Wednesday, July 30, 2003

in madrid now, just waiting, waiting, only one more day to go before returning back to the u.s. of a. i fly out of here thursday morning. if i could, i'd hop on the next flight home, but i've called the airline and all the flights are full. i'm sad to end it and all, but very much looking forward to getting home. LA is really the only home i've ever known. i miss my dog and my people. i need to get back into the paycheck game and earn some mulah. i need to look into that mysterious letter from the IRS that my mom told me arrived in the mail.

and as much as moving sucks, i sort of enjoy making a new place my own. putting my crap on the shelves, deciding how to arrange the furniture. we've been talking about finding a place in north hollywood, which is much cheaper than our last, central location in hollywood and nearer to los angeles' usually useless metrolink subway system. i think there's a train running from NoHo to USC. pabs wants to rid himself of his car expense and since he'll soon be a fulltime student (like me) this fall, and since we'll be attending the same university, we figure one car should be plenty between two people. at least we hope it will.

but for the first few weeks we'll be hanging out at my parents' place, getting our marbles together. this should be an interesting experiment: me, pabs, puppy, and my folks. i'm sure it'll be fine, mostly comical as we all try to figure out how to coexist in one space. what's weirdest for me about this situation is that the (town)house my folks are in now is not my childhood home. it's not like i'm moving back into my old room with my old things. they switched homes soon after i finished college, so i've never lived in the new place. i'll essentially be a boarder.

the bright side is that i'll be staying in marina del rey, which means good air and good weather. i can walk to the marina with puppy, roam around the shops, hit up the happy hour at the rosarito, and stumble back. but first things first.

Friday, July 25, 2003

it's been nice to do absolutely nothing. and that's exactly what i've been doing -- and enjoying every moment of it. whereas in god-awful cromer, england (that podunk english seaside town we visited for a week at the start of our travels), i could barely sit still, here in seville i cringe when something requires me to get off my ass. i'm just crazy exhausted from all of the traveling. i've been sleeping upwards of 10 hours a day. plus, it's ridiculously hot here -- something like 40 degrees celsius, which is well over 100 farenheit, i think -- so even the slightest motion produces a great deal of sweat.

it was a bittersweet end to what will probably go down as the best summer of my life. because as much as i never wanted all the exploring to end, i couldn't wait for it to. even though it was just two-and-a-half weeks of nonstop go, go, go, it felt like two months. like we had been on the road forever. i feel wrecked. my feet are sore and swollen from all the walking and running to the trains. i'm in desparate need of a facial/pedicure/manicure/massage. my hair needs a dye job and cut. my body is covered in assorted scrapes and bruises from all the times i banged my suitcase against it. the tightness in my back will requires two weeks of yoga to undo. i'm sunburned, dehydrated, constipated. and i'm all out of money.

but i don't mean to complain. i know i'm lucky to have had this summer. and it has been worth every discomfort i've endured, every dollar i've spent. and it's come with this great zen outlook that i hope to hang on to for awhile.

later today we're going for a two-hour drive to the algarve, the southern state of portugal. it has the most beautiful beaches and most temperate climate. we'll be there until monday.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

in seville now at pablo's parents' place. they live in a suburb called sanlucar just 20 minutes outside of the city. pablo's brother, his wife and their kid have spent most of the summer here and are leaving tomorrow, so it has been a bit of a farewell reunion kind of day. we're barbecuing, going over pictures of the trip, exchanging gifts, all that jazz. and this weekend we'll be off to albufeira, a little city in the south of portugal where pablo's folks keep an apartment. and now, it's time for another nap.

Monday, July 21, 2003

it's so damn hot outside, there really is nothing better to do than sit in a semi-air-conditioned internet cafe in barcelona. we had great weather all around until about vienna, where the sun began to bake us alive. it's been baking all of europe now for the past week or so. and now to add insult to injury, barcelona attacks us with its humidity. i see no point in showering anymore. within 10 minutes of leaving the hotel and walking around the city, my skin is drenched with the air's moisture and my own sweat. and i'm trying to keep sweating to minimum today, as we've already checked out of our hotel and will board an overnight train (sans shower) to seville tonight. pablo's parents will pick us up from the station in the morning, and i'd rather not greet them for the first time in over a year as a stinky, sticky mess, though it looks like i have little control in the matter. i already feel pretty disgusting.

so anyhow, i was going to finish up with vienna, but can't recall too much about it. we were just there for one night, which i spent in the hotel room battling a stomach ache. we went to a great art museum there and again did plenty of walking through the city, trying our hardest to stay in the shade. now in barcelona, we checked out the beaches and saw the magnificent sagrada familia, which was built by the city's famed architect, antonio gaudi. we saw a bunch of his buildings, in fact, and they were all quite impressive. the dude had real vision.

the bummer is that the thing is years away from completion. gaudi died over 80 years ago and they still haven't finished it. construction on the church's interior hadn't even begun, so we could only appreciate the outside. pablo again convinced me to climb the stairs to the highest point in the tower, and though the stairs could easily be beat, the heat couldn't. it was like being in a sauna. we wanted to hit up the picasso museum today, but it's closed on mondays, so we've been walking (slowly) around the city, often ducking into cafes for a cold drink. barcelona is ok. besides being too damn hot, it has the misfortune of being the last stop on the trip, so the excitement of visiting new cities is hardly there. plus, pablo has been talking about doing a semester abroad while in business school, and that will likely be in barcelona. so there isn't this great pressure to see everything, since we'll be back here in a year and a half for about six months.

Sunday, July 20, 2003

venice is now officially my favorite place on the planet. this is not a whim. the whole of portugal had held the top spot for some six or seven years. but all that changed when i set eyes on venice. i can't adequately explain it. it must be seen firsthand. i felt like i was walking around in some fantasy land, like a set of a movie, where all the fa├žades are cardboard creations that will just fall forward if touched the wrong way. i was elated there, spring in my step and all. a true lightness of being, despite the scorching heat and exorbinant prices. it's the most remarkable city in the world. i had heard as much before, but never truely believed it, especially about there being no cars there. but it was true, it was just canals and boat buses, not a single vehicle made an appearance all weekend. people have garages for their boats. venice is really over 100 little islands and about 400 bridges, many of them leading to peoples' front doors. we walked all over the place, and once passed the emergency room of a hospital, its receiving door opening onto a dock. i saw firefighters whiz by on boats, sirens blaring, lights flashing. it was completely surreal. i only regret that we couldn't enjoy a gondola ride, where i had planned to perform my rendition of madonna's "like a virgin," but the gondalier was charging about 100 euros a ride, so nope. but everything else was incredible. i am still reeling from the experience.

now i'm in barcelona for the last stop of the european tour. i still have to record some thoughts of budapest and vienna, but i don't believe the time i have left in this internet cafe will allow me to do so. but in a nutshell, nothing compared to venice. and i already see that my three favorite places visited during this trip were venice (of course), prague and paris. all three of those cities gave me these little unmistakable chills that let me know i was somewhere very special. all else was great as well, but those were the standouts.

budapest had its moments. it had castles that reminded of disneyland's magic castle, and the parliament building looked like superman's fortress of solitude. the city was similar to prague in many ways, with its fancy bridges and castles on a hill, but it lacked the unassuming beauty of prague. i had always heard that prague was a noir city, but i didn't find that at all. budapest was far more noir, much more dilapidated, certainly poorer -- its people dour. the hungarians were not a friendly lot, which probably tainted the way i received the city. we also didn't have a chance to see much, seeing that the museums were closed on sundays and mondays, the only two days we were there, but i'd love to go back and explore it properly. as it was we took a boat ride on the danube river and got a history lesson from the accompanying audio tour.

vienna seemed like a cross between paris and prague, very western, and just a bit too gaudy for my taste. shit, internet time running out. will try to update later on.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

agggggh, i am about four days and two cities behind. in venice already, one of the last stops on this tour. we already finished with budapest and vienna, and i am starting to forget, so i hope to have some proper time to update soon. it has all been amazing, just gets better and better, and now venice -- there are no words. just fucking incredible.

Saturday, July 12, 2003

unfortunately, we couldn't figure out how to get the pix up here and the worst part about that is that digital camera cartridge has run out of room, so we desparately need to store some of the photos on a disk or ship them off to our own email inboxes. otherwise, it's disposable camera time.

in a few hours we'll be on a train to budapest, hungary, which will be the 7th stop on this european tour. so far we've seen 6 cities in 5 countries in 9 days. about 4 more new cities remain. a final two will be visited during the last week of july; those places are where pablo's parents divide their time. and the trip will be a little shorter than i predicted, i think there are just 8 or 9 days left. i can hardly believe we left london just a week from yesterday. it's both going by slowly and quickly. there's so much to absorb, and we're barely scratching the surface of any of the cities we've visited. i sometimes wonder whether we should have just stuck to a few places -- quality over quantity. it seems like every time i finally get comfortable in a city, it's time to pick and move again. my bags constantly need repacking as i stuff more shit in them. old maps are replaced with new ones. there are new metro systems to understand and new foreign greetings to memorize. i feel like i can never catch up to where i have to be.

our last day in prague consisted of visiting the mozart museum, which didn't really float my boat. the exhibition was poorly organized and seemed more about prague than mozart. we did some shopping for both clothes and gifts and went up to the gorgeous prague castle, which was getting ready to close.

then we headed to the town square and drank our store-bought czech beers out in the open while gazing at the lovely buildings and clouds above. did you know that budweiser is a czech beer? i didn't. it seems some local stole the recipe and brought it to america. the two buds don't taste alike, though. anyhow, i'm still quite enamored with prague and sad to leave it. i can't even find the words to do it justice, but it's been incredible, exceeding all my expectations. i'm hoping budapest will be just as good.

Friday, July 11, 2003

prague is beyond amazing, i couldn't even begin to put it into words. it is indeed as magical and enchanting as it's rumored to be. and it's even more incredible at night. walking through the city is like walking through ancient ruins. it somehow escaped world war II intact. even the so-called new city was built in the 18th century, the old in the 12th. the architecture is a mix of renaissance, baroque, rococo, gothic, neoclassicism and some medieval. and yet is all melds beautifully. again, not an ugly street exists here. i'm completely stunned by it all. and it is much cheaper than the rest of europe. it's joining the EU and euro next year so prices are bound to rise, but for now we can get great meals for two for under 15 bucks -- and that's splurging. the people are friendly and most understand english, and i've been able to flex my russian skills with the ones who don't. we've been buying plenty of gifts with the extra money we've saved and taking plenty of pictures, some of which might make their way up here if pabs can figure out how to upload them onto the hotel's computers. otherwise, we're off to eat dinner in the old jewish quarter, which claims to house the oldest synagogue in europe. more sightseeing continues tomorrow until we board the overnight train to budapest.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

in berlin now, waiting for a train to prague. we were supposed to catch one hours ago, but we stupidly went to the wrong train station and then wondered why we couldn't find the train anywhere on the board. when we realized our mistake and began making our way to the right station across town, we arrived to the platform just as our train was pulling away. so now there are four hours to kill until the next train to prague. fucking brilliant.

anyhow, this will give me time for some much-needed updating. let me finish with day 2 in amsterdam. what the hell happened there? oh yeah, we hit up the van gogh museum, which is really worthwhile. the space is well organized, creating a kind of timeline of van gogh's work so you can see how his style changed and matured through the years. they also have some of his final paintings that he made shortly before his suicide in 1890. those were all full of bright orange hayfields and ominous dark clouds.

the last night in amsterdam was spent in some coffeeshop in the red light district, where we befriended the nice kiwi bartender and some danish meatheads who were very amusing. we took some herbal e (turned out to be bunk) and smoked happy hash while watching the girls across the way shake their moneymakers. the bartender said that a 50 euro flat fee gets the guys whatever they want. i guess that's a good deal. i think there should be a gay red light district. that would be interesting. i saw some thai trannies in the windows who were getting plenty of attention from drunk guys who didn't know better (or maybe they did).

the next morning we arrived in cologne and saw the amazing cathedral. that was an incredible sight. the thing is HUGE and so old.

i think they began building it in the 13th century, so it's quite weathered, stained almost black from time. i remember the first time i saw a picture of that thing was during an art history class in college. just from that photo, i promised myself i would see the thing in person one day and i'm glad i made time during this trip. most definitely worth the journey. pablo again convinced me to climb the stairs leading up to the tower. i felt like a pro at first, having conquered the eiffel tower stairs a few days earlier, but this was a different animal. the whole climb of 509 stairs was through a spiral staircase with narrow steps that required walking on tip-toes. i reached the top feeling dizzy, almost sick. then came a major case of vertigo. i had to sit down and recover for a bit, and i felt off-kilter the rest of the day. my calves are still sore.

then came berlin, where i sit now still waiting for that train to prague. berlin is really big, probably as big as paris. with just one day in town, we barely saw a thing: did plenty of walking through the major hotspots, went to one museum, hit up the big TV tower for a good view of the city and went to the very cheesy "checkpoint charlie." that's where the berlin wall opened to let folks pass through. there's nothing of the wall left, just some blocks that have been re-erected for the tourists. it very much seems that the city wants to forget its communist past. there's plenty of rebuilding and development going on, so it's hard to get a feel for the place with all the cranes and scaffolding obstructing the view. truthfully, i haven't been all that impressed, but i think with some more time and a local guide, it might change my view of berlin. but i'm not really a fan of the germans either. there's a hardness to their faces, which makes everyone look older than they are. no one here smiles much; we've encountered plenty of rude people. and everyone here has blue eyes, which makes it a little too twilight zone for me. i'm glad to be going on to prague. i've been looking forward to that city, if only for the fact that things there are rumored to be much cheaper than in the rest of europe. i hope so, because the funds are diminishing faster than i had planned.

otherwise, we've been trying to sample the local beers. it seems like each city produces its own. a few days ago in cologne (k?ln) we were drinking k?lsch. and now in berlin we've been drinking berliner. they were both too bitter for my taste. i still like my smooth and creamy caffreys best.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

damn, just sat down and i think this cafe is closing soon. in cologne now, left sin city this morning, and will catch an overnight train to berlin shortly. all is still peachy. the cologne cathedral was pretty amazing, definitely the coolest church i've ever been to. yikes, closing time, more tomorrow hopefully...

Sunday, July 06, 2003

in amsterdam now, found an internet cafe with an american keyboard thankfully. we got in just a few hours ago after spending the day in brussels, where we walked through the square, ate an amazing lunch that must have been worth 10,000 calories: mussels in garlic butter, half of chicken with potatoes au gratin, a sampling of belgian cheeses and about three neuhaus chocolates for dessert. i felt like quite the piggy once we finished. we hopped on the train soon after to amsterdam and have been walking around the city since we arrived.

but wait, lemme finish on paris. it was still beautiful the second day, though the initial excitement had waned considerably. we didn't have the time or money to do too much there, so we did plenty of walking around while gawking at the pretty sites. the visit to the rodin museum was awesome. a bunch of his sculptures sit in the massive garden surrounding the premises, including "the thinker." inside was "the kiss" and a bunch of busts. we ended the day by buying a bottle of wine and some sandwich materials for a lovely (and cheap) dinner along the seine river. this was followed by a very touristy boat ride along the seine, which saw the eiffel tower lit up like a christmas tree. they must have put some huge blinking christmas lights on the thing and set it to go off every hour for about 10 minutes. it was a fabulous ending to a lovely two days.

now amsterdam begins another two days. tomorrow we're heading to the van gogh (the dutch pronounce it "van goff") museum, where the largest collection of his stuff is housed. this is actually my third time in amsterdam, so i'm not tripping out on all the legal drugs and girlies hanging out of the windows the way pablo is. we already hit up the red light district, which is really a place to be seen first-hand in order to be fully understood. girls really do sit/stand behind glass doors waiting for some man to approach, money in hand, for some nookie. most of the girls look bored and most of the guys are drunk and greasy-looking. down the street from this is the famed marijuana museum, where one can purchase seeds and a growing kit for cheap. then the coffeeshops, usually filled with tourists, where you can choose your weed or hash from a menu that comes complete with a description of the high. it's very bizarre and a bit sketchy. junkies and pickpockets are everywhere.

but beyond the highs and hookers, amsterdam is really a beautiful city lined with canals and culture. dutch design is the best in the world: all clean lines, minimalism and understatement. i like that stuff. we're gonna hit up more of the city stuff and likely stay away from the seedy sites. my greatest pot-smoking days are behind me and i'm glad that i had the chance to come here during their heydey to take in the bomb chronic. that visit totaled about ten days of continuous wake and bake -- and then bake some more. there was never a sober moment. i can barely remember that trip. now, it just makes me sleepy or paranoid. (though i might pick up a joint for old times' sake :-)

after amsterdam comes cologne, germany, to see the cathedral. and then onward to berlin and eastern europe. stay tuned.

Saturday, July 05, 2003

damn, i wish all keyboards were universal, but you cannot imagine how different this parisian one is. this will have to be short then, though i have so much i want to put here! well, i am in wonderful paris right now. this is actually my second time in paris, the last time i came was (gasp!) ten years ago with my french class in high school. (where does the time go?) but this may as well be the first time because i am just as awestruck by the magnificence of this city now as i was then. it is, without question, the most beautiful city in europe -- possibly the world. the old buildings here are really breathtaking: all gorgeous edifices and rounded rooftops, cute smokestacks -- everything. there is not an ugly street in this city. the food is great, the metro is immense, and the french are not that bad once you make an effort to speak their language. i wish i could call upon my high-school french skills now more than ever but, sadly, they have long atrophied from underuse. i have a handy phrasebook, but most people here speak english. they just like it when you try to speak french, it seems, they find it respectful, and then they switch to english for everyones benefit.

we got in midday yesterday, checked in to our hotel and then proceeded to walk to the eiffel tower, where pablo proceeding in conning me to take the stairs (rather than the lift) to the second floor in the tower. it seemed like we climbed thousands of stairs and only wound up about 30 percent into the height of the tower. we took the lift up the rest of the way and got a stunning view of paris, complete with great photos. i think it is about 80 stories high at the top. we then walked all around the city, though we hardly made a dent in it, it is so huge. today is more walking and a visit to the rodin museum. tomorrow morning holds a day trip to brussels for chocolate and mussels for lunch, then amsterdam in the evening. more later...

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

i'm in cromer now in what must be the oldest library in the world with the slowest computers on earth. things move pretty slowly here in general, especially with all the old folks around. this town has about 7,000 people, and at least 85% of them must be over the age of 65. the only thriving industry here appears to be the local mortuary.

it is quaint, though, i must admit. you can walk the length of the town in about 40 minutes. every cab ride costs the same regardless of where you're going (£2.20). stone cottages with pretty gardens line the streets. there's a really gorgeous old church in the center of town, and everyone has that small-town hospitality that has them saying 'hi' to you in the streets for no apparent reason. i think i jumped the first few times someone addressed me, but i'm beginning to say 'good day' now to passing strangers just because. it's very twilight zone.

but yes, i'm bored out of my gourd. i've already gone through half the hotel's video library. i'm really trying to just take in the peace and quiet and it has gotten easier in the past day, but i'm itching to go already. this surprises me considering how inherently lazy i usually am. i used to enjoy doing nothing for days on end, but life and its assorted, sordid responsibilities have turned me into a busybody, and now i fear there's no turning back.

oh well, only a few more days will be spent here and then the real european tour will begin. maybe that's what keeping me restless -- the thought of what lies ahead, which will certainly be better than this podunk town full of old, white faces. pabs and i would leave sooner, but the eurail passes we have only become active on july 4, so we're stuck. ugh.