Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Travel Day, Naples to Bari, Aboard Super Fast Ferry to Patras, Greece

I woke up early today, as I do on all my travel days. I packed some of the self-service breakfast foods into my backpack before leaving my Bed and Breakfast around 7:15 am for Napoli Centrale, Naples Central Train Station. The train ride to Naples was uneventful, there was one stop in Cetara, the connecting train was delayed about 20 minutes, other than that, it was a smooth ride.

I met a retiree who lives in Mesa, AZ, my hometown, during the delay in Cetara.  After speaking the Arizonan I am considering going to Istanbul, Turkey after I leave Athens.  I meet knew people and alter my travel plans, I do not mind, I want to be flexible, get ideas from other travelers.

I checked my luggage in Bari so I could walk around the city unencumbered, the luggage check cost me 5 Euros, well worth it.  I went to the information desk, asked how to get to the port, I wanted to be sure I had a cabin on the ship before I started sightseeing in Bari.  The woman told me to get on bus 20/ she told me to be sure I got on the bus with the slash to get to the port.

I also asked about the Athens to Istanbul route at the ticket counter, they could not help me, they told me to ask in the information office.  The information office could not help me either, they said they could not see the trains on that route, I would have to ask in Greece. I then went to the tourist information office and asked for recommendations on what to do for my layover in Bari before the ferry's departure.  The woman in the tourist office gave me a map of the area, circles some points of interest and told me to check in at the ferry by 6 pm.

Lynnae in front of Fountain at Bari Centrale Train Station 
I took the 20/bus to the port to buy my ticket to Patras, Greece on the SuperFast Ferry.  I had no problems on the bus, the driver dropped me off at the port and pointed the ship out to me.  I walked towards the ship, figured I was not in the right place to buy a ticket, I saw a man getting something out of his van and asked him.  The man and woman in the van spoke English, I think with a British accent.  They pointed me to the terminal, I went and bought my ticket.


I debated whether to get a chair (free with Eurail pass) or a cabin, I decided to pay the 64 Euros (with Eurail discount) for a bed, 15 hours is a long time to sit in a chair.  My cabin is an all female cabin, unlike the train from Zagreb to Munich, I did not have to worry about sharing my room with a random, Greek, Italian, other man.

After I purchased my ticket for the ferry, I went to walk around Bari. I was hungry, I passed a few cafes and then stopped at one near the Bari Castle. The food was mediocre and expensive, they did  not serve pizza (only for dinner), so I ordered the 8 Euros Lasagna, it reminded me of the Chef Boyardee ravioli I ate as a child, only the cafe dressed it up with cheese, the portion was small too.  The only good thing about the meal was the Lemon soda I ordered.

After eating, I walked around Bari, I went to the Cathedral, every city in Europe seems to have one, and I must say, they are impressive.  I walked to the Castle, I did not go in, I took a few pictures outside.  Bari is small, I saw the points of interest quickly, then I walked down the waterside street, it was nice.  I sat down for awhile and enjoyed the scenery.

Me in Front of Bari's Cathedral 
I started walking back to the train station around 4 pm, check in time was 5 pm for the ferry.  I retrieved my baggage from the luggage check, paid 80 cents to use the bathroom, bought Haribo Gummy Bears water, and a Bueno hazelnut chocolate bar from a local vendor, checked 20/bus times and waited for the bus to arrive.  Bari's bus station is not organized, you have to walk around looking for the bus with the number you want, it is chaotic and confusing if you are not familiar with how the buses work.

My bus arrived at 4:50 pm, I had walked around a couple of times looking for it, earlier today it arrived several minutes early.  I ran into the man from Mesa I met earlier when I was going to check in to the ferry.  I met a retired couple who splits their time between Arizona and Oregon in the baggage check/security area, more Arizonans than I have met my entire time in Europe.  The check in time was delayed until 5:15 pm, so we all talked about our travel plans, the Arizonans are planning to go to Istanbul after Athens too.

Checking into the ferry was a smooth process once we started, they showed me to my room, a nice four bed cabin.  I put my suitcase in the cabin and went down to the lounge area to use the WIFI and wait for dinner time.  I bought a WIFI voucher 2 hours for 3 Euros, I am blogging offline to conserve my precious WIFI minutes.  I ate dinner and talked to the man from Mesa about traveling, etc.

Me in front of SuperFast Ferry 


After eating, I walked around the ferry.  I went outside to see the view from the three decks, it took my a few minutes to find the stairs to the uppermost deck, the views were nice.  I watched the ship leave port from the uppermost deck, I love the water, so it was great to watch as we pulled away from land. The trip to Patras, Greece is 15 hours, we will arrive around noon tomorrow.

I went back to my room a couple of times, no roommate, still no roommate when the ship finally departed. I thought I lucked out and had a cabin to myself, I was wrong, one of my roommates came in a little after 9 pm.  She thinks there is another Greek roommate, I am not sure, there may be, does not matter, would be nice to have my own cabin, but I have had 2 nights to myself, having roommates on the ferry is the same as being in a hostel.

Sunset from  SuperFast Ferry

I am tired, I got up early today and went to bed late last night.  I will head up to my room, take a shower and then go to sleep early tonight.  I may read a little on my Kindle too.

Travel Day Naples to Bari Photo Album
 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Day 2 in Naples: Pompeii, Mount Vesuvius & a walk around Naples 4/29/2013


I slept late today, I finally got up sometime after 9 am, I could hear people moving around and talking in the kitchen of the bed and breakfast.  I slept well, it was nice to have my own room, in a hostel, I usually share a room with anywhere from 3 to 5 people.  It was nice to have my own space, nobody to wake me up and I did not have to worry about waking others up.

My bed and breakfast has self-service breakfast, I ate a couple of slices of whole wheat bread with the soft cheese they seem to serve all over Europe.  I also had a banana and one of the best peach yogurts I have ever had.  I do not know what the Italians do to their yogurt to make it taste so good, maybe it is an extra tablespoon of sugar, who knows. 

After breakfast, I got my map and headed for the train station to go to Pompeii.  Yesterday the bed and breakfast owner pointed out a station on the map where I could catch the train to Pompeii, I did not find that station, I ended up at the main train station. I later realized why the owner of the bed and breakfast recommended  the train station before the central station, the Pompeii train is packed when it arrives at the central station.  

At the train station I squeezed myself onto the train headed for Pompeii, a 25 minute ride from Naples.  The train began to clear out about 10 minutes into the ride, but I never got a seat. I did find a comfortable corner to lean against, but the train was hot and stuffy. When we arrived at the Pompeii station, there were people advertising 2 hour guided tours for 12 Euros. I decided not to take the tour and walk through the Pompeii excavations on my own, with an audio guide. The audio guide proved to be a waste of my money, I could never figure out which segment matched the excavation I was looking at, ultimately, I just walked around the ruins and enjoyed being in Pompeii. 

On my way to Pompeii Ruins after Arriving at Station
I waited in a long line to pay my 11 Euros for a ticket into the Pompeii excavation site, I saw the audio guide stand, and decided I would rent one, if there were no English explanations posted on the excavations.  I asked the woman if the excavations had English explanations, she said no, I decided  to pay 6.50 Euros for the audio guide. I used the audio guide a couple of times, realized I was never going to figure out where I was, then I just walked around.  I spent about two hours walking around Pompeii looking at the excavations.  Some things were obvious, this was an oven, this was a stage, some things were just walls and rubble, maybe they were rooms of houses.  I imagined, this was once a vibrant city, then one day Mount Vesuvius erupted and the town disappeared.

Lynnae at Pompeii Excavation 
After my tour of Pompeii I went to Mount Vesuvius. I had already done a lot of walking in the sun at Pompeii, I was trying to imagine how much would be required at Mount Vesuvius.  I bought my tickets from what I now think was an official looking side operation, we went in a taxi minivan, the round trip was 11 Euros. They got me there and back in one piece, I have no complaints.  I asked the driver how long the Mount Vesuvius hike would take, he told me 25 to 30 minutes, they drive you up most of the mountain.  I saw some people hiking up the road near the bottom of the mountain, I think it would take all day to scale Mount Vesuvius that way.

Mt Vesuvius is the first volcano I have scaled, it was worth the climb to the top.  It was a warm day in Southern Italy, I bought water halfway up the 25 minute walk to the Mount Vesuvius Crater, I stopped many times to take pictures too.  Today was another one of those, I cannot believe I am here, seeing this in person, outings. The hike was steep in places, not too steep, there were people of all ages hiking the mountain.  A couple of British or Irish men saw me hiking up the mountain and told me not to slow down, you have at least 2 more miles to go, my response, 2 more miles!?! I do not know how many miles it was to the top of Mt. Vesuvius but it did seem like a long hike.  

Lynnae at the furthest point I could hike on Mount Vesuvius 
The company I went with to Mt. Vesuvius dropped us off around 2:30 pm, they said the bus would be there to pick us up around 3:45 pm and 3:50 pm, I got back to the drop off point at 3:52 pm, two people made it back down the mountain before me. I did not want to rush Mt. Vesuvius, it took some work getting to the summit, I wanted to enjoy the view.  I took my time and I did enjoy the view, it was cool on top of Mt. Vesuvius, I looked in the crater, grateful it did not erupt while I was standing there.  Mt. Vesuvius is an active volcano, seismologists monitor it and should be able to anticipate an eruption. Mount Vesuvius' last major eruption was in March 1944.

After Mount Vesuvius, I decided to walk around Naples, this is my last evening in the city.  I went back to my hotel briefly after my trip to Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius, mainly to orient myself, I did not want to get lost on my way back, especially after dark.  I went to see the beautiful parts of Naples, I did not find them.  I found Castle Nuovo, I found a small area where boats are parked, I found a lot of things during my walk through Naples, beauty was not how what I found.  There were cruise ships docked at Naples bay, I did not get close to the water, it is possible there are parts of the city I missed, I am sure there are, I was not here long enough to explore the city fully.  

Lynnae in front of Castle Nuovo 
After exploring Naples, I was hungry, I went in search of pizza in Naples Old Town, the best place to get pizza in the city.  I passed by the place I ate yesterday, I was tempted to stop but I wanted to try a new pie tonight.  I went to the second pizzeria I passed, some ways down from the place I ate yesterday, it was worth it, the pizza was delicious.  This pizzeria was established in 1895, the second oldest pizzeria in Naples.  The waiter told me we have Lombardi Pizzeria in the US, but theirs came first, the US pizzerias came after Lombardi in Naples.

I talked to a British couple from London while I was eating, someone recommended Pizzeria Lombardi to them, I just stumbled up on it, lucky me.  The Brits were struggling to finish their pizzas when I arrived.  We talked about our travels, they were surprised I had come so far and was traveling alone for so long.  I told them some of my CIA story, gave them my CIA/FBI cards.  They said it was good to travel, maybe it would give me some perspective on the situation.  They also hope to see my book, and think my story should be a movie.  
Sausage Pizza from Lombardi's Pizzeria 
After I finished my pizza, I headed back to my bed and breakfast.  I have another early morning train to catch tomorrow, my next destination is Greece.  My Eurail pass expires May 11th, my tour of Europe will not end on that date, I will just start buying point to point rail tickets or I will fly on one of Europe's low cost airlines, Ryan Air or Easy Jet. I hope to start my TEFL certification course at the beginning of June, I maybe in Europe for awhile, and have many opportunities to travel.

Day 2 in Naples Photo Album

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Travel Day, Naples Italy: Eating Pizza in its Birthplace 4/28/2013

My day started early, as all my travel days do.  I had a 7:30 am train to Naples to catch, I woke up around 6:00 am, left my linens and key one a bench in front of the front desk at the hostel (it did not open until 8 am), and walked in the drizzle to Bern's Central Station.

I sat in first class the first part of the trip, from Bern to Milan, then I had a second class seat, first class was booked. I forgot today was Sunday, it is easy to lose track of days when you move around as often as I do, explains why the train was busy.  The train stopped in Bologna, Rome and one other destination North of Rome before arriving in Italy.  One thing I noticed walking to the cafe, there is no real difference between first and second class on European trains, difference on the Italian train, leather seats, that was all.

Scene from train in Switzerland on my way to Naples
I spent most of my day on a train, traveling from Bern to Naples to around 8 hours.  The ride from Bern to Milan was quiet, the first class carriage was almost empty, plenty of room to spread out.  The train from Milan was full, I enjoyed watching the cultural change from Switzerland to Italy.  The Swiss seem to be reserved people, the Italians were the opposite, loud, expressive, full of life.  I did not mind the packed train, I enjoyed the company of the Italians on the train with me, even if we could not communicate due to the language barrier.

My lack of Italian did not stop the Italians from trying to speak with me, even when I told them I do not speak English. At times, I overhead Italian and responded, a young woman sitting across from me told her brother, he seat was number 13, I knew I was sitting in her seat, but it did not matter, it was the same seat, both aisle seats.  Since I understood, I felt compelled to respond, I told her, my seat is 14, she did the Italian wave of the hands, it does not matter.  She did not speak any English to me, I did not speak any Italian to her, but we understood each other. 

When we arrived in Rome, another woman sitting next to me, several minutes before the train stop, again spoke to my in Italian, this was easier to understand, she wanted me to move so she could get out of her seat and get her luggage.  I also learned my first Italian word on the train La Aqua, an older Italian man wanted me to buy him water when I went to the snack bar, he must have sensed I was going, I was searching for coins.  I did not understand him, I told him I do not speak Italian, he spoke Italian louder and waved his hands, he was going to make me understand.  The Italian man said La Aqua repeatedly, I figured it out, water, I showed him my water bottle to confirm, he said Si.  

The Italian man held out a handful of change, I told him wait until I got back, the water was 1.60 Euros, I took 1 Euro from the older man, I did not have enough change to give him and the man at the snack bar gave me a discount of at least 10 cents anyways.  The old man and I were the only two left in our row of four chairs  facing each other, we sat back and relaxed for the hour long ride from Rome to Naples. 

When I arrived in Naples, I tried to orient myself, I knew I wanted to buy a train ticket to Bari, Italy so I could take the ferry to Patras Greece on April 30th, I also wanted to go to the tourist desk for information on Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius.  There was little information in the tourist office, the woman told me to just go to Pompeii, no tour needed, then go to Mt. Vesuvius, she told me how to get to my hotel too.  I still got lost, and when I found the hotel I was at the wrong one, there are two, owned by a brother and sister team. 

Lynnae in front of Fountan at Naples Central Station 
I booked my ticket to Bari, Italy, the place ferries leave for Patras, Greece, I emailed the ferry operator, I will see if I get booked on a ferry leaving April 30th, if not I may go to Rome instead and work my way over to Spain, we will see what happens.  After booking my ticket, I found the Naples Subway, got off where the tourist office suggested, it was not too hard, I thought.  I asked for directions from a train station worker, he did not speak English, a man directed me to Naples National Archaeological Museum down the road, the landmark I was looking for, I could find my way from there, I thought.

My plan was to drop my things off at the hotel and go to the museum, it did not happen that way.  I took the wrong turn going to the hotel and ended up in Naples Slums, I kept thinking to myself the further I went, where would a Bed and Breakfast be in this area, I could not picture it.  I also could not find anyone who could speak English or point me in the right direction. I finally found a shopkeeper, she gestured to me to go down the street a long way.  I said gratsi, the second Italian word I learned today. 

Naples Slum I walked into when I got Lost 
I finally got directions to the hotel, I passed it several times after finding the tiny street it was located on.  The hotel was a hole in the wall, with two men loitering inside and outside the hole, turn out one of the loiterers was half of the brother and sister team who runs the two bed and breakfast.  I asked another man where the hotel was, he pointed me to it, the man confirmed I was in the rights place, told me it was on the first floor, I went through the hole in the wall.

Hole in the Door Wall at First Bed and Breakfast 
When we got inside, he realized I was booked at his sister's bed and breakfast.  He gave me directions on how to walk there, then decided to call me a cab, he said they would pay for it, I was relieved, I had been walking for over an hour with my luggage at that point.  I knew my sightseeing plans were not going to happen today, I was OK with it, I knew I had Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius to see tomorrow, the reasons I came to Naples. 

I got in the wrong cab when I went outside to wait for the cab the owner of the bed and breakfast had called.  I asked him if he was there to take me to the hotel, he said yes, I got in, the cab the owner called pulled up just before we pulled away.  I changed cabs for the short ride to the other bed and breakfast.  The started off talking to me in Italian, I told him I did not understand, I speak English, he apologized for his English. I apologized for my Italian, I am in his country and cannot speak the language, why is he apologizing to me?  He told me, 2 million people speak English it is the language everywhere, I think he meant 2 billion people, I am not sure. 

We finally arrived at the bed and breakfast, a man was standing outside who recognized me from the first bed and breakfast, or from me walking up and down the street looking for it, he smiled and said hello, remember me, or something to that effect.  I did not remember the man but I told him, yes, I remember, he pointed me to the entrance of the bed and breakfast, I was relieved to finally be there.  I may get lost but I eventually find my way. 

I found my way to the floor with the bed and breakfast, the sister was waiting for me.  She showed  me my room, gave me a map, and pointed out the beautiful parts of Naples.  She commented I wont be able to see much in two days, I agreed, I did not tell her I was not here to see Naples, I came to visit Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius.  Depending on what happens with the ferry to Greece, I may have some time to look around Maples Tuesday.  

I asked the owner where I could find good pizza, she pointed me to a street and told me all the pizza restaurants were good there.  I put my stuff in my room, locked myself in and briefly could not get out.  I had to press a button after locking the door to release the latch, hard to explain.  Once I got out of my room, I went looking for pizza, I do not know if I made it to the main street she told me to go to, I followed her instructions and what I could understand from the map, go left, then right, then left, I saw a lot of people on the road, I figured I was in the right place. 

I think I was on the road I was on when I was lost earlier today, I saw many African men selling boot leg Louis Vuitton and other designer bags, like I had earlier, this time they were packing up for the day. The street was somewhat, dingy, dirty, not the typical tourist area with bright cafes I have found in all the other cities I have visited  this is Naples, old-town Naples. 

I stopped at the first pizza shop I got to, there were some English speakers sitting outside, their pizza looked good, except for the bugs flying around the area, I decided I would eat outside.  There is no special ambiance eating outside in a Naples slum on a narrow street with no sunshine, at least not for me.   I ordered a pizza with spicy salami (tasted and looked like pepperoni), basil and mozzarella cheese, I cannot remember the name of the pizza, I do remember the pizza was delicious.    

Me with my first Naples Pizza 
I had a bad experience with pizza during my trip to Europe when I was 13 years old, today's pizza made up for that, Italians can make a delicious pizza.  I had the best pizza I have had in Europe, all other countries skimp with the sauce, not in Naples at this restaurant and I only paid 5 Euros for the pizza, one of the cheapest meals I have had during my Europe travels. 
I returned to my hotel after eating my pizza, I ate all of it, it was thin crust, I was very hungry, was just enough.  Now it is time for me to go to my room and settle in, it is the rare hotel I am staying in in Europe, most times I am in a hostel with several roommates.  I am going to enjoy the freedom of having my own space for a couple of days, although it is nice to have the company you get in a hostel. 

Naples Day 1 Photos







Saturday, April 27, 2013

Day 2 in Bern, Einstein House & Museum

I saw most of Bern's sights yesterday on my self-guided walking tour, I briefly considered going to Lucerne, a little over an hour away by train, I decided not to because of the rainy weather.  I woke up later than usual,  around 9 am, I stayed in bed until almost 10 am, there was no rush to get started today.

I left the hostel around 10:30 am in search of breakfast, I stopped at a grocery store and bought a poulet sandwich, poulet is chicken in French.  I had the poulet sandwich yesterday, I knew it was good, it was lunch time, I decided to eat lunch food.  I figured out what poulet meant when I asked the woman at the supermarket yesterday.  I said what is poulet, she thought about it and said, it is poulet, I thought about it and said chicken? She said, yes.  I bought the poulet sandwich when I saw a Swiss man buy it, I figured it was good, it was.  I did the same thing with the Swiss Chocolate I bought today, I saw a Swiss woman buy it, I assumed she knew what was good, it was.

I went back to my hostel with my poulet sandwich, called my mom on magic jack using my computer.  After I talked to my mom and ate my poulet sandwich, I headed out for the day, by then it was after noon.  My first destination was Albert Einstein's house while he lived in Bern, Switzerland.  I learned Einstein moved 6 times while in Switzerland, but this was the house he lived in the longest.

Me at Einstein House
After visiting the Einstein House, I walked across Bern to the Bern History and Albert Einstein Museum. Bern is small, it probably took me about ten minutes to get from the Einstein House to the Museum.  On the way to the museum, I got to take in more of Bern's amazing scenery, even on a cloudy, rainy day, Bern is a beautiful city.

Aare River on my way to Bern History/Einstein Museum 
I spent about two hours in the Einstein Museum, I did not look at the other exhibits in the museum.  The museum recounts Einstein's life, it begins with his Jewish heritage, explaining Einstein was not religious but identified with the Jewish community and supported its causes. At one point I thought I was in the exhibit, the exhibit focused almost exclusively on Judaism without any mention of Einstein. Every now and then there was an Einstein reference so I figured I was in the right place, and the Einstein Museum is a self-contained Museum within the Bern history museum.

The Einstein Museum had information on Einstein's school performance, he was not always the best student, sometimes found school boring.  The museum even had some of Einstein's report cards. I learned some interesting facts about Einstein at the museum, the United States Government deemed Einstein a security risk after he emigrated to the US, excluding him from the Manhattan project.  Einstein was also under FBI surveillance and the US considered expelling him, the FBI compiled a 2000 page file on Einstein.  All things I can relate to.  

Albert Einstein under FBI Surveillance 
I left the Bern History & Einstein Museum around 3:30 pm, I learned a lot about Einstein I did not know, I enjoyed the exhibit.  I stopped by the supermarket I got the poulet sandwich and got a pizza wrap. I went back to my hostel, took a shower, relaxed for a few minutes and then I went back out. I stopped at Gamestop, the first Gamestop I have seen in Europe.  The Gamestop does not have the selection you would find in the US, and some games are about $20 more expensive. I noticed games are more expensive in Europe at all the gaming stores I have gone to.

Me in front of Gamestop in Bern
I had a quiet evening, the English movie tonight was the Bucket List.  I did not see the entire movie because I went to get something for dinner and it took me awhile to find any stores that were open.  I did not want to go to a restaurant or cafe for a formal dinner, plenty of those were open in downtown Bern, although not the number you would find in a big city.  However, all other stores were closed, the supermarket was closed, I was surprised the city had shut down before 8 pm on a Saturday night. The street I walked down earlier in the day was packed, at 7pm it was almost empty.

I found dinner at the train station, when all else fails, Europe's major rail stations have food shops, I even bought a salad, something I should do more often. I packed my dinner into my backpack, headed back to the hostel in the rain, I had missed the first part of the Bucket List, I did not really watch any of the movie, but what I saw, it looks like a movie worth watching, maybe I will once I finish my Europe tour. 

Day 2 in Bern Photo Album





Friday, April 26, 2013

Day 1 in Bern, Self-Guided Tour Around the City

I got up around 5:30 am for another early morning train ride, today's destination, Bern Switzerland.  I checked out of my hostel a little after 6 am and walked to Munich's main train station.  I bought breakfast, a ham and cheese croissant, when I arrived at the train station and waited in a cafe until 7 am.  I checked the departure board at 7 am, found my train and settled into my seat in first class. The first class carriage was not full so I had plenty of leg room, I could relax.

German Scenery from the Train 
I at my breakfast after the train left the station, I then fell asleep for a couple of hours.  When I woke up, I took a few pictures of the German countryside and did some reading on my Kindle. I talked to some men from Bangladesh on the train, gave them my CIA/FBI cards, told them some of my story.  The Bangladeshis were both medical doctors, vacationing in Europe, their stop was Zurich.

We stopped in Zurich and I had about a 20 minute layover until the train to Bern.  I was hungry, but I did not have any Swiss Francs, the Swiss do not use the Euro,Switzerland is not a member of the European Union.  I found an ATM, I had to look for awhile, I got a Doner Kebab wrap at a stand at the train station and hurried to my train, it was on a platform near the Doner Kebab stand.  I showed a conductor my reservation, asked him which carriage, he pointed me to first class, I could not find my seat assignment, but the train was not full, it did not matter. I sat down, ate my Doner Kebab wrap and settled in for the short trip to Bern.

When we arrived in Bern, I made my way out of the train station, I looked for the tourist information center to see if they had any useful information about Bern or day trips.  The man I spoke to in the tourist office was not a strong English speaker, instead of answering my questions about day excursions, he pushed a pamphlet in my direction, without providing any information himself.  From what I saw, Bern's tourist office does not have the amount of information as Munich's office.

I left the tourist office and went to find the tram that would take me to my hostel.  Bern is a small city, many of the cities I have traveled to are relatively small, however when you do not know an area, a small city can seem big.  I found the information staff when I walked to the tram area outside Bern station, I spoke to the man in English, he responded, "Parlez Vous Francais?" I realized I was in another country that viewed me as a French speaker, if only I spoke French.

I told the information man I did not speak French, he gave me directions in halting English.  I went to look for the tram he directed me to, I then read the instructions from the hostel, the directions conflicted.  I decided to follow the hostel's directions, a bad choice, I got on a tram going the wrong direction.  I only went one stop, I asked a woman on the tram if I was on the right tram, she told me she was not Swiss, did not speak English, but she spoke enough English to tell me where to go, in my book she speaks English.

I got off the tram, there was a Bangladeshi man at the stop, he spoke English and gave me directions, we talked a little, he got political asylum in Switzerland.  He told me where to go and which bus to take to get to my hostel.  I gave him my CIA/FBI card, he said "God Bless You" I said same to you, take care.

I found my way to the right bus, a Swiss man confirmed I had the right bus and told me to get off the bus in two stops.  I found my hostel, I had to ask for directions to the street the hostel was on, when I found the street, I got to the hostel easily.  I arrived about an hour before check in, I got the hostel's WIFI password and completed my TEFL certification course application while I waited for check in time.

After check in, I left the hostel to explore Bern, I got a map from the hostel, but then I read my book Europe by Eurail and decided to go back to the Tourist Office for a map recommended in that book, turns out it was the same map the hostel gave me.  My trip back to the station was not a complete waste of time, it helped orient me with the area, I will walk to the station when I leave Bern on Sunday.

From the station I decided to head for Bern's Bear Park.  I stopped in an electronics store on the way to buy a power adapter for my Nintendo 3DS, the power adapter I have from the US does not work in Europe, even when I use a converter. After I got my Nintendo 3DS I resumed my walk to the Bear Park, Bern is an easy city to navigate, I got to the area of the Bear Park on Bern's Aare River with no problems.

Bern's Aare River Near the Bear Park 
I did not see any signs for Bern's Bear Park, I saw two Swiss men exiting an area near the Bear Park store and asked them for directions to the park, they told me it was below the bridge I had just crossed.  They told me, if you stand on the bridge you can see the bears, they also told me I could walk down by the Aare River to see the bear Park, it is free and open 24 hours a day, 7 days per week.  The Swiss men asked me where I was from, then pointed out the bears to me.  I took some pictures then walked down the stairs to the river to get another view of the bears. 

Bear in Bern's Bear Park

Me on my way down stairs to Bern's Bear Park on Aare River
I saw a bear playing with what looked like a cloth when I walked past the bear park on the Aare River, I took a few pictures of the bear, then I left the park.  I walked back through Bern, taking pictures as I went along. Bern has many fountains, each with different characters, symbolizing something different.  There's an ogre eating a child, a justice fountain, a Samson fountain and many others.  I also walked past some of Bern's Churches.

Lynnae next to the Justice Fountain 
 I eventually ended up on the road I took to get to Bern's Bear Park, I shot pics near some of the many fountains on the street.  My destination was Albert Einstein's house, Einstein lived in Bern for 7 years.  Albert Einstein has many great quotes, one I liked that I found today on the Einstein House website is, "blind belief in authority is the enemy of truth." After the Einstein house, I went to the Prison Tower, there was a lot of construction but I got a decent picture, I ended my self guided Bern walking tour in front of the Swiss Parliament.  

Lynnae at Einstein's House
My evening was uneventful, I met a hostel mate from Burkina Faso, the first person I have ever met from that country, we exchanged business cards.  I talked with a hostel mate from Australia and washed my clothes.  I am sitting in the common area's living room, tonight's English movie was Get Smart, I caught snippets of it but did not really watch the movie.  Tomorrow's forecast is heavy rain, I had considered going to Lucerne, but  I am going to spend the rainy day in Bern, I will visit Albert Einstein's house (I did not go inside today, I arrived after closing time) and go to the Einstein Museum.

Day 1 in Bern Photo Album







Thursday, April 25, 2013

Day 3 in Munich, Day Trip to Salzburg

I woke up at around 7:45 am to get ready for my day trip to Salzburg, Austria, the meeting time was 9:15 am, I needed to give myself time to walk to the train station, by my ticket and get breakfast.  I left my hostel around 8:30 am, bought a ham and cheese croissant, and went to buy my ticket from Radius Tours for the day excursion to Salzburg.

The train ride from Munich to Salzburg was 2 hours, the Radius Tour group was an older crowd, than the Sandemams tours I usually go on, parents with kids, married couples, I think I was one of two independent travelers.  I sat next to a Canadian, the other independent traveler on the way to Salzburg and back, we talked about his recent trip to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, his travels in Bangladesh and India and my European tour. I read my Kindle some,  we had 3 hours of our own time in Salzburg and I wanted to plan my day.

View from Train Approaching Salzburg 
When we arrived in Salzburg, our tour guide gathered us together and asked us to take out the maps he had given us when the trip began. The first hour and a half of our tour, our guide led us and helped orient us to the area, showing us the major sites.  We began in the Salzburg Garden made famous by the Sound of Music.  Our guide told us 30% of Salzburg tourists say the Sound of Music is the reason for their trip, the movie has been a huge money generator for Salzburg.

Lynnae in Mirabell Garden from Sound of Music Salzburg
From the Sound of Music garden we walked to one of the Mozart family residences in Salzburg. Along with the Sound of Music, Salzburg is famous for being the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Our tour guide explained, Mozart was a prodigy, performed for Austria's Empress Maria Theresa at age 6, but did the majority of his composing in Vienna not Salzburg. We walked across Salzburg to Mozart's birthplace, now a Museum.

Lynnae in front of Mozart's Birthplace 
From Mozart's birthplace, we walked down the street, our tour guide pointed out a cafe the Mozart family frequented, then we explored the churches in Salzburg.  We saw the Salzburg Cathedral and St. Peters Abbey, I cannot remember all the background our guide gave us about these houses of Worship.  As often happens, I reached the point of information overload, instead of absorbing every detail about the history of the structures, I enjoyed this sights, took pictures, enjoyed being in Mozart's hometown and where the Sound of Music was filmed.

Lynnae at Salzburg Cathedral
From the Cathedral we walked to the Salzburg Fortress, one of the best preserved medieval fortresses and castles in Europe. We got our first view of the Hohensalzburg Fortress as our train approached Salzburg's main train station, it was an impressive sight.  Our guided tour ended in front of the funicular station for the fortress, I momentarily debated whether I wanted to pay the 11 Euros for a ticket and funicular ride, I asked the tour guide what was in the fortress.  The tour guide told me there were spectacular views of Salzburg from the fortress, and a museum.  He said, I was fit, I could walk up to the fortress and see the views, avoid paying the entrance fee, but he thought the fee was worth it, I was convinced, I shelled out 11 Euros to see the fortress up close, I was not disappointed.

Lynnae outside Salzburg Fortress

Lynnae near entrance to Salzburg Fortress

After walking around the fortress, exiting fortress, I walked back in and went to the Fortress Museum. We were on our unguided tour time, I knew I wanted to go back to the Sound of Music Gardens, get lunch, walk around and take the pictures I had not taken during the formal tour.  We had about 3 hours indepent of our guide, it was plenty of time for me to see what I wanted in Salzburg, I debated going to the Mozart museum, in the end I decided against it, the Hohensalzburg Fortress Museum was enough for my trip to Salzburg.  I walked around Salzburg, went to get food at a local fast food restaurant that specializes in fish, I got their fish burger and fries, it was much tastier than McDonald's filet-o-fish sandwich and fresh too.  I also got my water bottle filled at a couple of restaurants with Salzburgs Alpine tap water, it tasted better than the bottled water I paid for, our tour guide told us it would.

Our tour ended at 4:30 pm, we gathered at the meeting spot near a bridge overlooking the river the runs through the middle of Salzburg. The train ride back to Munich was uneventful, and I had an uneventful evening.  I walked back to the train station for Curry Wurst, it is a Berlin speciality, but you can find it in Munich too.  I ate my Curry Wurst and spoke to a German man I shared to standing table with outside the Curry Wurst stand, we talked about my trip, the places I would visit and his favorite cities.  He said New York City is his favorite city in the world, when he is there he feels like he is in the center of the universe, he likes San Francisco too, comparing it  to Munich. 

I walked back to my hostel and now it is time to get about 4 hours of sleep before I catch my early morning train to Bern, Switzerland in the morning. 

Munich Day 3 Photo Album








Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Day 2 in Munich, Day Trip to Neuschwanstein Castle

Today started unexpectedly, with a bang on the door just after 7am, waking me and my hostel mates, except the person the knock was intended for, the Indian woman who arrived last night.  Our Russian hostel  mate got up to answer the door, then wakened the Indian, her boyfriend, husband, cousin, or friend, was at the door. The Indian woman did not leave the room to speak to the man who knocked loudly at our door, no they carried on their conversation with our door wide open.

Our Indian hostel mate arrived after midnight last night, she is the worst hostel mate I have had yet, she was noisy, inconsiderate, just plain obnoxious.  Everyone was winding down or already asleep when she arrived, the Indian packed and unpacked her luggage, drug it across the floor loudly multiple times, rattled things, unwrapped items she bought then stuffed them deep in her luggage, place clothes in the lockers, then took them out, refolded and packed them again.

Her actions were nonsensical, but this was not enough, she then went into the restroom to shower, wash and blow dry her hair.  During this time, we turned off the lights, we all wanted to get some sleep.  When our hostel mate emerged, she was not deterred by the lack of light, her noise making continued and she had a cell phone with a bright flash light attached.  Her cell phone was almost as bright as the ceiling light, she shined it in my direction multiple times, I was tempted to say something.

My hostel mate from Spain, said she either said something or dreamed she said, "People are trying to sleep in here."  We laughed about it today, it was not funny when we were trying to sleep last night.  Luckily, our horrible hostel mate left this morning after waking us all up, she checked out, we will not have to deal with her tonight.

I went to Neuschwantsen Castle today, I arrived early, I got up after my Indian hostel mate caused the commotion this morning.  I was looking forward to my first day excursion, I had not gone on one yet.  I could have gone to Neuschwantsen solo, but I prefer to go with a tour sometimes, you often get to meet new people, you learn the history and you do not waste a lot of time trying to figure out where things are and where to go, it is convenient, especially for an independent traveler.

The meeting time for our tour was 9 am, our train did not leave until 10:10 am, the tour guide provided for time to check in, get tickets, buy snacks, etc. I used the extra time to book my trains to Bern and Naples in the Deutsche Bahn office.  The train ride and bus rides to Neuschwantsen Castle were uneventful, I spoke to the Australian sitting next to me about her travels in Europe, she's on a 5 month trip, I briefly talked to some Japanese sitting across from me, I spent the rest of the time reading and looking out the window at the Bavarian scenery.

The train ride to Fussen, the nearest station to Neuschwantsen was about 2 hours, then we caught a bus to the area near the castle.  I noticed Fussen has its own Occupy movement, when I saw a sign spray painted on a wall at the Station, "Eat the Rich" made me think of the Occupy movement in Washington, DC, this was a common chant.

Fussen Train Station on Way to Neuschwanstein Castle 
When we arrived at the area below the castle we took a break to get snacks, use the bathroom, I had already eaten, and did not buy anything at the cafe.  We started the tour with some background from our guide on King Ludwig II and we also saw a yellow Castle, Hohenshwangau, on the hill above, where King Ludwig II lived in with his parents and brother as a child.

Hohenschwangau Castle
From Hohenschwangau we began our ascent up the road leading to Neuschwanstein Castle.  We stopped periodically to listen to our tour guide give us background information on King Ludwig II, Bavaria, and the Castle. The scenery was beautiful, we saw the snow capped Alps, and Swan Lake, we learned Ludwig was fond of  swans, we saw examples of this when we toured Neschwanstein Castle, there were swans everywhere.

Lynnae at Swan Lake 
When we arrived at the Castle,we had a few minutes down time before we went on the 35 minute tour of the interior, the 16 rooms Kind Ludwig completed before his death.   We all used the time to take more photos of the beautiful scenery and the castle we had all seen recreated in Disney movies, we were finally seeing the real thing up close, our guide told us Disney pays the Bavarian government $1 million (or Euros,I do not know) in royalties for Disney's use of the castle.

Me with Neuschwanstein Castle in Background 
After touring the castle I walked to the bridge, seen in the picture above, for a beautiful view of Neuschwanstein and the surrounding scenery, this was another hike but well worth the time and energy. I walked and jogged downhill after leaving the bridge, we had a 3:30 pm meeting time and I did not want to miss it.  I had time to get a bratwurst when I reached the bottom of the hill, I did not get anything for lunch before I started the hike, had a couple of pastries for breakfast, and had worked up an appetite.

Our trip back to Munich was uneventful, everyone was tired from all of the walking. I talked to some Malaysian students studying in the UK about my CIA experience and gave them my CIA/FBI cards, they were very interested in my story.  Other than that, I read my kindle and relaxed.  I was tired, but I did not fall asleep on the train.    When we got to Munich I went to the tourist office to get information on other day excursions, I have decided to go to Salzburg tomorrow, home of Mozart and the Sound of Music.  

Munich Day 2 Photo Album








Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Day 1 in Munich, Euronight Train & Walking Tour

I slept on a Euronight train last night, a six bed couchette as they call it in Europe.  I did not know what to expect from the Euronight train, most of the reviews online are positive. I met a couple of Australians who accidentally ended up in a six bed couchette on their way to Vienna, after part of the train was removed,  they enjoyed it, but they also got lucky and had a private compartment.

When I got to the train's platform I confirmed I was in the right place, and the train was bound for Munich. I asked a conductor where my seat was, to be sure I was in the right place.  After a few misunderstandings due to the language barrier, I figured out I was supposed to board the car we were standing in front of and I was in the 5th compartment. The conductor had told me number five, I thought he meant car number five and I started walking towards it, I was standing in front of car number two.  The conductor said, NO, NUMBER 5, again I did not understand what he meant by number 5.  Finally, the conductor pointed, said this car, number 5, I apologized for the misunderstanding and thanked him.  He lifted my bag into the car and I walked to compartment number 5.

When I got to my compartment it was empty, I only saw four bunks, one was folded up, so there was a sofa like seat area, would have been a nice place to sit, if nobody had joined me in my compartment.  A few minutes later a middle-aged German man came to the compartment, he spoke no English.  He seemed a bit confused, asked me some questions, his younger friend came and joined the conversation, they asked, "Sprechen sie Deutsch?" I said no, only English, they had more conversation.  I thought both men were going to be in my compartment, turned out only the middle-aged man and I shared the couchette.

The German man did not set up his bed until the train started moving, he stood outside our compartment for a long time, I did not know what he was doing, I could not ask, we do not speak the same language.  I made up my bed, I tried to ask him if he wanted to make up his bed, he pointed to the sofa like area where I was sitting and communicated he would sleep there, I said OK.  He still did not move to make up his bed or arrange his luggage.

When the train started moving, the German man brought his luggage into the compartment, folded the sofa up and it became a row of 3 bunks, just like my side of the compartment.  His friend stopped by our compartment again, said a few things to me and his friend, then left, I did not see him again until we arrived in Munich this morning.

Me in Couchette on EuroNight Train to Munich 
I read my Europe guidebooks on my Kindle until around 11:30pm, then I decided it was time to try to get some sleep.  My couchette mate was still up reading the German newspaper, I laid down and tried to go to sleep, I think I fell asleep or at least zoned out at some point.  I awoke when the German turned off the lights and locked the compartment door and again at a stop when several people boarded the train, a few tried to open our compartment door. My German couchette mate had already told me we were the only one in our compartment, whoever was trying to open our door wasn't assigned to our couchette.

I went back to sleep or into a semi-sleep state, the couchette was comfortable enough, the conductor knocked on our door around 5:45am to return our passports and tickets.  The conductors collect these over night so they don't have to wake up passengers every time we pass into another country.  I got up, I wasn't well-rested, I don't think anyone was, but the ride passed faster than 8 hours would have during the day. Our train pulled into Munich a little after 6:00am. 

I stopped at a pastry shop at Munich's main train station and bought a ham and cheese croissant for breakfast, then I looked for the bus stop for the bus to my hostel.  I asked some German Deutsch Bahn workers where the bus was, they pointed me in the direction.  I found the bus stop, got on the bus when it arrived, the bus driver was no help with ticket information, in Berlin they sell the tickets, in Munich they have a machine with no English.  I bought the cheapest ticket, sat down and monitored the stops until we arrived at the one for my hostel. 

I went down the wrong street in search of my hostel, I walked to the next bus stop.  The hostel's directions said get off the bus and walk straight ahead, it did not say in what direction to walk straight.  I turned around and walked back towards the bus stop, then I was looking left and saw the sign for the hostel, I was relieved. I went to the hostel, the man at the front desk was nice and let me check in, often they make you wait until check in time, usually around 2pm.  I was tired and grateful he gave me the room that early, I did not expect it, I thought I would be in the lobby for several hours or I would go on an early walking tour. 

 I went to my room, tried to be quiet and not wake my hostel mates.  They eventually woke up, one of their alarms went off, they thanked me for not making noise when I entered the room.  We talked some, both are working on their Masters at Cambridge University in England.  They asked me if I was on a post-college trip, I said something like that, but it is a post-CIA trip.  I told them some about my experience with CIA and FBI and gave them both my cards. When my hostel mates checked out, I went to sleep.  

I set my alarm so I would wake up for the 1pm Sandemans Munich walking tour.  I walked to Marienplatz, Mary's Square, Munich's main square. I decided to walk so I could orient myself to Munich and I had time on my hands, gave me a chance to see more of the city. I got to the meeting place about half an hour early, walked around, read some on my Kindle and waited to meet the tour guide. 

Lynnae in Marienplatz 
The Munich walking tour covered all the highlights of Munich, plus a lot of history of the city, I will not recount the entire tour here.  We saw several churches, learned about Hitler in Munich, stood in the square where Hitler gave his addresses, saw an understated Holocaust memorial.  The Holocaust memorial marked a Jewish owned shopping centered that was shuttered by the Nazis, the shopkeeper and his family were sent to concentration camps.  Our tour guide said Munich has understated memorials to the holocaust  unlike Berlin, he said Munich believes this gives people less opportunity to desecrate the memories, do inappropriate things to them.

Holocaust Memorial to Jewish Owned Shopping Center
We also visited Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) it was built in 20 years in the 1400s and there is what is believed to be the devil's footprint at the entrance of the church, superstition says it was built quickly with the devil's help.  A tour of Munich would not be complete with out beer talk and we got that too, including a stop at The Hofbrahaus, a famous German brewery, I had not heard of  until today. I would probably enjoy Germany even more if I were a beer drinker. 

My foot next to the Devil's Foot Print at Frauenkirche 
After the tour ended, I walked back to my hostel.  I found out my hostel room was changed, not a big deal.  I moved to my new room, met my new hostel mates, one from Russia, the other from Korea.  The Korean speaks some English, the Russian does not speak any, we have talked some, but not much, there is a significant language barrier.  

I wanted to get traditional German food for dinner, really Bavarian food, there is a regional difference in Germany, like in the US.  I asked the hostel staff for a recommendation of a restaurant close by, they gave me directions.  The restaurant was crowded when I arrived, I did not want to get take out or take away as they call it in Europe, I wanted to eat in, a hostel is not conducive to enjoying good food.  The waiter sat me at a table with two German men, in Europe it is common to share a table with strangers, population density often demands you share a table.  The German men readily agreed to share the table, we did not talk much, most of the Germans I met today were absorbed in the Munich Barcelona match, my guess, that is what my German table partners were discussing. I asked the waiter what was a traditional Bavarian dish, he told me the Schnitzel, I ordered the schnitzel with cheese and ham, I call it the heart attack schnitzel.  I had apple juice and sparkling water for my drink, it almost looks like a light beer. 

My Bavarian Dinner 

After dinner I returned to the hostel.  I am planning to go on a day excursion to Neuschwanstein Castle, should be a full day.  

Day 1 in Munich Photo Album 







Monday, April 22, 2013

Day 1 in Zagreb, Self-Guided Walking Tour of the City

I slept late today, I have been traveling on early trains recently, haven't had a chance to really sleep in in awhile.  I had my own hostel room at the Chill Out Hostel in Zagreb, and decided to take advantage of this by sleeping uninterrupted as long as I wanted.  Staying in hostels, unless you sleep like a rock, it is almost impossible to get uninterrupted sleep, everyone is on a different schedule. Today was the rare exception, there was some hallway noise but not a big deal, I slept well last night.

I checked out of the hostel about ten minutes before noon, put luggage in their computer area and looked at the Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget to plan out my day.  Zagreb does not have the free walking tours found in most European cities, so I had to plan my own sightseeing day.  I asked the woman at the front desk for advice on what to see in Zagreb, she gave me a map, a Zagreb Step by Step guide, and circled her recommended locations.  She told me Zagreb is small, I could easily see everything in a day, the same thing the hostel staff told me last night.  

I started out a little after noon on my self-guided walking tour, my first destination was food. I had not eaten breakfast and wanted to get something quick to eat.  I found a bakery, bought a pizza and a doughnut, I ate and then headed to Ban Jelacic Square, Zagreb's main square.  

Lynnae in Zagreb's Main Square
From Ban Jelacic Square, I planned to walk to the upper town, Zagreb is split into two areas, an upper town and a lower town.  I realized I needed to use the bathroom, Europe has few public toilets, and those they have often charge, I was close to my hostel, I decided to go back and use the bathroom before starting my self-guided tour of Zagreb.

After I used the bathroom at my hostel, I decided to take a different route to Zagreb's upper town, I took the Funicular which is located next to my hostel.  Zagreb's Funicular is the shortest passenger railway in the world according to the Zagreb Step by Step pamphlet I got at my hostel.  Zagreb's funicular opened in 1890. 

Lynnae on Funicular 
After the Funicular ride, I walked around Zagreb's upper town.  From the top of the funicular platform I had an impressive view of lower town.  I walked past Croatia's parliament building, I did not realize I was at parliament until I read the Zagreb step by step guide later.  I also saw the Stone Gate, Croatia's only surviving gate from built in the middle ages, and rebuilt in the 18th century. A chapel to the Virgin Mary is located under the gate, worshipers stopped to pray as they pass through the gate.   I visited Zagreb's Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and read about the Renaissance Walls built between 1512 and 1521 to protect against the treat from the Ottoman Turks.

Lynnae in Zagreb's upper town after Funicular Ride

Zagreb's Stone Gate & Worshipers in Chapel 
Zagreb Cathedral 
After exploring Zagreb's upper town, I walked down to lower town, I passed through Zagreb's open-air Dolac Market, the merchants were packing up for the day.  I returned to the main square, looked at my map and mapped out my tour of Zagreb's lower town. I stopped and relaxed at the Mandusevac Fountain before beginning the rest of my self-guided walking tour. Mandusevac fountain provided Zagreb with drinking water until the 19th century.  According to Zagreb Step by Step, court records about the persecution of witches mention the spring as their main meeting point. 

Lynnae at the Mandusevac Fountain
I walked through Zagreb's lower town, stopping at the many parks and squares along the way.  I went to King Tomislav's square, he was the first King of Croatia, who defended Croatia against Hungarian attacks.  Zagreb's main rail station is located across from King Tomislav's monument, I realized, Zagreb is a small city, I can walk to the main station to catch my Euronight train to Munich tonight.  I continued my walk past Zagreb's Botanical Gardens, the Croatian State Archives.  I ended my self-guided tour at the Croatian National Theater in Marshal Tito Square. There is more to see in Zagreb, I saw the highlights.  I had Zagrebs's Step by Step guidebook, it was almost as good as having a tour guide with me, gave me the history of the different sights in Zagreb.

I will blog about my Euronight train to Munich tomorrow.  It is time for me to get ready to head to Zagreb's main train station to catch my train.  

Zagreb Day 1 Photo Album