Steph and Al's Super Dimension Century Europe Trip 2007
Stephane Vautour and I have known eachother since Christmas 1984 through my brother Guillaume. Guillaume, Stéphane and I hung out pretty much every day until highschool, when the lot of us branched off in different directions. Stéphane and I would still hang out fairly often until university, when we were both too busy and such. Then, after only seeing eachother a few times a year for roughly five years (we lived in different cities), we decided to go to Europe together in April 2007. The last time I had seen Stéphane for an extended period of time was at his wedding a few years back. I was a bridegroom and Guillaume was the best man.
So, on Saturday the 1st of April I set off for Munich (Germany) from Montreal via Toronto. I took off late in the day, so the flight landed at 10 the next morning. I'm still not sure which is more difficult to cope with: the lag going to Europe, or the lag coming back. In any case, the two in-flight movies for the trip were The Prestige (!) and Goldfinger (!!!). Yes, *that* Goldfinger. I was pretty happy about that.
I waited an hour for Stéphane in the Munich airport (he took a different flight), and then we set off, humongous backpacks on our back and all, towards the hostel we'd be staying in for the night. It was a pretty swinging place, and we met a couple young American girls that were studying abroad. We drank a few beer with them at the hostel bar that evening.
Early the next morning, we set off to the car rental place where we picked up Gretschen, our Mercedes B170. She was our wheels for the next two weeks. To my dismay, the CD player was part of an on-board navigation system, and the navigation CD was locked in and could not be removed. We did not have means to play the CDs I had brought. Still, we loaded up on bread and cheese (a good, cheap diet) and we took off for Chamonix (France) around 11am; it was a seven hour drive, which is fine by Canadian standards. I did 95% of driving during this trip, and I did all the city driving, being used to Montreal traffic. In any case, we got briefly lost on the way there, stopped briefly in Montreux (Switzerland), and got to Chamonix, in the heart of the French alps around sundown. Then, we had to find a hostel... The street names were very cryptic and poorly advertised, so it took a good two hours to find that damn hostel.
Chamonix was a neat little town, but the obvious attraction was Le Mont Blanc At close to 5km tall, it's the tallest mountain in Western Europe. We took the cable car to go on top of an adjascent mountain (this one only 3.8km tall...), and it was absolutely amazing. There are a lot of pictures of this but none of them can really describe how I felt. The air is also very thin, and climbing a dozen stairs is enough to knock the wind out of you.
We stayed in a quiet, clean, empty hostel for two nights. The morning after we got up, we climbed back into Gretschen and drove south to head to Nice (France). On the way, we stopped in Avignon (France) to take pictures of the bridge and la place des Papes as well as pay the first of many exuberant parking fares. In France, there are tolls every 45mins or so, and they average to about 6-7 Euro (1 Euro = 1.5 Can$). Gas is also twice the price as it is here, with an average of 1.3 Euro per litre.
We went to Nice on the sole basis that I wanted to go to Monaco, a tiny adjacent country, and walk along the city streets that become a Formula 1 race track once a year. We got to Nice in the evening, and it was rainy. Nice is set on the Mediterranean, and the beaches are beyond description. That night, however, it looked totally sketchy because there was nobody out. Despite the warm temperature (23 ish), the rain kept everybody indoors. Added to our anxieties, we had beds reserved at this hostel/hotel/apartment place that was freshly painted and empty. The Italian landlady kept insisting that we pick chicks up and "give it to them." Then there was the family of political refugees across the hall that apparently kept having their door kicked in. The parking garage where we left Gretschen was also of dubious nature. I was convinced that our car was going to get stolen and that the followind day, our room was going to get broken into.
Luckily, the next morning, the sun was shining bright, and we took the train to Monaco and forgot about all that. Monaco was very pretty, no bums in sight. Oddly enough, it wasn't too touristy. And it was cheap to eat too! I walked the track like I wanted to, and we were constantly passed by a group of five Ferraris that would circle the streets that made up the track all day long. Every lap, they each had a different hot woman in the passenger seat. When was passed by the entrance of the Casino, there was a lineup of Paris Hilton lookalikes, waiting for their turn at a ride in a Ferrari... Keep in mind these are city streets that are used daily, so they could only go 30-40 km/h.
After that, we went to the Prince's museum of antique cars. This was very nice as well. BTW, that Prince was married to Grace Kelly.
Late in the afternoon, we headed back to Nice, where we went to see the ruins of the old Palace and ate some pizza and gelato. We thought they were great, but we hadn't even reached Italy yet...
On Friday morning, we headed off towards Italy to get to Denis Robichaud's place in Florence (Italy) around suppertime. We stopped in Pisa on the way to see the leaning tower. The town is rather small and ghetto-y.
We got to Florence that evening, dropped off Gretschen at a parking garage for six nights and called Denis Robichaud. Denis is a Monctonian who studies Rennaissance history at John Hopkins University in Baltimore. He also teaches Italian there. For those who know her, Jooli is his big sister. He's been in Florence for two months to do reashearch on Marsilio Ficino for his Doctorate studies. Needless to say, he was a walking history lesson of the Renaissance, which was both our favourite part of the trip. Denis' roommate was away for Easter weekend, so the place was empty. We stayed three nights with him. On Easter, Denis made us a batch of fresh pasta (Italian pasta is even better than you think it is) with a white sauce, and served us some wine. It was comforting to spend Easter with friends, despite being so far from our families.
In Florence, we visited too many things to mention, but the highlights were the Santa Croce duomo and the Accademia museum (where Michaelangelo's David is exhibited). We ate one of Florence's most famous foodstuff, the "bistecca alla fiorentina, a huge steak of Chianina beef cooked over hot charcoal and served very rare." (Wikipedia). Keep in mind we ordered 1.5kg of the stuff (that's a little over a pound of beef each), and had bread, some pasta, potatoes and greens (as well as wine, of course) to go with that. YUM! We each bought some Italian shoes, as well. In Italy in general, we ate copious amounts of gelato.
We decided to go to Rome (Italy) monday opted to leave most of our stuff and Gretschen in Florence and to go there by train. We didn't have reservations in Rome, and all the hostels were packed, so we ended up staying two nights in this tiny, tiny hotel room. To be fair, it was clean and away from the main train station (and hence the pickpockets) and had a television! Monday afternoon, we visited the Colosseum and we were both floored. It is deffinately the most incredible man-made thing I have ever seen. It's incredible (in the not credible sense) that ANYONE could build something that gargantuous using the native materials (the stones are very sandy and are scratched easily), let alone keep it standing for 2000 years! I felt very human standing inside it, like this was the real culminating point of human accomplisment. After linering in the Colesseum for an hour or so, we went to the other ruins: the Palatine Hills, the Forum, and (later) the Circus.
That evening, we went back to the hotel to sit down an hour or so before heading out for some booze, and I turned the TV on. To my surprise, Ranma was playing in Italian! It was the episode where Ranma hits his head and thinks he's a girl for real. Funny stuff, even in Italian.
The next day, we visited Vatican City, and not knowing what to do after, we decided to go back to Palatine Hill. On the way, I bought an impossible-to-find Iron Maiden record. On Wednesday morning we took the train to Florence where we met up with Denis again. He was a model host once more, and much to our chagrin, he couldn't accompany us back to Munich. The last evening we were there, he took us to a tiny, tiny pizza joint he liked very much. He affectionately calls the owners/cooks the "crazy pizza guys," with good reason. In any case, the place has four tables, each of which has two chairs. They only serve three pizza:
You could NOT alter anything about these pizza or ask for anything else. We each had one and shared. Each pizza was better than the last! Deffinately the best pizza I'll ever had, I'm sure.
After paying 126 Euro for six days of parking, we left for Munich on Thursday morning, stopping for one night at a hostel in Venice (Italy). Venice is very overrated. It's exacly like Disney land in the sense that there are only tourists and seasonal workers accomodating the tourists. The streets are tiny, yes, and you will get lost in them, yes. The best part about Venice was the lack of automobiles. This was refreshing.
Friday, we left early in the morning for Munich where we dropped our beloved Gretschen off at her home. We were sad to see her go, but were both looking forward to going home. On Saturday, our last day there, we took a train to go to Füssen (Germany), a small town where Castle Neuschwanstein is located. It was built by Mad King Ludwig and it's the castle upon which Sleeping Beauty's castle was based. It's relatively new (late 19th century), and it's absolutely tacky. It's like if you gave a guy from Memramcook $20M and told him to build his dream house. It would have a 13-door garage, a race track and a mud pit as well as a lot of taxidermy. Well, this is basically what happened here. The craftmanship was fantastic, but very over the top and generally tasteless. For example, he has a tiny throne room where the steps to the throne are so big and the room so small that there's room for maybe a half-dozen subjects at the bottom. Oh, and he also had a plaster grotto built on the fourth floor.
That Saturday night, we invited our nerdy Brazilan man roommate to accompany us to the Hofbräuhaus, Munich's most popular beer hall. We drank 1 litre beers and chanted along with a good 1000 people to the oompa band until well into the night.
After that, it was all about packing, passports and getting to the airport. The flight home was more comfortable and pleasant (free booze!), but the movie sucked. They played The Holiday as well as a crappy documentary. At least I had my discman and my Sherlock holmes and booze to keep me company.
It was a direct flight, and I got in Montreal around 3pm Sunday afternoon. The only three things I brought back were two pairs of Italian shoes and that Iron Maiden record.
-Alexis Fortier (April 22, 2007)
Jet Flyin', Limo Ridin', Kiss Stealin', Wheelin' Dealin' Son of a Gun
While reading this, the only time I thought "hey, that's pretty cool" was here
Added to our anxieties, we had beds reserved at this hostel/hotel/apartment place that was freshly painted and empty. The Italian landlady kept insisting that we pick chicks up and "give it to them." Then there was the family of political refugees across the hall that apparently kept having their door kicked in. The parking garage where we left Gretschen was also of dubious nature. I was convinced that our car was going to get stolen and that the followind day, our room was going to get broken into.
I'm really glad you guys had a good time, though.
Jet Flyin', Limo Ridin', Kiss Stealin', Wheelin' Dealin' Son of a Gun