Guest Blogger time!
Our major trips (Dresden, Berlin, Paris) are all finished and I am really enjoying just chilling out in Heidelberg at my sister's apartment, reading and relaxing. One thing about vacationing in such exotic places is that you might feel like you absolutely MUST keep running running running and see absolutely EVERYTHING you possibly can before you have to leave -- but I am a firm believer in making sure your vacation also involves some downtime to just take it slow. I return to Seattle - to work, busy friends, life, and overdue library books, ouch - in a few days, and the chance to NOT run run run is welcome.
I didn't read my sister's blog about her interest in my thoughts about "the little things" until I'd already written my first guest blog... and I do think I haven't necessarily been here long enough to really get a lot of those things. Also, I really only buy soy milk in the States so I'm used to it coming in a box. I didn't even notice anything strange.
I am, however, NOT a fan of the infamous "shelf toilet". Maybe it's a girl thing to pay very close attention to the toilets you have to use when traveling, but I have noticed that while it is common for toilets here to not have a lot of water in the bowl (I am A-OK with that), the location of the drainpipe varies... I prefer the ones wherein the drainpipe is in the front. Not so with the one in my sister's apartment. Gross, dudes. (While we're talking about bathrooms, I got over the shock of having to pay for public toilets pretty quickly. Only the first time, at the train station in Dresden -- and mostly because it was a whole Euro. The rest of the time it's been more like 40 or 50 cents, and all those times the bathroom attendant was so ridiculously friendly I was almost happy to give them my money. If a little change on my part ensures a clean bathroom, I'm game.)
My other beef: my sister and brother-in-law have certainly been enjoying my very vocal distaste for your carbonated mineral water. UGH! Do not give me this stuff. I'm told this is the standard -- and if you want non-bubbly water you have to be very specific in your request for it. People, this stuff does not taste good. You're used to it now, and might even like it, but it's nasty. Okay okay, maybe you do like it. That's okay. I don't mean to hate!
I'm on the fence about water in restaurants. Sometimes it costs, sometimes it doesn't? It would appear for the most part you have to order it -- fancy water, and in some places it's more expensive than wine or beer. You can maybe get tap water -- but only in some places, and only if you know how to ask for it? We ate Chinese down the street from our hotel in Paris and I didn't see any "normal" water on the menu so ordered bottled -- but I saw several other tables with water in jugs that was probably just tap. Then again, between the three of us only one had any knowledge of French.
In Paris we did important Paris things. On the first day we started at Notre Dame and walked all the way to the Eiffel Tower, which is much farther than you think it should be. MUCH farther. The next day happened to be the first Sunday of the month, free-Louvre-admission day, so we braved it (knowing the crowds would probably be slightly more nightmarish than on a day patrons must pay). It could have been far worse, and the crowd at the Mona Lisa was predictibly suffocating, but I would have been happy, if I had to choose only one piece of art, seeing only the Winged Victory of Samothrace which I could have sat and stared at all day if there weren't other things to do and see. Something about that particular statue grabs me far more than any other piece of art in the museum. Then again, I was also particularly stoked to be able to stand in front of the massive painting that is the Raft of the Medusa which hangs in the large-format French paintings section. I don't recall where I first saw this image but I liked it a lot then and now there's a song by Lovedrug that makes me think of this paiting EVERY time I hear it. (Which is quite a lot.)
I'm not sure if it has a name, but to one side of the Eiffel Tower there's a giant set of stairs and a high lookout point -- it was from there that I got my first glimpse of the tower, which was built for the same reason my homie the Space Needle was built -- a world's fair -- and made me feel strangely at home. That platform, however. Whew. That platform was wobbling. Shaking. It may look like it's made of stone but it is most definitely not. Never have I felt a floor wobble like that except for a few rock concerts when the entire crowd is jumping or dancing. I wasn't expecting that in a high-volume tourist location!
We ate a respectable number of delicious crepes (helloooooo nutella banana!).
On our final day in Paris we were only partially successful in an attempt to visit the National Library of France. Turns out things are closed on Mondays around here? A few people were going in and out, so we thought it might be open, but we couldn't really communicate at all with the woman staffing the security gate we went through, and I felt really awkward, but they didn't stop us from going in... so we went in. There must have been some lectures or something happening that day, accounting for the people already in there, but everything was pretty much closed, so we left. But! The National Library of Paris is HUGE! It is totally cool on the outside, a MASSIVE space capable of handling thousands and thousands of people, and tres photogenic to boot. I am a library geek, so I would have been much more excited were it actually open. It appears to have a separate building which may or may not house a movie theater? Unknown.
Again, I was very surprised to see so little street art in Paris, although I may have been in all the wrong neighborhoods. I saw a smattering of stencilwork while wandering in Montmarte, and a handful more pieces that were entirely corporate advertising co-opting the medium (ie stenciled ads for Jack Johnson's new record -- because Jack Johnson is TOTALLY the kind of music street artists LOVE). Unrelatedly, public transportation is FABULOUS in Paris. We only took the subway trains but we pretty much never had to wait more than five minutes and it took us everywhere we wanted to go with minimal transferring. I was incredibly jealous. Anytime anyone started complaining about having to wait I started on rants about Seattle busses.
We returned to Heidelberg and after a failed attempt to travel to a tiny town with a massive Karneval parade (foiled by a delayed train!), we toured the castle (ooh! castle!!) and then took in the local parade. Um, I love parades. I was in a pretty awful mood waiting for the parade to start (it was cold and wet and we'd been out all morning, I had to go to the bathroom and of course there's no great place to do so, I was getting overwhelmed by the costumed, drinking crowds, etc) but I knew once the parade started I'd be fine -- and I was totally right. (I also caved and bought hot chocolate at a Starbucks down the street, therefore gaining access to the restroom -- the first time I've been to a Starbucks in a LONG time and the only time I've been to one on this trip.) This parade didn't fail to deliver lots of marching bands, which are always my favorite part. I saw for the first time a new method of candy-catching -- open your umbrella and hold it upside down above your head, and you'll get more cheap hard candy than you could have previously dreamed of! These people are not playing, my friends. They have a LOT of candy and they aren't just tossing it to you, they are showering you with it, maybe even hurling it at you, and you're getting smacked in the eye! Some people on a balcony above us and some people across the street got in a candy throwing fight, and I suggested they settle it with a dance-off after the parade. No need -- the last float was a German radio station blasting dance music, and once it passed you you joined the jumping, dancing train of people behind it.
Upon returning to my sister's nice, dry apartment, I read about Mark Twain's impressions of Heidelberg Castle in an appendix of A Tramp Abroad, which I WILL finish one day. Oh Mark Twain, you are so sarcastic and funny.