By Beryl Darrah
WEDNESDAY 7 June 1995
How did all of this get started anyway? A trip to Europe would be nice--but. Sure I told Sebastian that I would come to Germany to see him, but wasn't I just being polite? Too polite, I guess, because I already had my ticket and I was headed for Germany. I had wanted make the trip ever since Sebastian left, but it never seemed possible. Mainly, there was Abby to take care of. I felt that I couldn't go off and leave her home. Then there was the issue of money. But that could be worked out. Then there was the problem of simply doing it.
At some point I seemed to definitely make up my mind and from then on, there were few thoughts of ever turning back. Well, maybe after Cindy Welborn, my travel agent, told me it would cost over one thousand dollars. That's a lot of money. But after she called and told me that she could get me a ticket for $750, the course was set. Replacing my expired passport was the next problem. I picked up application forms at the main post office in Topeka on a rainy Saturday morning, although nobody was there to process the application. So the next Saturday morning, I took my photos (courtesy of Kinkos), my TWO birth certificates, my checkbook (for the $60 fee), and my expired passport to the Gage Center Post Office to file for my passport. It turned out that the most important thing I had with me that morning was my expired passport. Neither of my two birth certificates were acceptable. (I don't know why they were accepted when I got my passport thirty years ago.) Then there was the matter of getting an International Drivers License and a Youth Hostel Card. With a little time and money, both of these were a formality. Driver license from the AAA in Topeka, and a Youth Hostel card from somewhere in Washington D. C.
So here we are getting ready to leave on Wednesday, 7 June. I spent a minimum of time packing a large suitcase and two smaller bags that I bought especially for this trip. My main concern was going off and leaving Abby. Last night I sat down and started typing a list of things I wanted Brett and Heather to do for her while I was gone. But on this night when I sat down to finish the list, the computer would not boot up. This did wonders for my disposition and for my peace of mind. But I was too far into this to back out now.
Brett Watson and Heather Michalk showed up late to stay all night and to take me to the airport on Wednesday morning. They were tired and not terribly concerned about my concerns. "Yeah, yeah." "O.K." "Don't worry" Then they were off to bed, while I spent a few minutes talking to Abby---who I suspect had some suspicion that something bad was about to happen.
I got up at 0630 and did some last minute packing. I woke Brett and Heather up at 0800. Heather left almost immediately because she had to go to work. Around 0900 Brett and I left for KCI in my pickup (so Brett could swing through Lawrence and pick up some stuff for his dad) and got there about 10:15. There would be plenty of time, however, because the plane was about an hour behind schedule, and instead of taking off at 11:30, it was 12:30 before we actually left. I told Brett to go on. There was nothing he could do hanging around the airport.
I had a window seat from Kansas City to Newark, although there was very little to see during the three hour flight. We landed in Newark around 3:30 (CST), but it was 4:30 local time, which cut the waiting time down to three and a half hours instead of the four and a half that I had anticipated. It all went pretty well, much faster that I had imagined. I read my book, The Other Mrs. Kennedy, worked a crossword puzzle in Country Weekly magazine, and walked around until the plane was ready to take off.
The plane was delayed for about 30 minutes because the front windshield in the plane had to be replaced. Most of the passengers sat and watched them do the repair work right outside the window of the waiting area. That's just what everyone wanted to see---an airplane with defective windshields.
The airplane, a DC-40, was large----two seats by each window and five seats across the center. I had a right aisle seat in the center. The flight, on Continental Airlines, was fairly uneventful----just terribly long. About seven hours, in fact. I couldn't do any visiting with my neighbors, because they were Germans returning home from a trip to the U.S. The plane was booked full: Germans returning home and a large tour group traveling with Holiday Tours. I think the German group must have been on a tour, too, because most of the people seemed to know each other. But between reading, sleeping, eating, watching a movie (Boys on the Side), and watching the screen that showed time, altitude, temperature, speed, departure and arrival times, time elapsed, etc, along with a map charting the plane's progress, we finally arrived in Germany. One of the really weird things about the flight was the amount of darkness that we had. Since we were flying east, it got dark almost immediately, but the sun started coming up again around 0200 (CST) which I kept my watch set on until I arrived in Germany. Sleeping was almost impossible. A snack was served shortly after the plane took off. Dinner was served at 10:00; the movie started at midnight; another snack (maybe it was breakfast) was served around 0400. This is not to mention the fact that my seat would only recline back partway and that the noise level was pretty high, and people were constantly climbing over me to get to the restroom.
All in all, it was a good flight and we were well cared for. I guess they can't help it if it takes seven hours to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. The German people who sat in the same row as I did were nice, too, even though we were not able to talk to each other. And I am sure that they couldn't help the fact they had to go the restroom every half hour.
THURSDAY, 8 June 1995
After seven hours in the air, around 11:00 German time, the plane landed at the Frankfurt Airport. The airport at Frankfurt is very large and busy (the second largest in Europe and the largest on the European mainland)---maybe not as busy as O'Hare Field in Chicago or Los Angeles International, but nevertheless it is a huge and confusing place, built on multiple levels. By following the crowd and by reading the English "sub-titles", I was able to make my way through the passport checkpoint and the customs check. Although I was a little worried about each of them, neither of them was any big deal. Both of them seemed to be a routine formality. This was a big relief. The next question was, "Where do I find Sebastian?" Again, I followed the crowd and the arrows, and to my relief, there he was waiting as soon as I opened the door to the airport waiting room.
What a welcome sight! He looked just like I remembered him. His parents were there, too, and I met them for the first time. Strange. Sebastian and his parents. I had wondered for two years what they looked like (even though I had seen pictures of them) and how Sebastian would look with them. Sebastian's parents had always seemed very abstract to me, and now here we were together. They turned out to be very nice people. They didn't say much during the ride to Gottingen, Sebastian's home town, mostly, I suspect, because they were afraid to try their English. But, just as I had expected both of them are very nice, intelligent, and hospitable people.
After finding our way out of the airport and to the parking garage where the car, a grey Peugeot, was parked, we began the two hour drive north to Gottingen. This was my first taste of Germany and I could tell immediately that this was not Kansas. Even though we were on a busy four-lane highway, driving on the right hand side of the road; even though there were modern cars and trucks speeding along, the difference was apparent. Villages with red tile roofs dotted the countryside---not just every ten or fifteen miles, but everywhere. Church steeples replaced grain elevators and water towers as the focal points of these villages. And, then there were the signs, written in a language I didn't understand. Yes, I was finally in Germany.
Sebastian’s home is located on Hauptstr., a busy street leading into Gottingen from the south. In terms of busy streets in the U. S., it is very narrow and quite winding. Sebastian's apartment house is located on the west side of Hapupstr., sort of on the southwest corner of another intersecting street. It is covered with yellow stucco, like countless other buildings in Germany. The garage for their car is located across Hauptstr., almost directly across from their house.
I guess to my surprise, their apartment looked much like any home in the U. S. Up one flight of stairs, to the left, the door opened into a sort of foyer or entryway. To the right were two doors. One led into the bathroom, and the other led into the kitchen/dining room area. Off that area to the west was Sebastian's parents' bedroom. Straight ahead was a balcony that overlooked the street below. Around the corner to the left from the entryway was Sebastian's bedroom. Its north windows open to the street which runs east-west past their house and connects with Hauptstr. It is a fairly large room with his bed and closet; stereo equipment; book shelves; and some painting equipment. Back to the entryway, slightly to the right and through another door is the living room with the guest room off to the south. Throughout the house, there are many interesting art objects, pictures, souvenirs, and memorabilia. In fact, I felt quite at home because it reminded me a lot of my own house. I slept in the guest room, whose east window opened onto the busy Hauptstr. The house was friendly and hospitable; able to be lived in and enjoyed. I hoped that Sebastian had found mine to be similar.
In the afternoon, Sebastian and I caught a ride downtown with his parents to a large public square. Since Sebastian had sent me some slides of his hometown earlier, I was not totally surprised by what I encountered. But it was strange seeing everything written in German and having no idea of what the buildings were, except for what I could figure out by looking in the windows. I was also struck by the design of many of the buildings---large cross timbers which seemed to form a sort of grid, filled in with yellow or colored stucco. It all appeared to be very quaint, almost transporting me back to another day and age long ago.
As we walked along, I looked at the bakeries, the banks, the book stores, the music stores, and the sidewalk cafes. Especially the bakeries and the sidewalk cafes. Those were what gave the town its initial distinctive look, its European look, and a certain charm that does not exist in U. S. cities of this size. I felt vaguely out of place in this exotic setting. We looked at churches that were built before the American continent was even discovered. We walked though the narrow brick and cobblestone streets as I snapped a few pictures of the modern day scenes being played on the time worn stage in front of me.
I wanted to go inside some of the old churches, built between 1300 and 1700, but none of them were open. I changed some money in one of the local banks---$120 for 160 DM. We sat in a sidewalk cafe and drank some cappuccino and ate some ice cream before catching a bus back to Sebastian's house.
That evening for dinner I was able to choose from a large (to me, at least) assortment of cheese, a variety of sliced meat, and bread. Not just bread, but LOTS of bread. And good bread. I decided then that I could probably survive most of my stay in Europe eating just bread. And, of course, there was beer---German beer. Normally, this is not part of my meal, but in Germany beer and wine seem to be served as an integral part of the meal. The meal was good, it was filling, and it was an indication of many more meals to follow.
During supper we (well, Sebastian and his parents) talked about Paris and what to see while we were there. After we had eaten, we drove to a park in what I think was the west part of Gottingen and took a stroll around a large lake. The temperature was starting to cool off and the sun was starting to sink in the west, although it would be another hour or so before the sun would actually set in the west. Because Gottingen in further north than Valley Falls, darkness did not truly set in until well after ten o'clock, just another one of those odd things that made life interesting.
Back home, we went into Sebastian's room where we watched Sebastian's pictures of his trip to Africa and his climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro. Unfortunately, I don't seem to recall much about them. I was tired; I felt beat. I think I fell asleep almost as soon as the lights were turned out. Ten o'clock was bedtime, and after 36 hours, more or less, with no sleep, it was a welcome time of the day.
FRIDAY 9 June 1995
I woke up around 8:00 to my first full day in Gottingen. And this was a big day in Sebastian's life: his high school graduation day. I don't know about him, but I was pretty excited about it and looked forward to attending, although I knew I wouldn't understand much of what was going on. Sometime in mid morning, we walked the 10 or 12 minute walk to the high school for the ceremony. Judging by the many graduations I have attended in the U. S., I was expecting to go to the gym to sit with several hundred other people straining to hear what was going on while dozens of little kids ran up and down the bleachers, and parents and relatives clomped in and out in a steady stream going to and from the rest rooms.
But, to my surprise, the ceremony was held in the lunch room, with seemingly only the parents in attendance. There were very few kids around, and those who were there sat silent and unnoticed. After some remarks by the superintendent of schools and several songs---all in English---and a few short speeches by some students, diplomas were presented to the graduating class by their mentors (or advisors). Thus, small groups of students came to the front to be recognized and also presented with a small gift. There were no caps and gowns, no lengthy speeches, no movies of baby pictures, no Pomp and Circumstance. Although the proceedings lasted for more than an hour, it all appeared to be dignified, yet quite informal. I suppose the part that I liked the most was the dignity of the event. No crying babies, no kids running around, no relatives walking in and out. A short reception followed the graduation exercise at which (real) champagne was served. This was my first clue to even more surprising things to come later that evening.
In the afternoon, after lunch, we drove to a village about 12 miles from Gottingen to explore an ancient castle.
We walked about a quarter mile up a path, past an old church with sheep grazing in the yard, to the massive stone fortress built around 1000 A.D. and added onto in 1200 A.D. Currently under renovation, the major part of it was still as it was hundreds of years ago. We walked up narrow, winding stairways to look at the towers with narrow slots used for weapons. From the top floor, we looked out around the surrounding country side. More villages with the ever present steeples lay nestled in the peaceful fields and thick green forests shaped the landscape stretching to the horizon.
From this vantage point, we could see the path which has been carved through the forests and the farmland by the Communists to separate West Germany from East Germany. For two or three decades strands of barbed wire lined this dividing line creating a barrier that divided a nation. Guard towers and land mines made the barrier impenetrable, making a few feet of ground as distant as a different world. But all of that is gone now, and in time, nature will gradually erase any visible reminder of these man-made obstacles.
On the way back to Sebastian's house, we stopped in a nearby village so Sebastian's dad could leave his bicycle at a friend's house. On Saturday, he would participate in a 219 km bike race.---that's about 175 miles and that's a long ways.
After we got back to Sebastian's house, we took a bus downtown and walked around what used to be the "old city". This walk consisted mainly of following portions of the old wall that used to surround the city. Along the way, we past the building where Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor, lived when he was student at Gottingen University, where our walk eventually led us. Sebastian explained that most universities are dedicated to teaching only a few subjects, unlike universities in the United States where students are offered a wide range of academic and vocational opportunities. Gottingen University specializes in the teaching of mathematics and science to a student population of approximately 30,000, a number slightly larger than the University of Kansas. In contrast to K. U., where the entire university is concentrated on a "campus", the University of Gottingen is located in buildings spread around the city. We did, however, walk though a gate which was the historic entrance to the University and looked briefly at the university library before leaving the campus.
We walked around the streets of the city some more, past the mini-skyscraper city hall building, through the downtown area to the statue of the Goose Maiden in front of the old city hall building, where several punks with hair dyed in bright red, blue, purple, green, etc. were hanging out. I wanted to take a picture of them, but not wanting to stir up any sort of trouble, I decided not to. We again checked out a couple of the old churches, but again they were closed. One of our last stops was at the train station---actually, I think we were looking for a rest room. After walking up to the loading platform to see a couple of the modern, high-speed electric trains arrive and depart, we stopped and drank coffee in one of the many sidewalk cafes.
One fashion statement definitely in vogue with German women is red hair. There can't be that many natural red haired women concentrated on one spot on the earth. This leads to the inescapable conclusion that red hair dye must be a hot item in Germany these days. I was fooled at first, but upon closer (but subtle) examination, it became apparent that much of the red hair is merely fashion and not a natural phenomenon.
After supper, we went to Sebastian's graduation party. It was unlike anything that I have experienced, very German---or maybe very European---and interesting, to say the least. I arrived with Sebastian's parents as the party was beginning to get underway. We were seated with some of their friends---actually the parents of Nicholas Hartmann. A four piece jazz band---a very good jazz band---was furnishing the entertainment for the adults as they sat at tables in the school cafeteria. Most of the students were in the hallway listening to recorded music. Sebastian's parents soon left to visit other friends and to mingle with the crowd and I was left at the table alone with Nicholas's parents and kid sister. It was awkward at first, but when they discovered that I could actually understand most of their English, they loosened up and we sat drinking beer and trying to communicate. During the course of the evening, with the jazz band playing American jazz and Dixieland standards, I sat at my table, drinking beer with the rest of the parents, students, teachers and friends, talking to Nicholas's father and the other parents who would drop by out of either courtesy or curiosity to say a few words to me. Nicholas's little sister, who will be a sixth grader, told me that she had been studying English for two years (I think) and that I was the first American she had talked to. She did a good job.
Kurosch's father sat at the table for quite some time, until he had to leave in order to catch the last bus home, and talked about a variety of things. Kurosch stopped a couple times, as did Nicholas and maybe Marcus, to talk briefly before rejoining their friends in the hallway. About 11:45, Sebastian's mother returned to the table as everyone sort of started to drift away. The students and many teachers were still going strong, still drinking beer and still listening to music in the hallways.
I told Sebastian later it seemed almost unreal. I had spend several hours helping to rewrite our own school district drug and alcohol policy, strengthening it and making the consequences tougher. And in Germany, in Sebastian's high school, all of our rules were being broken---and under the sponsorship of the school itself. How strange.
Sebastian's mother and I walked back to the apartment---his dad had already gone back so he could get some sleep before his bike race---and got there about midnight. We sat and talked for a few minutes and I went to bed, again very tired and ready to fall asleep.
SATURDAY 10 June 1995
Late to bed, late to rise. I didn't get up until around 9:00. Sebastian's dad had already left hours before for his bike race and it was so quiet that I didn't think anyone else was up. I suppose Sebastian's mother had been up for quite some time, but she had closed the door to the living room and the door to the kitchen so I could not hear her. Sebastian had not gotten up yet, either. He said that he had gotten home about 0100, which wasn't very long after I had gone to bed, but I didn't hear him.
This was the last full day that I spent in Gottingen, and it was primarily a day of sightseeing around Gottingen. After breakfast---rolls, coffee, and cheese---we took the car around town to see some of the things that we had missed the two previous days. Our first stop was the hospital where Sebastian's mother works. It is a large, sprawling complex composing most of a city block. The hospital is operated by the university, and thus is dedicated to research as well as treatment. Our visit was limited to a quick look at the public areas in the lobby area.
After leaving the hospital, we drove to a city park where Sebastian once came to play when he was a young child. Since it was still fairly early in the morning and cool enough to wear a jacket, there were not many people in the park---just a few people walking their dogs. Of all the areas of the city that I saw, this was the only area which was made up predominately of single family homes. Sebastian told me that many professional people such as doctors and attorneys live in this section of the city. These large homes are a relatively uncommon sight in comparison with the overwhelming number of apartment buildings which house most of the town's residents. Someone told me that upwards to 80-85 percent of the people live in apartment buildings.
After leaving the park, we parked the car and continued our journey on foot. We walked through the Saturday morning marketplace on our way downtown so Sebastian could buy some supplies he needed for the trip. By this time, the streets and plazas of downtown were beginning to fill up with people. Just like the past couple days, there were entertainers performing in the downtown streets, hoping that passers-by would give them a few coins for their efforts. One group who was entertaining in front of the Old City Hall near the Goose Maiden statue, was very good. They were collecting money for some charitable cause. The clarinet player was talented enough to play in a major symphony orchestra. I would have been content to sit down (or even stand up) and listen to him for hours. But the push of the crowd made standing still for very long inadvisable. Along the way, there were other less talented groups and individuals performing, also.
As one walks along the sidewalks and streets---and the two are often the same---a common hazard for the unwary and the uninformed is bicycle riders. Bicycles are a common method of transportation, not only in Gottingen, but in many European towns. And they can be a real nuisance (even a danger) to a person who is not accustomed to having bicycles driving on the sidewalk. In the U. S., the law says that bicycles are moving vehicles and they must drive in the streets with other moving vehicles and obey the same traffic laws as all other moving vehicles, while sidewalks are for pedestrians (who cannot walk in the streets.) We feel safe from ANY moving vehicle while we are walking on a sidewalk, just as vehicles are free from worry about people walking down busy streets.
In Europe, a section of the sidewalk is usually designated as a bike path, and the bike riders can become very impatient and annoyed with people who violate this space. It took me quite some time before I could remember that bicycles are just another form of pedestrian and could (and probably would) sneak upon me with little or no warning. Even though it was frustrating and extremely annoying to me, it is simply the "way things are done" and the only thing to do was to try and adjust to it. It seems that a more common sense solution would have been to locate the bicycle lanes at the edge of the streets, on the inside lane next to the curbs. But, they didn't ask me for my advice.
By the time we had started back to the car, the market place was beginning to close down. We stopped and drank some coffee in a street cafe in the marketplace while watching the vendors close up their shops for another week. On our way out of the market street, Sebastian stopped and bought some Persian candy, before we headed back home for lunch.
After lunch, we took a bus back downtown. By this time, the stores were closed and the streets were much less crowded than they were in the morning. Whereas in the United States Saturday afternoon and evening are probably the busiest shopping times of the week, the stores in Germany close around noon on Saturday and remain closed until Monday morning. There are some exceptions, of course, like eating establishments, bars, and service stations; but generally speaking, everything else is closed. This, Sebastian told me, is not completely voluntary, but the result of government legislation which mandates that businesses be closed during that period of time. Having not grown up in such a restrictive environment, and being one of those people who, by necessity, must do the bulk of shopping on Saturday afternoon, I viewed the closing of the stores as being inconvenient and unnecessary, and as an unwelcome intrusion by the government into the free enterprise and into the personal lives of the people. But, this is just another cultural difference that makes life interesting while visiting in a foreign country.
While in the downtown area, we stopped first at Marcus's apartment, located on an upper floor of a retail building in the center of Gottingen. Then we proceeded to one of the churches whose tower happened to be open on that afternoon. We climbed the steep, narrow steps to the top of the tower where I was able to look out over the city of Gottingen, and even into the territory beyond.
To the northeast was some new construction; to the west lay the railroad station; to the south, where Sebastian's house is located is the towering new city hall building; and to the north was a TV tower in the distance and also the university library.
I bought a souvenir cup at the gift shop in the old city hall building. We lingered briefly to drink a cup of coffee before walking through the nearly deserted streets to a bus stop for the ride back to the apartment.
Shortly after we got home, Kurosch (Khansari) stopped by for a short visit. The visit with him was fun, interesting, and just a little spooky. While I was in the process of choosing my first exchange student, I narrowed my choices down to two students---Sebastian and Kurosch. At the time, I was aware only that they both came from Germany. It was only as time went by and as I heard Sebastian talking to him on the telephone that I finally began to put the pieces together. I began to first suspect when Sebastian told me that Kurosch's father was Persian (from Iran) and that his mother was German. One day I dug out the old resumes that I had kept and confirmed that my suspicion was correct. At the time, I dismissed the matter from my mind, never thinking that I would ever meet him.
But now, here I was sitting across from him in Sebastian's living room, looking into his brown eyes and talking to him. I couldn't escape thinking, "What if I would had chosen him instead of Sebastian?" Quite possibly, he would have been my exchange student for nine months and I would have been visiting him instead of Sebastian. I was impressed by Kurosch. He was calm; he looked straight at me when he talked; he answered questions and asked questions like he was really interested. He had a good sense of humor and he smiled a lot. I really don't remember why I made the choice that I made the evening Marie Plensky, from EF, came to my house. It would have worked out well either way. But, I am glad that I made the choice that I made that night. I have no second thoughts; no "What if's?", no regrets. Sebastian was the best choice for me at the time, and he will be the one against whom all other exchange students will be judged.
That afternoon will certainly stand out in my memory as one of the most pleasant of coincidences that I have encountered in recent years.
Some friends of Sebastian's parents who are living in the United States and are teaching math at Louisiana State University also stopped by for a visit that afternoon.
Sebastian's mother prepared a large, delicious meal for supper that evening. It consisted of (and I list these in no particular order) olives, dried tomatoes, tuna with olives, onion and peppers, beef, salad, and bread. It was delicious, and I hope very German. The only problem concerning the meal was that Sebastian's dad had not gotten home yet, and after some waiting, we went ahead and ate the first part of the meal without him. He arrived home minutes later, though, and was able to finish the meal with us. He also brought me a shirt that he picked up at his bike race.
Later, after supper, we looked at the slides Sebastian had taken on our trip to the West Coast while he was living at my house. I think I stayed awake for this presentation.
SUNDAY 11 June 1995
This was the last morning I spent in Gottingen. I was somewhat disappointed. I would like to have come back for a couple days before I left, but that was not in the plans. Kurosch's dad had planned to invite us to their house for dinner when we returned. Joan Baez was giving a concert in Gottingen on the day before I left Germany I would like to have taken one last look around the town before I left. But those things were not to be.
After getting up around 8:30 and eating breakfast, both Sebastian and I did some last minute packing. I took some pictures of Sebastian with his parents; we said some lingering good-byes, and then Sebastian and I drove away, as I waved some more good-byes, a little sad that I did not have the time to get better acquainted with Sebastian's parents. But I had enjoyed my short stay. They had made me feel welcome, like part of the family. I felt good because I certainly did not want to be an inconvenience, and I didn't want to be subjected to an artificial life style---one enacted only for my benefit. I felt comfortable during my entire visit and enjoyed the experience of how a German family lives.
It was about 11:30 when we stopped to fill the car with gas (at over $4.00 per gallon) and then headed to the north on the highway leading out of Gottingen. After some miles, we curved back to the east and headed for Berlin, our next destination. Probably the most interesting sights I saw during the three hour drive were the old East German border checkpoints and the ever visible line carved though the countryside where the border between East and West Germany had once been. Of course, there were the multitude of small villages strewn about the country side, each with its watchful church steeple.
Sebastian and I spent time catching up on old news and gossip, as well as talking about the scenery as it passed us by.
Berlin did not prove to be as much of a challenge as I had expected. I suspect that Sebastian was a little bit nervous as we approached the city from the south. But after stopping briefly to consult the map, Sebastian made all the right turns and we found ourselves driving down a wide avenue in the midst of Berlin. At the time, I was too nervous (and lost) to even notice where we were going. I certainly didn't know where we were going. I had never seen anything like it before, and I certainly could not read the signs. But later, this street would become my most lasting impression of Berlin.
We found the Berlin Youth Hostel with a minimum of difficulty. If was different from what I had expected. Much larger, much more modern. It turned out to be a large hotel-like building with about 450 beds in a dorm like setting. Our room had eight beds, and there were probably five or six such rooms on our floor. Our floor, by the way, was the fourth floor, which meant that we had to carry our luggage up four flights of stairs. We each had a locker in which we could secure our belongings. There was one shower to serve everyone on our floor. This did not turn out to be the problem I had anticipated because I don't think very many of the guys even bothered to take a shower anyway.
The Youth Hostel was a busy, bustling place with people of many nationalities, races, and ages coming and going, milling around, checking in, checking out, running around, sitting around in the lounge areas, talking, laughing, shouting, playing ping-pong (Why do you go to Berlin to play ping-pong?), playing volleyball (Why would you go anywhere to play volleyball?), trying to impress each other---some of them even acted like they might want to see a little bit of Berlin.
Sebastian and I were in that group. We had no sooner checked in and locked up our belongings, than we decided to go out and explore a little bit of the city. We bought a three day pass for two persons for the subway and found ourselves in the middle of downtown Berlin on the Kurfurstendamm, the wide, fashionable avenue that runs in a general east-west direction through Berlin. As I walked out of the subway station and out into the city, there it lay before me---the street we had driven down earlier in the day, the street that would become the focal point of our stay in Berlin. It was magnificent. A wide, tree-lined avenue, a busy thoroughfare, wide sidewalks, fashionable shops, chic bars and nightclubs, casual sidewalk cafes, along side corporate offices for such household names as Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Volkswagen.
Just a short walk from the subway station is the striking remains of the bombed-out Kaiser Wilhelm Church, left standing as a memorial. Along side the ruins is a modernistic tower, topped with a cross, and constructed with thousands of plates of stained glass. On the other side is a companion structure, a chapel also constructed of an uncountable number of stained glass windows. Each building is built in simple rectangle form, and derives it beauty from the light that plays on the wall of blue and red glass. At night the building take on an almost eerie quality from soft light which illuminates from within.
We walked around a lot that evening---and so did hundreds of other people. The Kurfurstendamm is Berlin's street for strolling. At the plaza near the Europa Center, a huge shopping complex near the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial, street entertainers were showcasing their talent near a large Oriental style fountain. In the sidewalk cafes, people sat sipping beer and coffee while they talked or watched the street scene in front of them. Cafes and bars were packed. Couples, both young and old, walked aimlessly hand-in-hand; young people with backpacks strode purposely toward somewhere; teenagers congregated in clusters; others looked in the store windows. Many people licked ice cream cones as they walked; some ate pastries. At the 10:00 hour, it was still light; but even as the hour grew late and darkness took over, the activity did not subside. It was a crisp, cool evening; an evening made for walking.
Sebastian and I sat in a couple sidewalk cafes and watched the people passing by before finding a quiet cafe on a side street in which to eat supper. After we finished our meal, we sat in a corner cafe and watched as a hooker tried to pick up men on the corner opposite us. I was tempted to ask her how much she was charging, but, that, of course, was only wishful thinking. Instead we took the subway back to Potsdamer Str, about a ten minute walk from the Youth Hostel. This three or four block area would become known as "our neighborhood" in the subsequent two days because we walked it so often that it became a comfortingly familiar sight. It was a few blocks of sidewalk markets, small groceries stores, an ice cream shop, several small local bars and bakeries, the bank we used to get money, and one obviously important theater, judging from the appearance of its clientele and their automobiles.
As we approached the Youth Hostel that night, one or two other women were "working" the nearby side street in search of male customers. We passed up that chance, too.
Our first day in Berlin had just about come to an end. I had crossed from West Germany into East Germany; I had gotten my first glimpse of an historic city; I had taken my first subway ride; and now I was about to sleep in my first Youth Hostel.
MONDAY 12 June 1995
Last night wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. My worst fear was that we would be in the same room with a bunch of noisy, rude kids. But as it turned out, they were very considerate. Even though I did wake up when they came in, they were obviously doing their best to be quiet and not to disturb those of us who had already gone to bed. Even the shower worked out better than I had dared to hope. Nobody seemed to be using it when Sebastian and I got up, so we were able to take showers without any waiting. And the water was actually hot.
Breakfast was included in the price of the room. Breakfast consisted of rolls, bread, cheese, sliced meat, tangerines, and coffee. Not the most imaginative breakfast, but we ate plenty of it so we would not be hungry for a while.
We climbed back to the fourth floor, got our cameras, and started out for our first full day in Berlin. We took the ten minute walk through "the neighborhood" to the subway station and rode it into the city center. Subways in Berlin are quick and efficient. The underground stations were relatively clean and apparently safe, too. It is a no nonsense method of getting around. The subway arrives, it stops briefly, and then it take off again. There is no lingering; there is no interaction with drivers or conductors, except for the two or three times that we were checked to make sure that we had tickets (and this was two or three times out of the dozens of rides we took on the subway while we were in Berlin.) Everyone rides the subway, too: adults, kids, businessmen, tourists, students, workers, and little old women going downtown to shop.
Anyway, downtown on the Kurfurstendamm, we looked more closely at the chapel at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial. The amount of stained glass used in that building is overwhelming. Today we saw it from the inside with the sunlight illuminating the glass from the outside. It was too dark inside the church to take a picture, and flash pictures were not allowed.
After only a short time, we took the subway back to the Youth Hostel (station) and started on a long walk to the Brandenburg Gate, one of the historic dividing points between East and West Berlin. We walked along Potsdammerstr battling the roar of the never ceasing snarl of traffic, past the Berlin Museum of Modern Art, past the Berlin Philharmonic Hall, past the State Library, the Museum of Arts and Crafts, and the National Library. The noise of the traffic finally won. We cut through a quiet park and found ourselves on the Avenue of the 17th of June. Looking behind us on the busy street leading to the Brandenburg Gate was the Victory Column; ahead of us, but still out of view was the famous Gate.
We were among hundreds of people walking on the Avenue that morning. Sebastian said that before the Wall was torn down, the street was almost deserted, because it led to nowhere. But now it seems to be an important and meaningful street. As we walked along, I tried to take great care of stay off the bicycle paths, having already learned this lesson fairly well. I also watched the other people as they walked along---most of them probably tourists, judging from fact that many of them were carrying cameras or backpacks. There was a remarkable similarity in many of their facial features. I called it the "Zsolt Look", after another exchange student who lived here in Valley Falls. Zsolt was a remarkably good looking kid from Hungary, but he also had a certain unique look that slightly, and only slightly, set him apart from the typical American citizen. It is not easily explained, in fact, I can't explain it at all. But it has something to do with the eyes, and perhaps the structure of the face. I don't really know. It is just a "look", however subtle, that identifies a person as being European, and maybe Eastern European, at that. I don't think Sebastian understood what I meant. I don't think he was capable of recognizing it, because, as a European, it is NOT unique or different.
We crossed over to the opposite side of the street in order to walk by the Soviet Memorial. To me the Soviet Memorial stands out as a misfit on this wide avenue dedicated to freedom. Its statues of guns, tanks, and soldiers seem oddly out of place in city that seems to want to forget its recent past and looks forward to living in peace. From this memorial, a reminder of war, it is only a short walk to the Brandenburg Gate. Today the gate stands as a symbolic gesture of a united Berlin and a united Germany---surrounded by tour buses, dozens of vendors hawking trinkets ranging from T-shirts, pieces of the Berlin Wall, Soviet military paraphernalia, and other assorted junk, along with hundreds of picture-taking tourists, much like myself. We walked though the gate into the former East Berlin, took a few photographs, trying to dodge the tour busses, and then we left.
A short distance away is the German Reichstag Building, once the seat of German government and soon to be again. This massive stone building has been darkened by years of exposure to the elements of nature and to destruction by man, but it is being renovated and spruced up for the important role that it will soon assume. The building had been cordoned off, and hundreds of workmen were scurrying around busily doing whatever it was that kept the building closed to the public. The artist Christol was in the initial stages of "wrapping" the building, and this probably accounted for part of the frenetic activity. This was obviously an important event to most Berliners, judging from the amount of advertising and publicity that was apparent throughout the city. Even the huge gardens in front of the Reichstag Building were being replanted and refurbished. For all its historic significance, and this is obvious, the day we visited it, it was really a mess.
One need not be a German citizen to appreciate the importance of such important historical sites. Even with a minimum knowledge of history, a person can transport his imagination back in time and see and feel the terrifying events that had once taken place on these now peaceful grounds. I wish they had left at least a portion of the Wall standing in this area, just as a reminder to future generations, or as a reminder to those, like me, who have never encountered or endured such oppression and violence. Even as I walked around Berlin (and as we drove through the countryside) I tried to imagine what it must have been like in the days of the late 1930's and during the Second World War: what the terror, the fear, and the heartbreak must have been like in this city and country that now bears few, if any, scars of those years.
Back down the Avenue of the 17 of June, back through the quiet, peaceful park, and back up Potsdammerstr, where the traffic was becoming even more heavy and confused. Through "the neighborhood" and downtown where I tried to call Brett for the first time, only to find out that my Sprint Calling Card would not work. I ended up calling him collect in a round about way---but who cares? He says everything is O. K. Abby is O. K. The weather is O. K. The house is O. K. He and Heather are O. K. What more definite and reassuring information could I possibly ask for?
Light rain had started to fall by early afternoon, moving most of the sidewalk cafes inside. We searched briefly for some travel books written in English, but like the old truth goes, "When you are looking for something, you will never find it." And we didn't. Sebastian forgot to bring the city guides for Berlin, Vienna, and Paris with us. He called his mother yesterday and she promised to mail them by Priority Mail the first thing this morning. We were looking for others, just in case the ones she mailed did not arrive before we left Berlin on Wednesday.
We ate lunch on the top floor of the Ka-De-Wa Department Store. The food looked delicious, but I had no clue as to how much it would cost, how it was paid for, or even what I was eating. I suspected that it was not a buffet as we know it in the United States. It was embarrassing to be caught with a plate full of food and not understand the method of paying for it. But with some prompting from the clerk (and impatient prompting, at that), it turned out that food was sold by weight. But, hold on, not ALL the food, just certain food. Some was sold individually. This was reason enough not to eat in any more "serve yourself" places. It is just another hazard of not knowing the customs or the language. There was no choice but to accept it like a stupid American tourist and let it go as a lesson learned. The food was good, I suppose, but the distress caused by all the uncertainty took some of the edge off. Think of how easy it must be for a foreign tourist to walk into The Golden Corral or The Roost, for example. You just pay one price and eat everything in sight, no questions asked.
While we were in this so-called cafeteria, we met some people from Indiana who were in Germany for some reason.
Located on Kurfrustendamm on a fasionable corner is the Kranzler Coffee Shop. Sebastian told me that it is THE coffee house in Berlin. So wanting to be seen in all the right places, we stopped for our afternoon coffee. Since it was raining, we had to go inside and up to the second floor to find a table. The large room was filled with fashionable people such as ourselves who had ducked in out of the rain to socialize, or perhaps transact a bit of business, or maybe just to see who else was there. We sat and drank our coffee (at $3.00 a cup), and listened to the American music in the background while we planned the rest of our afternoon.
Our plans led us to the Kreuzberg section of Berlin. This is a small district of Berlin, crowded with workers, students, and migrants, primarily from Turkey. One guide book describes Kreuzberg as being "the largest Turkish city outside Istanbul." Sebastian explained that this district is home to a sort of counter-culture, and has been the scene of much unrest and student protest in the past. It also serves as the hangout for many of the artistic and literary figures of Berlin. On the surface, however, it is a collection of pre-war apartment buildings and retail businesses, with an abundant offering of bars, cafes, night clubs, and coffee houses.
We randomly chose a corner cafe as a place to rest and as a refuge from the continuing drizzle. It was a pleasant place, an obvious neighborhood favorite, run by an Italian, or maybe he was a Turk. But they seemed to appreciate our presence and made us feel welcome. Restored by a couple beers, we spent some time exploring the streets and taking pictures of old churches and fountains. We came upon a small bar down a short flight of steps and no bigger than a large closet (well, maybe a little bigger). It was the perfect place to conspire against all those bicycle paths that posed a threat to my life, or maybe to plot a demonstration against all that old American rock music that was threatening my sanity. But it takes at least two to plot, and I am only one. Instead we planned where we would eat our supper. We found ourselves back in the corner bar and grill, the one operated by the Italian (or maybe he was a Turk.) He was obviously surprised, but very pleased, to see us again---to think that we had chosen HIS cafe over dozens of others in the Kreuzberg district. The meal was good, and so was the funky Middle East music in the background.
To top off the day, we took the subway back downtown to the Kurfurstendamm and bought an ice cream cone, so we could also walk along the avenue eating ice cream. We found the Hard Rock Cafe, although we decided to save that for the next night on the town. We took the subway back to our neighborhood station, walked back to the Youth Hostel, past the girl who was still hustling customers, and went to bed.
TUESDAY 13 June 1995
We got up at 0800, took a shower, and went downstairs to a breakfast of bread, cheese, cereal (some stuff called Musli), some sort of pudding, a roll, and some coffee. The highlight of this breakfast was not the food, but meeting some girls who had recently graduated from college somewhere in Florida and were on a see-everything trip thru Europe. One of them was going to be a special education teacher. They had their backpacks with them and were ready to catch a train to another destination.
This turned out to be a major sight-seeing day. And it was just as well, because it rained almost the entire day without stopping. We bought a ticket which admitted us to a variety of cultural places. Our first stop was the National Art Museum which houses Berlin's major collection of modern art. We walked through two floors of modern art looking at paintings done by Degas, Picasso, Beckman, Otto Dix and Munch, among others. It was an interesting place. Some of the paintings were good, some not so good. Some were spectacular, some were weird; some were not even art, in my opinion. But it was by no means a disappointment.
Next we stopped at the Museum of Music, a part of the Berlin Philharmonic complex. After hanging up our rain soaked jackets, we walked through the two floors of historical musical instruments ranging from flutes, to tubas, to guitars, to pianos and pipe organs----all this under the watchful eyes of an army of "guides". Actually, except for the occasional listening stations, I didn't find much of interest in this museum, and certainly nothing that I would liked to have played, much less stolen. It is sort of like looking at the collection of guns at the Bill Cody Museum in Cody, Wyoming: the first one hundred guns are fairly interesting, but the next one thousand look pretty much the same. The best part of this building was the little coffee shop in the basement where a bored looking college girl took time out from her reading to serve us coffee.
Next came the "exciting" National Museum of Design which was crammed full of all sorts of things that I didn't particularly want to see. To really get the visit started off on the wrong foot, a girl came running after us to tell us we couldn't wear our jackets while touring the museum. Maybe because they were wet; maybe because they were afraid we would put something in our pockets; maybe because they were not the right design. This building, also built on two or three floors, had lots of miscellaneous items, including furniture, dishes, clothing, vases, glassware, and various religious items which demonstrated the evolution of design from ancient times up through the present. Maybe I was just getting a little burned out on museums, or maybe it was just dull, but I have already crossed it off my list of places to visit next time.
In the early afternoon, we took a short break from sightseeing to take care of some housekeeping chores. We stopped at a grocery store somewhere in our "neighborhood" and bought some food to take with us on our drive to Vienna the next day. Then we went back to the Youth Hostel and loaded most of our luggage back into the car so we would not have to disturb the people in our room by doing it the next morning. Having done this, we returned to our day of sightseeing.
Most of the afternoon hours were spent at Checkpoint Charlie, one of the few places (maybe the only place) where people could cross from West Berlin to East Berlin. Maybe it was the rain that gave Checkpoint Charlie its eerie aura and an almost spooky mystique, but the guards, the guns, and the barriers are gone for the most part. A single guard station remains. The site is now the scene of a massive construction project obviously intended to turn this place of bad memories into a thriving commercial area.
We walked a short distance across this once forbidden border and then returned to spend some time browsing through the Checkpoint Charlie Museum. This museum is devoted to depicting the story of Communist rule in East Berlin and recounting the bravery, heroism, and ingenuity which a few fortunate people of East Berlin used to escape communist domination. We were able to see many of the actual escape devices which these people used. There were large mural-like accounts, written in both English and German, showing and telling of successful (and some not successful) flights to freedom. We also watched a tape recounting the fall of communism and the end of the Berlin Wall. Looking at these displays was both depressing, yet satisfying. I still do not understand how the people of one country---of one city---can treat each other with such cruelty for so many years, with no apparent reason and then change so abruptly and want to be their brothers so suddenly. To me the lesson to be learned somehow involves resisting blind acceptance of following someone who offers something that comes too easily; something that comes without work and effort; something that comes without the determination and struggle of all the people.
From Checkpoint Charlie, we took the subway back downtown---the last time I would see downtown Berlin on this trip. We had planned to have a beer at the Hard Rock Cafe, mostly just to say we had been there. But beer was served only at the bar (and not at the tables, which were reserved for their expensive food). The bar was already crowded with noisy, obnoxious kids. It was no big loss, however. We stopped to have a beer at the Old Berlin Beer House, also one of those fashionable "places to be seen." For the last time, we sat and watched the red haired women lead their dogs up and down the KKurfurstendamm while we listened to American music in the background. For the last time we watched the busy rush hour traffic make its way down the tree-lined avenue.
After lingering a while on the downtown streets, taking one last look at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial, at the towering Mercedes-Benz Building, and the rest of the cosmopolitan scene, we took the subway back to the Youth Hostel neighborhood so we could check to see if Sebastian had received his city guides in the mail that day. Fortunately, they had arrived, which was a big relief for him (and for me).
We had already decided to eat at a Greek restaurant around the corner from the Youth Hostel. From its appearance in the daytime, we thought it was a quiet, out-of-the-way place which would serve as a relaxing place to eat and talk. Although it was a nice place, it was also a popular place and was much more crowded than we had expected. I ate a supper composed mostly of chicken livers. It was certainly delicious, but was it Greek? I don't know. As they say around here, "It's Greek to me."
Back at the Youth Hostel, I wrote mandatory post cards to Monica, Evelyn, and Scott and Suzie before going to bed at 11:30, very, very tired.
WEDNESDAY, 14 June 1995
We got up about 0600 this morning to get an early start for our drive to Vienna. We tried not to wake anybody else in the room while we were taking a shower and getting dressed. Sebastian wanted to get an early start to avoid the morning rush hour traffic. The streets were almost deserted as we drove back down Kurfurstendamm for the final time of this trip. I sort of hated to leave Berlin. I enjoyed my visit and felt that there are so many more things to be done and so many more things to see. But this will give me an excuse to return to Berlin someday and take up where I left off on this trip. Berlin is an orderly city with lots of different moods and styles. We just barely scratched the surface of exploring this city of 3.5 million people. I am sure that the constant rainfall slowed us down some. Not having a Berlin city guide book probably didn’t help any, either. But the things that we saw were interesting and worthwhile. I would like to get to know this city better---to forget about the obvious tourist attractions and move around the city to see what “lesser”, but perhaps more typical attraction it has to offer.
It look about ten hours to drive from Berlin to Vienna, including all the stops for gas, for eating, for resting. We didn’t make any tourist stops at all, although I would like to have had pictures of the Elbe River and perhaps some of the German and Austrian villages along the way. I think that one gets to know a country not so much from its large cities where the tourists flock, but from its small towns, its villages, its farms, and its work places.
We drove past Nuremberg in Germany, sight of the famous (or infamous) war crimes trials which followed World War II. As we drew closer to Vienna, the forests seemed to grow thicker and the land seemed to become hillier. Most Austrian villages and small towns are hidden from view of the highways by high fences which have been constructed in front of them, or by thick rows of trees which have been planned to shield them from sight. It was barriers such as these that made it impossible to take good pictures from the car window. So it turned out that the only town that I saw in Austria was Vienna.
There was lots of road construction and repair taking place, especially in Germany. This often slowed traffic down. At times, traffic was extremely heavy, especially with large 18 wheelers clogging the highways. The trip, however, was smooth and routine, and we encountered no problems. Sebastian does a good job of driving. He is attentive, watchful, and cautious, as well as being a skilled driver. I think that driving does seem to make him somewhat tense at times, however, as it does to me when I am driving in unfamiliar surroundings.
I am not sure we were quite prepared for the traffic situation in Vienna, especially after the fairly orderly traffic in Berlin. To begin with, Vienna is laid out in an entirely different pattern than in Berlin, and it is impossible to drive directly to any destination without following a more or less circular route to get there. We arrived in Vienna at their rush hour, and the traffic was heavy and disorderly. After struggling to find the Youth Hostel in Vienna, we made an almost instant decision that this was not where we wanted to spend the next three days. It was up three flights of stairs in a crowded neighborhood where parking places were almost nonexistent. The Hostel was operated by a church, and it was not a casual, friendly place like the one in Berlin. We checked out a rooming house close to the Youth Hostel, but the shifty eyed owner obviously thought we were a couple of naïve suckers.
By using the Vienna city guide, we located an inexpensive hotel on the west edge of Vienna. Sebastian called them on the telephone to make sure there was still a room available. This turned out to be a good choice. The hotel was located in a quiet, middle-class neighborhood made up of mostly single family homes. The hotel was operated by a husband and wife who proved to be friendly and pleasant. Our room was located on the second floor in the right hand, or south, wing, at the end of the hallway on the left. It had two beds, a sink, a table with two chair, and a closet. A window opened into the yard below. From our room we could hear a bubbling brook somewhere nearby. We had to go downstairs to take a shower, but this was only a small inconvenience.
A suburban commuter train station was located about a ten-minute walk from the hotel. After checking in and resting for a new minutes, we decided to check out the area and to find the train station so we could go into town the following morning. The walk from the hotel to the train station was pleasant and quiet through a winding street lined with trees and attractive, well-kept family homes. We crossed the small stream which we could hear from our window, and also crossed in and out of the city of Vienna on this short walk.
Just a couple blocks beyond the train station was a pizza place where we decided to eat. The place was packed. Obviously, this was a popular place in this neighborhood, and it turned out that the pizza was not only good, but it was very large, also. We left the restaurant feeling stuffed and knowing that we had gotten our money’s worth.
Just a few doors further down the street was a Shell station. The walk back to the hotel felt good, even though it was mostly uphill and took about twice as long as the trip down.
THURSDAY, 15 JUNE 1995
We got up around 0745 and got dressed and went downstairs to take a shower. Breakfast was served in the small hotel dining room. It was the same breakfast that had become familiar by this time: rolls, cheese, sliced meat, jelly and coffee. While we were eating, the owner’s dog small puppy kept the diners entertained. The woman acted like the puppy was a nuisance, but we could tell that she really liked the dog very much, and that the dog could do just about anything it wanted and get away with it. The other hotel guests were amused and entertained by the puppy and petted it and talked to it, just like Sebastian and I did.
We walked the ten minute walk to the Weidlingau-Wurzbachtal train station in order to catch the 10:05 train to the Vienna West Train Station where we could catch the subway to St. Stephen’s Square in downtown Vienna.
As I stepped out of the subway station at St. Stephen’s Square, the difference between Vienna and Berlin were striking. There was no wide, tree-lined avenue, but instead we found ourselves in a large crowded plaza surrounding the towering and opulent St. Stephen’s Church. Except for one modern building, the building here were old and historic, radiating outward from the church like spokes on a wheel. The large public square was crowded because this was a religious holiday and nobody was working. There was a religious service taking place outside the cathedral, also.
Since we could not look inside the cathedral because of the service, we decided to start looking around some of the surrounding territory. As we were walking through a narrow street near St. Stephan’s Church, quite by accident, we came upon the house where Mozart used to live. Today it is called Figaro House. We walked through the outside door which I thought would take us inside the house. But, like many things in Vienna, things are not as they appear. The door opened onto an interior courtyard where several more doors and a stairway awaited. We walked up two flights of stairs to his apartment. There were several displays telling about Mozart’s life, along with a few pieces of furniture and cases containing copies of some of his music manuscripts. Small pieces of the walls had been peeled away to show the dozens of coats of paint which had been applied over the years. We were able to look out the window onto the cobblestone streets below, just as Mozart had done two hundred years before. There was nothing really special about that seven room apartment, except the fact that we were standing in the same rooms where some of the most beautiful music in the world had been written by a musical genius two centuries earlier.
As we continued our walk around the inner city, we discovered that Vienna is a maze of small streets and alleyways which open into small courtyards, which in turn branch out into more winding, narrow streets and passageways which lead to even more squares or plazas. That is part of the charm of old Vienna. Walking through the narrow alleys and passageways gives the modern tourist some sense of what Vienna must have been like hundreds of years ago. It is often difficult to believe that today people really do live on these streets, in these apartments which were built so many years ago, if it were not for such tell-tale signs of modern society as mailboxes, electric lights, and door bells. In the midst of such ancient surroundings, with streets that were not built for modern transportation, I was not accustomed to watching out for automobiles or the ever present bicycle or motorbike. But to do this is a mistake, because I learned that a car can make it down even the narrowest of “streets”, and if a car cannot squeeze through, a motor bike certainly can.
The narrow streets are crowded with small coffee houses which spill out onto the sidewalk, along with bars, cafes, small galleries, book stores, and boutiques selling deceptively expensive clothing. We stopped at one such café, called Little Café, and drank coffee while watching the people read newspapers and books, write, and visit. Actually, this became a favorite past time of ours----to sit in the outside bars and coffee shops, drink the strong coffee and watch the people as they walked past us.
The umbrella-covered sidewalk cafes came in handy on this morning. They became a shelter from the rain that fell through the mid-morning hours. During one of these rain breaks, I ate some apple strudel, which is really German, I guess, but Vienna is close enough. We sampled some ice cream at another café. It tasted suspiciously like the ice cream that I eat here in the United States, for some reason.
After the rain had stopped, we continued our sightseeing by walking past various statues and old churches---the Plague Column and St. Peter’s Church, for example---and eventually ended up at the Hofburg, the palace of the Hapsburg dynasty. We paid for tickets, (which, looking back, cost much too much money) to walk through the rooms which housed the treasures which the family had accumulated, at the expense of its citizens, during the years of its collective rein. We saw the crowns, the tiaras, the robes, the jewels, etc., all under careful scrutiny of an army of guards. Having finished this, we paid some more money to walk through part of the royal apartments. This essentially turned out to be a series of rooms that were furnished and decorated in an opulent manner, befitting a king who apparently liked to spend money on a plush lifestyle. The rooms were still furnished with the chairs, tables, and beds which the kind, queen, and their family and friends sat on and slept in during the days they were in power. Original priceless art and chandleries hung on the walls and ceiling. Murals and gold guilt decorated the walls.
I am sure there is a great deal of historical significance to those who are interested in the Hapsburg family, or even to those interested in antiques. But somehow the significance was lost on me. It seemed like a huge waste of time and money. We only saw a fraction of the palace and its grounds. The entire estate covered several acres with lavish gardens and lawns to compliment the sprawling complex of royal palaces and associated buildings. With additional time (and additional money, of course) we could have spent much more time looking at even more of the same. But we didn’t choose to do this. Maybe the saving factor about all of this ostentatious display of wealth is that today the palaces are museums and lawns and gardens are free public parks where people can come to enjoy the beauty that was created at public expense long ago.
In Vienna, nothing is free. Everything has a price: even using the public restrooms. It is the only place in the world I have been that has routinely charged for using the restroom. There is a rest room in St. Stephen’s Square located down a flight of stairs that is fancy and designer decorated beyond any practical need. I didn’t feel so bad about paying to use this one. But even the restrooms located in the rest stops along the highway are not free. If you want to use a public restroom, you pay or you wait until later. To make matters worse, the people who take the money are invariably women who sit inside the restroom and collect the money. What a job! “What do you do for a living, Mrs.?” “Oh, I sit inside the men’s restroom all day and collect money from those guys while they are taking a piss.”
We took the subway from downtown to the Vienna open marketplace. But the market was closed because of the holiday. The subways in Vienna are newer and somewhat nicer than the subways in Berlin (and this is not saying that Berlin does not have a good subway system). And it is equally as efficient. Once we had parked the car at the hotel, we never drove it again until we left the city. We did all our travel within the city on the subway.
We walked through some of the busy streets away from the city center from the marketplace to the Vienna Opera House. People were arriving for an opera which was about to begin. We walked back to St. Stephen’s Square and prowled through some more of the narrow passageways which honeycomb the old part of the inner city. By this time it was getting to be late in the afternoon, and we were getting hungry. Sebastian thought that I should eat some wiener schnitzel for supper. We decided upon a “quaint” café on one of the narrow streets about two or three blocks from St. Stephen’s Church and ate our supper there. I wish I could say that the place left a lasting impression on me and that it was some of the best food that I have eaten. But, in truth, it was just an average eating establishment with low prices we could afford.
It was starting to get late, and the sun was starting to hide behind the church towers and steeples. St. Stephen’s Square was crowded with people enjoying their holiday, relaxing in the outside bars, walking their dogs, and just strolling though the streets. We decided it was time to go back to the hotel on the outskirts of the city. We walked through the nearby deserted streets from the train station to the hotel, a sharp contrast to the noise and confusion we had just come from.
We bought some vodka at a Shell station near the pizza café and spent the evening drinking vodka and apple juice.
FRIDAY 16 JUNE 1995
Thursday night we bought a bottle of vodka at a Shell station near the place where we ate pizza, and we ended up drinking quite a bit of it. It was the first serious alcohol that have drunk since we started on vacation, and I woke up at 0745 feeling fairly well. So I guess there was no harm done. After going downstairs to take a shower, we again ate breakfast at the hotel. It was identical to the one we ate yesterday----good, but very German (or Austrian, I guess), and the little puppy was still running around entertaining everyone in sight.
We caught the 10:10 train to the West Vienna Train Station and from there took the subway to the Shonbrunn Palace. The palace was first started in the year 1311, and was added to by successive rulers. It was probably constructed to its fullest glory by Emperor Franz Joseph and Maria Teresa. The sprawling yellow stone building, which once housed over 1000 people, is set on over 400 acres of land about 4 miles from the Vienna city center. At one time, it was a royal hunting lodge in a rural setting, at sharp contract from the busy city streets that surround it today.
On this particular day, workmen were busy building a large, ugly stage which would be used for a Luciana Pavarotti concert to be held that night. This made taking a good picture of the front façade of the building impossible. So for the time being, we contented ourselves by walking through the geometric designs of the shrubbery, through the rose garden, and under the canopy of a thousand trees to the gardens behind the palace. We walked through the ornate flowers that had been planted in unique patterns at the east of the palace and extending to the statue of Neptune, and then on to the Gloriette Monument (which was being renovated) still further up the hill which overlooks the palace grounds---and also offers a look at the flat skyline of Vienna which, from that viewpoint, is broken only by dozens of church spires.
There is an outside coffee shop near the front entrance to the palace. We passed up the Snapple which was on sale there and instead refreshed ourselves with a cup of $3.00 coffee before starting the tour of another vacant royal palace. Since the English-speaking tour was already full, the best we could do was to pick up an English language handbook to guide us on our own tour of twenty-two rooms that once served as home to Austrian kings and queens. This palace, like the one we toured earlier, is vast, richly decorated with paintings and furniture, and no doubt reflects the total disregard that rulers of that era must have had for the common person.
Obviously we only inspected a small fraction of the palace, but it was enough to convince me that once a person has seen one palace, he has probably seen them all. The most interesting thing was watching the tourists who flock through places such as this. There is a sign posted in every room which says “No Flash Pictures”, but that does little to deter the frantic tourists. Flashbulbs erupt constantly, giving the guards fits. And, these aren’t even American tourists. At least the American tourists can read!
Next we took the subway to the Vienna Market Place. It was crowded with people, mostly natives, I think, buying their fresh produce for the day, Although there are other items, most of the small booths were selling food. There were fruits and vegetables of every description, many different varieties of fresh meat and an endless variety of prepared foods were just waiting for someone to buy. When it started raining, we slipped into one of these little food shops and sampled some tasty (plum) pancakes and coffee while waiting for the rain to subside enough for us to continue our journey. We tried to wait out the rain, but it kept falling, although much lighter as the minutes passed by. We made a dash across the street to a grocery store so Sebastian could buy some shaving cream, and then we continued on to the Opera House. We had looked forward to taking a tour of the building, but it was too late. We walked across the street to the Austrian Film Museum, not to waste our time going through it, but to take some pictures from its elevated plaza. From there we could look down on the Mozart Café, appropriately situated beside the Vienna Opera House.
We discovered, to my amazement, that we were located right next to the good old Hofburg Palace again. Of course, I rarely ever knew where we were. I knew we were somewhere in Vienna, but that is where my knowledge of our location ended. We spent a few minutes walking around the Palace grounds again, this time in a light rain. Many of the old palace buildings have been converted into museums. There were still a lot of people---probably tourists---milling around in the gardens and grounds of the palace. Many of the local citizens were exercising their dogs on the vast lawns of the palace, either by walking them or simply by letting them run loose. We heard and saw several dog fights, but fortunately, the dogs were people-friendly and seemed to have little or no interest in harming humans.
On the way back to the subway station, we walked past the Austrian Parliament Building, the Vienna City Hall, and the Brug Theater. Now I know what the outside of all these buildings look like. We did try to go inside the Burg Theater, but it was closed. We took the subway back to the Vienna West Rail Station and caught the commuter train back to our quiet, little neighborhood.
We had already decided to eat our supper in the hotel dining room. Not really knowing what any of the other dishes were, I ordered the wiener schnitzel to compare it with what I had eaten in the city the previous night. The wiener schnitzel at the hotel turned out to be much better (and much cheaper, too.) We even had a cute little puppy to watch at the hotel. After supper we walked to the Shell station and bought some more vodka and orange juice and took it back to the hotel room to drink, while we played some cards before going to bed.
SATURDAY 17 JUNE 1995
I got up at 0740 this morning and went downstairs to take a shower. Nobody ever seems to be around at this hour of the morning, but I guess this is because most of the other guests are in the north “wing” of the small hotel, and we are in the south “wing”. After our usual breakfast, we began our last full day in Vienna.
Our first visit was to Beethoven’s apartment. We walked directly past this place yesterday when we were looking at the Vienna City Hall and the Parliament Building, but we didn’t know it. Both of us commented on a Subway Sandwich Shop, not knowing that Beethoven’s apartment was located almost next door to it. The outside door led to a small inner courtyard off of which opened several other doors leading to a series of apartments, most of which seemed to be lived in even today. We walked up four flights of stairs to a three room apartment, much smaller than Mozart’s apartment, but much nicer (at least, in 1995 it seemed to be much nicer). The piano that Beethoven used to compose his music was still there, along with a few other pieces of furniture. But most of the rooms were filled with displays, pictures, copies of musical scores, and other such trivia. There were listening stations available, but a bunch of loud, rude kids were monopolizing them. Finally the guide (or guard) brought Sebastian and me each a pair of remote earphones so we could listen to the music as we looked around. This is the place where Beethoven composed his Symphonies 5, 7, and 8, as well as Fidelio, Leonora, and Egmont. The music was great, and we lingered around for quite some time listening to and enjoying this wonderful music. Even though Beethoven’s home seems to be less visited than Mozart’s apartment (probably because Mozart’s is right downtown in the city center), the music made our time at Beethoven’s apartment much more enjoyable.
I had never heard of Hundertwaser House, but this was one place that Sebastian was eager to see. It is an apartment complex designed by a famous artist who has turned some former stables, garages, and service stations into an unusual art deco apartment complex. Each apartment is painted a different color, and there are trees, bushes and other shrubbery growing from balconies, rooftops, and boxes, making the apartments look almost “park-like”. The entire complex was designed to be a work of art, and the different colors make it possible to say, “I live in the blue apartment on the third floor.” This appeared to be another major tourist attraction, and the street beside the apartments was crowded with souvenir shops and coffee shops and cafes. It is certainly not one of the “run of the mill” apartment buildings, and I bet it is not low cost housing, either.
We returned to the Vienna Opera House in time to take an English language tour, after having missed it yesterday. Our guide was a good-looking young man who spoke excellent English. He took us on a quick tour of the huge, lavishly decorated building. He told us that the Opera House had been 80 percent destroyed during World War II, but had been restored to its original splendor in the years following the war. The main auditorium seats 3000 people, all of whom must be properly dressed to be admitted entrance. Seats in the Opera House are very expensive, but there are seats in the balconies that are offered to the public on a first come, first served basis for each opera. Although operas are performed three hundred days of the year, no single opera is ever performed two times in a row. The provides an incredible variety of operas for the people of Vienna to attend---and also for those opera lovers who are willing to line up in front of the Opera House hours in advance to purchase the left-over tickets.
The stage of the Opera House is 18 stories high (counting the basements and sub-basements). This makes it possible to move and change scenery quickly and efficiently. In the days of royalty, the Emperor had his own private box, his own private stairway, his own private intermission room, his own private tea room, and his own private entrance: all of this so he could avoid coming into contact with the “people”. Does this help to explain the vast amounts of money he also spent on his palaces? Anyway, the Emperor’s private tea room can be rented for around $12,000 per opera to entertain friends or clients.
The Opera House is large, ornate, and impressive, with lots of space wasted on lobbies and hallways. In the front lobby, the only original part of the building, there are statues of each of the men who have served as conductor of the Vienna Opera House. Even though the building was interesting, it was not the place that I thought I thought I would see. It was not the place on the album jackets featuring the Vienna orchestras. It was not the place where I see Walter Cronkite hosting the New Year’s Day concert of Viennese waltzes and polkas. That place will have to remain undiscovered until a later date. This was the first place where we came into extensive contact with Americans, and this was no doubt because we were all together as a group in the English language tour.
One final sightseeing stop of the day was at The Prater, an amusement park. The landmark of this old park is its giant Ferris wheel which was constructed at the end of the nineteenth century. It is not the usual Ferris wheel like we see here in the U.S.A. It stands about 250 feet high and it has enclosed boxes or cabins which hold ten or twelve people. From the top of this ride, one probably has the best view of Vienna that is available anywhere except in an airplane. From here I could see the United Nations European Center, which comes as close to being a modern skyscrapers as anything in the city, and something that I didn’t even know existed until I was on this ride. And a person can confirm again that Vienna is a city of honeycombed streets, alley ways, and secluded courtyards which lead into more of the same. It is a city where looking up an address in a telephone book and then setting out to find it would be a difficult, if not impossible, challenge. We spend a few minutes walking through this historic park which looked much like the midway at a state fair: lots of rides, mostly for kids, “scary” animated side shows, casinos, slot machines, and plenty of food stands. It was crowded with families and young people, and a few tourists like ourselves, checking the place out and relaxing, if one can relax in this noisy carnival atmosphere.
Before calling it quits for the day, we took a subway to the Danube River. I doubt if Sebastian really wanted to see it, but this is a place that I have heard about both in music and history. Who can go to Vienna and not see the Danube River? The river is much wider and faster flowing than I had expected. We walked across the river on a sidewalk beneath a long automobile and subway bridge, competing for our space on the sidewalk with the bike riders and kids on in-line skates. The walls were covered with graffiti just like they were in Germany. I found out that certain four letter American words are part of almost every vocabulary. Some of the graffiti was carelessly and quickly sprayed, but some of it was done very artistically. Along the Danube itself were many tour boats and passenger boats boarding and letting off passengers. In fact, one of the families which was staying in our hotel had come to Vienna by boat on the Danube River.
On our way back to the hotel via the subway, we met a young couple from California who were confused about the subway system and didn’t know which train to take. Sebastian did his good deed for the day and pointed them in the right direction. I, personally, was glad we helped them, because I know exactly how they must have felt.
We ate our supper at the Borodolino’s Pizzeria---that is the same place where we ate earlier. This time, however, we ate in the outside courtyard. I ate some sort of pasta and as usual I had very little idea of what I was eating, but as long as it was food, I was beyond caring at this point in the trip. It was good and that is what counts, I guess.
We stopped at the Shell station and bought some Austrian beer to drink and then walked back uphill to our hotel. It’s about a ten minute walk down to the pizza place, and about a twenty minute walk back to the hotel. We put our bags into the car and then drank our beer.
SUNDAY 18 JUNE 1995
This is Sunday, so it must mean we are on the road again---to avoid the truck traffic which is prohibited on Sundays. We got up early and took a shower. The lady who owns the hotel had packed a lunch for us to take with us, which I thought was pretty nice of her. We had already put our stuff in the car, so all we had to do was leave quietly through the kitchen.
What is there to say about the trip from Vienna to Zurich, Switzerland? We crossed from Austria into Germany and then into Switzerland. I guess the main thing that stands out in my mind is all the tunnels. Somehow I had pictured the drive through the Alps as a beautiful, if not harrowing, ride up and through miles of rugged mountains. I had planned for a lot of slow driving as we rounded hundreds of hairpin curves. I had even pictured mountain sheep grazing along the sides of the steep mountain slopes. And---I had anticipated taking lots of beautiful pictures of the Alpine scenery. But this was merely wishful thinking. Highways in Switzerland and in Austria do not go over mountains like highways in North America; they go through them. We drove through seemingly dozens of tunnels, ranging from 100 meters to around fourteen miles in length. It was not a very exciting ride. Nor was it a very beautiful ride; nor was it at all dangerous or harrowing.
It rained for most of the trip, and this certainly did not add anything worth remembering, either. As we got nearer and nearer to Zurich, we started following a large lake. The mountain sides on both sides of the lake were heavily populated with a string of picturesque villages, which merged one into another forming a rather large metropolitan area---albeit a quaint, rural-looking metropolitan area.
We arrived at the Youth Hostel in Zurich about 3:30. This hostel is located in the south part of the city along a busy street which leads into the city. The hostel is a pleasant, clean place, and it also gave us a feeling of security since we had to unlock not only the door to our room, which turned out to be Number 6, but also unlock the door to the floor in order to get to our room. The room was small but adequate, and we were issued a sort of sheet/sleeping bag combination when we checked in. I used it merely as a cover, though.
We took a brief walk around the area shortly after we arrived. (Actually we were looking for a telephone booth because the one at the Hostel was being used.) About two blocks south of the Youth Hostel was a large United Methodist Church. I was surprised, but pleased, to know that these even existed outside the United States. If we had gotten there earlier, we could have gone to church---except the service would probably have been in German.
We looked up Martin’s (Zhender) telephone number in the telephone book (not directory! to the guy working behind the desk) and called him. He was not there when his father answered the telephone. I then found myself talking to his sister, who told me that he was working, but just as I was about to hang up, he walked into the house. Happy coincidence. He and his father came and picked us up to take us to his house for supper. (I hadn’t planned on doing this, but Martin insisted.) Before going to their apartment, we drove to a hill overlooking Zurich, and Martin and his dad pointed out some of the landmarks and sights of the city. Again, it was the church steeples which dominated the skyline, along with the lake and the soccer stadium.
Martin’s apartment is located on the third or fourth floor of a large apartment complex overlooking a large, green lawn, and almost next door to the large soccer stadium which we had seen earlier. They live in a small, but nice two story apartment. Martin’s room was about one third the size of Sebastian’s room, but he had it very functionally arranged. His books, computer, and desk seemed to dominate the room with several items from Kansas that he had taken home with him. He even showed me the KU cap that I had given to him for graduation.
His sister, whose name is Karin, is a husky girl in her last year of high school. She had spent a year in Illinois as an exchange student, so she speaks English quite well. She had once been (and maybe still is) a member of the Swiss National Women’s Soccer Team. She is friendly, outspoken and self-confident---much more extroverted than Martin, with whom she seems to have a very comfortable relationship. She seems very street-wise, and I suspect that she could become just a little overbearing if she got the chance. Martin’s father is a big man who speaks only a limited amount of English. He is also outgoing and seemingly a very intelligent man. Martin’s mother is a neat, nice-looking woman. She doesn’t speak English, so I didn’t get to say very much to her. She is an excellent cook, though. She served us a meal consisting of lettuce salad, asparagus, beets, croissant with some sort of meat inside them, coffee and chocolate ice cream. I always feel self conscious eating with someone I don’t know, but Martin assured me that this was a normal meal and that they had not gone to any extra trouble for us. This made me feel better. We had a pleasant conversation during our meal. Martin’s family is still laughing about some previous visitors from the USA and their visit to Switzerland---how they walked around with their bright, gaudy crimson and blue Kansas Jayhawk jackets, shirts, and sweats. What a sight they must have been on the streets of Zurich (and other cities) wearing such strange American tourist costumes in a place where nobody has ever heard (or cares) about Kansas University. It probably gave people something to chuckle about for a while, I suppose.
After supper, Martin, Karin, Sebastian, and I took the tram to downtown Zurich. Martin and Karin walked us through some of the historic sections and showed us some of the ancient Roman ruins which are still standing We walked across the river that flows through the city, stood and looked at the lake around which much of the city is built and admired, once again, the churches which we could see rising above much of the city skyline. We walked past the church which supposedly has the largest clock on a church steeple in Europe. This church serves as a sort of unofficial trademark or landmark for the city of Zurich, and is seen on many postcards and tourist brochures.
Martin’s girl friend met us somewhere in the downtown area. Her name is Alexandra. She is a sweet girl in her mid-twenties, very British, having been born to British parents, but was born and raised in Switzerland. She is attending the university and is studying English and media science, but she teaches English at the International English School in the evenings. The contrast between her and Karin are sharp. Alexandra is a rather short young lady who has red hair, is very polite and soft-spoken, and smiles a lot. This was also the first time she and Martin’s sister, Karin, had met. They seemed to get along quite well, which, I suppose, pleased Martin, although he pretended mock surprise.
The five of us walked through the now-familiar narrow, twisting streets to one of Martin’s favorite hangouts to have a few drinks and to talk. The hangout was a colorful Spanish bar, crowded, smoky, and noisy with the din of conversation and music from the people packed inside. A short Spanish waiter, with a slight limp, took our order of Spanish beer, and we spend the rest of the evening visiting, catching up on the latest news and gossip, and trading other meaningless pleasantries. It was an interesting and fun evening, however, sitting in that old, intimate bar with its out-dated wood stove and wooden tables.
Around 10:30 we took the tram back to the Youth Hostel, said good bye to Martin, his sister Karin, and his girl friend Alexandra. Up in our room I met a guy from Hong Kong. He is doctor who was traveling alone through Europe before going to the U.S.A. to spend a year studying at the University of Michigan to become a cardiologist. We talked for a few minutes about Hong Kong, about the United States, and about what we had seen so far in Europe. He was a nice young man, I wish now that I had gotten his name. Sebastian was already in bed, and I went to bed at 11:15.
MONDAY 19 JUNE 1995
I got up at 7:30 and took a shower. Sometime later in the night other people had arrived at the Youth Hostel---two brothers from the U.S.A. among them. At the Hostel, we ate breakfast of bread, jelly, cheese, coffee, and some strange stuff made from fruit and nuts. We loaded our stuff back into the car (this time I had taken out only what I would need to get dressed), and then took a bus to downtown Zurich. Our tram stopped in the middle of the Zurich banking district, and while the buildings were not particularly impressive, the entire area exuded an aura of wealth and prosperity. What better place to change some money?
Again, the large clock on the church steeple seemed to be the focal point of the downtown area, being visible from several points in the city. The sun was shining brightly now, giving the river, the lake, and the rest of the city a brighter, cheerier look. Wandering though some of the back streets and alleys, we passed some of the exclusive, and expensive, shops selling designer clothing, jewelry, cameras, and works of art. Zurich in many ways was like Vienna with its outside coffee shops and cafes, its small boutiques and galleries, and its brick and cobblestone streets. But Zurich has more order and method to its arrangement. It seems more manageable, while still retaining its charm and fascination. We stopped at a coffee shop or two to have something to drink and to escape the ever-present sun, and then walked down some of the wide, tree-shaded avenues lined with fashionable shops and stores.
We looked inside an historic church with stained glass windows which were designed by Chagall. We walked along the wide promenade beside the lake, looked at the statues of naked men and women without the usual fig leaves attaches at strategic points, and looked at the exclusive apartment buildings which bordered the lake on both sides.
The morning was starting to slip away, so we caught a tram back to the Youth Hostel, got into our waiting car, and said good-bye to Zurich.
Zurich is on my list of places to visit again when I am able to return to Europe. As in Berlin, we were able to give Zurich only the most superficial attention. Someday I would like to return and spend a few days getting to know this city and its people better. It has a charm which is missing in Vienna, maybe because Vienna is so hectic and hurried, and Zurich seems to move at a much slower and leisurely pace. Maybe its because Zurich is smaller; or maybe it is because of the lake and the river that run through the center of Zurich, giving it a more casual look.
We proceeded to drive south toward Lugano, Switzerland, our next destination. Again, this was a drive which went through the mountains, instead of over them. Although we could see snow on the high mountain peaks, the temperature on the highway was hot as the sun beat down upon us. Dozens of small villages are scattered along the slopes and foothills of the Alps, each appearing to be quaint and postcard pretty. In reality, they were probably no more than what we call suburbs here in the U.S.A. But their charm and beauty made up, in part, for the heat and the weariness of the long stretch of highways, traffic and tunnels.
We did make one stop in a small village along the lake sometime in the afternoon. (But since I lost the pictures of this part of the trip, I don’t remember very much about it.) The only other stop that I recall was at a rest station where I tried to call Brett, only to discover that the telephone only makes calls to places inside Europe. Just one of the many rinky-dink things I had already encountered and would encounter again throughout this trip.
After driving through one of the longest tunnels of the trip, we emerged on the other side of the mountain to an entirely different landscape and atmosphere. Sebastian said we had left the “German” part of Switzerland only to find ourselves in the southern “Italian” section. It was no longer charming and picturesque, with Alpine villages, but it was flatter, dirtier, and more industrialized and developed. We had entered a different world, a world where “old” is an industry.
Lugano sounds like the name of a small village: a laid back place with quiet, lazy streets. But names can be deceiving. Lugano turned out to be a bustling city which catered to the thriving tourist trade. After some difficulty, we found the Youth Hostel where we would spend the night. Although it was located in a small complex of old attractive buildings, it would prove to be a busy, noisy place, full of obnoxious kids on class trips. Our room was in a building which opened onto the swimming pool. There were six beds “downstairs” and a couple beds in a sort of upper loft with barely enough room to stand up straight. These were the beds which Sebastian and I took.
Since it was still early in the afternoon, we took a short walk to see if there was anything interesting to look at near the Youth Hostel. After a few blocks, it became apparent that there was nothing interesting to see around that area. We stopped at a sidewalk bar about a couple blocks from the Hostel and had a drink. Later we ate supper on the open terrace of an Italian restaurant across the street from the Youth Hostel. Included in my meal were meat, ground corn (I’ve heard of mashed potatoes---but mashed corn??), salad, and fruit. The meal was good and it gave us a chance to get away from the screaming kids at the Youth Hostel for a while. It was our first experience (or at least it was MY first experience) with an Italian speaking waitress, although she spoke enough English to understand what we wanted.
After returning to the Youth Hostel, we sat in the front yard at a small table and played rummy, disturbed frequently by the obnoxious high school kids: the girls acted like two-bit tramps, and the boys acted like ignorant rural hicks. Oh, to be back in the U.S.A. around all those “well-mannered” teenagers. It turned out that the two brothers whom we had seen in Zurich were also here in Lugano----and in our room. Coincidence! Also there was a biker and his girl friend (or maybe it was his wife) who pulled in. It turned out that he would also be assigned to our room. At 10:00 some guy came out and told us that it was curfew time and that everyone had to go to their rooms and go to bed.
TUESDAY 20 June 1995
Last night went better than I had hoped. Once we had gone to bed, it was fairly quiet. The two brothers kept pretty much to themselves and didn't say much to anybody. Sebastian said that once in the night he woke up and heard some kids in the swimming pool, but it only lasted until someone told them to go back inside and be quiet. I didn't hear anything. When the alarm went off at 0630, I sat up in bed and saw the biker's girl friend leave the room in a hurry. I guess she must have stayed with him all night, which is surprising, considering the size of the beds. Either they were very uncomfortable or very happy.
After we ate breakfast---the usual, unchanging stuff---we set out on what would be a long and tortuous trip to our next destination. After crossing into Italy at mid-morning, the scenery took on a distinct agricultural tone. Between Milan and Torrino, we drove past fields of corn, sunflowers, some beans, and even fields of rice. I was not aware that rice was grown in this part of the world, but there were several flooded rice paddies visible from the highway. This was the first major agricultural region I had seen thus far. Of course, a lot of the land simply lay idle, overgrown by trees and brush. Most of the small villages we passed were obviously farming villages, although we didn't stop and look at any of them.
We began to face another reality of European life, too: the toll road. It costs to drive on most of the highways in Italy. In fact, we had to pay to drive on every road we traveled in Italy. This must generate a huge amount of revenue, judging from the amount of traffic using the highways. Just as in Switzerland, tunnels are drilled through mountains, so the trip was not one of beauty or excitement.
As we drove along northern Italy and into southern France, I noticed that growing vegetables must be a major industry. With a subtropical climate, several crops can be harvested each year. There were huge fields of various vegetables and also huge greenhouses, which must supply food to a great deal of that area, if not all of Europe. I would liked to have seen some of these, but we did not take the time to stop for a close inspection.
The vegetation is lush and green, hedges separate the two sides of the four lane highways. This is probably a valid safety precaution, but it obscures the surrounding scenery and does nothing to make the trip interesting. From what was visible from the highway, the people in this region appeared to be quite poor---while the rich people appeared to be quite rich. The villages were basically dreary little towns with small, red tiled houses. There were occasional large villas of the rich land owners, but these were out numbered by the cookie cutter architecture of the poor. After a while, the quaintness wears off, and there becomes a "sameness" about the country, about the villages, about the church steeples. The novelty wears off. A narrow street becomes just another narrow street, indistinguishable from any other narrow street. The quaint, yellow stucco buildings look the same, even if they were built centuries ago. The flowers are pretty, but so are flowers no matter where one goes to look at them.
Things are expensive---everything: food, gas, lodging, drinks, highway fees. And even more expensive when considering that everything bought here comes in the smallest size possible. Probably a lot of this is due to the fact that this is tourist country, and tourists are ripped off world wide. But here, it has been elevated to an art form and they have mastered the technique. "Old" is the major industry. One does not come to see natural wonders, but rather to see the remains of what was done in centuries past. For this reason, things are rarely changed, progress is not made. Because what would the tourists look at if there is nothing old? The crowded, narrow streets which honeycomb the towns and villages, give the illusion of being quaint, of being pretty, of being of another world. They are all of this. But more than anything else, they are expensive tourists traps, just the same as Las Vegas, Atlantic City, or Orlando. If one likes crowds; if one likes traffic in places where only pedestrians should be; if one likes preserved disorder---then this is a place they would love.
Well, anyway, returning to the story---we drove past Milan, Genoa, Nice and Monaco. We did stop ever so briefly so I could take a picture of Monaco, only to find out minutes later that the film had not been advancing each time I took a picture. It appears that I lost all the pictures taken between Zurich and somewhere in southern France. We drove along miles of Mediterranean beaches, but we saw them only from afar. I tried to call Brett again on the rinky dink phone system, but he didn't answer.
Sebastian found a campground somewhere near St. Tropez. I really don't know if we were IN St. Tropez, or merely in a village nearby. It might have been a place called Ramatuelle. But, it doesn't make a lot of difference, it all looks pretty much the same no matter where one is located. The campground is exactly what is says: ground to camp on! There are no picnic tables, no camp fires, nowhere to sit---just a place to pitch a tent.
After setting up our tent and checking out the showers (which you have to pay to use) we drove into town and walked around a bit. By now the new had worn off. It just appeared to be more of the same. We stopped at another sidewalk cafe and drank some Perrier water ($3.50). I bought some bread so I could get filled up with something filling, but not expensive or sweet---two adjectives which describe almost all the food around here. We bought some food in a grocery store, took it back to the campground and fixed it on Sebastian's portable camp stove. It was some canned ham and beans, I think. Sebastian "borrowed" a couple chairs from a vacant neighboring campsite so we would have a place to sit while we enjoyed our evening meal, using the back of the car as our table.
WEDNESDAY 21 June 1995
Although we got up at 0740 this morning, I might as well have stayed up all night. We slept in the tent last night, and I didn't get much sleep at all. The air mattress had too much air in it; it was too short; and I had no pillow. I guess I did manage to get a few minutes of sleep, even though I tossed and turned all night trying to find something that resembled a comfortable position. We had to wait for the married couple that runs the place to come to work in order to buy some tokens for the hot water in the showers. It was sort of a toss up about what shower to use. There is no distinction between men and women's showers. There were no women (or men for that matter) taking showers, so it ended up not making a lot of difference. Surprisingly, the showers were not bad. The hot water actually worked---one of the few good surprises thus far.
Our campground was shaped something like a horseshoe, with a one-way loop going clockwise around it. The road was typical of this region---narrow, bumpy, and not well marked. There were a few sites for tents, but most of the campground was occupied by small cabins which vacationers could rent. The sites both above us and below us (I forgot to mention that it was also built on a hill) were those sort of cabins. The cabin above us was home to about seven or eight people: a couple or three kids and the rest adults. They sat on their porch (such as it was) and talked loudly while drinking their wine and eating their supper. But they went to bed quite early and we would never see them again until the next morning. A middle age couple lived in the cabin below us. I think he was some sort of officer, at least he wore a uniform. He spent most of his time walking around nude or in his underwear. His wife came out and washed the windows each morning and then she disappeared for the rest of the day.
After eating breakfast---some cookies, bananas, and bread that we had bought the day before---we drove into some small village and walked through some more winding, narrow streets and took some pictures. These were probably the first village pictures that I took, because it was the first village in which we spent any length of time. Many of the old buildings were crumbling and were in the process of being renovated, probably so they could be rented out to tourists who were willing to pay for the privilege of staying in an old historic house. While we were in this village, we had our morning coffee ($3.50 per cup).
Next we visited St. Tropez, a bustling town on the French Rivera. After we had parked the car, we bought some French pastries which we ate as we were looking at the large expensive yachts that were anchored in the harbor. The water front was a jungle of cafes, souvenir shops, sidewalk vendors, and banks. Oh, yes, banks! This was my introduction to French bureaucracy. Changing money had been only a routine matter. I would walk into the bank, show them my passport, sign the travelers check and they gave me the money. But not in France. To begin with, there are electronic doors which are controlled by security guards and allow only one person to enter the bank at a time. I could not take my camera into the bank, and after I got into the bank, no money was handed over until the clerk pompously entered all the information from my passport and from the travelers check into a computer, and waited for it to print out two or three forms, which I had to sign. This, I suppose, was done either to provide employment for more people, or because they want to feel important.
After looking around briefly and paying $4.00 for a cup of coffee so I could use the rest room inside the cafe, we went back to the campground.
I got my swimming trunks, my glasses, and my book, The Other Mrs. Kennedy, so we could go to the beach. Before going to the beach, however, I called Brett to make sure everything was O.K. He told me that Greg Markowitz has resigned as high school principal. This was a surprise, in a way, because I figured it would be either Monica or Dave DuBois.
We drove to a public beach on the Mediterranean Sea---the French Rivera. We parked the car under a canopy to shade it from the sun and then walked down to the beach. We changed into our swimming trunks on the beach. Nobody cared since this seemed to be the accepted practice. About half of the women were topless, which seemed to be a welcomed tradition, also. One of the first thing many of the women did after arriving at the beach was to take off their bikini top. There was a really well built babe lying only a short distance from Sebastian and me. I guess I should have had some sun glasses, because I couldn't seem to keep my eyes off her. And every time I looked at her, she seemed to be looking at me. I really wasn't staring at her, either, but it was hard to keep from looking that way.
There were lots of people on the beach, but it was not as crowded as I had expected it to be. But it was still early in the season. For two hours, from 3:00 until 5:00, I read my book, watched the other people, and slept. Even though I had expected to get a fairly bad sunburn, it wasn't bad at all. We never did go into the water. In fact, for the most part, only the children did any swimming. Most of the adults were there to sit in the sun.
On the way back to the campground, we stopped at the grocery store to buy some food for supper. Believe it or not, I actually saw a couple things that make sense in this country where basic logic seems to get lost in out-dated tradition. In order to use a grocery cart, one must insert a coin to unlock it. When the cart is returned, the coin is also returned. This discourages people from leaving carts in places where they do not belong, or from stealing them. The other good thing that I saw was the scales that print out a price label for fresh produce so the checker, who is always sitting down, does not have to stop and weight all the produce that people buy. It is rather strange to see dogs in the stores with their masters. Maybe they figure the dogs are just as clean and sanitary as the people, and maybe they are in this country with no toilet paper in the rest rooms. This is another adjustment a foreigner has to make. Always take your own roll of toilet paper when going to the rest room. This little courtesy---and a healthful one, at that---is not provided in most places in France.
Back in the campground, we bought some tokens for the hot water and took a shower after lying on the sandy beach in the sun. We made sure that we bought some tokens for the next day, also. We ate our supper of sliced meat, unsliced cheese, bread, and water without ice---because the stores do not sell ice in Europe. Maybe this is one way I can make my fortune: just a simple thing like selling ice. Are we ahead of times here in the U.S., or are they still living in the past with their old buildings?
We played some rummy and Trivial Pursuit while we drank some gin and orange juice without any ice, and then we went to bed.
THURSDAY 22 June 1995
This morning when we got up, we already had our tokens for the hot water, so we were able to take a shower without having to wait. We ate breakfast, packed up our tent and headed north.
Our drive took us through the Moures Mountains, at least that is what Sebastian told me. I have never heard of them before. They really aren't mountains, just large tree covered hills. They reminded me a lot of the Ozarks. The road snaked around the bends of this uninteresting scenery, only to be broken by the constant stretches of vineyards whose straight and narrow rows give some meaning and order to this hot, dry region. It is easy to tell that this is wine country. Vineyards, both large and small, abound. Each village, sometimes each vineyard, has its own winery, with its own unique name and brand. Right now the grapes vines are still young and are still growing, so there wasn't much activity around the fields or the wineries. But the vast number of acres of grapes does give character to the landscape, much like the wheat fields of Kansas, or the corn fields of Nebraska and Iowa, although maybe corn and wheat are not quite as exotic as wine.
In places the vineyards share space with olive trees. These were the first olive trees that I have ever seen. These short trees have leaves of a lighter shade of green, and they are planted in small orchards in orderly rows. They are a common sight in this region, thriving in the same subtropical climate as grapes do.
Around noon, we stopped in a town called Brignoles to have our laundry done. I had assumed that we would go to a Laundromat much like the ones in the United States, although much more expensive. But this turned out to be an old fashioned laundry, where a person leaves the clothing and someone else washes them, dries them, and folds them . It took two or three hours for the woman to complete this job. In the meantime, Sebastian and I walked around the town. Sebastian had been to this town before since he and his parents had come here on vacation. One of the things that he pointed out was an old fountain in the town square that had gradually filled in with dirt and had moss and other vegetation growing out from it. He said his family checks it each time they visit to see how much more dirt and moss have collected on it. We sat at the end of the town square near the fountain and drank coffee. We wandered around town some more using up time until our laundry was done. We looked in store windows, checked out the pictures in real estate offices, looked in a book store----and of course, walked through some more narrow streets and courtyards, before stopping at another outside cafe to drink something cold. As we sat in some of these small cafes, I couldn't help notice policemen on duty in the town squares or at traffic circles. They didn't seem to be doing anything special. They would talk with the "locals", all of whom they probably knew, and they would sometimes give information to tourists. I don't recall seeing many uniformed policemen in the larger cities. It was sort of refreshing just to see a cop hanging around talking to the people, even if there was no apparent need for him.
Finally the two hours were up and we went back to the laundry to get our clothes. It cost about $25 to have the clothes washed---something that would have cost us $5.00 at the most here in the U.S.
Our final destination for the day was a village called Cotignac. We camped at the municipal campground just outside the village. As we were driving to and from the campground, we could look down on the ancient village, with its red tiled roofs and its confusing web of streets. On a cliff at one edge of the village was the skeleton of a castle, which had long since fallen into ruin and only a few ghostly walls remain.
The campground, although it had no picnic table, chairs, or other amenities, was somewhat more comfortable that the previous campground. There was hot water in the showers, although there still was no toilet paper. There was a sink near our camp site where we could wash dishes. At the registration office, there were some tables and chairs. This became our private dining area. It was a little inconvenient, but it offered a pleasant change from eating from the trunk of the car. There were several other campers in the campground. A young guy and his wife were in the spot next to ours. A biker and his wife were across the road. They were a rough look couple and they never seemed to leave the campground. They always spoke to us when we would meet on the way to the rest room, but they pretty much kept to themselves both day and night.
Changing money was just as complicated and labored here as it was St. Tropez. I guess this must be their way of feeling important and proving their authority. It was another one of those locked doors, one at a time, no camera in bank, type bunches of information in computer, wait for receipt, sign receipt ordeals again. But, at least I got the money.
It didn't take us long to "adopt" a favorite bar. The place was called "Modern Bar". It was located on a corner near the edge of the town square. We sat at our sidewalk table and drank two or three beers, just sort of watching the local villagers come and go. It was apparent that this bar had its regular clientele and was a place where the people knew each other well. Of course, I had no idea what the people were talking about, but some fairly lively conversations were taking place. When we got ready to leave, the waitress, who was probably the owner, tried to charge us for an extra drink, but with a little persuasion, she relented, although I am not sure she really believed us. Like many of the waiters and waitresses in France, she looked like she could have been selected by a Hollywood casting director.
Around 11:00 we went back to the campground and went to bed.
FRIDAY 23 June 1995
Another delightful night in the tent! No pillow, an air mattress that I keep falling off. Around 0300 I got up and went outside for a little bit. Nobody else was up and it was cool and quiet. Maybe I could sleep better sitting up in a chair. I did fall asleep for awhile after I went back into the tent.
After eating breakfast at the table up by the office, I took a picture of the small vineyard next to the campground. We set out for a day of sightseeing, first driving north to the Canyon of Verdon--the Grand Canyon of France. This was to be the first natural feature we had visited. The day was dark and gloomy as we started our ascent into the mountains. As we wound our way up the mountain around the hairpin curves, it began to look like we were in Colorado. The mountains were not as tall and there was no snow. But these were real mountains. And below us was a river which cut through the mountains forming a deep canyon. As we continued to drive higher and higher through the green forest-covered mountains, the canyon became deeper and deeper. It didn't look as much like the Grand Canyon as it did the Yellowstone Canyon, perhaps. But, for France, it is a spectacular sight.
The clouds became heavier as we gained in altitude, and soon it began to rain. Not a heavy rain, but a steady, grey rain that often occurs high in the mountains. We stopped at the summit and walked out onto a bridge spanning the canyon to take some pictures. Then we followed the diesel smoking tour buses back down the mountain to where we had first started. We stopped at the base of the canyon where the river begins flowing through the mountains. The water was almost an emerald green color. We paused briefly and watched a motor boat skimming over the river before moving on.
We had planned to "lay out" at the lake, Lake St. Croix, but the clouds were blocking the sun, so we abandoned that idea and drove on. Lying in the sun for a couple hours would have been a welcome break considering the lack of sleep I had experienced, but instead we drove on to Le Thoronet Monastery near the town of Carces. When we first approached this old monastery, I thought it was still active. When we walked into the reception area to buy our tickets (of course), there was the haunting sounds of chants in the background. "Oh, this is exciting," I thought. But, the music was all recorded, and the place had been empty for years. The monastery was started in the 1100's and was completed over the next seventy years. It became the home for Benedictine Monks for the next few centuries. The place was a massive building built of huge stones and possessed a simple elegance which gave it a Spartan look in comparison with St. Stephens, for example. The place was dedicated to prayer and study rather than to public worship. There was no impressive pipe organ in the loft and no gold ornaments or statues. In the chapel there were wooden benches to sit on. The other dependencies such as the dormitory, the dining hall, and the library were dark and cool and quiet----almost spooky. Sebastian remarked that it would make a good setting for a murder mystery, maybe for Murder, She Wrote.
There were plaques which described each portion of the large structure. It had been not only a religious institution, but also a self sufficient agricultural village with workers who cared for the surrounding land. In back of the buildings was an olive grove, which perhaps had been planted during this medieval period. The plaque said that the monks used to walk along the edges of the passage ways in order not to wear down the stones in the middle.
We stopped in the town of Carces for a cup of coffee before we returned to the campground. Very near the entrance to the campground, there is a very large vineyard----the kind only a rich person would own. In the middle of this prosperous vineyard was an impressive mansion. We paused briefly so I could take a picture of this colorful sight.
After we got back to the campground, we sat in the tent and played Trivial Pursuit for a while before driving back into Carces to the grocery store to get some food for supper. Again, we bought some sliced meat, some cheese, some bananas and some bread. I guess that contains most of the food groups, doesn't it? The clouds throughout the day had kept the temperatures quite cool and as the sun started to set, there was a definite chill in the air. I changed into jeans and put on a jacket before we drove into the village of Cotignac to the Modern Bar. We sat in the corner bar under the green Heineken umbrellas and drank a couple beers. By this time, the waitress, the woman who owned the bar, recognized us and served us with a smile. The same people were here again tonight, sitting in their usual places. We were probably the only tourists, except for the couple who was camping beside us. But they didn't stay very long. Even with the jeans and jacket, it was still cool, so we also didn't stay long, but went back to the tent and went to bed.
SATURDAY 24 June 1995
After getting up and doing all the usual things, we got into the car and drove through some heavily forested countryside to a town called Lorgues. I was running a little short on money, so I went through the long, bureaucratic process of changing some American dollars for French francs. Most of this town seemed to built along one main street, although there was the usual intricate pattern of narrow streets webbing the inner part of the village. We sat beneath an umbrella on the main street and drank some Perrier Menthe, a green mint drink which tasted like Nyquil cough medicine, while Sebastian told me about the Entre Casteaux, a large, hotel-like building across the street from us. It seems that it is owned by a wealthy (former) East German. After we finished our drink, we walked across the street to look at it, but it was closed for renovation. The building is located near a sort of community center, complete with a playground, an outside dance floor, and picnic and meeting areas. There were a few kids playing on the equipment, but not many.
While we were sitting in the little sidewalk cafe, I began to notice the number of people who greet each other with a kiss. Woman to woman and man to woman, but not man to man. I had also seen this in other places in France, but it seemed to stand out more in this small village. Sebastian told me that this is fairly traditional in most European countries.
It must have been sometime in the late morning and the sun was starting to get warm. The atmosphere in this small town seemed to be very lazy and laid back. Several people were lounging in the street cafes and bars, some people were leaning out their windows staring with expressionless eyes, dogs were drinking from the public fountain on the main drag. Nobody seemed very energetic.
We looked briefly in an old church whose corner stone was dated 1788. It was cool and dark inside the old stone structure. Like many other churches we looked in, this church also had a beautiful pipe organ in the rear loft.
A small village called Tourtour, further up in the hills was our next stop. This village was one of the towns where Sebastian and his parents have rented a vacation house in the past. In fact, as we walked around the village, we found the exact house where they had once vacationed for a month. I took a picture of Sebastian standing in front of it. It was, indeed, for rent again for this summer. We walked through a small outside market and looked at the fruits and vegetable, the crafts, and the other trinkets that were for sale. From a walkway along the hillside, we could look out over the forested surroundings and see more small villages and farms in the distance. Sebastian said there had been a bad forest fire in that area about 12 years ago and some of the hills were still barren from this fire.
Some of the streets are so narrow that only one car at a time can drive through them. There is, however, a stoplight which controls the traffic to avoid collisions. In the center of the town is a fountain, which also doubles as a drinking place for the dogs of the village. We drank some coffee and ate some rolls as our lunch.
Back in the campground, we played Trivial Pursuit and took a nap before going back into the village of Cotignac for some beer and also some tomato juice at our favorite corner bar. We were waited on by our now familiar waitress. She probably thinks we have moved to town. Many of the same people were already sitting there, under the green umbrellas, drinking beer and talking to each other, often loudly, about subjects that I did not understand. Whoever owns that bar has an ill tempered dog---a very ugly dog with buck teeth. I don't recall ever having seen a dog that ugly before, and I kept wondering why anyone would have gotten a dog that was so ugly. It lay around until it found someone or something, like another dog, to bark at, and then it would bark until someone told it to shut up.
For supper we drove to a village north of the campground, to a place I think was called Sillans La Cascade. We got there early. The restaurant didn't open until 7:00, so we walked about a half mile down a dirt path, through a field to the base of a tree covered hill to see a water fall. I am sure this is where the name of the village must have come from. The waterfall was just sort of "there"; I suppose it could have been located somewhere along the Columbia River. After looking at it, there wasn't much to do except to walk back to the village to see if the restaurant had opened. While we were standing around waiting to be seated, hundreds of sheep were herded from a pasture adjoining the water fall down the highway in front of the restaurant and then out of sight. It was one of the neatest and most spectacular sights of the trip---watching real shepards and real sheep dogs move hundreds of sheep right there in front of my eyes.
When we were finally seated, a private party was still in progress. The owner of the restaurant was throwing a party for someone. Or maybe she was just one of the guests. Nevertheless, it was a loud, boisterous affair encouraged by endless bottles of wine. So we sat patiently and sipped our beer under the large canvas canopy that covered the tables on the terrace. Finally the raucous celebration broke up, and the members of the party started to drift away as the restaurant began to fill with diners.
Meals were always awaited with great anticipation, because I was never exactly sure what I was ordering. Fortunately there were no disasters; in fact, some of them turned out to be quite tasty and delightful, as did the meal that I ordered this night. Fish, ham, salad, french fries and melon. It cost about $35.00, about twice what if was worth, but what the heck. It was a genuine French meal, eaten in a genuine French restaurant, served by genuine French waiters. And those French are elegant, classy people.
Following the meal, we drove directly to the Modern Bar. Instead of beer, I drank hot chocolate. It was another very cool night, much too cool to be drinking anything cold. The hot chocolate helped warm me up a little, but the chill of the night finally won out and we drove back to the campground, even though several other people, tougher than us, I suppose, were still drinking when we left.
As we sat in the many sidewalk bars and cafes in the towns and villages along the trip, one thing that seemed unusual was the lack of kids, young people, teenagers. We have seen them on their way to school in the mornings, so I know there are some around. But I rarely ever saw them downtown, at least in numbers similar to those who prowl the streets of the towns and cities of the U. S. The fact that teenagers cannot drive an automobile until they are eighteen years old probably accounts for part of this, But there must be other cultural differences which also would help explain it.
SUNDAY 25 June 1995
At 0730 we were up and taking a shower, taking the tent down, and packing everything into the back of Sebastian's car getting ready to leave this place behind. We paused, however, to eat an elegant breakfast of bread, cheese, and some sort of fruit at our own little "sidewalk cafe" up near the office. Although we left the campground at 8:30, we couldn't leave the village of Cotignac without having our morning cup of coffee at the Modern Bar. Our regular waitress was not working, which saddened us a little, but we were brave and endured this misfortune. Since she owned the place, and since this was Sunday morning, she was probably sleeping in.
We stopped in Brignoles for gas, but for some reason that I do not remember, we didn't buy any. I did buy a real estate magazine, however, mostly to remind me of the kind of houses the (rich) people live in and just a bit about the prices and kinds of houses available. We also bought some bread to munch on while we were driving on the four lane highway. Speaking of four lane highways----The French do many things in a strange manner that often defies logic. Instead of picking up a ticket where ever one gets on the highway and then paying for it at the exit where you get off, the French have toll booths set up almost at random. You pay the toll, and then immediately get another ticket to pay again a few miles down the road. I never figured out the advantage of the system, unless they are afraid people will cut across the fields and vineyards in order to escape paying the toll. Or, I suspect, it is another way for the government to hire needless workers. It must be quite expensive to operate so many toll booths, when one at each of the exits would be sufficient.
Another unusual sight along the French highways are the restaurants and cafes which are built over the highways. Unfortunately, we didn't stop at any of them, but making a cafe or restaurant as an "overpass" seems like a neat idea. It might be fun sitting above the highway drinking coffee, or eating a meal, and looking down at the traffic as it passes below.
We stopped for gas somewhere along the highway, but other than that it was a routine drive. There were vineyards along the highway, but I had already taken pictures of them. There were also the usual villages strung out along the highway, and I had already seen some French villages. It was the castles and fortresses that caught my attention. It might have been interesting to have looked in one or two of them, or at least to have taken a picture of them. There must have been some interesting history to be learned from some of them: of knights, warriors, land barons, and nobility. But we didn't stop and look at any of them.
After some hesitation, Sebastian finally decided to stop in the town of Orange to camp. We found a large campground at the edge of the town, and that was where we would spend the next couple days. The camping spaces were located between two rows of hedge. On this particular afternoon the sun was beating down relentlessly.
Much of the downtown area seemed to be built around a series of circular plazas. We sat in one such plaza whose focal point was a fountain with some large granite or marble balls. It was Sunday, and it was hot. There were several people sitting idly around talking or drinking. Lots of people from North Africa, the Middle East, and even a few blacks. Most of these people appeared to be poor; many of them were also quite young. I speculated that they probably lived in very small, hot, uncomfortable apartments, and it was cooler and more pleasant to sit in the town square. The rich people were probably home watching TV and enjoying their own drinks on their own comfortable patios.
Since there was not much else to do on this Sunday afternoon---all of the stores were closed---we started walking around. Sebastian had been here before and knew his way around. Our walk took us first to an ancient amphitheater which was built during the Roman rule of France. There wasn't much to be seen from the outside, and, of course, it was closed. We strolled back to the long shaded line of sidewalk cafes, which adjoined an equally long parking lot in the center of the town. We sat under the shade of the trees in order to escape the hot sun and drank mineral water, something which I could never quite seem to enjoy. After wandering into the tourist information office located just to the side of the strip of sidewalk cafes, we started walking toward the Arch, looking for a place to eat along the way. The Arch, which also dates back to Roman rule, is in a traffic circle on the busiest street in town, a major highway which runs through the center of the business district. The street was choked with weekend traffic as we walked west on the narrow sidewalk toward the Arch. We stopped briefly and looked into the window of a Vietnamese or Thai restaurant on a corner across from a bar where an old man was playing a piano on an outside terrace. After glancing briefly at the Arch, we walked back on the other side of the street, but found no restaurant on that side of the street either.
As we were walking down what I thought was an alley---silly me, of course, it was really a street---we came up on a hole-in-the-wall pizza place. The prices were fairly reasonable (around $11.00), so we stopped there to eat. There were only two small tables in front, but it appeared to be a quiet place to eat and rest. Silly me again. We sat down at our table, ordered a beer to drink while we were waiting for our pizza, and then they found us! A steady line of strollers, motorcycles, bicycles, and an assortment of cars. Maybe THIS was the main thoroughfare of the town. Cars squeezed confidently down the cobblestone street, missing us by only inches, something that I am sure the drivers never even gave a second thought to. The pizza, which was baked in an old stone oven, turned out to be quite good, and I even grew accustomed to the cars which passed so close that they could have easily shared my pizza. I was puzzled by guys who would come roaring up on the motorcycles and then just hang around talking to the two young men who ran the place. This must have been primarily a carry out place, because they all seemed to leave carrying a pizza. Actually, it was a pretty nice, unusual, out of the way place to eat. The owners were friendly, as they are in most neighborhood places such as this.
After finishing our pizza, we walked to a large open air plaza with a merry-go-round in the center and with the usual assortment of sidewalk bars. We sat in a bar near the Hotel De Ville and watched the kids ride on the merry-go-round while the adults took their dogs on a late afternoon walk.
Back at the campground, around 7:15, we played more Trivial Pursuit and rummy until we went to bed around 10:30.
MONDAY 26 June 1995
Around 0730 we got up and walked to the showers. I took a shower in one cramped stall, and then combed my hair and brushed my teeth in another stall. They don't believe in shower rooms here, either. We then ate some bread and jelly and some zwieback for breakfast and then went into Orange to a sidewalk cafe near the old amphitheater to have a cup of coffee. Morning is a busy time in Orange with trucks making their deliveries, people hurrying to work, and school kids walking and riding their bikes to morning classes. We sat and watched the busy scene for a while before finding a bank to change some money.
The amphitheater, our first stop, was built by the Romans in approximately 36 B.C. Built against a hill for better acoustics, it seats 7000 people for a variety of events ranging from rock concerts, to opera, to modern drama. Although it is apparent that parts of it has been renovated---some of the seating for example---it still remains much the way it was built centuries ago. Workmen were constructing what appeared to be a new stage, or perhaps some scenery. We made the mistake of walking through the work area, much to their displeasure. A "new" statue of Emperor Caesar Augustus stands high in center stage, where the original statue once stood.
We paid another visit to the old Roman arch after leaving the amphitheater. The arch, erected in 20 A.D., was also built by the Roman conquerors and once served as the main entrance to the city of Orange. Now it stands in the center of a busy traffic circle along the highway which is still the main entrance to the city. The arch was carved with scenes depicting the Roman conquest of the Celts. Although many of the scenes are still visible, the arch is beginning to show signs of deterioration and wear. When we looked at it yesterday, the area was deserted, but today tourists and groups of school children were there, along with the ever present traffic.
We walked back through the side street in order to take a picture of the pizza place where we ate yesterday. It wasn't open yet, and traffic was sparse. We walked back through the plaza with the merry-go-round and the plaza with the large round rocks in the fountain. It was approaching 11:00 and many of the shops and stores still had not opened. We bought some rolls to eat and then drove back to the campground.
Orange is a town of about 35,000 people, although it gives the appearance of having more people than that. It is obviously a very old city with an interesting history. The Amphitheater dates back to the years before the birth of Christ. But one does not get the feeling that time has purposely stood still like one gets in many of the places we had been previously. There are modern buildings; there are modern streets, even though we found ourselves walking in the street much of the time because the sidewalks are wide enough (or narrow enough) for only one person to walk.
Back at the campground, the sky was cloudless and the sun was again hot and without mercy. Sebastian and I lay in the sun for about an hour. I read more of my Kennedy book and slept briefly, although it was too hot to sleep comfortably. An hour was all we could take. We took a quick shower and drove to an aqueduct somewhere in that area. The aqueduct, also built by the Romans to carry water, was more or less a tourist trap with a fee of $10.00 to walk across it. We paid the $10.00, walked across the lower level and then walked back across the upper level. The upper level was the part that carried the water. It was barely tall enough to stand up and certainly too narrow for a fat person to walk through.
The landscape reflects a drier climate. The trees are short and scrubby and much of the land is rocky wasteland. There are still vineyards, but the look and feel is different. It is hot and dusty. One gets the feeling that this might also be a poorer region, too. We are further from the Mediterranean Sea now, and the lush forests of a few miles back are no longer present.
New is still "old", so I know we must still be in southern France. Even new buildings are patterned after the style of the old, tourist, picture post card buildings of long ago. Old gets to be almost a state of mind, it seems. It's like these people do not want to leave the past; they want to remain lost in what used to be. The yellow stucco buildings with their wooden shutters do offer some relief from the overbearing sun, I suppose. But, mostly it seems that these people are looking backward instead of forward.
TUESDAY 27 June 1995
Hooray! My last night in a campground. I have been sleeping better since I let some of the air out of the air mattress. At least I don't roll off it anymore. And I have been using one of my smaller bags as a pillow. Such luxury. I wish I had thought of this long ago. We got up at 0730, went up and took a shower and then ate some rolls for breakfast. After we packed away the tent for the last time, we drove into downtown Orange for some coffee to get us started for the day----and what a long day it would turn out to be.
Our route took us in a northerly direction toward our final destination of Paris. Sometime after we bypassed Lyon, we stopped at a rest area and ate a lunch of bread and cheese, and also filled the thermos bottle with real water. The sun was still showing no mercy as the temperature began to climb into the mid eighties. We stopped in Macon and I used my credit card to get 300 francs. This money was spent mostly at the randomly placed highway toll booths, which I described earlier.
As we drove along, the landscape gradually changed from the semi-tropical climate with its endless miles of vineyards into more conventional farmland with field crops such as wheat and hay. Trees changed from scrubby bushes that covered wasteland to forests of green leafy trees. As we drove further into the interior of France, the more reminiscent of Kansas it became---with a few hills added, of course. Even the hills began to flatten out as we drove, and large fields of wheat began to replace vineyards as the chief type of agriculture. Large herds of cattle---especially charlaois---began to appear in the fields, signaling the fact that this was dairy country. This must be where the dozens of kinds of cheese in France come from. Wine, bread, and cheese. We passed them all today.
As we sped along the highway, waiting until we would come to the next toll booth, villages came and then disappeared into the distance. More castles, fortresses, and churches loomed in the distance, as we past them by. Getting a good picture from the car was impossible, not because of the barriers like the Austrians had constructed, but because of the never ending guard rails along the highways. It became almost like both the French, as well as the Austrians, were saying, "If you want to take pictures, you've gotta go into the villages." We didn't, and I didn't get any pictures. The appearance of the villages began to change, also. The yellow sun-baked stucco Mediterranean look had all but vanished, and white again became the dominant color, along with the red tile roofs that are common everywhere. We crossed the Rhone River and followed it for a while, but it and the highway soon parted.
Finally, somewhere in the early afternoon we got off the busy, and boring, four lane highway, and drove a few miles to the west to a small village called Vezelay, where we would spend the night. The centerpiece of Vezelay was a very large, and very old, stone church and abbey which stood like a fortress on the crest of a hill and overlooked the farmland and villages that lay below. We walked through the enormous church built of massive stones, but built with simplicity and great dignity. There was no large organ, no gold gilded alter, no lavish chandeliers. The mood was simple and somber, as the visitors spoke in hushed voices. In the dark, dank basement was a crude chapel where some people were bowed in prayer. This was possibly the largest church we had seen thus far, and its cool interior was a welcome relief from the afternoon heat that was building outside. We walked around the grounds inspecting the church from the outside and looking off into the distance at the rich farmland. A farmer on his tractor was busy bailing hay, and herds of cattle grazed lazily in the fields.
We stopped at a small grocery store down the main street from the church and bought some food for supper: some sort of stew, some bananas, some bread. Two young backpackers were also in the store buying food. We would see them later camping at the Youth Hostel. This was also the afternoon that Sebastian locked his keys in the car by mistake. But by using a "secret" method of pounding on the door, the lock began to ease its way up, and a crisis was averted. He said it was an old trick that his dad had taught him.
When we first stopped at the Youth Hostel, it was closed, so we drove downtown to look around and pass time until it opened. Vezelay, even though it is a very small village in comparison to some we had been in, was a tourist town. This was evident by the large number of people who were touring the old church. Much of the four or five blocks of the main business district was devoted to art shops, and religious art at that. There were also souvenir shops, bakeries, and other small art galleries off on the side streets, along with a number of eating places and drinking establishments and wine shops. Many of the places appeared to be expensive, and after looking at some of the prices posted in the windows, our suspicions were confirmed. We stopped in a shaded outdoor cafe located on a deck up a short flight of steps from the sidewalk and drank another green mint---NyQuil---drink before we drove back to the Youth Hostel.
The Youth Hostel was located at the edge of the village, tucked back away from the road a few hundred yards. The hostel was combined with a campground, both apparently operated by the same man. There were actually three buildings. One was the office, kitchen and dining room building. The other two buildings were dorms. I had supposed that one was a men's dorm and the other was a women's dorm. But I was wrong again. When a couple American girls checked into the Youth Hostel, they were housed in the same dorm as Sebastian and I. This meant that we would be sharing the showers, the rest rooms, and the room where we brushed our teeth and combed our hair. However, once the girls had checked in to the dorm, I don't recall ever seeing them again while we were there. The door to their room was always open and their light was always on, but we never ever saw them come in or go out. They must have taken a shower while we were eating our supper and playing Trivial Pursuit and rummy. I was tempted to look in their room, but decided this would not be the intelligent thing to do. Maybe they left the door open and the lights on for protection----because they were afraid to stay there by themselves. We will never know, I guess.
We fixed our stew in the kitchen and ate it in the dining room, all alone. Sebastian and I were the only people at the Youth Hostel, aside from the girls. After we did the dishes, we took a walk to get some exercise. A short distance from the hostel, we saw a goat standing on an embankment beside the road. We apparently startled it and it turned around and began running. It must have run into something, because we heard a crash followed by bellows of pain. We decided that taking a walk might not be such a good idea after all and we returned quickly to the safety of the dining room until around 10:00 when we went to bed.
While we were playing rummy, we looked out and saw some hot air balloons. We stood and watched them for a while, as did the people who were camping in the campground. The two guys whom we had seen in the grocery store were camping right outside the dining room. Poor guys had to fix their supper over some sort of portable cooker similar to Sebastian's. The guy who ran both the Youth Hostel and the campground left around eight or nine o'clock and did not return until the next morning. I suppose we could have stayed free if we would had known he was leaving. This experience wasn't so bad, but this is probably because we were the only ones there.
WEDNESDAY 28 June 1995
Today we drove from the Youth Hostel in Vezelay to Paris. We got up and took a shower. The showers had transparent curtains. Some privacy. Too bad the two American girls weren't in there. After I got dressed, I went into the other room and combed by hair and brushed my teeth. Then I went to the rest room in the third room---the one with no toilet paper. All of these were co-ed rooms, but like I said, I never saw the girls again after they checked in.
The trip to Paris took three hours or so. We stopped at a rest area along the way enroute so we wouldn't get there during the busy noon hour. Paris is located in a major agricultural area of France. In fact, the agriculture was probably the most interesting thing about the entire trip. It was almost like being back home in Kansas. Huge wheat fields spread out over the land just like they do in Central and Western Kansas.
The rest of the trip was not much different from what we have seen the past couple days. The traffic became heavier the nearer we got to Paris. But the villages, the church steeples, the castles, and fortresses were still out there in the wheat fields----and, of course, the toll booths. It was the kind of trip that is easy to sleep through---hot and monotonous.
We arrived in Paris around 2:00. The traffic was wild, but after some searching, we found our hotel, Hotel Le Fleur, and checked in. Our room was on the top floor of the small hotel. It was small and it had only one bed. This would not have been so bad, but this was a very small bed. There was a sink and some sort of device the French must use to wash their balls. Oh, well.
After resting for just a few minutes, we walked west and then north from the hotel to Avenue Le Clerc, one of the major thoroughfares of Paris. Of course, at the time I didn't have a clue where I was. I only knew we were sitting in a busy sidewalk bar, on a busy sidewalk, near a busy street. But even though traffic was heavy, this was no Vienna, with its curving, unpredictable streets. Paris is a city that someone actually planned and there is a sort of order and method to its madness. During those first few minutes that I sat drinking a beer, I kept telling myself, "This is Paris? Yes, I am really in Paris." At that particular place and at that particular time, it could have been almost any large city in the world, I suppose. People hurrying along the sidewalks, the streets jammed with traffic, taxis and busses filled with people. The scene was impersonal, but at the same time, it seemed to reach out and grab you and make you a part of it.
Later that afternoon we walked west from our hotel beginning our exploration of what was to become the Paris version of "our neighborhood." We walked up and down some of the streets like the wide Boulevard Du Montparnasse, Avenue Du Maine, Boulevard Raspail, and Boulevard Edgar-Quinet. We walked past the huge Montparnasse Cemetery, with its high walls guarding the its ancient memories. Probably the most important location in our neighborhood was Montparnasse Train and Subway Station. This large, almost unmanageable building was about a 10 minute walk from our hotel and was adjacent to an impressive "skyscraper" called Tour Main-Montparnasse. By New York or Chicago standards, it was just an average building which would be lost in a sea of taller buildings. But in Paris, it towers above any and all buildings for blocks around. The building itself is home to hundreds of offices, but attached to it is a large modern shopping center with dozens, possibly even hundreds, of stores and shops. It also contained the bank and the post office that we would use most frequently while we were in Paris. It would be the point of reference in future days as we would look out across the skyline of Paris. Around this tall building and the train station, was a public square, a hangout for all sorts of people: tourists, travelers, shoppers, and probably even the homeless.
It was while we were on this walk that we made another important discovery, one what would affect our lives for the next three days. It was a bar called The Musketeers. From 6:00 until 8:00 each afternoon there was a Happy Hour when drinks were half price. This meant that we only had to pay $2.50 for a beer and not $5.00. Outside our window the rush hour traffic was inching its way along the busy Avenue du Maine. On the sidewalk a parade of colorful people crowded the sidewalks as people left work and headed for home. Our friendly waiter, another one of those "Hollywood casting character" types, kept bringing us the beer. After an hour or so and three or four beers, we were getting hungry (and I decided I had enough alcohol on an empty stomach) so we walked down some more streets trying to make a decision on where to eat. Our decision was a Chinese restaurant just off the Avenue du Maine. The food was adequate, but not sufficient in quantity. I tried some Chinese beer, but decided that Chinese food is vastly better than Chinese beer.
We walked up the street to the north of the Chinese restaurant past a series of shops advertising a variety of sexual oriented merchandise and entertainment. The streets were crowded with people, the sidewalk cafes and bars were filled with people relaxing and drinking. We stopped in one of the cafes and drank a cup of coffee. By this time is was approaching 10:00. It was still light outside and the streets of Paris were just beginning to come alive. We barely made it into our neighborhood grocery store to buy a six pack of beer before it closed at 10:00. With darkness just starting to set in, we went back to our hotel and drank our six pack before going to bed.
THURSDAY 29 June 1995
Last night was a miserable night. The room was too small, too hot, and too noisy. There was only one bed in the room. I wouldn't mind both of us sleeping in one bed, if the bed was a queen size bed or a king size bed. But the bed in our room was more or less a single, making it impossible for either of us to turn over or even change positions. It was hot, and there was very little circulation in the room. Even that would not have been so bad if it hadn't been for the noise. Obviously we were near some bars or cafes that stayed open very late into the night. There was loud laughing, talking, and music into the early morning hours. I got up and looked out the window, and I could see two or three places where the sound was coming from. I tried to open the window to get more air into the room, but, like every thing else, the French have their own kind of peculiar window, which Sebastian neglected to tell me about. So, as a result, I did not get much sleep.
Around 0730, we got up. We didn't have a shower, so I washed my face in the sink. On our way out of the hotel, we asked to have our room changed to one with a shower.
We walked down the street two or three blocks from the hotel and ate our breakfast in a sidewalk cafe. It was the same old thing: coffee, rolls, and French bread with butter and jelly. By this time, I had resigned myself to this kind of "European" breakfast. There weren't many people eating, but the streets were starting to wake up with the traffic of people going to work.
We moved Sebastian's car into a parking garage a few blocks from the hotel in the area of the Tour Maine-Montparnasse and the Montparnasse Train and Subway Station. Sebastian said it would be cheaper than leaving it parked on the street and also safer. Then we went to the train station and bought a three day subway pass and a three day museum pass. This would turn out to be a good deal because it provided admission to sixty five different attractions in the Paris area. Of course, we didn't go to all sixty five of them, but we did use it enough to make it a good investment.
Our first major stop of the day was the Louvre. This truly huge building which was formerly a royal palace, stretched for at least two or three city blocks on two sides with long hallways connecting the two main parts. The entire building is three or four stories tall, making it the largest, or at least one of the largest, museums in the world. If a person wanted to look thoroughly at every work of art in the entire building, it would take literally days to finish. We really were not interested in much of the art which is housed in the Louvre. Like many other people, the two works that I really wanted to see were the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. It was not difficult to tell when we approached either of these works of art, because they are by far the most popular exhibits, and they attracted more people than anything else in the museum. There are many signs warning people not to use flash bulbs when taking pictures, but the signs were to no avail. Flashbulbs were flashing freely and there were no security guards to stop them. However, the Mona Lisa was encased in a special protected frame, for this very reason, I suspect. No other pictures were in special protective cases.
The main entrance to the Louvre is a glass pyramid designed by the American architect Ieoh Ming Pei in 1988. The pyramid gives a modern look to a building which was started in the late ll00's and added to by various French kings until the eighteenth century. Most of the art housed here is "old" masterpieces, much like can be seen in the Nelson-Atkins Museum, for example----just lots, lots more.
Anyway, we had a cup of coffee in the coffee shop on the second floor terrace. From here we could look down on the entrance to the museum with the pyramid, the fountains, and the pools with all the people wading in it or dangling their feet in it. There is a large courtyard at the entrance which extends back to the Tuileries Gardens.
After an hour or two in the Louvre, we took the subway back to the hotel and happily found out that the hotel had given us another room. Our new room was one of eight or ten rooms located in a courtyard on the street level. It had two beds AND a shower. Even though the room was so small that both of us could barely walk around at the same time, it was a vast improvement over the room we slept in last night. Just having another room was enough to brighten our spirits.
We walked back to our neighborhood skyscraper, and I went through the long process of calling Brett again to check up on things. I could never call directly, so I ended up placing all the calls collect.
The Montparnasse station is adjacent to the skyscraper, so it was just a short walk to catch the subway. The Paris subway system is very complex and is built on several levels. We often had to walk two or three city block in underground tunnels and corridors in order to get on the subway trains. There is a life of its own in these underground passageways. In order to gain access to the subway system, we inserted our three day ticket into a slot at the turnstile. Once "inside" we followed the signs directing us down the various corridors and tunnels to the subway deck. Small shops hawking everything from food, to souvenirs, to newspapers can be found. Independent vendors selling their wares line the passageways. Poor people begging for money, blind people asking for handouts, people entertaining by singing or playing some sort of instrument are everyday sights in the subway system. And hardly a subway ride went by that someone was not on board begging for money, selling something for money, or "entertaining" for money. And, surprisingly enough, many people gave them money.
In the early afternoon we made our first trip to downtown Paris. We walked west on the Champs Elysees, a wide tree lined avenue with fashionable shops, banks, and leisurely sidewalk cafes. This is really Paris, I felt. The only street in Paris that I had really ever heard about. And ahead of us was the Arch of Triumph, standing alone in a large traffic circle. From a distance it didn't look very impressive, but as we got nearer, it took on a greater majesty and certainly a greater magnitude. We crossed over to the north side of the Champs Elysees, went through a tunnel beneath the street and found ourselves standing directly in front of this stately Arch. We took the elevator to the top and got our first view of the Paris skyline. We looked out over this huge city with all of its historic buildings and monuments. The skyline of the "old" Paris is flat, broken only by the huge public buildings and of course, the Eiffel Tower slightly to the southeast. The Paris "skyline" is in the suburbs. Modern skyscrapers loom in the distance to the east where the banking, insurance, and financial institutions are headquartered. Skyscrapers also rise up on the western perimeter in the area of the Grand Arch of Defense. The Seine River, bordered by former palaces, public gardens, monuments, and upscale apartment buildings, bisects Paris into two uneven halves. Stretching to the east for a mile or so to the Royal Palace is the bustling Champs Elysees. Twelve avenues leading in from the four corners of the city converge at the Arch, making it one of the unifying landmarks of Paris. Marshall Foch Avenue radiates to the southwest with its expensive apartments and town homes shaded under a canopy of green. The Grand Arch of Defense is in perfect symmetry to the west.
Down from the Arch of Triumph, we walked back toward the east along the north side of the Champs Elysees. In the very shadow of the Arch is a McDonalds. We stopped here, mostly for the irony of the situation, to get something cold to drink. This is one sidewalk cafe that does not have table service. I stood in line for about twenty minutes just to pay $3.00 each for two diet Cokes. So much for history meeting the present! I will take the equally expensive, but more conventional sidewalk cafe any time.
Continuing our stroll up the avenue, we stopped briefly to inspect a Mercedes-Benz mini-museum. After this short diversion, we continued our stroll along with hundreds of others to the end of the Champs Elysees where the American Embassy is located along side the Grand Palace and the Place de la Concorde. From here we walked through the Tuileries Gardens where people were relaxing on benches and on the grass sipping their drinks, chatting, and even sleeping. We continued on past a carrousel taking excited children for rides, and then on past the Louvre to the subway station for a welcome chance to rest on the ride back to the station.
By this time, it was 7:00 and happy hour was half over at our Musketeers Bar, but we managed to drink three beers to quench our thirst---served of course, by our regular waiter, who recognized us immediately and brought the first two beers almost without being asked. While we were there, I ate a salad for supper. It was a time to relax after a full day of walking and looking. It was well after 8:00 when we left this bar to walk around the streets some more and soak up some more of the evening atmosphere. By this time, the people of Paris were starting to fill the streets and sidewalks of the city, relaxing and unwinding in the cafes and bars along the sidewalk. We stopped briefly at a corner bar and drank a quick beer before finding an Irish Pub on an out-of-the-way side street. We sat at an outside table and drank a bottle of dark Irish Guinness Beer. Even though it was still fairly early we started back to the hotel, stopping along the way to pick up a six pack of beer to drink in our hotel room. Later on, midnight at least, we walked out through the streets again. Even at 1:30 in the morning the streets were active and people were still sitting in the bars and cafes drinking and talking.
FRIDAY 30 June 1995
We got up at 0730 this morning after what was restful and refreshing sleep compared to our first night in this hotel. And I actually got to take a shower and not just rinse off the underneath part of my body. We ate breakfast in the hotel. I think it was included in the price of the room, but we didn't know this yesterday morning. There was nothing special or original about the food, just the fact that we did not have to look for a place to eat.
Our morning was occupied mainly by taking a tour of Notre Dame Cathedral. This huge church, built in the Gothic style, dominates the religious architecture of Paris. It was built during the years of 1163 - 1330 on the site where Paris was originally built, actually an island in the Seine River. Like so many other buildings we have visited along the way, Notre Dame is receiving a major facelift. Its front facade is covered with scaffolds while workmen are busy sandblasting its ancient stones. However, the entire exterior of the building is beautiful and exquisite. Its sides are supported by several flying buttresses, and its south facade is decorated with beautiful and intricate stained glass windows.
The inside is lavishly decorated with huge carved stone columns, sculptures of important church and religious leaders, a large pipe organ, and beautiful colored windows. Along each side of the church are small alcoves containing historical displays and private places of worship. A worship service was being conducted in the front part of the cathedral. Many tourists wandered in and out of the worship service, seeming to regard it as just another sightseeing event. There were hundreds of tourists both inside and outside the church. It is difficult to truly appreciate the beauty and grandeur of such a magnificent building which is dedicated to the worship of God when so many loud, hurried, and insensitive people are crowding through in order to snap a picture just to say they have been there.
On the outside, dozens of tour busses were lined up and parked in the streets to the rear of Notre Dame. There were dozens of Japanese scurrying around taking pictures of each other and their groups. Even though they probably do not mean to, they are often very obnoxious and rude. They walk in front of cameras, rarely wait their turn at anything, and seemingly rarely ever appreciate the historic or ascetic implications of what they are looking at. Before leaving the vicinity of Notre Dame, we spent some time in the underground catacombs where the remains of the earliest settlement of Paris have been unearthed and preserved in an underground museum exhibit. All that is left of this ancient settlement are the foundations and a few partial walls of long destroyed and toppled buildings.
We walked along the Seine River for a short distance before walking back to the subway station. Along the way we stopped at a film store so Sebastian could buy a roll of film for his camera. We also walked past the police headquarters for the city of Paris, one of the few heavily guarded buildings that I observed. This is perhaps partly due to the fact that this is also the Interpol headquarters. Also along our route we saw the Palace of Justice and the palace of Charles IV, but after the royal residence was moved to the Louvre, it eventually became a prison, housing such famous prisoners as Marie-Antoinette.
The constant walking was starting to take its toll on my feet. A blister was starting to develop on my left heel making it increasingly difficult to walk. We stopped at a drug store somewhere in the neighborhood not far from the subway station where I bought some bandages. This helped some; at least the shoe was no longer rubbing directly on the blister. With that taken care of, we pressed on to see the sights of Paris.
And the next sight we saw was the Museum d'Orsay which is home to an impressive and priceless collection of art from the recent past. Paintings by Monet, Degas, Toulouse Latrec, Gaugin, Renoir, Cezanne, Van Gogh and Manet are all on display. It seemed that almost every famous painting that I have seen in art books and magazines is hanging on the walls of the d'Orsay. I walked through the expansive galleries saying, "Oh, I have seen that one." or "That one was in our social studies book.". It is difficult to believe that these are the original paintings, the ones that the artists actually painted with their own brushes.
The Museum d'Orsay was formerly a railroad station which was converted into an art museum. It does not seem as forbidding as the Louvre in either size or content. Although it is a very large building, it is more manageable than the sprawling palace which the Louvre once was. And, to me, the contents of the d'Orsay are much more friendly and familiar than the conglomeration of mostly very old art that is housed in the Louvre. The main hall on the ground level is devoted to statuary----some of it even without the customary fig leaves. A huge gold clock is the dominating feature of the statuary hall. Among the visitors this day were many Americans and also many Japanese. I was surprised by the large number of people who were there. I had expected that this would be one of the places where we could browse around in relative solitude. It turned out that there are more art lovers than I had anticipated. But these are artists that anyone with even a basic knowledge of art has either seen or heard of. They are the artists who painted the pictures we now think of as the masterpieces of art.
In the afternoon we visited another masterpiece: the Eiffel Tower. This exquisite structure was built in 1887-1889 for the Paris International Exhibition of 1889. It contains over 12,000 individual steel sections and it is constructed in such a way that each square centimeter of ground area is subjected to no more than about 4 lbs. of pressure. It is not at all difficult to see why it is one of the most visited attractions in the world. After paying about $12.00 per person to ride the elevator to the top, we were able to look out over the city of Paris from an unparalleled viewpoint. From this vantage point the city stretches into the distance, and it is easy to pick out most of the famous landmarks of Paris. Looking directly down from our 980 feet height, the Seine River gently cuts Paris into two halves. The Arch of Triumph stands stately, although dwarfed in size, slightly to the northwest. The expansive Ecole Militaire, the French military school, whose most famous student was Napoleon, lies to the east. On top of the Eiffel Tower is an array of radio and television transmission towers, air traffic control equipment, radar dishes, and weather collecting apparatus. In fact, the first trans-Atlantic radio waves were sent from this tower in 1916.
After descending from the Eiffel Tower we walked across the street to the Trocadero and the Palais de Chaillot, which was started as a palace for Napoleon's son, but was not completed until early this century. It is shaped like an amphitheater with a long pool and lawns stretching in front of it. The pool and its green lawns were crowded with hundreds of young people, mostly teenagers, wading in the water, sitting with their feet dangling in the water, or sunbathing or sleeping. The most impressive views of the Eiffel Tower are from the vast stone terrace of the Palais de Chaillot.
On the far side of the Trocadero we walked up Kleber Avenue, one of the streets which fans out from the Arch of Triumph. We took some time out from our walking to rest in a sidewalk cafe and drink a glass of beer. As we sat and watched the people hurrying by, we were increasingly aware (and amused) by the green jackets which seems to be in fashion with the men of Paris. In the United States, green jackets are something out of the 1960's or early 70's. An American male wearing a green jacket would probably bring curious stares, if not amused smiles or snickers. "Like, where did you find that jacket, old man?" But they are very much in vogue with the fashion conscious Parisian men.
We continued our walk to the Arch of Triumph and then took the subway to the Louvre and the Avenue Rivoli, one of the best places we found to buy souvenirs. We browsed through the merchandise which cluttered the sidewalks looking for some cheap T-shirts. I finally settled on some shirts which cost 50 marks (around $12) each. At this point, I was willing to settle for about anything, although these shirts turned out to be of rather good quality. It was getting late, not only in our trip, but also late in the day, and we were in a hurry to take our place in the Musketeers Bar on the Avenue du Maine. By this time the waiter already knew us and brought us 2 beers immediately after we sat down. We sat, rested, talked, and looked at the pictures of old time American movie stars hanging on the walls, while we waited for our waiter to bring us the sandwich and salad which we ordered.
As we were riding the subway to the Louvre, a man entered the subway frantically looking for his dog that had gotten away from him and was lost. He was almost in a panic and I was getting just a little nervous, for both him and his dog. At first everyone looked at him in amazement and perhaps pity, but it soon became evident that he was another subway entertainer, with a truly novel, and ultimately, amusing approach to asking for money. (To which several people responded.)
Having eaten supper and having drunk three or four beers, we were ready to head back to our hotel for the evening. We stopped along the way at a grocery store and bought a bottle of vodka and some orange juice to keep us company until bed time.
SATURDAY 1 July 1995
We stayed up pretty late last night---until about 0200, to be exact-----drinking vodka and orange juice and talking. It was pretty hard to get out of bed this morning at 0730. But after taking a shower and eating our as-always breakfast in the hotel dining room, I was ready to go forth and enjoy my last day in Paris.
After breakfast, we took the subway to the old Bastille area. Actually we were looking for a good place to buy some more souvenirs, but this definitely was not the place for that. The stores in this area of the city are too conventional and most of the stuff they sell in the few blocks we walked was not the kind of stuff to take back home and give to friends. But while we were in the area, we stopped and looked at the place where the Bastille had once stood. It has long since been torn down, but the outline of the building has been painted on the street. Simply translated, there wasn't much to see.
I was running low on francs, so we took the subway to the Louvre area to the Avenue Rivoli where we had seen a no-commission exchange office. But as luck would have it, it was closed. So we got back on the subway and went to the Champs Elysees to an exchange office we had gone to a couple days ago when we first arrived in Paris. The matter of money was frustrating here in France, to say the least. There are eight different coins in their money system, and except for the 10 franc coin, none of them are easily recognizable. Although it remained an annoyance to me during the entire time I was in France, I finally just wrote it off as another illogical French excess and learned to live with it. It might not have been so irritating if there had been more logic to the denominations of the coins. Instead of using coins as a fraction of their major unit of currency (which I suppose is the franc), their money ranges all they way from one "something or other" all the way up to a ten franc coin.. Here in the United States, there are only four coins, each distinctly different in appearance and size. But, I did eventually learn to recognize the 10 franc coin, and the rest of them I regarded as basically worthless and kept them for souvenirs.
The trip downtown was also an opportunity to take one last look at the famous and beautiful avenue. We stopped at the Cafe of Paris and ordered a cup of coffee and I watched the bustle of activity in the street and on the sidewalk with some sadness, knowing that it would be only a memory after we left it behind.
Another ride on the Paris subway took us to the National Center for Art and Culture, more commonly known as the Pompidou Center. This fantastic futuristic building is one of the top tourist attractions in Europe, surprisingly enough, and houses a breathtaking collection of modern and abstract art. There are paintings by Picasso, Braque, Matisse, Renoir, Paul Klee, Otto Dix, and, making the entire visit worthwhile, Jackson Pollack. Again, I walked around with a sense of wonder that I was really looking at the original paintings, and not just some well done reproductions. These pictures contained the actual paint, the actual brush strokes that the artists had put there with their own hands. Especially fascinating to me were the paintings of Jackson Pollack.
Most of the art in this building is different, to say the least. Some of it is really far out. Some people would argue that some of it is not art at all. But no matter what you think of it or how you perceive it, it is not dull or ordinary. It is not pictures of half dressed women sitting in a chair; It is not pictures of sissy looking men sitting at a desk. Nor is it idyllic landscapes with trees and flowers. Some of it is surrealistic; some of it is abstract; some of it requires an imagination; and some it defies the imagination. But it was time well spent.
The building itself, which is named after former French President George Pompidou, is made entirely of glass and is surrounded by a white steel grid. It looks most unusual because its services and structure have been exposed externally and painted in primary colors. To reach the fourth and fifth floors where the Museum of Modern Art is located, one rides escalators located in giant glass tubes located on the outside of the building. This is definitely an appropriate setting for such a collection of modern art.
The streets and sidewalks outside the Pompidou Center are busy with tourists and Parisians milling through the carnival like atmosphere of shops, booths, street entertainers, cafes, bars, and souvenir stands. The atmosphere is casual and informal. This is a place to come to relax, to look, to walk, to eat and drink---and even to buy something if strikes your fancy and you have the cash to buy it. This is a place for tourists, for young people with nothing else to do, for the artsy crowd, and for the adventurer and excitement seeker.
Our final destination of the day was the Grand Arch of Defense, located in the western part of Paris. After spending the better part of three days touring old museums, old churches, and other old buildings, the Grand Arch of Defense was like a breath of fresh air. Here the setting is modern, up to date, clean, and spacious. Tall skyscrapers, home to insurance and oil companies, banks and hotels rise up with their clean, simple lines giving the area a sense of progress, of growth, of the present day, if not the future. In front of the Arch is a wide, open plaza, complete with a skateboard path for the young at heart. Modern eating establishments and fast food cafes coexist with attractive sidewalk cafes. A large indoor shopping center makes shopping convenient and pleasant.
The Arch itself is 360 feet high and 345 feet wide and is constructed of marble and glass. It is built in a direct line with the Arch of Triumph and provides a sharp, but fitting, contrast of old and new tributes to military defense and glory. The new Arch, as is fitting, serves a more functional use, however. It contains office space for a variety of commercial and non-profit organizations. The view from the top of the Arch gives a different perspective of Paris since it is located in the western suburbs and not in the center of the city. The entry level of the arch serves as a mini museum and art gallery with several interesting displays.
We paused briefly at a sidewalk cafe to drink something cool and take some pictures before taking the subway back to the neighborhood and then to our hotel.
We paid our hotel bill of 1120 francs---more expensive than I had anticipated, but, on the other hand, everything is more expensive that I had expected. We headed for our favorite bar, the Musketeers Bar, to enjoy Happy Hour and to eat our evening meal. It was later than usual and we managed to drink only two beers before Happy Hour expired.
Back at the hotel, we didn't do much. I ended up falling asleep on the bed for a while, but around 11:OO we decided to go out and see what was happening. But by this time it was raining steadily. We dashed across the street to a small bar on a corner near our hotel mostly to get out of the rain. The woman who owned the place was just about ready to close it for the night, but she brought us each a glass of beer. This beer had a very sweet taste, and it was the worst beer I have ever tasted---and I am not very particular about my beer, either. Since it came in a glass, we had no way of knowing what brand it was (or, maybe, if it was even beer). This beer was impossible to drink, which became sort of a problem. Did we just pay for it and leave it sitting on the table? Or did we try to ignore the awful taste and drink it? Fortunately, the woman went outside to bring in the chairs from the sidewalk. While she was out there, we both poured our beer on a plant which was sitting near our table. THEN, we paid for it and got out of there quickly.
The rain was beginning to let up and it was sort of exciting to be walking on the streets of Paris late at night in the rain. First we went to the street where the skyscraper and the train station are located and then sort of bar hopped for the next two or three hours. This was Saturday night in Paris, and even at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, Paris is still active with people. In one cafe we ordered some toast with cheese melted on it along with some beer. Sebastian said that it was called croque monsieur. You couldn't prove it by me, but it was good, and I thought, very French.
In another cafe, we had to go inside because of the rain. I think we disturbed a couple of middle age lovers who were sitting alone in an otherwise empty "overflow" room of a bar. But there are lots of bars, and they would find another one. On Montparnasse Avenue, we sat outside and watched the late theater crowd as they stopped for coffee (or more likely beer) after the movie had ended. People, both young and old, were still walking on the sidewalks; the streets were busy with traffic. Lovers walked hand in hand on the cool evening. Small knots of teenagers hung out on the corners. We walked past our favorite hangout, the Musketeers Bar, but it was far too crowded to find a seat. Music was blasting and the crowd was oblivious to the fact that it was approaching 2:00 in the early morning.
It was late when we finally got to bed, but it was a good way to end our stay in Paris. It was a good way to remember the city, too: pleasant, exciting, busy, cosmopolitan.
SUNDAY 2 July 1995
We had already gotten the car out of the parking garage where we had put it when we first arrived and had parked it about four or five blocks from the hotel. After getting up around 0630, taking a shower and getting dressed, Sebastian got the car and parked it in front of the hotel so we could load our bags into it and head for Frankfurt.
Our only problem leaving Paris was one wrong turn, but it was nothing major, and soon we were heading east toward the German border, leaving Paris for another visit yet to come. We drove past Euro-Disney in the far eastern suburbs of Paris, but we were never close enough to actually see it. We did see a great deal of productive farm land, however. Large fields of wheat, hay and sugar beets, along with hundreds of herds of grazing cattle again reminded me of Western Kansas. Paris, with all its sprawling metropolitan suburbs, is located in the bread basket of France. Gone, for the most part, were the castles and the fortresses. The church steeples were still there, of course, but somehow it just didn't matter any more. The trip was essentially over, and it was just a matter of getting to the airport now.
We stopped once at a rest area to fill up with gas and to eat a breakfast of rolls and coffee. We stopped another time for some orange juice. But mainly it was just driving. We played some Trivial Pursuit to make time go faster as we drove along. About 2:00, we stopped at a small village called Grunstadt, about 60 miles outside Frankfurt. Sebastian didn't want to drive into Frankfurt until we met the plane on Monday morning. Hotels were expensive in this little village. We checked with three or four different hotels before checking into a hotel which cost around $80.00 located on the south side of the village square.
Looking around the town didn't take very long, and it didn't take long to discover that there was nothing to do and nothing to see. There were a few local residents relaxing in some of the outside cafes, but, of course, all the stores were closed and the streets were bare. I got about $35.00 from a nearby ATM so we could eat supper. That was probably the most exciting thing that we did. I slept from 4:00 until about 6:00 with a feather pillow folded up about four times under my head. We ate our supper in the hotel dining room. We ordered a dinner for two which consisted of 2 kinds of meat, some vegetables, french fries, apple strudel, and beer. It was more and better than I had dared to expect, which was a pleasant surprise. After supper, we drank some vodka and orange juice and went to bed.
At last I had my chance to see a German village. Other than the fact that it was a Sunday afternoon when all the stores were closed and all the streets were bare, it was a pleasant experience, I guess.
MONDAY 3 July 1995
We got to bed around 11:00 last night, which is fairly early for us. The hotel room had wall to wall windows with only white curtains covering them. It was very light in the room during the night, but still I got plenty of sleep, even though I heard the bells from the nearby churches ring almost every hour during the night. The main problem was the feather pillow, which was as bad as no pillow at all. We watched the news on TV---in French, of course. But we got to see the German Parliament Building after it had been "Wrapped" by Cristol. Over a million Germans had turned out to see it. It didn't look very impressive, but it was one of those "events" that people want to see and one that always makes the news.
We got up at 0630, took a shower, did the last minute packing, ate breakfast in the hotel dining room (the same old stuff), put our things in the car and got ready to leave. By this time, the school kids were starting to go to school and the village was starting to come back to life again. But it was too late for us. We were heading for the airport in Frankfurt.
Along the highway we passed an American Air Force base. As we approached Frankfurt, traffic was backed up for three or four miles because of an accident. I had expected to see demolished cars, ambulances, dozens of police cars, and perhaps a Life Star Helicopter, but instead all of the delay and confusion seemed to be caused by a minor fender bender in which nobody could have possibly been hurt. This was the only distraction along the way. This morning as we drove along, Sebastian and I talked about the fact that very few people in Europe own pickup trucks. Now and then I would see one; for example, like the one parked in front of a house in the neighborhood of our hotel in Vienna. That is the one that stands out in my mind, but there were probably more. But, in general, they are rarely seen. And certainly they are not as common as they are in the United States.
We arrived at the Frankfurt airport at 9:30. Shortly after we arrived, Sebastian's parents also arrived. Sebastian's mother was wearing the sunflower shirt that I had given to her. They had come down on the train yesterday and stayed overnight. Sebastian's mother gave me a key chain with the Goose Maiden on it. I sat and drank coffee with Sebastian and his parents and took pictures until we thought it was time for me to check in for my flight home. We had checked by telephone and had been told that the flight left at 11:20. But it had been changed and there were some tense moments as immigration officials hurried me though the customs process. Although the customs official was courteous, it was not as routine as it is the U. S. There was no problem, obviously, because I was carrying nothing that would have given me any problems. It is just a little nerve racking to be treated with such urgency: Who all has handled the luggage? Where have you been? Have you left it unattended? Who had access to it? Had anyone asked me to carry anything for them? The only embarrassment that I suffered was when my carry on baggage went through the X-ray machine. The six beer and wine bottles I was carrying showed up crystal clear, but the woman never batted an eye, so I guess everything turned out well.
Thinking that the plane was about to take off, I said a quick good bye to Sebastian and his parents and hurried to the gate of my flight: Continental flight #51 (Seat E-2), only to find out that it had been delayed. So it was another example of hurry up and wait. I thought that only happened in the U. S.
It was sad leaving Sebastian and his parents. I was happy to see Sebastian again, and I had enjoyed being with him for almost a month. I had enjoyed meeting his parents after all these months and had enjoyed that, too. But, I was also looking forward to seeing Abby again, and I knew that she was probably looking forward to seeing me even more.
On the flight to Newark, which took about eight hours, I sat between a guy from Germany who had just graduated from college with a degree in economics and was heading to the U. S. to visit a friend in Chicago and an woman from the United States who was returning from Germany where she had presented some sort of taped retrospectives at an arts festival. She was from California, I think, and teaches English as a Foreign Language. I really didn't talk to either of them very much. A movie called The Brady Bunch was showing on the screen, and there was taped music through the earphones. There was also my book about Ethel Kennedy. But none of this seemed to make the eight hours go by very fast. It was a long and boring eight hours, broken only by the meager meals that were served along the way. Maybe I should have followed the example of the woman next to me and drink a steady stream of cocktails. Sometime before we landed we were required to fill out some forms for U. S. Customs stating the value of any merchandise we were bringing back into the U.S. Customs was no big deal. I was waved though with no problem. They could probably tell by looking at me that I am not rich enough to bring anything of real value back with me. And the trinkets that I brought back for my friends far from exceeded the legal limit.
The plane landed in Newark around 3:30 EST and I had to wait until 7:55 EST to take off. There wasn't a lot to do except read, doze, walk around, and wait. There was an American girl from the Netherlands waiting to take the same flight as me to Kansas City. She had just graduated from high school and was going to visit her grandmother before going to college somewhere in the U. S. to study medicine.
Brett and Heather were in Kansas City to meet me we (with my pickup) when I arrived around 11:00. Brett left with Heather leaving me to drive back to Valley Falls by myself. I was expecting them to spend the night at my house again, but they said they were going to Lawrence for the night. I bought some gas at a Casey's in Platt City, and drove on home. It was around midnight when I got home. Abby was overjoyed to see me. She had not even finished eating the food from the boxes that were open when I left about a month ago. The house was a mess. The floors needed sweeping, the furniture was dusty, and dishes were stacked up in the sink. After petting Abby for a few minutes and unloading the luggage from the pickup, I ran the vacuum sweeper over the floor, mostly because I couldn't stand to see it so dirty.
Around 0100 I finally got to bed, exhausted from being up more than twenty four hours. No sooner had I fallen asleep when the telephone rang. It was Jeff Brown wanting to speak to Brett about why he didn't come to a party earlier that night. I wonder how long that has been going on? At 7:30 in the morning, the telephone rang again. This time it was Stephen telling me he was coming back to the Kansas the first week in August. It was not worth the effort to try and go back to sleep, so I got up. I guess the vacation was finally over.
Some final remarks about Europe before I wrap this up.
I was a great trip and I am very glad that I went. It was money well spent. And it is surely easy to spend money in Europe. Sebastian had told me that prices were higher in Europe, but I was not prepared for exactly how high they really are. I had expected that such items as clothing, CD's, books, etc. would be more expensive. I was not expecting the price of food to be so outrageous, however. Also, I was not expecting the Europeans to be quite so money hungry. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is free. In Austria a person even has to pay to use a public rest room. Even churches charge tourists to walk through them.
Regardless of what the Europeans say about the people of the United States; regardless of how much they may criticize us; regardless of how superior they feel----I get the feeling that most of it stems from jealousy and envy. Throughout the five countries that I traveled in, I doubt if I saw more than a dozen t-shirts when local or native writing on them. I saw literally thousands of shirts emblazoned with advertisements from everything from every professional sports team in the U. S. A., to college shirts, to American products, to American rock groups, to American slogans and flags, to American geographic places. They seemed to be obsessed with things American.
The same was true of the music. France was the only country where I ever heard any "local" music with any regularity. Even France, much of the music was in English and was American. At Sebastian's graduation, no German songs were sung, only American songs---and in English, not German.
Another noticeable difference among the teenagers was the fact that most of them depend on public transportation or a bicycle to get around their town. Large numbers of teenagers ride the subway, the busses, and the commuter trains. And, in Germany, especially, special bike paths are set aside on the sidewalks for bicycle traffic. Most of this is the result of the fact that the legal driving age is 18 in the countries which I visited.
As we walked the streets of Berlin, Vienna, and Paris, there were always quite a few teen agers on the streets in the after school hours. But in the small villages, the teenagers were noticeable absent. I don't know if they were at home or just somewhere besides the downtown area. But there were never large numbers of teenagers hanging out on the streets in the villages.
I was shocked at the amount of unsightly graffiti which is painted almost any place and every place in Germany and Vienna. Of course, I suppose I do not have a lot of honest comparison here in the U. S., but simply judging from Topeka, Kansas City, Wichita, and places were I have been on vacation, the graffiti in these places does not compare with what I saw in Europe.