Being a Bolognesi
DAY 1 : AIX, LYON, PARIS, BAYEUX
So my trip, or our trip, began about 11 days ago at the train station in Aix-en-Provence. I arrived around 9:05 to catch the 9:25 train into Marseille where we (my group of four other IAU students) would catch our train to Lyon, that would eventually take us to Bayeux, France or Normandy as many of you will know it. I traveled with my housemate, and three other friends from IAU. My housemate had class on Friday morning and decided to catch a bus to Marseille to catch our train to Lyon.
Our train arrived in Marseille and our group of four waited for the arrival of our fifth at the bus area of the train/bus station. That bus would not arrive until after our train left. Normally this wouldn't be a problem, but this time it was. Being that my housemate knew he was going to potentially be cutting it close, and knowing that he still had to validate his eurail pass ,which doesn't take long but the lines can definitely add to that time, he gave me his eurail to validate it for him before he got to the station. So at the train station, I validated my pass and tried to validate his, but I needed his passport, which he didn't give me. But I wouldn't have wanted it anyway because that is a lot of responsibility.
So knowing that we had to catch our train and that he would be late, we rushed from information desk to ticket desk just asking if one of the employees could hold onto the packet until our friend arrived. In typical unfriendly travel employee fashion no one offered to hold onto it, even after my ten euro bribe.
In this moment of crisis my friend found a defibrillator, not because I was having a heart attack, but as a place to hide the eurrail pass.
Surprisingly, this risk worked out well. My friend stuffed the packet snugly behind the bright green life saving machine and we caught our train. This train took us to Lyon where we changed trains to get to Paris where we again changed stations to catch our train to Bayeux. I spent much of my time on the train reading "Transfer of Power" a thriller by the world-renown novelist Vince Flynn. I was really hoping to read his other book "Kill Shot" ,which is a pre-cursor to "Transfer of Power." I mainly wanted to read it because "Killshot" takes place in Paris as opposed to D.C. where ToP takes place. Regardless, it was a great read for the trip. It goes without saying that our first day of travel was interesting.
DAY 1 CONTINUED : BAYEUX 9:00 p.m.
A fine mist fell over the centuries old cathedral as our group of five young American students negotiated traffic on the outskirts of the small French town. Not knowing where to go after leaving the train we followed the light of the cathedral that was the only recognizable or respectable building in the Bayeux skyline. Being that the French don't work at night, we struggled finding a place to eat after checking into our surprisingly spacious hotel.
Luckily we found a pizza place. It was Friday so the other Catholic in the group and I abstained from meat. I chose the four cheese pizza, three of the cheeses were good but chevre (goat's cheese) is gross. After our quick and dirty dinner it was off to bed to prepare for our day of exploring Omaha beach.
DAY 2: OMAHA BEACH, AMERICAN CEMETERY, D-DAY
I woke up around 8 in the morning. After showering and eating, I was greeted by the same marine layer of fog that seemingly loomed over the region as an ominous sign of the area that I was about to visit. We made our way to the train station where we took a taxi to Omaha Beach.
Driving to Omaha beach reminded me of Ireland simply because the country side looked fairly similar.
When we arrived at the historical sight I decided to first go to the museum to get my bearings and to understand what I was truly going to see. I sat through a short movie, about 15 minutes, about the men that survived and died during the most famous amphibious raid in history.
After exploring the museum I began to really understand what happened there, I mean I already knew because I enjoy history, but there is something different about being there.
Upon leaving the museum I decided the cemetery and the monument would be my first stop. I think it was a good choice because seeing the over 9,000 tombstones set the tone for my trip to the beach. Walking through the cemetery was an odd experience, not odd just hard to describe. First of all it was great being on American soil again, I felt that no one there could be rude to me for being an American, which happens when you are in Europe. Furthermore, the experience was different because it provided a perspective. As I waked through the cemetery I read the head stones of the 9,000 Americans that died liberating Northern France. The names were familiar, the towns were familiar, and the states were familiar. Tons of young men from Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin, Indiana, most of whom were my age, many even younger. I thought as I saw these names and saw the faces of the men in the museum that the world is a much different place now than it was then because of them. The United States sacrificed so much to create peace in Europe, and if I were alive then there is a chance that I would have been there too. Instead, because of them, I got to go on a ten day vacation around the continent that was once ravaged by a war that brought the world to its knees.
Needless to say I was proud to see the site. After the cemetery came the beach. Once you walk down the path from the cemetery to the beach it is much easier to see how easily the Nazis picked off the Americans. The hill was steep and the sand on the beach was difficult to walk in. Walking up from the beach to the fortifications that remained from the Nazis I realized the only possible way the U.S. could have won that battle is with sheer fire power and strength in numbers, because the only advantages the U.S. had was surprise, potentially firepower, and numbers.
Upon reaching the top of the hill I wiped the mud off of my boots that accumulated while I was exploring the former Nazi bunkers, and looked over Omaha beach. Such a strange feeling seeing the land (probably from where I was standing to the water was only 400 yards maybe 500 so a long par 4 or short par 5 away from the land) that was so important to the war because if that beach was not conquered the war could have been very very different.
Later that day the group decided to go out and explore bayeux, I was pretty tired so I stayed back for a nap but I don't feel like I missed much.
DAY 3: BAYEUX, PARIS, STRASBOURG
The fog was unrelenting as we again found our way dodging the matchbox-style cars that the French somehow manage to travel in. The train ride to Paris was short, only two hours. When we arrived we had two hours to kill and one of the girls in our group met up with a friend that lived in Paris. She showed us around and we found a place for lunch. After lunch it was back to Gare De L'est to take off to S-burg.
When we arrived in S-Burg we found a street map and walked to our hotel, Cap Europe, on Rue De Bitche, which is a real street. We did some exploring and found a majestic cathedral in the center of town. The place looked German, the entire town not just the church. The architecture was cool and S-burg was nice but we were only there for one night.
We found a supermarche that was open, which was surprising because nothing is open on Sunday in France. We decided to make dinner, spaghetti and mozzarella cheese for me, which doesn’t sound like much but it was a welcome change from the cheap food I had been eating up to that point.
DAY 4: S-BURG, MUNICH
Early wake up would not justify how damn early I had to wake up to catch my train to Munich, West Germany.
I showered in our relatively spacious European style shower and speed walked to the train station. Ask anyone in the group I speed walked the entire trip when we had to make a train.
Again, what a perfect opportunity to read and sleep. I would often find myself reading, getting into the mind of Vince Flynn and experiencing the life of his protagonist Mitch Rapp. The only time I would stop reading is when I was too tired to do so.
Shortly after I woke up we arrived in Munich, we got off at the questionable train station that loomed outside of the dusty window of our train. As shady and small as this station was it was the station on our ticket so we got off and looked for our hostel.
Little did we know we were ten kilometers away from where we needed to be. We found this out after we stopped at a real hotel to ask for directions, being that we couldn’t find a street map. The kind fraulines printed us a tram map and pointed us in the right direction. They knew we would not be able to walk there. This was really our first interaction with the German people and I was pleasantly surprised how nice they were to American tourists with no German vocabulary at all. Little did I know at the time but all the German people we met were nicer than the last.
We found the tram station and jumped on without buying a ticket, a risk I was willing to take. At every stop I was looking to make sure no tram Nazis got on the train to check tickets, and once we reached our stop it was off to the Hostel.
Our hostel was nice, very clean just a little outside of the downtown district, but nothing a short train ride couldn’t fix.
That night it was out for a brauhaus hop. We went to the most famous brauhaus in the world the “Haufbrauhaus am platz” and I drank about two liters of beer there. The brau haus was awesome. There was a live German band and the place smelled great because of all of the food that was around us. I enjoyed being in a place that appreciate a real portion of meat. From there we searched for bars around the area only stopping our search to use the random portapotty that we found on the street. Two liters of beer really goes through you.
We found an Irish pub, yes I know an Irish pub in Germany you are probably thinking “omg why didn’t you go to another brauhaus?” Well at that point we just wanted to drink and there was live music, in English. We later found our way home taking the train again without paying, it was only later that we would realize the risk we were truly taking.
DAY 5: MUNICH, DACHAU CONCENTRATION CAMP
Again being on a schedule caused us to wake up on time, I always want to sleep more so before noon on a vacation is early, but don’t worry the latest I slept on this trip was until 1030.
The reason we were waking up early is so we could go to Dachau, bringing my trip to Normandy more full circle than it already was.
This tour was great, we met a tour guide in the lobby paid 18 euro for a 5 hour tour of Dachau, which included transportation. The tour guide walked us to the train station and on the way there explained to us the importance of having a ticket for the train and the tram. He said while the ticket Nazis were few and far between they were relentless in giving fines for riding without a ticket. No stupid tourist excuse could fool them. He told us that riding without a ticket was a fifty euro fine and if you didn’t have the cash they would walk you to an ATM so you could pay them. So I guess the fourth reich exists in the train police (just accept the nazi joke, don’t fight it.) So we arrived in the center of town where we would meet with the rest of our tour group, being a little early the guide offered to show us a few sights before the actual meeting time.
He pointed out a cannon ball that was stuck in the side of a church from the Napoleon era. The church was actually destroyed in WWII, but was rebuilt with the cannon ball in tact just to make it look like how it did before the war. We then walked to a protestant church to see a wall painting. What was interesting about this ceiling is that there was a pretzel included in the rest of the religious painting. Pretzels in Munich are like crack to Charlie Sheen, you can’t have one without the other.
I forget why it was painted in the church, but he told us that back in the day, which in Europe means centuries ago, the city of Munich would give every citizen one free pretzel on a certain day of the year. That is until one year there was a shortage and an angry mob ran the pretzel man out of town, then the city realized it was too dangerous to do that.
ANYWAY, then we met up with our Australian tour guide that would show us the camp. Needless to say the girls drooled over him simply because of his accent. He took us to the train that would take us to the bus that would take us to the camp. On the train ride over I talked to Demitrius, one of our hostel-mates traveling in Europe. It was fun to hear his stories, he was very interesting. A physical therapist from Texas, traveling with his friend Andrew, more commonly known by our group as DAVE for reasons that I still don’t know.
Talking about their travels in Europe made the trip go by a little quicker , but about 35 minutes after we left the station we arrived in Dachau.
We began our tour outside of the main entrance, an ominous building with an arched entrance way, with a gate that reads “Arbeit Macht Frei” or work will set you free -- not true. Our guide explained to us that Dachau was one of the most important camps because of the SS training camp that was adjacent to the death/work camp.
Today the former SS training camp is now a training camp for German riot police, why you might ask? Well our tour guide explained that by making it a government building and by using the area to train police neo Nazis could not make it a shrine of any kind because it is now used to train the people that they riot against in the street.
We saw a few Kevlar clad riot police making their way out of the building right before we walked through the gates that thousands of jews, gays, roma, religious figures, and political prisoners walked through but never left.
Our guide explained that jews and other prisoners were never taken to Dachau directly by a train. Instead they were taken to the train station in the town of Dachau and then marched through the streets to the camp so they could be harassed by the town's people while they were on their way to have their dignity stripped even further.
Our first stop after receiving a little background information was the main administration building where the jews would surrender their belongings and receive their uniforms which marked them as either a jew, political prisoner, gay, anti-social etc etc. We walked through the building seeing disturbing images and Nazi propaganda, which is presented so that tourists can see how the holocaust happened.
We then made our way to a torture room. This is where prisoners were bound and beaten with wooden sticks as well as hung with their hands above their heads in order to dislocate their shoulders. This practice was later stopped because it was reducing the amount of work that could be done in the camp. Regardless if your shoulders were dislocated and you could not work they would just kill you.
After that room we read about the experiments performed on the prisoners and watched video from the American infantry that liberated the camp. Images of emaciated prisoners dead in piles next to the building that we were standing in.
Our tour guide told us that some of the SS dressed up as prisoners to try to escape with the real prisoners when the U.S. came to liberate the camp, but the prisoners usually beat them to death before they could sneak out of the camp.
We exited the building into an alley where high profile prisoners were executed. Nothing special really, just an alley between two buildings where the SS would use the prisoners as target practice.
After that we entered the special prison where the high profile guys were kept. There was nothing luxurious about this place, I actually found it worse than the other cells simply because it was solitary confinement.
Once we walked through that building we exited close to the outside wall of the prison. This was truly a weird experience because literally right next to this preserved building of torture and horror was a row of modern houses with their back yard and windows looking over the camp. How would you like to wake up to that everyday? I personally wouldn’t want to live within ten miles of the place.
I asked my guide what that property value was like. He didn’t know but he says there are usually rebel flags flying in the backyards so he assumes it is a neo Nazi hotbed.
We then walked to the barracks where the ordinary prisoners were held. Now every building at Dachau was original except the barracks, they were built with the intention of only lasting ten or twenty years and were eventually replaced with a replica so people could see the conditions the prisoners were kept in.
This was an interesting place. The beds were wooden and the prisoners were not given pillows blankets or any bedding. However, they were given a shelf for their belongings, the interesting thing is that none of the prisoners had any belongings. Another psychological ploy by the Nazis to show the prisoners that they had nothing and they would continue to have nothing living in this camp. Along with the shelves the Nazis also painted the words on their slanted roof saying “work, diligence, honesty, and love of the mother land will set you free” again psychological warfare because how could these prisoners love this motherland and the government that was putting them there?
After looking at the bathrooms of the barracks that were original, we saw how no one had any privacy in the entire place. And then it was off to the gas chamber.
On our way to the chamber we were met by three memorials a Catholic memorial, a Jewish one and a Protestant one. Close to these memorials was a fence. One the inside of the fence there was a ditch and on the outside their was a river. Simply put there was no way out. A guard tower guarded the fence line and the fence itself was electric. Our guide said that if a prisoner wanted to take their own life they would simply run to the fence to be shot, because the SS were punished severely if they missed, sometimes becoming prisoners themselves.
We walked over the river which was littered with small coins commemorating the lives lost along the fence line. We took a short walk through a wooded area where some prisoners were killed by simply being shot instead of gassed. We then found the gas chambers.
The chamber was set up in stages. First a room to undress. The prisoners did this willingly because they believed the chamber to be a shower. The chamber even resembled a shower, somewhat. The next room was the gas chamber. The gas canisters would be dropped in from the ceiling and that would be the end for the prisoners. The drains on the floor would catch any of the bodily fluids that spilled to the ground due to bodily reactions to the deadly gasses. Directly after the gas chamber was the crematorium. The crematorium ran 24/7 during the last two years of the war. That should give you an idea of how many people died there, not because it ran for longer than two years, but it ran everyday for two years straight.
Needless to say after that part of the tour everyone was ready to get back to a happier place in Munich.
Later that night our group decided to eat at the brauhaus across the street from our hostel. They had quality food, real meat and real portions and real beer. That night we went out with our friends Demetrius and Dave/Drew. We again went to the Irish pub to start the night but ended up in the University district where we spent the majority of the night.
Drew and I talked for a bit. He just graduated from college a semester early and took what would be his final semester to kick it in Europe.
After everyone had a few more drinks we decided to take pictures on the Lion statue in town, check facebook because I am probably tagged in a few of those pictures.
Needing to catch a morning train it was back to the Hostel for me, but a few in the group decided to go out for round two, as if round one wasn’t enough.
DAY 6: MUNICH, FRANKFURT, AMSTERDAM
Another early morning to get on the train. What is new. This time we had to rush to the station to get on the right train. After boarding I again went into my routine of reading and sleeping on and off.
After our train stopped in Frankfurt it was definitely lunch time, I mean we were all starving and needed food, real food, not European food. As we entered the train/bus station/ airport we had a lot of options. Of course we went to the most American place ever, Hooters. Now in America no one chooses hooters for their food, but in Europe when you see that you can get food that comes in real portions you go for it so we did.
After a Philling Philly Cheese Steak it was off to our next train to Hamsterdamn.
Our train squealed into the opulent train station sitting on the edge of town. We were greeted by a gloomy sky and funny accents. I honestly don’t remember if we found our hostel via map or by asking people, but when we arrived at the Globe in Amsterdam we were right in the center of action, the red light district. I looked out of our window that overlooked a canal and a few coffee shops, and after a quick shower and a change of the essentials (underwear, undershirt and socks) it was off to find food with our new German friend Laura.
As usual we went to a place with relatively cheap food, and after that we went out on the town to drink a little bit. We were all tired so we knew it wouldn’t be a great idea to be too crazy. After walking through the weed and hooker infested RedLightDistrict we stumbled upon a coffee shop. Now the only thing I did in the coffee shop was play pool, and I actually won. But some other people decided to take advantage of the local delicacies. After winning my game of pool, which is a miracle, I proceeded to watch the Netherlands play a friendly against England. It was fun being in the coffee shop because when the Dutch scored a goal, the shop owner would turn up the music real loud and pump his fist.
We left the coffee shop and called it a night, finally getting a chance to catch up on much needed sleep.
DAY 7: AMSTERDAM
As I turned over in my coil spring bed feeling the warmth of the heater next to me, I stretched my legs and prepared for a long day of walking one of the world's most interesting cities. Amsterdam is still the only place that I have been where I feel dirtier after showering, don’t ask why, it just is. As I waited in the lobby of the hotel my group came down and said that they found a free walking tour of the city, a three hour walking tour.
This was very interesting for many reasons. First, our tour guide was a hippieish kind of guy and second Amsterdam is just really different. I took a lot of pictures on the tour so I will try to comment on the pictures so you can understand what I saw.
After the long day of touring we decided it was a good time to eat before going out on our barcrawl. My friend and I ate at the hostel because the food was cheap and pretty good.
Now the stipulation of the barcrawl is that if you arrive at 8 you get unlimited free vodka for half an hour. My friend and I were there at 8 sharp. After buying a pint, using my token for a free shot, and encouraging the British guy with the vodka to keep it coming, I was feeling it before we left the first bar. Only five to go right?
There were many interesting people on the bar crawl. A guy from Chicago, people from south africa, all over Europe and some from Austrailia. At the second bar I ran into my first blatant America hater, someone on the barcrawl. Now this kind of thing is nothing I can’t handle but I guess the story will help you understand how it went down.
I met this girl in our group and asked where she was from, she said south america but she is living in the Netherlands to improve her English. Now I don’t know much about South America, but I asked her what area and all of the basic small talk stuff. Then I asked why she didn’t choose Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland, Canada, or the United States to improve her English.
She replied with, “I don’t like North Americans, or Americans” I said, well why is that? And she retorted with the typical “you are close minded and arrogant and cocky blah blah blah.” Not even that offended I continued with my questioning asking what it was she didn’t like about America and she of course didn’t like our politics. Common ground, I don’t either.
After explaining to her why our government is a mess she started to come around a little bit, but not much. I explained that the people elect them, but they don’t really represent every American. Again, futile. I closed by asking her “have you ever been hated simply because of where you were born?” She replied “no” and I said, “who is the closed minded one now?” and left. I wasn’t putting up with that.
Now to deal with that I kept drinking and actually ended up talking to her friend. He was really cool. We ended up getting drunk pizza together. Anyway the bars were a bit of a blur but we ended up at a club which is actually right down the street from where the Oceans 12 coffee shop scene was filmed. I of course began to to dance, only because I was fueled by free vodka and cheap beer, breakfast of champions.
Then was the walk home with my hosuemate, passing through the RLD at night is quite the experience.
DAY 8: AMSTERDAM
My heartbeat was in my head and I was ready to drop the Cosby kids off at the pool. It was 9:30 and we had to be out of our hostel by 10 to check out. I somehow mustered enough comprehension and strength to gather my things and find a bathroom, no breakfast for me this morning.
After we checked out it was on our way to a second hostel. It was Friday and way too expensive to stay in the RLD. We embarked on our journey to the other side of town. With the entire group hung over or still drunk, the guys decided to abandon the girls and find the hostel on our own. Great decision.
We found the place, and I had the reservation. A group of Greek nationals ran the place along with their cat. When I get there I told them my name is Patrick Kelley and I have a reservation. He said AHHH like R. Kelly??? I said yes exactly. The Greek guys were really cool and helpful, they wanted us to see everything in the city.
After sending some emails we embarked on the city. We made our way to the Spui district to find De Dampkring, the coffee shop from the Oceans movies. We saw it but didn’t go inside, we were all tired and not feeling the whole coffee shop thing.
We went back to the hostel to gather ourselves then out for another night on the town. We ran into the pub crawl group from the night before and the manager offered us free wristbands to the club. We obliged.
We decided to leave with them, which wasn’t for another few minutes and I saw the coolest thing ever! A Cairn Terrier walking around our bar with no leash or anything and he was very friendly. It was cool, he was a skinny looking Truman.
Then it was off to the club. Knowing I needed to catch some zzz’s I did not drink much and didn’t spend too much time in the club. I got the one key to our hostel from Jean Michel, my hosuemate and decided it was best to go get some sleep.
DAY 9: AMSTERDAM, BRUSSELS
It was a 10 o clock train, that meant waking up at 830ish to catch the tram at 915 so we could buy a few souvenirs and make it to the train station on time. Now that was early enough for me, but even earlier for three of my travel companions that stayed out until 6 a.m.
This train was a sleeper, just a sleeper. I didn’t read or anything. After arriving I parted ways with my group to meet up with my long lost Belgian friend Mathias. I haven’t seen him since I was 18 and decided it would be a great time to catch up. WE met at the train station and took the metro into the city center for a quick lunch and a beer!
I got Duvel, a premier Belgian beer and we talked for a long time. Actually we spoke French for a long time, that’s right I am getting better and he noticed. We talked about Danville and Belgium and study abroad and the people we both know and Miguel etc etc etc.
After that I searched through the largely maghrebin neighborhood of North African immigrants and found the hotel and waited for my friends to arrive. After a quick shower it was off for some cheap food and hopefully some good sleep. This is where the story gets interesting.
After eating some food in the hotel room, my roommate pulled back the sheets of the hotel bed because he was ready to sleep, and to his surprise he found what no one who is traveling wants to find: bugs. Yes many bugs many different kinds of bugs. We weren’t staying in this hotel.
We all shook our things that were on the ground well basically anything we weren’t wearing and went to the lobby. We greeted the Middle Eastern man with one of the ticks in a napkin. We politely told him that there was a bug in our room and we would not be staying the night and we would like our money back. Well, this started a massive shit storm. It turns out that the entire hotel is run by a family of arab immigrants and they weren’t taking kindly to our story.
The man running the counter went and got his wife out to negotiate. We explained to her the situation and showed her the bug and she said that all she can do is give us another room. We told her that we would not stay there because if there are bugs in one room then there would probably be bugs in another room and we wanted out.
They continued to give us shit saying that we have been using the room all day. One of the dumbass sons told me and my friend to go upstairs with him so he could prove we had been using the room all day. This was total crap, but we went with him. He proceeded to show us that the shower had been used and that the bed was unmade and with his dirty slim finger he pointed to our full trashcan and yelled “what is this huh?” I retorted with “that is a trashcan we are allowed to put our trash in it, and yes we took a shower, and the reason that one bed is unmade and not the other is because when we took the covers off of that bed we found disgusting bugs!”
We went back downstairs and the front desk people kept telling us that they could do nothing, I said well who runs this place who is the boss? Is it you? That is what I thought so if you cant do anything then who can??? She said, "if your president comes here I will give you your money back, I am a muslim I don’t lie we have never had a complaint here never!" Well we all know that is total shit. No hotel in the history of the world has had 0 complaints and after the ignorant crack about my country, I popped off and gave those no good swindlers a piece of my mind.
Things escalated from there. Each of us was arguing with a different member of the family and then things really got ugly. As my housemate was asking reasonable questions to the head hancho she began yelling at him, her son soon intervened and pushed my housemate. That’s strikes two and three right there. He began to slide his backpack off preparing for a potential confrontation and that is when I stepped in grabbing him by his backpack that was still around his arms enough for me to pull him out of the hotel. I was really hoping he would just go mitch rapp/ jason bourne on him but I didn't want to be a part of an international incident. The rest of our group followed behind and we went off to find a new hotel.
We arrived at the park inn owned by raddison and settled in for the night. We took turns shaking everything we owned in the shower, checking for bugs. After we were all satisfied we settled in for the night and went to bed. Our journey was almost over, all that stood between us and home was a 5 hour ride on the TGV.
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