Thursday, 31 January 2013

Versailles - I will always wonder...

The next morning, Becky called and we followed up on our tentative plans to visit Versailles. Because she already lived out that way, we were going to meet at the palace and tour the giant estate. I took the train out and found her eventually. Because I had told her that I finished my book, she gave me one she was done with, which I put in my bag. The palace was massive. We toured one little wing of it, and then wandered through the gardens and fountains and the surrounding farms. It was a nice opportunity to chat and the farms were far enough from everything that it felt like I had escaped anything touristy.

We left Versailles and drove through her adopted hometown, where we walked a little tour, and eventually ended up at the train station. The train showed up, we said goodbye, and I hopped on back to the city.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Paris (Years Ago)

I really didn't know what I was supposed to do once I got of the train. It wasn't yet 8 am, I had a big fat backpack, and I knew I wouldn't be able to check in for hours. I grabbed a coffee and a croissant and sat in the train station pondering my options. Ordering a coffee in Paris, for the record, will actually get you an espresso and I don't care if I ever have another demi-tasse of the stuff in my life. The croissant was good though.

After paying 50 Euro cents to use a bathroom, I decided I'd try to find my hotel and at least dump my bags. I got a three-day metro pass and switched to three different lines until I found Abbesses, which is in the heart of Montmartre, just around the corner from La Butte De Montmartre and Sacre Coeur Cathedral. It was a short walk from there to the hotel, and for once I didn't walk past it 4 times before going inside.
Had they let me, I would have checked in, taken a shower, and napped for a couple more hours, but I knew that wasn't going to happen. Check-In wasn't until 2pm, and at the moment it was about 8:30. They did let me leave my bag though, so I wandered out to kill six hours on the strangely familiar streets of Paris. It was an odd sensation, but there wasn't anything threatening about the whole city and I felt like I had been there before.

I figured I'd start at Sacre Coeur because it was the closest. I think it took me five minutes to walk there. With no directions, I just kept going up hill until I found it at the top. It's a gorgeous domed cathedral overlooking all of Paris, except most of the landmarks you're looking for are obstructed by trees. I was surprised to find that it was actually open to the public so early on a Thursday, but I wandered through checking out the pillars, the domes, and the stained glass. It's a beautiful building with an amazing view of the city, and about ten minutes later I decided to descend les escaliers de la butte.

At the bottom of les escaliers was a guy weaving little bracelets out of coloured strings. After politely declining several times, somehow I got roped in quite literally while he wrapped some strings around my fingers and made conversation about all the touristy things in Paris (in English) while he braided and wrapped strings into a yellow, red, and purple pattern. The whole time I was irritated with this guy because I didn't want the thing anyway, but was too nice to be rude. And of course, after I say I don't want it about five times, he ties it on my wrist anyway, and says it's a gift.... but could I please give him something for it.
I fished into my pockets and gave him a bit of change, but was so mad for the rest of the day because I didn't want the damn thing in the first place. How rude do you have to be before these people leave you alone? Now I had a stupid bracelet I didn't want, and I somehow ended up paying for it. Talk about being rubbed the wrong way.

All that behind me, I decided the best way to kill a few more hours was to visit the most notorious time-consumer in Paris: The Louvre. Everybody always says you can't see it in less than a few days, so I figured a few hours wouldn't be too hard to pass. Using the metro again, I found my way to the right stop and to the bottom of the underground upside-down glass pyramid (which has been featured heavily in all the Da Vinci Code commotion, for obvious reasons if you've read the book).

For some reason, I had it in my head that the museums were supposed to be free, but apparently that only applies to certain people on certain days. Either way, it cost me 8 or 9 Euro to get inside and before long I was walking along the base of the original castle's walls, which were preserved underground. Moments later, I found myself looking at the Venus de Milo along with a hundred other people. Listening in on a tour group, I learned that her left toe had been stolen at some point.

Around the corner from Venus, there were more Greek and Roman statues which I found to be far more impressive, including a famous one of Diana the Goddess of the Hunt and her little deer. The detail in this one and others like it, the texture, and the fact that they still have their limbs made me enjoy them more than Venus, and made me wonder why it was such a big deal when there were nicer things in the same room.
Next I toured the great hall with the Italian paintings, including the Mona Lisa. Hundreds of people were huddled around it. I guess you could say that I was pretty underwhelmed. I think once you've seen a picture of something a thousand times and had copies of the image pop up in every conceivable place, seeing the original image doesn't blow you away as much as you might imagine. I was far more impressed with The Wedding at Cana by Paulo Veronese, which takes up the whole wall opposite La Joconde. It's far more colourful, has way more going on, and stands about 20 feet high and 30 feet wide.

Around that, there are countless other works by French, Italian, English, and Spanish artists. I recognized some of them, but was generally not too blown away. For some reason, classical paintings just don't excite me much. I much prefer impressionism, surrealism, and modern art. So in the grand scheme of things, I understand the historical significance and the value of these pieces, but the vast majority of them were pretty dull, with a few exceptions like The Raft of Medusa (Gericault) or Liberty Leading the People (Delacroix).
I spent quite a while looking at art, then moved on to the historical wings to look at ancient Egyptian stuff, African stuff, and after a couple hours my feet started to hurt. I decided I'd had enough ancient art and walked out into the square where the upright glass pyramid stands. I took a few pictures, walked over to the Seine for a minute, then got back on the Metro at Louvre-Rivoli which actually looks like an extension of the museum that the subway happens to run through.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013


There were a million boats in the harbour and a few giant yachts parked in the harbour, tucked in behind a mall that sticks out in to the water. All around the beach are vendors selling knockoff sunglasses and handbags. When the police come by a marathon breaks out as these guys pack up their wares and make a mad dash for it. And eventually I found the actual beach. It stretched from the mall by the sea, miles to the west to the Olympic Village and then some.

I took off my shoes and walked in the sand all the way down to the shiny sculpture at the start of the Olympic Village, and back. Like the day before, I covered a lot of miles and my legs were a bit heavy by the time I returned to the hostel. I found something to eat, which couldn't have been too fancy because I don't remember it, read for a while, checked my email in the hostel lobby and turned in fairly early, even though there were a ton of people making a lot of noise in a courtyard nearby. And of course, the loud roommates and the banging of the sheet-metal walls contributed to a night of little sleep. Of course I slept in the next morning.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Sunny Days Are Overrated

He was supposed to take her to the beach on the east end of the city. He had the whole thing planned out. There was going to be music and wine and a sunset. There was even going to be cheese. How could he go wrong with wine and cheese and a sunset.

Of course, it had rained all day. The sand at the beach would be wet and sticky. The air was cool, and there were too many clouds for a proper sunset. She wondered aloud which shoes she should wear, because he hadn't yet told her where he was going to take her. He didn't know. His whole plan was based on a sunny day.

He settled on "Don't wear heels. We'll have to do some walking, and the ground will probably be wet."

They got in the car and he headed towards his original destination. This was going to happen on a wet, grey, cold beach. It was June. It was supposed to be sunny. But then... inspiration.

On the other end of down there was a park. A park right next to the boardwalk, next to the beach, next to the lake. They could find a picnic table in the park, not fill their shoes with wet sand, and walk up and down on the boardwalk, which would would suit the occasion just fine.

So after the wine, the cheese, and the music, it was time for whatever sunset was going to happen. It was still grey, but there were some colors peaking through the clouds across the lake. He propped up his camera, and told her to stand on the boardwalk so he could set the timer and take a few pictures of them together.

As he ran in, he waited for the camera to click once as he reached for the box in his pocket. Before the camera clicked again, he was on his knee, showing her a diamond ring. He asked. *Click* She said yes *Click*

There were hugs and kisses and tears and smiles, followed by stories about all the lies he had told her in the previous weeks. Nobody ever says this, but in the weeks before he proposes, a man will tell more lies to his future wife than (hopefully) any other time in their relationship. Then there were phonecalls, and the mandatory tweet.

All this on a cloudy, wet day.

Weeks later, he discovered what a blessing the rain had been. He had never considered how often he drove by the park and the boardwalk on the other end of town. He never considered how rarely he went by the beach where he had originally intended to go. But he went by the park, again and again, and each time thinks back on the moment when it happened.

If not for the rain, the cold, and the clouds, he only would have gotten to experience it once.

Monday, 4 June 2012

An Excerpt from "The Game"

The Game is a short story about a boy and a girl who love eachother. That's really all you need to know. A few friends have used this as a reading at their weddings, which was amazingly flattering... If you care to use it for that, please do. I'd love to hear about it. - bjf

It appeared to outsiders that they were at odds. He would test her patience and try to charm his way out of it. She would try impose her will through loosely crafted arguments based on creative feminine logic. He would put on magnificent displays of rhetoric and manipulation, because he liked it when she caught him trying to get away with something. She liked it too.

Over time though, it became obvious that this was not a fight, or a contest. It was a game. Two sides, back and forth. Advance and defend. A game that was almost as much fun to watch, as it was to play.

In this game, however, keeping score was never necessary. It was like children playing tic-tac-toe. The minute one round was over, they'd scrawl out another cross-hatched board, barely paying attention who had been victorious only seconds earlier. Even if they had kept score, it would have still been tied after a hundred years of play. Sometimes he'd win, sometimes she would. And sometimes, when it was needed, they'd remind the spectators that they were actually on the same team all along and would do anything for each other.

Before each other, they hadn't discovered anybody who could play the game at their level, nor anybody who wished to. But they found each other... and in each other a worthy adversary, a constant companion, and a best friend.

And they played the game for years and years, until one of them died. The person left standing being defeated by the heart's greatest loss... and yet, still victorious because everyday they had spent together, the game brought into their hearts the greatest joy and love. Again, it was a tie.

Friday, 29 July 2011

A Train Ride to Luxembourg

Note to self: Avoid Belgian trains. Three simple words that would have saved me a heart-attack and a half today, if only I’d known ahead of time that finding a train from Brussels to Munich would be more difficult than building a flying machine to take me there in the first place. The fact that I assumed a six hour train ride would be simple to arrange was my own fault, the panic caused by the lady at the train station who said everything was booked but she JUST might find me a train that got me in JUST on time to catch my flight out of Munich seemed a little unnecessary.

So what did I do? I got on a train to Luxembourg . After playing a little game of travel agent, I decided that flying out of a small town in Germanywould be a better option, but the bus to that small town left fromLuxembourg . So I got on a train to Luxembourg .  The train however, left late, went slow, and stopped for chips and dip before easing into its final destination about 25 minutes late, which was great, because the bus I was trying to catch to the airport had left 5 minutes before that from that exact spot. So there, I was… in Luxembourg , wondering what I was supposed to do now, knowing that ALL the trains to Munich were sold out.

So I went to the desk in Luxembourg and asked for a ticket to Munich , as soon as possible. He asked if a train leaving in an hour would be okay, and that it would cost half the price I was quoted in Belgium . I said that would be fine. So here I am, on a train… in Luxembourg , about to head toFrance , so I can fly out of Munich in the morning.

I obviously never thought that I’d end up in Luxembourg on this trip. I didn’t think I’d go to Austria either, but we needed gas and beer. Germany , The Netherlands, England France Spain , and Belgium were all expected. But Luxembourg was a bonus. I hadn’t been here before… one more country off the list.

For the record, the train station here looks like it was bombed by the Germans… sometime this week.

I prefer flying to taking trains, but sometimes there are just no options. Like where this all began, in Fuessen Germany . There is no airport in the small Bavarian village of Fuessen . Just lakes and mountains and cobble stone streets lined by buildings that look like they were stolen fromCanada ’s Wonderland.

The train to Fuessen was right on time. As was the train out of Fuessen a week later. In fact, every German train I was on was perfect, right to the minute. I look forward to leaving France on another German train later on today.

(This section has been removed... it was long and boring. Constant self-editing. It was about a week of work in Germany - BJF).

My train left for Amsterdam at 5:50am. Bjorn (my Swiss roomie and drinking buddy) was kind enough to drop me at the train station and keep right on going back to Switzerland . At one point, a few hours later, I woke up in a fog, dreading that I had slept through a stop where I was supposed to change trains. Eventually I realized that I was still almost three hours away from that stop, and that I was tired, perhaps still a little drunk, and certainly not familiar with the geography of Germany .

As planned, I ended up in Amsterdam around 2:30pm. After a brief stop in a Hemp Shop/Internet CafĂ© (there are many of them in Amsterdam) to locate my hotel information, I eventually walked the few blocks through streets that were at least moderately familiar from my visit two years ago.

I’m always amazed how a brain can do that. Of all the places I’ve ever been, I suddenly recognize that a shop seems familiar, or the feel of a particular neighbourhood reminds me that I’ve been there before.Amsterdam was a constant source of amazement in that experiment, because I constantly would feel that knew roughly where I was, without really having a clue… yet, I was always right.

For the day or two, things were pretty relaxed. A lot of walking around, a few drinks, a couple nice meals, and tours through the Red Light District. For those of you who are curious, I only ever partook of the internet offered in the special coffee shops, and none of the other local delicacies. The biggest letdown of the whole city, however, was that I couldn’t find any good clothes at Sissy Boy this time, where I got two great shirts on my last visit.

After Amsterdam , I kicked off one of the silliest days I’ve experienced in quite some time (honestly, for a 24 hour period, it destroys the “NYC and Back for 2 Ballgames” trip).  Wake up in Amsterdam, train to Eindhoven, flight to Stanstead, England flight to Biarritz, France, taxi to Irun, Spain, and then a train to Pamplona, and a taxi to a place to stay.  For the next 14 hours or so, I was surrounded by folks in white suits and red scarves and sashes, 99% of whom were absolutely trashed. There was music in the streets, crowds dancing and singing, and a general sense of festivity in every corner of every narrow street in the city.

I don’t think anybody does anything in Pamplona for the week of the San Fermin festival except party and sleep (but mostly party), from the time the bulls run in the morning until they pass out in a park sometime later that day. After watching the famed Running of the Bulls (and being dangerously close to deciding to participate), I split from Pamplona on a bus headed to Zaragoza which, if you must know, is almost two hours south of Pamplona. Almost exactly 24 hours after taking a taxi into Spain , I was on a flight out of it.

Before too long, I landed in Belgium . As is often the case with RyanAir flights, we landed in a city’s secondary airport, or a town only kinda nearby. So there I was at Charleroi , on a shuttle to the shiny metropolis of Brussels . After a nice steak at a local brasserie, I crashed pretty early at my 4 star hotel which was nice and cheap on Priceline.

The next day was filled with touristy things like Mini-Europe, the Atomium, and the Mannekin Pis, which I think will be my favourite thing aboutBrussels for a long time. The little statue of a peeing boy draws thousands of visitors a day, and is such an attraction that he has more than 800 costumes to wear depending on what sort of festivities need attention. Christmas, World Cup, holidays, etc. all require a special costume for the normally naked boy… which is how he was the day I saw him. There is, however, the Mannekin Pis tavern across the street from the statue, which has many of the costumes and artifacts on display to be enjoyed over a pint of La Chouffe.

The next day, I decided I should figure out how to get back to Munich to catch my flight home… which is where I left this last time. I was still on that train… leaving Luxembourg for Munich . I arrived in Munich around 3:30am. I took a taxi to another nice hotel I got on Priceline (oddly enough the same one that Greg stayed at when we were there two years ago… *talk about recognizing things when you’re not sure where you are! Try that at 3:30am after 7 hours on the train and a crazy taxi ride!).

I wish I could have spent more time in that room. It was a suite with three beds. I used one bed for about three hours, and I don’t think I moved for that whole time. The lines in my skin imprinted from the sheets and pillows were as deep as I’ve ever seen them. Regardless, I was up at 7:10am, on the shuttle to the airport at 7:30 and on a plane to Atlanta at 10:00. That was roughly 13 hours ago. As far as I can tell, I’m about one hour fromToronto , and I should arrive safely with all my bags. I’m just going to assume the rest of this all goes according to plan.

I land. I get through customs. I get my bags. I get a shuttle downtown. I walk into my apartment. If that doesn’t happen, I’ll change this later…