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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

 

Freedom!

Freedom!

 

In Stirling, Scotland there is the William Wallace Monument. To the Scots William Wallace is a hero, to the world he is Braveheart. There are no pictures or imagery of William Wallace so every picture, statue and engraving is based on what a scottish hero should look like.

So at the base of the Wallace Monument (it is on a hill) there is a statue of Mel Gib–William Wallace. It was donated to the memorial but there are some issues with it. The first is that it has a relatively strong resemblance to a certain actor from a certain movie. While the Scots like the movie (at least the ones I talked too) there is a very strong undercurrent of dislike of this particular statue.

Strong enough to break off noses it seems.

Since it was initially put in place this statue has been chipped, vandalized and almost torn down. Now it is monitored by CCTV (in the UK? CCTV? I am shocked).

At five o’clock every day this statue symbolizing freedom of the Scottish people is locked away behind a blue cage. 

I was told by a tour guide that Braveheart was not in fact William Wallace but rather Rob Roy. I am not sure how accurate this is since trying to find any information on the original Braveheart or William Wallace turns up the movie and occasionally some websites that only reference the movie slightly.

I will find out one day when I return to Scotland who the moniker Braveheart belongs.

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Trojan Reindeer

 

Watch Out!

Watch Out!

If anyone located in northern Europe receives a gift of a large wooden reindeer I would highly suggest that they do not accept the delivery. The particular trojan reindeer was casually grazing on tourists in Tivoli in Copenhagen. It was last seen there last December so given the average travel rate of trojan reindeer it could be anywhere within Scandinavia, Germany, Poland or The Netherlands. Maybe even England if it learned to swim.

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Christianshavn

 

A certain plant is enjoyed here. I don't know which.

A certain plant is enjoyed here. I don't know which one.

Christianshavn is an area of Copenhagen located south of the main city across the large canal. My friend had heard of the area and we went to check it out (it was mid-December when we went). It sounded like a really lawless and free area. When we crossed the canal we encountered a surprisingly nice neighborhood with churces, school and bakeries. It felt like the area of Copenhagen where people lived instead of the main drags full of stuff people buy. We wondered past a church being renovated, a common occurrence in Europe, and found a small path leading past a couple walls. On the side of the nearby building was a large painted mural of bright cheerful tree. A lot of people were going in and out of the area.

Being afraid of offending anyone or disturbing social moires we headed in taking pictures along the way. We had stumbled into Christiania, a subset of Christianshavn. This was the radical police free area we had heard about. As we walked in it looked rather bleak, or would have if not for the prolific murals combined with creative graffiti. There was quite a few references to some sort of green leafy plant and Alice in Wonderland.

A sign in english proclaimed that the plants in this particular planter were THC free Hemp and not to be smoked. In the middle of December the planter was empty.

When we finally found the main thoroughfare of the small area it was plasted with signs and warning about not taking pictures. Whoops. The streets or more accurately dirt roads were full of shops selling pot related merchandise, marijuana dispensiaries and barrels full of flaming warmth. Also lots of abandoned (or maybe communal) bicycles.

Despite the murals the place was not full of happy merry vibes. We left quickly and silently.

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My Favorite, the Winged Victory of Samothrace.

My Favorite, the Winged Victory of Samothrace.

Last November I was planning a weekend trip to Paris. The idea of a weekend trip suggests flying in Friday night, two full days then leaving late Sunday or early Monday morning. In an ideal world I suppose this is true. For those of us on a tight budget it meant flying in Friday late and night and then leaving midday Sunday. This should have given me at least a few hours on Sunday to walk around. Except for one unexpected problem: transportation strikes. I barely made it out of the airport.

So we were reduced to one full day in which to explore and take in Paris. I really dislike traveling with such time constraints, but there we were (the we was my then girlfriend and I for our two year anniversary). One of the big items on our agenda was the Louvre. The Louvre is a rather large museum. I could have spent several hours a day for five days there. Managed it in an hour and a half.

Of course with only a limited slot of time and a large museum some cuts had to be made to the self guided tour. Essentially all of them. The first thing I did was pick up a map to find out where to go and in what order. The first stop was the Winged Victory of Samothrace, quite a nice statue and very impressive. From there we wound through corridors of paintings to reach the Mona Lisa. To be honest it was a lot smaller then I anticipated. It also did nothing for me, I like the gigantic painting directly across from it. Then again I have never like portrait painting.

At this point I tried to get a shortcut to the next stop, the room with the (I believe) Crown Jewels of old France. I got a bit mixed up so a few superfluous corridors were viewed. The room of King Louis the Something is a very posh room, with the gold and the shiny things. The chairs looked uncomfortable though. With that off our list we had to wind our way across the museum to reach the Venus de Milo.

Back through the main corridor housing the Winged Victory and many flash photographers, up some stairs towards seventeenth century flemish art and down a hallway of oil paintings, only to find that the staircase I want is currently blocked off. Back down the oil paintings through some landscapes and a short stroll through sarcophagi finally found us in the greek statue room. The sandstone of Egypt gave way to the marble of Greece and another flash photography crowd. And there was the Venus de Milo. I liked the Winged Victory better.

Finished with the main three women of the Louvre we grabbed a snack, scoffed at the two euro postcards and emerged into the winter air of Paris.

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Snow Day!

 

The highest train station in Europe on the Jungfrau.

The highest train station in Europe on the Jungfrau.

This is a photo of the tallest train station in Europe on the Jungfrau. It also appeared to be the most expensive ride up for those with a Railpass. Instead I went to the next highest station and walked down in the snow. I was fascinated by snow my entire time in Switzerland and Europe. Like the way it blows off the top of the peaks like veils fading in the wind.

It was also so white, bright and blue.

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The Enchanted Waters of Sligachan

The Enchanted Waters of Sligachan

Legend has it that the waters running through Sligachan on the Isle of Skye are enchanted. Years ago there lived the greatest warrior of Scotland, a woman named Scáthach. One day word of her greatness made it to the halls of the mightiest warrior of Ireland Cúchulainn. Upon hearing this he knew that he must go and fight her. So he set sail to the Isle of Skye to face her in battle. When he arrived on island he demanded of the first person he saw, a trainee of Scáthach, that she come and fight him in battle.

She came out and they fought. The fought all through the valley, shaking the earth and the trees, causing animals to flee. While they fought Scáthach’s daughter fled to the nearby river and cried, for she knew that her mother could not win. As she cried into the water several residents of the land of faerie came through the water, for it was a gateway between their world and ours. They saw her crying and knowing the cause told her to wash her face in the water of the river. Upon doing so she gained the knowledge of how to stop the terrible fight and save her mother.

She ran up to the lodge where her mother lived and along the way gathered nuts and herbs. Once there she threw them into the fire fanning the smoke out into the valley. Upon smelling the scented smoke both Cúchulainn and Scáthach realized how tired and exhausted they were from their fighting. They both laid down their weapons and headed to the lodge. When they arrived Scáthach’s daughter had prepared a meal fit for both mighty warriors. Once Cúchulainn ate under the roof of Scáthach he became her guest and they could do each other no harm.

Since this tremendous battle it is said that if you hold your face in the waters of the river for seven seconds you will be granted eternal beauty.

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Cinque Terre

 

The sun setting over Italian vineyards.

The sun setting over Italian vineyards.

The train ride from Rome to Pisa is likely a popular one for tourists wishing to see the fabled leaning tower. Returning to the historic streets of Rome before the sun sets. Yet Pisa is not the final destination on those train tracks, it is just a minute long pause on the way to the region of Cinque Terre.

I did not get off at Pisa, instead I continued to Vernazza, the fourth of five coastal villages on the Italian coast. Each village is connected by rail, boat and trail. I have since talked to people who have traveled to Cinque Terre and found it alright, another stop, just some villages on the coast. Oh sure, they were awfully nice little towns but they were not wowed by this. I think I know why.

Those who did not love Cinque Terre took the trains betweens the towns, finishing one town, hopping on the train to the next. I took another path to see the five villages, I took the trails. They snaked their way through the hills near the sea, parts shrouded by low dusty trees, others open with shrubs and rock. Seeing the area this way made each town a reward, a treasure that glimpsed into and out of view as the paths wound about. The trail changed between stone steps a few feet across to a dusty foot wide path cutting across a forested hills.

My first day I went between Vernazza and Monterosso, the hardest stretch between the towns (hardest along the ocean anyway). At the end near Monterosso stone steps led between vineyards and yards. Along the path was a small shack with two men selling their wine. Dogs and children ran up and down the path, much faster then myself. Monterosso itself was the most commercial, and largest, of the five. As the sun set on the town I started back to Vernazza, I caught up to the sunlight and looked back to see the vineyards illuminated by the fading light.

The next day I walked from Vernazza to Riomaggiore. Luckily by going in this direction the path started out hard and gradually got easier as I approached the end. The best gelato in Italy was in Corniglia: honey (locally made) and cinnamon. At the edge of that town was a steep switchback going down to sea level. Enjoying my gelato I started down and passed some very tired people heading up the path. The looked enviously at my gelato as I walked lightly down to the sea.

On another section of path was a picnic table covered in cats. On the table resided a pail with a sign on it. Written in several languages was the message: “Please use the food in this bucket to feed this homeless and unloved cats. Thank You!”. The cats appraised me for food potential as I walked by, their food dish was full. I wonder how those cats are doing.

My original plan was to walk to the end of the towns and back in one day. Once I reached Riomaggiore I decided to take the train back. The threatening clouds also influenced my decision.

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Notre Dame

 

Not much to do on top of buildings, aside from thinking.

Not much to do on top of buildings, aside from thinking.

I was not expecting it, in fact I did not know it had happened until it was over. Lucky I did not know else I would not have been able to remain calm. I just thought it was something that happened to other people – mimes.

Oh, it started innocently enough a few laughs here, a chuckle there. I thought it was mild street entertainment. We all did. Some in the line thought nothing of it and with mild politeness ignored him or looked the other way. He was not dressed as a mime, there were no white painted faced with black make-up. No black and white striped shirts. No gloves.

This mime was no country mime, he was subtle. I was in line to go up to the top of Notre Dame, it would have been a long wait in line without the entertainment. He silently stalked passerby’s while wearing a Quasimodo mask, he followed them closely, they turned around startled then laughed. There were many variations on this including following and then holding their hand, creeping up at waist height and draping arms over shoulders. All of this was aimed at us in line. We laughed, we chortled, in short we were amused.

All of this was in silence. Everyone approached thought it was funny: local parisians, americans and other tourists. Except the british. They responded by yelling for him to go away then walking away quickly. I guess it is a cultural memory of the one hundreds year war.

I was lucky. As the line progressed forward it forced me to leave the scene and climb up to the gargoyles on the roof. When I came back down after peering over the city the mime was gone. It took me months to realize that it was a mime, I quail at the thought of how close I came to mimedom.

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As seen from the neighboring mountains.

As seen from the neighboring mountains.

They called him mad. The Mad King Ludwig the Second. He wanted a castle, not just any old castle of stone and drafts, but a castle from the works of Wagner. I do not believe that this was really the mad part, the mad part was what he wanted in the castle. He wanted a new fangled telephone. He demanded a battery powered bell system to call the servants. Sure maybe the indoor plaster cave might have been a bit much. Or the hidden doors in his bedroom. Alright, so he was a bit mad by the standards of his day (the crazy 1870’s) but at least he had a vision.

So did the local chamber of commerce. Eight weeks after his death his glorious unfinished castle was open for tourism. They also had some smart people working there, the entire inside of the castle is copyrighted. No photos are allowed inside the castle, the outside if fair game, but take one inside and have a free trip to the base of the castle.

The castle is an hour or two out of Munich by train, I lucked out and had a clear blue sky with snow on the ground, much better then lovely brown shrubbery. Anyway I arranged to arrive early since the entrance to the castle is limited. Tickets are assigned entry times and I did not want a three hour gap between getting the ticket and arriving at the castle. The interior is seen with a quick guided tour, in english or german, of most of the completed rooms. Large parts of the castle are unfinished due to the Kings death. It was all very impressive and idealized. The castle would never survive a good solid siege.

After the tour I walked up to a popular bridge to see the castle on its good side, everyone else was also there. Since no one was actually going fully across the bridge I did. I suppose there is an identifiable path when it is not covered in snow, I mostly guessed at times. A group of two or maybe three people walked up the path earlier and I could literally follow in their footprints. Their footprints made me think they were better equipped for walking in snow then myself. Low cut shoes (albeit waterproof ones) and jeans are not the best combination for foot thick snow.

I would say I made it about 2/3 of the way up to the top of the mountain before hunger kicked in. I never saw those in front of me but I did see a few people hang glide down to the valley floor. I made it down with only slipping a few times near ledges and a couple more not near ledges. It is remarkably hard to walk downhill in a foot of snow when the only footprints are those heading up hill. I don’t have much experience with snow.

There is another castle near Neuschwanstein, starts with an H, instead of going there I went to the nearby town of Füssen to walk around. There was a market of some sort going on at the edge (or maybe center) of town, flea or farmers I could not tell. I was able to buy cheap nail clippers since mine were not allowed on Ryanair, and toothpaste, that one is also important to have freshly stocked. I meandered some more and inevitably got lost. I was not planning on exploring Füssen so there was no detailed map in my possession. I was asked if I was lost, but in German, I suppose I don’t really stand out in some of these european countries. The guy who asked me did speak English and was able to help me find my way to the local waterfalls.

More important then the waterfalls was a sign. The sign said “Austria 700 Meters” except, well, you know, in German. I had to do it. I had to walk to Austria. I hoped for a thick white line painted between the countries to demarcate the two, or maybe a change in scenery, at least a sign. Nothing. The only clue was the placement (on the german side) of the Worlds Largest Wheelbarrow. I guess to remind the incoming Austrians that Germany is in fact better at making bigger wheelbarrows. It could have held a lot of watermelons.

The rest of the day was spent wandering back to the train station with the goal of eventually reaching Munich. I am pretty sure I made it.

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The Cliffs of Moher on the Western Coast of Ireland

The Cliffs of Moher on the Western Coast of Ireland

One or two tourists plummet to their deaths on the rocky shores below and suddenly it is no longer “safe”. Luckily for me my tour guide in Ireland was not particularly fond of rules or regulations, in fact I could go as far as to say he did not like them one bit. Instead of leading us bravely along the newly built tourist area he dropped us off in a sheep field only to drive off. He might have been laughing, or it could have been the sheep.

Our instructions: Walk down the path until you reach a barb wire fence, follow the fence for sixty, no, one hundred meters until you guys reach a wooden stool that will let you step over the fence. Once over the fence follow it down towards the cliff edge, eventually you will reach another fence. Follow this along the edge of the cliff to the left. After a bit you will climb over the fence again this time to a path. Follow the path along the cliff, enjoy the views, and finally go over the safety wall into the official area.

None of us really remembered it past the first fence. But it is hard to get lost when your options are: away from ocean, away from big cliffs, towards ocean and towards big cliffs. The fields were surprisingly spares in the way of sheep, their presence however was evident.

More astonishing then the cliffs themselves was the unregulated nature of the paths (from someone who lived in Safety World). The cliffs were very shear with plenty of sharp pointy rocks at the bottom. My favorite edge was a flat slab of stone with a slight undercut. I wanted to look over the edge, with the wind gusting in every direction at once I thought it best to not stand at the edge and lean over. I might drop my camera that way. I crawled to the edge and managed a peek over.

The remainder of the path wound along the edge, going from a foot to half a dozen from the edge. After a few iffy gusts of wind the group made it to the official area. The official area was no fun what so ever. In the name of safety there exists three foot high slabs of slate holding back a grassy burm that creates a nice good four feet between the edge and themselves. There was also a gift store, gotta love gift stores.

If I had only gone to the official area I would not like the Cliffs of Moher, in fact they would have been nothing more then a photo in a string of camera stops. It might have helped that I had a nice clear day, surprising how those sometimes seem to help.

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