Around the world..

5 friends, 3 weeks, one van. See Europe like we do as we post our adventures from the road. email us;

Current Mission: Home, Sweet Home

PARISIAN TOURISM May 25th 2009 @ 8:53pm
Mission: La Rochelle
Current music: Phoexnix - Lasso
Beverage: un litre du biere
Latest Quote: un litre du perrier svp

Our last day in Paris began bright and early– we had big plans to fit in Paris' remaining three big sights in one day. After another classic breakfast of croissants, soft boiled eggs, and café, we headed into the city. First destination, Notre Dame Cathedral.

As we approached Notre Dame we were immedatitloy confronted with a line of biblical proportions. Luckily a passing tour bus parted the line like moses parting the red sea and we took our rightful positons at the front of the line. Once inside we admired the stained glass windows and soaring arches. it was all very church-like and packed with folks. A choir was singing in french at the center of the church, bringing a subtle air of mystery and piety to a space otherwise populated by tourists. There is something quite moving about the sound of foreign verse booming through a cathedral of such magnificence.

Feeling slightly more holy, we crossed over the Seine river and settled at a shady table outside a cafe for a quick lunch. Alex was parched and asked the waiter for a large Perrier. The waiter explained that the large size was a liter and confirmed with Alex that this was indeed the size he wanted. Alex confirmed again and the waiter promptly returned with the largest beer we had ever seen. Apparently the waited had heard Biere and not Perrier.

Amazingly enough the five of us had no problem polishing off Alex's drink, and we proceeded to make our way towards the Louvre. We approached the massive museum from the back, and after what felt like at least a mile of walking past the huge and ornate edifice we found ourselves at the base of the giant glass pyramid that serves as both an entrance to the louvre, and an entrance to the adjacent underground luxury-goods mall.

As any proper tourist would, we promptly spotted the signs featuring mini mona lisas and followed them through ornate frescoed hallways lined with golden cherubs and 20 foot long oil paintings of decapitated knights and oversized babies.

We worked our way past the sea of eager tourists who were no doubt taking pictures of the DaVinci masterpiece for counterfitting purposes, in order to see it for ourselves. Being as we are also tourists, and were also very interested in starting our own counterfeit Mona Lisa's business. We captured our obligatory photo with big mona. It was awesome.

The lourve is a amazinging large building with each room bigger and more spectacular than the last. We were particuylarily impressed with the soaring ceilings and ornate mouldings. Among some of the highlights were Noplean the III's private "apartments" filled with overly ornate custom furniture, giant chandelieers and rediculous hunting murals. Also, his bed was really short. We wandered the immense museum until our legs were exhausted and stomachs empty. The only cure was a very tall and well engineered tower. But how would we find such a thing?

Turns out, some fellow named Gustav had made a really tall tower in the late 1800's in this very city! Clearly the only remedy for our exhasusted legs would be to forgo the premium priced elevators and head straight to the countless flights of stairs winding up a leg of the immense Eifel Tower. At the top of the middle platform we were greeted by soaring views of paris. We decided to depart from the norm and take a couple photos.

After returning home for a brief nap and a failed attempt to procure swimming caps for the caps-are-required-and-everyone-else-has-one pool we parted ways with Tollef as he went in search of ticket for the sold out Phoenix show.

>>Bonjour! Tollef here. So it turns out that Phoenix, an awesome french indie/electronic band was releasing their new album today, and playing a concert in Paris tonight! The concert was long sold out (compleat), but I wanted to check it out anyway and see if I could scalpe a ticket. I headed over to Le Cigale at about show time, and as soon as I got there from outside I could hear the band take the stage to huge cheers. I tried out a little french and asked the bouncer about tickets and if the show was compleat. He informed me that indeed the show was sold old, but I pushed him about how to get a ticket. He pointed to a group of guys standing across the sidewalk.

After a few minutes of haggling with the guys about price they accepted my €30 offer. They had told me that they were friends with the bouncer and after I paid them the bouncer would let me in. It was a bit sketchy, but I took the risk, handed over my €30 and then walked in. No problem!

Phoenix played an awesome set, all the great tracks off their new album and all their old classics. The audience was going crazy and singing along in English! Crazy packed, crazy French and crazy awesome.

After reuniting with tollef, lightning cracked overhead and it started raining—hard. We ducked into the nearest bistro and once again found ourselves deciphering a challenging french menu. Alex ordered Beef Tartare, Pete went with veal penne, Emmett tried duck confit and Skot, not being a far of the bones in a duck dish went with the boneless-sounding "Pot au Feu". None had any idea what Pot au Feu was, but it really sounded a lot like Pot of Food.....

Turns out Pot au Feu was heavy on the bones—Skot's one and only kryptonite. If there is one thing in this universe that can make Skot cringe, it is bones. Chicken bones, beef bones, bone marrow—bones of all sorts. Skot is bone-hater numero uno.

>>insert awesome photos of skot loving Pot Au Feu<<

Emmett and Pete graciously provided duck and veal samples to supplement Skot's meal. After dinner we split into two cabs and retired to our 18th floor apartment for our last slumber in paris.

PARIS TO LA ROCHELLE May 26th 2009 @ 8:59pm
Current location: -1.143951, 46.157956
Mission: La Rochelle
Beverage: Niort Cider

At 8am, the sweet beepy melodies of the swedish band Juvelen rang out on Tollef's iPhone, waking us up in time for the big day ahead. Tollef fired up the griddle to cook us some toast prepared in the French style (in France toast is made by soaking brioche in eggs, milk and cinnamon following by pan frying, and topping with syrup from the tree du maple). We enjoyed a last breakfast on the balcony, afterwards Pete and Alex headed across town to retrieve our van while Tollef, Skot and Emmett cleaned and packed.

With the car packed and our bellys full of toast we headed to Montparnasse to attempt to see the fabled Parisian catacombs. We stepped into the back of the rather significant line, and it promptly began to rain. We went back to car to dry off and came up with the theory that due to the rain the other tourists would abandon the line in search of dryer activities, and we could swoop into the catacombes line-free. This was an incorrect theory. Instead, we stocked up on baguettes and cheese, and Alex set course for Versailles.

Versailles was an easy twenty minute drive out of the city, and we had little trouble finding parking right near the entrance to the palace. Having heard that the palace's gardens were something not to miss we walked past the golden gates of the palace and right to the gardens.

Garden is a bit of understatement. As we walked towards the edge of the patio behind the palace we were confronted with hectres of perfectly manicured gardens, and mile long reflecting pools reaching as far as the eye could see. We headed to a portion of the garden that reminded us of levels in the legend of zelda- square hedge lined paths led to hidden fountains and decaying sculpture gardens. All the while opera blared from speakers mysteriously hidden in the shrubs.

As we were about to leave suddenly the music stopped and a voice came on and said something exciting-sounding in french, and all of the fountains came to life, spraying water out of the mouths of horses, giant frogs, posideons, turtles, and and frog-turtle-man hybrids. Filled with a sufficient dose of the epic, ancient, and ornate, we headed back to the van and Emmett took the wheel for the remainder of our journey to La Rochelle.

The French countryside was lush and very agricultural—like the caliornia central valley, but with significantly more castles. We passed through Tours, getting petrol and Bolognase flavored potato chips. We made our way to la rochelle.

"Whoa!", Alex exclaimed as our Ford Transit passed a road sign with a giant image of a futuristic moonbase on it. Excitement burst from our vehicle as we passed a second sign, this one for "Futurescope". Emmett took the next exit and our horizon was quickly filled with retro-futuristic structures in the shape of spheres, crystals and cubes. What was this Futurescope? An Amusement park? A failed French Telecom endeavor to create a futuristic business park? An institute of science?

As we approached we felt an erie emptiness, the air of a future of that never was. We soon realized that Futurescope was in fact an amusement park, but one absent the traditional crowds and sprawling roller coasters. Granted it was after 8pm, but even then Disney would be bustling at that hour.

Exploring some nearby administrative buildings in what could have been a business park, we came upon an epic sign. Futureopolis! We had obtained a sudden sense of glory and purpose. We parked the Transit and continued exploration on foot. The stark, futuristic buildings contrasted the lush French countryside that would fit perfectly in films like Gattica, THX 1138, Barbarella, or Logan's Run. The grounds surrounding the park were filled with rural inhabitants including foraging rabbits, plump grouse, and the occasional friendly feline.

Our curiosities were answered once we discovered the official entrance to Futurescope. Although we weren't willing to pay the €35 entrance fee, we did learn that Futurescope was he brainchild of René Monory. The 0.53 square kilometer park features roller coasters, and aquatic playground and Danse avec les Robots (Dances with Robots). The highlight of the park is a series of educational IMAX theaters showcasing virtual worlds and natural history films. Tollef made an attempt to enter the park, informing the ticketing lady that he was interested in the gift shop, but she was unbudging on the park entrance fee. We strolled back toward the Transit with the sunset warming our faces; feeling lucky to have stumbled across a conceptual jewel, but also forlorn like kids looking longingly into a candy shop at candy they will never taste.

Somewhere between Futurescope and La Rochelle, something stirred in the wheat fields.

We rolled into La Rochelle around midnight, checked into our clean and well-appointed hostel. Rested from napping in the back of the van, and eager to take in some french maritime nightlife, skot pete and alex hit the town, while emmett and tollef went to bed.

The TomTom pointed us toward a single option, displayed as a lonely martini glass on the screen at the end of the marina. We grabbed a few Jupilers and set forth along the marina. The still sea air was crisp as we walked past the motionless boats floating in the lowest of tides. At the end of the marina was a small, dark shopping center. From first scan, we thought that 1am was maybe past this sleepy town's bed time, but upon closer inspection, beats and laughter could be heard from outside the door of the Level Discotheque. The door suddenly opened and a stout bouncer welcomed us inside a dark, smoky stairwell.

The Level was more than we expected with it's flashing lights scanning a dance floor, a DJ beat matching new and classic jams, locals belting out spanish, american, and french kereoke anthems, and a dart board, which we gravitated toward. The place was expectedly slow for a Tuesday night. A handful of local dudes were either scanning an even smaller handful of local girls or were flirting with the fake breasted blonds that worked the bar. A few foreigners dotted the space, but seemed well integrated with the locals.

After a few rounds of darts padded with rounds of drinks, we realized that the place was filling up with people. By 3:00 the small dance floor was packed with singing and dancing locals. As we finished a third round of darts and drinks, Celline Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" came on the Karaoke. The crowd went nuts as a French woman sung a horribly off key version of the Titanic classic that was an audio equivalent of watching a train crash. We took this, and the fact it was 4:00, as our queue to head home. Walking back along the marina, morning birds started to serenade us home and soon to bed.

FRENCH OYSTERS May 27th 2009 @ 1:12pm
Current location: -1.073838, 44.644674
Mission: San Sebastien
Current music: diesel truckers - Kool Keith
Beverage: vino blanco
Latest Quote: im not a restaurant- im just a simple oyster farmer

We awoke in la rochelle, and filled ourselves with a traditional french breakfast of coco-crisps and yogurt (courtesy of hosteling international), and headed for spain. Tollef took the helm of the Ford and piloted us towards Bordeux, our first stop.

After a harrowing drive through streets only centimeters wider than the van, we found a parking space conveniently located near the center of town, but of questionable legality and dangerous proximity to active streetcar tracks.

Bourdeux was an amazing city- its beautiful streets full of busy people really gave us a taste of french life. We strolled along the walking promonade, had lunch, did a bit of shopping, and headed back to van. we started up our mammoth ford transit, folded in our mirrors and let TomTom guide us on the narrowest possible route out of town.

We had heard rumors of a small fishing village not far from bourdeoux called Gujan Mestras, so we took le petit detour towards the coast in search of delicious fresh oysters. We were not disappointed. The town was incredibly authentic, and we stopped for oysters at a small shack adjacent to docks busy with oyster boats coming and going.

we downed 18 grade-2 oysters, a loaf of delicious seeded bread, a few glasses of white wine, and a round of espressos. the proprietor of the restaurant, who was dressed like the Gordon's fish sticks guy, was very helpful in showing us the proper techniques for separating the oysters from the shell, as to "preserve their identity."

The most charming moment in the whole meal was when alex asked, in his best french, if he could get a glass of ice to cool down his espresso. The proprieter replied "I am not a restaurant, just a simple oyster farmer".

Current location: -1.984062, 43.324304
Mission: San Sebastien
Current music: the sweet sounds of the sea

Wanting to take advantage of the the sunny day san sebastian had given us, we awoke early and set out on a breakfast mission. We wandered down tree lined streets and historic squares, only to realize that san sebastian had but four breakfast options; cafe with croissant, croissant with cafe, croissant, or cafe. We ventured back towards our hostel, feeling slightly defeated, where much to our surprise we discovered that the cafe under our hostel had an excellent selection of breakfast options. We settled into a booth to enjoy the largest option on the menu which was café with a slice of Spanish Omelette.

Skot had heard from Robert that San Sebastian was home to some fine surfing. It turned out that the hostel owner had a nice 7'0 funshape board and Skot-sized wetsuit, so Skot set for the sea to catch some waves.

Meanwhile, Tollef and Emmett rented sweet front suspension mountain bikes and set out to explore the city en bicicleta, taking advantage of the ample bike lanes.

Alex and Pete hit the town via foot, perusing Seb-town's fine shopping options before climbing up a hill in the middle of the city to catch a vista of the stunning harbor.

Tollef and Emmett's bike ride led them to the beach, where they sought surfing skot's silver skull in the sea, while sighting sexy señoritas sunbathing in the sand sans swimsuit. Skot was not spotted in the surf, so they set down in the sand to siesta shirtless on the sunny shores of san sebastian spain, slept through their snooze, and sans sunscreen, suffered scorching sunburns.

With a long drive ahead of us, we loaded up our van with gelato, and set off towards Bilbao.

LIFE IS BETTER IN BILBAO May 28th 2009 @ 3:00pm
Current location: -2.923222, 43.253955
Mission: Bilbao
Current music: Los Amigos Invisibles

A brief jaunt in our jaunty van through the spanish countryside eventually led us to Bilbao, most famous for the Frank Ghery designed Guggenheim museum, and apparently not much else. The enormous museum was situated on a river passing through the center of town. stylish bridges passed overhead in every direction. The Gugg's large shiny curvaceous shapes reflected back on shallow pools and fountains around the perimeter.

Tollef and Skot managed to pass as 26 year old students for a reduced entrance fee and all of us entered into the enormous interior of the modern design masterpiece of a museum. We were required to sheath most of our cameras in plastic bags at the entry so we were only able to get a few covert pictures of the installations inside.

After we had our fill of delicious modern art we hung out in the expansive plaza outside and captured some timeless portraits in the setting Bilbao sun.

Current location: -2.448385, 42.466462
Mission: Barcelona, Spain
Current music: Into the Galaxy
Beverage: the smallest wines.

The road from Bilbao to Barcelona winds through ancient vineyards dotted with precarious mountain-top fortresses, castles, decaying stone walls and giant statues.

After a few hours of driving we were persuaded by our growing hunger to pull off the road in the town of Longroño. Following the signs promising cuidad centro we spotted a classic spanish alleyway jam packed with people. While it took a roughly 32-point turn to maneuver our giant monster ford into a parking spot, it was soon worth it.

We stumbled upon a bustling network of streets and alleyways alive with spanish language, tiny restaurants and crowds of people. Hoping for a casual (cheap) place to sit down and have a relaxing dinner it quickly became apparent that this would not be possible. All the outdoor cafes that seemed like restaurants were filled with people drinking, and all the bars in the alleyways were filled with people standing. It would seem that in this particular part of Spain the residents seem to stand up when they eat, and sit down when they drink.

We wound our way back through the alleys towards what we had previously thought were bars. At first we were a little unsure of what was happening, but once we figured out the system, we were hooked.

Every bar served one specialty pinxto along with a tiny glass of beer or wine. Patrons took their snacks and drinks outside and stood around barrels to eat and drink them. Once they were finished snacking at one restaurant they would move onto the next. We dined on grilled curry pork sandwiches, chorizo sausages, mushroom, shrimp towers and mountains of calamari and many many tiny glasses of wine.

BARCELONA! May 29th 2009 @ 1:34am
Current location: 2.173018, 41.380963
Mission: Barcelona, Spain

Alex piloted the mighty van through the night and we pulled into Barcelona at about 5 am. Thankfully the proprietor of our hostel was still awake and Alex negotiated us an extra night stay. We were a bit worried at first as the neighborhood our hostel was in looked verrrrrry sketchy. Graffitti everywhere, worn-out looking prostitutes digging through the trash and shady characters trying to sell us drugs of unknown varieties. La Rambla was not the place to be at 5am.

We carried our things inside and were relieved to find a very clean and newly-ikea-furnished dorm room. The hostel-keeper recommended we park the van near the beach, in a neighborhood called Barceloneta. Skot, Pete, and Emmett blearily drove the van towards the rays of light peeking through the buildings by the beach to seek a parking space. There were cars parked throughout the densely packed streets in the area, and we eventually found a space, cracked open a few jupilers, and took a leisurely stroll down the beach, exhausted and relieved to have reached our destination.

PARC GUELL! May 30th 2009 @ 8:52am
Current location: 2.153149, 41.41367
Current music: Flamenco
Beverage: water

Through a friend of Alex's mother we had a lead on a possible free apartment rental in Antibes, France. But we needed to call the rental company as soon as they opened to see about getting the key. Tollef was the first to rise and called the rental agency—which was sadly closed all weekend. Already up and awake Tollef headed out to check out Parc Guell, while his fellow travelers slumbered.

Tollef here. Parc Guell is pretty fantastic, and free. It is perhaps Gaudi's most famous creation, aside from perhaps his cathedral. A few metro stops from our hostel and twenty minutes up a hill you find yourself in a bustling park decorated in gaudi style with mosaics, rocky arches, twisting pillars and grand vistas.

As i walked up the main steps into the park I heard spanish guitar. I followed the sounds of flamenco into a large pillared area where to men were playing guitar for a small crowd of people. The music was absolutely beautiful and fitting. I sat for a while and just listened.

The base of the park is so thick with tourists you couldn't get a clean photo of yourself against the gaudi backdrop, all you'd get would be photos of other tourists. But, work your way to the top of the park, through the winding trails and steep staircases, to the top of the hill and you will find almost no one. And with that, a most epic views of the city of barcelona.

Parc Guell is not a traditional park at all, rather a series of spaces and structures built into the spanish landscape on a hillside. The trails are lined with cactus and yucca and around each corned is a new stone structure or plateau. I spent a couple hours hiking around the park and discovering it's many hidden features.

On my way out of the park I stopped back by the musicians and bought their flamenco CD, which I forced everyone to listen to on our drive out of Barcelona.

Current location: 4.3555, 43.817994
Mission: Nimes

Reunited with Tollef, we formulated a plan for the coming day and night. With the rental agency closed we needed another way to get a key to the apartment in Antibes. Fortunately the apartments' owner had a friend in Antibes who had the key and could get it to us—but only if we made it to town before 11pm, a deadline we could not make.

With this new info we began calling other hostels in the Cote d'azur, hoping to find a room for the night. We were quickly striking out. St. Tropez, Monaco, Nice, Montpellier and Nimes were all booked. At long last we found a room in Aix-En-Provence, but we had to check in by midnight, which meant step on it!

Seeking dinner that night in an unfamiliar area we settled on "Rouge Tendence" which looked to be the French equivalent of an Outback Steakhouse. An upscaleish chain restaurant featuring mediocre cuisines of the world—Burger! Masala! Mexican Salad! Ooh! Ahh!. We were seated at a low table surrounded by cushy love-seats and dined on the cousines of four different nations while sipping on the beverages of five.

Current location: 5.424693, 43.522469
Mission: Aix-en-Provence
Latest Quote: Want to buy a wi-fi?

Not fully satisfied, but sufficiently amused, we again hit the road, pulling into the gates of the Aix-en-Provence hostel moments before midnight. The lovely french desk attendant hastily checked us in, and after a slight misunderstanding regarding internet access realised what we wanted– "oh! you want to buy a wee-fee(wi-fi)i!" It was tremendously cute (and not the least bit nerdy).

The lateness of the hour and the largeness of our group necessitated that one of us sleep with three strangers, so we drew straws to see who would end up in a potential surrounded-by-people-who-snore-situation. Alex was the unlucky one and journeyed over to room 21, and we all went to bed–excited about the scenic drive through the French Riveria in the morning.