Thursday, April 29, 2004

Marcus Meets Europe! -- France

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What can I say that hasn't been said about Paris? The City of Lights and Rome intimidated me because the sheer number of monuments they had. If I tried to see everything Paris had, I'd never leave. But that's not such a bad thing.

My first night in town I met Hillary from Virginia. Sadly, that old backpacker pattern repeated itself: she was really cool but she was leaving tomorrow. Hillary wanted my visit to Paris to start with a blast, so we went to the Eiffel Tower. I swallowed my fear of heights and bought a ticket to the top. The payoff was incredible. We got to see firsthand how Paris got its nickname. It looked like the stars took a vacation on planet Earth. Below the summit there was an observation deck. Panels under the windows wrapped around the deck. They showed daytime photos of Paris from the Eiffel Tower with the major buildings labelled.

I spent the first day walking on the Champs Elysees. Coming from the Arc de Triomphe, the left street seemed to have all the action. Restaurants capitalized on the famous curb appeal with sidewalk tables. I liked this place; but I liked Las Ramblas in Barcelona better. There, the street seemed wild and brimming with energy. The Champs Elysees was packed with tourists sitting at cafes, thinking of how classy they were for just being there. I was sure the true hipsters were somewhere else. I probably set my expectations too high. The Champs Elysees shouldn't have a McDonald's and restaurants shouldn't have waiters serving bottles of Coca Cola. There's no escaping America sometimes.

I'm not a big fashion person, but I was interested in seeing how French women dressed in the style capital of the world. Would they all look like supermodels ready for the runway? I kept my eyes open on the Champs Elysees. I divided the girls into three groups: the leisure class, teenagers, and the career women. The leisure class were the classic model-types you see in fashion ads. Tight shirts, tight pants, high heels, purses that wouldn't hold a pack of matches, and sunglasses pushed up on their foreheads. Teenagers tended toward denim jackets and jeans. No hip-hop touches. The career women wore black dresses and overcoats with either a black or beige color. The dresses were for the office, but their purses and shoes were where they showed their style.

The Louvre was as massive as I've kept hearing. The Mona Lisa was not as impressive as I thought and really crowded. Heard those too and they were true. For me, the highlight was the halls for French large-format paintings. Literally wall-to-wall art. Some paintings were two stories tall. Battle scenes, portraits, biblical and mythological events, it was art heaven. I took the Metro to the Louvre because it stopped there. Better than that, as you get off the metro there's a direct entrance into the Louvre. No waiting outside at I.M. Pei's glass pyramid. There were ticket lines inside, but they were short.

Getting to Versailles was more complicated than I thought. I'm pretty good with subways. But longer-distance trains worry me because if you make a mistake, you're far away from the next station. Versailles was outside Paris so I had to take one. I got to a platform and didn't see a sign. I asked the Indian guy at the door if this train went to Versailles. He answered, but the train noise muffled his voice. I got into the train to hear him better.

"What did you say?" I asked.

"I said, this is the wrong train."

That's when the doors closed behind me.

Oh my God I'm so screwed I'm an idiot damn French trains I can't talk to anyone I want my English back! Then I calmed down. I asked the Indian guy what to do. He said I should get off at the next station and figure things out. I did so, and took out my train map as I walked away from the train. Okay, I got on at Invalides. This is . . . I looked up . . . Pont de l'Alma. I traced the route from Invalides to Pont de l'Alma. If I had stayed on this train I would have ended up at . . . Chateau de Versailles. What?! I was on the right train! The warning bells went off to signal my train was leaving. I spun around and ran back to the train full speed. I dove through the doors as they closed.

Versailles was even bigger than the Louvre. Inside, there were two areas to see: the King's chamber with personal apartments; and the State Apartments. The Personal Apartments were alright. They looked old but bare. Not where I expected the Sun King to live. The State Apartments rocked! I think there were used for public ceremonies, so that's why they were so grand. Sculpted marble, crystal chandeliers, colorful tapestries hanging down the walls, Louis XIV knew the meaning of pomp and circumstance. Next up were the gardens. They went on forever and ever. The gardens were the size of football fields. I should have taken another day just for the gardens. Each garden was a park in itself, some designed with a Greek myth in mind.

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French food was an attraction in itself. My new favorite snack is crepes. They're thin pancakes wrapped around a filling of your choice. I usually got chocolate filling and bananas or ham and cheese. I wished I had eaten more baguette sandwiches to taste France's great bread and cheeses. I remember reading a quote by a French leader saying, "No country with 400 kinds of cheese can ever be united."

Now that I'm through with the glamorous stuff, I think this e-mail needs a dose of reality. There's something I want to talk about that I call The Walk of Shame. I've had to do it in Barcelona and Paris. My problem is pants. I only brought one pair of pants, the one I'm wearing. When I was packing clothes, I ran into an obstacle. I stubbornly refused to buy a backpack that was bigger than me, so my backpack couldn't hold all the clothes I wanted to bring. I ended up bringing half of what I intended. There was a lot of me throwing clothes back onto the bed and muttered curses. The choice was to either bring a third shirt or a second pair of pants. I chose the third shirt because shirts get stinky faster. It was either go to one place and change clothes everyday, or go lots of places and not change clothes everyday. I was not going to give up socks and underwear to make way for another pair of pants. I was willing to sacrifice some hygiene to go to more places, but not changing underwear everyday was where I drew the line. One pair of pants it was.

It wasn't until I had to do laundry in Barcelona that I had to do The Walk of Shame. I needed to wash my pants; but what was I supposed to wear in the meantime? Cut to me crashing through the backstreets of Barcelona in my pajamas and Surfah Hawaii slippers (flip-flops to you mainlanders), holding a garbage bag of laundry in one hand and a map in another. If I slung the bag over one shoulder, I could look like a homeless bum too. People gave me weird looks. I would have said "Estudiante" but I was too ashamed to look anyone in the face. I assumed all hostels would have laundry facilities. I've since grown wiser. And when I finally found the lavanderia, all the instructions were in Spanish. "Fun" has become my euphemism for "This is going to be unbelievably frustrating." So I think doing laundry in foreign countries is fun.

In Paris, I had a problem because the washers and dryers didn't have coin slots. Where do I put in the euros? A nice African man showed me through hand gestures what to do. All the machines, including the detergent-vender, were connected to one machine, "Centrale de Paiment." Punch in the number of the machine you're using into the payment machine, put in the amount of money it asks, and your machine starts the cycle. I thanked him and offered him some donuts I'd bought to make change. They were chocolate-covered, waffle-shaped, and delicious. He smiled, but shook his head No and pointed to a back tooth. Cavities. Ouch.

I've seen people bring traditional luggage and too much stuff. They've all regretted it. Hostels are never on the first floor (floor zero in Europe) and the streets are not the smooth pavement we're used to in the states. Luggage on wheels don't handle cobblestone well. Because people pack so much, they have a hard time fitting in the souvenirs they accumulate. Better to start with the absolute minimum and buy as you go. It's tough to throw away stuff you brought but aren't using. I didn't realize backpacking would lead to such a Zen epiphany: that giving up your possessions will set you free.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Marcus Meets Europe! -- Spain

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I left Barcelona yesterday and already miss it. Funky cool architecture by Antoni Gaudi and his contemporaries, tropical weather, and fun people. Time is going by too fast.

I lucked out and got free dinner my first night in my hostel (Itaca Hostel, recommended). A Swiss skateboard team and some German physics students were cooking pots of pasta. They had enough left over to feed the whole floor.

Later, a couple of us went to Maremagnum, a shopping/clubbing complex on the sea. We got to a club called Fiesta at 11pm. I think that's early for Spain because we had the club to ourselves until 12:30am.

I was impressed with the variety of street performers. The best ones I saw congregated around the Gothic Cathedral and the Portal del Angel. There was an awesome string octet playing classical music. A girl walked around the crowd selling their CD. The cover revealed they were from Moscow. Around the corner was a folk music band. One time I even saw breakdancers. They might have been too good, because they attracted a crowd that clogged the street. The policia showed up, and the breakdancers broke up fast.

One poster claims that La Rambla is "The World's Most Exciting Street." It's a long pedestrian thoroughfare that cuts through the city almost to the sea. Start at the opposite end of the coast and you'll pass bird sellers, florists, and portrait artists. Human statues and shell-game operators also work the tourists. Sidewalk restaurants line both sides of the street, affording the opportunity for rest, refueling, and excellent people-watching.

Barcelona Postcard
Barcelona Postcard

Food in a foreign country always presents a moral dilemma: do I go with what's familiar and safe (American food) or sample the local cuisine and risk an emergency appointment with Dr. Immodium, AD? This came to a crisis point because many bars served paella and pizza. I called up the courage to try paella. I opened up the menu and watched my 1.5 years of college Spanish go down the drain. When the waiter took my order, I simply pointed to the only paella that had ingredients I recognized. It was a Paella de Carne, with chicken and sausages. A tasty sauce covered the rice and there were chopped red and green peppers to keep my mouth from getting bored.

I was fortunate to have a friend studying abroad in Barcelona. It was great to see someone from University of Redlands. Jennifer knew the language, knew what places to go, and knew cool people. I wondered how I made it so far without her. She took me to Parc Guell, which was designed by Gaudi. Jennifer aptly described it as "Dr.Seuss on crack." Two gingerbread-looking houses with roofs like frosting frame the entrance. Then there's a huge white stairway split down the middle in curves. Jennifer took a picture of me on the stairs with the famous multicolored lizard.

Jennifer kindly invited me to join her and her friend Angel for a night of dancing at the Buena Vista Club. The scary part: salsa dancing. I'm reasonably competent at hip-hop, hula, skanking, and the most basic breakdancing. Salsa was totally foreign to my feet. Angel pulled me onto the floor and showed me the elementary steps. Then an instructor bounded onto the stage and led the group in two salsa routines. I tried hard, but I couldn't summon the Spider Man-like agility to match his pace. He moved like lightning, shouting "Uno!" "Mira!" and "Agua!" Afterwards, I ran into him outside the bathroom. He smiled and patted me on the back. So maybe I didn't suck!

On my last night Jennifer took me and her friends to The Black Sheep, an obscure beer hall off the Ramblas. I would have missed it because it's on a small side street and has an unlit door. It looked closed. Inside, there were a boatload of students talking loudly and cramming the ancient wooden benches. We got a pitcher of sangria. Sangria tastes sweet and we used small glassas, so I had the illusion I wasn't drinking so much. I got dizzy, but I prefer to think I was drunk on Spain.

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Monday, April 12, 2004

Marcus Meets Europe! -- Italy

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The first couple hours in a new place are the most terrifying. I'm getting better at choking back the fear. I take refuge in my To-Do List:

--Exchange money.
--Find my hostel.
--Eat dinner.
--Take a shower.
--Buy a phone card.
--Go to an Internet Cafe.
--Most important of all, make new friends.

Once I get all that stuff taken care of, I feel much more at home. Rome disappointed me at first because the first I saw of it was the Termini Central Train Station. The area around it is total slum. There were these bad-ass Italian guys in black jackets looking tough next to their scooters. Like every other place I've been to, I got lost trying to find my hostel (Gullivers House). Luckily, I walked past an Asian girl talking on her cell phone in Tagalog (a Filipino dialect). I introduced myself to her and she did more than give me directions. She walked me to my hostel.

Gullivers House is a very comfortable place. It's like staying at the house of your favorite aunt and uncle. The owners, Simon and Sara, do everything to make your stay easier. Whether it's a homemade map of all the monuments to recommendations for good pasta, they take care of you.

I met Liz, a girl from New York teaching English in France. We became fast friends and spent the day walking around to the sites. The first couple places we saw weren't as well-known. Which was nice since we had the all to ourselves. The Colosseum was even bigger than it looks in photographs.

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It's the original stadium. Prague had these cool little parks with statues. Rome has little secluded parks within the neighborhoods too, except they have fountains.

The Roman Forum is an archaeologist's dream come true. Acres of towering columns and assorted sculpted rubble litter the landscape. Liz has a lot of experience with Romance languages, so she translated the signs for me.

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We ate lunch at a restaurant overlooking the street. I got confused when the waiter asked me what kind of water I wanted. Gas or no gas? Liz had been to Italy before and ordered the no-gas water for me. Turns out the Italians commonly drink carbonated, fizzy water. According to her, it's a nasty shock to the tongue when you're expecting a cool drink.

After walking to the Colossuem, we decided to sample the world-famous gelato. We skipped the places facing the Colosseum, working deeper into the neighborhood. We found a gelato bar. Indulge two sins for the price of one!

She got a coffee gelato and I got chocolate. It tasted like I was spooning a liquid cake into my mouth. It felt so fattening, but backpacking burns the pounds fast so I didn't worry.

Speaking of that, I'm more toned than I've ever been. All this walking and carrying a backpack and running up stairs has really got me into shape. I hope it lasts through next school year!

Here are more photos from Italy:

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The Leaning Tower of Pisa.

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On the water in Venice.

Wednesday, April 7, 2004

Marcus Meets Europe! -- Czech Republic

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The Charles Bridge in Prague with my American housemates in England: me, Dan, Ben, and Scott

Sorry this e-mail is so delayed. The keyboard at my hostel has Czech and English characters, so if any weiød symbols pop up, I apologize in advance. After a couple of fruitless attempts to learn it on my own, I had the girl at the front desk give me a little tutorial. But I still haven´t mastered it yet.

Prague wasn't originally on my list of destinations. But every backpacker I met recommended it to me: beautiful architecture, weak currency, and some of the best beers in the world on tap.

I'm really glad I started in London first. I would never have the confidence to come in cold and figure everything out. I don't speak Czech, so I'm forced to communicate solely through hand gestures and facial expressions. Good thing I took an acting class last semester. I did this a lot when I first got in, because I had to ask for directions every minute. The Czech people have been nice so far, and a little ashamed they couldn't have helped me more. I try to smile big in a way that says "Don't worry, I feel just as bad as you do that I can't speak the language."

The biggest difference between this hostel (Apple Hostel) and the one in London is the people. In London, most of the people were there to look for work, so socializing was at a minimum. Here, everyone is travelling to take advantage of Czech korunas (crowns) before the country goes on the euro. It's startling how cheap everything is. Girls have told me they're doing their big fashion shopping here, because you can buy designer labels at Wal-Mart prices. The guys are all about the high-quality cheap beer. The official beer of the Czech Republic is Pilsner Urquell. An interesting choice would be Budvar, the original Budweiser that was founded in the Czech Republic.

With its winding cobblestone streets and imposing buildings, it's easy to get lost in Prague, and I highly recommend the experience. Just when I think I've seen it all, I'll stumble into a little park with a statue that I missed the first couple times I've walked by. Prague's monuments are not as famous as those in Paris, but I think they're magnificent. And I still haven't seen them all.

Czech National Opera House
Czech National Opera House

Old Town Square
Old Town Square

The Charles Bridge is the big tourist attraction. There's scores of street artists offering to draw portraits and caricatures in under 20 minutes. When I looked closer at their easels, I noticed every artist has a blue laminated permit with their photo. I wonder if the government requires them to prove their talent before exposing them to tourists. Statues line both sides of the bridge, depicting religious scenes. There's one statue of Jan Hus that's special. He was the Queen's minister and confidant. The King suspected him or having an affair with his Queen. Hus was loyal to the Queen and did not confess, so the King had him thrown off the bridge. At the base of his statue, there's a rendering of his depontification (being thrown off a bridge). Supposedly, a halo of five stars appeared at the moment he touched the water. I've heard different superstitions about the statue. One says that if you touch all five stars on his halo and make a wish, it will come true. Another says that if you touch his likeness in the depontification scene, you're guaranteed to come back to Prague.

I got lost on my way to Prague Castle and found something equally cool instead: the Ledebour Gardens. It's a maze of gardens and stairways set against a hill below Prague Castle. The stairs go in circles and hit dead ends, but the fun is wandering all over the colorful structures.

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I'd look at a place I'd want to go, get on a stairway, but end up somewhere else in the gardens. It¨s wonderfully devoid of tourists. I only saw other backpackers there. There's scores of benches to sit on and admire the city's skyline.

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I think the most frustrating thing about travelling alone is that I'm confronted with my own ignorance over and over again. I don't speak the language, don't know my way around, don't know anyone, etc. I have to take this foreign alien place and somehow make it home for the next couple days. If I was with another American, we'd both be clueless and I wouldn't feel as guilty. There would also be someone to back me up if things went wrong. Alone, I completely have to rely on the kindness of the locals. My three-letter solution to everything is to ASK. In independent travelling, I'm learning that jerks don't last and only the humble survive. I constantly have to surrender my ego to get through the day.

The social life of backpacking is really fast-paced at times. When I meet a girl I like, I have to ask her out that second because I'll never see her again. I'm the nice guy that usually takes forever to ask a girl out. Now, I go for it by the end of the first conversation. When I got to Prague airport, I struck up a conversation with a Korean girl from Arizona. By the end of our chat, I asked her if she wanted to split a cab into town. She accepted, and we ate dinner at her hotel. We walked around the city that night, and I never saw her again. I became friends with an Australian girl the day she moved into my room. We went out to a beer hall for some pints within hours after meeting and had a lot of fun. She had to check out the next morning because my hostel was all booked up. On my last day, I met the most awesome French girl. She had a natural elegance that was radiant. I'm wondering if this trip will have a lot of revolving-door relationships?

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Thursday, April 1, 2004

Marcus Meets Europe! -- England

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Most of my major papers and projects weren't due until April 2 and April 12. I had a lot of free time. So I hatched a brilliant plan. In an unprecedented display of initiative, I finished my big assignments three weeks early and took off for London for a couple of days in my last week of class. It was hellish. I camped out at the computer lab the whole week before, cranking out pages. But who wants to hear about that?

The Travel Shop on campus got me a good price for a train to London. I booked a hostel online, St. Christopher's Village. My main reason for going to London was to have fun. The other, more boring reason was that I wanted to test out the backpacker lifestyle before I dived into my big trip in April. I'd have a chance to stay in a hostel, see how bad I messed up my packing, and learn basic navigation skills for a big city. This was going to be my last chance to do it in English, before I drowned in the wonderful world of Romance languages.

When I got to the hostel, I presented the confirmation e-mail they had sent. The guy at the desk then asked for a photo ID. I reached for my UEA student ID, but accidentally gave him my Hawaii driver's license. He asked how long it took me to get here. Humoring him, I said about 15 hours. He shook his head and wished me a good night's sleep. He issued me a key card and gave me a brochure with the rules of the hostel.

I thought I had gotten the wrong room. There were two girls inside. One was hanging wet clothes over the heating grate. The other was eating some salad.

I asked, "Is this room 16?"

"Sure is," one girl answered.

"Oh, I thought--"

My confused face gave me away, because she said, "This hostel's co-ed, mate!"

We talked a while. They were both from Australia, coming out to England to look for short-term work. Bartending and waitressing-type jobs. Since the pound was stronger than the Australian dollar, they could save up some money, go back to Oz, and triple it from converting currency. England has favorable labor laws for Australians and Australians love to travel and socialize, so there are a lot of them in England. I thought hostels were mostly for travelling college students. But a lot of the customers were using the hostel as cheap temporary housing while looking for work. One Australian girl told me that in European hostels, the majority of people I'd meet would be American, British, Australian, New Zealander, and Canadian. I haven't met anyone from New Zealand yet, but after this stay, most of her story checked out. So I'll still have to make an extra effort to meet locals.

Even though I packed what I thought was the bare minimum, I still packed too much and didn't bring some essentials. What I brought that I wish I hadn't: a shoulder bag to hold my camera, a paperback novel, and maps. I was able to stuff the maps and camera into my jacket pockets. I didn't read because I was too busy sight-seeing. What I hadn't brought but wish to hell I had: ear plugs. Because there's always one snoring champion, doors slam, someone's cell phone/alarm clock will go off, noise from the street, and noise from the pub next door. The Australian girls told me that there's always a pub next to a hostel. That's probably where the hostel really makes money. Like how movie theaters make more money from selling popcorn and soda than from movie tickets.

I worried about getting around London. I've gone to college in California for two and a half years, and I can count the times I've been to Los Angeles on one hand. I didn't reckon on the excellent London Underground, a.k.a. the Tube.

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It's basically a subway that goes everywhere. It's fast, clean, and convenient. The longest I had to wait for a train was seven minutes. I got a pocket Tube map with my first ticket and used it constantly. Public transportation is top notch. Even though I've never used the Tube before, I figured it out very quickly. There were always signs to lead me to the right platform. Inside the train, there's a map of the route, an electronic sign that announces stops, and a computer voice that announces the stops too. Above ground, there's street signs pointing to the popular attractions. It was easy to find my way around.

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I'm trying to avoid getting sucked into landmark marathons while travelling. There's a big temptation to try to see all the sights in one trip. I knew if I did that, I'd waste most of my trip hurrying to the next line to wait in. I took a train to the center of the city and just walked around. The first place I hit was Oxford Circus. That place was a shopper's dream come true. Acres and acres of classy shops on every street. It was fun to window-shop and imagine what I'd buy if I were rich. Next up was Piccadilly Circus. I'd heard it be compared to Times Square in New York City, and I could see why. There were big-screen billboards advertising Vodafone cell phones and other products. It must look dazzling at night.

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On a hot tip from a British chap at the hostel, I took a tube to Westminster Station. He said that most bus tours were overpriced and that I could see a couple of good sights by just going to this tube. I got to see Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and the houses of Parliament. As I was walking alongside Parliament, an expensive-looking black car pulled up next to me. A man in a suit got out and opened the trunk. Two other men in suits, one young and British, the other white-haired and French, passed in front of me to the car. The British man wished the French man a good trip. The Frenchman smiled and got into the car. I thought about snapping a picture of these two bigshots. Then I went into one of my Writer Highs, where I imagine the most outrageous thing that could happen next: I take the picture, the British man assumes I'm an assassin with a poison-tipped dart in the camera and tackles me, I end up in a basement interrogation room where a balding man in a suit demands "Who are you working for, the North Koreans?!" and when I don't answer, he mashes a hot cigar into my forehead. Wow. I decided not to take that picture.

I gave in to temptation and decided to see one attraction while I was here. The place I wanted to see was near the Baker Street Tube station. Why did that sound familiar? I didn't realize it until I got to the station. In a nice little touch, the tiled walls of Baker Street station are decorated with the likeness of Sherlock Holmes, the world's greatest detective, who lived on 221 Baker Street.

What almost turned me away was the huge line of outside Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum. They were a French school group and the line went around the block. I walked around, and found that they were in a line for groups. There was another line for "pour le jour" (for the day) customers. The line was short, so I got in.

Initially, I thought I got lost and had wandered into a high school dance. The first room was dark, with Britney Spears music blasting. Then I saw why: she was their latest wax figure! I moved to the next room fast. This one was filled with movie stars. I got a picture with James Bond (Pierce Brosnan).

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I had to ask a French student to take the picture. I also got pictures with William Shakespeare and Alfred Hitchcock. A great writer and a great director, just what I want to be. It was hard to get good shots, because the museum was crowded with people trying to take photos too. There was a huge figure of The Incredible Hulk, like the one in the most recent movie. The guidebook said it was so big it couldn't fit through the doors, so it had to be lowered down from a ceiling. I saw the most interesting poses when visitors took pictures with Adolf Hitler. People would act like they were punching him or giving him the finger or otherwise abusing him.

The best thing about staying in a hostel is all the cool people you meet. The worst thing is that because everyone is on a different schedule, people come and go so fast. One of the Australian girls I became good friends with my first night in London was gone the next morning. The other thing was that I met the most people on my last night at the hostel! Another valuable skill I learned was the ancient art of showering with one hand. The hostel's showers were either push-button or hand-held. Probably to encourage shorter showers because it's so incovenient to shower like that.

My last day in London, I went to go see a show. I felt like I would've been a real loser if I went to London without experiencing some quality theatre. I took a Tube to Leicester Square. It's in the heart of the West End, London's Broadway. Fortunately, the Society of London Theatre runs the "TKTS" Booth, where you can buy half-price same-day theatre tickets. It's the one booth actually in Leicester Square, and it looks like a clock tower. There are other shops around the area that claim to be the official half-price ticket booth. I was afraid of getting ripped off, so I stuck with the real thing. I looked at the listings board. I felt like watching a musical. Nothing looked promising except "We Will Rock You."

I asked the girl in the booth, "That musical, did they just take the name of the song or does it really--"

She smiled and said "All the music is by Queen, sir."

"I'd like one ticket please."

My ticket came with a map of the theatres in the area. The girl circled the TKTS booth, where I was now, and also circled the Dominion Theatre, where "We Will Rock You" was performing. The story took place in a dark future where a single mega-corporation controlled all music and made it into homegenized pop music. The funny thing was that I could actually see that happening in real life. It was a very smart show, loaded with references to music past and present, also with sly winks to current events: "We've bombed the whole planet of Mo, and we still have not located any [musical] Instruments of Mass Destruction." It was actually a cliched story. Anyone one's read Brave New World and 1984 or watched The Matrix and Brazil know how this story goes: in an oppressive society in the future, one man will rise up and challege the system. The music angle was what made it special. It drew a diverse crowd. There were young 20-something hipsters and old grandparents. A lot of the older crowd must have been fans of Queen as teenagers, because they sang the lyrics to all the songs.

And that's it for London. One more World Cafe left, and it's off to the rest of Europe. I'll be travelling to countries I've never been to before, so wish me luck guys. A lot can go wrong. I promise if I make it, I'll let you know how I'm doing. I'll have to go to Internet Cafes where you pay by the hour, so these e-mails might get shorter. I'll also be travelling by myself. I originally wanted to go with my housemates. But it's hard to reach consensus with three guys who've been dreaming of going to certain places their whole lives. Mission: Europe will be a solo operation!