Saturday, September 8, 2007

Europe: Premiers Impressions

(Disclaimer: Due to my not being able to find my camera all pictures on this site are pictures other people have taken of themselves on their own vacations. However, thanks to, we can vicariously imagine travel through them. Just pretend the people in the pictures are me, and you won't tell the difference. -LF)

Going to Europe is like....

Seeing this shit for 1,920 miles.

Or at least, that is the first leg of one's journey, should moving out of your craftily sublet apartment prove difficult when losing your drivers' lisence is added to the end of your two hour wait at the U-haul place on 29th K ST NW. NEVER go to that place. EVER. Let's just say that any company whose store on a day in the middle of its busiest season opens with ONE employee capable of helping the many customers in line does not deserve to be a company! You should not be open then! You should close the store and tell your customers to go to one of the many other DCentric U-haul locations, or else to just fucking fo'get abowddit!

Anyways, should this happen to you, don't give up and let those bastards win. Nothing is worth another year inside the beltway, not even 20 hours less of your life spent on I-85. So...neatly packaged up shit was unpacked, thrown in car, driven to ATL.. then I drove back, got the rest of the shit, drove it back, and then went to the airport... TO FLY TO DC!!! hahahaha.... that was the first leg of my trip, isn't it nice? Well, at least the Hillsboro, NC police department let me go with only a warning for lying down exhausted on the grass outside of the Chick-Fil-let.

Incidentally, the global-warming induced erratic weather pattern which left the Mid-Atlantic with approximately one half of its normal spring rainfall this year had some pretty freak effects I got to enjoy along the way, like, almost completely drying up Falls Lake. I was never more ready to pull over and hop into a lake until I passed that dried up sad excuse of a reservoir that used to be. I mean, you had grass growing where the water used to be; the smell of death everywhere and birds hovering over the few ponds left that still had fish. A massacre. Damn. The good news, however, is that while doing a search for Falls Lake, a picture of this cute DOG turned up instead.

This plane flies to Dulles Airport to get onto an Aer Lingus plane that boards 4 hours after we get there. Five hours later we're on this plane feeling kinda weird about the fact it hasn't moved yet. Three hours after that we're in a hotel in Washington, DC because there was a technical problem the flight was fucked. Maybe you would feel... nervous? Then you should feel the cool taste of DUTY FREE, BABY!!!!

Some more few hours after this, we are back in an epic line, and finally on a plane. While at least we did not have a month long voyage with storms, scurvy, and maggoty biscuits; this was still frustrating for obvious reasons. And if the Highways, Delays, and generally irony of your predicament is not enough, the Americans will take your toothpaste. They will take you toothpaste, and they will do it to make you safer, because you may use it as a terrorist weapon. Seriously.

This actually happened to me. It also happened to this guy.

When you fly to Europe they take you to Dublin, Ireland first because Guinness Beer is the first thing you need to know about Europe. Dublin Looks like this:

Ireland's pretty cool, it's got lots of countryside

We hung out with this family of 2 kids, boy and girl, and a wife and a husband from an hour outside of Birmingham, UK. They were pretty friendly and nice and generally supportive of the fact that I don't like George Bush. Apparently the English don't like him or the war either, so if you are an American and you go there the odds are making friends will be easy and you'll have lots to talk about.

At this point in time I will let you know that my traveling companion is Peter Wright, my father.

My father looks kind of like that, but just, less sort of like the wolf man, and with less hair.

After you drink this Irish beer you sleep and then wake up again. This entails a very nice breakfast compliments of the airline who screwed you up :) It was good. Their hotel breakfast is just like our hotel breakfast, but their bacon looks like Canadian bacon and they have these baked beans I thought looked gross. The last thing to say about the Irish is that they are hot, like really hot. I haven't seen that many hot Irish people in a while, but they had them out and on display. I mean, if I wasn't traveling with Vincent Price's nephew, I'd have wanted to hang out and really get to know the place, dig?

Airports and related matters continue until you get to Geneva, Switzerland.

Geneva is pretty. It's by a lake and surrounded on three sides by France, which means it is pretty easy to get around. They give you a car which is made by FIAT, an Italian maker with a big, scary, authoritarian sounding name. With images of this and these guys in mind, you might be surprised to find that the thing is actually very, well, cute!

This, my friends, is the future. FIAT, Renaults, no such thing as Chevy or Suburban over here, though I did see one Ford Focus. Gas prices will go up, cars will get smaller, more efficient, and cuddly like. They will also be made in Europe.

If you've come all the way to Europe just to climb this big fucking mountain out of some macho necessity to deal with your own issues, well, the place to go is Mt Blanc, Europe's highest mountain in the French Alps. It is 4808 meters, or 15,782 feet high.

We stayed for two nights in a four bed hostel room along with some dedicated Scottish climbers in the picturesque town of Chamonix.

Chamonix however rips you off. Things are kinda over priced and its a bit touristy. HAVING THE TIP INCLUDED IN A BILL IS A BAD IDEA. It makes waiters lazy. From now on when someone tells you about how 'in Europe service is so great.... restaurants are so awesome..." you need to ask them if this person has ever been to Europe. They short staff on waiters and don't care. The guy is weeded and doesn't even work all the tables at once (at 3/4 restaurants we ate ate), and passes by you several times when you're just trying to toss at him your card to get the check. Their prioritization gets all fucked up because they're not focused on the bottom line. Also, their hustles make our Sequoia hustles look like cheap change.

W:"Would you like water with your meal?"

C: "Uhh.. sure."

What do you get? A 1.5 L bottle of Evian for two people, with is 6.9 Euros (like, 9 or 10 bucks), and to top it off the guy rips off the top and doesn't leave it so you couldn't finish the thing the next day when you're climbing up a mountain if you'd like to... lame.

However, on the bright side, Chamonix has an awesome Pizza place. Some of the best pizza ever. Just one guy there, takes the order, rings you up, opens the wine, and bakes the pizza to order. I had an awesome calzone. The place is called Pizza Salsa.

Other cons however, exist. It's weird. People dress like people in Georgetown, Aspen, or anywhere else you find Paris-Hilton lookalike Americans with money. Everyone dresses like this. Guys all dress preppy. In Zürich I saw two punks with hawks but that was it. Another weird thing about south east France is that a lot of folks support the Front Nationale because they don't like immigrants, darker-skinned people, non-Christian religions, or some combination thereof. I met some of these people, they're pretty creepy, and not exactly the counterweight to Eurotrash that I need to get through the day.

The other problem is that stuff opens too late and closes to early. Being jet lagged and in a tourist town at the tail end of season I expected something weird but this was abnormal: at 5:30 pm it was still too early to sit down and eat dinner while at midnight all the bars were already closed. Weird, huh? Well, even weirder! I did wander around the sub-freezing temperatures to find one pub where I entered. The bartender didn't understand French, oddly... or at least, oddly until I realized the bar was an English-pub themed place. Huh.. all that way and I'm drinking an Amstel Light in an English pub. Weird.

The day we climbed after icing off the windshield and driving to where you climb. It was literally that cold, hot enough to wear t-shit and shorts in the sun during the day, yet frosty at night. If you see the picture of Mt Blanc above, the large glacier on the left, which is called the Mer Du Glace, is where we started, then we walked around the side of the mountain and up a bit to the right, where there's this hut you can buy a Heinekin at until you take the cable car down. The cable car was cool, however, if you have got something wrong with your ears be careful because they pop several times as you descend thousands of feet quite rapidly.

Breakfast in France is weird, because you can walk to 10 restaurants and all of them make the same thing. It's baggettee and croissant, with a very small cup of juice and coffee or tea or hot chocolate. The chocolate is good, drink it. If you are lucky, some places will do more fun stuff, like make you an egg. My favorite place in Chamonix fried up some cut in half sausages and put them inside of the bagguette. That rocked. Last point here with food, portions. Portions are VERY small. Half the size of American portions. With juice, meat, pasta, everything. The bottled juices you buy in the store are half as big and the cups of juice you get for breakfast are half as big. The shrimps in a shrimp cocktail are LITERALLY about twice the length of a man's fingernail. Seriously. They are too small to sit on the rim of the glass, so they must be thrown into a nasty mayo-heavy aoili of some sort that swims around on a sea of lettuce. Everything in Europe is smaller, more cute, and generally less bad for you or the environment. However, to skinny guys with high metabolism and a plan to climb the mountains, this can be a problem. I need a *meal*, dammit.

Way cooler than Chamonix is Champex, where we went next. This place is in Switzerland. Crossing the border from France to Switzerland is as easy as, um... driving a car forward while this guy with a police hat smiles and waves you on. Forget your passports, you don't even stop! Champex looks like this:

Champex is way cool, and a lot more low key. There's trout in a lake you can catch, a mountain right behind your hotel to ascend, and a weird old de-commissioned swiss army fort to check out. It is also located at the far east of the long mountain that Mont Blanc is part of.

What we climbed there was The Aiguilles Dorees: a 3519 M set of peaks jutting out above a glacier 2,400 M above the valley floor. VERY scenic! There's this cabin thing you hike up to, which is sort of what people do around here, hike cabin to cabin. You can sleep in one, eat food, and go to the bathroom in a toilet, as well as buy a beer or glass of wine. They are supplied by helicopter- pretty impressive.

Above is the glacier I traversed. Have you ever traversed a glacier? It is pretty awesome. You get to wear metal spikes on your feet, carry a ski pole, and potentially die! The ice is very very blue and there is melt water coming out from it, so much in fact that I got nervous as my companion re-called, "Boy, there seemed to be 10 times as much ice up here 20 years ago as there is today."

Also interesting is the crumbly nature of this rock. Hard enough by itself, frozen mountains like the alps crumble as evidenced by large moraines of broken rock. What happens is that water gets into tiny cracks in the rock, then freezes and expands, forcing the rock open. Eventually pieces of it break off, and fall down to wherever or upon whomever. Basically, you can be sitting there putting the metal spikes onto your shoe and you here noise from the cliff above. You can't see anything though cause the falling rock is small, you so kind of ignore it and get back to what you were doing. A few seconds later maybe a rock the size of two fists tied together combines bouncing down the cliff around head level at high velocity some feet from you. Very very interesting...

Anyways, I traversed this thing and got to the "top", or at least, as much of a top as you can get to without killing yourself. These peaks are basically formed by two continental plates colliding and forcing the rocks against each other until they rise up. Basically you see on peaks a rock face of different layers of rock running vertically up and down. Rock layers however are formed horizontally, but they are pushed straight up to the sky. The 'top' of these things is really maybe one five foot long, six inch wide slab of granite, feldspar, and quartz sticking straight up into the air, with a 70 degree angle you've just climbed a hundred feet up on one side, and an obtuse precipice into a glacier 900 Ft below on the other. Pretty freaky stuff.

Coming down, was fun, and as usual, harder than going up. I did not fall off the cliff. However, I did fall into a cravasee. Allow me to explain.

When I was a boy scout I learned that respecting the earth and taking care of it for future generations is very important. Later, when I broke politically with the programme of this group, I retained this bit of ethos. Thus, whenever I am out and about, I like to follow the rule that "not littering is great, but picking up after others is even better". So, if you see an old water bottle or plastic wrapper or someone something else carelessly left behind, just pick it up, and take it to the next trash can. The next guy appreciates it, just like you appreciated it when they guy before you did this already. Basic stuff.

Anyways, I've come down the steep part of the glacier and before I traverse to where it is rock again I'm just kinda hanging out, taking my time, and learning about glacerage. I have avoided falling into all previous cravasses. Now I approach one cravasse which is very interesting. It's only 10ish feet deep, and about two feet wide, going down at about an 80 degree angle into the ice. There's some weird bright orange sign in official looking letters that is tied to something about 5 feet down into this thing. So I approach it very carefully to see what it is. Putting my foot down at the base of where the cravasse splits from two solid pieces of ice, I find that the ice was not solid at all, and all of a sudden I am falling into a cravasse. Lucky, the opening is very narrow, and by putting by arms out and using my spiky feet into the walls I am able to stop myself. Unfourtuantely, all of my weight landed at the point of where my left ribcage made contact with the ice. It really hurt then, and I have still got this terrible pain there. Should this continue, please look out for the next installment of this blog which shall chronicle my experiences with the Swedish national health care system.

After this, we found out that we sure took a long time to climb the mountain, and the ski lift that took you part of the way up is closed. So, we have to descend 4,000 feet to the valley over a very steep trail that descends the Combe (ravine) D'Orny. Very steep and painful to the ribs and to the feet. My traveling companion is 61 years old. Yet we make it!

A good thing happened as a result of this long painful ordeal: we got to see wildlife! This stuff had been remarkably absent in our earlier hiking. I do not think they have deer here, but they do have this animal called the Chamois.

The Chamois is very cool and very cute. We saw a herd of approx 15 of these in the gorge on the step and probably very rarely used path, as well as one other later on by himself.

That night we ate Spaghetti Bouglanaise at this very nice restaurant that was chill, not a hustle, and run by some very nice lady and her husband. With this I had a very nice vanilla tea and then cub of some red wine from the valley here. All this wine is great. They also had many kinds of artisanal ice cream, and we ate that too, it rocked.

Next day we drove approx 200 km to Zürich, which is a very scenic drive. We stopped off on the way for more slow weeded service (but good food!) and the exploration of a medieval castle. There was anarchist graffiti here, changing the sign in the the femenin apparel shop to feminist apparel. Also there was anti-nazi graffiti.

Zurich is pretty interesting.... people all once again look like people in Georgetown, though there were a few more semi weird people. Also lots of very attractive young people out drinking, as well as adult movie theaters and sex shops. I'm almost dreading another two weeks of this, I need to be here alone, or with a travel companion my age.


Zürich also had 'fight capitalism' graffiti. That was neat. And it had an airport with a hotel, that has the internet.

Anyways, that's that, so far. Tomorrow I go to Gothenburg, Sweden. I'm ready for the Absolute and the Akvavit. Also, I need to shave and maybe get a haircut.


-The papers here talk about Sarkozy trying to privatize the GDF. Apparently many people don't like the idea.

-The radio here plays mostly in English pop, American jazz, and in English pop from America. Needless to say it sucks, just like ours... except for the jazz. Sometimes they sing in French or German over country music, which is pretty cool, but for the most part I will conclude with two things

1) Visit SE France and Switzerland to climb the mountains, but visit London, Paris, Berlin, and Madrid to visit EUROPE: the society, politics, and music

2) Travel alone or travel with people you really like, can relate to, and have long conversations with.


1 comment:

  1. cool post! enjoyed reading about your impressions :-)came to your site while googeling dublin pics. will check if you wrote sth about sweden.