Sunday, January 25, 2004

European Holiday - January 9th - 23rd, 2004

London 1/9 - 1/13

London is crowded and food is generally over-priced. Well, it's probably because we situated ourselves in the touristy areas. Getting around the city is a breeze with the Underground - but be prepared to walk...and walk. Using the tube is quite a burden if you are laden with heavy luggage - there are numerous levels of escalators and steps to traverse when exiting or transferring between train lines.

The dollar was quite weak while we were there. Something that costs £1 was really nearly $2. A grande coffee at Starbucks in London was about £1.85. It's easy to take for granted the things we get in the States for so much less. But then again, pay is probably commensurate in London.

I've never really put into practice what I learned from my undergraduate degree about food-borne illnesses. I really paid the price for it on the 12th or 13th of january when I experienced the worst diarrhea of my life - I blasted mud at least 12 times a day for 3 days straight. Dehydration, sweat, and cold flashes set in by the time I got to Munich. Lesson learned: avoid drinking tap water and always wash your hands. Fair enough.

The locals were very polite and proper. It's just hard to relax when everything is just so frenetic and overpopulated.

The London experience: 2/5


Munich 1/13 - 1/15

I was really excited to be in Munich awaiting delivery of my car. However, my experience in Munich was hampered by diarrhea as I still literally could not "contain my excitement". Upon landing in Munich, one could see incomparable craftsmanship in the buildings and interiors. Okay, I'm just trying to make myself feel better because I purchased a german automobile and hope it is as refined and reliable as I have anticipated. And yes, the car is a joy to drive.

Upon picking up my car, I still wasn't feeling too well and just wanted to drive back to the hotel and take the subway to get around Munich. We left the European Delivery Center and I just started driving not knowing how to get back to the hotel. I felt a bit nervous because the roads were narrow and I couldn't read any of the street signs. I was making arbitrary left and right turns in search of a larger street or a place to stop so I could look at a map. For some reason I just kept going and drove about 8 miles before Amy spotted the hotel. I couldn't believe it - certainly a miracle.

If you're a sausage or pork fan, Munich is the place to be. I wish I could've at least sampled german beer but I just wasn't feeling well. The most unique thing I ate was sausage that was absolutely white - as if it were bleached. It tasted good with some relish and a fat pretzel. However, food seemed one-dimensional. It seemed like nearly every meal is composed of a starch and a pig. It's either potatoes and sausages or bread and pork knuckle (which was very greasy but wasn't too bad either).

The people were generally very pleasant.

The Munich experience: 3.5/5


Strasbourg 1/15 - 1/17

We tried to get onto the autobahn early to avoid the snowstorm coming into Munich. I ended up driving 80 miles in the wrong direction and found myself in Salzburg, Austria - uh, just a minor setback. Anyways, the drive was awesome - everyone drove at least 85mph despite the dreary weather conditions. Drivers in Germany just seem a little more attentive. I was really tired by the time we got to Strasbourg but thankful that we made it safely.

Strasbourg is a very pretty villa - the best part being the lack of crowds. It was a welcome change compared to London. It's a small town and I think we saw just about all of it. Strasbourg by night was gorgeous and the people were very pleasant.

The Strasbourg experience: 4/5


Paris 1/17 - 1/20
We shelled out 35€ in toll driving to Paris. Toll is ridiculous. Paris is nice but just too crowded for my taste. Walking down l'Avenue d'Opera was impossible - perhaps due to all the "sales" and being Saturday afternoon.

There was a camera crew shooting an episode of 'Sex and the City' near the Louvre. We would have stuck around to take pictures but the windchill was unbearable. We certainly did a lot of walking that first night - it was definitely well-worth it.

Food was alright. I tried escargot for the first time and it didn't taste like much - just like a piece of rubber. A cup of tea is outrageously overpriced - nearly $5 per cup. Amy and I had one too many crepes - I highly recommend finding a street vendor if you want crepes - cheaper and more filling. I have developed a love for butter on this trip. Butter with french bread is so good. Butter on any bread is good. I think it has something to do with the cold weather. People are generally drawn to fatty foods when it's cold. I've heard of mountain climbers craving and eating sticks of butter while climbing. Perhaps that's why Alaska has one of the highest averages of ice cream consumption per capita. I had andouille sausages for the first and last time - they smelled soooo bad that I can't think of anything to describe it. It was like chopped up rotten intestinal meat in sausage casing. I'm a seasoned veteran of foul odors and andouille will definitely go down in the books for me.

Going up the Eiffel Tower was awesome - coming back down wasn't. Walking up the tower took maybe 10 minutes. Coming down took maybe 45 minutes - the staff closed the staircase and we were forced to use the antiquated elevator that could only carry so many people each trip down. What a waste of time - blah.

People were nice but seemed easily offended or irritated.

The Paris experience: 3/5


The Greater UK 1/20 - 1/23

Letchworth Garden City is a small town about 30 minutes north of London by train. My dad has a few former students that live and work there. I think this was the beginning of the most relaxing part of my trip because the pace of life here is a lot calmer. I didn't have to worry about driving through maniacal traffic or guarding my wallet walking down a packed street. I can't think of anything particularly interesting to do in Letchworth Garden City but that's what probably made it relaxing.

I probably had the best fish & chips prepared by one of my dad's former students who own a fish & chip take out place.

Manchester is a larger city and home to perhaps the most popular sports team in all of Europe - Manchester United. The other cities I visited were a ton of fun - though stressful because of our pursuit to see everything possible to maximize our time there. Manchester was just such a peaceful place to be where people are passionate in what they do and celebrate life. I think it'd be a nice place to live - just don't drink the tap water (and in all of Europe for that matter)

All in all, an excellent close to my european holiday.

The Letchworth Garden City experience: 4.5/5

The Manchester experience: 5/5