  My last activity before leaving Barcelona was going up in a hot air balloon since I got lost on my way to the Picasso Museum; by the time I got there, it was closed anyway.

Paris, France  08/21/2001

I was shocked by how many homeless families there were.  Women and little girls begged for money; little boys and their fathers slept on sidewalks: how disgusting! Where was social services?  Europeans thought Americans so violent; yet Americans don't let pregnant woman and toddlers sleep on park benches.  Paris was no big deal since I'd been there already; I saw her in 2000, and she was a whole new world to me.  I called Nelson from the train station. 

Amsterdam, Holland 08/22-08/23/2001

It was like Venice, except with bikes and tiny cars that only fit two people.  I thought about Hitler, again.  He accomplished nothing.  Amsterdam was probably the most diverse and tolerant city I visited--poor Anne Frank, though.  I smelled some weed coming out of a coffee shop.  I saw a puppet show in front of the royal palace.  I bought some trendy clothes at a flea market, but kept myself from buying some unwarranted leather boots.  I saw beautiful sunflowers at a street market and brought tullip seeds for my sister.  I went to the top of a church tower and had thoughts of damzels tucked away.  The church bells were huge.  I met a Serbian gentleman in the tower, and wanted to ask him about the war, but it never seemed like an appropriate question.  I wouldn't have minded living in Amsterdam, either.  I saw this really sexy muslim girl: dressed in black, with a long trendy skirt, and wearing a tight body suit.  How modern! And even her head scarf was fashionable.

The following day, I was going home--home sweet home; home: where my heart laid. 

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