Monday, May 4, 2009

Paris and Berlin!

Paris & Berlin

Arrived in Paris and the first thing that surprised us really was seeing houses! There’s really only apartment complexes in Spain (or at least in urban Spain) so when we saw houses from the airport to the city center, that was a big surprise. Another surprise was realizing how little I speak of other languages besides English and Spanish. I didn’t even know thank you, goodbye or please. Luckily, everyone at our hotel spoke English as well as most people we encountered there. Speaking of the hotel, one of my favorite parts of the trip was breakfast. We had an included breakfast with our stay and it was dreamlike. Surrounded by little French couples and families, our waiter asked for our preference: café au lait o chocolate. Then he would scurry off into the little kitchen to prepare our individual breakfast tray of one croissant and one French loaf each, as well as an array of jams and honeys. It worked as the best alarm clock for Coop and I—as soon as we got up, we got ready as soon as possible to go get breakfast.

As far as the main sites go, Paris is not overrated in the least. We purchased the Paris Museum Pass and really got our money out of it. We saw Versailles (palace outside of Paris), Orsay Museum (art with great Impressionist collection), Louvre (Mona Lisa), Saint Chapelle (church), Notre Dame, Conciergie (prison where Marie Antoinette was held), Napoleon’s Tomb, Arc de Triumf (arch at the end of the Champs de Elysees where you can see the whole city) and L’Orangerie (Monet art collection). I wish I could say I have a refined taste but I really don’t care to see any art for a while.

Personally, I think the best sites don’t require an entry fee. I have definitely learned that you can get burnt out on sightseeing if you’re not careful. Walking along the Seine River is relaxing and beautiful and gives great views of the city. Sitting and drinking coffee in one of the cafes is part of the culture. One of the best things Coop and I did was go to Pere LaChase (sp?) cemetery. Among the various creative minds buried there is Jim Morrison. The graves, or rather tombs, are actually very elaborate and strolling around the cemetery wasn’t morbid like I thought it would be when Coop suggested going. Also, Coop and I bought coffees in the Tuilleries Gardens outside the Louvre and sat in reclining chairs near a pond.
And, of course, the Eiffel Tower. I really thought that I would be disappointed because everyone talks about the Eiffel Tower and how great it is and usually when things are talked up too much, they never can live up to your expectations. The Eiffel Tower is breathtaking from faraway and up-close. I learned two things while I was climbing the tower. One, the Eiffel Tower sparkles at night for ten minutes every hour. Two, I have a fear of heights. We hadn’t even made it to the first viewpoint (there’s three) before I started to feel like I was going to pass out. However, in my defense, I’m usually never scared of heights and you can really imagine yourself falling when all you can see supporting you are the beams underneath you and you can feel the tower swaying in the wind. We made it to the second viewpoint before I had to call it quits. According to Rick Steves, it’s the best area for sights of the city in the first place.

Finally, as always, I have to give my review of the food. We ate a lot of paninis in the streets, we had Donor Kebap twice (not very good in Paris), we tried the one true Parisian cuisine item, French onion soup (tasted the same as Campbells to me) and also had CREPES. Crepes are the best thing to happen to me. Or the worst. Depends on how you look at it. A crepe, for those of you who aren’t sure, is a very thin pancake filled with your choice of sweet or salty foods. So it can be a dessert crepe or more of a snack crepe. When I ordered my first crepe of banana and nutella (chocolate) and took the first bite, I was immediately angry at myself for waiting until the last day to try them. They are absolutely delicious. So even if you’re not going to Paris and you haven’t had a crepe before, I highly recommend investigating where you can get one. I had one in Berlin as well and it was almost as good.


Berlin was my favorite and I’m not even sure why. There’s no Eiffel Tower, no spectacular art and no palaces. However, there is a certain relaxed and welcoming feeling there. The weather was beautiful; everyone we encountered seemed so happy and excited to be where they are.

The hostel we stayed at was incredible. There was a kitchen and a beautiful garden to eat in or stroll around in. There was a German beer happy hour from 8 to 10 every night (for Coop) and a coffee happy hour from 7 to 10 every morning (for me). The man at the front was so welcoming, telling us where everything was in the city, what was going on that weekend, etc. So we heard from him that there was going to be a free walking tour around the city so we jumped on that.

Our tour guide was a British guy who had been living in Berlin for five years giving tours around the city. They do a free tour (of course, accepting tips) in order to persuade you to go on their other non-free tours. I always like stuff like this because if you have a good product or service, you should be able to prove it and then gain people’s trust to come back. Anyhow, it was fabulous. We learned so much about the city while simultaneously being entertained by his humorous anecdotes in his British accent (that always seems to make things funnier).

A few interesting stories/facts we learned:

• Outside the city museum where Hitler used to give speeches, etc, a movie producer was trying to reproduce a Nazi rally. He hired extras, put up Nazi flags, everything. As soon as they got everything set up, a snowstorm blew in and they were only able to grab the movie production things and clear the extras. So after the snow calmed down, all people saw were Nazi flags all over their government buildings.
• Berlin Wall escape stories:
o One man zip lined his family to the other side by hiding his family in the bathroom at his work that was located next to the wall and then used his pants to zipline to the other side with his two kids hanging on to his legs. His wife used her skirt.
o One man borrowed a forklift and rammed through the first wall and then lifted up on the forklift on the other side.
o A young man’s girlfriend was on the East Berlin side and in order to get her to the West side, he told her to do some extreme dieting. Once she got to be little more than skin and bones, he took the stuffing out of his passenger seat chair and put her in it. They never found her.
o Similarly, another young man’s girlfriend was on the East Berlin side and he was trying to smuggle her past the borders. He dated a girl who lived on the West Berlin side that looked very similar to her for two years and then took her to the East Berlin side for a weekend trip. One day while they were at lunch, she went to the bathroom. When she came back, her passport and papers were missing. The man had switched her out for his true love and left her stranded. True documented story.
o One man catapulted himself to the other side.
o One of the biggest Catholic churches in Berlin has Coca-Cola endorsements posted outside. When parishioners complained, they replaced them with Mercedes Benz endorsements.
o The soldier posted outside Checkpoint Charlie isn’t real. He works for an exotic dancing company and is just there to make money off of taking pictures with him.
o It was a fad for a while to graffiti David Hasselhoff Save the World onto buildings.
o Berlin has numbered all of their trees.
o Hitler’s bunker and “suicide spot” is located outside a random apartment building in a parking lot. The German government didn’t want anyone to make a memorial or a display about it so no one really knows about it. We were there on the anniversary of Hitler’s death.
o Berlin created a memorial for the Jews that died in the Holocaust that are blocks of granite coated in a chemical that makes it easy to wipe off graffiti. The same company that produces this chemical produced the gases that killed the Jews. Therefore, they profited from the death of the Jews and are now profiting off their memorial.
o Gobles (sp?), the man who devised the plan to exterminate the Jews, had Jewish family.
We also met three people our age on the tour—Megan, Sam and Ross. Megan and Sam’s dad told them when they graduated that he wasn’t going to pay for college but would pay for them to travel until they didn’t want to or until they wanted to settle down. They’ve basically been travelling for the past three and a half years across Europe, Africa, Australia and Asia. Ross was a bartender from Washington state who was staying with a friend in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was interesting to meet people who were actively avoiding the 9-5.
The one night that Coop and I went out for a nice meal, we had one of the traditional German drinks—something Weiss. It’s flavored beer. Mine was cranberry and Coop was herbal or something. Coop ordered schnitzel (fried veal) and throughout the next couple of days, we had a couple of currywursts (hot dogs/sausages covered in curry and ketchup). I loved it. I loved Berlin and hope to go back one day to see more of Germany because they are really great people!
As far as traveling goes, however, I’ve learned several things.
-Don’t overdo the sightseeing. If you’re too worried about seeing everything, you won’t enjoy your time at the places you do get to see.
-Half the fun of traveling to other countries is getting to know the people and their culture. And their coffee.
-It’s worth it to pay the extra money to avoid long bus rides/to go the most direct route. The 7 hour bus ride from Sevilla to Madrid is pretty bad….

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