Posted on 15-07-2007
Filed Under (Switzerland, Elation, Disaster, Adventure) by admin

Getting internet in Europe, apparently, is not as easy as we had originally discovered. The last time we easily found internet was in Epinaye, which doesnt say much for the rest of the continent. The last post I made was from the ground in front of Migros shopping plaza, tonight, I am in “FIRENZE: Internet Point”, a little Internet Cafe in Florence.

I’d love to write all about Florence and catch everyone up, but I feel it would be best if I finish off Interlaken, and then do all catch up on Florence tomorrow. So, here goes.

It seemed like it would be difficult to beat skydiving; the day after looked to be a relatively uneventful day, and I guess for the most part it was. We woke up a little hung-over from the the night before (celebrating after a good jump!) and didn’t really feel like doing anything too intense. We hung around Balmer’s for a bit, picked up the Skydiving DVDs from the Xtreme Desk and headed out to grab food.

We’ve begun the simplification of our lives; we now do our best to have one decent meal of typical food for the area we’re in, but then shop out of grocery stores. For example on that day, we picked up a baguette, some turkey from the deli and Camambert cheese. This lasted us for 2 meals, and came out to something like 3 Euro a person. Things are really expensive, so we’re doing our best to trim down on extras.

After that, we hung around outside Migros, the shopping mall that had the grocery store, and found internet access. I updated the site, checked email, and took pictures of people going by. We were feeling a bit bad for being so lazy and were interested in doing some of the great hikes we heard people talking about, so we headed back to Balmer’s and Mike began looking through his books for a good trail.

He found one that was one of the “more popular, but slightly steeper” trails. We considered a few others, but that trail, which was supposed to take about 4 hours, seemed like the best option. Interlaken is split into its East and West, and has an Ost and West (Pronounced Vest, since its part of the German-speaking Switzerland) train station. Our hotel is on the West side, so we took the train to Interlaken Ost. The trail would then lead us back to Interlaken West, towards our hostel.

Judging time here is really difficult because it stays so light until so late. It was probably about 8:30 pm when we started our hike, but the sun was still high in the sky; it felt like 3 or 4 pm. So, a 4 hour hike seemed like a completely feasible idea.

We crossed the river that passes through Interlaken, and eventually found the start of our trail. It was amazing. We would hike over all sorts of terrain, and the switchback path kept things interesting. We would criss-cross up the mountain, passing by large trees, beautiful flowers and rest points that overlooked Interlaken. We crossed bridges that looked unsafe (but seemed to be once we were on them…), and areas where water would flow down the mountain, creating a small brook through the path.

Once again, my watch was actually incredibly useful! We started the hike at about 1600 feet, and steadily watch ourselves rise. At about 2300 ft., we were going up a fairly steep hill when we saw a car barreling down the rescue path. It had been awhile since we saw any other form of life, so it was a bit reassuring to know other people existed. We yelled hello as the car passed, and although it was a few hundred feet, he seemed to have heard us and stopped. We waved, he yelled “Ahoy!”, and drove away.

As the started sun set though, I started wondering if he stopped so quickly because he thought we were either crazy for hiking so late, or lost and asking for help. The sunset was beautiful, but we slowly started to comprehend that sunset meant darkness, and, expecting a short hike, we just brought our small packs. I think we all silently realized that things were getting iffy, but kept going with the hike as the sky turned pink.

Back in time, for just a moment, the three of us were at Interlaken West train station. We’ve been seeing this water spouts all over Switzerland and contemplating whether or not we can drink them. Finally, I decided to ask at the train station. The woman I asked didn’t understand, but apparently a man online did, because he came to me outside where we were sitting and said “Water, ok drink.”

On the train we were discussing this Swiss water, when a woman overheard. She began telling us that the water from those spouts is Swiss water, almost directly from the mountains, and it’s purer than any bottled water. She said, with great pride, that they actively maintain that water to be as pure as possible from the tap.

We continued speaking with her, and she began telling us that the next 4 days are the best in Interlaken to go hiking and camping. She said that there were literally only 4 days every Summer where it would be warm all night and without rain, and these were them. So, I think it was at this point where I sub-consciously thought… “Screw Balmer’s, let’s sleep on an Interlaken mountain!”

Back on the mountain, as the shades of pink where hugging the horizon more tightly and the sky began turning dark blue, Hayley was beginning to want to start heading back the way we came. Mike and I wanted to push on, though. And convinced here we’d be able to get to the top soon… We were at just about 3200 ft, and the summit of the highest mountains in Interlaken were all around 4000, so we had to be getting close.

Of course, I think we all knew we couldn’t make it in time. The truth was though, we would have had to turn around long ago if we wanted to make it to the bottom before we were walking through pitch black. The only real option was to find a nice spot to camp out for the night. .. And that spot came as we followed a wooden railing slightly off the trail to a looking point at about 3500 ft.

It was perfect. We had a little roof with benches on three sides, we were surrounded by rocks on three sides, and from the North and East, there were cliffs, so we were fairly protected from roaming animals. In front of us, North, was all of Interlaken… It was spectacular. We began identifying everything in Interlaken we knew, and had created a pretty accurate composite of everything we knew by the end of the night… “No no, THAT must be Centralstrasse, see how it curves around those green lights that are the train station lights?”…”Those aren’t green lights!”

There was another interesting light spectacle that night, which happened only about half an hour after we arrived at our camping-site and the sun had completely set. Staring into Interlaken, we noticed a dot moving quickly across the mountain across from us, on the other side of Interlaken. Suddenly, it started hissing and fireworks sprayed out! It would stop shooting fireworks, move around somewhere else and two minutes later, more fireworks! We realized it was a helicopter, and for about half an hour it would just fly around for a few minutes, shoot off some fireworks from both sides, and fly somewhere else to do the same thing. It was an amazing site, that I’m sure we would have completely missed were we not camped out on a mountain.

I maintained pretty high spirits the whole time… It was really exciting to be outside at night, and see Interlaken in such a unique way. But, it was getting pretty cold and we were not prepared for camping out like this. We hit a water spout halfway through the mountain, so we had plenty of water, and we bought a baguette of bread just before heading up on the trail, so we were well fed, but a flashlight and blanket would have been priceless.

We we arranged the huge wooden benches into a large bed and shivered together talking and complaining most of the night… At some point we realized my computer had a full battery in it, so I took it out and we started watching a movie. We’d been hearing wind moving leaves and animals scurrying around all night, but it seemed that the noises increased a great deal after the computer was on. We were afraid we were attracting animals, so we turned it off, and just enjoyed the lights some more.

Soon after the laptop was on, though, I thought I’d heard the more distinct noise of just two legs stepping through the leaves coming from our East. About 15 minutes later from behind us, and then again from our West, where the only entrance from to our spot was. I was a bit afraid we had attracted more than just a small animal, but maybe a person that realized some camping-newbies had some sweet electronics with them.

I think I was partly just hypersensitive to such noises and situations after all that had happened, the darkness and the situation we were in, but I just pictured a guy waiting for us to hit the hay, and the pluck us of our valuables. Luckily, Mike and I don’t sleep much anymore, we were up pretty much all night and nothing came of that. Too bad, robbed us of a good story!

I’d enjoyed the night, but by about 4:30, it was incredibly cold, and I was in a short sleeve shirt, shorts and sandals… It was hot when we started! Shivering, we made our way back onto the path with my laptop as a flashlight and found a point that seemed like it would be great for watching the sunrise. We parked there, and enjoyed the show before moving to one more spot and viewing it from a slightly higher angle. It was incredible.

It may have been a lot of work, but we got a lot more out of this hike than we expected. Unfortunately though, our hopes of crossing Interlaken from East to West were shattered, when we saw that the our trail was closed at the summit and seems to have been for awhile. It was too bad, but we made it to just over 4000 feet, and survived an incredible hike and camp-out.

We made it back down the same way we came, but it all seemed a bit different anyway, approaching it from a different angle. In other words, I was in awe on the way back down too. We saw some people going up as we went down, and they seemed confused as to why we were heading down so early in the morning. We, nevertheless, exchanged polite ‘Good mornings’ and continued on our way.

At some point on the way down I slammed my foot into a rock and got a cut on my toe that bled pretty relentlessly all day. I know, I know… Why was I wearing sandals on a hike… blah blah. Really, I’ve found my feet to be so much more comfortable in my sandals than in my shoes, even for long trecks with my back-pack. This was something of a test, to see if my sandals would hold up in the toughest of conditions. And, I think they did. My feet felt great the whole trip, and I’m sure would have been hurting much more if I was in normal shoes. Either way, I realized today in Florence that I left my sneakers in Balmer’s, so I’m going to have to justify their loss by saying I realized I didn’t need them anymore.

Anyway, Hayley, Mike and I happily took our step back to 1600 ft at around 7:15 and it felt great to have overcome that night. We rushed back to Balmer’s, got breakfast, a very, very needed shower, quickly packed up our stuff and had to sprint with our full-packs on to just make our train to Spiez, where we would then take a train to Milano, where we would then miss our train but graciously be allowed on a more local train to finally make it to Firenze…

But that’s all for tomorrow… Ciao!

(4) Comments   
Posted on 10-07-2007
Filed Under (Switzerland, Disaster, People, Adventure) by admin

Well, I am writing this sitting on the cold marble floor of an underground metro-shopping mall in Geneva at 1:30 am… But we’ll get to that in just a bit.

I haven’t really mentioned it, but Sam had been pretty down about this whole thing since the mugging, and has been wanting to go home pretty badly. Finally, even though she got back her bag, she decided to go back to the US.

We got her flight booked last night and, this morning, went with her to the subway that would take her to the airport. It was sad to see her go, but it was definitely what she wanted…

And then there were three.

So, Mike, Hayley and I have been trying to figure out where we’d go next. Geneva was next on our original itinerary, but we decided to try to get to Interlocken first.

We had some time to spare, though, before heading out so we decided to do a quick run through some of the sites in Paris. We checked out Notre Dame, then did what I realllly came to Paris for…

We had a delicious meal at Le Relais de L’Entrecote… My favorite restaurant in the world. I was a bit nervous about going there though; it is a fairly fancy restaurant and we were dirty, in old clothes and carrying huge packs… I really just expected to be shunned away.

But, we walked in, I asked if we could have a table for three in French, and they gladly seated us. Not only that, but they found us a spot to put our packs out of the way and a group of waitresses came over and tried to lift them up and joked around with us.

I’ve said it a few times already, but the extent that people go out of their way to be helpful and friendly here is astounding… Especially in a place like Paris that is stereo-typed to be snobby and anti-american.

Anyway, at L’Entrecote, there is no menu. You sit down, and they immediately bring you their salad to start, which has walnuts and a delicious dressing. Then, they bring a plate of their famous steak & french fries, with their secret sauce. The best part is that, soon after you’re done with you’re first serving, they bring around another serving and you can start all over!

So, the food was incredible as usual, we had wine and our waitress was a cute French girl… Life in France was finally going well. We gave her a good tip, and as we were leaving she stuck her head outside the door to thank us.

We were taking our train to Switzerland from Gare de Lyon, so the Louvre was on the way. It started drizzling on the way, but it felt good. Once there, we had to keep it quick, so we just took some pictures of the outside, hung out a bit and then continued on to the RER.

We walked for quite awhile aiming for a particular subway entrance on the map. When we finally got there, we mysteriously found no way to buy tickets. It was one of those moments that’s just like, “Whhhhat is going onnn?”

Eventually we saw a sign that said it was an entrance only for ticket holders, and that there was a ticketing station a few blocks more, so we had to continue on a little longer. We got to Gare de Lyon soon after that, at around 2:00 pm, and had to reserve tickets from Paris to Bern, and then from Bern to Interlocken.

Of course though, after speaking to a woman at the ticketing counter, we found out that all the seats on trains to Interlocken were booked until 7:00 am the next morning. We were weighing our options, and found that we could get on a train to Geneva that afternoon, so we decided to just do that.

Sitting on the ground by the ticketing area, waiting for our train, a little, 3 year old Indian boy ran over to us laughing and screaming and sat next to us. He had apparently also came over and sat on Mike’s lap while I was away getting food. He was so funny, and his 14 year old friend would come over and apologize.

This happened many times, and the 14 year old boy knew English pretty well, so we started talking with him, and playing with the 3 year old who had now brought over one of his toy cars. It was fun to talk to them in French casually, instead of in a situation where I was actually trying to accomplish something. At some point I asked how to say some word that he wasn’t sure of, so he asked his mother over, who was an English teacher in Marseille.

We spoke to her for awhile about our trip before leaving the three of them to hop on our train to Geneva. It was a really nice way to close out our experience in Paris.

The train ride was beautiful, so we were looking forward to moving out of big cities and into something a bit different. This turned out to not be at all what we got.

So far, Geneva has been by far my least favorite destination. At least in Epinaye sur Seine interesting things were going on! As soon as we got to Geneva we began looking for a place to put down our bags and relax. We knew Geneva wasn’t the most easy place to find a hostel, but figured just going to a hostel, instead of booking one online, proved to be better in the case of the guys we’d met on the way to Paris.

We walked about a mile or two to a hostel we heard was good, and found out it was completely full. So, we went to another one that was in one of Hayley’s books, but it was also full. So, we checked out a hotel that was down the street, but it was also full… So, we checked out another hotel we saw down the street some more, but it was also full…

After checking 15-20 hotels, ranging from hostels, to small hotels on backroads to large 4 star hotels, we decided it was totally hopeless… There was no where in Geneva for us to stay. Literally, no where. It was a truly surreal feeling to be searching for a place to sleep for an hour and a half, going door to door and finding absolutely nothing, no one willing to help. We were homeless.

We went back to the train station we came into and found lockers we could leave our bags. I’ve been finding my pack surprisingly comfortable to carry around considering its about 50 lbs, but no matter how comfortable it is, getting it stored away somewhere else safely being free from its straps feels incredible.

Now less weighed-down, we went back into Geneva to find something to do. We went to a bar/restaurant to eat our second meal of the day, and waited around for awhile, until I asked a waiter if we could sit down and eat. The general thoughtfulness of people between Paris and Geneva was incredible. Here, few people really seem to care at all about each other, let alone us.

When we first left the train station, we’d seen a waiting room with some chairs, the only ones in the entire train station, so we headed there. It was really difficult to find the room, so it was a relief when we finally did. About 3 minutes after I got my computer out, a Swiss police officer came into the room and told us and a few others that the train station was closing until 4:00 am, so we all had to leave.


We asked him if there was anywhere we could go, and he seemed to understand we were planning on staying in that room for the night. He asked us where we were going, and we told him Interlocken, since we wanted to get there as soon as possible. He told us there was a train there at 4:26 am, and that it would be safe for us to stay on the floor in the shopping mall below the train station until then, as long as we stayed away from corners.

We were the first in our little spot here, but since 3 others have joined us, so maybe we’ll just get a few beds and start our own hostel here… Geneva obviously needs it.

Anyway, I’ve been incredibly positive this entire trip, and I really still am… We came to figure out what parts of Europe we like and which ones we don’t like… I can safely say, I do not like Geneva at all. The people are cold and the city primarily comprised of hotels that are all full.

The trip so far seems to be filled with mistakes and challenges and lessons learned… There is definitely a secret to planning ahead so we get the train we need, and a good cheap hostel that is safely and centrally located… We’re still working hard on figuring out what exactly that is.

Anyway, in case you haven’t noticed, I’ve added, by request, some of the pictures I’ve taken. Select the city/place on the left, and then click through the pictures. Clicking the thumbnail will pop up an enlarged image. Right now, you can only click through big images 8 at a time, but I’m working on changing that and some other things.

Sorry for such a long post, but I have nothing else to do and it’s nice to write about something besides muggings and police officers.


(2) Comments   
Posted on 08-07-2007
Filed Under (Disaster) by admin

I haven’t changed once since leaving New York and I’m about to take my first shower.

(2) Comments   

In preparing to come to Europe we heard a million times from a million people that we should watch out for pick-pockets and thieves and all their stories and experiences on such issues. Well, here’s ours.

Last night, we were trying to figure out what to do. It was 10:00pm, and the last trains from Paris came back at 12:06am, so we were considering going, but we wouldn’t have much time. We hung around for awhile and finally decided to just see what we could find in Épinay-sur-Seine.

We walked towards signs for the Centre Ville, and were surprised to see that everything was closed. We finally stumbled on a pizza place and went in… only to discover that it was closing. We walked a few seconds more and were thinking about heading back, but decided to press on one more block.

Mike & I walked by stairs that went to a little hole in the wall, but Hayley & Sam noticed people inside, and we noticed a sign for a Brasserie. We stood at the stairs for a moment, and when a man at the door saw us he urged us to “Entre!”

We walked into a oddly smelling, fairly small bar, playing Indian music. Directly to our left as we walked in, was a group of men playing dice and we walked to the other end of the bar and took some seats. The bar tender was an older guy, in his 50s or so, but incredibly nice. He didn’t speak any English, but spoke slowly so I could understand him (he actually reminded me a bit of my Dad, looks/personality wise).

We had some beer, and were completely enjoying the bar, it was an amazing find. We still hadn’t really eaten all day, though, so I asked the bartender if there was anything that we could eat. He told me everything was closed, but that a pizza place might be open… And he didn’t just stop there. He figured out what kind of pizza we wanted got the phone and tried to have it delivered to the bar for us. Unfortunately, that pizza place was also closed, but the extent people have been willing to help us since we got here is just astounding!

We had one last round, paid and headed on out. Across from the bar there was a fountain with a sculpture of two horses, so we hung out there for a little bit and then started heading back to the hostel. As we got closer to the hotel we heard a group of French kids behind us, probably about our age. They were talking behind us for awhile, and then at some point they passed by us.

I looked behind us, and saw smaller group of guys talking to each other, the way they were acting gave me a bad feeling. I half jokingly/half seriously said “I think those guys are going to mug us, we should walk faster.” No one really seemed to hear me and when I looked back again one guy seemed to be whispering to another; it was pretty dark right where they were.

I started walking faster so the others would keep pace, and when I turned around Sam was on the ground, clutching the strap of her bag fighting against a group of guys pulling it away. Suddenly we were chasing these guys down the street. Sam and Mike dissapeared behind the guys into some bushes in front of another building, so I called Hayley over to keep from separating all of us. Hayley and I got into the median of the street, which was bright and safe from the dark bushes on the other side.

We called Mike while running back to the hotel (these phones have already been worth their weight in gold) and found out that they were a few streets down, and he was breathing heavily. Hayley and I got back to the hotel, and I asked for the number of the police here. The guy on duty told me to hold on, went and made some food, got a drink came back and slowly flipped through his Rolodex. He then gracefully wrote out “POLICE” and finally wrote down the number… Which I tried many times with no success.

So Hayley and I walked around the block to where we thought Mike and Sam would be… And as we got deeper into this neighborhood things felt less and less safe. Luckily, we saw Mike up ahead with Sam, near a building. Apparently they had chased the muggers until this building, where they saw two guys who were helping them.

They introduced themselves to me as Abraham and Billy (He pronounced it Bee-yay). They were two older, probably Haitian guys, maybe around 25. Abraham was wearing a long white robe outfit, and Billy had a long beard, wearing a colorful skirt type thing. They had two younger friends and seemed genuinely concerned with trying to help us. One of their friends was “homeboys” with the kid who took her bag, and went off to try to find him and figure out where the bag was. Abraham spoke great English, Billy’s was ok. They repeatedly said if one euro was missing they would find it.

Things were still tense though. Sam was crying and we weren’t really sure if we could trust these guys. Was this some trick to get all the rest of our stuff? It was tough to tell. Abraham seemed to know every single person that walked by in the neighborhood, was that good or bad? We gave them our phone numbers, so I was hoping to all get back to the hotel and have them call us if they found it. Sam wanted to stay though, to make sure she got her bag, so we all just waited around there, alert on adrenaline but a bit unsure of things.

Ultimately though, it just didn’t seem plausible for it to all be an act, and if it was, they were dragging it on a long time just to get the rest of our stuff. Abraham got a call saying it was some 14-15 year olds that did it, and when Sam chased after them they got scared so they dumped her bag down a garbage chute.

The group of people helping us grew to around 6, and they were all trying to get the guy who would have a key to the garbage chute. Abraham ended up calling the Police Municipale to open it up. They came, but spoke only French, so the other guys did all the talking. We went into the building, and the cops discovered there was very little they could do without the key. They said they would try to do more tomorrow, took our information and we finally left to go back to the hotel.

It was a huge relief to get back safely, and we all slept deeply, but this morning we had a lot left to deal with. Hayley and Mike went to get food (the first we’d eaten since those sandwiches the day earlier), while Sam and I went to get the names of the streets things happened on the night before and locate the police station (a woman at the hotel told us roughly where it was).

The directions we got lead us to the Police Nationale, and we all went there after eating. It was pretty dead there, but a room we weren’t allowed to go in seemed pretty busy. I roughly explained in French what happened to a woman officer and she had us sit and wait. Another couple there seemed to have had one of their bags stolen, but they didn’t speak English.

We were sitting and waiting for awhile, and saw a bunch of plain-clothes officers leave with a lot of equipment… It seemed like the Police Nationale was more for carrying-out planned out missions than responding to issues like ours, so Mike and Hayley headed towards the Police Municipale building that I’d seen on a map while Sam and I kept waiting.

Eventually an officer came out that spoke some English and he took us into a room to start a police report. We explained to him what happened, and when I told him we ended up on Rue Dumas, he seemed surprised. He was confused as to why we were here if we were backpacking, and I explained we were looking for something cheap. He was trying to tell me something about Epinay sur Seine, and agreed completely when I suggested the word “unsafe”, then adding, “très dangereux.”

So, Sam and I continued the process and finally explained that we think we know where the bag is, we just can’t get to it. We asked if some police would be able to go there and try to open the garbage chute to check. The officer responded that Rue Dumas was too dangerous, and his officers probably wouldn’t want to go.

What?! You’re officers wouldn’t want to go because their scared of a dangerous street in the town they’re supposed to be protecting?! This confirmed our belief that the Police Nationale really did just carry-out planned missions rather than response. We also found out since that Epinay sur Seine has, within the past two years, had several instances were groups from gangs ambushed officers. According to the officer, they got into a large fight on Rue Dumas two days ago.

As I was giving our cell number to the officer, Mike and Hayley found us and had two Police Municipale with them. Apparently they found them on the way to the Municipale station and brought them to the building on Rue Dumas. One of the officers just kicked down the door of the garbage chute (Police Municipale are way cooler than Police Nationale, apparently). Unfortunately, behind that door was another one, that was not possible to open.

So, the Police Municipale are going to try to find the owner of the building when it isn’t a Sunday, and we will go to the Municipale Station tomorrow at Noon, after they are done. Hopefully they survive Rue Dumas.

Anyway, the whole experience has been pretty crazy, and although it is scary and unfortunate… We’re backpacking through Europe and crazy things like this are bound to happen; It’s good to know that we can handle situations like this. Although a few dumb teenagers decided to ruin our trip, many many more people generously lent us a hand when they didn’t need to.

We’re relaxing and playing cards in the room now… I think the Epinay dark is something we will not venture into again. Tonight I am going to try to figure out a good way to put all my pictures up. Tomorrow we’ll either get Sam’s stuff back, or head to the US Embassy in Paris and get her a new passport. Either way, Paris tomorrow! It’s - about - time.

À demain!

(3) Comments    Read More