Saturday, October 16, 2010

September 26, 2010 - Sunday - Zwangau/Neuschwanstein

Adam and I left the group again so we could visit the Neuschwanstein Castle. We were glad to get time on our own again. Traveling on trains has become a highlight of our trip. Trains provide smooth and quiet transporation through interesting countryside. Plus, we have been able to participate in rewarding conversations with fellow passengers and train employees.

Neuschwanstein Castle proved to be something of a joke. While large and impressive, it is a symbol of the waste and eccentricity of an 1860s German king.

September 25, 2010 - Saturday - Munich

We had an early start so we could compete with the masses that would be attending the Oktoberfest. Although some charm exists in the lederhosen and dirndls worn by the natives, overall, the Wiesn was a mess. All of the tents were fully packed with patrons. The expectation is that people sit at their table all day drinking four to seven liters of beer and eating chicken and sausage. We were huddled together with hundreds of other people. It was sort of like being in line for an outdoor concert to an awful band, like Gwar... or ICP. The rain drenched us, and we considered abandoning our spot in line multiple times. Finally we did abandon our place in line so we could get something to eat. We walked around to the side of the tent where we happened to sneak inside through a side door that was left ajar.

Once we got inside, we were astonished by the amount of people, food, and noise. We wandered around inside the tent with our host and our fellow travelers before Adam and I could not handle it anymore. We ventured out of the tent and into the city for some exploration.

We found Munich to be an exciting city. It gets better as you distance yourself from the Oktoberfest people. We enjoyed the town hall area and the shops in the area. Later we met up with our host and he gave us a tour of Munich. We saw the Ludwig Maximilian University, where Sophie Scholl famously tossed anti-Nazi pamphlets into the main hall. Later, we saw the Olympic Village and athletic facilities where Munich hosted the 1972 Olympic Games. I was pleased to happen upon the fancy BMW building designed by Zaha Hadid. We explored the building and the cars inside. Very cool.

From a distance, we also caught a glimpse of the new football arena that is shaped like a big blowup raft and which is brilliantly illuminated at night.

September 24, 2010 - Friday - Mindelheim

We caught a train to Mindelheim via Munich. We found a host on CouchSurfing who lives in Mindelheim. He was hosting Adam and me, along with two other travelers from Texas.

Our host and his girlfriend cooked a delicious meal of kasespätzle for us. It was outstanding. We are hoping to learn how to reproduce it later.

We watched our host and men from his village compete in a table tennis tournament with men from a neighboring village. We enjoyed the community’s spirit.

We slept that night in our host’s parents’ house in their small village of Salgen.

Septemer 23, 2010 - Thursday - Rhine Valley

We borrowed the bicycles again in the morning so we could ride along the banks of the Rhine River. We enjoyed the ride, but we decided to use a train after a few hours and little progress.

We rode the train all the way up to Koblenz where we sampled some more bratwurst and schnitzel. The return back to Flörsheim was just as pleasant as the way up. There are dozens of castles that bestrew each side.

September 22, 2010 - Wednesday - Freiburg/Flörsheim

We made a stop in Freiburg so we could walk around and take some snapshots of the area. We enjoyed a walk along a river and found a local company where Adam bought some items for his grandparents. Some of his ancestors lived in that city.

We finally arrived in Flörsheim after changing trains in Frankfurt. We stayed in an excellent hostel that provided us with free bicycle rentals.

We rode the bikes up the hill to a small little restaurant a few kilometers from the hostel.

I had a thrilling experience as I rode the bike back down the hill. I listened to Arcade Fire’s “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” as I coasted down the hill with my arms spread. The late-night weather was extremely pleasant and the surrounding vineyards and farmland were beautifully illuminated by an almost full moon.

September 21, 2010 - Tuesday - Milan

We enjoyed our hostel's complimentary breakfast and then walked around the city all day. We saw everything there is to see.

We found a restaurant that offered some fun pasta dishes before we caught the train for Switzerland.

The train traveled north through beautiful Italian countryside. We were impressed by a cool lake and the surrounding buildings all near communities called Meina and Stresa. The lakes mildly satisfied our interest in seeing Lake Como, which wasn't too far away.

We arrived in Biel later that night. We were very happy to be reunited with our friend and to take part in good conversation and to have a comfortable bed once again before going back up to Switzerland.

September 20, 2010 - Monday - Nice/Milan

We spent the morning investigating the waterfront. We couldn’t resist the urge to get some pastries, plus we were just plain hungry.

Our interest in Nice was quickly quenched. We jumped on board the train moving northeast to Monaco. There we found a galette shop and had a nice little lunch. Monaco is a very pricey place. We recognized the area from its representation in films and video games.

Monte Carlo's train station is buried deep into the mountain where the city is nestled. The engineering that creates these cities is marvelous.

We arrived in Milan that night and found our hostel after a half-hour walk. That night we ate some delicious Italian pizza. The crust was thin and the toppings were fresh and perfect. For relatively inexpensive prices, we each ate a whole pizza.

That night I chatted with some fellow hostel guests. I was fortunate to meet two Danish fellows who offered me accommodation when I pass through their city in November. The stars are aligning in my favor!

September 19, 2010 - Sunday - Bern/Nice

We had an ample breakfast with our host in Biel. He had purchased yogurts and breads and cheeses and juice. We tasted a popular bread called butterzopf. Zopf is a big, braided loaf with a very soft and light, but dense interior. So good!

Our host showed us the Swiss capital of Bern. It is a city that has been built upon a peninsula that is formed in a bend of the river Aare. Originally, the river served as a natural moat, as it formed a gorge of defense for the city. As the city grew, the planners would build a new fortification wall further out. Today, those walls provide character and distinction to the city. Five tall bridges give access to the city from the elevated surrounding land. Bern’s mascot and namesake is the brown bear. On the far side of the cities eastern bridge, there is a bear pit, which has since been moved and renovated to be a bear zoo. Bears are free to climb up and down the banks and swim in the river.

The center of town has the Swiss National Bank in addition to other banking buildings, government buildings and the Munster church.

We stopped in one of the many cafes for a local treat called nidlachuecha. This pie slice-shaped treat has a pastry crust with thick, sweet cream inside. Great stuff.

With minutes to spare, our host delivered us to the Bern train station and we jumped aboard a train for Nice via Geneva.

We were stunned by the views of Lake Geneva and the many vineyards that covered its north shore.

The ride through France was pleasant and then striking as we made it to the coast. The train cut through the beach communities along the Mediterranean. We caught a quick glance of Cannes. Looking back, we would have preferred seeing that instead of Nice.

Nice was not as quite as great as we thought it would be. I feel like the people who love Nice would come from the same stalk who love Las Vegas. Perhaps Nice is for those people with enough money to stay in one of its thousand big hotels. Certainly not for the poor young backpacker. In hindsight, we would have preferred a better look at Cannes.

September 18, 2010 - Saturday - Lucerne

Heeding our Swiss host’s advice, we traveled to Lucerne for the day. Lucerne welcomed us with splendid weather, beautiful landscapes, and a cool cheese festival. We sampled lots of great cheeses including some fondue. Fun stuff.

We walked all over the city and sampled its meats and pastries. We were generally pleased with Lucerne.

We returned to the Biel for the evening where Adam and I watched another two-hour dual episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. This time it was “Time’s Arrow” (Season 5 finale and Season 6 premier).

September 17, 2010 - Friday - Interlaken/Biel/Nidau

We ate a meager breakfast at the hostel and continued down to Interlaken. We were disappointed to have rain and clouds reduce our views and forced us to change the day’s plans. We wandered around through markets and neighborhoods until it was time for us to leave. We caught a train to Bern and then another on to Biel.

Most of our sleeping arrangements, along with our travel plans, were made one to three days in advance of our arrival to any given location. This allowed for some flexibility to change plans at last minute, and despite the how uncertain it sounds, we always found a place to stay and we always had a train going where we wanted to go.

This method was less functional when it came to seeking hospitality in the home of a real person. Uncle Jim connected us with a friend from his days in Switzerland and he graciously hosted us in his home in Nidau for two nights. His home was exceedingly comfortable and his hospitality was excelsior. He cooked delicious peach and curry chicken meal and we sat talking around the table late into the night. The discussion was provocative and entertaining.

I like to think that, as a young and relatively experienced traveler, I am immune to the comforts of this world and that I flourish when I am roughing it in trains, hostels, and camping grounds. This traveler’s rough exterior shell melted at the chance to sleep in a nice bed again and to eat at a true dinner table.

Descriptions of our host’s quality could fill up more pages than most people would want to read. So this report’s account of him will end here. Ask in person if you want to hear me use more superlatives.

September 16, 2010 - Thursday - Interlaken/Iseltwald

The train deposited us in Zurich, where we had an hour to walk not too far from the train station. I was happy to see an Apple store where we could connect to the wifi and check our morning email. (Adam put up with it. Apple. Not the wi-fi... He liked that.)

We caught the first available train from Zurich to Bern. From Bern we began our ascent. The views from the train were stunning as we climbed into the alps. Valleys with expansive green fields that reach up into forested mountains. The train wrapped around Thun Lake and dropped us off in Interlaken. Between Thun and Brienz lakes. We found prices in Switzerland to be generally prohibitive. We strolled along the Aare river that connects the two lakes looking for some sort of lunch. We found a hotdog stand that offered us an $8 hotdog with $4 french fries. We were relieved by such a comparatively good deal. We split the hotdog hamburger style.

From near the train station in Interlaken, our Eurail passes afforded us a ferry to a tiny lakefront village named Iseltwald on the south bank of Brienz. Our sordid hostel was less than the online advertising had promised, but it almost didn’t matter because we were sufficiently surrounded by some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world.

Brienz is full of glacial runoff water that picks up minerals on the way down. The minerals turn the water a crisp glaucous color. Wikipedia considers the color to be depressing, but Adam and I were refreshed just looking at it. The surrounding mountains are loaded with dark green forests from top to bottom whose density is only interrupted green grass fields or stylish Swiss chalets.

The Lake Lodge Hostel housed us for the night on the south bank of the Brienz. We shared the seven-bed room with an engaging, London-based, Australian girl. She makes regular trips to the continent. We recruited her to accompany us to the city for some food and sightseeing. She was fun to have around and we enjoyed exchanging traveling experiences with her. We found a delicious döner kebap establishment for dinner.

September 15, 2010 - Wednesday - Vienna

We spent this day walking around the area that surrounded our hostel. We enjoyed the quiet shade of the woods and the beautiful views that it offered of the city. We were able to finish a load of laundry at the hostel which was a major relief. We spent time napping on the lawn near the vineyards and later we patronized a restaurant a ten-minute walk from there. We each enjoyed a large platter of wiener schnitzel accompanied by cranberry sauce, lemon wedges, potato salad, and green salad. A magnificent meal.

I was sad to leave this comfortable place that evening to board another night train. This time, the night train left at 10:30pm. We shared the cabin with three Swiss math nerds who were on their way back from a week-long math nerd competition in Slovakia. We had a good time talking to them for a bit before we went to sleep.

September 14, 2010 - Tuesday - Vienna

So far during our trip, the hostels have been relatively close the train stations, and we have had little trouble walking to and from. This time, in Vienna, we were initially startled to find that we had booked a hostel so far away from the train station. It required a twenty-minute metro ride to the outskirts of town, where we caught a bus that took us up into the bucolic northern hills of Vienna. Upon alighting the bus, we saw a building that was surrounded by vineyards at its front and woods at its back. We were pleased by the accommodations and the unobstructed view of the whole city.

So much so that when we went down into the city to see the buildings and try the food and enjoy the culture, we found ourselves disappointed with what it offered and we wanted to go back to our lodging.

We enjoyed a strong internet connection from my room which meant that I could catch up on Mad Men, True Blood, Entourage, and Hung along with the many podcasts I consume.

Adam and I ended the day with a relaxing evening of watching the two-hour dual episode “Redemption” (Season 4 finale and Season 5 premier) of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Great times.

September 13, 2010 - Monday - Prague

We filled ourselves with the complimentary breakfast at our hostel before we checked out and stowed our luggage in their locker.

We spent the morning investigating the city some more. On our way to Charles Bridge, we ate a small and expensive pastry which was made by wrapping dough around a wide dowel and then sprinkling it with sugar and cinnamon and rotating it over a fire until it cooks.

At Charles Bridge, I became eager to identify the locations that were used in critical scenes from Brian De Palma’s Mission: Impossible. The bridge along with the Lichtenstein Building were some memorable areas in which we reveled.

Once we crossed to the west side of Charles Bridge, we started hiking up the hill toward the castle. That path was dotted on either side with embassies from all around the world. We were less inclined to have our cameras out this time around. The American embassy distinguished itself by having much more security than other embassies in the area - more to the point, the other embassies didn’t appear to have any visible security. We remarked on the shame of belonging to a country whose provocations in the world have demanded such heightened security and paranoia.

Resting above embassy row was a large park that extended 200 meters up the hill to a monastery up top. We walked northwest from the monastery to the castle, and further on to a series of vineyards that carpet the hill. From there we crossed the Manesuv Bridge back into the city for a delicious meal at a Czech restaurant called Lokal. We had minced meat, potatoes, and a yummy apple-bread pudding. Later we returned to the hostel to regroup with our Canadian friends.

The four of us went returned to Old Town Square to meet the guide of a free tour. The group was small, including our guide (a delightful Czech young lady named Klara) the two Canadians, and a friendly couple from New Zealand. We thoroughly enjoyed the company of this small group and we stayed with them for the remainder of our stay in Prague. The free tour took us from the Old Town Square, the Astronomical Clocktower, the Tyn Church, the Old-New Synagogue, the Old Jewish Cemetery, the Charles Bridge, Little Vienna, Prague Castle, Matthias Gate, and St Vitus Cathedral.

Klara left us at the castle, and the six of us found a nearby medieval-themed restaurant where we ate delicious pork medallions in cranberry sauce along with some refreshing beverages. The Canadians peeled off from the group early to participate in a pub-crawl, but we stayed and talked into the night with the Kiwis. Outstanding people. (As London residents, they very well may host me as a guest in November when I pass through the city.)

We returned to Lokal restaurant to watch the first set of the Nadal vs. Djokovic US Open final. Nadal was exhibiting some outstanding athleticism.

Our night train to Vienna left at 12:30 AM that night, so we could not finish the tennis match. We gathered our things from the hostel’s locker and made our way to the train station.

We boarded the train for our first experience with a night train. Our quarters had six couchettes (sleeping berths) in each compartment. We shared that small room with three Austrians.

September 12, 2010 - Sunday - Berlin to Prague

We enjoyed an nice breakfast at Hackescher Markt before boarding a train for Prague.

The train passed through Dresden. Dresden appeared to be a delightful and vibrant young city. We both would have enjoyed seeing some more of it.

The absolute highlight of this ride was the extremely picturesque valley that the river Elbe carved out of lower Saxony and the village of Bad Schandau. The intense beauty of the valley drew us out of our seats toward the train’s northern windows as the our path traced along the south bank of the river’s path. The river’s color was healthy. There was abundant green grass extending from the water up to a single row of classic German-style houses that spotted the valley. Just beyond the string of houses, the valley floor turned steeply into a forested mountainside, topped with castles and rocky escarpments.

Just southeast of this valley, we continued along the Elbe across the German/Czech border. The countryside was less mountainous but still very attractive.

We arrived in Prague in the early evening. Rather than use public transportation from the train station to our hostel, we decided to walk. Barring a few errors in navigation through the streets and alleys, we made it to the Old Prague Hostel. The hostel was satisfactory for our needs. We met a friendly pair of Canadian girls whom we would later accompany on a free tour of the city.

We were unprepared for the change of currency from the Euro to the Crown. One dollar is worth roughly 20 Czech Crowns.

We found a nice place to eat local sausage and pizza at a restaurant in the Old Town Square. As we ate, we scanned the square and observed passers by. We found Prague to be immediately delightful.

We spent the remainder of the evening walking past the buildings and along the river with the main goal of looking for an adequate venue for watching the Nadal vs. Djokovic final of the US Open. The final was postponed a day due to rain.

We were pleased to find delicious sausages for sale at the base of Wenceslas Square. Unique to Prague was the frequency with which we were invited to partake in vice: multiple marijuana salesmen, and several strip-club hustlers.

September 11, 2010 - Saturday - Berlin

We got lunch just outside the hotel at a currywurst stand. They had delicious wurst and fresh French fries.

We walked south across the Spree and saw the Reichstag building. Moving east, we saw Brandenburg Gate and the contents of that plaza: US Embassy, French Embassy, DB Bank (designed by Frank Gehry). South from there, we walked through the Holocaust Memorial. We reached the former location for Hitler’s bunker, which is now nothing more than a drab parking lot with some information printed on a simple sign. We continued south to the large Ministry of Finance building that was formerly the Nazi’s Air Force building. Berlin has an upsetting recent history and elements of that history are strewn about. It is a blend of memories of the World War II and the Cold War. Remnants of the Berlin Wall border the SS “Topography of Terror” museum. Little Trabant (Trabi) cars can be rented by tourists and they buzz all around you. Checkpoint Charlie capitalizes on the nostalgia for that era with phony American security officers and cheap Cold War-era paraphernalia.

We secured our tickets for Prague the next day.

We returned to Rosenthalerplatz for more döner kebap, marking the beginning of Adam’s weariness of such repetition. Directly after this, we rode the S-Bahn down to the Templehoff airfield. This was the site of the Berlin air lift, and the main structure is one of the largest buildings in the world. The airfield no longer functions as an airport, but it is now a massive park where locals go to run/bike/skate/rollerblade on the tarmak, and picnic on the grass. We were both very impressed by the expansiveness of the field. The accompanying weather couldn’t have been better.

September 10, 2010 - Friday - Amsterdam/Brussels/Berlin

Early in the morning we arose and hired a taxi to take us to the train station. We caught the first train to Brussels.

In Brussels, we purchased a variety of pastries and spent an hour walking around the downtown region. We walked through the park in front of the Royal Palace and passed by the American embassy. Belgian security stopped Adam from taking pictures of the embassy and looked through the camera to delete any images he had captured. Serious folks!

We switched trains in Cologne, and had some currywurst in the station. The train from Cologne to Berlin was busy and most seats were reserved. Eurail passengers without reservations, like us, resorted to standing or sitting on the ground in vestibules in between the cars.

We arrived in Berlin in the evening and checked into the Meininger hotel directly west of the Berlin Hauptbahnhoff. The Meininger is clean, and new, and hiply designed. The lobby had free internet and the rooms were clean and comfortable. We shared the room with two young Englishmen from Wimbledon. They were both uninterested in tennis and one of them offered to give me the free tickets that the local residents receive.

Having previously been to Berlin several weeks before, I was prepared to show Adam around. Our first task was to return to taste the best döner kebap in the city. We took the S-Bahn to Alexanderplatz and walked northwest until we reached Rosenthalerplatz. We enjoyed their excellent meat, bread, cabbage, and sauces very much.

We caught the S-Bahn heading east and alighted near the zoo. The bombed out Kaiserwilhelmgedachtniskirche was well lit and a stark reminder of scenes that took place in this area. We went to a small local restaurant where I had met an interesting Englishman a few weeks earlier. Alas, he was not there.

September 9, 2010 - Thursday - Amsterdam

We missed the complimentary breakfast provided by our hostel and went out to find a good version of Dutch apple pie. We found some that was more impressive than the day before, but we were most impressed by the heavy whipped cream that came on the side.

We passed by the Rijkmuseum that was entirely shrouded in scaffolding and lead us to believe that it was closed. Even if it had been open, our budget would have prevented us from purchasing tickets to enter. We left such purchases for future visits to Holland.

Daunted by the high price of food we found a supermarket and purchased a fresh loaf of bread and a small wedge of camembert cheese. We were very satisfied.

We made our way through the bicycle traffic along the beautiful canal paths toward the Anne Frank Haus. We did not go inside.

From there we turned toward the heart of the city and made our way across the canals to reach the Red Light district. Along the way we noticed a memorial to homosexuality in the shape of a large triangle that juts out into one of the canals. It’s called the Homomonument and it commemorates gays and lesbians who have been subject to persecution because of their sexuality.

We passed various restaurants in search of lower prices and appetizing food. After several hours of indecision, we found a delightful hole-in-the-wall French fry stand along with a Chinese noodle shack that offered free wi-fi.

Later, we roamed the streets of the Red Light district full of wonder, dismay, and discouragement in humanity. We satisfied our discouragement with some more French fries.

We returned to our hostel to find the room full of American tourists and a young couple from Argentina. The Americans were a rowdy bunch.

September 8, 2010 - Wednesday - Amsterdam

Adam and I met in the StayOkay hostel near the Vondelpark in Amsterdam in the early evening. Adam arrived earlier than me by a few hours because of train delays from my origin point of Nantes, France. The weather that evening oscillated between between sunny and rainy every half hour. We stowed our belonging in the eight-cot dorm room and we hit the streets in search of free internet and affordable food. We stopped at a bar that advertised free internet, but our iPhones could not connect to their network. For dinner we found a döner kebap restaurant that was airing a live match of the US Open. The döner was less impressive than what is found in Germany and Spain.

Still seeking free wi-fi, we returned to the same bar with MacBook in hand. This time, oddly, Adam’s iPhone was the only device that would connect with their network. He managed to communicate with his family through the Skype app on his phone.

Based on reports from our guidebooks, and my obsession with apple (food, this time) products, we tried the Dutch apple pie at the bar. It was less than impressive.

That night, we shared the dorm room with one Australian man who was in Europe for a friend’s wedding.


I was lucky to find a host through in Rennes for three nights. I slept and ate very well during my stay there. I was shown the best local food and I was extremely comfortable. My wonderful hostess showed me around the city and provided wonderful conversations during my stay. Rennes served as my base camp during my day trip to Mont Saint Michel.

I finished reading The Professor and the Madman on the bus back from Mont Saint Michel. Great book.

I spent the next week in Nantes, where I was hosted by a couple new friends. Nantes is a delightful city with proximity to a range of Atlantic beaches. I got to visit and swim in beaches in Pornic and Saint Nazaire. Saint Nazaire has the remains of an old heavily fortified u-boat submarine base from the second world war. Additionally, I visited a beach in La Baule, which was made famous by Jacque Tati's Monsieur Hulot's Holiday.


This was my first time in France. It was nice to finally be in the famous city of Paris. The city of hearts and love and mushiness. I liked the city fine, but it did not impact me on any romantic level. Our exposure to the city was positive because we had Catherine as a host and tour guide. We rode around the city on the Velib (public bike service). We saw everything we needed to see from the point of view of those bicycles.

We stayed in the apartment of Catherine's sister, where we enjoyed preparing meals. Catherine cooked us a delicious quiche and we couldn't have been happier.

Paris was where all of my travel companions left me on my own. I held back the tears as Will and Tasha rode off in a train to catch their flight home.

This was the moment where the reality of my travel plans finally struck me. This was going to be a time of loneliness.


Almost purely inspired by the 2008 film, In Bruges, we spent a few days there. We met Will’s former French exchange student from high school, Catherine, and she was a wonderful addition to our crew. Tasha was sure to enjoy having another lady in the group, and I enjoyed having a European contributor.

Bruges is beautiful, with its cobbled streets and canals and the swans and all that. There's a massive tower with a quaint square at its foot. It’s like a fairy tale. We knew we were awake, but it all felt like a dream.


We spent the night in the Amman airport and said our goodbyes to our fellow students. We finally departed for Germany with our smaller group of travelers.

Upon arrival to Frankfurt, Andy and I split up with Will and Tasha. They went up to Amsterdam and Andy and I went to Berlin with our friends, Becca and Kate.

We loved Berlin. The four of us spent a few days there consuming the local specialties and visiting locations of historic and cultural importance. [Note: I will return to Berlin and write about it in more detail.]

We were sad to leave, but excited to meet up with Will and Tasha in Bruges.


Jerash - After a messy border crossing, we saw the Roman ruins of Jerash. Fun, old ruins.

Amman - We spent a night in Amman where we had easy access to a nearby Carrefour. Carrefour had Dr Pepper and Speed Stick. Exactly what the doctor ordered.

Petra - Petra was a really cool place to spend a day. I enjoyed seeing the Treasury and climbing up atop the Monastery. It was also fun to see T.E. Lawrence’s old stomping grounds at Wadi Rum.


We stayed in a great hotel on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Great food at their breakfast buffet. Great place to swim. Fun times.


We left the western gate of Jerusalem and descended into whatever valley is northwest of Jerusalem. We stopped several times to see tels and old things. We stayed that night in Nazareth at a fabulous Catholic convent. The convent provided clean sleeping conditions and great food. It was a fun place to stay for two nights and to experience the first night of Ramadan (read: with Christians.)


From the Egyptian border town of Taba, we crossed into Israel early in the morning. We abandoned our Egyptian driver and tour crew and met their Palestinian counterparts on the other side. The border was a typical scene of excessive Israeli scrutiny and many from our group were thoroughly searched.

We drove north along the Israel/Jordan border and the west shore of the Dead Sea. We stopped at Masada and the site of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls on our way up and into Jerusalem. We approached Jerusalem from the east, passing Jericho and into a tunnel that spat us out on the Mount of Olives with a view of the old city.

We stayed in the BYU Jerusalem Center for about a week. It was great to stay there and consume their abundant food and rest in their comfortable accommodations. Most exciting was the chance to see Cousin Abbie and to spend some fun time with her and her friends. It is nice to be with family on the far side of the world.

The week in Jerusalem was full of trips to important biblical sites and historical structures. If you've heard of it, we probably went there. The highlight for me was Santiago Calatrava’s white Chord Bridge at the western entrance into Jerusalem.


Dahab is an Egyptian resort town on the eastern shore of the Sinai. We checked into our resort hotel just north of Dahab and then went up the coast a bit to swim at a famous water hole called Blue Hole. We snorkeled and ate lunch. I sat with Dil as he reviewed my final exam with me. It was frustrating to see the stupid mistakes that I had made, but it was nice to know that I had no need to think about school or grades for the next five months.

We made a trip into Dahab to purchase some provisions for the next day’s journey. The small waterfront community provokes many grand memories.

Mount Sinai

We arrived at St. Katherine’s and began our ascent to the top of Mount Sinai at midday. This trip is customarily made during the middle of the night for the sake of people who want to see the sunrise in the morning. In our case, the heat was intense and the sun was unforgiving. With little shade along the path and constant exposure to the sun, I would later suffer the effects of heat stroke. The views from the top of the mountain are impressive. From there you can see more mountains.

We descended using a different path built of stone steps. We were graced with rain for a few minutes during our descent. This was the first rain we had felt in months and it couldn’t have been more welcome.

My bunk-mate for the entirety of the trip was Andy Bolen. Our different natures compliment each other well, and we have fun with our similarities.

That night, my body effused the heat that I had absorbed during the day. I slept poorly.

Farewell to Cairo

I was plagued by some unknown ailment during my last two weeks in Cairo. For some of the time I was too weak to get out of bed. Others, my symptoms were too nasty to make it feasible. Despite this weakness and some poor attendance towards the end, my grades were not dreadful. In fact, my grades were good. Good grades, everyone.

I left Cairo with the majority of the BYU Arabic students from the summer classes. We all loaded into a bus at Midan Siwaris. My roommates and I were happy to get out of our apartment.

I had the great Mike White as my bus companion from the very beginning. We were always edging for a good seat up front; near the Parkinsons and the Andruses. Mike was an ideal travel companion. Though up front, we were never too far away from Andy Bolen, Will Hussman, and other close friends.

Coming soon: A Eurolog

I plan on posting a record of my travels through Europe. The three months in Cairo from April to August will not be covered by these posts. It should be sufficient to know that I passed my classes. The trip started as soon as I left Cairo with a group of BYU students. The rough plan for this blog is to post daily chronological segments so that whoever is reading this doesn't have to sludge through one large block of text.

This log will surely prove insufficient. There are stories that I am reserving to tell in person. I look forward to that.

Please feel free to skim. And if the reading gets boring, you can always enjoy the picture version of this account here.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


(Click image to enlarge.)

These are my predictions for the Oscars tonight. Red arrows indicate which movies I think WILL win. Highlighted movies are those I WISH would win.

I hope you all enjoy the show. I'm looking forward to the comedic stylings of Martin and Baldwin, and the montages. Oh, the montages!