Monthly Archives: May 2004

I kissed the Detroit Airport floor and lived to tell about it…

Detroit, Michigan

When this trip was over, and I landed in Detroit to catch my connecting flight to Washington, DC, I had never been happier to be in Michigan.  My immediate rehash of the trip left me with a bitter taste in my mouth.  So many things had gone wrong, despite the best laid plans of mice and men.  I was still missing my boots, my cell phone, all my pictures, the postcards people wouldn’t be getting, my credit cards and my backpack.  I didn’t have a dime to my name to get me from the airport in DC to my home in Fairfax, Virginia.  I was hungry.  My roommates couldn’t pick me up (but did offer to pay the cabbie if I had to cab it home) and I didn’t know my mom’s phone number off the top of my head.

I called my father in Wisconsin (collect) and cried over my spilled milk.  He got ahold of my  mother to pick me up in DC, so at least that was solved, but I was still pissy, but at least I was stateside.

Now, 5 years later, looking back, it was an amazing trip and really has made for some of my best stories.  My girlfriends and I still get a laugh out of it and if we need cheering up, we just recall Theresa grabbing the American by the collar, throwing him out a door and saying, “If I’m not getting laid, no one’s getting laid!”

Moral of the story: Yeah, somethings may seem like they really suck, but if you’re alive, breathing, still have the body parts you started with, then consider it a good trip.  For us, the little things were adding up to one big bad problem, but you really can’t sweat the small stuff.  Enjoy them, and know that you came back with a story that no one else can stake claim to.

P.S…how many cliches can I throw in one story…apparently a lot!  So much for priding myself on originality!

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Thank God for hot police officers

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Hangovers are a bitch, but you have to push through them when on vacation.  We got up early with the intent to catch the train into Amsterdam to play tourist.  We got ready and I suggested we drive into the city and park instead of taking the train.  We were going to be heading back to Germany at the end of the day and I didn’t think it made sense to head in and then waste 45 minutes getting back to the hotel, get the car and then drive back toward the city.  So the girls reluctantly agreed with me and we started our drive.
It took some time, but we managed to find the Anne Frank House.  It was the only thing we could agree that we all wanted to see.  I wanted to see the Van Gogh Museum, but the other two didn’t.  We all wanted to do the Heineken Experience, but couldn’t agree on who would stay sober.  So the Anne Frank House it was.  It was a very sobering experience, but one that is more than worth it.  I firmly believe that The Diary of Anne Frank is one that every person should read.
After that, we drove to the Central Train Station to park the car and walk around.  We saw the palace, had some falafel, did some shopping—overall, a very nice day.  We headed back to the car, ready to head back to Germany.  Theresa and I were flying back the next day.  We were glad we had ended on a high note.
Or so we thought.
Now a little bit about our car.  It was Peugot, with German tags.  It had tinted windows and a cover that went across the back.  In other words, no way to physically see that there was luggage in the car.  So imagine our surprise when we unlock the door and discover that 2 out of 3 of our bags were missing.  There was no physical sign of a break in, so we were a bit perplexed as to how our bags were gone.  We got the security guard and brought him over to the car.  We told him someone had broken in and stolen our bags.  The first words out his mouth:  “Well, you’re Americans, that’s why.”
Woah, hold on a moment, we’ve just been robbed and you want to blame the victims?  There has to be some international humanitarian law against that.  He also didn’t want to believe us since the only evidence were the missing bags.  We mentioned our theory that we thought someone with the same make of car was able to use their keys to get in.  Just as he was adamantly stating that that was not possible, someone with the same make and model pulled into a parking space not far from ours.  As they exited the vehicle, he locked his car with his key chain.  Low and behold, our doors locked as well.  Eat that Mr. Security Guard.
Now I was without every single roll of film I had taken on the trip, minus the roll in my camera, all of my postcards, written and addressed, just in need of some stamps, clothes, my wallet and my new boots.  L I was also a bag shy of what I came with, meaning I had to cram everything into one for my trip home.
So we headed to a police station.  It was only a few blocks away, but took forever to get to because I couldn’t read the map.  I’m sorry, Dutch is as foreign a language as I’ll ever see.  I tried hard to pronounce basic words, but I failed miserably.  All the street names looked the same.  Nowhere should “J” and “K” be next to each other any where other than the alphabet.  I kept waiting for my turn on Wheel of Fortune just so I could buy a vowel.
Upon our arrival to the station, we talked to someone through a barred window outside.  He told us to wait outside until an officer could see us.  Megan went off to find a phone to call the lady that we were staying with, since our civilian passes for the military base we were staying at had been stolen.  Not long later, Theresa and I headed into the station to fill out a police report.  The only reason we decided to do this was for insurance purposes only.  The officer they had meet with us, had to be one of the hottest guys ever.  Which sucked, because I looked like shit.  I was wearing my glasses, had been crying and was somewhat scrubbed out.  Could it get any worse?
The officer couldn’t do any paperwork without Megan, since she was the one who had rented the car.  Theresa went off to find her, leaving me with the hot policeman.  We talked some politics and about our trip and how it was like National Lampoons, only in hell.  Theresa and Megan came back, which was good, b/c I was worried that Theresa would get lost trying to find her, turning our stolen property report into a missing persons report.
We ended up getting a copy of our 12-page police report (completely typed in Dutch).  We were off on our “merry” way, but not before taking a picture with the hot policeman before we left.
I was ready for a really big brownie.  I was just a day late and more than a dollar short on that one.
Moral of the Story: Don’t listen to me.  In theory, my advice is sound, but lacks in execution.
I’ll pull from the great Homer Simpson to wrap this trip up:  “I agree with you Marge…in theory.  In theory, Communism works, in theory.”

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Amsterdam: Beware of the blue light special

Amsterdam, Netherlands
We arrived to the Hotel Ibis near Schipol Airport, outside of Amsterdam, around 10 pm.  We had hoped to be there hours earlier, but we’re going to play the hand we were dealt.  We quickly changed and headed to the airport to catch a train into the city.  I was wearing my new $100 boots that I had only worn a couple times and absolutely loved.  I was pretty stoked for our night out.
We got into the Central Train Station and per Theresa’s determination, headed to a bar to find some pot.  Now I don’t smoke and I didn’t have any desire to, but I promised my friends I would in Amsterdam.  We went into the first bar we found and Theresa started asking the appropriate questions.  Unfortunately for her and luckily for me, apparently they stop selling pot after a certain time, and it was too late.  So we headed out to a couple bars and eventually the Red Light District.
We took some twists and turns through the streets and alleys of Amsterdam to get to the Red Light District.  It hits you like a brick wall—no doubt whatsoever where you are.  We turned a corner and found a group of British guys laughing hysterically.  The following conversation commenced:
Me:  “What’s so funny?
GOBG (pointing a half a block up the street):  “Our friend is window shopping.”
Me:  “Yeah, still not following.”
GOBG:  “Walk past and look at what he’s looking at.”
So I walk past, she didn’t look so bad.  The guy’s jaw was practically to the ground and drooling.  So what, more power to him.
Me: “Yeah, still not following.”
GOBG:  “What color was the window?”
Me:  “I don’t know, red?”
GOBG:  “Nope, blue.  Do you know what that means?”
I shake my head no.
GOBG:  “It means it’s a man dressed as a woman, and our friend doesn’t know that.”
Now I was following.  They were just letting him look, one of the guys went and informed their friend of what he was gaping at.
Welcome to the Red Light District folks.
We walked around some and came across a live sex show.  For 25 Euro you saw the show, for 35 Euro you got a show and 4 drinks.  We figured, “what the hell, you only live once.”  We shelled out the 35 Euro and headed in.  We buddied up to the bar and ordered our first drink.  From that point on the rest of the evening becomes a bit sketchy.  I remember immediately making friends with the bartender.  I was a former bartender and figured the rules of the game were the same, no matter which side of the Atlantic you were on.  If you make good with a bartender and tip well on the first drink, you’ll get good service the rest of the night.  Bits and pieces of the show flirt in and out of my head.  I know it started out w/a couple, in which it was clear that sex was just a job for them.  Then they did some tricks and called people on stage.  I know when the guys went up by the girl, there was a banana involved.
We made friends with a middle-aged couple from Vegas and two British brothers that were sitting next to us.  By the end of the show, I was pretty drunk and I still had 2 drink tokens left.  By my estimate, I had at least 6 drinks—without paying for 4 of them.  I love bartenders.
We cabbed it back to the hotel and passed out.  We would head back into the city in the morning to check it out in the daylight.
Moral of the Story:  Avoid the blue lights (unless it’s your thing) and treat your bartender well.  You may not remember much the next day, but it will be fun nonetheless.

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Avis should be glad this isn’t a review…

Frankfurt, Germany

We were almost finished with our trip, but it seemed like something was constantly going wrong.  We ended up having a great time out our second night in Rome, but the problems seemed to push to the front of our conversations.  We needed to put Italy behind us and focus on our upcoming trip to Amsterdam.  Even though I don’t smoke, I had agreed to eat a brownie or something or other.  When in Rome….err…Amsterdam…
Our Ryanair flight from Rome landed at Frankfurt Hahn Airport, outside of Frankfurt.  Megan, Theresa and I figured that it was going to cost just as much to take a train back to Bitburg as it would be to rent a car, so we went for the car rental.  We used Avis to get a car.  Megan rented the car and we were on our way.  Despite being a Benz, the car was hideous looking.   Even though we planned to rent a car to go to Amsterdam the next day, we decided to return the rental car and rent one that suited us a bit better.
The next day we return the car and pick out a different one to take to Amsterdam.  Megan’s the only one w/a credit card (I only brought my debit card and Theresa had a prepaid AmEx), so she went to rent the car.
Can we add another problem on to this trip?  Yes, we can, and we did.
Megan’s card was denied.  WTF!  Megan had been using this card her entire time in Europe and knew how much she should have available.  There should be no reason for her card to be denied.  We had to finagle a way back to where we were staying to rectify the situation.  As it turned out, Avis had charged her card multiple times at $500 a pop and maxed her out.  I called the Avis desk at the airport and spoke (eehhh…more like heavily spoke my mind) to the woman who had helped us the day before.  I felt bad, I was pretty much a bitch, but I was so frustrated w/everything that had happened on this trip, and this was just another thing to complain about.  We wanted to get to Amsterdam and it looked like we were going to SOL on that one.  We called Visa, and they couldn’t take the charges off right away, but they could up Meg’s credit limit, so we could rent a car.
Finally we had a car in hand, but it was hours after we had hoped and now we wouldn’t be getting into Amsterdam until almost 10 pm…
Moral of the Story:  Things never go as planned.  That, you can plan on.

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Buon Compleanno Megan!

Rome, Italy
So Megan had been in Europe for a few months and wanted nothing more on her birthday than some “good” American food.  So, we took the easy way out and headed to the Hard Rock Café, to be followed by a bus tour of Rome at night.  There we met an American who would alter our night drastically.
He entertained us with stories of being in the American and Italian armies (yeah, we thought the same thing).  He convinced us to ditch our bus tour and let him show us around, he’d even buy us drinks afterward.  We figured if he tried anything, the three of us could take him, no problem.  We accepted his offer.
We left the Hard Rock with our new found “friend” for our tour of Rome.  Yeah, about that…we get outside and it’s pouring rain—so much for that idea.  I recall not traveling too far, but we did hit up a street filled w/some beautiful words—Gucci, Prada, Versace…we saw the Spanish Steps, I’m sure there was a fountain involved.  Then we headed to the bars.
The rest of this evening is based off of broken memories.  I remember going into the first bar, looking at the bartender, then he made me a drink and after I took it, I pointed to our new friend and said that he was paying for everything.  Once we all had drinks in hand, we headed through the bar to room in the back and grabbed the first empty table.  I don’t know why our how, but all of a sudden the cute bartender comes back, grabs Theresa and drags her to the bar.  Next thing you know, she’s flat on her back on the bar and the bartender is doing a body shot off of her—more priceless than a Master Card commercial.
No idea how many drinks we had before we left, but we went to another bar.  We didn’t think it was possible to top the first bar, but oh boy, we did.  After we entered the 2nd bar, we got drinks and found a table.  It started out as the 4 of us, but soon we had a couple Hondurans, a Nigerian, rotating Austrian brothers and some girl from Jersey.  Soon we were paired off: Megan and the American guy, Theresa and the Nigerian and I with one of the Hondurans.  We argued to no end about stupid things, like how many continents there were (I say 7, in Honduras, they only have 5!)  We were having a blast.  The Austrian brothers were on holiday and the only English they spoke were showtunes, so they sang them on request and did some dancing to boot.
The night progressed w/Megan hooking up w/the American.  I was making out w/the Honduran between our arguments and Theresa disappeared w/the Nigerian.  Megan and I went on a mission to find her, which we did.  Out of respect for her, won’t say where. Hehehehe…..:-)
Bartime came around and we went to grab a cab to get back to our hotel.  I said good bye to the Hondurans and hopped in a cab.  Megan and Theresa got in the backseat by me and the American hopped in the front.  Theresa’s Nigerian tried to hop in, but the cabbie wouldn’t let him, so it was bye-bye Nigeria.
We got to the hotel and the American paid for the very expensive cab ride then came up to the room with us.  We had a 6am flight to catch back to Germany, so sleep was going to be at a minimum.  We had separate beds and the American decided to share Megan’s.  The lights weren’t off for 5 minutes when Theresa decided the American had to leave.  She got out of bed, grabbed the guy by the collar and shoved him out the door.  Megan got really upset and I just laid there and laughed my ass off.  Megan ran to the balcony to convince the guy to come back, but he opted to leave.  Megan felt bad that he paid for EVERYTHING and got nothing in return.  I was too drunk to care at that moment.  Megan finally came back to bed and I called the front desk to give us a wake up call in 45 minutes and to have a cab take us to the airport.
Our night in Rome was over, but I was pretty sure the drinks were going to last me a couple days.
Moral of the story: If Theresa’s not getting laid, no one’s getting laid.

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So where does the little Japanese guy sleep?

Venice, Italy-Rome, Italy
We woke up at 7 am excited to spend the morning touring around Venice before heading to Rome.  I failed to mention in the previous sentence that we woke up at 7 am to a torrential downpour outside our window.  There went our tour of Venice—no San Marco Plaza, no gondola ride, just strait on to Rome to start our adventure there.  We packed up our stuff, and made our way to the train station, in the rain.
Our train ride was nothing to write home about, so I won’t.  We pulled into Rome’s main train station and had the fun task of finding a place to stay.  We had had a hostel booked a ways out of the city, but decided, on my pressure, to cancel and find something more central.  I didn’t want to pay a ton of money on transportation and convinced the other two that they felt the same way.  We weren’t sure how we were going to go about it, but figured that heading to the tourism office in the train station was a good place to start.
There, we were swarmed by people trying to convince us to stay here or there.  Megan and I were weighing our options and not paying attention to Theresa, who came over and said she found us a place.  We were a bit hesitant, since we had no idea what this place was like, but the guy told us it was just a couple blocks away, owned by a buddy of his, it was nice and quiet and near the Coliseum.  So we headed in the direction the guy told us and found our hostel.  It was owned by a little Japanese guy who turned the first level of row house converted into a hostel.  There was a small office, one room (no lock) with about 12 beds and a small hallway.  At one end of the hallway was a shower, with a somewhat opaque shower door, and at the other end was the smallest bathroom I’ve ever seen in my life.  Unless you stood on the toilet seat, you couldn’t take your pants off with the door shut; hence, the door had to be open just to prep to go to the potty.  In between the suspect bathroom and shower, was an extremely narrow hallway littered with junk and a twin bed.  You pretty much had to walk sideways to get to the toilet.
I guess for 15 euro, you get what you paid for.  No wonder we were the only guests.
We played tourist that night, checking out the amazing Coliseum and other sites in the vicinity.  We wanted to get a good night’s sleep, so we could get up early and head to Vatican City.  The three of us had seen the Pope during World Youth Day ’97 in Paris, but this was a pilgrimage we really wanted to take.  We were really excited to St. Peter’s and the like.
Fast forward to the next day—we wake up early and start to get ready to venture out.  Megan and I weren’t keen on staying another night where we were, because it felt sketchy and there was no place to lock up our luggage.  Theresa just told us we were being dumb and that the place was fine.  She wasn’t going to argue over it, she was just going to hop in the shower.  30 seconds later, Theresa was back and saying, “Ok, let’s get out of here and find someplace else.”  Woah, wait a minute, back this train up, less than a minute ago she was fine, what could’ve changed her mind so quickly?  Turns out, the little Japanese guy, sleeps in the hallway.  If you recall earlier, I mentioned the “somewhat opaque” shower door.  I’ll be a little bit clearer now, if you walked past it and glanced, you would be able to see someone was in the shower.  Now if you stopped and stared, you would be able to see more than just the faint outline of the person in the shower.  It was bad enough you had to keep the door open to drop your pants to use the toilet, no way we’re going to take a shower w/a guy less than 3 feet away on a bed.  Ya’ll can do the math.
So we packed up, thanked the owner and headed to an internet café to find someplace else to stay.  Theresa was hell bent on getting a hotel, because she was not going to stay in another “scary” hostel.  It took us an hour or so to find an affordable place to stay.  It took us another couple hours to find our way there—find the bus terminal, find the correct bus, etc.  We were in route to the Hotel Christopher Columbus with a bus driver who didn’t speak English.  At one point we could see the hotel in the distance and we were able to communicate with the driver that it was where we needed to go.  He was able to let us know that he wasn’t going past it and that he was going to have us get off on the next stop, which essentially was in the middle of nowhere and on the other side of a freeway from the hotel.  It took some navigating, but we were able to safely play Frogger to get to our hotel.
By now, it’s early in the afternoon and it is too late for us to go to Vatican City, which stops letting tourists in at noon.  These past couple mornings were not going as planned.  We sucked it up, showered and headed back into the city to see the sites.  This day was not going to be a waste.
We really enjoyed ourselves that afternoon.  Thanks to the front desk, we knew the best way to get back to the hotel without having to risk our lives dodging cars.  After playing tourist, we headed back to the hotel to freshen up for a night out.
It was after all, Megan’s birthday.
Morals of the Story: Research where you’re going to be staying.  If you’re going to traveling with other people, then decide together.  We let one person pre-book our trip without getting input from the others.  I would have lobbied for someplace in the city, and would have researched where would be best for our wants.  A bad hostel ruined our plans and that should never happen.  The worst part, the hotel we ended up staying at—just a mile from where we were originally slated to stay.  Full circle people, full circle.
Also, if there’s something you really want to do, do it at first chance.  We really wanted to take a gondola ride and put it off.  The weather deterred us from doing it, and all we came out with was a picture of a gondola.  Definitely not as cool.

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Is that a gondola at your feet, or are you just happy to see me?

Frankfurt, Germany-Venice, Italy

Theresa was arriving today.  I had been in Germany for 3 days with Megan and we were excited for T’s arrival.  The three of us had been friends since high school and we’d had plenty of adventures together.  With us, it was a guarantee that something interesting would happen.  You had Megan, the level-headed one; Theresa, the culturally naïve one; then there’s me, the one who tends to act without thinking.  The 3 Musketeers we were not, the three stooges, more likely.
After meeting Theresa at the Frankfurt Airport, we caught a bus to the Frankfurt Hahn Airport to catch our flight to Venice.  We learned quickly that it was first come, first serve with Ryan Air.  It really was unlike any airline we had flown on before.  Other than trying to find 3 seats together, we had a pretty uneventful flight.  We got into the airport outside of Venice and caught a bus into the city.  We found our quaint hotel, settled in, and made our way to the Grand Canal.
Few cities have made an immediate impact on me at first glance.  The larger cities tend to have similar qualities—amazing skyline, tons of tourists, etc…, but it’s the smaller ones that leave the larger imprint on me.  I took to Venice immediately, even before we got to the Grand Canal.  It was a place unlike any I’d ever been in and I was in love.
We made our way to the Canal.  We walked along it for a little bit, took some pictures and decided to find someplace to eat.  We opted to eat at a “nicer” hotel right on the water.  We figured this would be our big meal of the trip.  Being excited for real Italian food, we sat at a covered table right on the edge of the water and ordered—lasagna, pesto pasta and fish of some sort.  We got a crash course that night on the major difference between Wisconsin restaurants and Italian ones.  In Wisconsin, entrees come with at least a potato, but usually a soup or salad or both.  You get a lot of food for your money—quantity and quality—yeah, not so much in Italy.  We got some bread prior to the meal, but that was it.  Once our food came, I was greeted by a large plate with a small piece of lasagna on it—all for 20 euros or more.  Our second crash course came when we started to eat—American Italian food is not Italian Italian food.  I’ll just say I’ve had better lasagna across the pond.
The final crash course of the evening came in with the high tide.   Our fine dining experience was half spent ankle-deep in the water.  Welcome to Venice folks.  Welcome to Venice…
After eating, we contemplated a Gondola ride.  We all wanted to take one, but decided it would be better to take the next day.  Instead, we hopped on a water bus, with all intent purposes of getting off half way down the Canal.  We ended up staying on it all the way out to open water and riding it all the way back to where we started.  The guy working on the water bus did nothing but laugh at us.  We didn’t really care, we were taking in the view.  We’d get more in the next day when we toured San Marco Plaza and got in our gondola ride.
Or so we thought…
Moral of the Story: If along water, learn when high tide comes in, or at the least, wear galoshes.

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