I Came to See the Tapestries: Salzburg

I reluctantly left Paris early Saturday morning, saying one last good-bye to the Eiffel Tower and the streets left unexplored. Though I was sad to leave, I was also excited to get to my next stop: Salzburg, Austria. I was excited for many reasons, the foremost ones being (a) I wouldn’t have to try to speak French anymore, (b) I could quote Indiana Jones at my leisure, and (c) KSue would also be there!

And so I hopped on a train out of Paris, switched in Stuttgart, Germany (add it to the country list), and made my way to Austria.

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First impression of Salzburg: wet, as it had started raining somewhere between Stuttgart and my current locale. Second impression: confusing, as I had a very difficult time trying to get a bus ticket from the automated teller and ended up paying at least €5 for one. Either way, I eventually figured it out and made it to our hostel, which (as KSue informed me) plays the Sound of Music every night at nine. Jufa hostel in Salzburg is one of the better places we have stayed in. It is nice, clean, fairly cheap, breakfast is included, and a Sound of Music screening is always a welcome sight to my weary eyes.

I was sitting on my bunk, just having arrived and checked in, when my phone rings. It is KSue. She is lost. I am not much more found, but I believe I can find my way to her. Thankfully, I managed to find her. Not surprisingly, I got lost on my way back to the hostel. We made it back….eventually.

After chilling out for a bit, it got dark and we decided it was dinner time. It hadn’t stopped raining. We found a place on the internet to eat (Mexican!), but it was reservation only. Defeated, wet, and hungry, we headed back towards the hostel only to find a little place on the corner advertising some sort of Austrian dumpling fiasco called knoedel. It was food, so we stopped in.

I AM SO HAPPY WE DID. First we ordered a Radler, a brand of shandy popular in Austria. For those who don’t know what a shandy is, it is basically beer (or in German, bier) and lemonade. I’ve had versions of this at UVA with Eda when someone mixed beer, lemonade, and vodka in a pitcher and then served it, as well as at my pub in DC where our over-21 friend Eric was ordered a shandy. It is utterly delicious.

So good.

So good. Also, steins are a thing.

Second came the dumplings. I ordered a kind with spinach and cheese in a basic tomato sauce. KSue got the something similar but with chicken. I was worried about the serving size being too small, as we were very hungry and the menu only mentioned two or three dumplings. However, this was not a problem. Our plates were put in front of us and they each contained a few very large bread-based balls of cheese and (for me) spinach in a tomato sauce. Each ball was about as big as my fist and quite dense. We dug in and in minutes we were worried about being able to finish our meal. But I desperately wanted to! I have never tasted anything quite so deliciously satisfying as those knoedel. It was cold and rainy outside, and yet this random restaurant was the perfect escape, filling my stomach with all the right comfort foods. And bier. It was the perfect way to start our Austrian stay.

We got back to the hostel just in time to catch a nightly Sound of Music showing, but had to sit at an awkward angle, because the Sound of Music is very popular at our hostel and there was nowhere to sit to view it properly. However, four American girls noticed our awkward predicament and invited us to sit by them on the bench directly across from the TV. Due to the unprecedented kindness of this action and country-in-common, we all became friends fast. Carrie and Maggie, working in London (!) and studying in Austria, respectively, and Emily and Steph, both studying in Florence. Two guys, also American and also thoroughly enjoying TSOM (as it will now be referred to) joined us after Maggie noticed they were eating peanut butter. KSue recognized one, Brian, as her classmate, which led to a crazy “we’re both in Austria at the same hostel!” moment. He was travelling with his friend, Eric, who had been studying at Oxford. We all get along so well we decide to meet up for dinner the next day before some of us departed to different parts of the world. Crazy, random Americans-in-Europe friends. I love it. Salzburg is a-okay in my book so far.

We slept in the next morning as both of us were extremely exhausted from our early morning travels the previous day (KSue actually hadn’t slept at all the night before) and decided to do some low-key activities, likes museums and shopping. (Because, let’s face it, we can always shop.)

Outside was white. It had, and was still, snowing. Luckily, I had packed my boots. Unluckily, KSue hadn’t. This did not deter our shopping, however. It may have even enhanced it. Old Town Salzburg became Christmas-like, with its narrow streets and cute shops. Generally, everything had a “winter wonderland” feel to it, despite the fact that it was Easter Sunday.

This shop further strengthened our Christmas convictions.

This shop further strengthened our Christmas convictions. In March. This particular shop was filled to the brim with hand-painted eggshell decorations. There must have been thousands of them, all individually intricate.

The day was cold and wet and crowded, but ultimately beautiful. I decided I loved Salzburg and its Austrian quaintness.

A street in Old Town.

A street in Old Town with KSue and her colorful umbrella.

We then visited a surprisingly amazing modern art museum near the fortress. We didn’t know any of the featured artists going in, but we were fans of their work by the time we left. Much to my dismay, there were no tapestries at this museum.

One of my favorite pieces.

One of my favorite pieces.

We met the others back at the hostel and headed off to dinner, where we were split into two tables of four. When it came time to toast to our new-found friendship, we laughed at the table-specific decision to either order Radlers or water. (Our table ordered the bier.) More beer was had at the Irish Pub (the beginning of a trend) we went to in order to kill time drinking and swapping relationship stories before Steph, Emily, Brian, and Eric’s 1 am overnight train to Venice. (We would be taking the same train the next night.) The bartender, Tony, decided we were good people and also became our friend. Brian wins the prize for most epic love story. It involves sharks and poetry and Paris.

We said our goodbyes and headed back to our hostel, hopeful to see each other again soon in another country or two.

SOUND OF MUSIC TOUR DAY. Yes, we opted for it. We had a sing-a-long bus and super spunky tour guide. It was all awesome. Truthfully though, some of the best parts of our tour were the views. The views of the snowy Alps were just as breathtaking as the view of the non-snowy Alps on the train ride from Geneva to Paris. I loved being in those mountains. Not to get too transcendentalist on you, but it was utterly gorgeous in a way only nature can be.

We're basically adorable.

We’re basically adorable.

We got off the bus and hopped on a funicular (my new favorite form of transportation, I think I’ve been on three this trip) up to the Fortress that towers over Salzburg. Inside the fortress is basically a little town and museums. And I totally saw some tapestries. I didn’t even have to impersonate a Scottish Lord or punch a butler! Some people still live up there to be protected from the Mongols and whatnot. Or maybe they just like the view.

A view from the top, if you will.

A view from the top, if you will.

Back down the Funicular, we packed up our stuff at the hostel, met up with Maggie and a new friend (!) Jett and headed off to dinner and the Irish Pub for another night killing time by drinking before we had to catch a train.

The night wore on, we hugged goodbye and headed toward the station, perpetually dragging our suitcases behind us. As the train pulled away from the station at 1 am and I hopped up onto my top couchette-bunk, I felt so unexpectedly satisfied by my short time in Austria. KSue and I had decided to travel here as a “filler” country, something between our separate trips and Italy in order to get the timing right to go to Greece. Yet as I look back, Salzburg turned out to be one of my favorite places to visit due to the perfect combination of snow, quaintness, Sound of Music, mountains, and new-found friends. Really, it was everything topped off by meeting great people who made the visit so enjoyable. I hope to see some of you soon, but it not maybe we’ll cross paths once again in the States.

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Paris Holds the Key

As I rolled my suitcase up and down the never-ending ramps of the train station in Geneva, I was getting very excited. Momentarily, I would be boarding a train to Paris. PARIS. I was not this excited when I booked the trip online, nor when I got to Geneva did I realize where I would be going next. But there I was, dragging a box on wheels full of my life for the next four weeks behind me through doors and onto a platform and hauling it up onto a train. I was going to Paris. Subsequently, this song got stuck in my head and refused to get unstuck until I changed trains in Stuttgart, Germany on my way to Salzburg. I was okay with it.

The day Rob and I left Geneva was the only sunny day we would have in Geneva. (Despite this, we could still only see the outline of Mont Blanc.) Yet, this turned out to be a nice twist of fate. A train ride through the Alps would be quite diminished by cloudy skies. Luckily, the Alps with all their beautiful color and dignity decided to shine brilliantly on our high-speed train ride through France. I oo-ed and ah-ed appropriated with my face plastered to the window.

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Rob, sociable person that he is, even made a friend. The language barrier did not extend to peek-a-boo.

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Finally, we made it to Paris. I was basically jumping up and down at this point, which proved quite difficult as I was still on the train. We found our way to our hostel, the Plug-Inn, right in the Montemartre area (home to the Moulin Rouge and other various sex-themed variety shops). We checked in and I was disappointed to find out that I would not be staying in the same room as Doug, Rob, and Caroline (I had booked my reservation separately). Instead, I would be staying with three strangers. My spot was taken by a Frenchman, appropriately named Pierre. There was nothing we could do, and Doug and Caroline would not be getting in from Istanbul until later, so we dropped off our bags and started walking around Paris.

Rob asked where we should go. I pointed in a direction that seemed like a good one, and replied, ‘That way.’ He shrugged and we started walking. It wasn’t long until I completely fell in love with the city. The buildings, the streets, the people, the shops, and just the general elegance of the city mixed with hints of grandeur and vintage splendor. I could have wandered forever and would have been forever in awe. But then I caught a glimpse of metal poking out over the tops of the buildings. I adjusted (i.e. ran across the street) to get a better look. Yup, it was the Eiffel Tower. I looked at Rob with a giant smile on my face and pointed, it took him a moment to realize, but it all became clear as I started to drag him through the streets in that general direction. We stopped for a baguette and devoured it along the way. (I love Paris.)

When in Paris...

When in Paris…

And then we were there. We were standing in front of the Eiffel Tower. I was unexpectedly taken aback by just how in awe I was of it. It is such a staple of the modern world, of Paris, of Europe. For some reason, I never thought that I would make it there and yet there I was. I called my dad. The conversation went somewhat like this:

“Hi Dad!” “Hey, Kate-O. What’s up? I was just in a meeting and I saw your number on the caller-ID…” “Well, I’m currently standing in front of the Eiffel Tower.” “……..WHAT?”

After our initial excitement we decided to walk back, as Doug and Caroline would be getting in soon. Then I got a call from Lorna informing me that she and Kathy had just landed and should we meet up tonight. MORE FRIENDS! IN PARIS. We ending up not meeting up that night, but instead the next day…at the Louvre. 

Standing in front of the Louvre was a lot like standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, I was just incredulous. I was at the Louvre. Who does that?! A lot of people, apparently, as the line wrapped around the glass pyramid constructed as an entrance. We took advantage of our wait to take cute pictures and almost fall in fountains.

Friends at the Louvre. I can't believe this is my life.

Friends at the Louvre. I can’t believe this is my life.

One of the many best parts of the Louvre: getting in for free. I showed my passport and voila! ticket. I would have paid anyway though, because walking around was absolutely amazing. I was a bit disappointed KSue wasn’t there to tell me about each painting and sculpture (she was in Seville). But thanks to her, I was one of the most informed art historians among us, which (as Bethany knows) is really saying something. Of course I got to see the Mona Lisa. It was, as expected, breathtaking. Not too small, not underwhelming, but brilliant. In fact, almost every piece of art in the Louvre I saw was breathtaking. Some pieces stood out to me more than other, but I was generally in awe of their collection. I was in the Louvre! Michelangelo! DaVinci! Titian! Winged Victory! I love it all. Unfortunately, I did not get to see many (if any) Vermeer, one of my favorite artists, but I did see great works of art by brilliant artists, in addition to ancient world treasures and beautiful architecture.

Onto Notre Dame, which I didn’t go inside because of the line and price. Instead I turned my sights across the street to Shakespeare & Co., a bookstore of course! I spent a fair amount of time in there, just sitting amongst the stacks, looking at the titles printed on to the hundreds of spines. I could have spent the rest of the day in there happily. Unfortunately, I had to leave, but not before walking out with a tote bag, a postcard, and a Penguin Edition of Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own.” Me = Happy Camper.

me a shakespeare and co

We went up to the top of the Arc De Triomphe, where I was able to really see Paris from all angles. It is just as beautiful as on the ground.

Paris in black and white just feels right.

Paris in black and white just feels right.

My third and last full day started on top of the Eiffel Tower. I had to wait in an incredibly long line of course, but I am glad I did. (I sang a majority of the score to Les Mis to pass the time.) Though we didn’t get to go all the way to the tippy top, just being in the Eiffel Tower itself was amazing. It will remain as one of my favorite parts of Paris, if not the world.

Je t'aime Paris.

Je t’aime Paris.

We then walked down to see the Statue of Liberty located on the Seine  This statue is a quarter of the size of the one found in New York and was a gift to the city by the American population of Paris. I have not seen the one in New York up close, so seeing this one was surreal. I was American in Paris looking up at this symbol of America in Paris. There is something poetic there, but I won’t venture to sonnetize it.

Americans in Paris

Americans in Paris

This was a good-bye point for half of our group. Doug, Caroline and Rob had to catch their train to Brussels, while Lorna, Kathy and I would be staying at least one more night. I shouted to them as they walked away, “We’ll always have Paris!” to which they gave me a quizzical look and smiled.

(Some of ) The Gang

(Some of ) The Gang

Lorna, Kathy and I, now free of an itinerary, traipsed our way over to the Paris Opera House to live our Phantom of the Opera dreams. You can bet there was singing. The Opera House, or the Palais Garnier, must be one of the most intricately and extravagantly decorated buildings I have ever been in. Gold and marble and luscious. Just gorgeous and haunting. After a quick stop at a crepe cart (I think I had a crepe every day I was in Paris), we ended up back at Lorna and Kathy’s hotel to give our feet a rest and watch Phantom of the Opera.

Dinner near the Louvre followed, with a glass of wine for all, and then we ended up, once again, at the Eiffel Tower. This time, however, it was at night. It was lit up and I did not think it could get any more beautiful until it started sparkling against the Parisian sky. I duly freaking out (as did Lorna).

lorna me eiffel

Early the next morning I hopped on the metro and headed for the train station to meet up with KSue in snowy Salzburg, but not before getting hit on by a random Parisian man, who I’m sure was just coming back from a night out. Ah, Paris. Truth is, I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to keep wandering the streets with a camera, waiting for inspiration to strike or find some studio where Picasso had painted. I wanted to stay and wait for the Fitzgeralds to take me Lindy-hopping. I could have stayed for the rest of the trip. But there were other places to see and experience and EasyJet does not give refunds.

Au Revoir, Paris. I will be seeing you in the future. All my love, Katie.

Geneva/Genève and a Bit of Français

It has been three weeks since my plane landed in London Luton and I walked outside onto British soil for the first time in a month. Before that plane I had been another plane four days earlier, and then another, and then another, and then train, train, train, train. I had a big, epic, globe-trotting adventure, and so far, my recollections of it have been confined either to my head or in a very condensed form in my notebook (thank you, Eda). So, since I haven’t updated this blog since March 18th, I figured now was a good time to start again, and what better way than to just write down all about my trip. I am going to write a post for each city, so if you are looking for a specific place/person, feel free to wait for a specific post. But now, the first city: Geneva (and Annecy too).

Rob messaged me on FB in February asking if I wanted to go to Geneva, Switzerland with him. I got back to him in mid-March saying yeah! Why not? So off we went to cold, snowy Switzerland, which at the time wasn’t that different from cold, snowy England. I hit a few snafus on my way to London Southend Airport, specifically getting on the wrong train and then having to run across the town in the freezing ice in order to get on a different train to actually get to the smallest airport I have ever been to. I was worried about missing my flight, but security was in a room the size of my dorm, so I ended up having time to spare.

Am I allowed to offer tips like an experienced traveller now? Do I really count as an experience traveller? Either way, I want to recommend London Southend Airport. It is incredibly tiny, only certain airlines flying to certain places fly out of there, and it is a bit hard to get to, but it’s actually incredibly relaxing because you aren’t overwhelmed by this monstrous modern creation known as the international airport. Southend is one terminal, maybe six gates, a coffee shop, and airport store, and some seats. I really like it and would definitely fly out of it again. It’s like the anti-Heathrow.

Clearly labeled, just as I like 'em.

Clearly labeled, just as I like ’em.

Anyway, after successfully landing in Geneva (none of the cute snowboarder guys sat near me on the plane…sad) and meeting up with Rob (who had two good size bags for his week-long trip), we hopped on the free train into town. We were staying at a women’s Christian hostel that just happened to have a room for men in old town Geneva. Unbeknownst to us, old town Geneva meant climbing up a gigantic cobblestone hill with all of our luggage. Cobblestones and stairs quickly become an enemy of me and my rolling suitcase.

Finally, we made it and settled in. My room, despite being a 16-girl dorm was very nice and I even made some friends. Once again, I had top bunk, but I didn’t mind because the bunks were actually of quality. Rob’s room was in the basement/dungeon. I’ll leave it to him to describe his experience. Then we set off to find something to do, and what is there to do in Geneva?

You can play some chess in the rain...

You can play some chess in the rain…He may have beat me.

If you figure it out, you should let me know. There are plenty of museums, but they’re all closed on Monday, the day we decided to be in Geneva. There’s Mont Blanc, but we couldn’t see it due to the overbearing overcast. There’s the Jet d’Eau, which is cool, but gets old quick. There’s also the Reformation Wall, but it’s in French and German. As for bars and pubs? The city shut down when it got dark so, I doubted there were any. I’d say the best touristy thing we did was the United Nations tour, because that was educational and relevant and whatnot. It was also extremely cool to sit in the rooms where the US and USSR basically threw nuclear hissy fits at each other. Rob, ever the SIS kid, was in International Relations heaven, bouncing around the bookshop picking up book after book on international economics and law. Yet other than that, Geneva was surprisingly small and quiet.

Also featured in the UN bookstore.

Also featured in the UN bookstore.

Another thing about Switzerland is everything is INCREDIBLY EXPENSIVE. The Swiss Franc (no, not the Euro) and US Dollar are basically one to one, so I was excited about not having to pay a premium exchange rate like I do for the British Pound. However, walking into the local Starbucks quickly took that dream and slapped me across the face with it, as I paid 5 francs for a small tea and another 5 for a yogurt with berries. (Just for comparison, a small tea in the US is around $1.30, and £1.50 in the UK). Everywhere else wasn’t much better. My stop at the one of the numerous UBS ATMs was frustrating for multiple reasons.

One Mug. Price? YOUR SOUL.

One Mug. Price? YOUR SOUL.

While in Geneva, Rob suggested we catch a bus over the border and make a stop in Annecy, France, also known as the ‘Venice of the Savoy.’ I had no objection, as I liked the sound of a nearby Venice and ‘Savoy’ sounded pretty, so we went. This little town was beautiful. It was full of color and water and random shops. I loved it. If it had been summer, I think I would have loved it more, but even in the gray it stood out. Of course, the one fortress we wanted to see was closed on the one day we were in Annecy, so we spent our time wandering around, doing our own walking tours, looking at canals.

Yay canals!

Yay canals!

I took my passport along for the bus ride, assuming we would be stopped at the border to have out paperwork check and stamped. However, Rob explained to me about the Schengen Zone, a group of European countries that have gotten rid of common border control. So, while travelling in and around those countries, we basically have a free pass: no visa required.

Back in Switzerland, we paid too much for food and then decided to visit the Reformation Museum before catching our train to Paris (PARIS!). It was….Calvin-y. The Cathedral was also…Protestant. And thus ends our time in Switzerland. Au Revoir Genève and your over-priced lattes and cobblestone hills of death. I enjoyed my time in Switzerland, but next time I go in the winter (well, March) I’ll be skiing, not sight-seeing.

LDN, VCE, DVD: Our Favorite (European) Travel Films

Spring break is coming up, and since the UK has a national religion, we get four weeks off for Easter. FOUR WEEKS. Naturally, KSue and I have planned a country-hopping European vacation extravaganza. As of right now, my itinerary is as follows: Geneva, Paris, Salzburg, Venice, Florence, Rome, Naxos, Athens, Istanbul, and Amsterdam. (While I am in Geneva and Paris, KSue will be in Paris and Seville. We’ll meet in Salzburg. So we won’t spend the whole trip together, but most of it.) Planning this trip and booking it is all very exciting and expensive. So instead of focusing all of out attention to that, we’ve instead decided to compile a list of our favorite European travel movies. Because this is a better way to spend our time.

The Lizzie McGuire Movie. First on the list is (of course) the Lizzie McGuire Movie. This is a gem from our childhood that manages to be relevant in our lives today (that is, we own the DVD and watch it often). We’re going to Rome. Thanks to Lizzie McGuire, we want to be wooed by a fake Italian pop star, be mistaken for another Italian pop star, and then perform our own life-affirming song in front of millions of people in the Colosseum with backup dancers. We want to live the dream. Whether we do or not, this is still a quintessential movie worth watching again for some vintage Duff.

She's even got a Vespa. We need a Vespa.

She’s even got a Vespa. We need a Vespa. Look at that belt. So stylish.

Midnight in Paris. Time travel via classic cars? Check. Paris then and now? Check. A smorgasbord of long-dead artists and writers for KSue and I to fangirl over? Check. Written/Directed by Woody Allen? Check. This movie meets all the criteria of a wonderful film. I checked. Midnight in Paris is a modern Woody Allen classic bringing all his quirkiness and creativity together in one neurotic, celebrity (well, dead celebrity) leaden film with a jazztastic soundtrack to match. One of our all-time favorites, we wouldn’t leave the States without it. The film is heartwarming, funny, and nostalgic. I love it and you should too. It leaves us with a Paris battle plan: get smashed on fancy wine, hop into a 1930s jalopy filled with famous writers (I’m looking at you Mr. Fitzgerald), and do the Charleston with Hemingway.

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“I am…Dali!” So surreal.

Passport to Paris (or other equivalent MK and Ashley movies: Winning London, When in Rome, Our Lips are Sealed). I hadn’t seen this movie in a while, so in order to accurately present it to my readers, I re-watched the entire 85-minute epic on YouTube in 10-15 minute spurts. First second impression: there isn’t really a plot. MK and Ashley’s movie parents are concerned about their daughters’ sense of the world, and so they decided to ship the middle-schoolers off the Paris for a week to stay with their Grandfather, the US ambassador to France (nbd). The twins then immediately make friends with cute French boys their age while simultaneously playing matchmaker for their chaperone with a French supermodel they just happened to meet at a café. Their lives are, sigh, so demanding. Either way, PTP is Mary-Kate and Ashley at their cutest and sassiest. They have great hair, great style, and everything down to their scrunchies is color-coordinated. I’m going to Paris and goshdarnit I want to sword fight with baguettes in front of the Eiffel Tower.

ADORABLE.

ADORABLE. Passports a-ready.

Monte Carlo (“This generation’s Lizzie McGuire”- KSue). Don’t judge us, but this movie is so much fun. It has it all: mistaken identities, beautiful dresses, Leighton Meester, attractive men, and not a lot of depth. Monte Carlo is unfortunately not on our list of destinations as it is a bit off the beaten track and we don’t meet the per capita income requirements. To go we would need to be mistaken for an heiress or something! (I would love to try out their race track, however.) Despite all its potential faults of being chick-flicky and improbable, the movie Monte Carlo is a cute update to a version of the Prince and the Pauper. It makes us believe that we too can one day sleep in a fancy hotel room.

I have those boots. All I need now is the dress.

I have those boots. All I need now is the dress.

The Bourne Identity. Okay, onto some less “pink” movies. In this movie, Matt Damon is an amnesic with some major ass-kicking skills and a thoroughly stamped passport. He’s on a boat, no wait! He’s in Italy – no Switzerland! But he has to get to Paris, and now he has a woman with him! He fights, he swims, and he eventually ends up in Greece. My life is not as exciting. However, we can learn some important, if not tactical, lessons from Bourne: keep moving, and you’re sure to evade a CIA tail and have fun in the mean time. Plus, Bourne punches his way through all the places I will be visiting! While traipsing through Paris, I can look out for the place where Jason Bourne dangled some guy off a building. Landmarks and such. While this movie is mainly a story-driven thriller and an homage to Matt Damon’s arms, it does cover a number of great places in Europe, all of which are featured as prime ass-kicking spots.

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Look! The Eiffel Tower! He’s so worldly. Even if he can’t remember.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. At least one of the Jones films had to make this list. I know he doesn’t exactly travel across Europe (more Africa and the Middle East), but in this Last Crusade he does make a stop or two on the continent, specifically Salzburg (“I came to see the TAPESTRIES!”), Venice (“Ah, Venice…”), and Berlin (“Into the lion’s den?!”). Though I will not be making a stop in Germany, I do fully intend to reenact my favorite Indy moments in Venice and Salzburg. I’m not going to provide too much summary here because either a) you’ve seen it or b) I’m going to make you watch it with me. This is one of my all-time favorite movies that my children will grow up on. But for now, I want to see the catacombs, the castles, and the boats. I’ll have my archeological adventure, I just have to remember that “X” might just mark the spot.

I'll be driving the boat. My guy will be taking care of armed men trying to kill us.

I’ll be driving the boat. My guy will be taking care of armed men trying to kill us.


This list is far from complete, so if you have any suggestions, let me know. We tried to base it around European travel movies, so a lot were excluded simply due to their location. (Otherwise Sahara, Casablanca, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and so many others would have made it.) We specifically excluded Taken and Taken 2 for obvious reasons. Some of you may cry foul at the lack of inclusion of Eurotrip, but we wanted this post to be family friendly (and KSue has yet to see it). A special shout out goes to The Princess Diaries for, in the words of KSue, “making us all want to go to Genovia.” Alas, Genovia is a fictional place, but I hear Monaco is nice. Another film to receive special mention is the deserving Anastasia. The animated film spends most of its time traveling from St. Petersburg to Paris, with memorable songs in each city. Once upon a December in the dark of the night, there was a rumor in St. Petersburg and so I journeyed into the past only to find that Paris holds the key to my heart. Now where’s my Dimitri?

We also tried to construct this list based on where in Europe we are planning to travel. If we couldn’t get the city specifically, we tried to at least include the country. However, missing from this list is Istanbul and Amsterdam. The excluded and explicit Eurotrip covers Amsterdam (in a spectacular fashion), yet for Istanbul I’ll have to turn to a classier film, one with a bit more…Bond. The most recent James Bond film, the striking Skyfall (thank you, Adele), opens with a car chase through the Turkish city culminating in the opening credits. Other scenes in Skyfall also take place in my current city of London, bringing the trip full circle. You can always count on Bond to bring you back to England.

Happy travels!

Bookstores of London

One of my favorite things to do in life is to go to a bookstore. I love hanging out in one and looking at all the titles that I can read, sitting in the aisles, marveling at the novels, annoying other customers with my lack of movement, and then buying a rather large stack of books to bring home and put next to my bed.

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My dresser is mostly books with the occasional sweater.

In New Jersey, I like taking a car down the always challenging Route 17 to the Barnes&Noble. (My mom likes to make fun of my for calling it Barnes&Nobles. I just like the symmetry. If there are multiple Barnes, why can’t there be multiple Nobles? But I digress.) In New York, my bookstore of choice is the Green Toad, a perfectly independent bookstore with a cafe attached. In DC there are too many to count, but the Dupont Circle area is home to many of my favorites. So naturally, when I got to London one of my first priorities was to find some bookstores that I could frequent as I do in my other three homes. One day I decided to make a list, go to all of the bookstores on it, and see if I could find a London favorite. (No promises on any conclusive favoritism and in London, they happen to be called “bookshops.”)

After extensive planning via the internet and my map(s), I set off.

Waterstones. Waterstones is like the Barnes & Nobles of the UK. This is also one of the most convenient bookshops in London. I see them everywhere and there is even one right across the street from my campus. Naturally, after class I went in. Waterstones has an incredibly large and diverse collection as large, chain bookshops are apt to. Waterstones, BSHowever, despite the recognition that this store is a multi-million dollar operation with hundreds of locations across England, it still has a nice, if not slightly diminished sense of neighbourhood coziness. The one near the UCL campus on the corner of Gower Street has tall bookshelves make of dark wood and is a bit crowded, which gives it a nice atmosphere, yet it is also multi-floored with a Costa Coffee in the basement to allow for its corporateness. I have also been to a Waterstones in Greenwich, Oxford Street, and Piccadilly Circus. Each one is a bit different, but they each have a nice atmosphere. The one in Piccadilly Circus is incredibly large, yet it still manages to ooze bookishness. If you are going for a British take on B&N, or just really need a book, Waterstones is a good place to go. They also have multiple beautiful editions of classics at good prices, so there’s a perk.

London Review Bookshop. I happened upon the LRB on while looking for another bookshop near the British Museum. I had read about it previously online, but dismissed it for the comments on it high-class selection and the expensive cake shop attached. However as I passed it, I decided it was worth a gander and I was pleasantly surprised. LRBInside is gorgeous, with books everywhere and a feeling that light is always streaming through glass windows onto white surface. The tables going down the middle of the shop offer you a selection of staff-picked books that you have never heard of, but are sure to be interesting and well-written. Sure, the selection is a bit high-class and the prices could be lower, but the atmosphere made up for it. Everyone inside was obviously a book-lover and the staff was ready to help with any inquiry. They also carry Notting Hill editions of books, which I must get one of before I leave England. I did not check out the attached cake shop, but I will on my next trip; I definitely plan on going back.

Oxfam Bookshops. Conveniently located next to the London Review Bookshop on the same street was an Oxfam bookshop. Oxfam in the UK is sort of like the Salvation Army/Goodwill of the US, except they are a bit nicer and have exclusive bookshops.Oxfam All of their books are donated, so the prices are great. The selection varies on which shop you stop into, but it is usually varied. I liked the set-up of the store, but I did not get a particular good or bad vibe from the place. There were not a lot of people in the shop and those that were there did not seem very interested in the selection. Overall the prices made up for the atmosphere, but I probably wouldn’t go back unless I needed a cheap novel.

Skoob. Skoob is my go-to secondhand bookshop when I need a good edition of a Shakespeare play or I am just looking for something quirky. Located in Bloomsbury underneath the Brunswick shopping centre, (next to my grocery store and in between campus and home,) I often find myself stopping for no other reason that to sit amongst the stacks. Skoob Books Brunswick CentreA testament to my self-control, I rarely leave empty-handed, usually exiting the store with cheap Arden edition of Shakespeare and wishing I had bought one of those nifty Penguin Classics mugs with a matching orange book. Though there is any seating, you can’t beat the musty bookshop feel, great secondhand collection, and reasonable prices at Skoob. This store is one of my favorites.

Gosh! In order to finish my English minor last semester, I took an upper-level literature class on graphic novels, a form I hadn’t really studied or taken seriously before. However, I really enjoyed the class and most of the books discussed in it. (I even read the entire reading list!) So when taking my bookshop tour of London, I had to include the unique and exclusively graphic novel/comic bookshop located in the depths of Soho. GoshGosh! is bright, open, and filled with picaresque novels in a slightly industrial setting. I found my entire reading list from last semester squeezed amongst the stacks as well as tons of novels I had not heard of previously, but would read in an instant. I brought KSue along with me for this one and though she isn’t particularly interested in the graphic novel genre, she found herself flipping through a few of Bechdel’s works. Their selection of comics and graphic novels is incredible (check out their Disney section, Chris Ware works, and the illustrated “Genesis”) and their prices are not bad for the typical amount you would be paying. Hopefully, I’ll find myself at Gosh! the next time I venture into Soho, or else I’ll schedule a specific trip to this unique bookshop.

Hatchards. IMG_2857I am particularly disposed towards liking old things. It may have to do with my mother’s obsession with antiques or my fascination with history, but either way if it’s old, I’ll probably like it. Hatchards Bookshop is the oldest bookshop in London, opening it’s doors in 1797 ( just around the time the US was learning to walk).Naturally, it had to be on my list. I ventured there with fellow bookaholic and English fanatic Emily and the ever obliging KSue to find four stories of wonderfulness. The dark wood contrasted with the colorful spines. Tables were filled with recommendations of classic edition and new potential bestsellers. I wanted to buy all of the Agatha Christies with throwback vintage covers. Needless to say, we spent a bit of time there. Hatchards on Piccadilly mixes the modern with the vintage. I loved it and will sure to be back.


John Sandoe. For this last bookstore I trekked out all the way to Sloane Square in the swanky Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

They get the fancy lettering.

They get the fancy lettering.

Amidst the Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and Prada is John Sandoe Books tucked away around a corner. The shop is little even with three floors, but it is overflowing with books. Shelves are packed two deep and tables stacked with books on books on books.

Movable shelve

Despite the sheer book to square inch ratio, the store is very organized, arranged by genre and author. Upstairs, shelves are movable: slide one over to reveal the next. The quarters may be cramped, but the selection is worth it. I walked out of there with two books, Mrs. Dalloway and a Tom Stoppard novel, which I hadn’t known existed.Though being in Kensington the prices can get a bit high, John Sandoe is a wonderful shop with knowledgable staff, a huge selection, and that book-lover feel.

There are other shops on my list, but those listed above are my favorites. Other include:

Treadwells, on Store Street in Bloomsbury. A great little occult bookshop with plenty of history books.

Black Gull Books, in Camden Lock Market. Very Camden-esque with open doors and a laid-back feel. My favorite shelf section was “Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n Roll.” Hidden treats outside.

black gull

black gull shelf

Others, I just haven’t made it to yet. Including:

Foyles, on Charing Cross Rd, has one of the largest selection of books in London.

Southbank Book Market, an outdoor book market located on the (surprise, surprise) south bank of the Thames near Waterloo Bridge. Summertime activity.

Primrose Hill Books, on Regents Park Rd, looks quaint and wonderful.

Claire de Rouen Books, on Charing Cross Rd, specializes in photography and fashion books. The website is worth a gander.

Others, I simply couldn’t find.

Bertam Rota Booksellers, supposedly located on Long Acre Rd in Covent Garden. If someone could tell me where on Long Acre it is, I’d be much obliged. I must have walked up and down that road 5 or 6 times.

Grant & Culter, supposedly located on Great Marlborough Street in Soho, possibly moved out of Great Marlborough St location, most likely a part of Foyles now. I have no clue. A foreign language bookseller.

So there you go. A round-up, if you will. If you have any question, or want to add a bookshop, just let me know. I hope this is helpful and/or interesting!

Second Cousins Twice Removed

My family is…how do I put this delicately…large and crazy. My immediate family is not that substantial and is even fairly nuclear, but reach outside that bubble and the lines start getting squiggly. First cousins, second cousins, third cousins, aunts and uncles all start becoming more  salient terms. The all encompassing “relative” is much more applicable. I have cousins that could be my uncle or my grandfather. Relatives my age that may seem like first cousins are actually third cousins I don’t know how many times removed and certain surnames just start popping up from unknown origins.

When planning to go to England, I knew I had extended family living somewhere in the UK, as my late paternal grandmother would visit them once a year for every year I could remember. I would hear stories of staying with “Cousin Betty” and imagine tea parties with biscuits and British-accented laughter. She was the most British of all of us. She introduced my family to the tradition of a daily tea with cookies, which she then passed down to my mother, and she to me. She would watch tennis, read Agatha Christie (Miss Marple was her favorite), and would always have a ready supply of shortbread. She was the viable link between two sides of a family separated by a rather large pond. When she died my freshman year of high school, that link frayed greatly. Cousin Betty died soon after and my British family connections were lost to the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean.

That is, until Facebook happened. After it became acceptable for non-college students to join Facebook, one of my relatives (I would put her in the aunt category, but she is cousin) contacted my mom who, though not blood-related, carries a family name. My Dad, resistant to the idea of non-professional social networking is not on Facebook and could not be contacted as such. (He tried it for a bit in late 2012. After a few non-spectacular months, he closed his account never to return. He’s sticking to LinkedIn.) The family in England had reached out. As I was planning on going to England that Spring, I reached back.

Two nights ago, after a couple of weeks messaging back and forth, my cousin invited me to a quiz night involving fish and chips at her church. I readily agreed. I grabbed KSue for back up (she had previously consented to come along, I don’t want people to think I basically kidnapped her into this) and took to tube North to meet some long-lost family.

My cousin met us at the station. During the car ride to her house, we worked out that we were second cousins twice removed. That makes me a third cousins to her teenage daughter and twenty-something son. At her house I met her daughter and husband and discussed some family history while we had tea and biscuits. We briefly talked football (soccer), Heart of Darkness (which my third cousin and I had both recently read), and tea. We looked at old photos and tried to figure out which monochromatic figure was Jack and which one was Tom. We discussed England versus America, DC versus London, school, parents, my grandmother, television programmes, and who I was to meet later. Sitting in her living room was easy and comfortable, though there was the slight awkwardness of “Hey, we’re family even though we feel more like strangers at the moment,” especially on my part. I don’t remember the last time we had met, back in 1999 at a family reunion. Yet, we could still connect and feel somewhat familial.

John, Bob and Tom circa 1955. Part of my clan. I don't know who is who, but they all look spiffy. One of them, I believe is my great-grandfather.

John, Bob and Tom circa 1955. Part of my clan. I don’t know who is who, but they all look spiffy. One of them, I believe is my great-grandfather.

Around the corner at the church, quiz night involved more relatives (more cousins!) and a lot of unanswered trivia questions. Don Quixote’s horse? No clue. The 16-year-old sitting to my right? Third cousin twice removed. Our team, ingeniously named by KSue, was appropriately called “Clan of Cousins” (à la Band of Brothers, Henry V style). We were solidly in 11th place (of 12) for the first five rounds until my trivia-whiz cousin arrived and we finished respectively in 6th place.

I had so much fun that night. I met family that I hope to see again in the near future. I answered trivia questions about cars in movies. I ate fish and chips. I talked English authors with my cousin. I was bombarded with cousins and smorgasbord of family history in the best way possible. I think my grandmother would be proud of our cross-Atlantic relations as I sit here in England typing this and drinking my Twinings tea.

Mom-Mom and I, circa 2005.

Mom-Mom and I, circa 2005.

Sabado Noche en Madrid or, TWO FOR TWO

Okay. Madrid part two: Saturday night (and Sunday for the hell of it).

Segovia, beautiful as it is, exhausted me. (ALL of the steps. All of them.) On the bus ride home I promptly fell asleep, inspiring Lorna to take the following photo:

On of the many photos of me sleep currently floating around the internet. Thanks guys.

On of the many photos of me asleep currently floating around the internet. Thanks guys.

After a brief pit stop at a mall (the Euro is our friend), we headed back to Way to relax before heading out later that night. Let me take a brief moment to explain how time works in Spain. Breakfast or brunch is in the morning, at any time. Lunch, however, does not take place until around 3 pm, hence pushing dinner to about 8 or 9 and drinking even later. So when we got back to our hostel around 8, I still had time to take an hour and half nap before getting dinner and going out. And it was a beautiful nap.

Recharged, we walked back to the Mercado for dinner, changed and went downtown to meet Lorna and Caroline at another Irish bar called Dubliners (Joyce anyone?). I ordered my new favorite beer, a Guinness while KSue and the crew got some Spanish ones (also very good). We were deciding which club to go to when two guys walked up to us. They had heard us speaking English and were determined to make friends with all the Americans in the bar. It wasn’t that creepy because one them was American himself and a fifth year senior Computer Science/Spanish major at Vanderbilt. I could not understand his Spanish friend (who had studied abroad in the US at Vanderbilt), but got the impression that he was kind of a dick, so I left him to focus on the other blonde Americans in the vicinity. (To be fair and not give the wrong impression, we made friends with those girls later and they were very nice.)

The topic of “What are you guys doing later?” came up and we explained to them we were going to go clubbing at Joy, which Lorna suggested. These all-knowing manly men quickly turned that idea down, saying Joy was best on Thursdays and not so much fun on Saturdays. We instead should go to Kapital. We didn’t necessarily believe them, but eventually took their advice when we got a pass from a club promoter for a €15 entrance fee that included two drink vouchers. Kapital it was. We said goodbye to Caroline (being responsible) and the Vandies and headed for da club.

The line for Kapital was ginormous. At least three people wide and wrapping up the side of a building, but it moved very fast due the fact that Kapital is also ginormous. It has SEVEN FLOORS. Seven floors of dancing, drinking, and general mayhem. What. The stairs just keep on coming.

You get the gist. And only a limited number of floors can be seen in this picture.

You get the gist. And only a limited number of floors can be seen in this picture.

Waiting on line? Not so much fun. The people behind us were having a really good time blowing pot smoke in our general direction though. I turned to give them the STOP IT eyes, and noticed a cute blonde guy walking to get to the end of the line. I pointed him out to KSue and she agreed with my assessment of attractiveness. Finally it was time to go in. We waited on more lines for the bathroom and coat check so by this time I really needed a drink. It was club time. I went to the bar to exchange one of my handy-dandy vouchers for a €12 G&T and to my surprise cute blonde guy from the line was there talking to his friends. Even more surprisingly was his accent: he was British. I ordered, he turned around, looked at me, slurred “Hola” and left. I decided I wasn’t as fond of him anymore. But nonetheless, we got our drinks (vodka coke for KSue and Lorna) and went to dance on one of the seven floors.

Instead of describing the general scene, I’m going to let Macklemore and Ryan Lewis do it for me (minus the horses).

Something like that.

We basically just had a blast: dancing, singing, acting like idiots, and the like. We’d had enough of stairs for that day, so we mainly stuck to the bottom three floors. At one point, while sitting in some chairs sipping on out drinks, we decided to implement the use of “sex daggers” in order to attract men to us. KSue, in her infinite wisdom, invented both the act and corresponding term. Sex daggers involve placing your hands on either side of your forehead, with your thumbs almost cupping your eyes and fingers pointed straight out (not up). Then you wiggle your fingers like jazz hands, purse your lips and make wild crazy eyes at whomever happens to pass by. This the art of sex daggers. Remember to be dressed in full club attire (even make-up) while doing so.

Finally, it was 3:15 (am) and we decided it was time to go. KSue and I had to catch a flight back to London the next day (really that day) and the hostel was a 20-minute walk. Just as we are getting up, I spot cute blonde line guy whom I had grown less fond of at the bar less than ten feet from us. In my less than sober state, I decide this is a good time to clear things up and then promptly leave. I walk over, tap him on the shoulder and say, “For the record I’m not Spanish, I’m American and you’re British!” He finds this amusing and asks the three of us to dance with him and his friends downstairs. I turn to KSue and Lorna with a questioning glance. They nod back enthusiastically, and so at 3:15 we go to dance some more.

Blonde guy leads us to the middle of the central dance floor where his friends are and shouts/introduces us to his mates who are having a stag night (bachelor party). I dance with him, and KSue and Lorna dance with his friends. At one point I close my eyes and just let myself soak in where I am, the enormity of the club, and the loud, thumping music. When I open them again KSue and Lorna are both snogging their dance partners. They are both DFMOing and I am not. I look at my guy: less cute than I thought he was, kind of a dick, reeks of pot, and is slurring his words. I quickly decide I am not going to follow suit. KSue momentarily comes up for air and I take advantage of this to point at my wrist, indicating the time: late. She shouts at me, “Give us a few more minutes.” I frown and dance for maybe a minute more, and then grab both KSue and Lorna by their hands, shout bye to our dance/make-out buddies and lead the way straight through the crowd back to the lobby. Along the way I shout Hola! to random strangers while KSue and Lorna giggle behind me.

On line for the coat check, KSue turns to us and goes, “Guys, TWO FOR TWO. TWO FOOOR TWOOO. WOOOOOO!!” She is very pleased with herself. Two foreign countries, two hook-ups, both from the UK. Lorna is also pleased with herself giddy and giggling. I choose take credit for this. KSue and Lorna are okay with my momentary inflation of self-importance, crediting me with their opportune hook-ups. I respond with a Pitch Perfect quote: “I mean, you’re welcome.”

All the acca-credit.

All the acca-credit.

As we head back to the hostel, I defy the guy at the Roxy a couple of weeks ago and proceed to pronounce “fugitive” correctly as well as speak some Spanish to random people like a champ.

Once at the hostel we walk up more stairs to our room and find it empty of all occupants. After three nights of opening the door to sleeping roommates and trying to be as quiet as possible we relish in the sight of the empty beds, throwing the overhead light on and talking at a normal noise level. It is 4 am. Hola Madrid.

The next morning we meet up with Caroline and Lorna for an American breakfast at a Spanish diner, where Lorna gives me a belated Christmas present. It’s graphic novel “Watchmen.” I am so excited to start it on the plane. Our good-byes take place on the metro, with Lorna and Caroline getting off at their respective stops until it is just KSue, our luggage and I. We get on the plane, say one last good-bye to the warmth and sunshine, and head to back to jolly cold London, England.

KSue is two for two and I have a new book. ¡VIVA ESPAÑA!