Stats, lessons, and an entry that's longer than most essays I wrote in high school or college
According to this blogging site, these are some of my stats so far:
- 7008 miles traveled
- 9 countries visited – US, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, France, UK, Netherlands, and the Czech Republic
- 32 days spent traveling
- 0.35 % of my life has been spent on this trip
I left from JFK on July 15th. A month later, I am about three and a half hours into a 14 hour train ride, from Amsterdam to Prague. My first overnight train ride a few days ago from London to Truro, England wasn’t the best experience so I wanted to try again. That first trip, I could only get a seat for the 8+ hour ride so here I am now lying in a small room with six couchettes. They are less than six feet long, so it’s going to be a cramped night, but it’s already so much better than being confined to a chair. Something else I just noticed – you can leave the windows open and the vents are bringing fresh air directly outside, which means the air quality is significantly better than on a plane. 14 hours might actually not be that bad.
Since my last update, I have been in Amsterdam and England. I was in England from August 7 until the 11th. I spent all day on the 12th traveling between St. Mawes, England to Amsterdam and then I was in Amsterdam for all of the 13th and most of today (14th).
London was really cool for a lot of reasons, not least of which was that English is the main language there (obviously). It was a nice change for a few days. The first day I spent walking around a lot, which is my usual method to see what a city is like. I started from my hostel near St. Pancras train station and walked to the Thames to see some of the sites. I started with a ride on the London Eye. It’s a pretty impressive engineering feat and the view was amazing (I seem to be getting pretty lucky with these viewpoints – knock on wood…). I bought a picture guide to show me what buildings were visible, and there are way too many to name here, but some of the ones that stick out in my mind were Big Ben, Parliament, and the Shard, the tallest building in (western?) Europe.
I stayed at the Generator Hostel for the first three nights I was in London. It was a pretty nice hostel, and had the added benefit of having the fastest WiFi I’ve seen in the past month. Unfortunately the rooms were a bit small and even more unfortunately, I was stuck with some unbelievable snorers every single night. It was here that I first had to use my earplugs to get any sleep. One person was just really loud, another guy made it sound like there was a gas leak, and the third snored with no discernible pattern at all, which is strange since breathing is supposed to be consistent. They checked out a day before me, and the new roommates weren’t quite as bad, but earplugs were a necessity. On the last night, I came in after everyone was asleep and all the windows were closed (there’s no AC). It felt like a rainforest when I opened the door, so I quickly opened the windows. Any street noise is better than sleeping in a hot and humid room. The one good thing that the previous roommate had, and I need to get, is a USB fan. It made a huge difference in the overall comfort of the room. After all that, I still would recommend this hostel, and hopefully you won’t be as unlucky with roommates.
Anyways, back to London. The next day was entirely devoted to a rock n’ roll tour of London. This was an opportunity I was not going to miss, no matter how much it cost. We saw a lot of sites, from the bars and clubs bands like the Stones and Beatles started at to some of the famous studios, past and present, to current homes and offices of the musicians. We saw where Jimi Hendrix played his first show in England and the apartment he died in, Freddie Mercury’s old house, the house where Paul McCartney got inspiration for the phrase “she came in through the bathroom window.” We stopped by Jimmy Page’s current house. Our guide told us that sometimes he recognizes the bus and comes out for pictures and autographs. I don’t know how true that is, but either way we weren’t that lucky that day.
One of the highlights of the tour, and possibly this whole trip, was walking across Abbey Road. It was a simple act, but it was nice to see it’s all still there, and even better, someone hasn’t started charging money to cross it. Something that I noticed while I was there was that there are a lot of cars that drive on that street. There is usually a decent size crowd there all trying to get crossing photos so sometimes cars have to stop for a minute or two. Then people start to honk their horns and yell at the pedestrians. If I lived and drove in London, I would avoid that road at all costs. I asked our guide about it, and he said Abbey Road isn’t even the fastest way to get into downtown London. I guess some people just like to add a little road rage to their days.
(I took an overnight break here to sleep and watch this new show, Breaking Bad. It has Bryan Cranston from the better version of Godzilla, and some other good actors. If you haven’t seen it, you should check it out, I just finished the first season.)
The next day I took a tour of Wimbledon. It’s kind of far outside of London, especially when taking public transportation, but it was well worth it. The tour guide was really good and we got to see a lot of places as part of the tour. We walked around the grounds, sat in the stands around Centre Court, and we were even able to sit in the same place that players sit for their post-match interview. The most surprising thing I learned was how cheap it is to see Wimbledon tennis, especially if I don’t go to Centre Court. This is definitely a place I will have to add to the list for future visits.
My final day in London started with a move to a hostel closer to the train station that I needed to go to visit my friend in southern England the next day. After moving, I went to the James Bond vehicle museum. It was pretty amazing; it had the actual vehicles from all 23 James Bond films – Aston Martin DB5, submarine car, mini helicopter, it was all there. I had seen an ad for the museum when I first arrived in London, and I’m glad it caught my eye. I traveled to the Sherlock Holmes museum after James Bond, but after seeing the line on the rock n’ roll tour, I was a little apprehensive. Sure enough, the line was massive, over 2 hours long. As much as I like Sherlock (especially the show with Benedict Cumberbatch), I had had enough of lines. I headed back to the train station to await my overnight train to Falmouth.
I hadn’t booked my seat early enough to secure a bunk, so I was stuck in a regular chair. This was a terrible mistake. I managed a few hours of sleep, but I recommend if you ever have to take a night train, spend the extra cash for at least a couchette. Following a restless night and a transfer in Truro, England, I arrived in Falmouth. I still had to take a ferry to get to St. Mawes, where my friend and boss Christian is living for the summer. That was the easy part though, and like Interlaken, it was nice to get out of the big cities for a little while.
St. Mawes (and I’m sure some other places) name the houses instead of numbering them so I had some issues finding the house. It’s a small place though, so I decided to walk around to see if I could find it. I decided I’d go left so I could check out a castle I had seen on the way in, even if I couldn’t find the house. The castle was pretty cool, but the house was nowhere to be found. I headed back to the dock to see if Christian was there. Sure enough, he was, and when we started walking, I saw that the direction I had searched was the opposite from where his house was. We spent most of the day walking around town, taking photos. That night we took the ferry back to Falmouth to celebrate one of his coworker’s birthday. The weather was pretty bad during the day, so they were worried about the water on the way back that night. Since it was too late for the ferry, we took a water taxi which was no more than one of those Coast Guard rescue boats (called a “rib” by the locals). Incredibly, the sky was still, there was a full moon for excellent visibility, and most importantly, the water was as smooth as glass.
The next day was devoted to traveling to Amsterdam. I had the 20 minute ferry ride back to Falmouth, another five and a half hours or so of trains to London, a two hour Eurostar train ride to Brussels and then another 2 hour train ride to Amsterdam. I left just before 9 am and got to Amsterdam around 11:30 pm – it was a long day. In Amsterdam, the first priority was the Heineken Experience. I had been there about 10 years earlier, but I wanted to go back now that I wasn’t 15. It had definitely been updated, and it was a cool place. While the beer is better here, I’ll admit the tour at the Coors Brewery in Colorado went a lot more into the actual production of the beer. It’s a cool place though, and it’s a good place to go if you don’t like the drugs of Amsterdam (like me). I stayed in a pretty loud hostel the night I arrived in Amsterdam and after the restless sleep on the overnight train and the snorers in London, I decided to stay in a hotel for my last night in Amsterdam. I found one of those anonymous deals on Priceline for a four star hotel that was more than half off. It wasn’t nearly as close to the train station as Priceline made it seem, but it was definitely four stars. I got some really good sleep that night.
The next day in Amsterdam I went to the Rijskmuseum to see multiple works by Rembrandt and Vermeer. Like most art museums I’ve visited on this trip, it was packed, but the paintings were impressive, especially “The Night Watch” (not from Game of Thrones), perhaps Rembrandt’s most well-known work there. However the highlight of the day was visiting The Art of the Brick, a collection of LEGO models by American artist Nathan Sawaya. It’s a mix of original builds and reproductions of famous art, using tens of thousands of LEGOs. An added bonus was that the place was almost empty so no lines, which was great.
So now I’m spending a night in Prague. As usual I spent a lot of time walking around today, including to an Eiffel Tower-inspired observation point on a hill near the city. The view was pretty fantastic (continuing my luck with high viewpoints). The Czech Republic is great also because the exchange rate almost seems to be in my favor. 1 USD equals roughly 20 Koruna, so it’s a little strange to see a drink priced at 75, but after some quick math, it works out.
I leave tomorrow morning for three nights in Berlin, and then I start to move east, until I get home. My train pass expires on August 17, so I am also going to start flying a lot more. Fortunately my flights so far have all been under $200 so it hasn’t been that bad. After Berlin, I fly to Athens, Greece for four nights there, then to Istanbul, Turkey for another four nights. Currently, my last firm plan is a flight to Abu Dhabi on August 27th. Everything else after that is still in the air, but I’m thinking India after UAE and then down to SE Asia.
Some lessons I’ve learned so far:
There are a lot of people trying to scam tourists in Europe. I have seen them in NY, but they seem almost more aggressive. Unfortunately I’ve seen too many people betting on that cup game (the scammer hides the ball under one of the 3 cups and the people try to guess which cup it’s in).
Even when train reservations aren’t required with the train pass, it’s usually a good idea to spend the extra 10 euros or so just to get a seat. I was pretty lucky this month, but on one of my connecting trains, I was stuck for two hours sitting in the vestibule (at least I made it on the train).
Hostels are an excellent way to save money, but sometimes it’s necessary to spend a little extra on a hotel every once in a while. It’s nice to get a full night’s sleep and not worry if someone is going to steal your stuff.
Hostels can be booked the night before (or even the morning of, but I wouldn’t suggest waiting that late) and there are still cheap beds available. It helps when I’m planning only 1 or 2 days in advance. My favorite sites so far: booking.com and hostels.com
I just noticed this entry is on its fourth page, so that’s enough for now. I’ll have another update probably after Berlin.