Andy Steves Does Europe! Part 2

Mountain Hostel Switzerland — Alex (July 16)

Well, we are staying in a great hostel called mountain hostel in Gimmelwald high above Interlaken. It has been great hanging out with people from all over the US, and hearing stories about their travels. For example, Andy and I got back from a day excursion to the top of a mountain where we took some pictures and did some sledding and had a good time, but we got back at around 7 and our friend, Rich (who sleeps below me and always seems to end up with my blanket in the morning — we both have no idea how that happens) had met some hot twins earlier and invited us to go hot tubbing (yes, the hostel has a hot tub!). It ended up being 5 guys and 2 girls, not the best ratio — but fun considering we were all packed in a four-person hot tub. We all just talked about where we came from, school, where we had been, and where we were planning on going in Europe.

After that everyone sat down for dinner in what looks like a summer camp dining room. I guess everyone but Andy and I pitched in 10 Swiss francs for a huge dinner that a chef that is staying here cooked. But Andy and I had food from the store, like a salad, pizza, and bananas and we survived. We ate with Rich and had a great talk about business trends, religion, school (he is 23 and graduated from school in Texas and had a lot of college advice for us).

After that, people cleaned up and just chilled. People were playing the piano, drums and whatever they could find and just singing and having a blast. I ended up getting involved in an intense game of hearts, 13, and an hour-long UNO game until we all just about fell asleep on our cards. We went to bed and woke up this morning once again to the sound of flies and those freakin' goats who I swear I want to kill because they wake me up every morning at 6:00. They just won't shut up! I decided to stay at the hostel today because it was overcast and rainy. We have been reading, playing chess, and talking to people passing through. It's been great relaxing day and a great stay over all.

Layover Day — Alex

Today Andy and I had basically an entire day to just chill. We are taking a night train to Rome, and are staying there for a day and then catching another night train to Sicily. So, we got up and left the hostel with two new friends, Missy and Kristen, and we headed down to Interlaken. We said our good-byes and Andy and I headed over to a swimming pool that we had seen on the train ride up. It was awesome! It ended up being a large workout place that had a 30-foot-high dive, volley ball court, tennis court, restaurant and lots of space to lie out and play soccer.

We got there about 11:30 or so and it was overcast so not many people were there so we had the pool to ourselves. While sitting and eating some bread we met 2 guys from Texas who had just graduated college and we started talking about the Tour de France for like an hour. So, by this time it was 1 and the high part of the high dive (it is split into 6 sections at different heights) didn't open till two and so we spent the rest of that hour psyching ourselves out by looking at how high it was.

We did a couple practice rounds on the 15 footer and got our confidence up. 30 feet may not sound very high, but when you standing at the edge of that looking down into the water and look around and see 20 people watching to see what you do, you get nervous. When we got to the ledge, there were 6 or more kids just standing there deciding whether or not to jump. So...I just literally pushed them all aside and took a running leap off. I swear I was going at least 25 mph because right before you hit you could feel the wind running through your hair and the impact of that water hurt bad if you didn't have your feet pointed and arms at your side.

We all jumped about 3 times and got a snack at the bar and some random kid came up to us and asked if we wanted to play volley ball. We walked with him over to the sand court and embarked on an intense game of 6 on 6 verses some German guys and a girl that looked like Big Foot's daughter. She was a machine and when she would spike the ball you would just step aside to avoid the pain. We played for about 45 minutes and then decided to go for another swim and then we went our separate ways. It was a really, really nice day of nothing!

Rome to Sicily — Alex (July 19)

Last night, Andy and I took a 15 hour train ride from Rome to Palermo, Sicily. That train ride was one of the most uncomfortable nights so far. We had a layover day in Rome where we just grabbed a bit to eat at a pizza place (by the way, pizza prices are really good — for €5 you get a great full-sized pizza) and walked around the Spanish steps and down all the fancy shopping streets with Gucci, Fendi, Prada, and so on. That made us feel really poor. Also, we dropped by the Colosseum and the ancient Forum and walked around a bit and listened to some guided tours as we pretended to tie our shoe for five minutes — haha. We caught the train at about 9 the evening and after a long day in hot and muggy Rome we were so sticky and gross. This, and the fact that we had taken a night train and still had sweat from the day before didn't help. When we got to the train station we saw shower signs that looked to be connected to the bathroom. Like a cruel joke, the shower signs directed us all around the station and we could never find them. That was really really annoying.

I got so desperate that I decided to take a shower on the train in the sink. This is pretty funny because as soon as I went in the bathroom a nun started a line behind me to use the same bathroom. Well, needless to say I made kind of a mess because the sink was on a 5 second timer and I had to splash water on me and get in some really weird positions that I think yoga would have helped with. By the time I finished there wasn't a dry spot in the bathroom. I proceeded to dry myself off with toilet paper and when I got back to our compartment I had bits and pieces of toilet paper all over my body because that stuff falls off easily when wet.

Andy and I spent our first day in Sicily on the beach. We met a guy named Paul, who graduated from school in Mississippi or somewhere down south. The 3 of us chilled on the beach all day. Well, actually, the way the beach is set up there really isn't much public area because the tide comes in really far and there are mini shacks that private owners rent out. So — there is only about 4 feet of public beach, which meant we had our back against a fence and feet in the water, but we still had a good time.

That afternoon we caught the train to Messina (still in Sicily). We got in and spend a good part of our evening searching for an internet place. Our two hour search could have been cut in half if people down here actually spoke a word of English, or if we spoke a word of Italian. We kept getting send on wild goose chases. At about 8 or so we split up. Andy went one direction in search of one more lead for an internet place and I went in another direction in search of food. Andy had the map and I — with my horrible short term memory — had forgotten the name of our hotel. So, I went in the direction of where I thought our hotel was, but in retrospect missed it by one street! I ended up being lost for 3 hours in the city and must have walked five miles searching.

I actually passed the same couple 4 times while they ate dinner and by the 3rd and 4th pass they just laughed and stared at me. It was horrible. Now that I think about it, I must have appeared scary to people walking by me because I was swearing, punching my fists in frustration, and wearing clothes with holes all over. I was nearly in tears and ready to sit down next to a gang of stray cats when I decided to try one last time at asking someone for help. I went into a hotel and found probably the only person in Messina who speaks English. She ended up calling all the hotels in town and asking for a reservation under our names. I would probably still be on the streets now if not for her help. I got back to the hotel, bought and ate two full-sized pizzas, and just crashed.

European Driving — Andy

I've been thinking about European drivers recently. Everybody drives with a sense that "of course there is no one around this corner on a one-lane road with rocks on one side and a cliff on the other."

Also having to do with traffic, something I thought was quite funny happened last night. Alex and I were now into our second hour looking for an internet cafe, when I decided to ask a Sicilian police officer where I might find one. Because he didn't speak English, I made the motions of fingers on a keyboard. Shortly after, we arrived at a piano store. On the way there, this officer accompanied us while we blatantly walked when the little guy was red as well which subsequently stopped lots of traffic. Just one of those things that can only happen outside the US!

Why Sicily?- Andy (July 21)

Alex and I are in Sicily right now. Maybe around six months ago, I spent a good week out of school being sick — so like any other kid in their right mind, I made my way to the video store and picked out a couple movies. I chose Godfather I, Godfather II and, of course, the third. This quickly got me hooked, and it wasn't much longer before I went and bought the original book. It was a great book, and I later found out that the author was on the set of nearly every scene in the movies so it mirrored it almost perfectly. So, this got me thinking about "Sicilia." Currently, I'm reading a book about the "maxi-trials" that took place in the early nineties that were designed to cripple the mafia, and eventually do away with it.

When I think about why I am fascinated by the mafia, I realized these events happened when I was alive. Consequently, I can almost relate to it, as opposed to studying about Louis the Whatever in European history. On the other hand, these "Mafioso" had a very strong influence all the way through the end of the '80s and there are even some small cells operating today. That kind of stuff is amazing to me.

While working to pay for this trip, I spent a lot of time with a lady in my dad's office who guides his Italy tours. She explained to me that the mafia is so secret that many people live their whole lives in Sicily never knowing exactly what it is and how it works. She said to watch for all the freeways in Sicily and how they're all on stilts. The reason for this was that the mafia secured contracts from the government, and put them through tough building terrain to inflate prices and get more money.

More Sicilia (Palermo and Corelone) — Andy (July 23)

Let me talk a little more about the Sicilian culture I've learned over the last couple days here. In a couple of the books I've read about the island, they've all mentioned one word: "Omerta." Basically, this means "silence." In other words, people in Sicily keep to themselves and mind their own business.

They take this to the extreme. In the late '80s and early '90s, there were even cases of dead bodies that were left to rot in open truck beds in Palermo. Several days passed with nobody contacting the police, and eventually the only reason they were contacted is because some construction workers were having a hard time working through such a stench on their site down the block. Crazy!

Also, kids were taught never to talk to strangers — even to offer directions. This was because somebody could be asking for the house of somebody they were about to murder, and consequently the family of whoever told them where they lived could all be killed off. The mafia here was pretty extreme.

This brings up another interesting point. The word "mafia" is almost never uttered. Instead, people refer to the phenomenon as "Cosa Nostra," or "our thing." As with many other things, Sicilians have pride, especially when it comes to this, and to title organized crime with such a euphemism is amazing. Members of the mafia were never called that. Instead (if ever talked about) they were called "men of honor" or "a friend of the friends." There's so much I don't even know about or understand about this, especially because I'm an outsider. I have a hard time imagining what lays in the dark and the recent history of Sicily's "Cosa Nostra."

Club Searching in Palermo — Alex (July 24)

The past two days have been pretty low-key for us. We took an uneventful night train to Naples last night but that's about it. However, on Friday night Andy and I decided not to be losers and go to bed at 11:30 again so we ventured out onto the city.

We had a tip from a guy that was passing out fliers on the beach a few days earlier about a club 40 minutes away on the beach so we hopped on the train at 10:45 and we were off. No sooner had we boarded the train when 6 local teenage boys (probably about 15 years-old) got on and basically started hitting on anything with breasts. The Sicilian guys are very, very aggressive and from what we have noticed act pretty immature. But, we started talking to them in our very limited Italian and they tried to talk to us in their English that mostly consisted of "son of a bitch" and F-YOU, but they seemed to be nice. We showed them the club we wanted to go to and they told us to get off at a certain stop. We hopped off and seemed lost so they got off as well and helped us out. We were walking for a good 15 minutes before they looked at the club address and realized we were going the wrong way and headed back to the hotel. So, now it is 11:30 and the last bus leaves at midnight but we have a taxi number so we aren't too worried if we stay longer down here and miss it. We finally get to the club and what would you's closed!

Our little tour guides leave us because they have a 11 o'clock curfew so we are on our own again. We keep on walking and decided to ask some cops for directions (remember no one speaks English so there are a lot of hand signals involved) and they tell us to go the best club in town; they walk with us for a few blocks's the exact same club that we just came from that was closed! We then started walking down all the streets and asking people our age on the street where the parties are and they just kind of look at us funny and sometimes they would tell us but it would result in a dead end. We tried sooooooooooo hard that night to find some place to dance and meet pretty ladies but all our hopes were shot down hard core.

By that time, we gave up and managed to catch what we thought was the last bus back to town. But it only took us 2 blocks and the driver said that he felt like being off of work so the ride was over. He said he thought there should be another bus coming but he didn't know when or if it even was going to come. So, we waited at a bus stop for 30 minutes until a group of nurses from the US who were interning here offered to share a cab ride with us. We took them up on the offer and one of the women had been living here for 6 months and recommended a really lively hang out spot and told the driver to drop Andy and me off there.

By this time it was 1:15 and we got to the ally and it was just packed with bars and people sitting in the street and drinking. We walked the ally for a while and actually found 2 clubs but for some odd reason they were completely empty. We were both really tired from this entire day and didn't really feel like starting up a conversation with people that didn't speak English so we walked back to our hotel and crashed. Interesting evening though.

Naples and the Big Rip-off — Andy (July 26)

So let's talk about Naples. For some reason, the name reminds me of "armpit," I don't know why, maybe it's just the sound of it. I don't like it much. For these past couple nights, we've been staying in Sorrento, about an hour by train outside of the big city. Today, we decided to take a day trip to the city. As we were coming in, we could smell it as well as see the smog before we could even see the towers of the city. We spent an exhausting day just walking around. We saw the aquarium as well as did the guided walking tour in my dad's book. Of course we stopped at the gelato place he recommends at the end, which I guess is the oldest in the city. Besides being incredibly regular, the ice cream wasn't even that good. They only thing that set it apart was the goofy white and pink stripe uniforms the scoopers had to wear.

When we were finished with our sightseeing, we turned toward the "Stazione Centrale." When we were about 150 meters from the station, we stopped at one of the street vendors you're never supposed to.

This one was cool though, they had 3 cell phones, 2 nice cameras as well as a video camera. And each was top of the line. So we stopped and started talking to the guy. He starts off at 150 euros, but we get him down to 100 euros total for 2 phones. This was a real nice deal, especially considering the same phones were being sold in the store at the end of the street for 6 or 7 times as much. Skeptical, I even called my friend's mom in the USA. She answered and I talked with her for about a minute, then I said I'd explain later. So Alex and I were like, "let's do it." Alex had the fifty euros on him, but I needed to stop at the corner for an ATM. All the signs were there, he was attempting to put everything in a small box, cell phones with the cords. Which made sense; he was just trying to keep a low profile. So we three made our way down to the corner. By this time, he had put the box in a plastic bag and was tying it. We hadn't given him the money yet. I eventually got my money, and both Alex and I paid him. We shook hands and he gave us the box and we walked our separate ways.

We stopped into a small bar to get a sandwich before catching the train, Alex popped the box open as I was ordering. All he saw was a water bottle fitting snuggly in there. Awwwww mannn! It sucked sooo bad! Imagine being a giddy kid, after what you thought was an honest deal between us and him, getting a real nice cell phone they don't even sell in the states. I don't even care about the 50 euros that much. It sucks, but I mean I had it coming; I just wanted to play with my new phone that had bluetooth, mp3, 1.3 meg camera, color screen, video camera, and everything! Then, besides the financial slap, it's the whole mental one too. You're just stunned, and thinking, "damn!"

But no, I ain't going to be one of those freakin' idiots. I know he's gonna be on the same corner tomorrow morning. Alex and I both agree it's time to be a man. I'm gonna get that phone back, and Alex will get his back. We got a long train ride tomorrow, and I wanna have the phone I paid for.

So guess what Neapolitain, you got a couple American boys coming for you tomorrow. I know this isn't smart — of course he could have a knife — but I want that phone. I got my big class ring on my middle finger, and I'm about to leave a "2005" in someone's forehead. Of course, I'm not looking for violence, Alex and I are just gonna go on a jog around the neighborhood, and pick up some phones. Hopefully, he'll have gotten too drunk — courtesy of us — the night before, and will sadly get a sideache in about one city block. Oh well, I'll tell you how it goes.

P.S. I don't like Naples. Save money as well as time and spend it for better things in the Cinque Terre or Sicily.

Palermo, Naples and Florence — Andy (July 28)

Alright, so we went back into Naples with an entire plan of how we were going to swipe the phones, as well as how we were going to get away. We spent a while looking for him, but never actually found him. This is the kind of thing that I know I'll be squirming about when I'm 50. I have a hard time when someone gets the better of me.

In the last week we've been in Naples, Amalfi Coast, Sicily and now Florence. The changes in culture have been interesting. I've heard people tell me that the farther south you get in Italy, the crazier it gets. However, I really enjoyed Palermo. It had just the right number of people running red lights, and the right combination of crazy and nice people. One thing I noticed during my time there was the reaction of people when I asked them if they spoke English. Instead of shaking their head no, a little out of shame, like it seems some Northerners do (in Cinque Terre, Rome, Florence) these Sicilians would laugh at you. Several even proudly proclaimed "Dees ees Sicilia! No Speeka Anglaize!" Despite the inconvenience, I ended up enjoying their pride, finding myself admiring it. Again, they have a very deep culture, and it makes itself evident in a million ways.

We took a night train from Palermo to Naples. The difference was like day and night. Naples was much dirtier, much darker, and much more impersonal. Maybe my opinion is tainted by my experience of being conned, but in the end, I don't care. The only reason I think I would return is to come with a group of my buddies and find the dude that made a fool of me.

"The Amalfi Coast is so beautiful, though!" you might say. In reality, it really isn't. The smog in the region seems to rival LA. And the only way to really enjoy the area, I'm sure, is to drop more than €500 a day, something I wasn't about to do.

Yesterday we came into Florence. Big change. Immediately I noticed people obeying traffic signals, and even yielding a few times! People were more considerate. But I also noticed the tourists. The place is full of foreigners. I don't know yet what I think of that, because I always enjoy speaking English. So it's all good. I'll let you know if we see the David.

Hunger — Alex

Andy and I are on a budget and that means we have to have limits and can't just buy everything and anything our hearts desire. Also, part of being on a budget means knowing how to make a penny scream by pinching it so tight. A perfect example of this is food. It's easy to go out to a restaurant and spent 20 euros on a meal that will last you 3 hours or so and you'll be pretty fulfilled. However, in our case we go to the store and spend 9 euros and have enough food to last us the whole day. We'll eat little things like crackers that we can snack on all day long and it costs a fraction of a restaurant. Usually I will buy apples, bananas, pre-made sandwiches, a loaf of bread, cookies, and once in a while peanut butter (a jar lasts days). Once in a while we can we buy meat for some good protein. That is pretty typical and we hit most of the main food groups.

Breakfast is a different story. We Americans love our large, full and hearty breakfasts — one as meaty and big as a dinner. However, Europeans prefer a piece of bread, maybe some butter, water, and if you are lucky another piece of bread. So as you can see, a meal that's important to us, just isn't that important to them.

Sometimes I wonder if we have been malnourishing ourselves. Andy and I have become very accustomed to eating a piece of bread in the morning and due to the budget we sometimes won't eat until the afternoon — that is, until our stomachs start to hurt. This may sound bad, but we've become used to this pattern. When we haven't eaten in 6 or more hours, we know we need to eat but the sight of food sometimes makes me sick and I just can't eat it — or if I do I have to in small doses. I dare say that we may have had malnutrition to a degree because we would sleep up to 12 hours a day (including naps) and eat small meals and most of the time only 2 main meals a day. But now we realized that this was a mistake and by spending an extra 5 euros a day for food, we were living normally again. But hey, you live and learn and we are young enough that we can bounce back. Getting old will really, really suck.

Friends in Other Places — Andy (July 29)

One of the aspects I've really enjoyed about our trip is the people we've met — both those we already knew and new friends we've made along the way. We've had good people experiences in each city — some were planned, and others were pure accident. For example, on our 2nd day in Europe, as I was leaving the hotel, I ran into Ben, one of my father's tour guides. In Paris, we met up with a family from Washington state and spent a day with them. In Madrid, we made friends with a couple girls attending the U of O. Next, in Barcelona, we met up with the son of Alex's mother's friend who was doing some foreign study. In the French Riviera, we met up with a school group from our high school. The day after we left them, we bumped into Ben and his group again in the Cinque Terre. After that, we made friends with the couple of Belgians and Taiwanese kids in France as we watched the Tour de France. When we got in to Interlaken, Switzerland, we spent a whole day with Fritz, a hotel manager recommended in my father's guidebooks. In Sicily, we met some people from an American cruise that docked for the day in the town we were staying in. Naples was the only city we didn't see people we knew in, and also it has been the only city I didn't like (correlation?). Now, in Florence, we've met up with my mom and sister and spent the last few days with them.

It's amazing when I think how big this world really is, but around every corner there's someone I know. It really makes this world seem less huge, as it should, and consequently, the borders between "us" and "them" are blurred more and more. As technology also works to make this a smaller and smaller world, I believe it's important to experience, through travel, how each of us is in this life together and how every one deserves the same respect.

Night Life — Alex

The nightlife in Europe is very fun. We never really went out at night until we got to Madrid and since then we've been having a blast. The most recent example was two nights ago when we did what is called a Florence pub crawl. You pay €15 and get into 4 bars and a club at the very end while getting great drink specials at each bar.

We met a whole bunch of new people, but everyone we meet is in their mid-20s and most of them have graduated college already. Therefore, I tell most girls that I am 20 or 22 depending on how much they've had to drink and how long my beard is. So it's kind of weird at first to talk to them because our lives are in such different places but they are all really easy to talk to and the age difference doesn't affect anything in the end.

Anyway, the Florence pub crawl ended at a club and the majority of the people dancing there were from our tour because it was a Thursday night and not many locals were out. Now, this isn't something that I am proud of by any means, but I feel comfortable enough saying it on the web because no one can laugh at my face (at least until I get home). So, here's the story: We get to the club at about 11:30 and everyone is drinking and having a great time and just dancing. (FYI, Europeans dance very very strange. Basically think of how you would dance in your room with no one watching and that's basically how they dance.)

So one of my friends, a high school teacher from Australia, and I started working the dance floor. The first person I tried talking and dancing with was a 5 foot 7 Italian bombshell that was dancing very provocatively by herself so I figured why not give it a shot...I was wrong. I went up to her and of course she didn't speak English so I tried dancing with her and she just gave me a blank stare like "what are you doing, do you realize how hot I am?" So I tried my pick-up line, roughly translated it means you are the prettiest girl in the world, and I basically was digging myself into a ditch and ended up getting pushed away.

I went back to where Andy was sitting and sat for a while until I got enough confidence built up again to try my luck. To make a long story short, I was rejected by 14 girls that night (and there probably were only 10 there, so think about how desperate I was). That had to be one of the darkest days so far. But the pub crawl was awesome in general; I would highly recommend it.

Andy and I have been really enjoying the nightlife in Europe. We've met great people all along the way — many who we've stayed in contact with. It will be a real change of pace to go back to our little old hometown of Edmonds and not be able to go out onto a heavily crowded street and find something to do. But college is only a month away so I'll manage.

Italians Behind the Wheel — Andy (July 30)

When I think of Italians, I see rolling hills, and deep green valleys covered with the stripes of vineyards. I see relaxed people, killing time with a bottle of wine, cheese and some bread. I see others relaxing on the beach getting ever closer to the color of dirt, in more ways then one (through skin cancer as well as the desired skin tone). I can hear them saying, "Don'ta worry abawt eet. Enjoya da beecha."

But everything completely changes when they get behind the wheel of a car, or take a seat on their little mopeds. Horns seem to make up a constant and angry symphony. When they see a hesitating pedestrian, they aim for them. When a light has been red for too long, they decide to take the "logical option" and run it. Speed limit signs are rare...and rarely followed. Aggressive driving attitudes are universal too — bus drivers to old ladies — everyone needs to get where they're going 5 minutes ago. Just another curiosity of Italia.

Girls — Alex (August 1)

OK, let's touch on a topic that we haven't mentioned much so far: girls. They are a beautiful thing and seem to be even more beautiful in Europe. However, it is probably the scariest thing in the world to go up to a gorgeous Sicilian woman who doesn't speak any English and try and talk to her. But, we seem to manage just fine. Andy has a girlfriend back at home (I feel bad for him because they are really hot over here) so I usually fly solo. But he comes along for support sometimes. thing I've learned is that all girls really are is trouble. Take last Saturday night for example, Andy and I were going all out because it was our last night not only in Florence but also our last Saturday in Europe. So we went back to the same club that had put me to shame the other night.

As soon as we walked in the door (around midnight) I saw these two beautiful British girls. So naturally I was scared to death to talk to them. The fact that they had literally a line of guys following them didn't help my confidence. Also, I was still recovering from the night that I was rejected 14 times, so I gave it about 30 minutes and got warmed up. We started talking and they seemed nice enough, but as soon as they asked me to buy them a drink I should have walked away...but they were just too pretty and every guy there wanted to be me at that moment so I had to. It wasn't that bad though, we got some drinks and started dancing for a while and had some "fun" and about 30 minutes into it I had to go to the bathroom so I left and told them I'd be right back. Well...when I got back (remember there is about 8 or 10 guys dancing around us just waiting to cut in so I had to just glare at all of them and fend them off like savage dogs) my girls were of course dancing with other guys. I went up to one of the girls and touched her shoulder and she slapped me! She turned around and looked at me and said no! I'm still a little confused about that but they were just using me in the end for my money. Also, I got in a fight because some guy tried to cut in and I told him no and he pushed me. Well, I don't take that sitting down, so let's just say I let him know how I felt. In general that whole night was just drama and I suppose I always knew that anytime you mix girls, alcohol, dancing, and money it will lead to trouble.

That was two nights ago. Last night we went out again on Rome Pub Crawl put on by the same guys who did the one in Florence. I met some more pretty ladies and we also had some more "fun" and met some great people. They were the same type of girls — I can spot them a mile away because they are the ones that when you go up and say hi and try and shake their hand they just look at it and give you that look like "excuse me, what do you think you are doing?" But as soon as you pull your wallet out they are your best friends. But I avoided them and just hung out with the people that were actually nice to us. I think tonight I'll stay in and actually sleep — that sounds like a great idea.

Last Day in Europe — Alex

Today is our last day in Europe and I have mixed emotions. To start with, I have loved every minute of this trip and am really, really not looking forward to going back to little old Edmonds where on a Saturday night when you get bored you go to the mall. Contrast that with everywhere we have been where you can walk the streets in some of the biggest cities in the world and always find something interesting to do. It'll be quite the shock to go back. The trip has seemed to go by so fast that I feel we just arrived in Amsterdam yesterday. Everything in-between is a blur. On the other hand, I do want to go home because all my friends are leaving for college in about 10 days and I want to hang out with them before they leave.

And I of course want to see my family. It is rather odd, though. For being gone for 45 days I never got homesick. All I missed, to tell you the truth, was my dog (as soon as my mom reads this I'm a dead man, haha). Writing on the subject of leaving Europe is for some reason, at least for me, difficult because every time I try and write about leaving I have retrospection on a certain place we visited. My mind will wander to a fond memory of a fun night, great friends we have met, and everything in-between (think of Switzerland: paragliding and drinking 3 liters of beer out of a glass boot, think of Sicily: the most beautiful women and a melting pot of the world, think of France: Tour de France and hitchhiking while meeting some great people from around the world and what more is there to say than just PARIS). I'm so glad it's that way though. This trip has been more than I've expected. I can't imagine going to college without going on a trip like this, really learning about so many things but especially really learning about me. And learning to be independent. I've LOVED every minute of it.

Trip Highlights — Alex

This trip had a full itinerary and was filled with great memories. However, the one place I regret not spending more time in was Barcelona. We only stayed for one night because of a prior engagement in Nice. I wish we would have cut Naples out of the trip and had those days in Barcelona. Here's what I'll do, I'll list all the cities / countries we visited and give a quick overview.

1. Amsterdam: WOW!!!!! I think that pretty much sums Amsterdam up, haha. Actually Andy and I were really mellow there because we had bad jet lag and would go to bed at about 10 every night and wake up at 2 in the morning. Also, we were in a town outside Amsterdam (Haarlem) and not much was going on at 2 a.m. So I would play cards while Andy watched MTV — that seemed to happen every night. In spite of the "nightlife," Amsterdam was awesome.

2. France: Umm...well Paris was interesting — but it didn't meet my expectations for being "the city of love." Actually it was a dirty city and the closest thing to love I saw was teenage guys, like in Italy, yelling at girls as they walked by. However, as nerdy as it sounds they do have some really interesting museums and historic places. Monaco and Nice were amazing. Monaco reminded me exactly of Maui, Hawaii. When you looked out of the city from certain vantage points you'd see all the high-rise apartments and beautiful harbor and water. Money is a huge driving force there and for that exact reason I loved it. You could walk down the street and see ten Bentleys and countless Ferraris and Lamborghinis; it was great!

3. Spain: To tell you the truth, I hated Madrid at first. All it really is is a town in the middle of a desert that gets freakishly hot and for some reason some jackass decided to build a city there. However, after we met some people to hang out with — two girls that were studying there — the city was great. And how could I forget the incident when I was attacked by a hooker late one night coming back from the bars. I was walking down the street and Andy was on the other side of me and all of the sudden a huge figure came at me and well...there was definite cuppage. Barcelona was great. I loved it because it was on the beach and, again, because I had a friend there. Ryan, who is studying there, made a lot of things easier because he spoke fluent Spanish and actually knew what to do in the town. The best memory by far, though, was when we visited Ryan's host family and they put on this huge meal in our honor. When we were watching EuroSport TV, Andy and I fell fast asleep and from what Ryan tells me the family would just point and laugh at us and poke us, but then we woke up! Kind of random, but it was great — all part of the experience. After dinner the dad showed us his gun collection. I'll never forget Andy holding a gun from the Napoleonic wars in front of a trap door with enough guns for a private army? It was amazing, some of the guns dated back hundreds of years.

4. Switzerland:  What else is there to say about Switzerland besides outdoor sports? The people that live there are freakin' crazy! Our first full day, we went on this very intense outdoor activity day with Fritz....we went mountain biking for 4 hours, paragliding, and hiking, all literally right after each other while not stopping for food. Everyone there is so fit I wouldn't be surprised to hear the life expectancy is 200 years. That was in Interlaken and then we went to the hostel in Gimmewald where we basically chilled and hung out with new friends all day long. Quite a different experience and I loved it. I kind of wish we would have stayed in more hostels along the way but then again in cheap hotels you don't have a curfew and you don't get kicked out in the morning.

5. Italy: Let's start with Cinque Terre. By far the most beautiful place we visited. I don't know how else to describe it besides WOW, and that's every person's reaction. Also we met some great people when we would roam the towns at night. Good memories. a nutshell Sicily is a birthing place for the hottest women and a melting pot where Africa, Europe, new and old all come together. Andy really is into the whole Mafia thing so that made it an interesting experience. The funny thing is, every time we told a local Italian we were going to Sicily they would do the hand motion of slitting the throat...every time. People think we are crazy for going there, but you have to go looking for that kind of trouble and be really stupid to get involved in it. It felt as safe as most other places we visited. Naples...All I will say about Naples is a third of the people there are unemployed. Florence...everyone seems to say this is their favorite city in Europe. Florence was amazing mainly because we met up with Andy's mom and sister (Anne and Jackie) so we got a lot of free meals and good company. The sights were cool but having new people to talk to was really important also. We did the pub crawl there too; I would recommend that to anyone around my age (18-28) which was great and we have a lot of new friends and probably places to stay around the world for free. I liked Florence, but I liked Rome more. I will sum our trip: GREAT.

Reflections — Andy (August 6)

Yes, so our trip is finally, and sadly over. Now, it's time for me to enlighten my audience with an especially profound idea or new outlook on life. Thing is though, I don't have just one single thing to say. That's what you begin to realize when you're overseas. Sure, you may spend an hour in this museum, or see that attraction, but you're in Europe 24/7 not just during museum hours. It's the people you meet, the random things you see, different cultures you experience that make up the real substance of a foreign adventure, and that's what makes you a different person when you return home.

While I was over in Europe, I thought a lot about time itself. It's a strange thing. Every time I start trying to understand time, I end up more confused about it. For me, the middle of the trip, like in Switzerland, seems farther away to me than saying good-bye to my parents at the airport back in June. Then I consider how people save up for years for a month-long vacation, putting in extra hours, and waiting on buying something like a car. Our vacation was over in a snap. This almost seems depressing, and that's why I usually stop thinking about it there. But really, it's the memories that last in your mind. You wish you could share them, but in the end, only you were at a spot in time as well as space. No one can ever be there the same way you were. That's life though, and that's what makes it special; people must make the most of every second of every day. Otherwise, you start regretting time wasted like standing in lines for 2 hours for a special attraction (that's why you need good guidebooks ;-).

Also, now I know what the travel bug is, and yes, I consider myself a victim. I look forward to my next trip, and while I enjoyed this trip to the fullest extent, I also considered it a practice one for subsequent adventures. Thanks for reading, and hope you enjoyed it.

For those of you that are curious, I leave for the University of Notre Dame in about a week, and look forward to studying at there. I have a wide range of interests including Business, Architecture and Mechanical Engineering. By my graduation, right now, I hope to have worked out some kind of combination of two of those subjects mentioned. However, while I was over in Europe, the idea of studying romance languages popped in to my head. Because I already got French mostly under my belt, I've been planning to study Italian in college, and possibly Spanish after that because it has so many speakers across the world.

Thanks again, and enjoy your own travels!

— Andy