Category Archives: EuroTrip 2016

The Adventure Has Come to An End

As of 11:20pm on December 21st, my 2month/63 day/18 country adventure has finally come to an end…. It took 3 flights and around 22 hours to finally get home – including 3 different border crossings, one too many beers at the Dublin Airport, and an 8 hour flight with a crying baby two aisles over. And ultimately I can say the trip was a success! Minus a few poorly planned moments.

To say I am tired is an understatement. Those that follow my blog might have realized this – I pretty much gave up on blogging after I reached London. Every night I would get back to the hostel, talk to the people in my room, attempt to plan what I would write for my blog post, then end up falling asleep before I even opened the WordPress app on my phone. Even in Norway, my brain was so dead I couldn’t even think of what I would write about (to be honest, my brain is still in that mode! Jet lag has destroyed my ability to sleep past 9am or stay up past 8pm.)

Normally when I come home from a long time away, I’ll start to unpack and give my parents their gifts. This time? Straight upstairs to take a shower (22 hours in airports makes you feel super grimy) and fall straight asleep. But now that I am home, and my brain is starting to remotely work again, I’m going to try to catch up on some missed posts with the cool stories from those days!

Also, since it is Christmas Eve and the beginning of Hanukkah, happy holidays everyone!

The Front of the Train

So I have this fear. Well, not so much a fear as a rational opinion based on a series of facts. I do not like to sit in the front carriages of a train. Why? Because, should the train crash, those carriages are always the ones with the most carnage. And while I am not really afraid of death, I’d rather not die in a train crash. Or lose a limb. Or have any other permenant injury. I’d really just prefer to be at the very back of the train where I can go and help if something happened, rather than be one of the people needing help.  See? Totally rational right? 
And since I am a totally rational person who would prefer not to die or be injured in a train crash, I have actively avoided sitting in the first 3 carriages of any train, including metros, my entire trip. And it worked – until today.
Today I took a train to London from Paris. Things I learned: you have to go through full out airport-style customs to get onto the train. And once you have, they even have dutyfree stores. Just like airports. Cool. Also super glad I got to the train station an hour early; customs took forever. 
Thing I did not like: I was sitting backwards. Again. But this time I hadn’t eaten in 18hrs, so bright side: less motion sickness. Thing I really, really didn’t like: my assigned seat was Car 2, seat 83, AT THE VERY FRONT OF THE TRAIN. 😐 Cue massive internal freak out. Best part? Dude next to me kept muttering in angry French about the train company doing something stupid. When you are internally freaking out, having a super angry dude sitting next to you really doesn’t help. At all. 

I ended up walking to the food cart (safely 5 carriages in, away from potential danger), and stood there ‘eating’ random small things until I got tired of train surfing (there were no seats so you had to stand and ride the train like a surfboard and hope not to be thrown around by the shaking of the train. I claimed one of the tables to hold on to for better stability, but it was still super hard to stay still. Good leg and core workout though!)
Thankfully the train ride was uneventful. You couldn’t even tell when we went under the English Channel (which was a bit disappointing; I had hoped it would be more obvious.) And now I am safely in the hostel, waiting to check in.
One last thing before I end my post today – OMG I AM SO HAPPY EVERYONE SPEAKS ENGLISH NO MORE MIMING WHAT I MEAN I CAN ACTUALLY UNDERSTAND STREET SIGNS AND WHAT PEOPLE SAY AKDJDOSKSNDNDKSKSJSKSKSKSKSJSJSKS!!!!!!!!  As you can tell, I am pretty happy to be in England.

PS Dad – I am still alive. And can finally understand the people around me. It is glorious. 

Paris is Freaking Cold

When you only have a day or two in each city, it is hard to budget your time well enough to see all that you want to see. For Paris, I specifically wanted to see Versailles and the most famous monuments in the city. Since yesterday I went to Versailles,  today I decided to ride around Paris with one of the giant double decker tourist buses. And it was cool. Freaking cool. 

But not the cool we think colloqually, I mean it temperature-wise, because in the beginning I was thinking ‘oh its nice outside! I’ll just put on my scarf and gloves and ride the tour the full 2.5hrs. It’ll be great!’ But by the end I was thinking ‘HOLY MOTHER OF GOD I AM SO COLD WHERE IS A WARM PLACE I CANT FEEL MY HANDS! Is my pinky turning blue? DO I HAVE FROSTBITE?!?’ 

Because, you see, driving around Paris in 40F/4C degree weather is all fine and dandy – if there is sun and no breeze. Only Paris was channeling Vancouver today, and there was no sun and – by the end of my journey – a pretty heavy breeze.

Here is the funniest part to me – something I didnt realize until just a few minutes ago. To warm up I decided to go into some retail stores and window shop. So first I went to a coffee store, and got some coffee for my soul. Then I went to a Lindt chocolate store, and bought a bag of chocolates (again – to warm up my soul). And when I was still cold, I went to the UNIQLO store and bought: a black, fleece turtle neck. With the lion’s mane all ruffled from the wind and my turtle neck on, I honestly look like the most stereotypically American idea of a person in Paris. Just add a berret and it would be perfect. But hey, I am finally not freezing again! And when in Rome, right?
PS Dad – I am alive. And have turned Parisian. 

Versailles – HUGE, but a Bit Overrated

Today I went to Versailles. And went on a (sometimes questionable) snapchat rant:

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My thought: a) I dont understand art; b) as a corny joke in my head – did the zombies get them?

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Eventually I left Versailles and went to Montparnasse Tower, a skyscrapper with a 360degree view of the city:

PS Dad – I am still alive. And no, you cannot give me a history lesson on Versailles.

Motion Sickness Strikes Again

So it turns out, I have a third antagonist on this trip. Only its more than just an antagonist, its more like an arch nemesis. What is this evil thing that is making parts of my trip hell? Motion sickness 😑 F$&!ing motion sickness…. 

Every time I sit on a train not facing the direction the train is going – motion sickness strikes. Every time I eat too much (and by too much I mean eat anything more than an apple) before a train – motion sickness strikes. Every time I try to do anything but look out the window – motion sickness strikes. I even think about taking a bus (which can be sometimes 100euro cheaper than the train) – nope; motion sickness will kill me.

Can I read on a train? Nope. Can I look at photos? Nope. Can I write in my travel journal? Only if I want to throw up. I literally have spent every train ride this trip either testing fate by trying to write a blog post/write in my journal, or looking out the window for hours on end. If I am lucky, I’ll be fine. Was I lucky today? No. No I was not.

Why? Because I got on my train to Paris, much too full from breakfast (I had two pieces of toast and a bowl of cereal; life is cruel when that is considered ‘too full’), and my assigned seat is facing the opposite direction of how the 3.5hr train is going 😐 Translation: I either fall asleep for the entire ride (not favorable, I wanted to see the countryside from the train) or I buckle up for a 3.5hr ride from hell….

I ended up falling asleep for half the ride, then looking out the window the rest. Now I am finally at the hostel, but my stomach is still doing summersaults and I feel awful 😫 This happened on our way to Geneva too – only then I ended up laying in bed the rest of the day and only felt better the next morning… I only have three days in Paris; I really don’t want to spend them curled in a ball….

So summary of my life for today = I feel awful and motion sickness is my arch nemesis. 

PS Dad – I am alive, and I curse you and mom for whatever genetics you gave me that make me so prone to motion sickness.

“Would You Like Wine with That?”

One of the widespread stereotypes about French people is they are very particular about their food. Every dish has a wine that pairs with it; extreme care is put into the preparations at nice restuarants to ensure the food is truly delicious. And it works – France is one of the leading countries for culinary arts. Whats awkward, though, is when you go to a French cafe at 11:30am, order a salad with goat cheese, and end up having 3 different waiters come by asking if you want red wine with it. At 11:30am.


I’ll admit – had it been maybe 3pm, I would have taken them up on the offer. But I made the mistake of drinking alcohol midday in Brussels and learned there are not enough free bathrooms in Europe to risk it again. But then – while I am writing this – a fellow customer came over and asked why I was eating goat cheese without drinking red wine too! 😂 

Ya’ll. Let me just stress something. I am not even in France yet – I am still in Geneva! (Side historical note – Geneva was part of France until after the Napoleonic Wars when it because part of Switzerland. So they maintain a significant amount of their French culture, and still speak French – as opposed to the German spoken in other parts of Switzerland.) If this is the response I get by not day-drinking with meals in Switzerland, Paris is going to be very interesting! 😂

Thankfully no one questioned my drink choice while I was eating dessert, but then again I was too engulfed in eating my delicious profiteroles to have noticed had someone tried to talk to me.


(Again, as I was writing, a fellow customer and I started talking about which is better – Swiss or Belgian chocolate 😂 Apparently Swiss has more sugar in it; no wonder I like it more. Plus it doesn’t have hazelnut in it!)
PS Dad – I am still alive. And full. And using your credit card for lunch 😁

I Got Lost….Again

After nerding out yestetday at the Geneva headquarters of the UN, I decided to nerd out at CERN (Large Hadron Collider) today. The only issue – I got on the train going the wrong direction and ended up on the other side of Geneva…

Unfortunately this is not the first time I have done this. Or the second. Really not even the fifth/ It is actually a fairly regular occurance for me, even when I was living in Vancouver. But every time I get lost, I end up finding something cool along the way – this time I found a cool park with lifesize chess courts and a skating rink. I thought ‘I always end up getting lost anyway; maybe I should just plan to get lost, and then go with it?’ So I did.
I was right next to the tram I needed to CERN, so I jumped back on (this time in the right direction). But once I was done being a total science nerd at CERN, I walked outside and caught the first tram back towards town that came. 
Well. That kind of backfired. Because there was only one tram from CERN back into the city. BUT, by randomly riding that tram, I ended up at this beautiful view:


See those mountains in the background? Yeah, thats the Matterhorn on the left, and Mont Blanc on the right. And the middle is the Jet d’Eau. On their own, each is equally as beautiful. But together? They are beautiful!!! (And it is especially awesome since I won’t be able to see either of the mountains while I’m here…)
At one point the fountain was even creating a rainbow effect as it feel down. Like DAH-AM. I could totally get used to seeing that view every day. And the beautiful view meant I ended up taking about 500 photos of the fountain alone – plus nerdy photos of the two CERN museums (Microcasm and Universe of Particles). I am pretty sure I’ll have 20,000 photos from this trip alone by the time I get home. But it is worth it, right?
PS Dad – I am alive. And I have further proof of how similar to you I am:

P.PS. – Update on the Mane. I let it free today because half of it fell out of the braid on the way to CERN. By the end of the day, here is what it looked like:

Mini-afro time.

Three Headquarters Down, One to Go

When I first decided to come backpack Europe, one of my immediate thoughts was ‘I have to go to Geneva so I can go to the United Nations!’ As of today, my goal of seeing the UN in Geneva has officially been met!! And it was brilliant!!!! 



I found the Russian permanent mission!
Human Rights Council room

As Ashleigh can attest, I had a full-out nerd freak out, especially when they let us keep our visitor’s badge!!! My new goal (or conclusion for what I have to do with my life – I am pretty determined now) is to work at the Geneva HQ at some point! Which should work out fine, since the Geneva HQ deals with disarmament and human rights, and I want to work with Biological Weapons of Mass Destruction. They are related enough, I think. But enough of my nerding out again – back to my original point.
Little did I know, another of the places on my list – Vienna – also had a headuqarters for the UN. Turns out, there are four main centers for the UN. In order of size: NYC, Geneva, Vienna, and Nairobi. Which means I have now visited 3 of the 4, and nerded out at each of them. Second new goal of the day – visit Nairobi to finish the set!!!

PS Dad – I am still alive, but now I can die a happy MUN nerd. 😁

Update on the Trip’s Two Antagonists: Giant and the Lion’s Mane

As the trip has progressed, my two antagonists – Giant and the Lion’s Mane – have continued their struggles to make my adventures more difficult (or arguably more interesting – depends on how you want to look at it.) For those interested, here is an update on our struggles:

The Lion’s Mane

One day, after a shower, I decided to let the Mane free so it could dry (rather than immediately putting it into a braid as I have been doing, since it was cold outside and braiding it means my hair stays wet for days.) Two hours later, the Mane had poofed up to mature male lion’s mane levels and had arranged itself in the most tangelled manner it could manage. Attempting to get a brush through the Mane was not easy that night – I am pretty sure I pulled out an eighth of my hair. Lions Mane = 3; Lena = -1 (because I gave myself a headache with that damned hairbrush).

Most days I am conscience enough of the Mane’s evil plans, so I keep it in a braid. But recently Ashleigh commented: “You know, the Lion’s Mane gets more poofy throughout the day…” Yes, yes it does. Why? Because it is trying its damned hardest to escape the braid prison. To my dismay (and the Lion’s Mane’s pleasure) I have to re-braid it at least 2 times at day. But the majority of the days I will have to more than twice – the wind and the zipper on my jacket work to Lion’s Mane’s advantage by pulling out strands of hair progressively throughout the day. Lion’s Mane has definitely won the braid prison battle since often I will end up giving up for a day or two – only to have to pull out half my hair with the hairbrush again later. 

Summary of the battle with the Lion’s Mane: It keeps winning, and I need a haircut. Desperately.


Giant

Since its so cold outside, and we have been traveling through countries where snow or rain are possible, I have been keeping my travel/rain cover on Giant whenever we travel. Which is a huge blue cover, that – as a new friend at the hostel in Zurich put it – “Looks like an overgrown smurf.” 😂 Thankfully most of the trains we have taken recently have empty luggage racks, so Giant doesnt have to have a seat to itself anymore, but every time we are waiting for trains Giant sits next to me on a chair (it is the easiest way to put it back on later.) As Ashleigh aptly put it:

Summary of the battle with Giant: Even after liposuction (my parents taking most of the stuff in it home), Giant is still bigger than me. And if Giant decided it wanted to, I’m pretty sure it could crush me….

But at least Giant is fun to cuddle with:

And so the battles continue….. 

PS Dad – I have lost the battles with the Lion’s Mane and Giant, but I am still alive.

Zurich Zoo – Penguin Parade

As everyone can tell, I love zoos. Like really, really love zoos. So today, even though we only had one day in Zurich, we decided to go to the Zurich Zoo. And boy am I happy that we did!!

The zoo is amazing. Not only do the animals have plenty of room and mental enrichments, but they also advertise all over the zoo about the conservation efforts the zoo is involved with. But rather than get on a rant about all the things this zoo does right (I can talk for hours about ethics for zoos), here are some photos:
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10/10, would recommend!

PS Dad – I saw penguins marching in a parade so I am alive and happy!