Tuesday, March 31, 2009

My Apprentices

I dropped off my younger brother and sister to the Birmingham airport this morning so they could catch their flight to Boston via Amsterdam. They arrived about 12 days ago and boy, if ever there were 'house cats' these 2 are them. They are not the type to travel outside of their element for too long. It is funny how siblings can be raised in the same environment but be so different than each other.

I am not hating on them for not liking the food in the UK as the pickings are definitely slim when it comes to locating great food but these 2 had issues almost everywhere we went even while on the continent. If it wasn't McDonald's or pizza they were looking at it as if it was meant to eat them and not the other way around.

We were able to acquire cheap flights to Frankfurt Hahn and then make our way across to Paris before flying out of Charles de Gaulle airport on this past Wednesday night. As well I took them to Stonehenge and briefly stopped through Salisbury and Bath since we drove all that way to see rocks in the middle of an English field.

I have previously written about my experiences with Ryanair and this one-way flight to Frankfurt Hahn was probably the worst flight experience I have had with Ryanair. It seems we were fortunate to be in the midst of a stag party en route to somewhere and they were just plain out of control on board and the flight crew did nothing but facilitate them in getting even drunker on an 11AM flight.

We landed at Hahn and caught a bus to Luxembourg city where my firstborn son lives with his mother and stayed there in a hostel for 3 nights. I had never stayed in a hostel before as I believe they would disagree with me. In fact unlike my sister and brother I have never even been inclined to see a scary movie that involved a hostel so my expectations were pretty low.

They should have been lower. Really. Much lower.

I do not ask for much from a hotel when I stay in one. I mean clean linen/towels, an electrical outlet to charge my phone and laptop and decent shower. I can deal without TV/cable, a refrigerator or a nice view. This hostel had none of these things except clean sheets. And we had to go fetch those from reception. I had to borrow some towels from my son's mother because the hostel charged for them. They also charged for soap and I am really surprised they didn't charge for toilet paper although I am sure they tried but realized it was to the benefit of their cleaning staff to not do so.

The 'shower' was especially noteworthy for its terribleness. I have been in rain storms that got me wetter than this little spout coming out of the wall in the bathroom. And even better was the squeegee you had to use afterwards to steer the water on the floor towards the drain. Or maybe the the best part was that the bathroom lights worked on a motion detector and when you closed the cloth curtain to enclose you in the corner the lights would magically go off making you wave your hand outside the curtain trying to get the lights to switch on. You decide.

Anyway Luxembourg is a really cool city to explore and in my view maybe the most underrated capital city in all of western Europe. I wore them out with a lot of walking up gorges and down valleys and my brother got really cool blisters because he thought it would be gangsta to wear some heavy Timberland boots.

We took a short train ride to the nearby German city of Trier as my brother felt like he was missing something from the last time he was there and I stopped by there. Apparently he was. The crowd of people was especially strong for some reason on this particular Saturday and all the Germans seemed to be competing in an event to see who could irritate us the most by stopping in front of us or creating a wall of humans walking at a snail's pace.

They succeeded fairly quickly as my brother takes to people about as well as British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith takes to answering questions about her husband's taste in pornos.

We left Luxembourg train station on a TGV train heading to Paris on Monday afternoon and made it to Gare de l'Est in slightly more than 2 hours. I had booked a hotel in the area near Jardin Luxembourg on the south side of the river Seine and after staying in a hostel it seemed like a chateau.

My brother seems to have this notable ability to act as a magnet for weirdos. He was approached by one particular nutter who seemed to admire his aggression and made some gorilla motions while using both his hands to indicate on himself that my brother had huge nuts. And the guy who was in the middle of the subway train with a bag full of the type of stuffed dolls you win at carnivals. He had characters ranging from Superman to Homer Simpson and was performing a play with them. Unfortunately my French is too poor to understand the storyline between Homer and Pokemon.

We walked around and hit the normal tourist areas for a couple days and I even (for some reason) took them to the one tourist area I have always avoided. The area between Sacre Coeur and Montmarte is particularly seedy. I never get used to seeing sex shops next to the post office.

On a positive note I did have the best pizza I have ever had outside of America. I highly recommend Cafe di Roma on the Champs-Elysees although to eat on that road one must apparently be prepared to part with €14.20 for a 1 liter bottle of Pepsi. On a plus note they did give us some ice for free.

We eventually got tired of the bad weather and headed to the airport early for the 2100 flight to Birmingham on FlyBe.

And then I had to deal with the fish incident... Seems there are as many nutters in Birmingham as there is in Paris.

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