Cheerful mood in Budapest

Those of you at home in Phoenix have probably been unsympathetic to my complaints about the weather, but I’ve experienced a bit of a break today. We’ll see how long it lasts.

This morning started out with the muggiest weather I’ve dealt with yet. After walking around for about 20 minutes, I’d already had enough. So I decided to enjoy the day the Budapest way: at the thermal baths. It turned out to be a great decision, or at least a lucky one. I spent a very relaxing three hours at the baths, and just as I was getting ready to leave, the sky opened up into a genuine downpour. The temperature dropped by probably 10 degrees, and the sky has remained overcast all afternoon. I’m enjoying a beer outside while it lasts.

The jury is out on Hungarian beer. I’ve only had two, and one was pretty awful. I’d say it was Beast awful. My hotel bar serves Amstel, an okay Dutch beer you’ve probably all heard of, which is a shame, but it’s a Western hotel chain catering mostly to a business clientele. The beer I’m drinking right now, called Dreher, is pretty good.

After a few days of feeling worn out, I’m in a cheerful mood today. I got a good night’s sleep, I did my laundry this morning, so my clothes all smell nice, and my skin looks great from all the sun I’ve been getting. I’m a little burned, but it’s a mild burn that’ll turn a nice tan in a day or two. I need to buy some sunscreen before I get to the coast.

I’m moving on tomorrow on an early morning train. I’ll arrive at my destination early afternoon, if all goes well. My plans are evolving. I’ll post details when I get there.


After getting about 20 hours of sleep yesterday and last night, I finally did some sightseeing here in Budapest today. I took a bus tour with a guide, seeing the St. Stephens Basilica and the Parliament building, among other things.

There’s a lot of symbolism expressed with the architecture, so you hear the same numbers over and over again. For example, the domes of both St. Stephens and Parliament are 96 meters high, reflecting the year Hungary was said to be founded, in 896. A lot of construction was started or finished in important anniversary years, especially 1896. Many sights were refurbished for the celebrations in 1996. There are also a lot of things in groups of seven, like statues of seven horses. There were said to be seven chieftains who formed Hungary.

It’s still awfully hot and humid today. It rained for a few minutes, but it really did nothing to improve the weather. Tonight, after the sun goes down, perhaps I’ll get out and walk around some more. Or maybe not. I’m kinda enjoying the down-time.

Splurge in Budapest

After another two border crossings, both of which featured rather impolite policemen who threw the doors open in the middle of the night, I arrived in Budapest this morning. After several nights of rather uncomfortable accommodations, I had decided to splurge, so I booked ahead and had a four-star Western hotel waiting for me when I arrived. I checked in around 10 am, dropped my bags, cranked the air conditioning, took a bath, and fell asleep with the TV on. For almost eight hours. I’m really going to get my money’s worth. Three nights of sleep for the price of two!

I got ripped off on the cab ride from the train station. I’m not sure exactly how much I should have paid, but I probably was overcharged to the tune of $20 or so. I’m almost three weeks into the trip, and it’s the first time I let myself get taken, so although I put up a bit of a fight, I eventually backed down and wrote it off.

Right now I’m in the hotel bar, having a early dinner, or a late lunch, or a very late breakfast. I haven’t eaten in almost 24 hours, so it doesn’t really matter what I call it.

I’m going to stay at the hotel at least until sundown, after which I may walk around the city a little, and possibly hit a bar or club. Tomorrow I’ll try to do some sort of guided bus tour for a few hours before going off on my own. Usually I prefer walking tours, but my feet have had it, and air conditioning sounds nice in this heat. At some point, I’d also like to get a chance to do a thermal bath.

I also need to do some laundry at some point, but I’m not going to let the hotel do it for $2 a sock. I have enough clean t-shirts to make it through the weekend if I don’t exert myself too much.


I’m in Krakow for another day because my train to my next destination doesn’t leave until 10:30 pm. I looked into other ways of traveling or breaking the trip into smaller trips, but nothing seemed reasonable.

I don’t like night trains. They always smell like death and they stop at every station. If you do get to sleep, a conductor wakes you up for your ticket or a policeman wakes you up for your passport. I don’t even try.

I got to see a few more sights in Krakow, but now I’m passing time. I’m done to my last eight zloty, and I need four to get my luggage out of storage at the train station. I don’t feel like exchanging any more, and I’ve already mentioned my ATM woes. I’ll put a nice dinner on a credit card.

The good news is that it has suddenly become cloudy here, and with a light breeze, the weather is almost tolerable. If it rains, I’m likely to strip off my shirt and twirl it over my head like I just kicked the winning goal in a World Cup match.

Polish beer

I’ve had some really good beer here in Poland. I don’t know why no one ever told me about Polish beer, or why it doesn’t find its way to the US. I’ve had Żywiec and Tyskie both in Warsaw and here in Krakow, and right now I’m drinking Okocim. All have been very good. I’ve been enjoying them in moderation, of course.

If you’re beginning to wonder if beer is becoming a theme of this trip, relax. Beer is a theme of every trip I take.

Improvising to deal with language issues in Poland

Until I arrived in Poland, I didn’t really have any language issues. In England, of course, they speak English. In Iceland, the Netherlands, and Denmark, nearly everyone speaks English in addition to his mother tongue, and most signs are also in English. In Germany, this is less the case, but I speak German well enough to get by. However, here in Poland, very few people, except young people, speak English well, and there are very few signs in English. Continue reading Improvising to deal with language issues in Poland

First glance at Warsaw

I arrived in Warsaw about 90 minutes ago, and already I’m out sightseeing. I got a room in a private residence for the night. The owner approached me as I came off the train, walked me to her place, talked my ear off for a while, had a glass of wine with me, and suggested that maybe I was looking for a nice Polish girl at least twice. I escaped for a walk around the city before the sun goes down, since I may move on in the morning. On the other hand, the city seems interesting, so I could stay another night.

I tried getting some money from an ATM here, and after several attempts at several ATMs, I made a very expensive phone call to my credit union. It turns out that there are four countries where members’ cards won’t work, and Poland is one of them. Apparently there has been an unusually high incidence of ATM card fraud here. The rest of my itinerary will be okay. Fortunately I brought some dollars with me. I hope my credit cards work.

Digital camera failure near beginning of trip

Unfortunately, my digital camera died a few days into my trip. I’m not sure what’s wrong with it, but I put four fresh batteries in it, and it still shows low battery and won’t power up. I suspected something was wrong with it before I left and almost bought a new one. If I see one I can afford while I’m traveling, I may splurge.

Otherwise, I’ve been taking pictures with my phone, which may have disappointing results. The only good news is that it will hold about 10,000 photos, so I can attempt to substitute quantity for quality. It also takes video, which has been fun for shooting fountains, waterfalls, and so forth.

I probably won’t put any pictures online until I get home, but if I get an opportunity, I may do it sooner.

Border crossing, en route to Warsaw, Poland

Another border crossing, and two more stamps in my passport. I’m now in Poland, bound for Warsaw. I actually bought a ticket for Krakow, but since there is a connection in Warsaw, and since the second ticket is full-fare, I thought I might stick around Warsaw for a night or two and continue the journey later.

Berlin Hauptbahnhof

Those of you who have been to Berlin before may remember that, unlike most German cities, it didn’t have a “Hauptbahnhof”, a main train station. Most tourists coming from the west arrived at the Berlin Zoologischer Garten station, often simply called “Berlin Zoo”, which was a small, crowded, overworked station in a very seedy part of the former West Berlin. It wasn’t a pleasant welcome, and it was unbefitting a capital city.

Last month, Berlin Hauptbahnhof opened, probably just in time for the World Cup, if I had to guess. This is where I’m sitting now. It’s an impressive structure, with two criss-crossing levels of train tracks and three additional levels of shopping and services. It’s actually a fairly pleasant place to spend a couple hours waiting for a train. I haven’t even seen a drug dealer yet!

Berlin, Germany: Keeping properly hydrated

Having lived in Arizona for almost two years, I should be keenly aware of how important proper hydration is. However, it’s easy to forget here in Europe where the climate is so much milder. Earlier this morning, I bought a 1.5-liter bottle of mineral water while waiting for a train. I was a little surprised that I was able to drink it in about ten minutes. Mostly I’ve been drinking coffee and beer the past couple weeks, and I’ve been sweating a lot as I walk around cities or haul my pack around train stations, so I was probably poorly hydrated. From here on, I’m going to make it a goal to drink three liters of water per day, or more if necessary. I’m just over two weeks into my trip, and it would be a lousy time to get sick.


I’m in Berlin for the night. I’ve been here before, so I’m not really visiting, but I got a great rail fare from Copenhagen to here. I plan to hole up for the night, watch a little CNN, and continue east in the morning. I found a reasonably cheap hotel room in a quiet part of the city, and I’m ready to chill.

Shout out

I wanna give a shout-out to my family. They’re keeping an eye on my place while I’m away and e-mailing me updates from home. They’re also taking care of some small chores for me, and it’s making my trip a lot easier. Thanks, y’all! Peace out.

Beer in Denmark

After a few days in Copenhagen, I can say that I’m absolutely amazed by the quantity of beer people drink here.

I learned during my tour of the Carlsberg brewery that historically the water was unsafe to drink here, so people drank beer instead. During the Renaissance, Danes began importing new foods from all over the world, but they were very salty, so the average person would drink upwards of ten liters of beer a day. As recently as the late 19th century, the daily beer ration per worker at the Carlsberg brewery was four liters per day. That’s over a gallon of beer per worker per day. What a perk!

Nowadays, they still drink quite heavily here. I saw people on the street drinking as early as 10 am. Kids hanging out by the harbor in the evening settled in with entire cases of beer. I assume they were sharing among several friends, but it’s still a lot of beer when you’re hanging out in a public place.

Being one to do as the Romans do, I had an early beer this morning before I boarded the train. I’m heading to Germany today. Does anyone know if they serve beer there?

More Copenhagen

I’m still in Copenhagen, sitting by the one of the canals, enjoying a cold beer in the shade. The weather today is absolutely perfect. The temperature is about 80 degrees, there’s hardly a cloud in the sky, and there’s a nice breeze to keep everything pleasant. I just finished an hour-long harbor cruise, which was delightful.

I did meet up with my friend here yesterday. We got together in the afternoon for drinks and a late lunch. She took me to the part of the city where she lives, where there were no tourists, just locals enjoying a leisurely summer Friday afternoon with friends and beers along the lake. It was very relaxing. In the evening, I saw the Tivoli Gardens for a couple hours, and then turned in. Today, more sightseeing. Tomorrow, I move on.

Clean laundry at last

I arrived in Copenhagen this morning, and after an overnight train, I took a shower and crashed for a couple hours. Then, while wearing the last of my clean clothes and a bathing suit as underwear, I found a laundry near my hotel, which took some doing, because the front desk clerk’s directions were somewhat vague. However, when I found the laundromat, the woman who worked there pointed out that she offered full-service laundry, so for the equivalent of about $11, I let her do my laundry while I got a couple more hours sleep back at the hotel. A few hours later, I picked up a trash bag full of nice, clean, folded laundry.

As I now, I have US dollars, Icelandic kronurs, British pounds, euros, and Danish kroners with me. My document pouch is getting crowded.

On the rails

I’ve had several great days in Amsterdam, but it’s time to move on. I decided to go to Copenhagen next, which is a long train ride from Amsterdam. I bought tickets this morning, and I could have left almost right away, but the idea of arriving in a city at midnight didn’t appeal to me. I’d rather spend the night on the train, so I’m leaving around 7 pm.

Of course, that left the problem of what to do with seven hours. I had lunch. Then I did a canal cruise through old Amsterdam. That was pretty cool. Now I’m just catching up on e-mail and enjoying a pint.

Speaking of pints, I went to “The Heineken Experience” yesterday, which was not unlike an Anheuser-Busch brewery tour, minus the brewery part. It was more of a museum filled with company history and shameless self-promotion …. and free beer, of course. Three half-pints, to be precise. You also got a Heineken souvenir bottle opener when you leave, which was actually a decent gift, since I forgot to bring one along.

While sitting here waiting for time to pass, I finally heard from my friend in Copenhagen … not a moment too soon! She said she’d like to show me around when I get there, so I have something new to look forward to.

More Amsterdam, more rain

Rain seems to follow me everywhere I go. This morning I woke up to thunder and rain pouring down on my little tent. I’ve managed to keep dry, somehow.

Last night was a late night. I was told to check out the red-light district after dark. However, it doesn’t get dark here until around 11 pm. While I was in a bar waiting for it to get dark, I ran into four other backpackers from all over the US, two guys and two girls, plus one guy from Australia. After another round at that bar, we did some bar-hopping together.

Of course, being in the red-light district, we had to have a look at the offerings in the windows. There seems to be something for every taste there. All the guys in the group thought the girl with the glasses was quite hot. At first I thought maybe it was just me because, well, I’ve got a thing for glasses. It appeared that the more attractive girls worked the main street, and as you got further away, they became, shall we say, uglier.

One of the girls in our little group thought we should all go see a sex show, so we found one and went inside for a half-hour. I think we were all a little disappointed. I think I had an image in my mind of Amsterdam before I got here, and so it was a letdown to discover it isn’t really as depraved as I thought it would be.

I had some city plans for today, but I’m going to wait for the rain to let up a little, and maybe get a little more sleep. I also have a critical laundry shortage, so I need to do some wash soon. I’m down to my last pair of undies, and they’re starting to get ripe.

Amsterdam: Arrival and camping

Just a quick update. I’m in Amsterdam, and I’m camping once again. I arrived Saturday night very late, so I had to spend one night in a hotel, but I’ll spend three nights at the campground. The campground is just three bus stops from the central train station, so it’s in a really great location. Continue reading Amsterdam: Arrival and camping

Docked in Holland

It’s just now midnight, and I’m safely in Holland. We docked in a place called Hoek von Holland. It took less than five minutes to disembark and clear passport control. Now I have to wait a half-hour for my train. They let you buy train tickets on the ship, which is really cool.

Unfortunately, the station is really empty. There are vending machines, but I have no change in euros, and there are no attendants at this hour. I hope the train has a cafe, but I’ll bet it doesn’t.

Taking the Stena HSS Discovery from Harwich, England, to Hoek von Holland

I’m now aboard the Stena HSS Discovery. This is weird. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but it’s like a floating Las Vegas casino. Okay, maybe an off-Strip one, but you get the idea. There are movie theaters showing first-run movies, bars, restaurants, cafes, and casino games.

The Stena HSS Discovery, sailing from Harwich in England to Hoek von Holland.
The Stena HSS Discovery, sailing from Harwich in England to Hoek von Holland.

This vessel carries vehicles, too, and truckers even have their own lounge. My bags were checked, like on a plane, so all I have to deal with is my small backpack as I wander around.

London, part two

I met my friend and two of his friends at 6 yesterday evening at an incredibly trendy sushi place near St. James Park called Nobu. His friends were great. I liked them immediately.

I like sushi, but I had only had it once before, so I had no idea what to order. Fortunately, the way these guys eat sushi is to order a bunch of stuff, put it in the middle of the table, and everybody picks. Works for me! Turns out I liked everything.

After dinner we went to a bar called Butterfly where we met some of my new friend’s coworkers. More drinking. Then to a club. More drinking. I think I danced a bit. Around 12:20 in the morning, someone reminded me I have to catch the last Tube to the airport where I was spending the night. After beer, champagne, sake, more beer, wine, more beer, more wine, and much more beer, I’m not sure how I found the airport, much less my hotel, but I did have enough sense to hail a cab at the airport rather than try to navigate the shuttles.

I slept really well again last night.

This morning, after breakfast and a shower, I tried several more times unsuccessfully to reach my other friend. London is just too expensive a place to hang out indefinitely, so I hopped a train.

I’m sitting at the ferry terminal in Harwich, which apparently is pronounced Heh-rich, waiting for the 7:20 sailing to Holland. The trip is about 3 hours, 35 minutes, so before midnight, if all goes well, I’ll have finally set foot on the European continent. I’ve never been on a ferry before, so I’m quite excited.

London, part one

After about a 44-hour whirlwind through London, I’m on a train to Harwich, on the coast of England, where I hope to catch a ferry to the Netherlands either tonight or tomorrow morning.

When I arrived at Heathrow Thursday evening, I had been thinking I would head for one of the campgrounds on the outskirts of the city, since I had a tent already. However, I arrived about an hour later than scheduled, and I was exhausted from five days with little more than one- and two-hour naps, so I wasn’t relishing the idea of spending another hour or more on a train to pitch a tent in the dark. So I booked a hotel at Heathrow. Accommodations at the airport come in two types: outrageously expensive and frighteningly expensive. I chose outrage over fear.

It turns out the place I booked, the Marriott London Heathrow, had only opened five weeks earlier, and it was beautiful. I took a very long shower, had two pints in the hotel bar, and went to sleep. And I slept. And slept. Straight through until my alarm at 10. I guess maybe I was tired.

After breakfast, I decided that since I hadn’t gotten in touch with any of my friends in London at that point, I decided that it was just as good a place as any to spend the night again, so I extended my reservation. Then I went into the city for the day.

I took the Underground to Leicester Square, which was a good central spot for seeing a number of sights in London. I saw St. James Park, Buckingham Palace, Parliament, and so on. In the meantime, I managed to get in touch with a college classmate who lives in London, and we set up a time and place to meet.

Actually, I’m going to stop here for now and catch up later. I’m feeling a little sleepy. Last night was a little rough.


It’s hard to believe I would have a sunburn after spending three days in a place called Iceland, especially after all the rain I’ve told you about, but I managed to burn my face a bit while I was at the Blue Lagoon today. However, the burn is hardly noticeable, because I haven’t shaven since I left Phoenix.

Reykjavik, Iceland: Still raining

Well, it’s been raining since about eight hours after I arrived in Reykjavik Monday morning, and it’s still coming down. The forecast is that it will end tomorrow morning. Just in time for me to leave. Somehow I managed to stay dry again last night. Perhaps I remember more from Boy Scouts than I realize. Continue reading Reykjavik, Iceland: Still raining

Quick follow up

As it turned out, we weren’t on the tarmac long, and within a few minutes, I was in the terminal and at the gate for my connecting flight. The airport at Minneapolis is very well organized, and even though my connecting gate was quite far away, I was able to get there in about fifteen minutes and without a security checkpoint.

I must say, I saw the flight attendants walk by, and this flight must have one of the attractive cabin crews I’ve ever seen. They give Air France a run for their money.

Unfortunately, the reason I have time for this post is that there is a mechanical problem with the aircraft. The problem is with the fuel gauges, so they have to dipstick the tanks.

Well, as I was typing, they decided to start boarding, so that’s all for now.

Summer fun begins

At last, my voyage is underway. A friend had breakfast with me, and then she gave me a ride to the airport. For a while, I wasn’t sure I was going to get out of Phoenix. When I checked in at the airport, I was given a boarding pass to clear security, but with no seat assignment because the flight was oversold. I was biting my nails until a few minutes before the flight departed, when I finally got a new boarding pass. After a very rough flight, I’m now in Minneapolis, sitting in the plane waiting for our gate to be free, wondering if I’ll make my connection. I’ll let you all know how it goes.

Preparing for my summer fun in Europe

In my recent posts, I’ve hinted I’m doing some traveling this summer. I won’t leave you in the dark any longer. In the next couple weeks, I’m leaving for a month-and-a-half-long backpacking trip through Europe.

Yes, Europe again. Yes, I have the bug, and I have it bad.

On my way to Europe, I’m spending a few nights in Iceland, which I’ve been wanting to see for years. There’s 24-hour daylight there this time of year, and I’m very curious to experience it, as well as taking part in Reykjavik’s infamous nightlife.

Although I have usually chosen Paris as my gateway to Europe, I’m flying to London this time to change things up. From London, I plan to travel by rail and ferry to Amsterdam, which is another place I’ve wanted to see for years.

From there, it becomes a little vague. I expect to visit Copenhagen, several cities in Germany and Austria, and Budapest and Bucharest before traveling west again toward France. Italy, Switzerland, and Spain are maybes. I plan to see a lot of places I’ve skipped on past trips, but I’ll also go back to some favorite places, like Montpellier.

As a side-trip, I’m thinking of making a pilgrimage to the Bushmills distillery in Ireland. We’ll see!

I’ll be filling in a lot of the details as I go. I expect to meet up with friends occasionally while I’m there, so some of my itinerary will depend on their schedules.

I’ll definitely be blogging my travels, so this is the place to get the latest scoop. If you want to keep up-to-date, consider snagging an RSS feed!

Finally, if any of you would like to meet up with me at some point during my journey or share a stretch of the trail, please send me an e-mail. Soon.

Feedback from a correspondent about Odyssea in Montpellier

Many of you know I lived in Montpellier, France, for about a year. I loved being there, and I had a great experience studying there. From time to time, I’m asked to provide a reference to prospective students of the school where I studied, and I’m always happy to do so. Last summer, a young woman called me out of the blue, and we spent a half-hour or so on the phone talking about Montpellier. Continue reading Feedback from a correspondent about Odyssea in Montpellier