Sunday, August 14

High Tide

I finally left Paris, and I've been traveling for the last week and a half.

My last night there was actually one of the most enjoyable that I'd had in that city for a long time. One of my biggest problems there was loneliness, as except for my one neighbor, I hadn't made any friends my own age in the whole time I was there. But on the second to last night before I left, I was asked by my landlord to switch apartments for a day. He needed to give my place to someone else, who had to find somewhere to live as quickly as possible. Since he was letting me out of my lease a couple of weeks early, I didn't mind.

After seeing the other building, I wished that I'd moved there a long time ago. It was a lot like a university residence, but with people from all over the world. Along with people from Germany, Mexico, Spain, Venezuela, and Columbia, I snuck up onto the roof to watch the stars that night and take in the night sights.

Still, the next day it felt like a good time to go. I caught a train to Geneva [Switzerland] to see my friend Seb, whom I know from Montreal. He's doing a postdoc there [the program that follows a PhD]. I stayed with he and his girlfriend Marina, arriving just in time to take in the Swiss national holiday.

Geneva is a city of diplomats, with almost as many as in New York, but packed into a much smaller city [pop. 400K]. As a consequence, there are quite a few upper class areas. The Rolex shop was selling a selection of watches starting at $20,000 and going up to $60,000. Though I'm sure that if the right person asks, they'd be happy to dig up something even more extravagant.

After three days of enjoying their hospitality [not the least part of which was Marina's traditional Japanese cuisine], I headed for Interlaken, a ski resort in the alps. Although it's obviously not the season for that sort of thing, having already seen the French and Italian alps, I was curious to take in the third region as well.

unfortunately, I didn't have a very good time there. The alps themselves were lovely, but I think I preferred the Italian part moreso, as well as the Rockies in Alberta. And the people that were at the hostel didn't make for the best of times either. Although I met several nice people, the majority were very clicky highschool football and cheerleading types. After trying several times to strike up conversations (and being mostly brushed off), I ended up going to bed early most nights.

My next stop was Munich, in the south of Germany. The city itself is mostly known for it's beer festivals, culminating in Oktoberfest, which takes place [oddly enough] in late September.

Munich's other claim to fame [and shame] is that it was the birthplace of Nazism. Although Hitler tried to take power in the city several years before going to Berlin, he didn't succeed, and in the end was thrown in jail for a few months. In fact, the Nazies had such a soft place in their heart for Munich that they even gave it the honor of having the first concentration camp, which is now a museum. To visit it is quite an experience. Although they built a gas chamber into it, the Nazies didn't get the chance to put it to use, as apparently they already had more bodies lying around than they knew what to do with. The incinerators [and they were quite huge] couldn't burn them fast enough.

Something else that left a deep impression was learning of the number of groups that were sent there. Massacring Jews and Gypsies was the Nazi party's main goal, but they also targeted priests, gays [who were dumped in the camps after being castrated], outspoken intellectuals and Jehovah Witnesses. If your neighbor didn't like you, just saying that he heard you speaking out against the Führer was usually enough to get you carted away.

The people in Munich are always in a rush. I found myself being constantly pushed out of the way, without so much as a word of anapologyy. Even standing over to the side of the street (away from heavy foot traffic), people still managed to shoulder block me as they rushed off on their way to do nothing. The exception to all of this were traffic lights. Even if there wasn't a car in sight, people would wait patiently, standing tall and straight, until the little green man would give them permission to move. As soon as the signal was given, they were back to their typical pace, walking full and not about to let anyone get in their way. I'm told that there, rules are rules and are never to be broken. People don't even question them.

Moving on to the positives, the nicest thing about being in Germany is the selection of meals in restaurants. In Munich, not eating meat was no problem at all. For longer than I'd like to recall, I've considered myself lucky to see even one vegetarian option on a restaurant menu. There, every place has at least three or four. Also, they love spinach. Not that I complained. A restaurant by the hostel had delicious spinachlasagnaa.

I also had a much better time in the Munich hostel than the one in Interlaken. Nights were usually spent at the hostel bar playing pool or wandering around the oldtown with my roommates looking for bars.

As of last night, I've arrived in Vienna [Austria], which in terms of architecture is the prettiest city that I've seen. The old town is very beautiful. Although the buildingsaren'tt the oldest that I've seen [I'd guess they're around three or four hundred years old], the design is so nice, and they're so well preserved, that walking around the old town is a real treat. And the old district is large enough to be a town in it's own right, as well. Plus, there are dozens of much larger buildings which are even more impressive, although I'm not yet sure what they were used for. It's not really a surprise that Vienna is so nice. It was at one time the cultural capital of the world, as the majority of the most famous classical composers all made their names here. And it was spared most of the ravages of World War 2.

One last thing that's been on my mind is that every country in Europe seems to attract a certain nationality of tourists. Hostels in Switzerland, Holland, and Germany are almost entirely filled with Americans. France is mostly for Germans and Canadians [for some reason mostly anglo], England for Australians, and Ireland and Scotland for [strangely enough] Quebeckers.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You said "One of my biggest problems there was loneliness". I've been wondering, is this the biggest challenge when traveling the world like you do, besides the finances? I am usually very slow at making friends and without them life is pretty dull. I would imagine that by going so many places in so little time you never get to hang around for long enough to meet anything but a flurry of acquaintances. Even that depends on how sociable you are. Isn't that a problem?


7:50 a.m.  
Blogger Eugenie said...

The Quebecois descended partly from the Irish and Scottish... that's about all I can think of.

8:53 a.m.  
Blogger kxvj1iddg93oksw said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:21 p.m.  
Blogger ian said...

to dave, yep, it can definitely be lonely sometimes, but overall it's very easy to meet people in hostels, so i don't mind too much. when we were staying in the hostel in vancouver together last year, we met a bunch there, so you know what it's like :)

to eugenie, it's very possible. but i think another reason could be that quebeckers feel some connection to the irish and scottish movement for independence. also, the french arn't the most polite of people, especially to quebeckers, or at least so is the stereotype. i don't know how true that is, though. the majority of the french have a soft spot in their hearts for quebec, or at least so i found.

and to the third person who posted, STOP SPAMMING MY BLOG! god, no where is safe. it was an ad for insurance, which i removed. i'll increase security once i have time, but the options on blogger are all displayed in german here, and i don't have time to figure it out right now.

6:06 a.m.  

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