Gettin’ a Piece of the Rock

Still goin strong down here! I left Grenada yesterday and made way for a small port town called Algeciras, it’s right on the tip of Spain and provides easy access to the Rock Of Gibraltar, as well as ferries to Tangiers. Otherwise, it’s a dump.

The train ride down here gave me some serious countryside viewage. Spain is really beautiful! Vast mountains and vallies, with sandy colors mixed with green, and bushes and trees scattered about. Quite majestic actually.

BUT! When I got off the train in Algeciras, I soon found it to be the dingy crap hole it was rumored to be. Near the stations, there were a bunch of hostels, so I started looking around for a place to stay. My intentions were to use Algeciras as a base to explore Gibraltar and Morocco. All the rooms I found tended to smell pretty bad, so I went with the cheapest, least smelly room I could find. Something I didn’t think about was the noise factor though…my room had a balcony that opened right on a main road, and I was only one floor up, so I could hear all the noise of the street as though my bed were right on the road.

You may ask yourself, “Why the hell didn’t he just close the window then?” Because it’s bloody hot! I would have sweat myself to death, so it was a choice between heat stroke and noise. I went with the noise, and three showers to keep cool. But let me just tell you, I hate scooters with a passion. They make this extremely loud buzzing noise, at a frequency that is so abrasive, it should be outlawed. But they are all over the place here! So, all night I heard “bzzzzzoooooooom!”  In the morning I bolted from Algeciras and decided to try my fate at staying in Gibraltar itself.

Hopped on the bus. It was about an hour to The Rock. The bus drops you off at a town called La Linea, literally meaning The Line. I think the Spanish are a little pissed off about the Gibraltar situation. You see, the rock of Gibraltar is a British colony, basically. It’s in Spanish territory, but controlled by England. The Spanish really don’t like that, even though it’s been that was for hundreds of years.

From La Linea, you have to pass Spanish customs and wave your passport to get out.  When you enter Gibraltar, you are immediately hit with anglophelia. It’s like walking into a piece of England. I guess this will be the closest I get to the UK on this trip….no wait…I fly back through London…scratch that. The rock itself is a huge daunting cliff-sided mountain that juts right out of the sea. At the foot of it is spread a quaint little town. They use British money, they speak English….hell, they are British in every way here. Kinda strange.

Checked into a cheap hotel..paying 20 pounds a night for a small room. But that’s the cheapest they have here. It’s a big tourist trap.

After I got all settled, I took the cable car ride up to the top of The Rock. That was scary. There was a woman in the car who was deathly afraid of heights, so she was crying all the way. I felt bad for her, but I don’t know why they didn’t just take a cab ride up….I mean, there is a road and stuff.

When we got to the top, there was a guy standing there who said, “Welcome to The Rock” in a deep Scottish accent, and he pointed the way to go. WHAT A VIEW! I can understand why the British want to hold on to this place. You can see much of southern Spain, as well as across the straights to Africa. That was the first time I ever laid eyes on that continent. Seemed strangely inviting. Whoever controls The Rock, effectively controls access to the Mediterranean from the Atlantic. Very strategic.

After thoroughly enjoying the view for a while, I met up with some Israelis (they are all over the place) and we went to check out the Ape Den. “The what?!”  Yeah, the Ape Den. Apes have apparently inhabited The Rock for hundreds of years. They roam freely about, and don’t seem to be bothered by the people. They come very close to you and let you feed and pet them. They aren’t overly friendly, but at least they tolerate your presence. There is nothing separating you from the apes, so there are all kinds of disclaimer signs saying, “Touch the monkey at your own risk”.

I watched them swinging around the trees for a while…and I handed one of them a bottle that he was playing with but dropped. He took it from me and chucked it over the side, then jumped from the wall on which he was sitting to a tree about 10 feet away. The trees are mostly where they chill, but if you have food, it’s best to keep it hidden cuz they will approach you and bug you till you give it to them. One lady had an unopened bag of chips, and one of the apes took it from her hands, sat on the wall and opened it (just like a human would do) and began to munch. Hours of delight. More fun than a barrel of monkeys.

After the monkeys, I went to a place called St. Michael’s Cave. This is a vast network of caves full of stalactites and stalagmites. I am sure you can picture this, if you have ever visited one of those underground caverns in upstate NY or wherever you are from. Very cool. Literally. It was hot as hell, and the cave gave a brief reprieve from the heat. It was also an amazing natural creation.

So I am back in town now. Maybe I will have some fish-n-chips. That’s the big deal here….it’s the real thing. Wait a sec…I hate fish.

One week to go.

Jared

Jared in Grenada

Still truckin round southern Spain….still hazy after all these beers. The big brew over here is called Cruzcampo….and what shall I say of it?  Not much…I have had better Cerveza elsewhere….but at least they import Corona! I’m stickin to the Sangria.

Well, now I am in a town called Grenada. Arrived yesterday. Seville was really nice, and I could have easily stayed another day there, but I know time is running out for me…and since I have a little more energy after my stint in Lagos, I am ready to rock for another week.

Ahhh, Grenada. So many people told me to come here, and with good reason. This town was where the Moorish empire had its seat, in a lofty fortress called the Alhambra. It sits atop a mountain, at the foot of which sprawls the ancient streets of Grenada. I’ll get to that.

When I arrived yesterday, I was immediately struck with how much this place feels like the Middle East. There is a huge Moroccan influence here….falafel restaurants, tea houses, incense filling the air, Arabic looking people walking around, signs in Arabic, and humus and pita available readily. I felt very much at home. I love the middle eastern feeling…it’s very familiar to me, after so many trips to Israel. I am actually feeling inspired to go to Morocco now…I know, I said I wouldn’t do it, but maybe I will change my mind….we’ll see, cuz tomorrow I am heading down to Gibraltar, and it would be from there that I catch the ferry to Tangiers. Maybe…

Grenada has a lot of back streets that resemble some of the market places I saw in Turkey and Jerusalem…lots of vendors, all selling the same stuff….and I have come upon a new host of chess boards…I guess that is a very middle eastern thing too…chessboards. Well, they got ’em here.

This city is also the final resting place of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella…the fanatics responsible for the Spanish Inquisition and expulsion of the Moors and Jews in 1492. Their grave is right next to the very large and impressive Cathedral here (nicer than many I have seen, yet I am unable to describe it now). The crypt is in their private chapel, and you have to descend into a lower chamber where you can see their lead caskets. I looked for a moment at them, and promptly wished a pox upon their souls.

Coming out of the crypt, I was accosted from all directions by gypsy women who kept trying to hand me a leaf….they are very aggressive about getting you to take the leaf. And once you do, they won’t leave you alone till you pay up. I kept refusing the leaves…and I had to plow my way through a horde of them to make it out of the chapel square. Quite annoying…at every turn, I kept having to angrily say, “NO!”

The nightlife is cool here. Free tapas at every bar when you order a drink…that was good news for me and the people I met up with. Can’t go wrong with free tapas….(little plates of food…)

Next day, today actually, I climbed the mountain up to the Alhambra. That was a hike and wore me out before the day even began! But the hike was worth it. I bought my ticket and went inside.

The fortress is pretty big and it’s enclosed by walls all around. There are several palaces to see, and some of the most beautiful and elaborate gardens even planted. Those are what impressed me the most. I walked around for a few hours amongst the flowers, fountains, and sculpted hedges. Of course, I sneezed a lot…but I endured.

Washington Irving, famed author of…uhhh….stuff…..spent some time here and wrote about it extensively. He was pretty enchanted with the place, so much so that the audio guide was supposed to be his voice (you know audio guides…those things you hold up to your ear as you walk around). The highlight of the Alhambra is the Palace of the Nazarenes…..I think that was the name…sorry, I forget these things….but it was an extremely ornate palace where all the walls were hand carved with Arabic poetry. The rooms were majestic, and the courtyards heavenly. It was built to represent the Islamic concepts of paradise. They did a good job.

So, I just had a falafel. Gonna need to go get some gum now….so, until next time, Salaaaaam.

Jared

I am the Barber of Seville

Hola! Back in Spain, I am.

It was a hard decision to make, whether or not to leave Lagos. It was just so nice there, so relaxing and cheap…I was tempted to just stay there for the rest of my trip and make one big trek up to Barcelona to fly home! But, I said to myself, “Self, there is only a week and a half left of your journey, and there are still a few things left to do. So self, put your weariness aside and get off your ass for this last leg.”  “But..but…it’s sunny here and they have cheap beer!”  “Self, don’t give me that crap. This trip is not about beer. It’s about experience! Now, load up and hop the bus to Seville. You won’t regret it. Plus they have chicken there.”

So, I did it for the chicken.

There was no direct train from Lagos to Seville…actually the trains in this region are rather poorly designed. There are gaps in the lines that make one go waaaay out of the way to cover a short distance as the crow flies. So, I took the bus. It was about $15 and five hours, direct from Lagos to Seville, but well worth not having to go all the way back to Madrid just to come back down south. The bus ride was quite fun actually, because, once again, I met a big group of people, and we all sort of banded together to “do” Seville. We joked and laughed all the way there. It was joyous.

As soon as I arrived in Seville, I began to regret leaving Lagos. I have been to so many big cities, and Lagos was small townish…and I didn’t feel like I had the energy to explore yet another big city. But, I was there…so, what choice did I have? Get on a bus back to Lagos? Actually, the idea tempted me.

I joined up with a guy from Boulder, CO, and we went looking for a pension to stay in. ALL of them were full….we finally found one with one room available, but way expensive. No choice in the matter…we took it.

By the time we got out and hit the town, it was dark. But Seville is very beautiful at night. It’s a city full of Moorish architecture, medieval walls, and cathedrals, as well as colorful Spanish looking streets lined with restaurants and houses. Boulder Man and I set out for some Paella and Sangria. Ohhhhh, Sangria. The drink of the gods. I have arrived at the TRUTH.

We ordered up a pitcher of the good stuff. It came full of fruit and wine mixed with brandy, I think. Whatever it was, it did the job…..halfway through the pitcher, I was lit like a campfire. Finally, I got some real chicken and rice too…not mixed with bits of shrimp…not some scam by the restaurant…it was real, and goood. I also tried Gazpacho…think I spelled that wrong, but it’s basically cold tomato soup…good stuff. Between all that and a dish of olives, I was set.

After dinner we walked around town and ran into the rest of our clan…that began a very long evening of bar hopping and merry making that didn’t stop till about 5:00am…..the nightlife here is pretty raging.

There are some serious landmarks here worth seeing. One is a complex called the Alcazar…this was the headquarters for the Moorish empire. What an amazing fortress it is. The walls remind me of Jerusalem. Inside are networks of ornate hallways with Arabic writing all over the walls….and the back gives way to the most lush gardens I have ever seen, full of trees and fountains, rows of shrubberies, as well as several Knights who run around and say “NEEK!”

Impressive.

The other biggie is the cathedral. Apparently it’s the biggest gothic structure of its kind…pretty cool. It also happens to be the burial place of Christopher Columbus…so, I came within a few feet of the guy we owe our country to, I suppose….I feel holy and stuff now.

I think tonight will be another raging party…Boulder Man can drink a fish under the table…so it’ll be interesting.

Tomorrow, I leave for Grenada.

By the way, what is the average velocity of an unladen swallow?

Jared

Jared Still in Portugal

Beautiful, clear blue water, coral reefs, sandy beaches, jagged cliffs, sunny days and starry nights, quaint streets, cheap hotels, novelty shops, sun burn, freshly squeezed orange juice, raging night life, cheap drinks, and cool people. That about sums up my last few days.

Still in Lagos, Portugal. Take a look on a map, to the southwest most corner of the Europe…that’s where I am…right on the corner of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. I am finally getting the R & R I needed to help me get over the burnout. It’s so relaxing here, just to chill on the beach, read my book, and play my guitar (I have been writing songs). I have met so many people here and spent a lot of time just kickin it with them. Not much to do, but hang out, and that is fine by me. Not in a rush to see any sights…no itinerary…no trains to catch, no worries. Just chillllllin.

My back hurts a bit from layin in the sun for too long….also I have major tan lines on my face from wearing sun glasses while on the beach…so I have lighter circles under my eyes right now, while the rest of my face is darker, except for the white lines where the glasses hang over my ears….eh, so what. I am havin a good time.

I was on the beach yesterday with a few of the people I came here from Lisbon with. Two of them decided to go dive off a cliff. I said, “You are crazy!” to them. I saw them climb up the cliff and stand at the edge. The first guy dived in and was fine. The second guy was clearly scared to do it….and as he jumped, I think he freaked out in the fall, and rolled backward, hitting the water with his back and neck. Needless to say, he was hurt pretty badly…now he is laid up in bed at the youth hostel, not really able to move.

I checked into a hotel, because I wanted a little privacy. It’s only about $20 a night for a decent room with a balcony. Portugal is way cheap, if you ever want to take an inexpensive vacation. Good weather and beaches…some serious views, and many castles too.

I think I will probably head to Seville, Spain, tomorrow…I decided to skip Morocco. I don’t have enough time to really appreciate the place. Plus, time in general is running out on my trip. Maybe I will hit Seville, then Grenada, as well as Gibraltar, all before heading up to Barcelona.

I have been informed that my sword arrived safely in the USA. Glad to know that! I am psyched to have a sword…..makes me feel all medieval and stuff.

As my trip has been winding down, I have been thinking about how many places I have been: 41 cities! Last I counted, that is….and 13 countries! (including Monaco). Thirteen countries and 41 cities…man, it’s been a long trip….but I am coming home soon….and looking forward to camp.

I still want to hear from everyone, so please write to me!

Jared

Jared in Portugal

Ahhh, there is still life in my journey, and it’s been found in Portugal!

I have been here for the last few days, and I feel very renewed by this place. I took the night train from Madrid a few days ago. I slept for the first time in a couchette…which was quite interesting. The compartment only had four people as opposed to six, which is what I usually see. I had a top bunk, which felt quite like sleeping in a coffin. When we turned the lights off, it was pitch black…I mean, not even a dot of light coming in, and the ceiling was two feet above me….I felt very enclosed and freaked out. I think I fell asleep after a few hours of restlessness…..and I had a really weird dream, which I can’t recall. But I do recall the scary feeling of waking up from the dream in a pitch black, coffin like environment on a rumbling train. Talk about disorientation…took a minute to remember where I was. There were times when the train shook so much I felt like I would be thrown from my bunk!

I arrived in Lisbon early morning and met a bunch of people in the train station, including one of the guys in my couchette car. We all found a hostel together and ended up hanging out for the next few days in a big group, which is something I have missed for a while…so it was a welcome experience. It’s nice to have other people taking charge, and I can relax a little and just go with the flow.

We walked all around Lisbon. This is a very beautiful city, and parts of it are so old and untouched, it’s like walking back in time. Some of it is quite run down, but the people are very friendly and full of culture. Our hostel was right in the middle of the central square, and I had a balcony in my room. There was an ancient castle sitting on a hill above the city, which we decided to climb up to and check out. What a climb, but it gave us a great view of the city and the bay! There is a giant statue of Jesus here….it stands over the bay and is visible from all over the city. This is a very religious country.

The next day, we all took a trip to a town called Sintra, about an hour outside of Lisbon. It’s a small village set in the side of a mountain that sports a medieval Moorish fortress, as well as an incredible castle built more recently. We decided we wanted to climb the mountain. I don’t know if we really knew what that would entail. It was a very windy road that went for miles uphill, yet we walked it all the way to the top. We carried up food for lunch with us, and at the top we perched ourselves on the walls of the castle, overlooking the entire coast of the region, and had a picnic lunch in the presence of an amazing view.  Quite spiritual.

That evening we returned to Lisbon. One thing I’d like to mention is that I have seen many people with extreme deformities here, for instance people with no arms, but hands that stick out of their shoulders, or people with immense protrusions from their backs. It is very sad to see such things. But, yesterday I saw a man with Elephantitis. I don’t know if you have seen the movie “The Elephant Man”, but this man looked very much like that. He was sitting and begging, and when I saw him, I did a double take and had to look away, because never in my life have I laid eyes on something so hard to look at. If you think you have problems, you really don’t.

Anyway, the next day some of the group split, and the rest of us took a train down to the southwest coast of Portugal to a town called Lagos. This place is like the Greek Islands all over again. BEAUTIFUL BEACHES. The water is so clean and clear…you can see the bottom. Teaming with fish. The town is quaint and old, with all kinds of shops and restaurants. Very cheap too! I may stay here for a few days and just relax. Lawd knows I have been going strong for a long time.

My trip is almost over! Only two weeks to go! Can you believe it? I bet you feel as though I have been writing these updates forever. Yeah, me too. It will be weird to be back in NYC! Well, not quite yet, because I will be going to summer camp. But I suppose I will be back in the city by the fall. What the hell am I gonna do? I have no clue…

Any suggestions?

Write to me folks….it’s always nice.

Jared

Jared in Spain – Part Deux

Hi all, just a quick update here. Just wanna say, I am sorry that my last note was full of negativity. I had a bad day and a series of bad experiences that led me to write what I wrote.

Anyway, Toledo was absolutely amazing. I felt like I was in ancient Spain. The city is so full of medieval looking buildings, that it was easy to imagine what life must have been like back in those times.

Toledo is famous for its metal making craft, and they produce all kinds of knives and swords there. So, I bought a sword. It´s a huge one…picture Conan the Barbarian here…and it´s a replica of the sword of Solomon…I saw it and knew right away that I had to have it. I know it will become a family heirloom someday, and I am very glad I finally bought a serious souvenir on this trip…the only other things I bought for myself were the chessboard in Turkey, and the Golem in Prague. So now I have a real biggie. I will have to put it on display somewhere in NY, so ya´ll can come gawk at it when I return.

I met some people from NY that I ended up hangin out with in Toledo for a few days. It was very spooky at night. Last night I walked outside the city walls and looked at the stars. There was a big medieval castle on the hill in the direction I was looking, and right above it was an eerie full moon. There were smoky clouds passing in front of the moon, so it felt like a scene out of Transylvania! Good moments. Ahhh….

Well, I said this would be short, but what else can I write about? I am back in Madrid right now, waiting for my night train to Lisbon Portugal. I am going to sleep in a Couchette for the first time…I made sure to reserve it well in advance so I know I get a place. I hear the beaches in Lisbon are really nice, so I might spend a few days just chillin there. A lot of people have been advising me to slow down and take some time off from my trip. I think that may be a good idea, so we´ll see about doing that. What do y´all think? Am I doing too much? Do you think I have set out on too long of a journey? I don´t know…when will I ever have the chance to do anything like this again? I figured I would hit as much as I can in the time I had, taste each country, get a feel for Europe…you know. But I guess the danger in that is getting burned out and losing the sense of wonder for the places you go. I suppose I am experiencing that a bit…I am sorry it has come upon me….

Lord of the Rings is an amazing book by the way…I finished the first part and then searched all over the south of France for an English copy of the rest of it..I found it in an obscure bookshop and paid $30 for it…but totally worth it. I suggest to anyone who hasn’t read this book to READ IT.  It is the most incredible fantasy adventure story I have ever had the pleasure to devour….

Well, guess that’s about all for now….

Jared

Jared in Spain

Torro Torro!  Passa da burrito…

Well, Madrid was eh. Sorry anyone out there who loved it…I don´t know, it just looked to me like so many other places in Europe that I have been to…but that´s been happening a lot to me lately. What can I say? Maybe it´s just overkill. But Madrid didn´t feel “Spanish” enough to me. Not what I expected. Pretty cosmopolitan…lots of restaurants and sex shops…and movie theaters.

I have been looking everywhere for some good chicken and rice, but all they have here is Paella…which is a mixture of seafood, and all kinds of other nameless meats, and rice. Since I don´t really dig seafood, I have been at a loss for good food. One place I went to, I asked “Esta Paello solo con pollo?” “Do you have paella with only chicken?” And he said “Si!”  And I sat down. He brought me a plate of rice and two chicken bones. As I picked through it, I saw remnants of shrimp and pieces of seafood. Clearly he had gone through his big pot of paella and thought he picked out the stuff I didn’t like. I was pissed.

Then, my hotel was a joke. Promptly at 9:00am, they began construction inside my hallway. Pounding and hammering all morning. I kept screaming out the window “STOP!!!” (with a few colorful exclamatory words), but no go. That was the final straw for me to leave Madrid. I went and checked out, haggled with the hotel guy who wanted to charge me more than we agreed on…but ended up paying what I wanted to pay. I headed for the train station, had a few hours to kill before the next train to Toledo. No, not Ohio. Toledo is a medieval town about an hour and a half outside Madrid.

One thing I have to complain about (I mean ANOTHER thing…) is that I simply cannot get away from cigarette smoke over here. EVERYONE SMOKES! I can’t believe it. No matter where I go, I find it hard to escape. And they do not have the laws we have about smoking in public places, so basically it’s free reign everywhere. Even on the train, which was supposed to be a non-smoking car, people lit up anyway. And the streets are littered with cigarette butts. Sorry smokers, but I don’t understand your addiction. It’s bad for everyone involved. You, because you smoke and I can’t begin to list the health hazards. Me, because I have to breath the second hand smoke. Everyone, because our world is littered with cigarette butts. Oy.

Anyway, I made it to Toledo, which is actually very impressive. It´s a medieval city inside its original walls. The streets are narrow and very old looking. Everywhere you turn there are medieval buildings, cathedrals, and churches. This is what I was looking for. It feels very Spanish to me. Everything is made from stone, so the whole city looks like a city of stone. There are a few synagogues left standing from before the Jews were kicked out of Spain in 1492, so I paid them a visit. Being of Spanish-Jewish decent, I found those particularly interesting. Also, I ate some good chicken.

Hasta manyana.

Jared

Jared in Madrid (Yep, Spain!)

Buenos Dias!

I am currently in Madrid, Spain. You may ask yourself, “How the hell does he do it?  I mean, he´s been going crazy for nearly three months!”  Well, yeah, you are right. I am crazy.  But, I have three  weeks before I have to return to the states, and I wanna put some more mileage in over here.

I am gonna do Madrid, then maybe Toledo. After that, I plan to plow on into Portugal and hit Lisbon, the capitol. Then, back into Spain to Seville, and then down to the rock of Gibraltar. I will cross the straights of Gibraltar and roam around Morocco for a day or two. And then, back to Spain again, and up to Barcelona, if not something else first. We shall see if all this happens.

Last I left you, Batman was about to go check out Monte Carlo…that´s in Monaco…though, I don’t really know what the difference is. Monaco is an independent sovereignty, but it is in France and you don’t need a passport or visa to get there…it’s basically just a town. I guess Monte Carlo is the capitol?  Whatever. Anyway, I went there on Sunday. Everything was closed, and I found it to be quite boring. The buildings were very nice…everything looked very rich. There were a lot of fancy cars and elderly tourists walking around. The whole place is centered on a casino…I think that’s where the rich and famous spend all their cash. Otherwise, there’s some ritzy hotels, some nice beaches, and a beautiful coast line.

The south of France is very nice and relaxing…a good place to come and get away from life in NY, or wherever you may live. I met a lot of cool people in Nice and spent my time hanging out with them. Meeting people makes all the difference when you are traveling….it is the line between loneliness and companionship. And the latter is a necessity when you are alone on a journey like this one.

So, after I had my fill of Nice, I decided to head for Spain. Little did I know, it was a 22- hour train ride to Madrid! What was I thinking? That was by far the longest ride yet….I had to take a train to Montpellier, France, and then change to Barcelona. In Barcelona I hopped a night train to Madrid. Lucky me, there were no Couchettes left (that’s a bed compartment) so I got to pile in with five fat, smelly Spaniards who snored. It was a loooooong ride.

I am here. I arrived at 7:00am and checked into a hotel. I decided I have had enough of youth hostels and sharing rooms with noisy people…time for a little privacy and luxury, as long as it is under $30 a night.

I plan to eat a lot of chicken and rice…some serious tortillas, tapas, and whatever else I can get my hands on. Tomorrow, I will go running with the Bulls, and the day after I shall join Francisco’s school for the Fledgling Conquistador. Next week, I will go conquer south America for King Ferdinand!

Or maybe, I’ll hit a few bars and get happy….all depends on how I feel. I’ll be sure to let you know.

Spain’s colors are tan and sandy looking….allow me to go romp and play in the dunes.

Later,

Jared

Jared in the South of France

Greetings world, how art thou?

So, it’s been a few days since I have last written. Just to say, I am thankful to know that so many Chickens have Beaks. If you don’t get that…then maybe you should read my last update!

I am currently in the south of France in a lovely little area called Nice (pronounced Neece).  It’s the French Riviera….sounds glamorous and stuff, eh? Well, it is. It’s pretty beautiful. I left Paris three days ago now…I think….I enjoyed Paris a lot, but I needed a change to something I haven’t seen ever before. I don’t know if Nice was the change I needed, but it brings me closer to Spain anyway, and that I am sure will be another world.

Nice is a lovely town on the beach with an old part and a new part. The new part is a strip along the water full of hotels and restaurants. The beaches are all rocky though…hmmm…..and check it out! All  beaches are topless! Well….not that I would look or anything…

There are some casinos and ritzy hotels along the water that I could not possibly afford, so I stayed for the first two nights in the old city in the most dumpy hotel I have ever been to in my life. The room was just nasty…the walls were all dirty and stained with God knows what….and it just gave me the creeps…I had booked two nights there and the morning I was supposed to change to my next hotel, I got the hell out so fast…I didn’t even check out…just threw my keys on the desk and left. My new hotel is much nicer….no stains…the decor is right out of the Brady Bunch, but at least I don’t feel gross there.

The Old City of Nice reminds me a bit of the windy streets of Venice, though there is not nearly as much to see. You have your standard array of churches and significant historical sites….I mostly skip them now, because I have had my fill. But there are a lot of good restaurants! OH YEAH. When I was doing my laundry on my first day here, I met this guy who is also a musician, and he invited me to his gig at some pub that night….I went down to check it out and ended up having a really good time….met a lot of cool people to hang out with.

Yesterday I went to Cannes, a nearby town where a really high profile film festival is going on right now. So, I walked around there watching the frenzies of people who were looking to see movies stars. There were crowds of people gathered outside this one hotel, and every few minutes people would start screaming like mad…I guess someone famous was coming out….but, what insanity! This must be like Hollywood.

Today, I am going to Monaco and Monte Carlo…if you have never heard of it, this is a small country that is attached to France… I think it’s just a town, really, but they are their own country!  Supposedly it’s very rich and it’s the playground of all kinds of notables…we shall see.

Speaking of Organ Grinders in my last email, the other day I saw one with a real Monkey. The monkey was sitting on top of the organ, dressed like a little boy…he looked pissed off. The grinder guy was dragging the organ around this restaurant trying to make some money. The monkey just sat there and did nothing. Aren’t they supposed to walk around with a little cup? Anyway, I kept my distance, because I was traumatized as a kid when I saw a monkey and an organ grinder and I tried to give the monkey some money, but it bit me….but this time, I stood back an watched, because I hadn’t seen a monkey up close in years. Anyway, all of a sudden the monkey gets up and starts flinging its hands at a group of people standing right near me…needless to say they were a bit frightened and plowed backward into me….luckily I was strong enough to break the fall….ouch.

Well, I think this will be a short one, since I know many of you just skim them anyway!  I am havin’ a good time still…no worries…I am off to Monaco today. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom…..

Jared

Jared in Paris!

Bonjour! Comment ca va? Je suis en Paris maintenent, et c’est un ville tres jolie!

Oops….there I go speaking in French again…hate when that happens. Its been good practice for me to be here though. If you didn’t know, I speak a little French…took it for years in school, and it was actually a subject I did well in. I was able to practice it growing up during my trips to Israel, speaking with my grandmother (who didn’t speak English, only French and Hebrew, and I didn’t speak Hebrew…only English and French, so that was the common language). Those years produced a convoluted version of French for me, so my grammar is really poor, but I am able to say what I want to say. Unfortunately, I don’t always understand what French people say to me, so I feel like an “idiot!” when they reply and I have to say “Uhhhh…do you speak English?”

OK, I want to know who reads my updates. I mean, sometimes I don’t get a lot of responses, so I am curious if these have become cumbersome to some of you, or if you are still enjoying them. So, here is a request. If you read my updates, send me an email with the following subject: “Chickens Have Beaks.”  And if you do not read my updates and do not enjoy them, send me an email with the following subject: “Chickens Have Lips.” In this way, I will know for certain if this is all to no avail.

So anyway, I am in Paris. Last I wrote, I was still in Amsterdam, roaming its evil streets and corridors. I decided I was a little old to be hanging around thousands of college kids getting stoned out of their minds. Seemed a little immature to me, and I was uncomfortable there, so I decided to leave the next day. It was my second time in Amsterdam anyway…I had been there two years ago on a more brief tour of London, Paris, and Amsterdam, so it was familiar territory. I would definitely say to the potential traveler that Amsterdam is a place that should be seen at least once in your life…but don’t stay for very long, lest you be ensnared by its evil charm.

I had to take a regular train to Brussels, Belgium, in order to catch the Paris Express, which was one of those fancy bullet trains that go nearly 200 miles an hour…the countryside seemed to wiz by as we made our way to Paris. The French countryside is flat and green, but not remarkable compared to all that I have seen thus far. It was five hours from Amsterdam to Paris, and we arrived around 5:00pm. Lucky for me, I had made a reservation at a youth hostel in advance, because I really didn’t care to deal with the quest to find a place to stay, starting from scratch upon arrival in Paris. But I still had to locate the hostel I reserved, so it was a bit of a quest anyway.

The train arrived at the Gare Du Nord train station, one of many stations here in Paris, receiving the trains from the North (Nord). It looked the same as it did last time, and I felt a sense of familiarity on arrival, so it wasn’t the usual “holy shit, where the hell am I?” feeling, because I had been here before and I knew what to expect from the place. I think the fact that I have been here before may be contributing to a lack of desire to really explore the city…don’t know why. Perhaps I am just tired of traveling.

Anyway, I found the hostel after walking about a mile, toting my bag behind me, par usual. When I arrived, I found out I had to carry my bags up four grande flights of stairs…that about wiped me out for the night, so I spent some time resting up for a bit. I met my roommate, a guy from California who had been traveling for a whole year. He was even more jaded than me, so we had stuff to talk about. We went out to dinner in the Latin Quarter section, to a French restaurant where we dined on salad with warm goat cheese. It was pretty good, but drenched in oil, thus killing any sense of being healthy. After dinner, we played chess in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral and called it a night.

So, I shall tell you a wee bit about Paris. This is a strikingly beautiful city. Its beauty rivals Rome in every way. The architecture is all stone and very ornate. There are magnificent buildings around every corner, as well as immense plazas sporting buildings fit for an empire – Daunting Roman architecture, ornate carvings, and statues. Even the regular buildings are lined with black iron railings that create a uniform sense of design.

The city has a very old feel. It is divided into two banks, the left and the right, split down the middle by the river Seine. The right bank is to the north and the left is to the south. In the middle of the river Seine, there is an island called Isle De La Cite. This is the most ancient portion of Paris and contains the Notre Dame Cathedral and other significant Parisian buildings.

To the south of Notre Dame, on the left bank, is the Latin Quarter, a bohemian section full of bars and restaurants, as well as universities and bookstores. To the far west of the left bank is the Eiffel Tower. No, it is not visible from every window in Paris. In fact, it’s hard to see from most of Paris, because it’s located on the edge.

To the north of the Isle De La Cite is the right bank containing the Royal Palace, its beautiful courtyards, and the Louvre, the world famous museum housing the Mona Lisa. Of course, there is much more to the city, tons of neighborhoods and little places to discover everywhere. The city is divided into 18 sections (I think) that run clockwise from the Louvre. My youth hostel is located in the 4th section and is near to the river Seine and some of the most beautiful buildings in Paris. I am not going to talk about seeing the following things:  The Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, or Jim Morrison’s Grave. These are things I saw last time I was here, and while they are exciting in their own right, they are not a part of my current quest for raison d’etre. Of course, if anyone is really curious, I can add a paragraph in my next book.

One thing I missed last time I was here was Mont Martre. This is a high ground in the right bank of Paris to the far north, sporting a famous cathedral called Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart.)  So, I think the French exclamation “Sacre Coeur!” is a reference to this place. Anyway, it’s a beautiful building with domes that can be seen from almost anywhere in the city, and around it is a medieval area containing restaurants and artist colonies.  So, I trekked up yonder…took the metro.

The metro here is quite efficient and extensive. I made the climb up many flights of stairs and stood before the cathedral. Beautiful. OK let me be honest here. I am pretty Cathedral’d out. I have seen soooooo many churches, medieval cathedrals of tremendous importance, that things like this don’t really provoke much in me anymore. Maybe this is sad, or maybe it’s just overkill.

There were tons of tourists around the area, and many sketch artists looking to draw my picture. There were also many street musicians and organ grinders. I have seen many organ grinders lately….I walked around the area and perused its streets. I came upon a street drummer who was walking around with a Djumbe drum slung around his neck, and he was entertaining people sitting in the restaurants. I watched him for a while and he made faces at me. He saw that I had my guitar with me….I was looking to do a little playing myself, but the area was saturated with musicians, and I didn’t want to step on anyone’s territory. I went back towards the cathedral and sat on the stairs looking out over the city. There was a guitar player there, a man with a thick Indian accent who sang a lot of classic songs in his accent…but he attracted a crowd so I sat near him to watch. He saw I had a guitar, and he invited me to play with him for a bit…we did a few tunes for the crowd, but then I got the feeling that he wanted me to leave. As soon as I packed it up, he started asking for money. Guess he didn’t want me to get a cut. Oh well, let him have it.

I left Mont Martre and began to walk back down towards the Seine, which was quite a far hike, but I felt up to it and wanted to see as much as I could. Paris starts to look the same after a while, with it’s uniform architecture all being of a similar style. After an hour of walking, I began to regret that I had set out on such a far walk. I was weary by the time I arrived on the bank of the Seine…I needed a nap.

I headed into the Royal Palace courtyard. The Royal Palace, containing the Louvre and its glass pyramid, also contains a lovely stretch of gardens and fountains that attract the lazy, such as myself. I found a chair (one of those chairs that let you recline) and I kicked it by a fountain for a few hours, wrapped my guitar case strap around my leg (so no one could steal it if I fell asleep) and snoozed the afternoon away. I awoke to some children screaming right next to me, maybe two hours later. The sun had gone down somewhat and I felt better from my rest, so I walked back to the hostel.

I was hungry and decided it was time for some hardcore French cuisine. I headed to the Latin Quarter where all the serious restaurants can be found, and searched for the one that gave me the best French aura.

I found a quaint place on one of the side streets with a roaring fire and wooded interior. I sat down and ordered up some cheese Fondue. This is typical French food at its best. They serve a boiling pot of cheese, all gooey and artery clogging, and a huge basket of bread cut up into small pieces. You take the bread and spear it with a long fork, dip it into the cheese, and eat. Pretty decadent, but had to be done. I sat there for a while reading Lord of The Rings and eating my Fondue. By the way, I am really enjoying this book…it’s fitting to read a classic fantasy travel epic while on this journey.

After dinner I headed over to the Notre Dame Cathedral, because I wanted to do a little playing. I found a spot, opened my case and let it rip. The crowd didn’t come rushing over for some reason…but I began to attract a group of Algerians who I ended up hanging out with and speaking to for the evening. Algerians have it rough in their country, and most of them would love to get out (because there is a nasty civil war and people get killed all the time), but visas are not widely available. The lucky ones get to come to France and wait for citizenship. Once they get it, they try to make it to the U.S. …. it’s the dream of so many to come to the USA. We are lucky to have the freedoms we have.

End of day.

Middle of the night, awoken by a snoring roommate who I tapped and politely asked to roll over. He replied, “Fuck you”.

Next day, I decided to go to the Chateaux De Versailles. I hope I am spelling this right. Versailles was the home to many French kings, including most of the Louis series…it was about an hour train ride to the Chateaux. This will be brief…..

Versailles is perhaps the most beautiful thing I have seen since the Vatican. It is a huge palace surrounded by extensive gardens and fountains, full of flowers and statues. The building itself is so beautifully adorned, with carvings and golden gates. It has an immense courtyard in front.

I stood in that area and admired the building from the outside. What it must take to build such structures, I could never know. But to be sure, the kings of old commissioned some pretty serious projects. I took a tour of the inside around the kings apartments and halls. It was a lot like the Vatican, each room hand painted with scenes from the bible, or political depictions, portraits of kings and queens, men of nobility. The adornments were sensory overload, and I am not really able to describe them. Suffice to say, I have had my senses overloaded so much, I am finding it hard to sense anything anymore….

So, that takes me up to the present. As you may have guessed from some of my comments, I am feeling a bit weary and de-sensitized. I suppose this is because of the shear amount of things that I have done and seen, but it’s unfortunate that I am feeling this way with nearly a whole month ahead of me. Well, perhaps when I leave Paris and this familiar sense, I will have a new feeling of exploration and discovery. At least I have been writing some songs…

Remember, respond to my poll.

Jared

Jared in Berlin and Amsterdam

Hi all….I have been in Berlin havin’ a blast. Actually…not quite true. I should say I have been in Berlin, held up in my hotel room, clinging to a bucket for three days. I got a little sick, shall we say….I guess I had something bad to eat somewhere along the line….I think it was this chicken sandwich, called a Doner Kebab…in Berlin. There are all kinds of stands that sell these things…they look pretty good (a huge spit of chicken meat, piled on top of more chicken meat, roasting upright in front of a flame…) and I have eaten them before….but I guess my number was up to get a bad apple….I’ll get to all of that.

But First!

Let me tell you about my second full day in Berlin. Lemme see, since I was in a delirious feverish state for most of that time, but I shall try to recall. I think at that point I was getting bummed out by Berlin…I wasn’t very into it to be honest. This has nothing to do with any of my crazy emotions….I just wasn’t very into the city itself, its layout, or the architecture…remember I said it felt like it was under construction….well, I think that fact, plus the fact that there really is no central area, made me feel like it was difficult to get a lay of the land and get to know that city systematically.  But I think in the end, I can point to most of the significant things on a map of Berlin. Let’s hope all my mental maps don’t merge, and I start confusing cities!

So, for some reason that I can’t recall, we got a pretty late start in the day and decided we wanted to see one thing specifically, a place called Check Point Charlie. This was a border check point located at a point along the infamous Berlin Wall, which, to East Germans, symbolized the daily plight of their occupation. Cars passing through this checkpoint were searched thoroughly for stowaways trying to escape East Berlin and defect to the west. It has become a tourist attraction, since the fall of the wall, so being the tourists we are, we had to go.

At the site of Check Point Charlie, there is a brick path laid into the road showing where the Berlin Wall once stood. I had to do a little East/West jumping back and forth, just to be cool and stuff….just how much cooler could one get? Once I had passed back and forth from east to west a bunch of times, I noticed that there were some police pulling cars over and searching them right near the checkpoint site. I was confused. Was the checkpoint still in operation? There is no wall. There is no war. What gives?

Turns out that day was May Day, not sure what it’s all about, but apparently there was going to be some demonstrations in the area between Neo Nazis and Anti-Fascists, and the cops were vigorously searching cars for bombs and weapons. I didn’t feel so bad about the searches after I found that out. Someone actually warned us not to go a few streets over, because we might get caught in the action…we took the hint and stayed away.

Later we learned there was violence in that area and clashes between these two groups….lucky us to avoid it. Anyway, it was interesting to see such an inspection by the police at Checkpoint Charlie, because that’s probably what it used to be like. Near the site is a museum about the checkpoint and about the Berlin Wall and what it was like to live in such a division. I perused around there for a bit, saw some pieces of the wall, and a lot of pictures of Berlin before it came down. It was interesting to see the Reichstag and the Brandenburg gate with the wall running in front of them, in contrast to its current, open state. The pieces of the wall are remarkable, because they have beautiful paintings on them. Most of the wall was painted by people on both sides, visions of peace and reunion, brotherhood, as well as hatred, slogans of nationalism, who is right, who is wrong.

After the museum, we walked to nearby Bebelplatz, the square where the infamous Nazi book burning rallies took place. It is a wide open plaza surrounded by ornate, pre-war Roman buildings and a domed church. In the center of the square is a plaque embedded into the ground with a quote by an author whose name escapes me, “Where they begin burning books, soon they will be burning people”. It was from the 1800s, this quote. An eerie prophecy.

We decided that ice cream was needed, as well as a place to chill for a bit, because I was feeling strangely tired. We walked around for a bit and found a place that sold gelato with tables outside….ordered up the goods and parked it for a whole hour. As we sat, I began to feel more tired and wondered why. I had a full night’s sleep…I had eaten…we hadn’t walked all that much….hmmmm. When we got up to go, I felt a wave of dizziness overcome me. Sat down……got up again and turned my head, felt it again. I knew something was up. The last time I felt that way, I ended up having Mono, sick in bed for a whole month.

I said to Elyse, “I think we had better head back to the hotel…I’m not feeling well”.  The sky was gray for a storm, and it began to rain heavily, as a fever descended on me which would set us back three whole days and keep us in Berlin far longer than we intended to be there. Oh well, guess it’s all part of the adventure, eh?

By the time we got back to the hotel, I was feeling miserable and needed to just sleep, so I crashed. I woke up in the middle of the night sweating with chills….I knew I was deep in a fever. Why does this have to happen to me now, I thought. I knew it would get worse before it got better. And it did….I will spare you the details, but allow your imagination to run wild concerning food poisoning and what affect it may have on your digestive system. I’ll leave it at that. We were supposed to go to Amsterdam the next day, but we ended up staying an additional three days. We had to switch hotels, but before we did, we had a run in with the owner again, the one I mentioned in my previous email about being nosey and a blabbermouth.

Her name is Rita Neilsen. What a character. I don’t know if I have ever met anyone quite like her. She was a raving anti-Semite, and that is not a statement made from paranoia. Once she found out we were Jewish, this became the basis on which she dealt with us for the duration of our stay at her hotel. Every comment or remark was underlined with Jewish references. When she found out I was sick, she suggested I leave the hotel and go to the hospital. When I said I preferred to stay she said, “Why, are you afraid of the German doctors? You think they are going to torture you? You Jews are all the same. You come here hating all the Germans, and you think the Germans are the ones who hate, but you are the one who is on a hate tour!” She constantly made references like this and our identity proceeded any reference she would make about us… “The Jews in room 9…..”  “I told those Jews they should go to the hospital….” “Why do you Jews have to be so stubborn?” I felt it very abrasive and difficult to deal with, but she was helpful at times any way, and recommended doctors and other hotels. If you come to Berlin, don’t stay at Hotel Funkturm in Charlottenburg, lest you encounter Rita and her ravings.

So aside from Rita Neilsen, my three extra days in Berlin consisted of sleeping, drinking, taking Tylenol, and various other “details” you may not wish to here and I will therefore omit. Elyse was wonderful and took care of my every need. Thankfully, she extended her trip and was able to be there. Regrettably, her extension was spent running around for me. Worked out well, because I would have been screwed if I were alone. So a big shout of THANKS goes to Elyse, what would I have done without you?

Friday we left for Amsterdam, where I now am.

Ahhhhh, Amsterdam. Let me just say this:  EVERYTHING YOU HAVE HEARD IS TRUE.  From its sordid drug/sex culture to its beautiful facades and canals, Amsterdam is a city of contrasts.

History and Dutch cultures fly in the face of legalized drugs and prostitution, and every hedonistic indulgence known to man. The center of the city is full of streets lined with a myriad of “coffee shops” and Hemp stores, as well as sex shops selling all kinds of crazy things. The coffee shops are really drug dealing establishments where you can purchase anything on the gambit of substance. People are sitting around smoking marijuana everywhere. There are just tons of people sitting around drinking and taking drugs. It’s pretty surreal.

There is an area called the Red Light District where the sex shops and legal prostitution reign even freer. If anyone has ever heard the song “Roxanne” by the Police, you’ll know why it reminds me of this city. “Roxanne, you don’t have to put on a red light, walk the streets for money, you don’t have to sell your body to the night.”  In the Red Light District, up and down the streets, there are windows with these neon red lights above them. In the windows, stand “call girls” on display for potential customers. The women are scantily clad and beckon to passersbys to come on in and have a little fun. In addition to the “displays”, there are also theatres where you can go view a live sex show. Just to stress here folks, I am merely reporting to you what I have seen. I would never partake in this horrid, filthy lifestyle, and I can only say to those who do, “Flee this evil place! Thou art the devil!” (Of course, hissing and spitting is involved.)

But besides all the naughty goings on here in Amsterdam, it is a very beautiful city. Its center is U-shaped, coming out of the central station. There are a lot of shops and restaurants, as well as historical points of interest. For instance, the Anne Frank House. This is perhaps one of the biggest attractions here for those interested in the city and not the drugs and sex. Anne Frank lived in Amsterdam, went into hiding with her family here, wrote her diary and was eventually deported from Amsterdam.

You can go see the warehouse run by her father, Otto Frank, where their family, along with some others, hid from the Nazis for two years. I read her diary as a child, so it was especially fascinating for me to see the “Secret Annex” where they hid. This was a hidden apartment in the back of the building, sealed off from the rest of it. You have to pass through an opening behind a bookcase to get in. It’s very small, and you can see Anne Frank’s room and even the decorations she put on her wall.

We passed through the house and made our way around the connecting museum. I am glad such a place exists where people can go and see the face of a young girl who suffered. Anne Frank has become the face of holocaust suffering, I think, and people need a face to connect to.

So, I am going to end it now. Elyse went home this morning, so I am back on my own. I think tomorrow I will head out to somewhere in France….any suggestions? I really don’t know where to go next, so if I get some good votes, I will go where you want me to 🙂

Feelin’ fine and ready to forge ahead,

Jared

Jared in Berlin

Guten Tag, can you please pass the Weinerschnitzel?

So, I spent another day in Prague after I last wrote. If I can encourage ya´ll to go to one place in Eastern Europe, I would say go to Prague! It is certainly one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen, and all the buildings are older than America…it´s all for real, right there for your gawking pleasure. Take the trip, you won’t regret it. No one paid me to say that.

So on to my current whereabouts…..I am in Berlin! Yet another city I never thought I would make it to on this trip, but you know how life has a funny way of taking you places you never would have expected. Elyse decided to extend her stay with me by one week, so we had some additional time to kill somewhere between Prague and Amsterdam, and we decided to go to Berlin! I mean, it is a pretty historically significant city and stuff, so I am glad that I made it up here.

We hopped on the train in Prague and six hours later we arrived back in Germany….and let me say a word or two about some of the trains here. The whole operation is RETARDED! We sat in first class, as our rail passes entitled us to do, and discovered that the smoking section and the non-smoking section are in the same freaking car! I mean, one row is smoking and the next row is non-smoking, and there are no dividers separating the two sections! So, the smoke floats right on over. How stupid. I asked the conductor who spoke a little English, “Uhh, why are the smoking and non-smoking sections in the same car?” He gave me some cock and bull story about how the air conditioning somehow keeps the smoke from circulating. I said, “That´s a bullshitta. Why then, do I see and smell smoke?” He then smiled blankly as if he did not understand, and moved along. And another thing…we had to move seats three times, because it turns out they were reserved by people who got on at different stops along the way….no one told us we were in reserved seats! Ugh!!!

OK, on to Berlin…I know you are all dying to hear about this place. We arrived in the early evening, before dark, and set out yet again on the arduous quest of finding a place to stay. This is something I am getting very sick of, and as we get more into the high season, it is becoming very difficult to just show up and find a place. So, we called each hotel listed in Let’s Go, but all of them were booked.

We were getting very worried that we would not be able to find a place…but finally we were referred to one hotel that had a room available, so we jumped on it. We had to take the train to the area, which turned out to be in the most extreme east section of Berlin, and as we got closer and closer, the area looked incrementally more sketchy….so when we arrived at the station, which looked like it was in post war Berlin, we said a fond “screw this” and got back on the train in the opposite direction, determined to find a place in west Berlin.

We headed for an area called Charlottenburg, which was supposed to have a lot of pensions. We called all the ones listed in the book in the area, but all were booked. What to do? Finally, we got lucky and found a decent place, but the woman who runs it is a nosey, blabbermouth who noticed my middle name was “Moshe” on my passport, obviously Jewish, and began asking a lot of probing questions about whether we eat pork or not, and then made a comment on how she is sure we will be wanting to find a CHEAP restaurant (cuz Jews are cheap, of course)….we ignored her as best we could and went to bed.

By the way, this is the second version of this update, because the first one was lost when the piece of CRAP computer in this overpriced Internet cafe CRASHED just as I attempted to send it. What a tragedy…really….I was crushed. Well, I will try to recreate as best I can.

OK, so a little bit about Berlin. As many of you may know, Berlin was once a divided city, East and West. After World War II, when the Soviets occupied East Germany, they divided Berlin and set up the infamous Berlin Wall. So, after the war, the city really became two separate cities, with two different centers. Now, after the fall of the Berlin wall, and the reunification of the city, there are efforts underway to create a more cohesive metropolis, but at the moment this place is rather chaotic.

First of all, the city is eight times the size of Paris, and nothing is in walking distance of anything else. You have to make use of the trains quite a bit. Second of all, I feel like the city is still under construction. There are cranes everywhere, littering the skyline, particularly in East Berlin. So as we walked around, I felt like I was walking around one giant construction site. The fact that there is so much building going on sort of takes away from any serenity factor that may have once existed, and provides a disorienting, chaotic feeling to the visitor.

As far as architectural beauty, there really isn’t that much happening here. I mean, there are several historical landmarks, and older buildings predating the war, but this city was, for the most part, destroyed by allied bombing. So 95% of the buildings here were constructed after the war, and while they are nice, they are not particularly interesting. The buildings in East Berlin are ugly-ass communist square block looking structures….I don’t know what they were thinking. I guess that’s what all the construction is about…to beautify and modernize the city in a unified way.

So, on our first full day in Berlin, we set out to explore as best we could. We decided to start in the West and make our way East. The western portion of the city is centered around a region called the Tiergarten, a giant, long park in the middle of the city, containing a zoo. I guess it´s the Central Park of Berlin, in a way.

We began at the western section and walked down the main boulevard cutting through the park. In the center is a structure called the Victory Tower, erected in the late 1800s as a memorial of Germany’s humiliating defeat of France. It´s about half the size of the Statue of Liberty (I have to draw some comparisons for you New Yorkers) and has a golden angelic figure perched on top. We decided to make the climb to its tower and check out the panoramic view of Berlin.

We made our way up the narrow spiral staircase, amidst a wave of BO infested tourists. It was quite hot and the inside of the tower was graffitied all the way with stupid things like, “I love the Back street Boys”. Coming out on top, we entered a crowded platform and could barely move around. From what I could see of the city, it wasn’t very impressive at all. There are some notable buildings, but I mostly saw the park and cranes all over the place. Like I said, it feels like it´s still under construction.

We left the tower and continued through the Tiergarten to the east end, where the Brandenburg Gate it located. This structure was symbol of division between the east and west for a very long time, because the Wall ran along its eastern edge. In 1989, when the wall came down, East and West Berliners danced together on top of this gate. Now, it´s surrounded by construction sites and cars passing through it without reservation.

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan stood in front of this gate and in a speech to the crowd, addressed Gorbechev and said, “Mr. Gorbechev, open this gate”. Two years later, the people themselves tore the wall down and embraced each other. OK, so I read the sign at the gate and that´s how I know all this. I am giving you a little history here!  The Brandenburg Gate can be likened as the Arc De Triumph of Berlin, standing at the end of the long boulevard through the Tiergarten, where Nazi marchers once took place. It is made of Roman looking columns with a big statue on top….

Next we went to the Reichstag, very near the gate. The Reichstag is the former parliamentary building used by the early German governments and served at the seat of the Nazi Reich. In front of the Reichstag, there is a plaza, currently full of cranes and feverish building, but once served as the place for Nazi rallies. Eerie. The Reichstag is a mammoth building of Roman type with ornamental facades on all sides, home to statues of soldiers in their glory.  It´s an impressive building outright, but compared too much of what I have seen on this trip, it isn’t very notable. It’s the history of the building that is more impressive….to know that it is where Hitler ran the war from, and all his evil doings were conceived of there.

There was a surprising lack of stores and street vendors near these very important sites…and that was too bad for us, because we were very hungry but couldn’t find a place to eat! You would think they’d want to cash in on all the tourist flow at these places, but nooooo. Where is the McDonald’s when ya need one?

We walked around the old Jewish quarter after that and visited a rebuilt synagogue which was wrecked by the Nazis. We walked all around the same streets that notable Jews, such as Albert Einstein and Menachem Schneerson, once walked. There were 160,000 Jews in Berlin before the war, and only 7,000 afterward. Horrible to know that they were all sent to the camps.

The evening was spent in the Ku´damm, the main boulevard going through west Berlin with all kinds of shops and restaurants…sort of the Park Avenue of Berlin….another comparison for you New Yorkers. We spent some time calling Amsterdam and trying to reserve a hotel. Good thing we called ahead, because most things were already booked! We found a place, but for $80 a night! Guess you have to pay premium prices to pah-tay legally…..but me, I am just interested in the canals….ahem.

Thanks for reading….any questions, fire them my way. I’d like to hear from all of you, so please send me email! On to Amsterdam tomorrow!

Jared