Thursday, July 31, 2003

Old Dirty Bastard

Today I wake up with an enormous spider crawling up my arm. It's a bit unpleasant, to say the least, but that'll teach me not to leave my tent unzipped in an effort for fresh air. The weather today is still somewhat stormy, but my mood can't be bothered, because the sun is a bit too much for me as of late. Thanks to laundry adventure, I'm in clean clothes rather than nasty ones, smelling of soap rather than sweat, so I'm a happy camper. I do a mass de-bugging of my tent, squashing no less than three spiders. And then I breakfast on sub-standard hummus and bread. Honestly though, the hummus is so gross, I'm convinced I might have to throw it away.

Time to pack up camp since it's my last day in Vienna. Decide to go back to the Rathaus to catch one last opera, but I keep glancing over my shoulder for Old Psycho. Thankfully, I don't see him, but it hampers my enjoyment somewhat. Old dirty bastard.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Old Psycho

I feel cool, because I McGuyver (I used the term again, Mel!) an awesome laundry line with my bungee cords/ropes/clothes-pins that I haven't had much use for, until now! I embark upon another laundry adventure, to rival the disaster from freshman year of college. Here I am, with bucket loads of filthy laundry, and a measly bar of hand soap to handle the precarious situation. I handle it all right, but almost break my back in the process, and manage to completely drench the laundry room with filthy suds. I go outside to hang my clothes, only to discover that it's raining! The clothing I've spent hours ringing out, piece by piece, are now sopping wet again. And all I have to show for it are aching forearms.

I go to the Rathaus to enjoy the opera festival and accompanying food festival. There are several booths, offering cuisine from many countries, such as; Malaysia, Vietnam, Australia (kangaroo and crocodile), Austria, etc. I enjoy some local chocolate and then spread my sarong out on the ground and get ready to lie back and enjoy.

I'm accosted by an old, perverted German. Only, I didn't know he was perverted then. He asks me something in German, to which I respond "Sprechen sie Englisch?" And he does, so he inquires about the weather report, wanting to know if it's going to rain. (And indeed, it does rain, and it's so cute, all the Austrians whip out their umbrellas at the same time.) Anyway, we strike up a conversation, and I find it wonderful because it breaks up my days of solitude and monotony. He proves to be quite interesting, I mean, he was alive and in Germany during the time of Hitler and the Nazis, does it get more interesting than that?

Things start to go sour. As we're watching the opera, he won't stop talking, and he keeps leaning closer and closer. Then it starts raining. Neither of us have an umbrella, so the lady next to us, who has a spare (how prepared is that?) lets us share one. Which means I have to lean in towards him, so the old sicko thinks he can put his arm around me. I look at him kind-of strangely when he attempts this manouver, and he hastens to assure me-

OP: "Don't worry, I don't mean anything by it- you, of course, know that because of our age difference, you are safe."

Which, in retrospect, only a psycho killer would say. Why then, did it put me at ease? Has it been so long since I've journeyed around Africa and been harassed by men at every turn? I feel a bit uncomfortable, but figure he's just nutty due to his age. I know he's lonely from our previous conversation in which he tells me he has no family. And I can't help but entertain notions of him dying and willing me his Austrian estate and an estranged fortune, but I digress.

Towards the end of the opera, he makes his move and starts kind-of petting me. Completely unacceptable, so I get up to leave, since I need to catch the last train home anyway. As I'm walking away, I look over my shoulder, to get a last glimpse of the screen (towards a particularily memorable aria), and Old Psycho is following me! He has shuffled out of his seat and is coming after me. So I dart away, and wait for the Strassenbahn to come. I'm simultaneously crouching behind another burly man and crossing my fingers that Old Psycho is too slow to catch the same train. I think I'm safe, until I see him out of the corner of my eye, do this shuffle/run thing, and jump on at the last second, as the doors are shutting. I quickly change seats, so I'm more obscure. But he finds me anyway, and sits down to continue our conversation.

Now here's the kicker. I don't know why I can't be rude and just walk away or tell him to stop talking to me. But I feel bad. And this hasn't happened in forever. All my humanity has dried up from traveling. Normally, if anyone so much as looks at me, I'm like-

Me: "Fuck off!" Not to mention that I flip off orphans. I suppose you have to be when you're traveling alone, in sketchy places. So what then, am I doing with Old Psycho? Have I learned nothing? I could kick myself, I swear. But the nice Colleen reigns over the heartless, and I just don't have the heart. Especially as soon as he starts extolling how happy he is to have someone to talk to, blah blah blah.

We both get off at Karlsplatz, and as we're walking, he starts to tell me how he talked to me because I look like one of Ruben's (his favorite painter's) goddesses, and he likes his women robust. Well, I don't mind looking like a goddess, but why is it that random old people always feel the need to tell me I'm fat? As if the scary lady in Savers pinching my ass and telling me to take a tablespoon of vinegar every morning wasn't bad enough! Now I find out Old Psycho is trying to hit on me, not so "safe" after all. So I'm darting off towards the U4, and he's sadly shuffling towards the U1, when he holds out his hand, and I shake it goodbye, but then he grabs me and tries to kiss me! I dodge him, a little too ferociously, because I accidently knock his glasses off. I pick them up for him, and he starts trying to hump my leg. Finally, time to break free and run!

I'm hanging out at the bus stop now, because I need to get a kasekreiner, and a group of Italians start asking me questions about Vienna. Not only am I able to answer every single Vienna query with my knowledge from having lived here for five months, but I'm also able to, get this, do it in ITALIAN! There you have it, thirteen months ago, I couldn't have even come close. And today, here I am, travel guiding people in multiple languages.

Before I get on my high horse, I make the error of ordering said kasekreiner before I have any money. Upon realizing this, I make the Wurst man wait, while I go on a fifteen minute jog to the ATM and back. And it's hard to switch languages. As I'm asking for directions in German, I keep using the Italian words "destra" and "sinistra" for right and left instead of "rechts" and "links." What a moron.

Monday, July 28, 2003

Tumbleweed Tents

I have a random burst of inspiration to get into shape. I go on a hike, only I jog instead of walking, and now my legs are killing me. Afterwards, I go to a children's spa, for a little R&R. Turns out there are water slides and a wave pool. I decide to spend the majority of my time swimming laps, as a result of said quest for fitness. Who do I think I am, with all this excessive exercise? And I dine on healthy sushi to boot.

I can't sleep for fear that my tent is falling down around me. It's blowing something mad, and the ground here is not good for flimsy tent stakes. Sure enough, when I wake up in the morning, only one side of the tent remains properly staked down. The whole thing is probably blowing around the Wienerwald woods right now, like a gigantic tumbleweed. Colleen dramatically sighs. (Crap, I'm getting into that whole sick "third person" internet thing).

Plans for today are to keep myself busy so I don't go jump off a bridge somewhere. Actually, that's #1 on the list of things to do. I fully intend to jump off a bridge into the Danube, just like old times. Now that I've broken free from busabout, I don't think I've talked to another human being for about three days, that needs to change.

Saturday, July 26, 2003

Sporty/Hippy Beards

Cesky Krumlov is an absolutely beautiful village, and I have been eating an obscene amount of schnitzel. My Aussie roomates try to convince me to go canoeing with them, since it's the "thing to do" here. Since hiking is another favorite for nature girl, I abandon the idea of canoeing with my evil, snobby busabout roomates because it's too expensive. (Although they do drag me around town all day to find the location of said canoes.) Instead I go hiking, and my body is still aching in the aftermath. I am horribly out of shape! Which seems ridiculous considering that I am "backpacking" across Europe. Busabout has made me soft, I haven't had to do much pounding of the pavement with my heavy sack at all. Not to mention that the schnitzel is taking it's toll.

I'm having a great time. I'm getting a great view of the little walled city, have plucked a walking stick out of the bushes, and am admiring the foilage, when I encounter a pair of Czech teenagers. They're from Prague and speak excellent English.

What a stroke of luck! It's incredibly hard to meet locals. I hike the rest of the way with them, and they teach me some Czech (crazy language). They inform me that all the hikes in this region are seperated by pubs, and we are to keep trekking until we get to the next pub, this being our motivation to continue. They pick me some wild raspberries (well, I don't die, so they're probably wild raspberries, right?)

We chance upon the perfect, little "Etre et Avoir" classroom scene, only in Czech instead of French. The whole class, little ones and big ones, are hiking together with their kindly middle-aged teacher and his somewhat sporty/hippy beard. He kneels down to console a small boy who has scraped his knee, and the class bursts into random snippets of Czech school songs. The small girls drag their teacher to the precipice to show him something exciting, like a leaf. I just hope this teacher isn't as cruel as the one depicted in the movie. Bloody wanker.

It's time to catch the bus to Vienna, which is my last leg of busabout. After saying good-bye to the busabout crew forever, I go the very end of the U4, past Huttledorf, where I have to take another bus, finally arriving on the edge of the Wienerwald woods, and at my humble campsite.

I'm camping in the good ol' middle of nowhere. I mange to put up my tent all by myself! Seems like a silly accomplishment for a self-proclaimed avid camper, but I have never done it on my own, and there's a bit of a balancing act involved. I'm trying to stake down one side, and hoping that the other won't collapse at the same time. It takes me twice as long (I suppose mathematically that makes sense), and by the end of the job, I'm sweating and my neighbors are having a good laugh at me puzzling over my shortage of stakes while hanging the rain fly. But I do a good job, it even rains, and I still don't get wet.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Waxing Poetic

Tonight on my walk through the shimmering rain I behold the lovliest of visions. A thick bundle of inky clouds playing backdrop to the startling fairytale-esque castle of Cesky Krumlov, it's birthday-cake pink spires intertwined with flints of gold reaching into the sky like an outstretched hand. Brilliantly lit with floodlights, casting reflections on the effervescent ribbon of river that encompasses this remarkable little village, winding away into oblivion. But enough waxing poetic.

I may be hasty in this statement, but there is the distinct possibility that Cesky Krumlov is my favorite place I have stumbled upon in this venture called my life. Of late, I suppose I am biased by the fact that I am revelling in it's splendor currently, and former glories pale in my memory in comparison. Stangely it reminds me of Sighisoara (Romania, the sight of the notorious birthplace of Dracula) and Krakow, Poland, all rolled into one. A strange comparison to make, no doubt, but it's my blog, so I'll do as I please.

Today I rose to a glorious morning, after something absurd, like twelve hours of sleep. Recovering from my night out in Prague, I choose to take it easy, and wander around this quaint village with "Jane Eyre" tucked under my arm. (Hence the descriptive gymnastics earlier on the page.) I eat a fantastic dinner (which will double for breakfast tomorrow.) I'm dining in a cave of a resteraunt, and there's something utterly romantic about reading in solitude by candlelight.

My solitude, however, is broken by a group of gregarious American Rick Steves cult members. I'm wincing inwardly at the ignorance of these mother figures talking about Czechoslavkia, and I want to scream out that they are two seperate countries, and they should at least know that because they are traveling in one of said countries. I keep my mouth clamped shut. Karma is doing a gentle job reminding me not to talk shit, because it seems as if every person I've judged (first Mel, and now this) has offered me sweets this week. Literally, one of the ladies offers me a never-touched, beautiful display of chocolate fodue, fruits and all. I'm already drooling over this particular item on the menu and stealing myself to refuse on a monetary basis, and here this lady is, offering it to me for free. Turns out it's part of her tour package, and she's too full to eat it. I guess Rick Steves isn't so bad if he includes chocolate fondue in his tours.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Little Green Fairies

Mel is on my bus from Dresden to Prague, so we get a big group of us together, and go out and eat some super awesome Czech food. (It's not as cheap as advertised either, deceit! I think I end up spending more money in Prague then I do in Germany.) Then we go out on a drinking spiel because one of our friends is turning 35 the next day, (so the drinking has to start at midnight!) We start by taking shots of absinthe and lighting them on fire.

A very strong alcohol, it's so strong that it's illegal in the US. I believe it's 70 percent pure alcohol, and we're not talking "proof", we're talking the real deal. How it works is you take a spoon, fill it with sugar, saturate it with absinthe, then light it on fire. It burns a super hot, bright blue flame for about two minutes. As soon as it goes out, you throw the spoon into the shot, give it a quick stir, and drink immediately before it loses it's hallucinogenic properties.

It doesn't work for me. I'm disappointed, I'm not seeing green fairies dancing around, I'm not hallucinating at all. Maybe I need to drink more, but I can't stand to, because it's bright green and tastes like shit. Instead I take advantage of free drinks, courtesy of the coach-load of friends I'm making.

It was another "this is why I'm traveling" moment. Everyone laughing, buying each other drinks, singing drinking songs, trading stories, etc. Traveling can be such a surreal experience, because there's an unwritten code amongst travelers involving total friendliness and bonding time. All in the basement pub of the hostel in Prague. Good people, good times.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Laundry Adventures

So much for not spending any money. Swiss G convinces me to have another night on the town with her, and there goes another 10 euros.

I wake up bright and early this morning. Miraculously, sans hangover, as the sunlight comes streaming through the open window, and hits my bed like a direct target. We always sleep with the windows open (and I have plenty of mosquito bites to show for it), because it's so bloody hot and humid. I have another laundry adventure today. The key is to make sure you don't get caught, as now hostels have taken to snobbily rejecting sleeping bags (they bring in nasties from the outside like ticks. So there goes my plan to save money by not having to rent linen). Laundry is outlawed, since it's drips all over the lovely wooden floors. I have taken to incognito laundry missions. I'll hang clothes in the wardrobe as they're drying, or in the window with the curtain drawn. One time I even tried to hang them under the bed, but needless to say, that didn't work.

I'm dining on a 4-euro German breakfast which consists of many different meat and cheese slices, rolls, various spreads, boiled eggs, fruit, cereal, yogurt, and juice. It's quite a nice spread for a girl like me, who usually skips breakfast, because I'm too poor and lazy. I feel it's a miracle that I'm out of bed at all, considering I don't have to catch the bus for another two hours.

Monday, July 21, 2003

German Truck-Stop Diners

There seems to be an interesting European weather trend occuring at the moment. In France, Holland, and Germany, I have come across utterly hot and humid days. The kind where you can't bear to do anything for long, your clothes are sticking to you, sweat is dripping off of you, and you can never take too many showers. Then somehow, this humidity transfers itself into a fantastic storm in the evening. According to my new Swiss modern dancer friend, none of this is normal.

Right now there is a fantastic storm raging outside. Complete with curtains of rain streaking down, kids stomping in puddles (and me stomping in puddles with them), bolts of lightning, and now I'm shivering and wet, on the inside, looking out. Have to love life.

I'm in Dresden, Germany right now. I have to say I'm a bit depressed about my blog. At the height of my blogging power, I got 43 hits one day. Yesterday I got 6. The first day I had a blog I got 6. Pretty good learning curve, eh? Then to make myself feel better, I did what any self-sufficient neurotic person does. I hit my own blog, 13 times in a row. But it only made me feel worse, because now 4 percent of my readers supposedly come from Germany, and I know in my heart that it's a dirty lie. In fact, I wouldn't be suprised if half of my grand total of hits comes from myself. Sad. But we musn't dwell.

Dresden is known as the 'Florence of the North.' I am staying in a perfectly delightful hostel, with colorful walls and sheets, and it's absolutely clean! I've also managed to venture away from the Busabout crowd, because no one stops to stay in Dresden, except me, which is really too bad, it's quite a lovely place, and interesting too, it was hit worse than Hiroshima in WW2, more bombs than anywhere else in the history of the world, or something like that.

Mostly I've just been wandering around on my own. My days are filled with so much idylness that I can do such things as: Get on various trams going nowhere, then get off three stops later, only to go back in the same direction and end up exactly where I started from. Get off two stops from the hostel because I see a fountain I want to dip my feet in. Do so for about an hour, before getting on the next tram home. It sounds wonderful, and it is, but I'm really starting to hurt for structure. I found myself filing my nails for an hour today, and writing postcards in Italian, anything to stimulate the brain and make me feel productive. I am longing for school and work. Somebody slap me hard, when two months from now I'm windging about how much I want to be back on the road.

Why is the Star-Spangled banner playing in the background? Hold on! Did Lance Armstrong just win the Tour de France? Doesn't look like it, there are swimmers on the screen, and I don't know what's going on, because they're speaking in German.

No one in Dresden speaks English. It is wonderful. Today during my pointless wanderings, I came across your truck-stop diner joint, only it was German, so that meant super cheap schnitzel and potatoes, so of course I had to partake. During the course of this dinner I managed to a) throw my fork halfway across the resteraunt, and then I had to burrow under an old couple's table on my belly to retrieve it. I'm wearing a dress today because it's so bloody hot. b) Spill tons of ketchup all over said dress. c) While attemtping to dump spicy flakes on my potatoes, the entire contents of the bottle poured out over my meal, as the top had been loosened. Two cokes later, my food was finished, but my mouth was still on fire. Not to mention that in this sketchy joint, I attracted not one, not three, but four scary, fat, German men to come to my lone table with their beers, and attempt conversation, at which point, I just laughed and shook my head, and they slunked off, discouraged, once they learned I couldn't understand a word.

Today I bought a ten euro phone card, and called my travel agency in Rome, all prepared to talk some sense into them. This was extremely difficult, not only because of the language barrier, but also because I happened to be on a crowded street that must have been on fire, seeing how about eight fire trucks with their sirens on full-blast came screeching by. Couldn't understand a word. And the phone card was ticking like a time bomb, ten cents being drained every ten seconds. I ended up with an address in Vienna however, of a travel agency that's affiliated with the Italian one, so hopefully in the course of the six days I'm in Vienna, I can rant and rave my way to a replacement ticket. That's the new plan, anyway. I just keep getting different answers from everyone. It seems that the entire world is incompetent.

Last night I went out with my new Swiss modern dancer friend, who is sharing my delightful room with me. We got drinks and dinner, and people-watched all night long, and then I realized, that I spent an absurd amount of money on drinks in my somewhat drunken state, around 20 euros worth! At this point, I am absolutely fearful of my money situation, and have resolved not to spend another cent until I get to Czech. (Okay, it's not like that's a great goal, seeing how that happens in less than 24 hours, but what ev.)

Saturday, July 19, 2003

Rendezvous with Hitler's Dog, Blondie

I pay nine euros for a walking tour that covers 8 km and doesn't go inside anything for free. There are no perks. In other words, I easily could do this tour myself. But I just can't be asked. I don't want to sight-see at all, but since I'm in Berlin, I'm obligated to see some famous sights.

It turns out to be awesome! My guide is great, he takes us to little known places, like an unremarkable vacant parking lot, which once housed Hitler's 32-room bunkers. He killed himself and burned to the ground here, in this parkikng lot. They were only able to identify him because they found the leg of his dog, Blondie, sticking out of the ground. As usual, the tour hosts it's share of goons. But I meet a great bloke from Sydney, and we walk around at the back of the pack making sarcastic comments, so all is well.

Head back to the hostel for a bit of a drink, and see Mel sitting at the bar, so I decide to go crash insted, since I have to get up in the morning. Turns out she has the bed next to mine. Of course, she drags me down to the bar to play cards and drink with some new Aussies we've picked up. We end up staying up all night, and having a great time! Goddamn Busabout.

Friday, July 18, 2003

Charging Per Flush

I have to pay 50 euro cents to use the toilet I hate that! And it's not even clean, which would at least justify having to spend money. I wash my hands seven times, and use as many paper towels as possible in protest, but still. God bless America, with her free toilets and re-fills.

Earth-Shattering Belch

I'm sitting in a beer tent, surrounded by old Germans, guzzling their lager. I'm having a measley Coke, and enjoying myself drawing with colored pens. Out of nowhere, I shock myself, and let out this enormous, earth-shattering belch. This is amazing, because I'm not really good at the burping thing. Sure, I taught myself how to do it on command, but I certainly can't say the alphabet or "monopoly" while burping.

My old German audience whips around, starts cracking up and applauding me, because they think it's hilarious. One particularly amused German slaps me on the back heartily and buys me a beer. I'm glad to make someone's day. And I get a free afternoon of drinking beer with the locals out of it.

Animals Copulating

I head to the zoo, and see animals copulating everywhere. I watch one monkey take his sharp finger and stick it up another monkey's bung hole, then twist. This is during the cleaning of ticks ritual, so I'm a little shocked by this maneuver, but the other monkey doesn't appear to be. I've become obsessed with zoos. I suppose it's because they're my alternative to museums, churches, palaces, etc. I do wander vaguely into one of the ol' bombed-out churches on my way to the zoo. Then I remember that I hate churches and make a quick retreat. Better get rid of that attitude before the religious pilgrimage, eh?

I have a spiritual experience with an orangutan named "Kevin." He's smushing his huge, red face sorrowfully against the glass of his cage with one paw extended, in a gesture of supplication. He looks like a Holocaust victim, struggling to reach out to the other side of the ghetto wall, in an attempt for contact. (Or maybe I just get that image because I'm in Germany.) I feel the need to place my paw on his, and smush my face into the glass and stare back at him. I must have been one with him for fifteen minutes. Now I feel like Ace Ventura. I am an animal psychiatrist, everywhere I walk, the animals of the wild flock to me, and I have merely to call them, or play for them on my fife.

I head to the petting zoo and play with little, German children. We run amuck, petting and feeding the goats, sheep, and shetland ponies.

I return to the hostel and it's ridiculous. It's like Oktoberfest all over again, minus the sadistic, Disneyland-on-crack-esque rides. All I hear are drunken songs and games of "never have I ever".

I'll probably go down to the bar tonight, bring a deck of cards, teach some of the Aussies how to play "animal sounds", and we'll all have a good laugh. Or we'll start talking politics, I'll have to throw my drink on someone, and make a dramatic exit. There are a few ways it could go down tonight. But I'm in the mood to partake in the festivities.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Nazi Crap

I'm sitting in Berlin, and that's exciting, because I get to eat all my favorite foods again; wurst, schnitzel, Nordsee, etc. My hostel is super busy, and I have to wait in line for an entire hour before I get this shitty deal, where I have to switch rooms two days into my stay.

Today is a bit rough, I manage to lose the incredible toothbrush that I just acquired, and have to purchase a new one. My brand new neck money belt breaks, (and they call it slash proof!) But, I do manage to avoid the Aussies and get some shut eye on the bus.

There is a raging party going on in my room. I walk into it, and when a bunch of drunk Aussies find out I'm from Alaska, they actually ask if I club baby seals. The answer to that, if anyone is wondering, is a resounding no.

I don't have it in my soul to eat any more bread and cheese. I'm trying to be as ghetto as possible. I nix dinner and try to finish the laughing cow, I really do. The last smushed dozen have to go in the trash can, I can't take it anymore. I guess I don't have my game face on, as Jordan would say.

I don't think I want to do any of the typical nazi crap while I'm here.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Bare-Bummed Prostitutes

I'm ascending into the world of windmills, prolific drug use, bare-bummed prostitutes standing in windows illuminated with red lights, and lovely bridges and parks. That's right, I'm in Amsterdam. But only for the night.

I'm feeling a bit disconcerted from wandering all around Amsterdam and not remembering a damn thing from the last time I was here. It's not like I was high, you think I would at least recognize the town. This could be a bad sign that the monotony of travel is causing all cities and days to blur together into a flourescent hue of faces, paintings, and various types of dog doo.

I almost get ex-communicated from the bus. My new Aussie friend, Rebecca, and I fetch some sandwiches from the deli (during our lunch stopover in Brugge, which I also have a suspiciously hard time recognizing). I attempt to relate to the Flemmish cashier, but she doesn't understand me, so I have to bust out some German. She glares at me and informs me that their language is "quite" different from German. I know this, and I want to point out that she's speaking English "quite" well now, and if she had just done that in the first place, there would be no need for me to bust out my elementary German. I'm was just doing the best I can to communicate in a foreign country. And really, how different is dank u and danke?

I don't have a watch, so we wander lazily back to the bus a tense 12 minutes late. Mr. Older Married Man sneers at us-

MM: "You're late!" The rest of the passengers shoot daggers with their eyes, and one guy even trips me. (I'm sure it's on purpose.) Shit, I feel like Forest Gump searching for a seat on the first day of school.

I spend the day avoiding Mel. I head her off at the ghetto (but rather expensive) hostel by mumbling something about needing a shower. My newest trick is to shower fully-clothed. I wash myself and do my laundry at the same time. It's like having my own air-conditioning system. I'm not hot anymore, and I'm sporting my rapidly drying clothes, completely fresh.

As usual, I stick my foot in my mouth while standing in line at the hostel. I'm explaining to some Aussies that not all Americans are red-necks, just the Texans. Turns out a couple Texans are standing in front of me. And being "involved" the way Americans are, feel the need to correct my error, even though I'm joking. I further embarass myself by telling them I study opera, and mentioning that they might find that unusual, because I usually receive blank looks from other Americans. This Texan is a conductor, so he's not "suprised" at all. That's it, I just need to stop talking.

I'm getting sick of having busabout groupies again, so I'm happy I won't know anyone on the bus tomorrow. I haven't made "friends" with any of the new crowd, and maybe I'll just keep it that way. Not for long though, because the trouble comes when, heaven forbid, someone spots you eating lunch by yourself, and rushes over to join you. I'll try to avoid that fate for as long as I can.

I haven't slept properly in three days, and I've been hanging out with cold-infected people. I better watch out, I've been "well" ever since the last hospital encounter, and it's about time for my immune system to turn on me again.

I still don't know what to do about my plane ticket, and frankly, I don't give a damn.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

McGuyvering

I get on the bus, feeling strangely sad and empty, since I'm leaving Mike and London. I'm not particularly interested in talking to anyone, so I spend the first half of the bus ride with my head bouncing uncomfortably against the glass, not sure I'm ever going to manage to sleep.

Have you ever woken yourself up with an extremely loud snore?

I do just that. Half the bus is laughing at me. Apparently, my attempts at sleep are incredibly engaging. At one point, my head is actually on the shoulder of the girl next to me. Good thing I don't embarass easily. The so-called "sleep gymnastics" are the ice breaker between people of many lands (those many lands being Australia and... Australia.) Glad I can bring everyone together. Let's all laugh at Colleen, and then be friends.

A romp of a night in Paris ensues. The cast is all from Australia, surprise surprise. More peeps from Adelaide: Pru- short for Prudence Beth (does it get any more English?) She's a lovely girl. She even donates a brand new, never-been-used, nicest-tooth-brush-I've-ever-owned to me. Nikki- a personal favorite, has a nasty cold, and is obsessed with blowing her nose. She buys 24 packs of kleenex at the grocery store, and five hours later, is HALFWAY FINISHED with them. I donate the rest of my cold medicine to her, and a handful of vitamins. "The Texan"- (because I don't remember her name), a Catholic sorority girl who comes to Paris because her favorite food is snails. And my roommate, Mel.

A word about Mel. Upon first meeting her, she lectures me for an hour-

Mel: "I've never met a moron who travels without travel insurance. Besides, it's your own fault your purse was snatched. I believe in kharma, and you must have done something bad."

Ouch. She feels the need to wake me up this morning by shaking my foot violently at 8 am.

Mel: "Get up! I've already been awake for an hour, you might as well get up too."

She's a colorful one. A little too colorful, perhaps. When I inquire as to what she's "McGuyvering", (it looks like she's turning her neck money belt into a waist money belt with some complicated scissors and string action), she actually snorts and tells me to never use the phrase "McGuyver" again. Yikes. She's also looking forward to sitting next to me on the bus tomorrow. Someone please shoot me in the head.

We're staying in Montmarte, so I feel very "Moulin Rouge", even if it is the ghetto. It's July 14th, "Storming the Bastille" day, the biggest holiday in Paris. We climb the hill to the Sacre Coeur cathedral, take a seat, and wait for the fireworks. We're passing around Laughing Cow cheese wedges and orange juice with far too much pulp. (Mel decides to buy a 32 pack of cheese. She has a point, value-wise, it's only 50 cents more than the 12 pack, so the additional 20 wedges are bonus.) We don't even get through a third of it. She bequeaths the rest of the cheese to me. What in the sam hell am I supposed to do with 20 wedges of processed cheese?

We're in the exact wrong place to watch the fireworks. All we can see is a street artist who makes his tips by molesting old women and diving through the front and back seat of passing cars, to approving laughter from the crowd.

We end up seeing several firework displays, but we're on the wrong side of town to really enjoy them. (Why are all these locals gathered here to watch?) There are many bright, beautiful fireworks, that we can imagine are amazing, since they look like mere pinpricks of light to us. Still, it's quite the adventure attempting to duck homemade fireworks lit off in the parking lot by overzealous teenagers. My life flashes before my eyes, on more than one occasion. I observe several of said fireworks actually colliding with people, although strangely, no one seems particularly upset or hurt. And ambulance is pulling up right as we're leaving, though.

The best part of the night is the utterly worthless police vehicle, parked in the middle of the road with it's lights flashing. Never once do I see a cop vacate the car, even when it's struck by a rather violent fire cracker. Guess the coppers here like the french pastry a bit too much. Can't be asked to leave the vehicle and put a stop to the mayhem.

As we're about to leave, a strange, alien, reddish orb appears on the horizon.

Nikki: "Mate! Look over there, what the hell is that? Is that a firework?" I stare at it for about ten seconds, focusing and re-focusing my eyes.
Me: "No, but that is definitely extraterrestrial activity! I knew I would someday get proof tht there's someone else out there!" My senseless babbling is interrupted.
Nikki: "You're right, mate, it's moving, it's getting bigger, it's rising!" We're all pretty freaked out, until Mel makes this calm explanation.
Mel: "It's the moon, you morons."

We stare at it, scarcely believing that it's the moon. I recall having read in my astronomy texbook, freshman year, that the moon can appear to have a fierce rosy glow, due to reflections from Mars, or certain mineral components, or some shit like that. Thong Girl, who's sitting in front of us, overhears our conversation and confirms that, indeed, it is the moon.

And what a moon it is! We all clap each other on the back, and share in an awe-inspiring "this is why I'm traveling" half hour, as we watch the enormous, swollen moon rise to fill the sky, with fireworks exploding on either side of it. Then we go home to sleep, which is an adventure itself, wading through the half-drunken masses to get back to our cutesy French hotel.

We wake up and decide to go to Versailles, as I've never been. It's the best palace I've ever seen, thanks to the extravagence of the ol' Sun King. However, it is just that; another palace. Even if the Treaty of Versailles was signed there. More bloody pictures of royalty, extending over fancy beds in fancy rooms. And a huge, amazing garden of hedges, strangely void of all flowers. Not sure why palace gardens are called "gardens" at all, when they should be called- "a random man-made lake, several very-well-manicured-hedges, and a forest". I suppose that title is too long, even if it is accurate.

We decided we're going to "dine" tonight. We find a nice looking resteraunt in our ghetto that serves a three-course meal for 7.50 each. I remember the last time I was in Paris with Dave and Lace, and the three-course meal cost twice that, so I had to share with someone. Now, I can afford three courses, all to myself!

We soon learn why the courses are so cheap. As I'm mulling over my dessert selection of seasonal fruit vs. creme caramel, I see the waitress bring four very dodgy-looking, spotty bananas to the table next to ours. Apparently, this is the seasonal fruit. We start giggling nervously, wondering what we are getting ourselves into. I decide to be adventurous, and choose all the unknown things on the menu, such as "Russian egg" for my appetizer, and a French sausage for my entree. The Russian egg is fairly tame, and not derived from an exotic animal, as I was hoping. The sausage is the scaries thing I've ever encountered, it looks to be stuffed full of endtrails. I attempt to eat a few bites, but it's too scary, and I had these images of human sausage machines from Pink Floyd's "The Wall" running through my head. For dessert, Nikki finds shards of metal in her creme caramel. At least the tap water from the bathroom is delicious! (I'm trying to save money on drinks.)

It's so bloody hot here. I was spoiled spending my July in London, where the weather is quite mild. Here it is humid and horrendous, after two hours at Versailles, we need to be peeled off the bench. It's 11 at night, It's 11 at night, and I'm ROASTING! I was my pajamas in cold water, and put them on for bed. There's a rather exciting storm raging outside, complete with rumbling thunder, bolts of lightning, and pounding sheets of rain.

Emergency situation developing (after checking hotmail account). Italian travel agency writes back-
ITA: "Nothing we can do about stolen ticket. We cannot refund or re-issue. You will have to buy another one."

A plan has yet to be formulated. I have until Aug. 17th to get my death threats together.

Mike does some research and messages me that the pilgrimage in August is looking more random than ever. 5000 people are going, they're all total religious freaks, we're carrying a huge cross, we're only allowed to call each other warm "brother" and "sister", and there will be no ice cream eating.

Should be a good journey for the blog, if I don't get ex-communicated for use of the word "fuck", or sneaking around eating ice cream.

Bloody Handprints

In honor of me leaving (finally), we have a party downstairs. Mike's neighbor, Andre, smashes his face through a plane of glass, and is gushing blood. There are bloody handprints on Mike's T-shirt, as he's trying to assist him. It's madness, and I'm sneaking upstairs to hide, in case Rebecca, the landlady is called. (I'm staying in Mike's appartment illegally.) The ambulance rolls up, people are gathering around with ice packs and towels, and Andre definitely resembles a piece of chewed meat, or a cast member from Braveheart.

Instead of partying, we spend our last night together in Mike's bed, listening to CD's, insulting each other, trying out new hairstyles, and laughing our heads off. I take some styling cream and spike his hair, since it's starting to get long. This gives him a weird sex appeal. Amazingly enough, Mike's entire personality changes when adorned with "Abercrombie and Fitch" hair-do.

I have to leave bright and early, to catch the 8am bus. Due to lack of sleep, I manage to leave behind half of everything I own, including all my shower goods. Whoops. Like my ol' roomate Rene always said-

Rene: "I have a knack for just turning my back and walking away."

So do I. I don't "miss" people. Not that I don't love or think about others, I'm just not one to "miss" them. I miss Mike.

Friday, July 11, 2003

Social Suicide

I take myself out to lunch today. This sounds traumatic. I know to some people, going to the movies or to lunch by themselves is akin to social suicide. (Imagine, I did both in one day!) I happen to love going to lunch by myself. I can pretend to read while secretly listening to other people's conversations. Case in point, I hear a beautiful, young, Indian woman talking with a thick Londoner's accent. The reason this is notable, is because there's something peculiar about the way she's talking. The words are coming out very fast, almost air-headed. I realize the impossible is occuring, an Indian valley girl with a British accent. I didn't realize such cross breeding exists!

It's amusing how much service I get when I'm by myself. Everywhere else in Europe I've had to make a big production out of trying to get the check. But if I'm alone, they practically run to give it to you, as if they instinctually know that you have no one to talk to, and thus, no reason to hang around chatting after the meal. I like to throw the waiters a curve ball. They give me the bill, and I don't do anything. I continue to sit there, by myself, for a long time after the meal. It amuses me because it's as if the waiter actually feels uncomfortable for you. It's like you're in cohorts. They'll throw me the bill when they think no one is looking, so I can get the hell out, and not have to be seen by myself for too long. It would be a nice gesture, I suppose, if I actually cared.

I did get to hear some insider snippets of conversation, as I was strategically placed right next to the cash register. (I wonder if that's because this table has more coverage, so less people can see that I'm *gasp* actually eating by myself?)

Wait #1: "Bloody hell, that guy's a wanker! He didn't even leave a pound for a tip!" (Upon hearing this, I start stressing to make sure I leave a good tip. Then I realize it'll be far more amusing for the next single person taking over my table if I don't. I can just imagine the conversation now.

Wait #1: "Bloody Americans, they're the ones who're supposed to be tippin'! Who does that girl think she is? I even brought her the ketchup. Feckin' ketchup."

But the best comment I hear all day is-

Wait #1: "Fat feckin' cow at no. 17, she ordered two entrees! And then she expected them five minutes later! Sheesh!" (Yes, I did shamelessly crane my neck to see who was being talked about each time.)

After lunch, I take a break from my all-day internet pass (I am a shameless geek), to see the film "Communidad". I almost make the mistake of going to "Gods and Generals". I actually buy the ticket, and as I'm going in, a kindly usher asks-

Ush: "You realize the movie you're about to watch is extremely long, right?" I regard him suspiciously.
Me: "How long?"
Ush: "4 1/2 hours."
Me: "Are you serious? Can I change my ticket? Help! I don't want to watch a movie about gods and generals for four hours!" The usher leans in conspiratorily-Ush: "Just go into the other theatre, I won't tell."

And that is how I avoid watching an epic and end up at a comedy instead. Although, I'm the only person in the theatre who thinks it's funny. I can't control myself, I just burst into laughter, and I can't believe that other people aren't laughing as well. I want to whack them on the head and be like-

Me: "Did you see that? It was funny, do something, show some emotion!"

I think I actually embarass Mike when we go to the movies together. If I laugh too much, he starts shushing me. I have to learn to control myself.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

The Infamous Clean Room

Under the pressure of being robbed, I told my bank to overnight my new bank card to 82 Queen's Gate Rd. Mike lives on 86 Queen's Gate. Talk about a disaster. Surrounding Mike's appartment are such places as; Queen's Place, Queen's Way, Queen's Gardens, Queen's Way Rd. etc. Apparently adding a rd. to the end of the street name was a huge error. Fuck me.

I've been spending far too many days now, waiting outside of 82 Queen's Gate, for the inhabitants to emerge, so I can get my mail. This is easier said than done. The inhabitants of 82, I've decided, are the spawn of satan. Today Mr. Flat 5 answers our buzz, and mumbles something about "living on the fifth floor, so he can't be asked to come down and let us in." I'm merely asking him to buzz me in! Several hours pass, and finally the lady from Flat 1 decides to buzz me in, then watches suspiciously as we rummage through all the mail (me frantically, while Mike feebly tries to explain my erratic behavior, that I'm not planting mail bombs, or tossing out their precious mail.)

No card. Over the next few days, I buzz over 100 times, turning up at their appartment block again and again, like some sadistic stalker. My new plan is to get up at the crack of dawn and park myself outside the house, surely someone has to go to work in the morning? I buzz all the buzzers, then hide my face quickly. (There's a camera, so the folks can see who's buzzing, and at this point, they know me.) Someone new answers! I explain my predicament, and they buzz me in. I then receive an envelope with my name on it, but no card. Apparently, I have to go pick up my card at Heathrow Airport.

To celebrate the success of getting my bank card back, we decide to take a walking tour of the "ghosts" of London. I'm a naysayer, and not scared at all, as the ghost stories are mediocre. The selection of people taking the tour, however, are of quality stock. They're completely ridiculous, and we get our money's worth by having a jolly good time making fun of them.

To continue our tourist streak, Mike and I head to the Tate musuem of modern art, making a beeline for the exhibit on nudes and bodies. Next we hit up the Natural History Museum, which consists mostly of extensive exhibits on animals. I drag poor Mike through display after display. Mike hates all animals, which is such an unexpected, character trait, because he's just so, well, nice.) What nice person doesn't like puppy dogs? Mike doesn't.

By the way, Brendan, I know ALL the differences between marsupials, rodents, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles, now. In case anyone is wondering about that aside, Brendan and I had a huge discussion with one of our busabout guides about the differences between those categorizations. It was quite enlightening. Sometimes tour guides know more than you would think. Particularly if they majored in biology. It never hurts to ask. Granted, it's a little weird during Q and A, when everyone is asking, "How do I get to the Blvd. St. Germaine?" And I raise my hand and ask, "Do you know the difference between a mammal and a marsupial?"

After we emerge from the halls of animals, dinosaurs, and insects, Mike breathes a sigh of relief as we chance upon a "clean room" display. If you don't know what a clean room is, my best advice is to get out there and find out! Really, it's quite exciting. It's an empty room. Completely empty. What a party. Or so we think.

The security people inform us that we can only enter the "clean room" if we're wearing special suits, since the air is completely monitered and free of bacteria. It's starting to look more and more exciting, inside this empty room. I'm feeling defeated, when Mike politely asks-

Mike: "Can we put on a suit and go in there?"

Next thing I know, we're dressed as two gigantic sperm, in white coveralls, complete with hoods and blue plastic bag shoes. There is something utterly liberating about wearing these suits. We're positively bouncing around the room, breathing in fresh air, and I'm doing modern dance. By-passers are giving us strange looks.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Attack of Consciousness

I can't live like this. I can't use the police warrant to keep traveling for free. I feel like slime. I'm in a "What does it all mean?" frame of mind, and I get to thinking, maybe it's all kharma for having black-ridden all year long, obtained free clothes from H&M, and commited grand eurail fraud. I must end my life of crime. I can't stoop to the level of a hoodlum youth. Look how life repays me, continuously robbing me and giving me boils.

I hear a beautiful, wistful violin solo while wandering through the underground. I only have a pence in my pocket to spare, but in order to start the kharma train on the right track, I pitch it to the musician anyway. Maybe someone watching will jump on-board and give a pound.

I hate the tube. As I'm attempting to disembark, a wall of people block me, all of them trying to pour in. I want to point to the poster on the wall that states- "Love is letting people get off first."

Lady Cops

I discover that my "transportation warrant" (courtesy of the police) is conveniently not dated. And since my tube pass for this week was stolen, I think I'll take advantage of this little slip of paper which guarantees me a free ride home. (Or multiple rides, since that's what I'm using it for.)

I'm walking to the police station with two lady cops that are assigned to my case. We encounter a salesman who's trying to push these retarded sticky objects that can be flung against the side of a building. I'm suprised to see that Lady Cop #1 handles the situations rather agressively. (I had RA training, I know how the drill works, I did "behind closed doors.") She gets anal on his ass immediately, sticking her finger in his face and shouting-

LC: "Ya better leave here, mister, you've got no business!" He retaliates-
SM: "Feck off, bitch, I'm earnin' a livin' honestly."
LC: "Ye ain't doin' nothin' honest, I've seen you around these here parts, move off before I take you with me to the station!"
SM: "And who's going to make me?" (as he's walking off), apparently lady cop is pissed, so she storms after him yelling,
LC: "And I've had enough of your lip, mister, you better learn to respect, watch yourself!"
SM: (Mumbles) "Fucking bitch."

I'm standing in the middle of a police scuffle, with all kinds of random people staring at me and thinking-

RP: "What the fuck is she doing with the cops?"

Obviously, people think I'm a criminal being walked to the station. Cool. Lady Cop #1, in a pissed-off funk, storms across the street, (j-walks, actually, on a red light to boot.) I try to follow her. Hey, if it's good enough for Lady Cop, it's good enough for me. But Lady Cop #2 stops me. Then she tries to strike up a pleasant conversation about France. Damn, these police chicks are weird. The whole situation would be more comical, if I wasn't so traumatized.

Overall I find Lady Cop #1 to be lacking in professionalism. She really got up in his face, and was completely power-tripping. I half expected her to crack him over the head with her baton and drag him into the station, rather than taking the lip. That would've been more exciting. Too bad I don't run the world. There would be no people running around snatching handbags.

The best part of the drama so far is going to the inner sanctum of the police station. My film noir continues, as I sit in a swivel chair, waiting for the police report to be filled out. Apparently, "snatching" is rather high on the crime list, because it's something that happens to your face. Rather than an innocent- "I lost my bag, and then someone stole it!" Nope, more along the lines of- "I had my bag the whole time, and someone wrenched it away from me." Big crime, we're talking, BIG.

Other good things to come from a tragedy? The previously irate worker at the internet place ended up being absolutely awesome. She was super sympathetic, let me use her phone to call my bank long distance, gave me water, and kept patting me on the head and muttering about the incompetence of the police.

Once I leave the police headquarters I head to the bookstore. I need a dose of self-help, maybe reading a few chapters about turning a negative into a positive will get me back into the right frame of mind. Then again, maybe not.

My Own Film Noir

Sorry if this entry isn't in the vein of "Colleen pokes fun at her life and all the horrible things that happen to her while traveling." Maybe someday I'll look back and say-

Me: "Oh fuck, that was so funny when the hoodlum grabbed my purse and ran away with all my belongings and my budget for two weeks! Shit, that was hilarious!" While simultaneously pounding my fist on the table and howling with laughter. I've been able to see the humor in all other moments of thievery I've encountered on this trip; the first, second, and third time. But not the bloody fourth time! And not when they're literally dragging away a net total of thousands of dollars from me.

My purse was snatched. Not stolen, mind you, not lost, but snatched. As I'm sitting on the computer publishing my last entry about such trivial things as KFC prices and irate workers, some fucking hoodlum kid grabs my purse and runs. It all happens so fast, I take off after him screaming-

"Thief"! (At least this part is exciting.) But he takes a route down an abandoned escalator and rounds off into a crowded street. With his head start and all, I lose him. Now that it's over, I want to kick my own ass. Why didn't I run faster, scream louder? Why did I give up? Granted, he probably wasn't banking on me following him at all, but still. There are a million things I wish I did differently. Including taking my purse off my person. It was right next to me, and I suppose normal people figure that purses are safe next to them, but not so, in my case.

This strange labyrinth structure has all these video recordings of the kid. (I get to watch myself chasing after him, totally cool, like I'm in my own film noir!) The police are so bloody slow, not appearing on the scene until after 30 minutes have gone by, and of course, my purse is long gone. Bastards. I had just withdrawn a whopping 150 pounds, to last me for the last 9 days I would be in London. Not to mention Mike's keys, Holly's digital camera, 2 airline tickets, my ID card, social security card, checkbook, credit card, student ID card, busabout card, passport, swiss army knife, glasses, etc. I cancel all of my bank stuff immediately, but it still creeps me out that this hoodlum gang (cause that's who did it according to the police) has my soc. security card, and thus, an easy job hacking into my life. Fuck.

Then again, they're just material things, in the long run, it absolutely doesn't matter. Is that what mother nature is trying to teache me? If so, God, it's not necessary to teach me four times! Thanks! I always said anyone could take my backpack and I wouldn't care, all it is is clothes and books, but my purse, fuck, I sleep with that thing, no one's touching that. And when you see the person as they're robbing you, well, it's just a very frusterating and violating feeling.
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