We liked Napoleon III’s picture because we learned about it in history class, he coronated himself on December 2 (Matthew and my mother’s birthday), and because the woman in the center, his mother, wasn’t actually there. Napoleon III wanted his mother there so badly that he had the painter put her there. We liked the King Louis XIV picture because his pants are hilarious and were somewhat of a joke in this year’s history class.
Basically, we got in and out of Versailles in a couple hours which was our goal. If I were to go back, I might spend a little more time, but not too much. Short, sweet, and enjoyable.
P.S. I also took a picture with the bust of Voltaire.
Versailles was very interesting for a few reasons; first, we toured the gardens which we thought was about the same size as the entire city of Brugge. It was incredible how large they were. We picked up some lunch in the garden, got some ice cream, and ventured to walk all the way around the lake. About a quarter of the way, we decided we didn’t want to spend our entire day in the garden, so we walked back, saw the orange grove, and then went to see the actual palace. The second reason the experience was interesting was because we met three separate nerdfighters at Versailles alone through my decision to wear my shirt promoting the small (500,000 people) worldwide group. If you watched the video about the tulips from Amsterdam that I linked to, that’s one of two brothers the group follows, watches, and interacts with to complete charity work, learn, and so on. One of the girls we met was an Australian named Sus; we walked around the inside of the palace with her since we were already instantly friends due to the online community.
I can see why France was put into financial ruin; this place was crazy. The hall of mirrors was beautiful (and ridiculously gaudy) of course, but our favorite parts were two paintings: first, the large painting of Napoleon III’s coronation, and second, the picture of King Louis XIV, who built Versailles.
This was our first attempt to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. At this point, the lifts weren’t running (figures), but that’s okay. We went to the second level and took a few pictures.
Arriving in Paris, we found the hostel after taking the underground (which was crap compared to London’s for a number of reasons), stored our stuff because it was too early to check in, and took our usual first day walk of the city. On the way, we passed Notre Dame, but it had closed by the time we had gotten there. However, we got beautiful photos of it at near sundown. We continued walking around and poked into a gift shop.
Now, if you imagine Europe as a household, I’m going to have to say that Paris is the chimney of this household. Literally almost everyone smokes and it’s a phenomenon of great magnitude that the entire city isn’t asphyxiated. At any rate, I mentioned this simply because I found a cigarette souvenir in a gift shop, which sorta baffled me just because nowadays, I don’t think you’d see that at any regular souvenir shop in America. It was a pen, a laser pointer, and an LED light; yeah, I know the suspense of what it actually was is killing you. In another shop, Matthew pointed out this Russian license plate, which basically made our evening for one reason and one reason only: Novosibirsk. It has been a long standing joke between the three of us that we weren’t actually going to Europe; instead, we were going to Novosibirsk, a small town in Siberia. It’s in the middle of nowhere and we always joked that we were going there when people asked us our trip plan before we left.
After that, we passed this statue of St. Michael (pictured below), my namesake, as we ate some cheap kebabs we bought at a stand. We continued walking all the way from Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower, a much longer distance than it looks. Once at the Eiffel Tower, we went up only to the second of three levels due to the fact that they were having technical problems. C’est la vie.
After leaving CERN, we headed back to Geneva and hit the train station. Everything seemed to be fine; we hopped on a high speed train bound for Paris, and even found a booth we could sit down in. That is, until a woman and her two children claim they have a reservation for two of the seats. Not a problem, there’s other seats around. A man and a woman come up to me and claim they also have booked my side where I am sitting. After going in every single 2nd class train car and discovering not a single seat was open, I was forced to sit in the hall. Sean and Matthew came out to join me and we sat in the chairs between two different train cars. As the man who was checking tickets came by, we pulled out our usual Eurail pass and showed it to him. He said that was great, but where was our reservation? Apparently, while traveling to Paris, you have to have a reservation on the trains. He asked us to get out our credit cards and at first we thought we were being fined. Fortunately, we kindly asked him what was happening, and he explained we just had to pay the reservation fee (18.50 Euro a piece) now since we didn’t earlier. Again, not a problem… until none of our debit cards worked and we were all out of Euros having been in Switzerland and they use Francs. Luckily, the American Express saved the day and Sean and Matthew paid me back later in cash. I’m gonna go ahead and say that this is probably the worst travel experience yet.
As we exited the bus at the stop labeled “CERN”, we saw a large spherical building to our right that appeared to be constructed of rusty rings. This looked interesting, but the crowd from the bus instead crossed the street to the left side to head towards a much less interesting set of low office buildings. We decided to follow, realizing that this was probably where the information desk might be located. At the desk, we learned that a guided tour would not be possible without a miracle of three reservations being canceled in thirty minutes, so we opted to look around on our own. Entering the main exhibit we encountered a large room of tactile-kinesthetic based explanations of various properties regarding particle physics. We spent little time in this room, as it was mostly introductory information directed towards children or people that had no previous interest in the facility. Further rooms provided more detailed explanations of the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) at CERN and the questions it was designed to answer. Though the exhibit was slightly outdated, describing the collider as a work in progress rather than an operational machine, it provided much more insight into the function of the accelerator and the massive amount of work that went into putting it together. After reading about the various parts of the accelerator, Matthew stumbled upon an unexpected surprise, put away in a corner as if it were completely insignificant: the very first computer used to access the World Wide Web. After a brief moment spent marveling at this treasure, we quickly covered the areas of the exhibit we had not already seen and exited to the gift shop area.
The gift shop contained a few interesting items, but most were extremely expensive or just inconvenient for packing. We left for the giant rusty sphere-building on the other side of the street with plans to return to the gift shop a second time before heading back to the train station.
The spherical building turned out to be a sort of planetarium, full of futuristic pod-shaped exhibit items and a large circular room surrounded by a video screen. The screen played a short, dramatic video expaining in very basic terms the function of the LHC while providing a very theatrical experience. We read about some of the exhibit items, watched the video, and left the building. After returning to the gift shop to get a couple of small souveniers (pieces of electric cables used in the facility, preserved in a plastic case on a keychain) and make the healthy decision to not buy a $50 CERN fleece sweater, we got on the bus to go find a train to Paris.
As a whole, our visit to CERN was not the scientific, mind-blowing, particle blasting adventure we had hoped it might be; but learning about the construction of the greatest scientific machine of our history while actually being in its presence was definitely a worthwhile experience.
We arrived in Geneva from Lausanne fairly quickly as it is a short train ride. Once we got there, we found the small tourist information center and asked about CERN, the main reason we came to Geneva. Just our luck: CERN was closed on Sundays. Again, flexibility has become a virtue. Not a problem; we’ll just stay a night in Geneva, see CERN the following day, and then hit Paris, still on schedule. We asked what else we could do and we got different answers: take a boat ride across Lake Geneva, see the cathedral, etc. We found a hostel, set down our stuff, and went walking around town. Many of the stores were closed as it was Sunday, but we kept on looking around. We made it up the hill (in the rain of course) and to the cathedral. No, we didn’t climb the tower because we were tired and the guys didn’t want to pay the price and I didn’t care to climb a tower by myself. After meeting a few folks from Houston (one woman graduated from Memorial High School, our alma mater’s rival), we moved on and decided to go back to the hostel for a nap that was two weeks coming. We got back, got the room, and took a nice nap.
Afterward, we went out to a local pub, ordered a burger and a few beers, and watched the 2012 UEFA Football Final between Spain and Italy. Sean and I bet one beer on the game; I said that Italy would win and Sean said that Spain would win. Spain won 4-0, which is a monumental pile of bs. C’est la vie I guess. After the game, we tried to get some sleep as the Spanish fans drove around the streets honking their horns and celebrating.
P.S. This is the cathedral we didn’t climb and the view from our Geneva hostel room!
Of course we had to hit the usual art museum in Geneva. This time, we were actually fairly surprised. It was a very interesting museum. The paintings were extremely odd and it looked like someone on acid painted them, but they were still very interesting to look at. The coolest part of the museum was on the first floor; there was a small room you had to duck your head to enter and, at first, it was completely black. As your eyes adjust to the lighting, you very slowly realize that the walls are covered in something. “What is that?” We waited a bit more and we saw the room was covered in hand-prints. All were a neon orange color in different patterns and sizes. Sean, Matthew, and I really enjoyed the acoustics of the room and hummed to ourselves to create a loud echo and a pleasant sound. I’m sure we sounded like fools from the outside looking in. Then again, don’t we all sound like fools sometimes from the outside looking in?
Maybe I’m speaking to soon, but in the short amount of time I’ve been in Europe, I (we) have formulated one piece of advice: leave stranger-danger back in the states and talk to everyone that doesn’t look creepy as hell. You don’t even need to plan what you’re going to do in cities or even have a solid schedule of where you’ll be and when. For instance, we got on the train thinking we were going to Geneva, met a 26 year old biker from New Zealand who lives in Lausanne, and decided Lausanne would be great to stay in. He convinced us it’d be cheaper than Geneva and that’s only a 30 minute train ride. Lausanne is in the French part of Switzerland, but doesn’t seem to be anything special. We’re taking a bit of a short tour of it tomorrow and then heading to Geneva to see CERN and the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Again, the best part of the trip lies in the flexibility from which it was planned.
At this point, we spent the night in Lausanne and then moved to a very rainy Geneva the following morning.
After the restaurant, we still had a bit more to climb! After another half hour, we were at the peak of one of the ridges. It was an additional three hours to the top of the next ridge, and we didn’t have that sort of time. We got a beautiful 360 degree view from the top of the mountain.
After reaching the top and taking some time to admire the view, we made it down back to the restaurant and took the trolley down to the bottom of the mountain to save time climbing down it. We were supposed to pay, but the guy never asked us for money when we got off the lift.
When you reach the top of a mountain you’ve just climbed, there’s only one way to healthily recharge: alcohol. That’s precisely what we did. We ate lunch, had a beer, nearly had a Kate Winslet moment over the edge where you see us pictured, and then continued on the hike. What a beautiful view.
Side bar: WHY IS SWITZERLAND SO HOT?! It was hotter there than anywhere else and we thought it would be the coldest!
We woke up fairly early, and went through the normal routine of showering, dressing, and heading to the train station. We ate our left over bread from the previous night and chatted among ourselves until we arrived in Interlaken. Once there, we stuffed our packs in a locker, found a tourist information office, and looked at our options. Skydiving, rafting, etc. were far out of our price range, so we decided for a hike.
We ended up climbing a mountain in Interlaken with a bit of bread, a few liters of water, and nothing more. For whatever reason, Switzerland has been the hottest place we’ve been to yet. It’s in the 80s here. That didn’t stop us though. We’re Eagle Scouts.
After the long and arduous journey to the (almost) top, we treated ourselves to a cold beer and some lunch at the restaurant which looks right out over Interlaken, which is between two lakes; the name gives that fact away. After taking pictures the whole way up and at the restaurant, we continued to one of the peaks on this ridge. Here we stood, feeling accomplished (far more accomplished than biking along the Rhine). Switzerland is very beautiful, but very hot, and very tiring.
We took the tram from the restaurant to the bottom to save time because we then hit the station and got on a train bound for Geneva.
We left the cathedral in a rush, picked up our bags, quickly got to the platform, and eventually boarded the train that would take us to Mannheim, Germany. Maribel and her family all told us to take the scenic train as far as Mannheim, because it runs right along the Rhine and it’s very beautiful. They were right. From small towns to giant castles on hills looking down on the river, we saw beautiful German countryside. There was even a castle on an island in the Rhine. It took up the entire space so it almost looked like it was floating.
Oddly enough, people can drink publicly in Germany. There was a group just two rows up who were passing and taking shots among themselves. A few of the passengers around them and our group shared a few odd stares.
The train from Köln to Mannheim was a few hours because we took the scenic route. It was still very beautiful.
After arriving in Mannheim, we switched over to the HiSpeed train that would end in Basel, Switzerland. On that train, we were in a booth with a man who turned out to be a cardiologist. He was German, but spoke English like an American because he lived in America for a few years and toured all over the country after he finished studies in New York. We think he is pretty prestigious because he was dressed very well and got off to give an international presentation in Germany tomorrow.
Also on that same train, I got bored and started flipping through the radio stations they provided. All were odd, but I landed on what I determined to be a children’s channel. I have no idea what the hell is happening, but it sounds really funny, the songs are catchy, and for some odd reason, I don’t want to stop listening. I JUST HEARD “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Dot Bikini” IN GERMAN. I wish American schools were far more focused on learning multiple languages and cultures, so I wouldn’t be as foolish in Europe. So it goes.
Arriving in Basel, we got off the train, picked up some Swiss Francs, and looked for a hostel. It was too late to head to Lucerne that night and find a hostel, so we spent the night in Basel. We found a YMCA Youth Hostel, paid, and put our bags down. A young Swiss man (around 30) was the only other guy with us before we headed for dinner. He spoke English and we had a good conversation with him. We asked him what we should do and where we should go in Switzerland. He recommended Interlaken, so that’s where we are headed! The best part of this trip is that it is so flexible that we can go just about anywhere we want as long as we are in London for our flight home.
After getting some bread and cheese at a couple of stalls in a town square, we sat down and watched a couple of Swiss guys set up a game. Interested, we watched and learned the game slowly. They noticed and helped to explain certain aspects of the game and what it was called: Kubb. Kubb is a Swedish game, they told us. They invited us to play. Tony played with Phillip, and I played with Reto. Tony talked to them both because they swam competitively when they were younger and still swim at a club. On that game, I lost a Franc and Tony gained one. Thats what I get for betting against Tony’s legendary cat-like accuracy with wooden pegs.
Tony & Matthew
We woke up early this morning; we had a train to catch! Before we were off to Switzerland, we stopped in Köln just to see the cathedral, which was the most gothic-looking building I’ve ever seen from the outside. We couldn’t see more of the city because we only had about an hour or maybe a bit more before our train to Switzerland left. We put our backpacks in lockers, and headed for the cathedral. Inside, we climbed to the top of the tower (as with every cathedral we’ve seen), looked at a beautiful view of the city, and headed back down. Then we entered the treasury where we saw many relics of many different saints. We even saw a couple links from St. Peter’s chains. After exploring the vast treasury, we saw the shrine of the Three Magi, where the relics are kept inside. Unfortunately, we were in a rush and couldn’t stay long to look at the beautiful architecture and relics more closely, but that’s a reason to go back!