Wednesday, June 27, 2007

If you are even remotely thinking of maybe going to Europe sometime soon, make your mind up right now. You have until tomorrow to buy round-trip tickets to Dusseldorf, Germany (via Detroit) for $615 from Northwest Airlines. I almost feel obligated to go, even though I'm already heading to China in a month. That's the deal of the year for sure.

Ironically, Dusseldorf is where we flew into last September. From there we bought a train ticket to Amsterdam, and a couple days later we started our rail pass and circled through Europe hitting Bruges, Barcelona, Arles, Vernazza, Venice, Constance, Munich, Interlaken, Bern, the Rhineland and Cologne. Absolutely the best-spent $2200 of my life. If you haven't taken a big trip like that, I really can't recommend it enough. As Mark Twain said:

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."
--Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad (1869)

I may have posted that quote sometime earlier.

A quick recap of our stops:

Amsterdam - It wouldn't take much for me to live here. Everyone is on bikes - I mean everyone - so it's basically the antithesis of LA, where people hose off sidewalks instead of using a broom, because hey, we're in a desert and all.

Bruges - A small medieval town center is the perfect day stop if you can get to it. Huge clock tower, great brewery tour and Belgian frites (fries) with mayonnaise.

Barcelona - Mildly disappointing, probably because after the first muggy afternoon at the beach we had a monsoon to contend with. Definitely the most near-death experience as we desperately searched for a metro station for over an hour in a raging thunderstorm (turns out on the map the 'M's with a square around them mean 'museum', not 'metro'). We passed a group of people standing under metal scaffolding and seconds after turning the next corner we saw a mega-flash and heard an ear-splitting crack of thunder.

While trying to leave Spain we saw the track in front of our train get washed away by a torrent of water. This led to the day-long 'get out of Spain' game in which we spent a night on a train parked at a station. On the plus side, we teamed up with reps from the entire English-speaking world - Aussies, Brits and South Africans.

Arles - Still rainy, but a blast. We only had two days everywhere we went so small towns like this ended up being perfect. You can walk around the whole center in a day and feel like you really know the place the following day. Plus we lucked into the best hotel room of the trip with a cafe-scene view from the balcony.

Vernazza - Five tiny cliff hugging ocean towns and the high point for Mona. Nothing I say can add to the vast resources Rick Steves has compiled in his books, shows and website. If you are anywhere near Northwestern Italy on your trip, do not pass up Vernazza (and the rest of the Cinque Terre).

Venice - Duh, Venice was cool. You can take a picture of anything and it will come out good. It's fun to just walk around looking at stuff like a tourist and wishing you could stay for more than 9 hours.

Constance - I was lucky to have a high school friend (exchange student) living here that we got to stay with. He and his girlfriend drove us to...

Munich - We were here during Oktoberfest. I've had my fair share of puke sessions from drinking too much, and every time it's happened I've been hugely regretful. Well, not during Oktoberfest. We were at a table full of non-English speaking Germans, but by the third stein it didn't matter; we were best friends.

Interlaken/Switzerland - Hands down my favorite country. Just look at some pictures and imagine it being way better than you think, cause it is. Not only would I live here, I think at some point I actually will.

Rhineland - took a quick paddleboat ride down the Rhine on our last day in Europe. It's packed full of old castles and cool little riverfront towns. We had a crappy hotel in Cologne for our last night, but we were really only in it for like 4 hours.

Here's a tip - take the blankets from the plane ride with you. They were invaluable as picnic surfaces, dirty sheet covers, impromptu pillows and even as blankets on trains. Then we just left them at the last hotel.

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