Europe 2001

posted by : Jon Kroupa on 03/23/2013
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Nearly twelve years after the fact I’ve decided to write about my first trip to Europe.

In 2001 I was 21 years old. I worked part time at a startup making $9.00 an hour. I spent more than I made, which meant my credit cards were always at capacity. Sometime before the summer my older sister Hannah landed a job at US Airways and wanted to do a big first trip to Europe. Despite a lack of resources I decided I wanted to go too. Hannah estimated the trip could cost as little as $600 (none of us knew anything about traveling or expenses). I managed to get paid a couple of days before the trip and I freed up around $700 on my primary credit card. For this trip there would be five of us going; Hannah, her husband Adrian, my brother Sam K., my friend Sam J., and myself.

This was the first time I had ever flown standby, so I didn’t know that you often have to play airport hopscotch. Sam J. and I were in Utah, but the flights out of Salt Lake were not favorable. We ended up driving to San Diego to have the best chance to head east. When it was time to leave we discovered the name on Hannah’s passport and ticket didn’t match, since she had been married the previous year. She had to return home to get her marriage certificate and take a later flight. Sam K. was in Arizona, and would be flying out from there.

Adrian, Sam J. and I successfully arrived at Philadelphia perhaps around midnight, which was likely one of the last flights of the evening. As the spouse of an airline employee Adrian received discounts from certain hotels, so we booked a room in one of them. Our flight to Manchester didn’t leave until 6:00pm the following day. Hannah and Sam K. arrived early in the morning separately, though the timing was close. Because this was before ubiquitous cellphone usage, Adrian had prearranged to meet them when Sam’s flight arrived. He left early the next morning to get them.

Again, I didn’t go to the airport to meet Hannah and Sam K., but this is what I’ve been told happened.

  • Hannah and Sam K. arrived, having come in from a redeye and being quite tired. Upon Hannah arriving at Sam’s gate they did not find Adrian waiting for them (by the way, this was 2001, but before September, back then you could go wait at a gate without a ticket for arriving passengers).
  • Seeing no one, Hannah and Sam K. begin to wander the large airport looking for Adrian.
  • Adrian subsequently arrives at the gate to see that the flight has already arrived and his wife and brother-in-law are not to be found. He then begins to wander the airport, periodically doubling back to their arrival gate to see if they returned.
  • Hannah and Sam K. send out several pages over the intercom from random locations, but Adrian fails to hear them.
  • Hannah calls around randomly to hotels, trying to find which one we are staying at, without success.
  • Finally after some time (an hour or more) Hannah and Sam K. stubble upon Adrian.
  • Hannah explodes with anger over Adrian’s failure to meet them on time at the gate and for failing to hear the pages.
  • Adrian counters by saying a person should have the good sense to stay in one place when someone else is looking for them (i.e. at their arrival gate).
  • Sam K. stands awkwardly to the side while the couple bicker.

This bitter exchange on the eve of our departure puts a dark cloud over the trip, as Hannah and Adrian are extremely frustrated with each other and neither is willing to back down on their position.

Eventually all three arrived at the hotel and everyone tried to sleep for a while. Later we went and got breakfast and then played some Frisbee in a nearby park. Yes, I had brought a Frisbee with us on our Europe trip.

That evening we boarded the plane and began our flight to Manchester. Side note: Back then if you were flying standby you were expected to dress nice (as in business casual or better) to be blessed with a seat on the plane. Apparently if the gate agents felt you looked too shabby they could deny you a seat. Whether this was ever true or not I don’t know (it isn’t true today), but it probably helped reinforce my perception that the gate agents choose almost arbitrary reasons to deny standbys passengers passage. This was also an absurd rule, because as soon as Hannah boarded a plane, she would immediately got to the restroom and change. Since there were five of us, we were arranged in a row of five seats in the middle of the plane, in coach.

We were flying to Manchester for only one reason. My childhood friend had moved there a couple of years previous and offered to put us up for a night. Because our trip was completely unplanned (there was a loose idea of seeing a few select things scattered across countries, and the ill-conceived idea that we would see as many as eight countries in our ten day trip) we had no idea what to do once we arrived.

Day 1

We arrived in the morning in Manchester. Everyone immediately began to sporadically speak into ridiculous British accents. Shaun took a quaint British taxi to meet us at the airport, and then the six of us jammed ourselves into another quaint British taxi to go to his flat. Shaun paid 250 pounds a month for a pretty drab little place. It was a room, a hallway, a tiny kitchen with room to sit one, and a bathroom. Shaun’s kitchen appliances consisted of a rice cooker, and a stove. There wasn’t room for anything else.

It rains practically every day in Great Britain, subsequently they have never had to worry about water conservation. As result of this when you flush a toilet it uses about 200 gallons of water. Tragically all this water does little to remove the waste in the bowl and send it into the sewer. They have singlehandedly created the least efficient sewer system in the world.

I can’t recall much of we did that first day in Manchester. We apparently rented a car, which we didn’t use much except to go to a grocery store and get lost driving around the city. At some point we ate ‘chips’ from a street vendor. A few opted to have curry on their ‘chips.’ I was not one of them, for which I was grateful. In the evening we parked on a street called Banff, and entered the Indian cuisine area on the recommendation of Shaun.

We randomly chose an Indian restaurant, sat down, and ordered. I have no memory of what it was we ordered. I only know this. When it came time to serve our food the elderly Indian couple came out with plates on top of our plates, which hid the contents. One at a time they revealed our food to us before our eyes. When it came time for Sam J.’s reveal, the plate came up and out flopped a giant rubber chicken. Sam J. had a look as if to say “is this what I ordered?” The elderly Indian couple had a good laugh about it, and then brought Sam J. his food (whatever it was). When it came time to leave we debated over what kind of tip to leave. An elderly English couple told us not to tip very much. Hannah decided they said this because they were old and thrifty. We left some amount as a tip. It was only years later after a little research that I learned that tipping in Europe is generally a lot lower than it is in the United States. Some countries, such as Ireland, are actually insulted by tipping. To them tipping suggests that they aren’t able to make ends meet on their own, and require the charity of others. Ireland was less squeamish about handouts when they received a massive bailout in 2010 from the European Union. Perhaps now they are willing to accept tips.

We got lost attempting to drive back to Shaun’s flat. Eventually we stopped to ask for directions from some teenagers. At this precise moment Adrian suddenly decided to use a very unauthentic sounding English accent. “Do you drive, here?” became the staple line of mocking for the rest of the trip and for years after. As this is the question Adrian posed to the teenagers while complaining about the roadway system. We were instructed to continue to ‘the bottom of the street’ and then proceed on to find Shaun’s apartment. After we left the group there was some debate as to what the ‘bottom’ meant. The group of teenagers also saw Sam K. with his bleached blonde hair in the back and made some comment that he looked like Eminem.

We spent the night at Shaun’s flat. Shaun had a single queen sized bed (which took up approximately 70% of the space in his room). The five of us lay horizontally across the length of the bed. Shaun slept on the floor.

Day 2

In the morning as people were getting ready someone turned on the TV. The weather report showed rain clouds covering the whole of Great Britain. It was also Friday the 13th (this means the trip took place in July). They were interviewing people afraid to leave their homes because of the inauspicious day, of which there appeared to be several. Fifteen minutes before we had to leave Adrian decided to plug in the camcorder, which had a dead battery. Throughout the trip the camcorder never had more than five minutes of charge due to our inability to remember to charge it.

We drove Shaun to work and for reasons I cannot remember we couldn’t yet leave the area. So Sam J. suggested we drive to nearby Liverpool, origin of the Beatles. We also went in search of castles (without consulting anyone, a guide book, or a map). In Liverpool we entered a large cathedral, which was having some sort of graduation ceremony. We then returned to Shaun’s work (again, for reasons I cannot remember) where we waited for an hour or more… for something. While we waited Shaun’s coworkers were nice enough to print out European street signs (since we couldn’t make sense of anything) and give us directions and other things.

Then we set off to see Windsor Castle. We arrived sometime after 4:00pm, which is the latest time for admission. We wandered over to the exit and asked a guard if we could just step into the courtyard for a few minutes, since we couldn’t gain full entry. The guard told us to come back at 5:00pm and he would let us in. We went and got some food and came back at the appointed time. The guard was nowhere to be found, and the castle was then closed. The guard must have felt pretty good to himself, lying to a bunch of hopeful tourists. On my subsequent trips to Europe I have counted castle visits when I’ve had to squeeze through a fence that says ‘do not enter’, just observing a castle in the night from a car window, or from only seeing it through the zoom on my camera. But on this trip my castle heart was still pure, and standing outside of a castle didn’t count for anything.

Soured by our Windsor experience, we set off to London. By the time we parked and everything it was getting late in the day. We wandered by Buckingham Palace, walked through Piccadilly Circus, and wandered over to Trafalgar Square. It was at Trafalgar Square that Sam J. and I started throwing our Frisbee back and forth. It was a fairly crowded area, but we were doing well. Then Sam J. had an unfortunate late release on the disc and instead of it traveling twenty or more feet into my waiting hands, it traveled three feet into the head of a Chinese woman holding a camcorder. This experience was not received well. The woman accused Sam J. of having done this on purpose, and then began saying a number of things in Chinese. Sam J., having lived in Taiwan for two years, speaks Chinese, but he wasn’t about to let the woman know that. After apologizing profusely Sam J. wandered back over to us, who were both shocked and amused by the circumstances. I like to think that when that Chinese woman’s family watches the tape from their trip to London they get a nice story about when the camera suddenly jerks to the side in Trafalgar Square.

We decided to grab some food at a McDonald’s before heading to Dover that night. The only thing I remember from this experience is that Sam J. observed a same-sex couple kissing on a bench opposite of the McDonald’s. It is possible that we also made a three minute film called ‘An American Man-Man in London.’

We hit the road and arrived in Dover around midnight. We had to return our car at 6am and catch the ferry over to Belgium. After some searching we found a hotel that was open and had vacancy. As the man was showing up to our room he opened a door to find a couple in bed. Surprised, the hotel worker quickly closed the door and then showed us to another room. Apparently this hotel clerk didn’t know which rooms were occupied or not, and used a process of elimination to place incoming guests. I recall we cumulatively paid around one hundred pounds for our shabby hotel room, which we got to sleep in for all of about five hours.

Day 3

The car was dropped off and we arrived at the ferry. The five of us, still suffering from jet lagged and several nights of very poor and limited sleep, secured a corner booth. I alone remained awake for the duration of the two hour trip from Dover to Ostend.

We arrived at Ostend, which welcomed us with numerous street vendors selling chocolate covered waffles. I think maybe Adrian bought one, but the rest of us were unwilling to exchange for Belgian francs to buy them. Upon arrival we then began the task of locating our car rental agency.

One side note. While we saw many things priced as Euros, all of the countries we visited were still operating with their native currencies in the summer of 2001. Every new country we entered meant being gouged by exchange rates.

Two hours later we were still looking for the car rental agency. The place was supposed to have closed at noon (we didn’t arrive in Ostend until 10:00am or perhaps later). Hannah had called the place repeatedly for directions, which we received but couldn’t understand. As far as we could tell they were directions to a gas station. Finally after many attempts we decided to go to the gas station to inquire if the rental agency was nearby. Imagine our surprise to discover the gas station WAS the car rental agency. Hannah and Adrian went into a back room to secure the car while we waited in the gas station. At one point the man asked them if they had the 100,000 Belgian francs for the security deposit. Hannah and Adrian were shocked. Then the man said he was joking. If this was my only trip to Europe, I would say that people over there like to play tricks on Americans.

Having final secured the car we went to a nearby super market to get supplies before heading to Germany. After paying for my food I attempted to exit through the doors which were opposite of the registers. Suddenly alarms started sounding everywhere. Apparently the huge array of doors in front of the store were emergency exit only doors. I had failed to notice the large red circles with a white line through them. The normal exit was on the far end of one corner. To this day I maintain the grocery store was poorly designed; featuring an overabundance of emergency only exits relative to everyday use exits.

That evening we arrived in Germany and went to a Hostel located in the country in a forest. I forgot to mention that when we arrived in San Diego Hannah insisted that we purchase International Youth Hostel membership cards. These were perhaps $30 each. As Hannah told it, these were imperative to our success in staying at hostels in Europe. It was also important for us to bring our own sheets and towels, because you could get discounts for using your own at hotels. Sam J. and I forgot both of these items. Of the four hostels we stayed in I only recall one that gave us a discount for being members. I believe we saved a few deutschmarks or francs. Meaning you would have to receive that discount thirty or more times to make it worth your while. You would also save about the same amount by bringing your own sheets. In all my subsequent travels neither of these were even an option presented at youth hostels.

This was my very first hostel experience. The five of us were lucky to share a big room together. For some reason we insisted on playing Hearts each night before going to bed. To the travel-savvy person this is known as needlessly depriving your group of much needed sleep for no good reason. We kept a running total on the game throughout the trip, more on that later.

On this night we ate at a Chinese restaurant, when in Germany…

Day 4

That morning we had our included breakfast. As I recall it was croissants and choco-flakes cereal. By far the most disturbing thing about breakfast was the milk. Milk in Europe is often stored in a box, on a shelf, at room temperature. Having spent my whole life drinking and expecting cold milk, it was very disconcerting to try and finish my cereal.

The bathrooms and showers were community. There were three open stalls with no curtains and no soup. I had a couple of bars of soup I had taken from the hotel in Philadelphia, which I subsequently stretched to double as shampoo throughout the trip. Because I forget to bring a towel and a free one was not provided I instead decided to use a bed sheet to dry myself. Sheets are apparently not designed to absorb moisture as readily as normal cloth towels.

We drove for a while through the German countryside, admiring the greenery. At one point we randomly stopped by the side of the road next to a large field. We then got out and threw the Frisbee around for a little bit before continuing on our journey. To the travel-savvy person this is known as needlessly wasting your time on frivolous activities in an exciting country you’ve never been to before.

I know we went to Koln, Germany on this day and that we toured the cathedral. I know that because it was Sunday on the day we went to the cathedral. They were holding mass, but still allowing people to climb the towers and walk around. They were constantly having to ask people to be quiet. A big “shhhh” would come over the speakers main area. The noise level would immediately drop. Then it would slowly start to build up again. While we were up in the bell tower the bells started going off. It was extremely loud. The whole structure seemed to shake from the noise. It was a neat experience. We also paid to see the vault underneath the cathedral. It had some interesting items, although as has been noted by Mark Twain and others, the amount of clearly fraudulent “relics” is astounding. I believe we saw nails from the original cross in that vault. A few of the thousands of nails needed to hold the cross together, if you believe all the ones floating around out there. Mostly there was jewelry from past cardinals and bishops.

Afterwards we traveled south to Koblenz, where we stayed in an old fortress which was a hostel looking over the Rhine river. There was a group of high school kids from England also staying there. We tried to play a game of Frisbee with them, but they were inexperienced and the group was too large. We ate at a restaurant on the terrace, which is about the time I discovered that I was already out of money on my credit card. Because I owed Hannah and Adrian for my airfare, I had sometimes been paying for lodgings and food for them at various points. We stayed in a large room with twenty or so bunk beds and no ability to secure out luggage. The room was fairly full of men, with people coming and going through all hours of the night. The thing I remember most about the hostel is that the entire men’s area stank of urine. According to Hannah the women’s area did not have the same issue.

Day 5

Hannah called around and found a small castle for us to tour. The tour was in German, but they had information sheets in English. This was a pretty nice experience. They had three fully restored rooms from different centuries; the sixteenth, seventh, and eighteenth. It was a nice touch.

It is also probably on this day that while heading to France we stopped in a little town called Waldorf. I believe we took the exit because there was a castle sign. We didn’t find the castle (later trips taught me that a castle symbol on an exit means you might eventually find a castle if you follow the road, but not necessarily within the next couple of hours), but the town was quaint and had a very old feel to it. While walking around the town we saw an old wall, which Hannah speculated may have been damaged in World War 2. This became a running joke throughout the trip, as we ascribed the source of all damaged property to World War 2. To my knowledge the only thing we saw which definitively had been damaged in that war was the cathedral in Koln.

There are some things I would like to recount which I know happened in Germany but I am not sure on which day they happened. At some point we stopped in a town and went to a Greek restaurant. I wanted to souvlaki (a shish kabob). The owners did not speak English. I tried to take them outside to show them the picture of the food I wanted. They eventually decided they had figured out my order. Instead of a souvlaki I received a completely disassembled gyro. On my plate was a piece of pita bread, a pile of lamb meat, some sauce, and some onions.

Sam K. (who slept sprawled out in the back seat anytime we weren’t at a site) spent the whole trip claiming he spoke ‘some’ German. He had taken maybe one year of German in high school. He refused to speak even a single word of the language the entire time we were there. At one point Hannah (who took a couple of years of German in high school a decade before) approached a woman attempting to get directions. Hannah insisted on trying her hopelessly atrophied German. As she tried repeatedly to ask a question the woman said in plain English ‘I don’t understand what you are asking me.’ Inexplicably the process went much smoother from there.

Let me tangent a little to talk about directions. On this trip Adrian was the driver, Hannah was the navigator (in the passenger seat), and Sam K., Sam J., and myself were the hopeless victims trapped in the back. Hannah and Adrian were still suffering the effects of their fight from the airport. Navigating Europe is not an easy feat to new travelers. We spent lots of time trying to double back to missed turns to being waylaid by crowded round-a-bouts. It is the nature of European streets that you rarely know which one you are on or near until it is too late. Hannah would tell Adrian we need a certain road, we’d drive past it and realize our mistake. Then Hannah would criticize Adrian for missing the street (a street none of us could identify). This happened countless times.

At one point Hannah, completely fed up with Adrian’s ability to follow her directions, relinquished the front seat to me, and I was temporarily named navigator. We arrived at our destination in record time. When I said we needed a street and realized we missed it; instead of staring at Adrian with burning eyes which could only be spawned from a loveless marriage, I instead looked at the map for an alternate route and said ‘okay, if we take the next street we can get on the correct path.’ After seeing the relative ease in travel with me as navigator Hannah became more frustrated with Adrian and I lost my position.

I’m making Hannah sound like the villain here, but there were definitely two sides to the feud going between them. Adrian praised my ability to navigate and stated if Hannah acted that way there would be no problems. That is just throwing salt into the wound. Adrian would also lose his cool and argue back on things, which just increased the already boiling over situation. I’ve been told that years later they were finally able to overcome this trip and find love in their marriage again.

At some point between Germany and France we passed through the tiny country of Luxemburg. I remember we took the exit and maybe drove around for a few minutes before continuing on.

On this night we traveled to Reims, France. At some point traveling to our hostel Adrian made a goofy turn or something that somehow attracted the attention of two men in another car. They began to follow us. When we arrived at the hostel they stopped their car across the street watching us. As we started piling out of the car and collecting our luggage they then just drove off. We’re not sure how we offended them, but I guess they took a second look at us and decided we weren’t worth it.

This hostel has by the far the nicest one I’ve ever been to. It had a newly completed area which had 2 -3 people rooms with private bathrooms and showers. They also gave allowed tenants to use their towels for free.

After checking in we walked around Reims looking for a place to eat. Initially we passed by an Italian restaurant but decided to keep looking (at that time we observed a pair of gentlemen sitting at a table through a window). A couple of hours later we were back at that same restaurant finally willing to eat there. Everyone in the restaurant appeared to be dressed nicely, we were not. We asked if it was okay and they said yes, so we ate there. Apparently the French are in no hurry to serve someone dinner. We weren’t able to finally leave until two hours later. Why mention the two gentlemen by the window? They were still there; they had been there at least for four hours straight.

I ordered a rigatoni dish which had a little symbol next to it that meant it was spicy. I wasn’t concerned. After eating at the Indian place and the Chinese place I had come to the conclusion that the Europeans didn’t know the meaning of the word spicy. I was forced to eat my words, my words being searing agonizingly hot rigatoni. It was so painful. I was barely able eat half of my plate, and required help from everyone else at the table. I also required the mercy from everyone else at the table to get food which didn’t immediately cause my mouth to ache.

Why didn’t I just drink away the pain? We discovered that Europeans will sell alcohol at pennies for the liter (none of us drink alcohol), but they will rarely give you tap water. Even when you have someone who speaks the language (such as in Portugal) tap water can be a hard thing to come by. Why is it so hard to get? Because they don’t make any money off it, and customer service doesn’t exist in Europe. What about soda? That is going to cost you several dollars. How much soda will you get? On average we were given about 200 milliliters, which is slightly more than half of a can of pop. And that is all you will get, there is no such thing as free refills. As Americans who were accustomed to be able to literally drink ourselves to death for $0.89 in a fast food restaurant this was a grave injustice.

Day 6

In Reims we saw the cathedral. This is the place that French kings came to be crowned. I don’t remember if we saw anything else in this city. At some point we started the long drive to Paris. One interesting thing I remember is that there were little kilometer signs ticking down by one-tenth increments as we drove towards Paris.

When we arrived in Paris we went to the main train station. This is where the primary tourist information booth is. The man there arranged a hotel room for us and gave us directions. The man running the hotel was my first experience in chain smoking. As he sat there getting our information the instant his cigarette was used up he would light another one. In the space of twenty minutes he smoked three cigarettes before our eyes.

He put us on the top floor. The building was pre-industrial elevator, but not to worry, they had installed a single person one to the outside of the building at some point. This elevator didn’t go to the top floor though, only most of the way. It would stop and not resume if you fiddled with anything while it was operating and was by far the least safe feeling elevator experience I have ever had.

We stayed there two nights. The first night Hannah and Adrian had their own room. The second night another bed was moved into the loft and we all shared the room. That first night we parked on the street, but were told we would have to move the car before 9am in the morning. I volunteered to move the car to a nearby garage.

Day 7

I woke up before anyone, grabbed the keys to the car and a 20 franc coin, and headed to the car. The garage was meant to be just a few blocks over, but unfortunately I became trapped in an endless series of one way streets all leading me away from the hotel and the parking garage. I had no map, no identification, and no ability to get a hold of anyone. After about an hour of aimlessly driving around I somehow stumbled upon the train station from the day before. I went in and spoke to the same information booth person who had arranged our hotel the previous day. After much effort I explained which hotel I wanted to go to and he gave me a map, but he wanted 10 francs for it. I gave him my 20. He said he didn’t have change. I said I didn’t care and left with my map. Armed with a map I was able to find the hotel again. This whole time I had assumed that the rest of the group had woken up and realized I wasn’t back and was worried about me. An hour and a half after I started I returned the car to the same spot I took it from (unable to find the stupid parking garage) and went to ease the fears of my group. Everyone was still asleep. I banged on Hannah’s and Adrian’s door and declared that I had been stranded in Paris for an hour and a half driving around unable to find the garage and if they wanted the car moved they had to do it themselves because I was going back to sleep. Adrian took the keys and left. He returned about five minutes later having successfully moved the car to the garage. At this point in the trip I started to feel like maybe Hannah’s complaints about Adrian were not without merit.

On this day we went to the Louvre. While we were standing in line waiting to get tickets an older couple exited and asked if we wanted their tickets. Apparently they had bought three day passes but felt they had seen everything they wanted to in two days. This was good, because Hannah and Adrian had had to cover all my expenses for some time now as I was completely out of money and this helped reduce the cost.

We stood under the Eiffel Tower, but none of us was willing to pay for it. Near there we shot a one minute film called ‘An American Man-man in Paris.’ We stood under the Arc de Triumph, but only Hannah and Adrian were willing to pay to go up it. We walked around Paris a lot. On one night for dinner we ate at an Italian pizza place and received very flat sparsely topped pizzas. Then we discovered the Quik Burger, which is a fast food chain in France. For the remainder of the trip Sam J. suggested a Quik Burger whenever the topic was food was raised.

Day 8

On this day we traveled from Paris to the western coast of France to see Normandy. We went down on the beach and it was easily to believe that lots of soldiers died crossing those hopelessly long beaches to reach the hills. We ate at a small restaurant and had what was perhaps the most authentic eating experience of the entire trip. This was perhaps the one time we ate something in a country that wasn’t from some other country. Then it all fell apart because Hannah somehow came up with a way to order a grilled cheese sandwich, and that is what her, Adrian, and Sam K. ordered. I don’t remember what I ordered, but I know it wasn’t that. Sam J. ordered smoked ham. When his food arrived it looked like three or four large slabs of completely uncooked bacon. He tried to eat it, but I don’t recall him being able to finish it. I do recall him being very disappointed in what he received.

We drove up the coast back towards Belgium; we would be flying out from Brussels the next day. At some point we stopped and found a hostel near the ocean. This hostel put us on the top floor so we were all together for the final night. We played Hearts (because we couldn’t possibly have been sleep deprived enough). I believe it was this night at the end of a round Sam J. declared his points, and it was suspiciously shy of the thirteen he received from taking the queen of hearts. I pointed this out and he said he hadn’t taken it. An investigation of his stack revealed the card. He then accused us all of having planted it on him. Sam J. was having a very poor run of luck in the game of Hearts. By this time he was several hundred points ahead (i.e. behind) than everyone else. We all (as in, everyone but Sam J.) started laughing over the absurdity of us planting the queen in his stack after he was already doing so poorly.

Day 9

I remember throwing the Frisbee around in a cemetery that was next to our hostel. We drove back into Belgium, returned our car, and made our flight home. On the domestic flight from Philadelphia to San Diego (we had to fly back there because my car was there) we bought first class upgrades. We were seated in first class. We waited on the plane for a long time. Finally they declared that the plane was unfit to fly. So they unloaded everyone and moved us to a different plane. Fortunately we still had our first class seats. We left Philadelphia feeling like kings.


I mentioned the video camera. There were sporadic events recorded on it throughout the trip. When you looked at us towards the end of the trip the bags under our eyes were readily apparent. No one had received enough sleep. Maybe it is because we squandered sleep time with our insistence to play Hearts or our useless playing of Frisbee. We’ll never know the truth.

On this trip to experience European culture we ate at the following restaurants: Indian, Chinese, Greek, Italian, American, and fast food. The closest we came to experiencing native food was the 'chips' we had the from street vender and the grilled cheese sandwiches from the place in Normandy.

The trip actually only ended up costing Sam K., Sam J, and myself about $850 each. Unfortunately it was about six months before I was able to fully pay off Hannah and Adrian. And it wasn't until five years later that I was in a good working and financial position to attempt another trip out of the country.

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