Saturday, December 19, 2009

Happy Holidays!

I felt that if I left tomorrow without a new blog, I wouldn't have any closure before the holidays.  I can't just leave without wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  So that's what I'm doing.

Stockings from my mom
Also, I wanted to give the final details of my holiday expedition.  I thought I'd give my stalkers a little help.  I know when I travel, its hard to follow me sometimes.  So this is my Christmas gift to all of you.

 Our Christmas decorations
Tomorrow (Sunday, 20), I'm taking the train to Milan.  Then on the 21st, I'm flying to Krakow.  On the 23rd, I'm flying to Oslo.  I'm thinking on the 27th, I'm taking a bus down to Copenhagen.  And then I'll fly back to Geneva on the 1st ( sleep for me).

 Ornament from my mom
I'm sure I'll have lots of stories to pass along once I return next year.  So until then, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Monday, December 14, 2009


Before going into detail, let me tell you that I LOVE BUDAPEST.  I think I say this after every city I visit, but this is my favorite city.  Ok, now that I've proclaimed my love, I'll tell you about my trip.

Who: Me, Ali, Alisha, Mariana, and Molly (all au pairs)

There we are (Mariana, Molly, Me, Ali, Alisha)

Food:  There were two things that were three.  Paprika, cakes, and the prices.  The goulash was phenomenal (made with paprika...their paprika is REALLY sweet).  The cakes were numerous, and best of all, mostly chocolate.  And the prices were out of this world.  Especially considering I live near Geneva.  We ate at a very nice restaurant, getting wine and dessert and big dishes for about 20 euros.  And this was in a touristy area.  But more on prices later...

How about now?
Prices:  We saw AMAZING ballet in the Hungarian State Opera House (STUNNING) for about 4 euros.  I saw crappy ballet in a crap auditorium in Switzerland for about 22 euros.  I got a massage for 12 euros, hostel for 7 euros a night, fast food for under 4 euros, taxi ride to airport for 4 euros, and Wild Boar Stew ( the left) for 10 euros at a nice restaurant.

Money:  It took forever to get used to the prices.  Basically, 1 euro=280 HUF.  And even though I knew this, I nearly peed my pants when they told me it was going to cost 5,000 florins for a Taxi.

50 euros=13,400 HUF
History lesson: Budapest is two cities.  Buda and Pest.  They are separated by the Danube River.  Buda is a little older and more historic.  Pest has more things to do.  I think I like Buda a little bit more than Pest...but not much.

Buda is closest, Pest is on the other side of the river.  Tall building on left in Pest is the Parliament Building, tall building in right-center is St. Stephan's Basilica (our hostel was next door), and bridge on right is Chain Bridge

Thermal Baths: This is my best story of the weekend.  I could make this an entire new blog, but I'm not going to.  I've known that Budapest is somewhat famous for its Thermal Baths.  So this was high on our list of things to do.  With several to choose from, we settled on Gillert thanks to the recommendation of a couple of American tourists.
The baths were set in a gorgeous old building (to the left).  And this is were the confusion starts.  It took a little bit of time to find the entrance.  Then we were bombarded with signs in Hungarian and English with different services and where to go, but nothing telling us the basic info.  We just got in line and paid what we were supposed to.  We walked into the lobby area, and had no idea where to go.  Knowing that I wouldn't be changing with the girls, I headed off in my own direction trying to find out what to do.  I found an Irishman who was equally confused.  We finally made it to the locker room.  Then after some more wondering...this time, half-naked, we found the coed swimming pool.  That's what you see in my picture below.  On the other side of the pool, there was a coed hot tub as well.
Then on each side of the pool, there were single-sex areas.  Walking into that was like walking into a Hugh Hefner dream...if he dreamt about old fat naked Hungarians.  So now I had the option of sitting in the saunas and hot tubs with these men or sitting in the coed section with a chance of seeing a good looking girl amongst the crowd.

This wasn't over, however.  I've heard about the massages at these places.  And for some reason, a massage by a 300-lbs Hungarian sounded interesting to me.  So I got my 3,000 HUF and paid the only guy who spoke English (yes, 300 lbs.).  He took me into a cramped side room and tells me to get naked.  No problem.  I laid on the bed expecting him to come in and close the door.  Like most professors, I guess he prefers an open-door policy.  No big deal.  So now this huge guy is going to town on me.  It takes about 20 minutes before he uses any kind of oil.  Weird.  And he basically does the same motion for the entire 30 minutes.  Weird.  And the whole time he is yelling at what I assume is a co-worker (yelling because of distance).  Weird.  Then this man (who sounded like a Hungarian version of Barry White) comes into the room and sticks a foil wrapper in the face of my masseuse.  He smells it and places it on his "work bench."  What was in this wrapper?  I have no idea.  All I know is that the room started to smell like hot cabbage.  I'm guessing it was a sandwich of some sort.  Weird.  Finally it was over.  Did it feel good?  Sure.  Not great, but good.

House of Terror:  Awesome museum.  Its basically about the Nazi and Communist occupation of Budapest since WWII and how oppressive it was to the people.  The coolest part was how the museum was set up.  It was the former headquarters of both parties and many rooms were made to look exactly how they were.  Even the basement which held political prisoners was intact.  Seeing rooms smaller than the size of coffins and gallows in dark, damp cornered rooms was silencing.  Its hard to describe this museum because I couldn't take pictures.  I'm telling you, if you go to Budapest, go to this museum.

Weather:  We never saw the sun.  Rain on the first day and beautiful snow on the last.  Cold and dreary the rest of the time.  Not really that cold.

American Embassy:  Roaming the streets one night, we came up to a group of policemen standing behind barricades.  On one barricade was a sign of a camera with a line through it.  We looked around wondering what it was talking about but couldn't figure it out.  Then we saw an American Flag on a building and forgot about the sign.  In our excitement in seeing the good ol' USA, I grabbed my camera.  The policemen quickly stopped me.  "No pictures."
"Of what?  I'm just taking a picture of that flag."
"That's the American Embassy and due to terrorist threats, you can't take a picture of the building."
They were nice about it.  I told them that I was an American.  I asked if I could take a picture on the building with my passport in it.

Language:  Most people spoke English pretty well.  And if they didn't, they knew someone else working who did.

 We became 3rd graders...relying only on pictures

People:  Very nice people in Budapest.  It seemed like they were genuinely interested to talk to us Americans.  And they were happy to help us.  We couldn't figure out how to use a pay-phone.  So I flagged this random guy down and he called the place for us with his own phone.  Super nice and down-to-earth people.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I Now Have a Beard, So I'm Allowed To Write Like This...

Maybe it because I'm listening to the Garden State Soundtrack (which is the only cd which literally transports me to an exact location...a certain dorm room during my Freshman year of college) or maybe it's because my next few blogs will be heavy travel-blogs (in the next 3 weeks I'll be in 6 different cities), but I'm feeling the need to write a sentimental entry today.  So fair warning: if you're looking for something interesting in the next few hundred words, click this link.  If you can stomach some personal writing, keep reading...I dare you.

A few weeks ago, I was feeling homesick again.  No secret.  And to be honest, I was looking at Christmas being away from my family as the pinnacle of my homesickness.  I figured that the most family-oriented holiday of the year would lead me to a mass bone marrow-selling spree to buy a ticket back home.  While, a ticket back home for the holidays still sounds great...I'm not getting homesick enough to resort to such a drastic plan.  Male prostitution is still on the table, though.

Instead, Christmas is having the opposite effect.  Instead of making me miss my family, its making me feel more connected to them as ever.  Its amazing. 

As soon as I listen to Dido sing Christmas Day, I immediately smell my Christmastime home growing up...pine tree, oranges with cloves, Yankee Candles, etc.  I can sense my mother slaving away to bake us 23 different kinds of Christmas cookies, of which I only eat 6.  I can hear my dad begging us boys to help her because it would mean so much to her.  We'd come to help take the cookies out of the oven.

As soon as I step into a mall here, I hear more Christmas music and see the same decorations as back home.  This transports me to my local mall running through the stores to find crappy last-minute presents for my family.  I can remember splitting up with my brothers because we are all shopping for each other.  Or my parents taking me into GAP to see if Devin would wear a certain sweater that's on sale.

As soon as I see a house garishly decorated, it takes me to a somewhat cold, dry December morning with my dad yelling at Andrew to get his ass outside to help us with the manly outdoor decorating that needs to happen.  I can then see Devin's ass as he ascends to the uppermost reaches of our dieing Oak tree in the front yard to get the best wrapping of Christmas lights around the branches.  And finally, I can literally then see my dad's ass as he's bending over untangling last year's lights.  I guess I not doing much in this scenerio.

As soon as I put on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer for my boys here, I can remember my own mother gleefully watching with us every Christmas special she can manage to find.  And I can see how much I enjoyed it when I was my boy's age, but then remembering how much of a struggle it has been over the last decade to sit through a tired Christmas show or made-for-TV movie.

I could go on...but my testicles have now officially retracted, and I'm now the proud owner of a nice new vagina.  Before I run to the store to get some tampons, diet pills, and a Driving for Dummies book, I'll wrap this touchy-feely stuff up. 

While being here, its easy to get a different perspective on things.  I've always appreciated my family (immediate and relative) and the traditions that we have.  But I'm seeing for the first time just how much these traditions will always be able to transcend time, distances, and experiences to bring me back to the most important part of my life.  So thank you, family.

*If you're up for some more reading...this is hilariously accurate.  And hilariously poignant for this blog...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Christmas Time=Christmas Markets

This Sunday, Alisha, Ali, and I went to the Strasbourg Christmas Market.  This is supposed to be one of the best Christmas Markets in all of Europe.  I think they are right.  Here are the stories of the day.

Story #1
After searching all over the city for a place to eat, we settled on Chez Yvonne.  This was the cutest, most homely little restaurant I had ever seen.  Old paintings on the walls with quilted French sayings next to them hung everywhere.  These were sandwiched, inexplicably, by photos of possible French celebrities.  Eclectic? 
Anyway, the kind old lady who seems to own the place leaves us waiting at the bar for a few minutes after she greets us at the door.  She then shows us our seat.  After what seemed like 17 and a half minutes, she comes to take our order.  We had decided that we were going to get some Foie Gras and a typical Alsatian dish, sauerkraut and sausage (Alsatian is Alsace...the region Strasbourg is located).  We would share.  The patient old waitress said no.  We had to all get a dish.  She sped off.
Round 2, she comes back 10 minutes later.  Ali, the most francophone of the three of us, starts the ordering.  After some hesitation, she says what she wants.  A little timedly.  Then Alisha and I order.  She gets our order, but points to Ali and says "I don't have time for you!".  The gentle and warm old lady gets someone else to come talk to us.  She speaks in English to us with a smile.  Perfect.  We give our order.
Round 3.  The sweetheart of an old lady throws a menu on our table and points to the drink section.  After 5 minutes, she comes back and asks us what we wanted.  We tell her we aren't thirsty.  "OH!  You three are REALLY speacial! ASNDAFKNFDSK!"  As she storms away, we can feel how much she is working to get our tip.  We decide to leave.  We ordered and dashed.  We are rebels.

Is there better food?  And drink?  I think German food is vastly underrated.
Story #2
The Christmas market was AMAZING.  I was expecting maybe 30 booths with some mass-produced pieces of crap.  Nope.  There were hundreds of booths with mostly hand-made pieces of mediocrity.  You could find everything from candles that never died to Santa Clauses that never gave presents to snack huts that never made anyone skinny.  We ended up getting a 6-pack of beer.  At least it was from a local brewery.
And the amount of people!  Tons of people.  And what I liked most of all, the people were old and local.  We were easily in the 99th percentile of coolness.  I'm usually in that category when I'm alone, so it was nice to be back up there as a collective group.
As for the set-up.  Basically, there were 14 different areas dispersed throughout the city.  They were easily walkable.  This gave a great tour of the city.  And best of all, it was all centered by its magnificent cathedral.
And the lights!  The market was a lot cooler and night because every street was strewn with lights.  It finally felt like Christmas.

The lights!

The market and the cathedral.

Story #3
I drove for 9 hours that day.  I left at 6AM and didn't get back until 11:30PM.  Long day.  We went up through Switzerland, into Germany, and finally back into France.
This was my first time in Germany and onto its Autobahn.  I should probably research this before I write about it, but I'm sure I'm an expert on this subject.  There is no 1 Autobahn.  It is the name for highway, in German.  And yes, there are no speed limits on some parts.  Where these parts are, I don't know.  I just noticed that several times during our trip in Germany, I didn't see any speed limit signs.  During these times, BMWs, Mercedes, VWs, and Opels roared past me easily over 100 mph.  I tried to keep up.  I really did.  But my crappy French Renault can hardly get up to a normal French speed limit.  There was one point where I hit 95 mph and I almost pulled over because I thought I blew a tire.  I really thought the car was going to flip over.
But we made it safely.

Story #4
Russia was the guest of honor at this year's market.  The Russian women are gorgeous.

What Russian woman wouldn't want a piece of this?
Story #5
*Warning!  History nerd alert!  Quit reading now!!!*
Strasbourg has been the center of conflict for hundreds of years.  Every time there is a war including any German states and France, Alsace (again, the region Strasbourg is in) is up for grabs.  Both countries think its inheritantly theirs.  Therefore, the city benefits from a strong influence of both.  Both languages are seen all around, but French is dominant and is spoken much more often.  But what I thought was really cool are the buildings.  They looked very German, but then the city felt very French.  The wooden panels felt German, but the giant cathedral was very French.  The food was very German (sauerkraut, sausages, beer), but with a strong influence of France (quiche, wine, baguettes).  I thought it was a perfect marriage of the 2 cultures.
Geneva needs to learn from this city.  Instead of feeling French or Swiss, Geneva feels awkward 15 year old with acne and a strange fascination with world politics.  Its trying to find its place.

German and French

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Thanksgiving!!!  Yes, there is Thanksgiving in France (only when Americans live there).  And yes, we (the au pairs) did have a traditional Thanksgiving.  We had turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, etc (I made the turkey, a rice & squash mix, and a french silk pie...ironic?).  And thanks to my computer, we even had the Macy's Day Parade and football!  I honestly think that we had the best Thanksgiving Europe has ever seen.

The turkey.  This was a bit of a problem.  No grocery store had turkey prior to Thanksgiving.  The butcher shop could order it for me.  -FYI, turkey is "dinde" (Dond...with your nose)-  This led to a lot of confusion because I can't say that word.  But anyway...the turkey was going to cost about 100 euros ($150) for the cheap small one.  I could have gotten something in the vicinity of $300.  The butcher said it would be good, though.  Let me think about this...I could get a turkey that I'll probably overcook or go on a vacation.  After turning him down, I hoped that Migros (Switzerland's Wal-Mart) would have a turkey on Thanksgiving.  They did!  For 55 euros ($80)!  Pass again.  Instead, I just got some drumsticks and thighs and pieced together a turkey.  It was great!!!  And cheap.


So Thanksgiving was a complete success.  Actually, Thanksgiving had no rain here...the first day in about 3 weeks.  If you're curious, the Europeans here do know of Thanksgiving.  But its a vague knowledge.  Kind of like Americans knowing there is a Ramadan.  We know it exists, but not much else.

The feast!

And now that that's all done...we move on to Christmas season!  My FAVORITE time of year!  Thankfully, all the towns here have lights up waiting to be turned on.  We (the au pairs) might be going to Strasbourg (they claim they are Europe's Christmas Capital) for some Christmas markets.

I've been showing the boys American Christmas Classics (Rudolph, Frosty, Charlie Brown, etc).  They are thoroughly intrigued.  Macsen says that he doesn't believe in Santa...sorry, Father Christmas.  But some of the questions he asks me leads me to believe otherwise.  Its rather cute.  I'm also trying to have them listen to Christmas music.  The said that they normally don't listen to any!  The lack of Christmas spirit here is absolutely depressing.  I'm glad that my family's given me such a burning spirit that can't be extinguished even in these harsh environments!

Happy Holidays everyone!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Couch Surfing

Travel problems solved.  I have bought my plane tickets, and here's my vacation plans during the holidays...

I can't wait!  I think this has potential to be a REALLY interesting trip.  Why?  Mostly because I plan on couch surfing.  For those of you who don't know what that means, here's my best explanation.  There is a website called  Basically, I set up a profile, and then search other profiles who live in the cities I plan on visiting.  I then choose who I want to contact, and send them a message asking if they'll take me in for a few nights.  This is a really long process!  There are so many profiles to look through and some many messages to individually write to everyone.  A few minutes ago, I got my first positive response!  So it looks like I'll be staying with a Polish girl in Krakow.  Yay!  Now hopefully I can find somewhere for Christmas and New Years.

On a totally different note, I've been noticing a couple driving differences here in Europe that I wanted to share.
  • MUCH more people park backwards in normal parking lots.  Why?  While I'm awesome at it, isn't it harder to do for no good reason?  It seems like a waste of time to me.  It also leads to a lot of people parking on the lines.
    • Funny side note: A few days ago that exact thing happened causing Macsen to not be able to open his door because the guy parked too close.  When we got to the car, Macsen asked why he didn't have room to open the door, so I told him it was because the guy parked on the line, too close to me.  So then he started pointing at the car and looking on the other side seeing how much room the guy had on the other side...making a big production of it.  The problem was that the guy was sitting in his car!!!  I felt bad.
  • Drivers are much more impatient here.  If someone who wants to go fast gets behind someone who wants to go slow, they will either pass immediately (if they can) or ask the slow driver to pull over by flashing lights or putting on their left turn signals.  I think this happens because there are hardly any 4 lane roads here.  Nearly everything is 2 lanes.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Travel Conundrum

I know I posted information about my future travel plans last week...but now I need to vent to someone about my problems I'm having.  Ok, maybe they're not problems.  I just have too many options and not enough time and money.  Here are some itineraries I'm planning for my Christmas Break:
Milan-->Helsinki(Finland)-->St. Petersburg(yes, Russia)-->Riga(Latvia...really?)-->Milan
Milan-->Rome-->Oslo(Norway)-->Krakow(Poland, Auschwitz)-->Milan
Milan-->UK-->Canary Islands(off the coast of Africa)-->UK-->Milan

So where do I go?  Any suggestions?  As you can see, I'm a man who doesn't like to do the usual.  I don't know why.  But who would pick Baltic or Scandinavian countries during the winter during his one year in Europe? 

Olympic Museum:
After visiting my second Olympic city last month (Barcelona...the other was Sydney), I realized that I have an infatuation on the Olympics.  I've been an unaware Olympic-phile.  Just off the top of my head (with no help from wikipedia), I can tell you the previous 8 summer olympics...Beijing, Athens, Sydney, Atlanta, Barcelona, Seoul, LA, Moscow...with London and Rio to follow.  Is that normal? it normal for someone my age?  Maybe it is.  But really, over the years, I've fallen in love with the Olympics.  I think it was my crushes on Dominique Moceanu, Dominique Dawes, and Shannon Miller that started it all.

Anyway, I decided to take a short jaunt to Lausanne (a little North of Geneva) to see the Olympic Museum.  The official one.  It really reminded me of some sort of Hall of Fame.  That means it was really cool.  Lots of multimedia stuff and really interesting artifacts.  I loved it.  Definitely one of my favorite museums I've seen in Europe.

Every once in a while, I have to stop and realize the beauty of this place that I'm taking for granted.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Travel, Weather, and Depression

I've decided to take a break from talking about Spain, even though I only have maybe 1 more post regarding the trip.

Upcoming trips: In almost exactly a month from now, I'll be going to Budapest for a 3-day weekend.  This city has been very high on my list.  Then, in 2 months, I'll be spending another 3-day weekend in Stockholm.  Yes, I head north for winters.  If I'm going to be cold, I want to be cold.  And then, I'll have about 2 weeks off for Christmas and New Years, so I'm planning another trip somewhere.  As of now, I have several ideas.  But I'm thinking I might do a roadtrip exploring the North of France (Champagne, Normandy, Verdun, Loire Chateau's, etc.). 
Here's a list of the places I'd most like to visit before I leave (kind of in order):
  • Polland (Auschwitz)
  • Czech Republic (Prague)
  • Austria (Vienna, Graz, Strasbourg)
  • Romania (particularly, Transylvania)
  • Belgium (Brugge)
  • Holland (Amsterdam)
  • Denmark (Copenhagen)
  • UK (Scotland, Ireland, London)
  • Italy (Florence, Venice, Rome)
  • Russia (anywhere...I HIGHLY doubt this will happen)

Weather: Sucks.  Since I've been back from Spain, I've seen maybe 20 minutes of sun, total.  Its been 10 days.  And everyday it's rained.  I asked if this is normal.  It is.  And its a shame because there is now snow on the mountains, and it's GORGEOUS!  Too bad the clouds cover it.

American: I'm too much of one.  Aside from being able to travel, here are the top things I look forward to each week:
  • Bears games (though this is PLUMMETING because they are playing horribly)
  • New TV show episodes (Curb Your Enthusiasm, How I Met Your Mother, Modern Family, The Office, 30 Rock, Community)
  • Hearing from family and friends
Pays de Gex: This is the region I'm living in.  Basically, imagine a super large canoe.  The sides are mountains.  Now draw an imaginary line down the middle.  The right side is Switzerland and Geneva.  The left side is the Pays de Gex.  It sucks.  I'm really now one to complain about areas, but I'm doing it now.  Here are the reasons I hate it:
  • Its the most expensive area in France (that may not be entirely true...but it might be)
  • I feel trapped by the mountains
  • Its not French nor Swiss
  • There's nothing to do
  • The weather sucks
Wow, this turned into a depressing blog.  Sorry about that.  On a happier note, I bought myself a pillow that's comfortable and an espresso machine.  Yay!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Spain: Madrid's Welcome Party

Molly has a good friend who once lived in Madrid.  He made some friends who Molly got a hold of.  This guy invited us over for dinner Friday night to get a true taste of Madrid.  This was basically all we knew going into it...
We arrived at 9:45, because that's when we were told to arrive.  We show up and the hosts are still in gym shorts and t-shirts.  They told us we were early.  So they stuck us in their living room while they continued to prepare the food (awkward!!!).  It wasn't until 10:15 when the next guests arrived.  And I really think that time was shortened because of our early arrival.
They did make some authentic Spanish food for us because we were visiting.  Very nice of them.  All the people (early 30's) were very nice.  The problem was that most of them didn't speak very good English.  But its funny how little language matters when everyone gets drunk.  My ease of communication kept improving throughout the night.
I'm not saying the following to be a bigot, its just's a list of guests:
2 Americans
1 Swede
1 Phillipino
1 Gay Couple
2 Straight couples (one guy being the ex of the Swede)
a few "regular" Spaniards

So, this was an interesting night.  Everyone was VERY nice and VERY welcoming.  But this had to have been one of my top 10 most awkward situations.  And yet, I'm glad it happened.

Then to cap it off, during the night after I'd been sleeping for awhile, I threw up.  Gross throw up.  And I got a lot of it on Molly's clothes.  I thought it was because I drank too much.  But it was because I was sick.  I swear.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Spain: Barcelona vs. Madrid

Naturally, while visiting 2 cities in one week, I made comparisons.  Here are my thoughts between Barcelona and Madrid:
  • Barcelona is laid back.  Madrid is up-tight.
  • Barcelona, while big, seems small.  Madrid seems big.
  • Barcelona's beach creates a different atmosphere.  Madrid has no beach.
  • I saw maybe 4 suits my whole time in Bar.  Madrid, I think 86.
  • Bar.'s old town is charming with many winding streets.  Madrid's old town is...ehh.
  • Bar. has a lot of green space (parks, beach).  Madrid has very little.
  • Equal metro systems.
  • Bar.'s women seemed hotter.
  • Bar. is very adapted towards tourists.  I heard tons of English and French and it seemed like the locals all spoke English.  Madrid seemed to speak only Spanish.
*These are all strictly observations made by me.  These aren't facts.  Clearly, I liked Barcelona better.  Molly liked Madrid.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Spain: Just the Facts

Let me first give my pre-depature analysis on Spain.  I did not like Spain.  Looking at a list of countries to visit in Europe, Spain is equivalent to the Detroit Lions in those standings.  I don’t have anything against the country or the people, it just doesn’t interest me.  I know very little of their history, and frankly I don’t care.  So why did I spend a week there?
It all goes back to Paris.  Paris was AMAZING.  I got to visit a friend while there, but a lot of my time was spent alone.  While walking the city alone, I realized that traveling with no one to share it with is quite boring.  It felt like the whole tree falling in a forest thing…if I visited the Louvre, would anyone hear me?  So with that in mind, I knew I needed to travel with someone.  Fast forward to several weeks ago…
I found out that Molly was getting this last week off, too.  Finally!  Someone to travel with!  She’s already been to Europe, though.  So she’s seen quite a bit.  And the only country that she really wanted to see was Spain.  So, being desperate for a traveling partner (and also, I know I like to travel with Molly), I went along with going to the last place on my list…but I’m glad I did.
As you can imagine, after a week, I have some many stories to tell.  I could easily make a thesis paper out of this.  So I’m going to tell this story in installments.  This first installment is the reasoning why I went, and some of the factual elements.  After this post, I’ll give more interesting anecdotes and observations.  As I write this, I’m kind of excited.
First stop, BARCELONA.
I flew by myself from Geneva to Barcelona on Sunday night (Molly had spent the previous 4 days in Florence with some friends…she met me there).  We ended up staying until Thursday morning (that’s 4 nights and 3 days, for those of you keeping score at home).  We stayed at a rather small hostel not too far from the main drag (Molly says that I use that word quite a bit).
·         Day 1- Walked along the beach.  Much farther walk than we thought.  After that, we went to the Museum of Contemporary Art.  I really like this type of art, but this museum lacked something.  There wasn’t a “wow” factor as I was hoping for.  We finished off this day with a walk around the old-town, some tapas, and some bars.

 See...Barcelona's beach
·         Day 2- We went to the farmer’s market to get a picnic.  Then we headed off for Mount Monjuric.  We didn’t really know what to expect from this, but I was pleasantly surprised.  We took a bus up to the top of the mountain (maybe a large hill).  On the top stood a formidable castle… maybe it was a fortress.  Either way, it had a great view of the city and the ocean.  On our way back down, we stopped by the Olympic Stadium and grounds (Barcelona ’92).  I have this huge fascination for the Olympics, so I loved it.  We also stopped at a village which was built for the 1929 World’s Fair.  They created a replica of different Spanish villages from around the country…it was ok.  Finally, we finished it off with the Picasso Museum.  I liked it, didn’t love it.  It was missing several famous works.  And then, some paella finished off the exhausting day.

The market...and some weird looking, fruit?

View from the fortress on the moun...hill

Olympic Stadium and park
·         Day 3- Again, we started the day off with picnic supplies before heading off to a park.  This time, we visited Guell Park.  This was made by the one and only Gaudi.  It was definitely strange, but definitely cool.  I liked this a lot.  We then went to the Sagrada Familia.  When you think of Barcelona, this is the most common image…the church that looks like a sand castle.  We then hung out at the hostel for a while and then at the beach before getting some dinner.  That was basically it.

 Trippy Park (Guell Park)

Sagrada Familia.  Gaudi's Masterpiece.  Still under construction after 100 years.

Beach at nighttime
We flew in Thursday morning.
·         Day 1- We got settled in the hotel, had some lunch, and then for the first time, Molly and I parted ways.  I went to the Museum of the Americas.  This had artifacts from Colonial Spain.  I actually really liked this museum, but it could have been SO much better if the descriptions were in English.  I was disappointed by this.  After this, Molly and I met up for some city-exploring and bar hoping.  We then got some dinner and called it a night.
·         Day 2- I spent a lot of time away from Molly on this day.  I went to see the main palace of Madrid, Palacio Real.  It was basically a typical grand palace.  Nothing too special.  I then spent some time relaxing.  I was tired.  I then met up again with Molly for a picnic lunch in a plaza and then separated again.  I went to Retiro Park (Madrid’s answer to Central Park).  And then I took a nap.  Molly and I met for some drinks before meeting a friend of a friend of hers for dinner.  That’s a story in and of itself.  More on that to come.

 Palacio Real
·         Day 3- This morning, I woke up throwing up.  Not pleasant.  At first I thought it was too much alcohol…but nope, I was sick.  This was really upsetting, because I had 2 Butler friends coming in to visit with.  Sam and Jordan arrived a little before noon, and the 3 of us and the day to ourselves.  We explored the city and the monuments.  We did a lot of what I did the day before, but it was great.  Great to see those two.  We finished up our day with a trip to the Prado “don’t call me Prada” Museum of Art.  This is supposed to be Madrid’s answer to the Louvre.  We went late enough so that it was free.  It was fun to make fun of the paintings.  We then caught up with Molly for dinner and finished the day.

 Sam and I taking a nap...beautiful
·         Day 4- Because Jordan missed her bus, she spent the night with Molly and me.  The three of us went to the flea market.  It was HUUUUUUGE.  It seemed like every street in Madrid had people selling something.  And then we flew back home.
Phew!  That was nearly as tiring as the vacation itself.  If you read through all of that, I highly commend you.  I’ll have more interesting things to say later on.  Just had to get this out of the way.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Tiny Tim

Why Tiny Tim?  Check on my new videos and you'll see why (the link to the right).  It all started Wednesday.  Aiden started to complain that his leg was hurting him.  He called it his "Damn Leg".  Interesting choice of words.  Because I'm not sure what's Kosher in British English...I just kept telling him that was the wrong usage of the word "damn."  But anyway, I ignored his complaints because one minute he would limp and the next he would be fine.

The following day, Juliette (his mother) had to pick him up from school and take him to the doctor's office because he wouldn't do anything because of this "Damn Leg."  After X-Rays and a blood test, the doctor concluded nothing was wrong, but he'd like for Aiden to rest it a little bit.  So he gave hime crutches to take some weight off of it.  Aiden uses them sparingly at best, and when he does use them, he uses them incorrectly.  But it's so darn cute to see him use them!

In other news, I bought my ski pass for the season today.  By doing it early, I saved 150 euros...but it was still 300!!!  Thankfully, my family (here) is paying for half.  They are also chipping in to rent equipment.  Its expensive to ski.  I better like it and I better be good at it.

Tomorrow, I'm off to Spain!  I'll be spending 3 days in Barcelona and then 3 days in Madrid.  Originally, I wasn't all that excited to go to Spain, but now that its getting close, I'm stoked.  Yes, stoked.  Maybe I should rent a snowboard?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Juras vs. Applachians

Yesterday, I went on a little hike to see a famous set of waterfalls nearby.  Big mistake.  Well, not big...medium mistake.  You see, when looking at these waterfalls, it's best when there is actually water in the river (stream) that makes up these cascades.  Despite rain for the past 3 days, there wasn't much water.  I guess its best to see them in the spring when the snow is melting.  And on top of that, my batteries were dead on my camera!  I only managed 2 pictures.

This would be cool with more water.

While hiking, I realized that the Juras are a LOT like the Appalachians.  The Juras are smaller, and less numerous...but to the naked eye, they are quite similar.  They both have more rolling mountains than greak peaks, and they both are covered with a lot of similar foliage...or so it seems.  Now that I've hiked in the Appalachians, the Juras, and the Alps, its clear just how different the Alps were (more rocky, pastures of grass and flowers, etc.).  And despite me living in a rather well-off area, the socio-economic levels seem similar.  While driving in the mountains yesterday, this seemed apparent with the large numbers of small run-down towns along the way.

The top one is of the Juras.  The bottom is of the Appalachians.  See the similarities?  And yes, even people can be seen in the Juras.

I'm curious if this happens to anyone else while walking in nature, but I find it easy to transport myself back to different time periods.  It's hard to walk the streets of Chicago and imagine yourself in the Lewis & Clark expedition...but in nature, it's quite easy.  While walking back in America, I always imagine what it would be like to be an Indian during their times.  Here, however, I tend to imagine wars...WWII, Roman soldiers marching, etc.

This has nothing to do with either mountain range.  I just remembered that I never posted this picture.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Vive le Sex

Today, because of the rain, I figured it would be a good day to visit some museums I've been itching to see.  So off to Nyon (a small city 30 min north of Geneva on Lake Geneva) I went.  There, they are supposed to have a nice Roman Museum.  That's what I wanted to see.

And it was nice.  However, nothing was in English.  You see, typically when you go to a museum in Europe, they will have multiple languages available.  And despite recent renovations (it just re-opened last week), this one did not.  It was pretty neat to see Roman pottery and typical household items, though.  Photography wasn't allowed inside, so I can't show you what I saw.  Just imagine Roman things.

However, with admission to this museum, I got to go in the city's castle for free.  This was much cooler.  Instead of a typical castle, this was more of a museum.  The 2 best parts were the jail and the gallery of photographs of local people from the late 1800s.  The photos were disturbing to say the least.  The UGLIEST women I have ever seen.  This is what they reminded me of.

And in the jail, I could go inside old cells where there were writings on the walls.  Here are my 2 favorite quotes:
  1. Vive le Sex (Long live sex)
  2. La femme/ Elle a les beaux pieds (The woman/ She has beautiful feet)

This is the castle.  Both museums were very recently renovated and GORGEOUS.

Something of note...the colors of fall here aren't very good.  First of all, there are a lot of pine trees here, so there is still a lot of green (faded green).  And secondly, the trees that are changing colors are brown.  Nothing like the yellows and reds we see in good ol' Indiana.

Monday, October 5, 2009


I have a new idea.  Because this blog won't get interesting until I go somewhere*...I'm starting a collection for a vacation for myself.  It's simple.  If you want interesting stories out of me, send me money.

*I'm actually in the midst of planning a week long vacation to Spain.  I'm going from Barcelona to Seville to Madrid.  I know a lot of people who've been there, so if you have any suggestions for me, I'd LOVE to have them.

If you look to the right, there is a new button that says "YouTube Videos."  I've realized that many times, videos do a better job at illustrating things than pictures do.  So, I'm going to be taking more videos of more things and putting them under this link.  From time to time, check this link out to see new videos.  I'll also try to remind you when I add new ones.  I just added a new one.

This is pretty interesting...

I babysit Ray Charles.
This is Noa.  She doesn't talk to me, but she makes me tons of presents.  All with "Noa" on them...because she thinks we spell our names the same way.  I have the biggest crush on her.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The French Know How to Parade

I apologize for the lack of interesting blogs.  My life really just hasn't been that interesting.  Regardless, I march forward.  Here's what I've been up to.

Last week, Greg was in Paris.  On top of that, Juliette's busiest time of the year are these few weeks.  And even more than that, Aiden was sick Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.  Adding all of that with 2 babysitting gigs, I was BUSY.  Basically nonstop childcare is exhausting.  At least I was rewarded for it...financially.

This previous weekend, Molly's parents were gone, leaving her to watch the kids.  She has 2 girls (10 & 12) who are really quite fun, and I enjoy quite much.  So I decided to hang out with Molly and the girls.  The most interesting part was the carnaval that was going on in Thoiry.  All week, at school, carnies were setting up rides and games.  There were 3 rides and 3 games.  Tiny.  However, the whole event was quite fun.


On Saturday, there was a candlit parade.  There's no way this would happen in America.  Every kid got a candle with real fire.  To make it worse, the candle hung surrounded by colored paper, making a lantern.  Guess what happened when the latern swung in a wrong way?  Fire.  Then the adults and teenagers got torches...not candles, torches.

Sunday had the best feature.  A parade.  Molly's girls were very excited because they helped make a float and were going to go on it.  Great.  I thought there would be maybe 4 or 5 floats.  This is a VERY small village.  And it wasn't even a holiday.  Boy, was I wrong.  There were probably close to 15 floats with several marching bands.  And the floats were hilarious.  There was no cohesion.  Just random, weird floats.  But the BEST part was what they passed out.  No candy thrown to little children.  Instead, booze and fondue.  I got some wine and some Grand Marnier with orange juice.  How awesome is that?!  Just something else that would never happen in America.

Molly's girls on the float...Lenaig and Albane.

Me eating fondue and drinking wine.

These are the guys who gave it to me.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy

These topics are completely random and nonrelated, but didn't warrant an entire blog to themselves...
  • Macsen doesn't believe in "Father Christmas."  The boys were just talking about presents and Christmas, and Macsen asked me if he should let the cat out of the bag for Aiden.  Of course, I told him no.  Macsen is only 7...this is heartbraking to me.
  • I hope if dogs ever take over the world, and they chose a king, they don't just go by size, because I bet there are some Chihuahuas with some good ideas.
  • This may sound like a commercial, but for my birthday, my parents got my the best present.  Its called a HAVA (Slingbox is a similar product).  This little contraption erases homesickness.  Well, not all the way, but a great deal for a sports fan like me.  What is it?  Well, it hooks up to your home TV source and your home network.  It then streams that source over the internet for viewing anywhere in the world.  Thus, I'm able to watch (and control) my home's American television (for free...after the intial price).  Sure, I can download shows to watch over here, but not sports.  I ended up waking up at 2:30AM to see the Bears lose to the Packers on Monday morning.  For more info, visit  They gave me $20 to say that.
  • Speaking of the Bears, I'm depressed.  People who know me, know that when the Bears lose, I'm sad that entire week.  This was an especially hard one for me.  However, I think everyone is overreacting to this loss.  Sure, we lost of team leader on defense and our team leader on offense was horrible, but despite this, we STILL should have won.  I still have optimism for the rest of the season.  Cutler will improve.
  • Back to France.  Because we are in France, my kids learn in French even though we all speak English.  However, Macsen started going to an English school this week.  This way, he'll be able to read and write in English as well.
  • Macsen has problems with reading, writing, and spelling (much like me!).  He's really a bright kid, but he struggles in these areas.  He constantly reverses his letters and numbers.  All the time.  We really think he's dyslexic.  The problem with France is that he has to fail 2 grade levels before they do anything about it!  By that point, he'll be too far behind.  I don't like this.
  • Just finished getting up to date on Mad Men.  If you haven't seen this show, you should.  Its probably one of my favorite shows of all time.  It's fantastic.
  • Molly told me that I use the word "fantastic" too much.  She says "perfect" a lot.
  • Children need encouragement.  If a kid gets an answer right, tell him it was a lucky guess.  That way, he develops a good, lucky feeling.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


It was overcast both days, but we think it added to the ambiance. Very serene.
See what I mean with the town being in a valley?
This is the gorge in Rosenlaui. It was really loud.
One of the many waterfalls. They should name it Interlakenmitwasserallen.
This is a new feature. I'm going to start showing maps of where I'm going. Interlaken is smack dab in the middle of Switzerland.

During my time out here, I am putting this weekend on the top of the list. Easily, it was the most beautiful place I've been (without trying to compare it to anything in Australia). But the adventures Molly and I went on are what made it really stand out.

Our main purpose for going to Interlaken was to see a traditional Swiss festival of when they bring the cows down from the mountains for the winter. During said festival, they have a cheese-sharing element where farmers sell their excess cheese. We were nearly certain of where it was going to take place, but not exactly sure.

We got to the small town where we were expecting it. Not there. So, naturally, we asked our waitress where it was. The problem was that she didn't even understand me when I said that rosti is a Swiss food. She thought I said that it has meat in it. Looking back on it, it was not the smartest thing in the world to accept her advice for where the festival would be. We ended up driving and driving until we finally found how to get to the town she said to go to. The problem: it was WAY up the mountain. 4,364 feet up the mountain to be exact. The entire time driving along the cliffs we were praying that no one was coming down because the road could fit 2 cars on it maybe 20% of the time. But for some reason, it seemed like there was always juuuust enough room to pull over when a car was coming down. It was a little scary to say the least. The town's name: Rosenlaui.

Did this town have a festival? Hell no. However, it did have a waterfall/gorge. It was gorgeous. And there was a little farming area where pigs were loose and the cows were beautiful. So, we were too upset that we didn't find it. But just then...I had a hunch were I thought the festival would be. And I was right.

Interlaken is in a valley. Rosenlaui was up the southern mountains. We needed to go up the northern mountains. We did. But we found out we needed to take a gondola up to the festival. The last ride went at about 4 something. It was 5 something at this point. No luck. Oh well.

To drown away our sorrows, we went to Interlaken, found some American tourists, got them to take us to their hostel bar, and enjoyed happy hour. I'm being facetious about drowning away our sorrows.

Instead of staying in a hostel like normal tourists, Molly and I decided it would be fun to camp. We borrowed a tent from Molly's family and were pretty excited for it. Until we set it up. I don't even think it was the size of a Queen Size bed. It was about 3 feet tall, too. It was close quarters.

The next day, we went hiking. I honestly have no idea how high we hiked. But it was probably the most hiking anyone has ever done. We spent almost 2 hours going straight up. There were no horizontal portions. And what's worse, on the way down it's still hard. It just works a different set off muscles. So I have 2 sets of muscles that are inoperable today (it’s the morning after).

Here are random things about Interlaken that didn't make my narrative:

  • Drink the water. We filled up water bottles from a waterfall during our hike. I'm fine. Maybe I should check on Molly?
  • I never realized how many waterfalls there are in the Alps. Tons of little-medium sized ones.
  • I hiked the Alps. I guess that was in the story...just wanted to say it again.
  • It is definitely colder the higher you go up a mountain. Unless you are sweating from your hike.
  • Interlaken means "town between lakes." Imagine mountains to the north and south with two decent sized lakes framing it on the west and east.
  • Costco sells an energy drink mixture called Zipfizz. You pour it into water and shake it up. Do NOT pour it into carbonated water. It will erupt and get pink sticky stuff all over your car.
  • Molly laughs a lot.
  • Meiginen (the small town where we thought the festival was) is home to Sherlock Holmes. We think. There was a museum there and several things named after him.