Family and friends: This is the first edition of my European Travelogue, which I will send you by email at an uncertain frequency over the next two months. I sent it to everyone who´s email I had on me or could think of, which excludes many more people than it includes. Feel free to forward this and subsequent editions to whomever you want. Specifically, I left Mrs. Myers´ email at my host´s house, and the only family emails I knew off the top of my head were mom and dad, but I did have an eclectic couple of email addresses in my wallet, so, that´s that. Anyway, I arrived in Madrid the morning of the 18th at 9 A.M. (3 A.M. in the U.S.) After a couple of hours wandering around trying to find my host´s house, I finally resigned to take a cab. I hadn´t slept all night on the plane, but I was determined to stay awake all day in order to overcome jetlag, which I did successfully. I saw the Prado (Madrid´s main art museum) that day. The next day, Angel, my host, drove me out to Salamanca, a college town about 200 km west of Madrid, which seemed to me to be straight out of Harry Potter. The drive to and from Salamanca was beautiful, mountains and wheatfields. And there were all these little red roofed medeival villages nestled in the hills. In Salamanca, we saw a car museum with a special exhibit on the history of automobiles. On the way back, we stopped in the walled town of Avila for a bathroom stop. That night, I saw a bullfight, so it was quite a full day. The next day, I went to Toledo by train, and found my Pension (cheap hotel) very easily. Toledo Spain is nothing like Toledo, OH. It is on the side of a hill, and all the streets are very narrow and made of cobblestone and have a large inclination, so it´s uphill both ways wherever you go. Fortunately, I bought a good map at the train station. It served me well. Unfortunately, I lost my compass in Toledo, and I have yet to find another, but I found my way around OK anyway. I have yet to find another compass. The main sites proved a bit disappointing, but it was incredibly fun just to wander around. There´s tons of neat little shops and tapas bars and streets and plazas, and every time a car came down one of the narrow, inclined streets, it amazed me. Plus, there were great views of the surrounding countryside from the high places. After two nights in Toledo, I came here to Sevilla (Seville). I stopped in Cordoba to see the famous Mezquita, but, unfortunately, it had closed early for the Corpus Christi festival, so, instead, I got to see a parade, a procession of Christian paraphernalia coming out of the mosque (which is now a cathedral) made me a bit unhappy it seems the spirit of the reconquista lives on, although maybe that´s not fair, maybe I was just disappointed not to get to see the inside of the Mezquita. Well, I finally got here to Sevilla at 10 P.M. (I had gotten confused with trains at the beginning of my journey, hence the lateness.) I took a cab to my host´s house since I couldn´t quite figure out his directions. The Cabby didn´t know where the street was!! But eventually he found it. 7.50 Euros. My host, Javier, didn´t get home till midnight, so I had to wait for him, but he´d left a note on the door. Anyway, here I am now in Sevilla in an internet cafe, and this morning I washed my clothes because they were all filthy, and I have 10 minutes left on the internet and I want to do some other stuff, so this is the end of the next message. Hasta luego (that means see you later in Spanish) Norman Perlmutter P.S. If you don´t want to be included in future emails, let me know. If you know someone who does, let me know their address. P.P.S. Mom and dad, please save the travelogue emails, so I can keep them when I get home to supplement my journal which is also being well used.
This is the second installment of my European travelogue. If you
didn´t get the first part, email my dad,[email address redacted], or my mom, [email address redacted], to have them forward it to you. Sevilla (or Seville for Spanish illiterate people) I stayed in Sevilla for four nights. The first day, I found my way around, got a map, and took a ride on a boat along the Rio Guadilquivir. I had "lunch" with my host, Javier (the Spanish eat lunch at around 3 p.m.) he is a great cook. He made pasta with tomato sauce with tuna and hard boiled egg mixed in, and it was great. Then, in the evening, I went on the boat ride. The next day, I saw the Reales Alcazares (royal fortresses/castles). It´s commonly known as the Alcazar, but its official name is in the plural because it´s really several castles, Muslim and Christian, built on top of, and/or around each other. It was my favorite site so far in my entire trip, incredibly ornate. That same day, I also saw the Plaza de Espana, a semicircular plaza with a big ornate building on the border which contains tiled artwork depicting each of the states of Spain. Also, I wandered around the bario de Santa Cruz (the Jewish quarter). That night, I had dinner with Javier, and he invited about 6 or 7 friends, also, his wife Rosa came home from her travels. We had a great time. Every one ate off of the same serving plates; no individual plates. Finally, a bit after midnight, I figured I´d better get going to the next house, so I did. It was a very short walk. I was a bit later than they would have preferred, but it was OK. The next day, I went to see the Cathedral, and that evening I went to an expensive (27 euro), but good, flamenco show. I also had lunch with my hosts, Magdalena and Manuel. Finally, my last day in Sevilla, I packed up and went down to the bus station, where I caught the bus to La Linea, the Spanish town on the border with Gibraltar. GIBRALTAR Gibraltar is a small British selfgoverning territory in the south of SPain. The bus left Sevilla at 3 p.m. and travelled four hours, at least one hour longer than I´d expected. Then I walked into Gibraltar and wandered around awhile rather than go straight to the hostel. Finally, I made had to ask directions to the hostel, although if I´d gone there straight away it would have been easy to find. That night, I could have sworn that the streets of Gibraltar were even more confusing than the streets of Toledo, Spain, although they aren´t really. The hostel was interesting. My roommates were a Californian backpacker eurailpasser named Steve, who had a terrible cold, an old (about 60) Brit named John, who was travelling mostly by bike, and a British woman whose name I forget, about 30, who´d been staying in the hostel for 2 weeks. John was an amusing character. Steve seemed to think he knew more than he actually did, but he was friendly. The next day, I went up the rock by the cable car, and saw all the sites there, including the macaques, which I thought were cute, The cave, which had really cool rock formations, and the seige tunnels. I could see Africa across the strait. At one point, when I was going up a path at the top of the rock, there was this huge flight of birds that kept swooping down over my head, within a foot or so, and cawing loudly. I stood there for about 15 minutes, enjoying the performance. Luckily, I didn´t get pooped on. Gibraltar was expensive, since the pound is so strong, and a bit of a shlep away from the rest of Spain, but it was fun. Oh, by the way, the first night in Gib, I felt sort of homesick, because the English reminded me of home, but it wasn´t home. At first I thought it was a obnoxious that I had to walk all the way to Spain to use my Spanish phone card, but the second time around, I thought, hey, how many times in your life do you get to walk to Spain, and I enjoyed it after that. Anyway, after I got down from the rock, I wanted to go on a dolphin boat, but it was all booked up already, so I went to the Gibraltar museum instead, which had historical displays and taxidermied wildlife. Not incredibly interesting, but it passed the time. The next morning, I woke up incredibly early to catch the 7 A.M. train back to Sevilla. From Sevilla, I travelled to Madrid, and then San Sebastian, by train. Fortunately, I was able to make all my connections, otherwise I wouldn´t have gotten to San Sebastian at all that night. SAN SEBASTIAN San Sebastian is a city in the Basque country, in northern Spain. The train got to San Sebastian at 10, and I should have taken a taxi to my host´s house, but for some stupid reason, I walked instead. I finally got there after midnight, very tired. Oh, well, live and learn. In the future, I´ll try to get into destinations earlier, and I´ll take a cab if I arrive late. The next day, today, I spent in San Sebastian. My host showed me around the city a bit, with his shy cute 5 year old daughter who clung to Papa and refused to talk to me. After that, I went to the beach, which was very nice. It was very warm this morning, a perfect beach day. Later in the day was cooler. I went up to the top of one of the hills, where they have a little amusement park, and a historic tower, which I went up. Then I came here. Now, I´m going to get something to eat, and then back to my host´s house for the night. Hasta Luego P.S. Feel free to forward this to whoever you want. If you don´t want to receive future travelogues, let me know. P.P.S. Loren, you backpack is incredibly comfortable. Thank you so much for loaning it to me.
7/5/03 1:25 PM
The last day in San Sebastian, I went to a park which was sort of nice, but too distant to be worth the schlep. Next, I went to hang out on the beach, but my swimsuit was in a locker in the train station, so I sat on the edge of the water, reading, figuring I could let the waves tickle my feet and gradually move up the beach as the tide came in. Unfortunately, waves come in a large range of sizes, and I eventually got soaked, me, my daypack, and my guidebook, soaked and sandy. Fortunately, I had about 6 or 7 hours until I had to catch my train. I went back to the train station to get my main bag, changed into my swimsuit and a cleaner tshirt in the bathroom, went to a laundry place, and washed all my stuff. Then I made my way back to the station. I met many friendly people waiting for the train and walking to the station, fellow travellers . . . It´s always nice to have a chance to talk some English, although such opportunities will become more frequent, as I´ll be staying mostly in hostels, rather than with SERVAS, for the next segment of my trip. So, anyway, I took the night train to Barcelona. I didn´t get much sleep on the train because it was a compartment of 6, and the seats reclined into each other, so you could only really sleep well if there were only 3 people. For part of the trip there were four, but then 2 more got on ... full house Upon arriving in Barcelona, I found my host´s house very easily, for a change. She is a Dutch college student, who is a SERVAS host in the Netherlands, and she was renting the apartment from the dude who owns it, who´s also a SERVAS host and was on vacation for 3 months, corresponding with her vacation from school. Anyway, I stayed in Barcelona for 4 nights and 5 days, and this is the fifth day right now. The first 2 days, I saw the Erotica museum, the Sagrada Familia Cathedral, and the aquarium, none of which greatly impressed me, and they were all a bit overpriced, and two of them wouldn´t accept my youth card, only another brand. I´ll tell you more about Barcelona in the next installment. The next three days were much better, but I have to send this email now, because my internet time is running out. Norman7/11/03 3:16 PMSo, as previously stated, the first two days in Barcelona were not all that great, but after that, I got into the groove of things and started having a good time. The third day, I saw the Picasso museum, which was nice. I particularly enjoyed a ceramic plate with a bull chasing its tail around the outside and a sun in the center. That evening, I went to see the modernist Park Guell, but, by the time I got there, I realized I did not have time to fully appreciate it, so I resolved to return later. Then, I went to see the light show in the Placa de Espanya, which Analika's friend Morije (pronounced Mariah) had recommended to me. I'm quite glad that I saw it because it was possibly the most beautiful thing I've seen so far on my trip, though the Michaelangelo's David, which I saw today, comes very close. Anyway, the light show: there was this huge fountain, and it was all lit up with different colors of lights. The lights kept changing colors, and the fountain waters were changing shape, and the number of spouts, and the height, and sometimes it was just one big foamy mass, sometimes a whole bunch of spouts. There was also music, and the lights and water were choreographed to the music; it was sort of like Fantasia, except with a fountain. During the intervals in the music, performers juggled flaming batons. The show went on for 2 and a half hours. After the show I caught the last subway train back to my hostel and went to bed. My fourth day in Barcelona, I took a daytrip to the nearby town of Figueres, where I saw the Salvador Dali museum, which was the best art museum I have seen so far on this trip. (The famed Uffizi, which I saw today, was terrible, as far as I'm concerned. WAY too much Christian stuff, don't they EVER get tired of painting the Madonna and child? And the lines . . . UGH. But I digress.) Anyway, the Dali museum was awesome, and Figueres was a neat town, much quiter than Barcelona I wish I could have spent a night there, because there were some more Dali museums in the vicinity. The fifth day in Barcelona, I went to the train station to reserve my ticket, only to be confronted by a wait of an hour and a half (fortunately, I didn't actually have to wait in line all that time, it's take a number.) Finally, when I got my turn, I went to buy my ticket to Bern (where I was going instead of Nice because I couldn't find any reasonably priced accomodations in Nice) only to find that it was a hotel train, and there weren't any cheap seats left, so I had to pay €63 even with my Eurail pass. Well, I decided to go for it anyway, rather than find a different way to get to Bern, cuz at least I could get a good night's sleep, and I didn't feel like spending the whole day hashing out logistics. Next, I found a place that sold the Spanish specialty, Churros con Chocolate, which I hadn't managed to eat in my entire 2 weeks + in Spain, so I got them. That left me only about 5 hours to catch my train, but I really wanted to see Park Guell, (Which was a 45 minute walk and metro (European word for subway) ride away. Well, I did it anyway, and I'm glad I did because it was beautiful. Then I came back to the internet cafe, where I typed out a quick email (travelogue number 3), and finally I got my backpack from the hostel and went to the trainstation. My busy day came with a price, though. On the way to the train station I realized I'd left behind my travel towel in the hostel, and I didn't have time to go back for it. Oh, well. And I'd thought it would be cheaper to go to Bern . . . how ironic! The hotel train was comfy, though I was bothered to learn that the guy next to me, who didn't even have a Eurailpass, had payed only 110 euros for his ticket. Oh, well. Upon arriving in Bern the next morning, I found my place easily. It's really a hotel, rather than a hostel, but it had some dorm rooms. Each bunk bed was walled off with walls that went almost to the ceiling, and no one was in my top bunk, so it was a great deal for just 35 Swiss francs (about 23 euros, or 26 dollars), especially considering how expensive Switzerland is. Bern, the capital of Switzerland, has a beautiful, blue rushing river. It is a cute little town, and it was quite a relief after the craziness of Barcelona. (Side note: I really enjoyed all the street performers in Barcelona) Anyway, Bern was neat, but everything closed at 5 PM, and everything was closed on Sundays, and a McDonald's meal cost 10 francs. I did finally find a grocery that was open that Sunday that I'd arrived, but not till after I'd spent 12 francs on a salty tortellini dish for lunch. By the way, bills in Switzerland are beautiful. Also, I've noticed that in Europe, unlike the U.S., the more valuable bills are bigger. In Switzerland, the coins went all the way up to 5 francs, and the smallest coin was 5 cents. I hardly saw anything selling for less than 1 franc in Switzerland, even in the cheapest grocery stores nothing but a single yogurt or water bottle. The first day in Bern, I saw the audio visual show at the tourist center, which was the highlight of Bern. The next day, I travelled around the area near Bern. A 30 minute train ride, and they speak French instead of German, wow! By the way, the Swiss chocolate was wonderful. Also, at the hotel, I met a guy from Oregon State, the first 18 year old I'd met on my travels (most of the people at hostels are college grads and older). He had a friend from Oregon who will be a freshman at Grinnell next fall, (who's name I wrote down)! My last day in Switzerland, I stopped at a travel store on the way to the train station, where I replaced my missing travel towel (they sold the same brand) and compass for 40 francs, not a bad deal. Also I bought some fresh caramel fudge from a street vendor, YUM. Then I took the train to Milan (2 leg journey, switching in Brig), and from Milan, back north to Como, and from Como a bus around the lake to Menaggio. I found La Primula hostel easily in Menaggio (on lake Como in very northern Italy). La Primula hostel serves a great family style Italian dinner every night, 10 euros for a two course meal, plus dessert, bread, and wine. The next day in Menaggio, I rented a kayak. I got homesick, because it was a gorgeous lake, but I couldn't go waterskiing like I do at home. Overall, Menaggio was nice, but I think I could have skipped it. The second night in Menaggio, I studied a teach yourself Italian book for a few hours and managed to pick up a bit, it's very similar to Spanish. After two nights in Menaggio, I came to Florence. AT ten o'clock I first took a ferry (10 minutes) across the lake to Varenna, where I waited 2 hours for a train connection to Milan. From Milan, I needed to get a reservation for Firenze (Florence) but I couldn't tell which window to go to. All the main windows had advertisements for the Milan to Venezia line, so I thought they were only selling tickets for that line. Finally, I realized that this was not the case, after missing two trains to Firenze. I payed 8 euros for a reservation on a so called high speed train, which covered the 300 or so kilometers from Milan to Firenze in 2 hours and 45 minutes, high speed my ass. Anyway, I finally arrived in Florence at 5:45 P.M., and found my campground without too much trouble, taking the bus since it was sort of late. The campground has an awesome view of the city from above, but is only a fifteen or twenty minute walk from the center. I almost got a big tent to myself, but at 11 oclock a girl from Ohio arrived to claim the second bed. The next day was today. I went first to the Uffizi gallery, which I told you about above. The painting of the birth of Venus was nice, though, and the admission included a special exhibit on the evolution of the Italian language, which only came into being as the common spoken language of the peninsula 100 years ago, although it had been the official literary language since the 1400s or so. After that, I went to see the sinagogue and Jewish museum, but it was closed early for Shabbat, oops. Then I went to the Gallery of the Academy, which housed Michaelangelo's David. As an added bonus, it also had a collection of antique musical instruments, including a couple of Stradivaris, plus a weird one string instrument that made a sound like a trumpet. You could listen to the sounds of all the instruments from PC terminals. David itself was awesome, particularly since it looked great from all angles. The detail and size were amazing. I did notice one inaccuracy. David was uncircumsized, which is wrong, since he was Jewish! The statue was so amazing that I returned to look at it several times before finally leaving. After that, I came here. On the way, I saw the outside of the Palazzo Pitti, which was closed for the night. I think I'll see it tomorrow morning, thought that means I'll have to get in to Rome somewhat late. Oh, well. Anyway, I'm running out of internet time, so goodbye for now. P.S. to Dad: I think the reason you missed my previous email is that it didn't have a subject line, so your computer thought it was spam. Anyway, goodbye, all. Warm regards. Norman7/26/03The final day in Florence, I saw the Palazzo Pitti as planned. It was nice. It contained several art galleries and a garden. In the art galleries, the ceilings were more impressive than the paintings on the walls for the most part, but I almost missed some of them. I got to Rome late that evening, but managed to find my hostel with only a little bit of trouble (I went three stops in the wrong direction on the metro, then corrected this mistake.) I arrived at the hostel at 10 pm. Besides the initial awe of seeing the Colosseum, Roma did not impress me much. It was terribly crowded, and the traffic was terrible, and the metro was worst of all. It was almost always packed as full as possible, so I was literally squeezed against my fellow sweaty public transportees. The ticket machines were worst of all. A single ticket costs 77 cents, but they only give change in multiples of 5 cents or less, which would not be so bad, except that THEY WON'T LET YOU BUY A TICKET UNLESS THEY CAN GIVE YOU PRECISE CHANGE. In other words, if you don't have a two cent piece or two pennies, you can't buy a ticket at all, even if you're perfectly willing to forfeit the 3 cents i.n change. Anyway, I eventually got around these problems by buying daypasses which were better value anyway, but it was a PAIN. On the plus side, I ran into my Spanish teacher, Sra. Myers, and her husband in the Vatican! She had told me she'd be in Rome then, but I hadn't thought there was a chance in hell that I'd actually come across her. I followed her tour group around for a while, but then lagged behind to look at some stuff that the guide was breezing past, and when I looked for her again, I'd lost her. Oh, well, easy come easy go! Also, in Rome, I met some friendly kids in the hostel with whom I went around for a couple days. This gave me a much greater appreciation for the for the advantages of travelling alone, such as being able to go at your own pace where you want when you want. Anyway, there were ruins like crazy all over the place in Roma, and for a while they were interesting, but then it got to be like, oh, MAN, ANOTHER ruin? So what's so special about it? It's friggin falling apart. Apart from that, I ended up spending a disproportionately long time in Rome making bookings for my future travels, including advance bookings for the ferry to Greece, which, in retrospect, I think were not necessary. Well, anyway, after 4 nights, I finally left Roma for Sorrento, a small tourist town a bit south of Napoli (Naples) which isn't much in and of itself but is great for exploring the surrounding region, which is called Campania. I spent three days and four nights in Campania, and they were my favorite part of Italy so far, or at least tied with Florence. In Sorrento, I stayed at a campground a half hour walk or short busride outside of town, where I rented a bed in a trailer. Each trailer had two rooms, with two beds each. I ended up with a room to myself all four nights. It even had an electric light, which is luxurious for a campground. It took me a while to figure out how to operate it, though, because the button you had to press had slipped inside the fixture, so I had to detach the fixture from the ceiling. Also, the window had lost the thing to prop it open, so I used an empty water bottle, a trick copied from a neighbor. I met a lot of great people at the campground. In general, I find that the people I meet in campgrounds are more interesting than those whom I meet at hostels. One was an oldish lady, (about 60?) named Eleanore, who sort of reminded me of my neighbor Eleanor from home becuase she was about the same age and just as friendly. There was also a French girl, who spoke very good English. Since we had both finished reading our fiction books, I traded my copy of The Hobbit with her for The Bone People, a prize winning love story/mystery set in New Zealand, which I have been greatly enjoying so far. Then there was Monica, from Australia, whom I got to know when she started complaining about what a bad day she'd had: she was hit by a motor bike! The medical care in southern italy was very bad, and they had told her that "if she could walk she was OK", but she was worried that she might have had some sort of internal concussion and wanted an Xray, which they refused, and they wouldn't accept her insurance, which was supposedly valid in Italy, because it had phone numbers for several different countries, not including Italy, and then a number for "all other countries." Wow, l'm glad I haven't gotten into medical trouble in Southern Italy. (Dad, don't worry, in the North, where I'm heading next, it's known to be much better) Well, anyway, I went on one daytrip each day from Sorrento. The first day, I went to the Isle of Capri by ferry. I took a bus across the Island to see the famous blue grotto. The busride was an adventure in and of itself. The road was winding and graded, and not really wide enough for two busses and/or trucks to pass each other, so whenever two of them met on a narrow stretch, they had to maneuver and sometimes go in reverse for significant distances until they could pass each other. The blue grotto was pretty. It is a cave cut into the side of the island, and an effect of the sunlight makes the water inside a beautiful shade of turquoise blue. After going in the blue grotto (by rowboat tour) I went for a short swim in the nearby "beach" (more of a rocky cliff with access to the sea) and then went back across the island to catch my ferry back. Waiting for the ferry, I ran into a somewhat drunk Brit named Steven at an outdoor cafe. He asked me for a drink from my water bottle, then said he was only joking. He asked me where I was from. "Toledo, I hate that place!" but it turned out he was joking again. He bought me a drink, and we had a lovely conversation, me and him and his travel companions, he was on a cruise. He was really a friendly guy, oops, internet time almost out. Bye, Norman[I think I'm missing an entry here regarding Napoli and a Greek island . . . ]8/2/03 5:42PMI didn't actually manage to encounter any Spaghetti Bolognese in Bologna, and in fact, I ended up skipping lunch so I wouldn't have to wait another hour for the next train. So, I went to Venezia (Venice), and, with the help of a map, found the place where I was staying all right. It was not quite a hostel, actually a bit nicer; I was only sharing a room with three people, and the bed was very soft and springy. Venezia was lots of fun. I didn't go in any museums, but just wandered around most of the time, enjoying the ambience. I tried to get in contact with some SERVAS day hosts, but they were not available to hang out with me. I'd known that they had canals instead of streets in Venezia, but it was still awesome to see it in person. Also, the main square (Piazza di San Marco) with its ornate Cathedral, was quite a sight. It was full of birds, and I bought a pack of bird seed and held it on my hands and they flew right up and perched on my arms to eat it. Venice is a great place to just walk around, because it is relatively small, and it is flat (except for the bridges). The one small problem was that there was virtually no cheap food, except grocery stores, which were neither easy to locate nor open long hours. So, I ended up eating at expensive restaurants, but the quality was pretty good. The first night, I ate at a Chinese place, because it was close to where I was staying. The second night, I found a nice restaurant, with the complete menu, including service charge, for 14 Euro. But it didn't include a beverage, and a can of coke was 4.50 euro, and a bottle of mineral water was was something like 3 bucks. I asked for tap water, but the waitress refused. So I said I wouldn't have anything to drink, and planned to drink discreetly from the water bottle in my backpack. But then when she brought the first course, she brought me some tap water after all. HA! The main course was a Venetian specialty: was cuddlefish (which I think is the same as or similar to squid) cooked in its own ink. The ink was black, so it looked sort of ugly, but it tasted good, although I wouldn't exactly want to eat it every day. Like the pizza in Napoli, I could appreciate it aesthetically from a higher level of thought, without entirely liking it at the most basic level. Anyway, from Venice, I took a night train to Munich, and from Munich I took a day train to Berlin. On the train to Berlin, the conductress, who spoke no English, took a look at my railpass, and then took it away from me. When she came back a half hour or so later, she insisted that I had to pay the full fare of 120 euro. I couldn't quite understand why, because she didn't speak English, but she wouldn't take no as an answer, so I whipped out my credit card and paid it. After doing some deep breathing exercises to get over my anger, I went to search for an English speaking rail worker on the train. I found one, and explained my problem, and she took a look at my pass, and told me it was invalid because it didn't have a cover. Now, I had been using this pass for nearly 6 weeks, and had not had any problem with not having a cover before, but when I looked at the rules in my handbook, sure enough, it was invalid without the cover. I think I threw out the cover shortly after the pass came in the mail. Uncharacteristically, I had failed to read the directions carefully. When I got to Berlin, I went to the Eurail pass aid office, and the guy said, sure enough, the pass is invalid without a cover, and he was not authorized to refund my 120 euro, nor did I deserve to have it refunded. He did, however, give me a new cover for free! The cover did not look at all like any sort of official document. I don't think the cover rule served any purpose except to allow the rail companies to make more money by taking advantage of people who fail to follow the rules to the letter. When I get back home, I'll complain to Eurail, and maybe I can get my money back. If not, "those who don't know to shvim . . . " (If you haven't heard the joke, don't ask) Anyway, Berlin was quite an interesting city. I stayed with SERVAS for 2 nights, and at a nice hostel for two nights. The first full day, I saw the Checkpoint Charlie museum, which detailed all the different ways people had escaped from East to West Berlin. It was quite interesting. That same day, I also visited the Reichstag (capital building), where you could go up in the newly constructed glass dome for free, and I saw the Brandenburg Gate, and I walked around in the Tiegarten park (Berlin has more trees than Paris and more bridges than Venice, according to my guidebook). The second day, I went to see the Jewish museum. The architecture very modern. It had two empty tall enclosed spaces, which were supposed to represent the emptiness of Germany after the holocaust. It was bigger than I'd realized, and when it closed, I had not even gotten through half of it, I think. It wasn't particularly designed for Jews to visit any more than gentiles: it had explanations of customs that most Jews would already be familiar with, and it also had computer terminals where you could type your name in English or German and see it in Hebrew letters, which was rather weird since Jews generally have a separate Hebrew name. It also had lots of interactive displays that seemed to be designed for young children. Nonetheless, it was reasonably interesting. After the Jewish museum, I saw the East Side Gallery, the largest standing section of the wall, which has been decorated by artists. The third day, I visited Sachsenhausen concentration camp. It was, of course, very sad, but it was good that I visited, because it is important not to forget the details of the holocaust. Like the Jewish museum, it was very large; it had an audioguide and many museums within the camp, and after 6 and a half hours, when it closed, I could have easily stayed for another couple hours. In the hostel, I met a law student from Hungary, with whom I greatly enjoyed visiting. Some general comments on Berlin: It was, as I had been told, a great time to visit because they are in the process of rebuilding the city, so there's new buildings and construction sites all over the place. My SERVAS host said that he likes this because it the dynamicism of the city allows him to be dynamic too. The food was very inexpensive, especially coming from Venice, and the sausages were great. They don't care much for buns. You order a huge bratwurst, and you get a tiny roll with a slit in it, about a fourth the lenght of the wurst. The public transit was the most extensive of any city I've visited, something like 9 lines of underground, and nine more lines of above ground trains (sort of like the L in Chicago), except they were called U-bahn and S-bahn, respectively. There was also a tram system, and, of course, buses. It was also the most expensive: more than 2 euro for a two hour trip with unlimited transfers, or 6 euro for a day pass. After staying four nights in Berlin, I came today to the Netherlands. I am staying in Utrecht because there were no beds available in Amsterdam at a reasonable price when I went to book. But Utrecht is only a half hour from Amsterdam by train. The place is very inexpensive at 12 euro per night. It has FREE internet (a first for places where I've stayed, and it's high speed, too.), and a kitchen stocked with cereal, bread and pasta, which you can eat in unlimited quantities for free. It is a little bit grungy, and the staff is not exactly professional, but with the other excellent features, I'm definitely not complaining. It's run by a nonprofit organization with goals similar to SERVAS, that's why it's so cheap. Well, that's all for now. Goodbye. Norman L. Perlmutter[Missing an entry or never wrote an entry regarding Amsterdam, Belgium and Paris]8/26/03 6:14PMGreetings to all of you from Grinnell College, where I arrived last Friday! Here is the long-awaited European Reflections section of the travelogue. On my travels I learned a lot of things about a lot of things and was able to gain many new perspectives, specifically in the categories below: THE USA Many people told me that going on this trip would make me more confident than ever that the USA is the best country in the world, but this is not really the case. Instead, I gained a greater understanding of our fair nations flaws as well as its strengths. The balance of the evidence makes me feel, if anything, less patriotic than before. I've always known that some people in other countries are a bit unhappy with American economic attitudes, but this was really brought home to me by several discussions I had. One of the most memorable was with a Danish guy I met on a train. I was telling him about where I come from, and about Cedar Point, which has the tallest roller coaster in the world, and how almost every year they build a new roller coaster. HIM: But, why do they build a new roller coaster every year? ME: Because they want to be the biggest in the world HIM (with a sort of derisive snort): Typical American! This sort of surprised me, I guess, because it seemed obvious to me why Cedar point kept building new coasters. I'd already told him they had the tallest in the world, so it seemed perfectly obvious to me that the reason why they would continue building new ones was to maintain that status. But to the Danish dude, it just didn't seem obvious at all why anyone would WANT to be the biggest ANYTHING in the world. I also had several conversations with people from the former Eastern Bloc. They were young, so they did not really remember anything before the 80s, when communism was already dying. Nonetheless, they all told me that socialism was "not so bad." A Hungarian guy said that Socialism was a corrupt system, but they were able to live with it in relative comfort. And he added nostalgically that there were no homeless people on the streets, and that the restaurants served good, cheap food. I still think that the U.S. about the right mix of capitalism and Socialism (Social Security, minimum wage, Welfare, etc.), and I still personally think it's great that my home town is 100 miles from the tallest roller coaster in the world, and, but hearing different perspectives just a tiny bit less secure in my convictions. On the other hand, though, other things I saw made me happier with the U.S. economic system. In many European countries the sales tax is 15 or 20 per cent, and I certainly wouldn't want that in the U.S. Often, as I rode on Europe's excellent rail system I reflected on how, as nice as it was, it probably wasn't worth whatever the taxpayers were paying for it. And we Americans buy our soda pop in 12 ounce cans and 20 ounce or two liter bottles, as opposed to buying it in 33 centileter cans (11 ounce) and 50 centileter (16.66 ounce) and 1.5 liter bottles and paying more than for the corresponding larger American sizes, even if the dollar were to be on par with the Euro. I had been against the war in Iraq before, but talking with Europeans strengthened that conviction. I had been against Bush before, but seeing f*ck Bush grafiti all over Europe strengthened that conviction. Most of all, a visit to Europe convinced me that America's policies towards sex and drugs are terribly Puritan. In almost all the parts of Europe I visited, women who want to go topless on beaches. In almost all, if not all, the parts of Europe I visited, magazines with pictures of female breasts on the covers are for sale in newsstands on the street. In some places, street vendors even sold what would be relegated to "adult book stores" in the USA. According to American political theory, all the children in Europe are corrupted by this vulgar display of nudity. But no one I ran into seemed to have been corrupted by it. In Europe, drinking laws allow people aged 18, and even younger in many countries, to buy and consume alcohol. Where I stayed in Greece, the 15 year old daughter of the proprietor sometimes minded the bar and herself drank in moderation. Wow! American theory says she must be in a terrible state. Actually, she was very happy and was part of a happy and loving family. In Amsterdam (and the rest of the Netherlands), the sale of cannabis and the possession of it for personal use is fully decriminalized. The only reason it is not absolutely legal is pressure from the international community. Licensed "coffee shops" openly sell cannabis in public. I walked down the streets of Amsterdam and saw people happily smoking it on the outdoor terraces of the coffee shops. Wow, Amsterdam must have a terrible drug problem! But in reality, statistics show that in spite of our draconian measures, more Americans than Netherlanders use cannabis!! Think of all those jail cells, holding drug criminals while rapists roam free on the streets of America. Think of all the people with cancer and other serious ailments being denied cannabis even for medicinal purposes by the federal government. Before I went to Europe, I was against the War on Drugs, but only after my trip did I realize the full stupidity and futility of this second Prohibition. On the balance, I would still say that the USA is probably the best country in the world to be a citizen of. But just probably. Whereas before my trip I considered any objections I might have to this idea to be somewhat esoteric, I am no longer secure in its validity. Upon returning to the states, particularly large American flags and other displays of patriotism honestly made me feel a bit sick to my stomach. It wasn't until I arrived here in Iowa and saw the stars and stripes flying in Grinnell, 500 miles from Toledo, OH, and still well within the borders of our country, that the flag once again wakened feelings of patriotism in me. In Europe, I would probably be in another country after travelling that far, and I hadn't even made it out of the Midwest. A line from a song played in my head: "And crown thy good with brotherhood FROM SEA TO SHINING SEA" Perhaps one of the best things about the USA is just its size, how such a large number of people over such a large area of land are dedicated to the political ideals expressed in the Constitution. Well, moving on to a somewhat less heavy topic . . . AESTHETICS Note: art terms used below are not meant to necessarily be the correct scholarly historic terms, but rather terms describing my viewpoint, so forgive me if, for instance, the term photorealist actually only applies to a small specific school of artists, as I think it technically might, rather than being a general term for art that looks as close as possible to a photo, which is how I use it below. Throughout my travels, I visited many, many art museums and other beautiful things. These experiences helped me to develop a personal philosophy of aesthetics, that is, what exactly makes things beautiful, or at least what makes them beautiful to me. One thing I noticed was that the more senses something involves, the more beautiful it is. For instance, the fountain show in Barcelona, which strongly involved the senses of sound, sight, and touch, was one of the most beautiful things I saw. While I'm still talking about the fountain show, I will also note that I think water in general is very beautiful. Not only fountains, but also the ocean, or even some Sprite shimmering in a plastic bottle as it catches the light at an enticing angle. I think one major insight was that for me, beauty has little to do with the how something came to be, and much more with what it communicates or how it looks. For instance, in art museums, I generally found ancient art to be rather boring, unless it had a detailed explanation to tell me about how it was made and what was special about it, in which it was the explanation, in conjunction witht the item, that was beautiful. Perhaps if I were an archaeolgist the ancient art would have been more beautiful to me, but as a layman it was not particulary beautiful. Pompeii, on the other hand, was one of my favorite parts of my trip because it was so large and complete, and the audioguide was so good, that I really gained a deeper understanding of how the ancient Romans lived their daily lives. The art I usually liked the most was modern art. I did not find photorealistic art to be much more pleasing than photos of the same things would have been. Yes, I know they didn't have photos back then, but still, this knowledge didn't make the paintings any more beautiful. I generally found 20th modernish art to be the most beautiful. It was not usually entirely realistic, but rather used artistic license to convey the artists' ideas. However, when things got as modern as fome of the minimalist ultramodern art I saw in Amsterdam. This art was so minimal that it did not communicate much and therefore was not particularly beautiful. A further example of communication making things beautiful is some of Salvador Dali's work. I actually enjoyed some of his smallish black and white drawings as much as or more than some of his big colorful murals because the pencil drawings were so thought provoking and rich in detail. A further aesthetic lesson from my trip was that beauty and pleasure are generally related to cost. Some of my favorite parts of my trip, such as the fountain show in Barcelona and the sea gulls in Gibraltar, were free to me. FAVORITES My favorite foods in Europe were The meal cooked by my host Javier in Sevilla for dinner, Spanish Bocadillos, German sausages, Greek Gyros, Belgian chocolate, waffles and "French" Fries. (Venetian cuddlefish cooked in black ink and Neapolitan pizza were some of my favorite foods to try, but I would not want to eat them on a regular basis.) My favorite cities overall were: First place: Amsterdam Second Place: Sevilla Tied for third place: Toledo, Venice, Florence , Berlin, Barcelona, Gibraltar My least favorite city was Rome, although I'm glad I can say I was there. This reflects only my personal experiences in the cities and is not necessarily a value judgement of which cities are best. For instance, I did not really spend enough time in Paris to make it one of my favorites, which it potentially could have been. It does not mean these were my favorite places, but only my favorite cities. I excluded, for instance, Pompeii, which is not a city anymore because it is dead, and Capri, which was a great island as a whole, but did not have wonderful cities. My favorite SERVAS host: Javier in Sevilla Some of my favorite non-SERVAS people I met (this does not mean they are all good people, but none were malicious and all were memorable. I do not include Mr. and Mrs. Myers because I already knew them, although seeing them was a major highlight) : The old British cyclist, John in the hostel in Gibraltar; Steven the merrily drunken Brit in Capri; Eleanor, the old American woman at the campsite in Sorrento; the Australian girl I met on the train from Madrid to San Sebastian; The dude I met in the hotel in Bern, although it turns out his friend is not attending Grinnell, although she was accepted here; The two guys from Grand Rapids whom I met in Rome; The family running Sunrock Resort on Pelekas Beach, Corfu; the Hungarian dude in the hostel in Beriln; The young American couple in Venice in the Plaza di San Marco; The bum who comforted me in Brindisi; The little kid who didn't speak English, with whom I played a video game in a travel agency in Rome; and even more than I can't even remember right now My favorite castle: Los Reales Alcazares in Sevilla That's all the favorites I can think of right now, but if there are any more you'd like to know, send me an email and I'll tell you. PEOPLE Everywhere, people are different. But everywhere, people are the same, because no matter how different our cultures are, we are all human beings, and we all have many needs and behaviors in common. I will probably think of more reflections later, which I will probably send to you some time, but that's all I can think of for now, and this is the longest email I've ever written in my life, and I want to do something else now. If you have any comments, they are welcome. If you have any criticisms or would like to start a friendly debate on any of my ideas above, that is also very welcome, but please read the section carefully first. You can now reach me at email@example.com as well as this address, but I will check both addresses with about equal frequency a almost every day and often several times a day. For email regarding my travelogue I would prefer for you to continue using firstname.lastname@example.org. [The email addresses above have not been valid for many years.] Kind Regards, Norman Perlmutter