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Spring Break 2009: UK, France, Germany

Spring Break 2009: UK, France, Germany

Old Apr 22, 09, 8:44 am
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Spring Break 2009: UK, France, Germany

Spring Break 2009 - Escape to Europe


Background:

We all know what spring break is about: getting some much needed time off from school and heading out in search of adventure. While most of my fellow peers run away to places like Panama City Beach (which is where I live when not in school), I have instead for each of the past few years have managed to make enough from my engineering internship during the year to be able to go somewhere that is not the typical "lets go get drunk for an entire week while sitting on a beach" destination that so every other student heads for.

When I started planning I knew that I wanted to head back to Europe, the only trick was trying to find the right open-jaw itinerary where I could use my miles. Eventually, I settled on a itinerary that would have me flying into London in economy and then out of Frankfurt in business. As the trip got closer and closer, more details would work their way in and I would plan on eventually visiting Paris, Normandy, Munich, and Stuttgart. It was a pretty loaded schedule, but at this point in my life, I have the energy to be bouncing across a continent, so I figure I might as well enjoy it while it lasts!

So here I am now, its April, and I took the trip last month in March. While traveling I did make updates on my blog, but the writing is never my best, so I always resolve to refine it into a more of an "archival" copy. This is the result of that process. I have broken it down into parts, where each part is one day and can be clicked through via the links below (as I add them - might take a few days)

Parts:
  1. The Journey Begins – Friday, March 6, 2009
  2. Arrival in London – Saturday, March 7, 2009
  3. Minding the Gap – Sunday, March 8, 2009
  4. Locked in the Tower – Monday, March 9, 2009
  5. Chunnelling to France – Tuesday, March 10, 2009
  6. Onwards to Omaha – Wednesday, March 11, 2009
  7. 45 Minutes – Thursday, March 12, 2009
  8. The Doors to Austria were Locked – Friday, March 13, 2009
  9. Schnell, Schnell! – Saturday, March 14, 2009
  10. Business Class to Atlanta – Sunday, March 15, 2009

Photos:
Although, I have put some pictures into my report (click to get full-size images), there are still many more to be seen! You can find them here.

Last edited by Berto; May 6, 09 at 10:53 pm
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Old Apr 22, 09, 8:44 am
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The Journey Begins – Friday, March 6, 2009

The Journey Begins – Friday, March 6, 2009

Unlike last year where I headed over to Europe on a Sunday, I figured I would try and begin my journey that Friday evening. I even got lucky as I found two flights that would get my to London on Saturday with availability, but because I was booking in December, I did not know how my schedule would fully play out until the spring semester was underway. With that predicament, instead of option for a 5:30pm flight connecting to JFK connecting to DL1, I was forced to take the 8:30pm flight out of Orlando. This meant that I would get to enjoy two firsts: an overnight layover at JFK and heading to Europe on a daytime flight. Like any good student, I did have to get through the school day before I could embark on my journey. Unfortunately, this meant getting up for my 7:30am linear control systems lecture and then going to my electronics lab two hours after that. It was definitely a drag since my mind was already in spring break mode, but somehow I got through my classes, had lunch with some classmates and finished packing up. Since my afternoon lecture had been cancelled and all my roommates had already bailed out for the week, it had got pretty quiet in my apartment. Eventually I just couldn’t take it any longer, so off I went to the airport.

Consequently, I was going to wind up at the airport just over 3 hours prior to departure. I'm almost never here this early, and figured if anything at least a line would slow me down and eat up some time. The crazy thing is I think I set some sort of personal record instead. Within 5 minutes of entering the terminal I had checked in at a kiosk, passed security, and was standing in the middle of the airside terminal wondering what to do next! Since I now had plenty of time to kill, and forgetting to grab a bite back to eat at home, I headed over to the Burger King. From here there is a fairly decent view of the runway and some gates, and I watched as a British Airways Boeing 777 backed out of its gate in addition to all the other air traffic. Eventually, I needed to top off the battery on my tablet, so off I went to the gate and watched as the flight to Boston boarded.

Delta Air Lines Flight 1818
Orlando, FL (MCO) – New York, NY (JFK)
Departure: 8:28pm Arrival: 11:05pm
Aircraft: MD-88 Seat: 13D 22A Class: Coach


One of the strange things about this flight was that almost everyone (aside from those sitting in First) was stacked in Zones 7-9 and that tonight would be a fairly light load. The real treat, however was presented as I boarded the aircraft and noticed that this particular one was equipped with the gogo inflight wifi service. I settled into my assigned seat (13D), but noticed plenty of empty seats from about row 20 on. So, once we got to cruising altitude, I moved out, headed back to seat 22A and with no one around me in a at least a 1 row radius, I set up for the duration of the flight.

On to the wifi service. I found that it worked much better than anticipated. Web sites were loading essentially as fast as my home connection and the upload speeds via FTP were fairly decent as well. It was even a good enough of a connection to watch shows on hulu with no buffering issues. The only downside is the price for just over 2 hours of access was $9.95. However, if you connect via a smartphone/pda, the cost is $7.95 for any duration flight. Makes me wonder if there is a way I can connect through my Touch Diamond and then tether to my tablet.

Soon enough the flight came to an end and I found myself emptying out into an incredibly empty terminal at JFK. Almost everyone left the terminal and I only counted two other passengers in Terminal 2 as I walked around before setting up camp at one of the recharge stations. I stayed here for the bulk of the night and around 4am I headed over to Terminal 3 through the airside connector. After waiting until 4:30am I found a kiosk, checked in and then walked back to reclaim my original spot. I sat and watched the terminal come to life as passengers started to trickle in and stores began to open. Eventually, it was about 7AM and so I walked back over to T3, grabbed some Dunkin' Donuts and waited in the gate area until boarding began.

Last edited by Berto; Apr 22, 09 at 8:51 am Reason: format
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Old Apr 22, 09, 8:52 am
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Arrival in London – Saturday, March 7, 2009

Arrival in London – Saturday, March 7, 2009

Delta Air Lines Flight 3
New York, NY (JFK) – London-Heathrow, UK (LHR)
Departure: 8:55am Arrival: 9:15pm
Aircraft: B767-300ER (N174DN) Seat: 23C Class: Coach


As I noted earlier this was the first time that flown on a daytime flight to Europe, and because of this I was not quite so sure on how I would adjust on arrival. Luckily it turns out I would adjust just fine, even with having stayed up for roughly 26 before boarding the flight. The few of us on this flight today all boarded on time, and while I am sure we must have left the gate early, waiting to take off certainly did take awhile. Of course during this wait there really was nothing to do, and so I found myself falling asleep, only wake up right before take off.

On this flight, there would be a brunch service, meaning one option was breakfast and one option was lunch. Breakfast was an egg dish and the lunch was your standard chicken and rice dish. Seeing as how I already had breakfast back in the terminal, I opted for the chicken. As usual it was not bad, but at the same time it wasn't anything special. After finishing my meal I sat there pretending to be interested in whatever was on the overhead before making a quick walk around the cabin. Today's flight had an incredibly light load, my guess being possibly no more than 60 passengers on the entire aircraft. From what I hear this is pretty much normal with this flight and that Delta is moving to become a second evening flight. Since there was this light of a load, I gathered a handful of pillows, headed back to my seat and stretched out across seats 23CDE and somehow managed to fall asleep in my "lie-flay economy seat" for at least an hour and a half. More than enough to get me through the rest of my day and make it to my hotel for the night. As for the second meal service, it consisted of a chicken sandwich and it was not bad at all. Not long after that, we were on the ground in London.

Upon exiting the aircraft I emptied into what seemed like the very end of a deserted terminal and started to make my way through the maze to passport control. Although I have heard stories (and seen pictures) of how long the lines for immigration at Heathrow can be, by the time this flight gets in there is not anyone else waiting to go through! At passport control I was asked the usual questions of why was I visiting, my duration of stay and next destination. After no hassles I added a new stamp to my passport and I was off to find my way to central London.
After exiting the customs area, I reluctantly headed over to a currency exchange booth and swapped out the few $$ I had in my wallet left so I could buy a ticket for the Heathrow Connect as I couldn’t get the ticket machine to take my US-based credit card. The time I wasted going through all these motions actually meant I had literally missed the train by 30 seconds. Since now I had close to 30 minutes to kill, I had a brief conversation with the guy in charge of the platform (he remarked on my wearing of shorts...after all I had come from Orlando and it was 80F that day) and then just wound up heading back upstairs to walk around a bit. There really was not much to see, and with the train eventually the train showing up, I was on my to Paddington Station. Twenty five minutes later I stumbled into Paddington Station and attempted to orient myself towards my hotel. Since I had no clue how the station was laid out, I headed out to the front of the station, finally found my direction and then realized that I walked past a huge open entrance to the street I was now on. For being up for the bulk of the past 40 hours, you cannot expect much. Luckily five minutes later I found my hotel for the next three nights the easyHotel London Paddington.

easyHotel is a chain of budget hotels run by the same guy that owns easyJet, and essentially operates on the same model. When you book your room, you get the absolute basics: bed with pillows, blanket, sheets, a bathroom, a TV and climate control. If you want extras such as more pillows, more towels, the ability to use your TV (yes…you have to pay for the remote to work the TV), wifi, or even housekeeping services, it all costs extra. The good news is if you are on a budget and you do not need any of these extras (such as a college student who is really just sleeping there), then these rooms are a great deal since they start at about 25.

After checking in, I found my way downstairs to the “Lower Ground” or basement floor to my room: LG8. I had booked one with a window (there are windowless rooms available), but from reading around on tripadvisor I knew that it was not going to be anything special as it looks out to a service passage. Upon entering the first thing I remarked was how small the room is. I though the room I had in Amsterdam last year was small, but this was even smaller. It pretty much comes down to if your not traveling by yourself, there is hardly much space for a second person. After getting a quick shower (which was an interesting challenge considering how small the shower is), I managed to finally fall asleep.
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Old Apr 22, 09, 8:54 am
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Minding the Gap – Sunday, March 8, 2009

Minding the Gap – Sunday, March 8, 2009

After allowing myself to sleep in a little bit and taking a cold shower in a cold hotel room (why didn’t I remember to turn on the heater?), I eventually made my way back to Paddington station. While I was here I picked up some breakfast, got my Oyster card 10 loaded onto it and proceeded to make my way into the tube station.

Turns out this morning would be a bit of a challenge to get to where I was heading. After studying my map, I had figured that I would take the Circle Line to start off my day, but it turns out that it was not running. Nor was the District Line in the direction that I needed to travel. Turns out they like to do track maintenance on the weekends, and so I had to back track back out of the station (and 1.60 later) and figure out what to do next. Hardly ever do I need to pull out a Plan C, but after studying my map again, I rerouted myself via the Hammersmith and City Line and hiked off to the far corner of Paddington where that platform hides. It was a fairly quick ride over to Baker Street, where I figured I would then catch the Jubilee Line. However, my luck was not going to allow this, and it turns out that it was not running either!

Now, I am forced to open the envelope containing Plan D. I got back on the train and headed towards Kings Cross and then connected to a Victoria Line train. Finally having arrived at my destination, I exited the station and headed immediately towards my first destination: Buckingham Palace. It was not a long walk at all and with the sun out shining brightly it actually was a pretty good way to start my day after the tube fiasco.

As I approached the palace, I noticed people starting to crowd around the fences. Figuring something of tourist importance was happening I found a spot and discovered that it was time for the changing of the guards. I managed to take some photos and video, but it just appeared to be a rather ordinary event and not the more elaborate ceremony that I have heard of. After spending some time around the front of the palace, mostly just watching people go by and taking photographs, I made my way down the Mall towards Trafalgar Square. About 20 minutes after getting to Trafalgar Square I did start to notice that the sun was no more and clouds were starting to roll in.
Since I wanted to make sure to make it to a few more places before it would rain, I made my way down Whitehall. Stopped at Downing Street like all the other tourists, past the Cenotaph, and eventually I was standing across from Westminster Palace. I gawked at Big Ben remarking how large it seemed in person and found myself walking around the exterior of the building where I could. However, I kept noticing the skies getting darker, so I made my way across Westminster bridge and after nearly loosing my hat while trying to take a picture it started to rain.
I found myself ducking into the first thing I saw which was a McDonalds and an arcade. Figuring that since it was probably going to rain for a bit I ventured into the arcade and thats when I discovered it had free wifi. Since, I had just loaded Skype onto my Touch Diamond right before the trip, I figure now would be a good time to waste a few minutes calling some people back home. However, by the time I wrapped that up, it was still raining cats and dogs outside. That is when I reluctantly reached for the golden arches for some lunch. Turns out everyone else had the same idea and I wound up having to sit on the floor to consume my meal.

Eventually the rain let up and I walked the short distance over to the London Eye, bought my ticket and immediately got on my 30 minute “flight”. The views of here were pretty amazing! You could see in every direction for miles. The best part was trying to find dry spots in between the raindrops so I could get a few "aerial" shots of the city!
Afterward coming back down to Earth, I headed back across the Thames and found myself outside Westminster Abbey to only realize that it is Sunday and therefore closed due to services, and therefore no visitors are allowed in. I did not have much of a plan at this point, but I decided to go for a walk and wound up around the corner at the Horse Guards Parade Grounds. There was nothing going on, but I saw people heading through a passage way. Following these people I found myself passing a sentry and in a small courtyard. Turns out I managed to get somewhere at just the right time, as the sentries were about to be changed out. Best part was there was maybe only 10-15 of us there and we were all following around with our cameras....I even managed to get someone take my picture next to one of the guards!
I figured I would just spend the rest of the evening just walking around the city and exploring, something I always try and spend a few hours doing in a new city. Without any particular route in mind I made my way up to Piccadilly Circus, which was not overly too exciting at all. I guess I can say I was there, but I'm not sure what was there besides a few electronic billboards. I continued on, making my way up Regent Street and then a long walk down Oxford Street until I reached Marble Arch tube station which took me back to my hotel.

Once I got back to my hotel, I rested for about an hour before heading up to the reception to inquire where the nearest movie theatre was. He told me that there was one near Marble Arch, and seeing as I had just taken a train from there it prompted me to ask him when the trains stop running at night (or if they did at all). He looked at me if I was crazy, and then told me that it was only a 5-10 minute walk away and gave me directions. I headed out and after probably about 15 minutes of walking I found myself forking over a lot more than what I am used to paying for a movie, but I had to make sure I saw the Watchmen. Besides, I couldn’t be the last of my friends to see it when I got back to Orlando, and it was a pretty good movie, so it was worth it. The only thing was that it lasted longer than I thought it would and next thing I know its 11:30! After another short walk back (managed to find a slightly shorter route back), I was passed out in my bed resting up for the next day of adventure.
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Old Apr 22, 09, 9:31 am
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Locked in the Tower – Monday, March 9, 2009

Locked in the Tower – Monday, March 9, 2009

Spring Break should be about sleeping until noon or so, but this morning I was up at 7:30 as I wanted to get a good, early start to my day. Unfortunately the power of the internet decided that it would eat up about an hour of my morning before I headed out the door. Actually this was actually a good thing in that my first destination of the day, The Tower of London, does not open up until 10am. After a non-eventful tube ride, I made my way to the ticket booth, purchased my ticket and went inside the fortress.

As I entered the Tower complex, I immediately went for the closest area I could tour: the Medieval Palace and the South Wall Walk. I slowly made my way through all the rooms, and along the wall took some pictures of Tower Bridge. Eventually, I wound up on the eastern wall and from there I found myself next to the building that houses the Crown Jewels. The great thing is that since this was the off season, when I went inside there was maybe 2 other people. That meant getting take a pretty good look at the crown jewels and other exhibits without having to fight through a crowd. I will say that it is a pretty impressive collection. I likened it to being somewhat like going to see the Declaration of Independence and Consitutiion at the National Archive in DC, since they are both symbols of the source of power for each government (crown vs. people) and serve as a link to the past.
I walked though a few of the other buildings, including where some prisoners were kept, but eventually I would head back out. I had other places I wanted to see and it was starting to get close to lunch time since I skipped on breakfast. I also made my way over to Tower Bridge and crossed that, but I did not realize that one could go inside the of the bridge. Although I am sure it would have been interesting, I just didnt feel like paying for another admission ticket. Upon crossing, I made my way back up along the bank of the Thames passing the HMS Belfast and a market before reaching London Bridge.

Crossing here I found myself in the City and found myself again walking along the banks of the river until I eached Millenium Bridge, which most people know about due to the original design that caused to to sway when it first opened. Unfortunately, that was corrected shortly after opening years ago, so there was going to be no bouncing around on my walk across. On the other side of the bridge is the Tate Modern, but I actually decided to pass up going inside. I'm really not much of an art person, especially when it comes to modern art. Instead, I continued with my walk before catching a train north to the British Museum. After getting oriented and setting my priorities for what I wanted to see here, I headed in the direction of the Rosetta Stone. As I entered the room there a was decent size crowd and then BAM! it’s the Roseta Stone just sitting there. It’s a pretty impressive piece of rock, and everyone was just staring it….not that they could have probably read any of those languages (not that I could either)....
I wondered around for a few more hours spotting mummies, ancient Roman and Greek antiquities, and countless other treasures. Overall, it was a very interesting museum, but in terms of looting antiquities (aside from mummies) I am going to have to give it to the Germans, after seeing the Pergamon Altar and the Ishtar Gate in Berlin last year. Those are just so much more impressive (and massive!) than some of the reconstructed structures that I found in the British Museum.

Not knowing where to go next I headed towards Piccadilly Circus again to contemplate my next move….which would ultimately lead me to the National Gallery. I probably spent about an hour here trying to appreciate the arts, but for the same reasons I state above, I really don't remember any specifics of what exactly I saw. With that being said, it was still an interesting way to pass the time.

At this point I headed back in the direction of Parliament, eventually finding myself a bench near the London Eye. I had wanted to see the building light up for the night and about 20 minutes later the lights were starting to come on. I watched as the city started to slip into the night and walked back across the bridge, taking as many pictures as I could before my battery died. With no other sights that I could think of for the day, I headed back to the hotel, stopping at a fish and chips joint across the street first to pick up some dinner.
I settled in for the evening after finding out that I could watch BBC One on the TV without paying the 5 pounds for the remote. Downside was that I couldn’t change the channel, or the volume, but TV is TV, and provided some background noise as I wrapped up the day and packed up to leave the next morning for Paris!
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Old Apr 22, 09, 1:22 pm
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Sounds like London was a great start to your trip! Looking forward to the rest of the report.

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Old Apr 22, 09, 4:08 pm
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Oh my god, it's a Europe Trip .
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Old Apr 22, 09, 7:50 pm
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Chunnelling to France – Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Chunnelling to France – Tuesday, March 10, 2009

After getting up and checking out of my hotel I made my way to St. Pancras International Station to catch the Eurostar south to Paris. The whole process was strangely more like flying instead of taking a train, but on this morning there was no lines or hassles from the kiosks, to check in, through security, and only had to wait behind one other person for passport control. After clearing French immigration and finally adding a French entry stamp to my passport I made my way to a cafe to grab some coffee and use up what remaining pounds I had left. It was a pretty uneventful hour as I sat there and used the (thankfully) free wifi until it was eventually time to head up to the train.

Judging by the seat map online, the car I booked into was going to be fairly empty, or at least I was hoping so. Since boarding starts roughly 30 minutes prior to departure I was one of the first on and I sat there waiting for more people to show up. Eventually there would be only about 10 of us and only two others on my half. Plenty of space to stretch out, and of course it made for a pretty quiet journey. Once we finally pulled out of the station, I mostly kept my eyes glued outside the window until we made our way under the English Channel. While we speed our way through the Chunnel, I headed to the cafe car picked up a decent sandwich, and played along with the attendants about seeing the fish go by when a young kid came by (he seemed to believe it)...

Once on the French side, I fired up the GPS on my phone, just to see how fast I was going at this point and it said 296 km/h! Its the fastest I have traveled on a train yet! Otherwise the rest of the journey was uneventful, except for the fact that I noticed as we got closer to Paris the amount of trash along the tracks increased. After picking up my tickets for my daytrip to Bayeux tomorrow from SNCF, it was on to the metro to head to my hotel for the next two nights.
Some of you might remember back in January a booking site called Last Minute Travel was running a promotion labeled as any of their hotels for $1/night, but they eventually changed it to be just down right free. (If you don’t know what I am talking about, there is a lengthy thread about it here). While the site "hid" the identities of the hotels, it was pretty easy to figure out what exactly each one is due to the company using the same descriptions on their other regular booking site. So due to my careful planning and sheer luck of being able to get to the booking process, I scored two nights at the Hotel le Scribe Paris managed by Sofitel. It's officially rated as a 4.5 Luxury hotel, but it doesn’t really matter since it was free and miles above any budget accommodation I would have otherwise booked.

So onto my arrival at the hotel. Upon entering the lobby I made my way to check-in where unfortunately I had to wait for a bit while they secured a room that was ready for me. After the clerk making some small talk trying to figure out where Panama City, FL is located, he then proceeded to show me to my room located on the 1st (2nd) floor. When he opened up the door and proceeded to show me around the room, I was pretty much speechless. Mostly due to the fact it was free and that it is probably the nicest hotel I've stayed in. Even better was that I got a street view room compared to a courtyard view that I had really wanted to make sure I got, but had forgot to request ahead of time. Eventually I got my act together and I was back out into the city.
My original plan was to head straight to the Eiffel Tower first. However, it started to rain, so I detoured over to the entrance of the Paris Catacombs. The catacombs have been on my list for a few years now, and at the bargain student rate of 4 Euros, it cant be beat. It really was amazing. When you first enter it is for the most part a collection of rather nondescript tunnels with engravings here and there, until you reach the ossuary. That is what I came to see. I knew there would be a lot of bones in this area due to the number of remains that they relocated here, but I was overcome by just how many there are actually stored here. Adding to that there is there is the designs that were made out of the bones and the fact that it all seems remarkably stable. The best part of the experience, there was hardly anyone else down here at the same time, meaning that in some of the rooms it was just me and thousands of bones...
After I made my way back up to the surface and figured out where in the heck I was in Paris, it was definitely time to head to the Eiffel Tower. As I rode the metro towards the tower, I watched out the window as the train got closer, with the top peaking out from behind the building tops building the suspense. Eventually I found myself standing in front of the tower with my head cranked upwards before making my way to a ticket booth. At first the only thing I saw was a line, but I looked to my right and saw another ticket booth open with no line at all. I guess everyone was feeling lazy and taking the elevator versus the stairs on this day.

Once I made it to the 1st level I found walked around for a bit taking plenty of pictures and just taking my time. It was not like there was some crowd I was forced to fight through in order to see anything below, in fact most of the time I didn’t see anyone else on the observation deck. Downside was that it was pretty windy and starting to get a towards the colder side of the thermometer, so I headed back down, noting that I would return the next night to visit the 3rd level. I quickly crossed the Seine and found myself again taking in the site of the Eiffel Tower from the plaza at the Trocadero. I even attempted to take a panoramic shot of the view, but I wound up with a floating head on the right side of the picture!
Eventually I found myself back in the Opera quarter, and by now I was hungry so I was looking for some sort of dinner. I did not really feel like eating in a restaurant (I am on a college student budget after all), so I tried forever to find a grocery store. Maybe I was just walking in circles and it was night time, but it just seems that there are no food stores in Paris! That or they are all hiding somewhere. Luckily, though I got directions after probably 2 hours of exploring/finding a food store from a Starbucks. I bought my cheap baguette and slowly made my way back to my room. Leading up to the trip I had been fairly busy with school work, so I had to spend tonight doing some research for the day trip I was taking up to Omaha Beach. All was fine while relaxing in my room surfing the web on my ever-so-expensive internet, until I someone tried to get into my room. Turns out it was housekeeping coming by for the turn down service. Since this was uncharted territory for me it surprised me a bit, but I can’t complain about free chocolates!
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Old Apr 23, 09, 4:34 pm
  #9  
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Onwards to Omaha – Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Onwards to Omaha – Wednesday, March 11, 2009

After waking to a discovering the fact I must have had a nosebleed in my sleep, I quickly made my way to Gare St. Lazare. Today I would be traveling to Bayeux and Omaha Beach via Caen with SNCF. After grabbing some breakfast and accidentally boarding the train that just came from Caen (I wondered why it was dark and empty), I made my way to the correct platform and settled into my seat for the next few hours. There was a pretty decent load on the train, and I simply passed the time looking out the window occasionally while reading a book I had received on the D-Day invasions. With the exception that the conductor never checked tickets (despite walking through the car multiple times), the ride was pretty nothing out of the ordinary. The train arrived in Caen where my connecting TER (regional) train was waiting opposite of the platform. From here it was a quick 15 minute ride before I got off in Bayeux (I recorded the view from my window here, if your interested).

Upon arrival in Bayeux, I had to first get oriented. All I pretty much knew was that the train station was on the edge of town and I needed to get to the center. Luckily, it was pretty straight forward, so I made my way to the tourist information center. I finally had the staff explain the bus schedule to me (I gave up trying to decipher it back at home with all the different conditions of service) and made my way towards the bus stop. Along the way I found myself taking a leisurely walk through the quiet streets eventually purchasing a lunch of a ham and cheese baguette. As I look back, since I had an hour I probably should have used this time to go and see the Bayeux Tapestry, but I guess that will be saved for a future visit.

As I sat at the bus stop eating my baguette and listening to music I started to notice that the local school must have just got out for the day. Eventually, the bus stop was getting crowded and it seems that those were the only users of the bus system on the day besides myself (just like when I spent a few hours in Liechtenstein last year). When the bus showed up and I got on board, I tried to pay the driver 1 Euro, as that was what the tourist center had told me would be the fare. The bus driver was confused and with a language barrier I was starting to hold up the rest of the bus from getting on. Eventually he just charged me the full fare, and I just accepted it for that. Definitely not one of my finer “public transit in a foreign country” moments. Thirty minutes later I walked off the bus and found myself outside the gates to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.
I headed straight for the fairly new visitors center first, passing through the near empty parking lot, only to find myself having to go through a security screening before I could enter. After picking up a map, I headed downstairs to the small museum, took my time going through the exhibit and then finally heading back outside. The first thing I saw was the beach, which after taking in for a minute headed to the left and made my way into the cemetery grounds via the Gardens of the Missing which pays tribute to all those soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines whose remains were never recovered, before stepping up the main memorial. Here stands a statue which is reaching up to the heavens flanked by maps depicting the assault by allied forces on D-Day, including not just the ground routes, but also the naval and air routes as well. I spent a while studying the routes and trying to recall what I had learned previously about the invasion. Beyond the main memorial looking out to the cemetery grounds there is first the reflection pond, then the graves of over 9000 servicemen, a small chapel, and at the opposite end two statues, one that represents the United States and one that represents France. I found myself taking my time walking around, visiting the chapel, and eventually heading towards the beach. Before I headed down the trail from the cemetery, I remarked this cemetery felt different compared to other military cemeteries that I have visited in the US. Maybe it is because of the location and the reason those who are buried here for or my interest in the history of the Second World War.
Soon enough I was walking on the beach eventually discovering the remains of a German artillery battery just to the east of the cemetery grounds on the edge of Easy Red and Fox Green sectors of the beach. I explored the two artillery bunkers that remained to a limited extent due to each being flooded and climbed on top for a decent view of the beach. Wandering around some more I found two more entrances leading into the hillsides: one being what I am guessing was an observation post or to direct artillery fire and another small dark bunker (storage or for personnel maybe?). Also I noted that the landscape, while covered in thick grass, is still scarred by the battle that occurred 65 years ago where the artillery landed from allied ships. I guess I had figured that most due to nature that many craters would be erased by now, but I was definitely wrong.
After I was finished exploring these remnants of the war, I eventually made my way back to the cemetery passing a monument to the 1st Infantry Division along the way. Since I still had another hour or so to kill before the bus came back I found myself walking around the cemetery a bit more until I left shortly before closing time at 5PM. After an extremely quiet 20 minutes waiting for the bus to come and then an equally as quiet 30 minute bus ride (had to be when I was the only passenger) I was back in the center of Bayeux. The town was even more quiet now it seemed and eventually I was back at the train station waiting for the train that would take me back to Paris. In the future (hopefully next summer) I definitely want to come back to this area, and rent a car or something just to make it easier to get around to multiple sites. It would have been nice to see more of Normandy, but the bus system isn’t nearly frequent enough to really be of any use other than just going to one destination.

After sleeping for about an hour and a half on the train I was back in Paris and it was time to make my way back to the Eiffel Tower. From the train station I first headed towards Place de la Concorde and observed the Egyptian Obelisk before making my way to the Seine. I walked along here all the way to the Eiffel and it was fairly relaxing except for the fact that I knew I was getting a blister on my foot but I pressed on and the pain was definitely worth it when I reached my destination. Apparently I had timed it just right and light show on the tower (really just sparkling lights) commenced as I was standing in line.
Unlike my visit the previous day I, today I wanted to go to the observation deck at the very top of the tower. After a couple of elevator rides to the top, I exited into the interior observation deck. But looking through a glass window and saying "Washington, DC is only 6,176km in that direction!" was not what I was here for. I then joined the crowd on the outside observation deck on the floor above. The view from here was incredible! As I looked out in all the directions into the city of Paris, I was able to find all the famous landmarks lit up for the night. Many I had already seen, but I also scoped out the one that I would be making my way to on the next day, such as the Arc de Triomphe. I also noticed a large number of antennas at the top of the tower...I never knew it actually served as a tower in that sense. The rest of the night involved me getting dinner and taking the metro back to my hotel sometime around midnight.
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Old Apr 23, 09, 7:53 pm
  #10  
 
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Wow, an excellent report with well-done pictures!^
Thank-You.
The Big Ben and wheel pics are my favourites.
Your hotel room in Paris looks very nice, too.
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Old Apr 23, 09, 7:55 pm
  #11  
 
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Originally Posted by caspritz78 View Post
Oh my god, it's a Europe Trip .
Well, it's a UK and Europe trip for some of us!
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Old Apr 23, 09, 10:59 pm
  #12  
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45 Minutes – Thursday, March 12, 2009

45 Minutes – Thursday, March 12, 2009

Seeing as how during the previous day I had the beginnings of blisters forming on my feet I decided to take it easy today so as to not make the rest of my trip miserable. With that in mind, I opted to have one day where I could sleep in...besides I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get a really good nights sleep in a really comfortable bed compared to my university-supplied industrial mattress in my apartment. I also decided to have breakfast in the hotel, since my rate included it. The breakfast room is in the basement and generally it was pretty good, but only if your looking for fruit, pastries, coffee, and juice. What I don’t understand is how they can get away from charging other individuals close to 40 Euros for the meal. Must be the whole, if you can afford to stay here, you can afford a 40 Euro breakfast and 20 Euro internet charges mentality.

In a rare occurrence for me, I waited until about the last minute to check out, and was on my way to Gare du l'Est to drop off my luggage for the afternoon. A short metro and RER ride later I was standing across the street from the Arc de Triomphe. I will say its a quite bit larger than I thought imagined! I walked the Arc for about 20 minutes, but opted not to go inside. Instead I set off down the Champs Elysees. Along the way I mailed off a post card, found myself intrigued by the Toyota iReal in a showroom window, tried to find some moleskin in a pharmacy, took pictures of the city, and finally wound back up at the Obelisk I had walked past the previous night.
I was not really sure where I would go next, but eventually decided that since the Louvre was a short walk away I would head in that direction. Along the way I found a pond that had all sorts of people sitting around in chairs, so I found myself an empty seat and put up my feet for a bit. Besides it's always nice to just sit back and observe people in the city sometimes. After just relaxing for about 15 minutes or so, I found myself heading into the Louvre via the glass Pyramid. Like I have said before, I’m not much of an art person and last year I steered clear of art museums on that European adventure due to admission fees, but decided to make an exception. Besides, if anything going now during the low season would be better than if I go back in Summer 2010.

Now that I was in the museum, I naturally headed for the most famous piece of work on display: the Mona Lisa. Luckily there was not much of a crowd so I was able to spend a while taking it in. After taking that masterpiece in, I pretty much just found my self wandering around the museum until I eventually discovered that there was a tablet with the Code of Hammurabi inscribed on it. I scoped it out due to its historic value, but I found myself somewhat confused why its in a museum of art and not elsewhere. Unfortunately, I only saw a a fraction of what this museum holds, but I needed to head back to the train station so I could catch the TGV to Stuttgart.
After using my final carnet ticket for the metro I arrived back at the station and claimed my bags. I still had about a half an hour until my train left, so I grabbed some food and waited until the track was announced. Eventually it was time to get on my train and noticed that my train was two TGV trainsets coupled together with one going only as far as Strasbourg and mine ending in Stuttgart. The journey itself was comfortable and of course fast. While the sunlight was out, I was looking out the window and noticed that the French country side reminds me a lot of the Midwestern US. Hopefully, someday I will be able to take a high speed train through the cornfields of the US...
The TGV arrived in Stuttgart on time, but on the other side of the platform (where my ICE to Munich was supposed to be waiting), I saw nothing. I did not really want to deal with any delay, and looking up at the status board saw that there was a 25 minute delay for some unknown reason. Since I now had some time to kill, I went in search of food. There wasn’t much open, but there was a Burger King so I went on inside. Since I had been learning German on my own time, I figured I would at least use some of the basics I knew to get through ordering. Unfortunately when the cashier asked if I wanted cheese, my mind locked up. I fully understood the question she had asked me, but I couldn’t answer for whatever reason. Eventually she asked me in English and my brain rebooted.
Finally, the delayed train pulled into the station and I got on and made my way to my reserved seat. Luckily the seat next to me never filled up and I was able to spread out for the journey. Unfortunately, about 10 minutes outside of the station we came to a halt and the conductor came on announcing a 20 minute delay. The conductor said what it was for, but my German isn’t obviously that good yet. While I waited I discovered the power port and started to watch a movie on my tablet before we started getting moving again. Once underway, there were no more delays and it went by fairly quickly.

By the time the train got to Munich I was just happy to finally get to my destination after over 6 hours on trains and in train stations. It was past midnight now and luckily my hotel for the night was a short 5 minute walk away. I booked the arthotel Munich and found it to be perfectly fine for my needs. I was assigned a room on the 5th floor which meant that I had a low, sloped roof. Otherwise there was a LCD TV, a single bed and all of the other usual hotel furniture and features. There's also free wifi, but you have to get a code from the front desk.
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Old Apr 23, 09, 11:05 pm
  #13  
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Originally Posted by Flyingfox View Post
Wow, an excellent report with well-done pictures!^
Thank-You.
The Big Ben and wheel pics are my favourites.
Your hotel room in Paris looks very nice, too.
Thanks!

Although I wished my night pictures of Big Ben (and everything else) came out better...my camera just just does not handle low-light situations very well any more.

Also, there are three more parts that I have left to post...they should be up hopefully by tomorrow, so make sure to check back!
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Old Apr 27, 09, 8:33 am
  #14  
 
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We are still waiting.
BTW great so far.
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Old Apr 27, 09, 6:28 pm
  #15  
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Originally Posted by SMART51 View Post
We are still waiting.
BTW great so far.
Whoops...

Completely slipped my mind with the feedback control systems and analog/digital communications finals I had today + embedded systems project that was due. Ah, the joys of being an EE major!

Good news is that since I don’t have another exam until Thursday and beyond, I now have some free time to get back to work on this....I should get at least the next one posted tonight....maybe even more....
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