Of Travel and Poorly Drawn Penises

Day 1 began VERY early, before 4:00 am CA time for most of us, and ended VERY late, 8:00 p.m the following day, London time. I checked in to my hotel the evening before departure and received a room key with the number 13 on the fob and thought, “Huh, that’s interesting.” Interesting because I was wearing a German soccer jersey with the same number that I had purchase in my last trip. I bought it because our Fat Tire bike tour guide in Berlin was wearing the same jersey and explaine that he chose it because The player with that number had an average German name, Muller (like Smith in the United States), and was the teams most average player; which I found amusing. Wasn’t sure how arriving in London wearing that shirt would go over. (Story note: as I was listening to Albert King, “The Hunter” as I was writing and just as I wrote “London” he sang the same word!)
The next morning, we began our journey with a flight to JFK with a short layover then on to London. The flight was uneventful save for the terrifying turbulence coming in to JFK (one kid threw up) and another odd coincidence. I decided to watch a movie from the in flight choices and picked ‘Sisters’, which was not a wise choice. The only detail pertinent to this story from that movie is that at one point a giant penis was painted on a wall of a house.
After the movie I was looking around at what other people were watching and on a screen not too far from me was another large penis painted on a blue van; which I discovered was in the movie “Vacation”, which was also not a good choice. What are the odds?
Then we arrived in London:

And answered many questions that were surprisingly difficult to answer from customs officials, questions that seemed to have obvious answers yet the person I had clearly doubted my sincerity.

“Purpose of your visit?”

“Uh, leisure.”

“What are you going to do while you’re here?”

“Oh, tourist things, see the sights.”

(Rolls eyes) “What sights are you  going to see?”

“Um, Wesrminister Abbey, Trafalgar square….”

*sigh* “Are you travelling alone?”

“Nope, I’m with a group of students and teachers.”

“What kind of group is it?”

“Holy crap lady, let me in!”, I thought but did not say, but that is pretty much how it went, with MANY more questions.

Once we all ran the interrogation gauntlet we mosied to the Underground, walked several blocks and checked into our temporary residence, where we saw this:


Can’t come to England ant not get a photo of one of these. After about an hour though very tired, we hit the town. First stop was the Houses of Paliament:


Followed by Westminster Abbey:

…where this happened:


…and through us Californians for a loop! From here we headed to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery to round out our day:

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T minus 2ish

Part of living in the house you grew up in is that you put off sorting through the boxes of family photos, movies, and slides for extended periods of time. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps you’re meant to go through the records of yours and your family’s’ life at the “right” times. The trick is to recognize those times.

Rummaging through one of the plethora of boxes documenting my family’s life I came across this:

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…which is apparently part of the record from my Dad studying at the Mozarteum in Austria one summer; note the tuition. Discovering this of course conjured up memories of the tales he would tell of that time including the time he taught his landlady how to make “American” hamburgers. Before he could he had to go to a butcher to explain how to grind the meat, then to a baker to describe how to make the bun. Too bad he didn’t have a cell phone; coulda just shown them photos!

Since one of our destinations this summer is Austria, I’ll be taking this with me so Pops can “travel” with me.

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T minus 6ish

I’ll be embarking on a return adventure to Europe in a little over 6 days and thought I’d share a small world story in preparation for sharing tales of this adventure.

Last weekend I was at the Treasure Island Flea Market checking out the usual flea market fare, grubbing af a Korean food truck, and buying sweet art like this:


The dude who sold it to me, who had a British accent (our first stop is London), was explaining that this print was attributed to Banksy but he couldn’t definitively say it was true. He’d done a lot of research on the Internet and couldn’t find anything, “….and if the Internet doesn’t know for sure no one does. What I found relating to this print though is that it’s supposedly somewhere in Munich.”

“Munich?!”

“Yeah man.”

“I’m goin there this summer! Guess I’ll need to go on a treasure hunt!”

What are the odds?

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Day 8: Atrocities

This day started with a visit to a concentration camp. The camp is called Sachsenhausen and is located in Oranienburg, Germany about 22 miles north of Berlin. We had to walk from the train station to the camp and along the way I was struck by how ordinary the town was. Some of the houses we passed very near the camp looked like summer homes and all were very neatly kept. I also found it interesting that there were markers posted every so often with stories of the camp. I had wondered how Germans dealt with the legacy of the Nazi’s, I felt it would be under the rug somewhat but I was wrong. Entering the camp was a bit surreal and seeing the “Arbeit Mach Frei” on the gate was unsettling. Again, nothing makes history more tangible than travel. I have taught about the Holocaust, but to see the actual places where the plans were carried out is powerful. This camp was smaller than I had expected then I realized it was built in a populated area. We had a limited amount of time there so I walked faster than I wanted but covered a lot of ground.

After snapping some initial photos I walked over to one of the barracks that is now a museum. Of the many photos and artifacts that were in the museum I was most affected by the actual logs of people who had been sterilized; it was a stack of journals about 4 feet high.  The fact that the Nazi’s kept such meticulous records is disturbing; no, it’s more than disturbing, it’s shocking, offensive, and unfathomable. I go to the end of the barracks and panicked momentarily because I couldn’t find the exit, I had to get out. Luckily I found the exit relatively quickly.

Following the barracks I walked over to the pathology building and mortuary where medical experiments were conducted.  They actually had to design and construct a building for that purpose.  I then wandered the grounds first coming across mass graves and a wall with commemorative plaques from other countries, and finally toward the memorial erected in the center of the camp.  Upon exiting the camp I briefly stepped into the main museum and was met by an actual Nazi uniform which shook me a bit.  Overall a sobering experience.

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Day 7

It was a fittingly rainy day to visit the Wannsee House and Potsdam.  The Wannsee House is where the Nazi’s planned the final solution.  It is now a museum and educational site. What struck me the most was the beautiful setting of the house; a country retreat overlooking a beautiful lake.  The juxtaposition of the setting and what occurred inside the house is, well, bizarre. It was also very unsettling to see photos of Hitler in Germany.  I had several ‘shaken to the core’ moments, very similar to seeing the Vietnam memorial for the first time, or seeing the planes slam into the twin towers; a very visceral recognition, understanding, and acceptance that this was real, it actually happened.

It was apropos for us to visit the location of the Potsdam Conference after the Wannsee House.  The place in Potsdam where the conference was held was at least equal to the beauty of the Wannsee House.  I spent my limited time wandering the grounds rather than taking the tour of the building inside. It was moving to stand on the same patio where Churchill, Wilson, and Stalin sat following the war.

 

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Day 6: Landscape of the Dead

We had several hours to hang out in Paris following our visit to Normandy. We decided to spend that time meandering through Père Lachaise Cemetery.  Our goal was to first find the burial location of Jim Morrison but as we wandered I was both awed and amazed at the grave sites we were passing through. The cemetery felt a bit surreal which is  not unusual, but at some points it seemed we were passing through an abandoned city. I wouldn’t have been surprised if we had seen the door to one of the tombs open and it’s occupant step out as if to pick up the morning paper.  This place definitely had conveyed the atmosphere of a Tim Burton movie. Many of the tombs/crypts showed extraordinary craftsmanship and artistry; they were truly amazing. We eventually found Morrison’s grave as well as Oscar Wilde’s and they had one thing in common, other than being burial places, barriers to keep the public away. The barriers are close to the sites so they are easily viewed but apparently people were endangering the sites with their attempts at showing appreciation/reverence. I can only guess what people were doing to Morrison’s grave, maybe leaving too many objects, maybe adding graffiti, the story for Oscar Wilde’s was more clear.  At some point for visitors to Oscar Wilde’s grave it became a tradition to kiss the headstone. (“Headstone” in this case is  a bit of a misnomer, as it is really a huge sculpture.) His descendants felt that the abundance of lipstick prints was both damaging and not entirely appropriate so they had the headstone cleaned and surrounded by a glass wall.  Intrepid fans have found ways to still smooch the stone however. This was definitely an unexpectedly pleasant and enriching experience.

 

 

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Day 5: Normandy

Day 5 started with a very early bus ride to Normandy with a smarmy bus driver, I’ll save further descriptions of him for another post.  One of the reasons I took this trip was to be able to go to Normandy.  As with most memorials I have visited, nothing really prepares you and you’re surprised by what affects you and how you’re affected. There is nothing that can convey the shear number of casualties other than visiting Normandy.  As I walked among the marble crosses and stars of David I began to think of my uncle who survived D-Day.  He was a bomber pilot who volunteered for extra sorties beyond his assignment.  While reflecting on his bravery and contribution to the war effort I was reminded of my dad who passed in March. They both led long, charmed, amazing lives.  I walked, bringing them with me, feeling the weight of the place; couldn’t help but weep.

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Day 4: Karma of the Sun King

This day began with the obligatory bus tour of Paris; it’s a good way to see a lot of sites in a short amount of time. About halfway through we stopped at Les Invalides which is  a monument to France’s veterans.  The building was first commissioned by Louis XIV for injured and ill soldiers then evolved into the place it is now.  It currently does house some soldiers as well as the tomb of Napoleon:

Following the bus tour our group split into two groups. Some of us went to explore Versailles the rest went to do some shopping.  I went with the former group. Prior to arriving at Versailles the bus tour guide told us that tickets to the palace could be purchased on site or a sandwich shop near the train station. We were also told that anyone 18 and over needed to buy a ticket but those under 18 could go for free.

Upon arrival we found the shop that sold tickets and decided to purchase the entrance tickets there hoping to avoid lines at the actual palace.  The dude selling tickets said that people 18 and under did not have to buy tickets which contradicted the bus driver, but we went with it because it saved Euros money.  So myself and my partner chaperon forked over our 24 Euro and we headed off to the palace.

When we got to the palace we were greeted by a statue of the Sun King and discovered shortly that the dude who sold us tickets had, intentionally or not, lied; the 18 year olds in our group did in fact need tickets.  Shit.  I took the kids who needed tickets to the ticket line which appeared to be short…until I looked inside and saw that it snaked around through several rooms. Shit. Since we had limited time I decided to ignore the Eagle Scout in me, and I deftly jumped the line. It was surprisingly easy and I wound up about halfway through the line.

While waiting in my illegitimate spot hoping the line would move faster, I noticed some people stepping out of the line then exiting the building with tickets.  Turns out there were automated ticket machines, score! I jumped out of line, found my students and after some minor fumbling we had our tickets and were on our way.  I was proud of myself for solving the ticket issue relatively quickly, but felt bad for jumping the line (insert foreshadowing here).

As with many popular places in Europe, and the U.S., Versailles is amazing and crowded.

Following our tour of Versailles we were to head back to Paris and meet the rest of  the group for dinner. (Weird, as I’m typing this, “From Paris with Love” came on the TV). We got on the train at Versailles and proceeded to sit on it for half an hour before it left, which through us off our schedule. After several transfers on the Metro we finally met up with our group at which time I discovered I had been pickpocketed. I’m fairly certain it happened at Versailles or on one of the crowded trains we took returning from the palace. I suppose it was Karma for jumping the line.

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Day 3-Paris: Of People, Pickpockets, and Piss

(Editors note: WiFi was surprisingly hard to come by and not very reliable so the following posts are post trip.)

Paris has too many people and it smells like piss.  I had all kinds of romantic notions of what Paris would be like and was feeling excited upon arrival following a three hour train ride.  The train station was magnificent.  The iron work and architecture reminded me of the film ‘Hugo’.  I was beginning to imagine sitting at a cafe having bread and chocolate, then strolling along the Seine to the Eiffel tower; then I stepped outside.  The smell of urine was 1) unexpected, 2) surprisingly strong and 3) inexplicably persistent throughout the city.  So much for the hype.

As with most group tours the day was packed with activities with the added bonus of the Paris Metro (please refer to previous comment regarding too many people in Paris).  We were able to visit the Arch de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and take a boat tour.  Two things I did not know about the Arch de Triomphe were you can’t drive through it, and it has an eternal flame; disappointed to learn the former, interested by the latter.

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The roundabout encircling the Arch is very dangerous to try and cross so it may be accessed through an underground passage which, yes, smelled a little pissy.  If you happen to cross through the passage you may be talked into striking a silly pose:

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At some point after visiting the Arch de Triomphe (this is a post visit account remember) we took a cruise on the Seine where we saw things like this:

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and this:

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cool artwork:

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and a spontaneous dance party erupted on the upper deck where we were complete with people cheering from the banks of the river and a couple of asses mooning us from a bridge.

Following the cruise we visited the Eiffel Tower of which I have only one thought; it’s big, really, really big.

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Honestly,  I had no idea just how large it was.  We were too late to make it all the way to the top, but we were able to make it to the middle level.  (I took some photos, but it was night and they didn’t turn out).

I left out the visit to Notre Dame where the most interesting part to me was seeing this:

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which marks the starting point for all roads in France.  The cathedral is beautiful, but they’re not really my thing. Locating Quasimodo is more of my thing:

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While my introduction to France was a bit stinky, the sights we saw this day were truly amazing.  Next time: “Pickpocket Paradise”.

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Epic Day 2

1) visited Anne Franke house.
2) visited diamond factory.
3) took canal cruise.
4) [here comes the epic part] myself and a few other students separated from the main group to duck into a supermarket and buy some Speculoos, mmmmm. We agreed to be quick and run to catch up with the others by the Dam (cathedral). We were, and we ran, but the large group was not where they said they’d be. As I walked the square to find the rest of the group, the students who were with me stopped to watch a juggler. Upon my return from not finding the rest of the group the following happened:
a) one of my students was selected to assist the juggler
b) he snapped a whip near her face.
c) he made several funny, slightly off color, full of innuendo jokes
d) for his finale he swallowed a sword then juggled a torch, a large knife and a baton then had my student pull the sword from his mouth.
5) After the juggler we decided to walk to the Red Light district, just to say we had, and ran into the tour leader who said everyone had 30 minutes to wander/shop around, so we wandered down to the Red Light district and saw some, uh, interesting stuff.
6) we rounded the corner from the interesting stuff and saw a condom store, complete with unrolled samples in the window.
7) we stepped into a gift shop and one of my students found penis shaped salt and pepper shakers.

To recap: my student assisted a sword swallowing juggler, we visited the Red Light district and saw a condom store, then found penis shaped salt and pepper shakers.

Did I mention the kids who were with me were all girls?

I’m so fired.

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