:: TOUR DIARY 2006 :: Elena's European Adventures ::

In June of 2006 I visited ten cities over 21 days. The first week was spent at a neuroscience conference in Florence, Italy. Having had a mediocre time in Rome last summer, Italy was not a top destination on my list, but I like conferences and I figured I might as well get over to Europe and rack up some new stamps on my passport.

:: 07.06.06 :: LOS ANGELES ::

On my last night in LA, I caught the opening night of Les Miserables at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. I had never seen the show, but I know the whole thing by heart since the Les Mis soundtrack was one of the two CDs I got for my bat mitzvah (the other being the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack), along with my very first stereo with a CD player. Good times!

After the show I stayed up all the livelong night taking care of last-minute details, and then it was off to LAX!

:: 08.06.06 :: TORONTO AIRPORT ::

Nothing happened in Toronto, but I had a several-hour layover at the airport, during which I bored myself crazy with sudoku puzzles. I also definitely spent $11 Canadian on a pack of Du Mauriers. And they didn't even HAVE Gauloises. What the fuck, Toronto?

:: 09.06.06 :: LONDON ::

Arrived in London feeling surprisingly chipper after my overnight flight. Tracked down Aug's apartment in Queen's Park; his Italian roommate made me an espresso and we chatted about how Rome sucks. Went shopping at TopShop and got some cute things. Walked across the Thames at sundown and had a beer at a pleasant patio bar along the Embankment.

Then it was off to the Borderline with some new friends.

I heard Liisa likes the olive machine there. So, Liisa, here is the olive machine for you:

Personally, I was partial to the Pringles pyramid...

The next day, I walked around the Portobello Road market. I didn't buy anything, but I did stop in a bar for a few to join the rowdy punters watching England's first World Cup match. Alas, the soccer was inescapable in Europe. Everywhere. There is no place to hide for a girl who likes drinking but doesn't give a fuck about soccer.

:: 10.06.06 - 16.06.06 :: FLORENCE ::

I was flying in to Pisa airport for my conference. The flight was delayed 2 hours, so I hung out in Gatwick and, you guessed it: had a beer and watched some World Cup. Got from Pisa to my lodgings in Florence at around 2am and was quite pleased to discover they had internet, water, snacks, AND Birra Moretti. Aside: I have always been too snobby (and er, hygienic) to be doing the hippie dorm/bunk nonsense, but for much of my trip I took private rooms in hostels. They can be grimy, but I found that 24-hour access to these sorts of supplies is an advantage that a hostel can often claim over a higher-priced-but-equally-dingy hotel.

My hostel was actually pretty nice. It had a lot of courtyards and plant life.

Local art students had painted all the walls inside.

The next day I went to register for the conference, and checked out the convention centre.

Then I started walking. Florence is pretty. Here is a fortress:

Here is a park:

I took a lot of photos of graffiti that I liked..

I'm not a big fan of children, but these little girls playing in a garden were cute:

The Arc de Triomphe. Har har, I'm getting ahead of myself! I think this is the Piazza della Liberta.

Italian firemen.. kinda hot.

I wandered down to the Piazza della Signoria where they were having some kind of parade:


I think this is the Palazzo Vecchio.

At sundown.. Piazza della Repubblica?

I went back home to the hostel to put my dancing shoes on: the opening reception for the conference was at the Palazzo Pitti. Partying at a palace is pretty sick.

Sundown over the Arno

Needless to say, the palace party was incredible. There were all these tables with people cooking awesome food and open bars with lots of champagne. Even a live orchestra!

The next night a group of UCLA nerds went out to dinner. Wow, I look nuts. Dinner was good, but I was getting pretty fucking tired of Italian food after about a day of it. The bread in Tuscany is kind of gross because they don't use salt. And of course, they seem to be unfamiliar with wacky concepts like "vegetables" and "protein."

Me + bridges = BFF

The Ponte Vecchio - I don't know why I don't have a daytime photo of this. The famous bridge lined with shops, and the only bridge in Florence that wasn't bombed during WWII because the Germans couldn't bear to destroy it, so says my guide book.

I went back to the hostel and got a KINDER SURPRISE EGG and figured out how to put the toy together after about 45 minutes. May I introduce Blue Robot Scooter Man. Maybe not as awesome as the infamous Fanta Bob from Amsterdam, but I think he comes in at a close second.

The Duomo:

Piazzale Michelangelo, up on a hilltop overlooking the city from the Oltrarno.

Jews in Firenze? Who knew!

Was I supposed to be at a conference? Here's me with my beautiful poster.

Overall I liked Florence better than Rome, but it was still WAY touristy, and the men definitely lived up to the stereotype of bothering every woman who walks past, which can get old pretty quick if you are like me and hate people. After a week I was more than happy to be moving on. Before I left I decided I'd brought too much stuff, especially business-y clothes for the conference that I wouldn't be needing anymore, so I took out some superfluous shit from my suitcase and schlepped it to the post office to ship back. The post office in Florence has a really useful shop inside it that sells artsy books, cute little pens, and tourist crap like miniature statues. And boxes right? Er. No. Mailing tape? Yeah.. none of that. Really, why would a post office have boxes or mailing tape? What was I thinking? Anyway, after sifting through some street trash for a clean box and borrowing packing tape from some resourceful Australians, I triumphantly returned with my package. Shipping a ~15lb box from Florence to Los Angeles? 80&euro. However, not having to carry 15 extra lbs of useless shit across Europe for the next two weeks? Maybe not priceless, but, probably worth 80&euro.

:: 17.06.06 :: MILAN ::

I wasn't through with Italy yet - I had one night in Milan, the fashion capital of the world! My sense is that I would have liked it far better than Florence - it is much more expansive and metropolitan, with a subway and normal, non-tourist-oriented shops. But it wasn't an intended destination - I was only stopping through so I could catch a flight to Bratislava. I'd gotten sick in Florence so I was desperately trying to stave off a cold and catch up on sleep. (Airborne, people. Seriously. If you take it like every hour it really works!) Anyway, so I didn't do much in Milan, and also my camera ran out of batteries after Florence, and my charger decided to break as well, so I only tried to squeeze some life out of the battery for very important photographs.

Like uh, the kitties on my wall.

Student district by the canal:

The outdoor market along the canal. Supposedly it is one of the longest running markets in all of Europe, and it was crazy - walking through was like trying to navigate a mosh pit. And I can safely say I have never seen so much utter crap in one place at one time. Awful fakes of everything from handbags to sneakers, shitty sweatshop clothes made from synthetic materials, shitty sunglasses, god just shitty everything. There were only one or two people who had anything worth browsing - this one vendor had real designer shit and I was gonna get this awesome Gucci skirt until I found out that his price was the ticket price divided by 3. Which is a good deal and everything, but.. a third of 750&euro is still 250&euro. Sigh!

Ciao Italia, once again. I must say, you continue to underwhelm me.

:: 18.06.06 :: BRATISLAVA ::

Twelve hours of sleep in Milan paid off, and by the time I got to Slovakia I was ready to rock. Bratislava is really charming. The old town (Stare Mesto) is mad cute. And everything I ate there was really really good. I am partial to chicken salads and I had a damn fine chicken salad, and I have noticed that vegetables are so much better in Europe, especially red and green peppers. Why is that? Anyway, I really really liked the vibe of this city. My camera was still dead but I picked up a disposable one to tide me over.

I was staying in this place along the Danube (Dunaj) that was half a hotel, half a university dorm.

My room there definitely wins the "coolest decor" award. It even had a TV and when I got back after going out on the town, there was this awesome softcore porn on. In one episode, a girl decides to be naughty and gets naked and handcuffs herself to the radiator, and has to call for the service man. So he comes over, and instead of freeing her, they fuck! Nobody saw that one coming. It's nice to know that porn scenarios around the world are just as silly and implausible as our own.

Novy Most (New Bridge) - this thing is rad and definitely one of my new favorite bridges. I guess it was supposed to be some weird futuristic communist statement. Supposedly you can go up there and hang out but I didn't :(

The pedestrian promenade, Hviezdoslavovo Namestie (no, I can't pronounce that). They had an army marching band (?) playing.

Michalska/St. Michael's Tower

I think this is the main square, Hlave Nam.:

St. Martin's Cathedral - it was Sunday and there was a crowd gathered watching the Pope on TV. Weird! After this I went to the Jewish museum, which was cool, but I have no photos of that.

Me + Novy Most. A very pleasant bridge to traverse. I thought I got some photos of my friend the Danube but I guess none came out. :(

Slovak National Theatre

At night I went to a disco club on a riverboat. That was fun but the club was playing really bad music and everyone there looked kind of retarded. Oh yeah, Slovak girls are hot but they dress a little skanky, like Christina Aguilera or something. On average the guys were not too attractive.

:: 19.06.06 :: VIENNA ::

I arrived in Vienna on the 19th, a lovely Sunday evening. I had a beer at a divey bar and watched some fussball. The guys at the bar asked if I was coming from the theatre, because I was wearing a jacket and heels. I guess the my stewardess look comes off a little strange there. Then I found a lovely restaurant with an outdoor patio and had a dinner of turkey breast and more excellent vegetables.

Afterward I went out to some bars. The anti-American sentiment was rampant in Vienna because of Bush's impending visit on the 21st. A huge protest starting at the Westbahnhof (a few blocks from where I was staying) had been planned to greet him and it was all the kids were talking about. These posters were plastered on everything:

So ya.. I didn't receive the warmest reception for being an American. In fact, I'd say that across Europe I experienced more animosity and disdain because of my nationality than ever in the past. Thank you so much for that, Bush.

p.s. - I found these photos of the protest on flickr.. newspapers estimate the turnout at around 20,000:

The next day I went out walking around..

I first went to the MuseumsQuartier and to the Leopold Museum, where they have the largest collection of Schiele paintings and also quite a few Klimts.

More museums I didn't get a chance to go to :( There are SO many museums in Vienna. I definitely would like to go back for a longer stay.

Statue downtown

University of Vienna:

Sigmund Freud park

Near the university I went to the Freud museum, which was in a lovely rowhouse that was his office and family residence. That was super rad! They had some of his personal effects still there, and lots of photographs. I also noticed walking around this area that there still seem to be quite a few practicing psychoanalysts in town.

The Danube canal.. not very blue right here :(

Gestapo Memorial

I was trying to find the old Jewish district/synagogue which was supposed to be nearby, but all I could find was a plaque about Jerusalem or something. I walked around by the canal and amazingly, I found a battery charger compatible with my ancient digital camera!

I stopped in an internet cafe to charge that shit up, and then it was back to the Westbahnhof to catch the last train for Budapest!

:: 20.06.06 :: BUDAPEST ::

The last train for Budapest decided to stop without explanation for a couple hours in the middle of the Hungarian countryside, so I didn't get to town until after midnight. My first impression? Seedy. Budapest was the only place on my trip where I didn't feel entirely comfortable walking around by myself at night. I had to make my way to my hostel by Nyugati Pu. from Keleti Pu., which was not a large distance by any means, but a fellow traveler advised against walking and I ended up hopping on two overcrowded night buses which is not the most awesome situation when you are wearing a 22" backpack. I finally got to my hostel, which was totally nasty. They gave me this sweet suite all to myself, which seemed to be an awesome situation. Until I found out about the bedbugs.

I popped over to the nearest bar for a drink, and ran into a group of American guys who were also staying at the same hostel. It only solidified my impression that American backpackers are the worst people on earth. The only things they talked about (in between yelping at anything in a skirt that passed by) were World Cup and how happy they were to find a TGI Friday's in Budapest. Er.. yeah. This never fails to perplex me about tourists. Why would you go to another country only to eat shitty American food?

Eight hours and an indeterminate number of bites later, I was ready for some sightseeing. I had a chicken salad with yogurt dressing by the Parliament and walked to the Synagogue, but not before picking up a rad watch. 3,000 Florints (~$15)! Shit in Budapest IS cheaper, but the people there are really out to scam Westerners. For example, in the bar the night before, the waitress charged us probably 3x the price that a beer ought to be. I blamed it on the frat boys, but over the next couple days I heard that such overcharging is pretty standard. From then on, I asked to see the menu at every bar before ordering.

The Great Synagogue is the largest in Europe.

Inside there is a museum with a lot of pre-war family artifacts. Budapest had a large Jewish population and was a place of refuge for Jews fleeing from all over Europe during WWII, as Hungary was not occupied until 1944. But after that it was curtains for all of them.

Anti-Jewish posters



My new shoes and the stones

Tree of life - each leaf has the name of a Holocaust victim


Then I went walking through the rest of Pest (west of the Danube). I think this is a statue of poet Mihaly Vorosmarty.

Hungarian National Gallery, from across the river:

Crossing the chain bridge to Buda


Bridge graffiti

I love that dirty water!

Castle Hill (Varhegy)

To get up the hill you can either walk or take this ridiculous tram elevator thing. I was feeling adventurous, and lazy, so I took the tram elevator thing.

And then I was on top of the world!

I had a drink at the lookout point, Fisherman's Bastion, and sat for a while until the sun went down.

On my way back from Buda I picked up a can of Stella and walked to this island in the middle of the Danube called Margitsziget. It's all woodsy with bike and jogging paths and various restaurants and nightclubs tucked away here and there. I drank my beer and watched the water. Then I went to this place and had another fantastic chicken salad (a creature of habit, I am! p.s. in many places in E.Europe they call salads with chicken a "Fitness Salad") and wrote the day's events in my travel diary and ignored the blaring world cup match on TV.

Budapest as a city was really rad, but it was a little dirty and the people were kind of rude and there were way too many stupid backpackers. I am glad I went but I don't think I'll go back until I have money to burn on a really nice hotel. I still have scars from those bugs.

:: 21.06.06 - 24.06.06 :: BERLIN ::

I can't seem to visit Europe without stopping in Berlin, but I suppose there's a reason for that! It was nice to visit my cousin Olli and have a vacation from my vacation for a few days. But not, unfortunately, from soccer.. in fact, I had entered ground zero of World Cup mayhem. Look at Alexanderplatz:

When I got in we had some beers in Wonderland

This guy from the band Singapore Sling was DJing, and he is the only other person I have ever heard play this 50's+60's Halloween compilation that I played a song from when I was on KXLU, so that was kinda exciting.

The next day - MY BIRTHDAY!!!!!! - we walked to the Fanmeile, which was a large chunk of the middle of the city that had been set up as a festival area/world cup party central with giant TV screens and food and beer and whatnot.

The river Spree

1/2 meter bratwurst.. I'm not too familiar with the metric system but that sounds pretty long.


We got some gummies.

That would be an enormous inflatable soccer ball. You could go inside, but we were too lazy to do that. It was still awesome though.

A photographer from a website snapped this pic of us:

Oh we will see, won't we!

For tonight was my birthday party at 8mm, and my favorite DJ (and German husband) Alex came out to assist me through the difficult transition into late-twenty-something-hood.

Berliners like to stay up late so I didn't end up seeing much daylight. However, when I am in Berlin I always have to be sure to take a picture of this thing. I'm not really sure why, but here you go.

Hmm what else did I do in Berlin. I got a manicure, and some leg warmers to cover up the horrid bites on my legs. In the evening we watched Deutschland kick some ass:

Me and the other Alex went to dinner at Olli's friend's restaurant, Hazelwood

And then Alex #1 was playing a show

Alice did an awesome sketch of Olli:

And then it was back inside 8mm for more partying of course! Assorted party people:

A wonderful end to a wonderful stay, and at 5am I was off to Poland!

:: 25.06.06 - 26.06.06 :: KRAKOW ::

I got in to Krakow in the early morning and slept for a thousand years. Then I went walking around. Krakow is a small city and very lovely. It was not bombed so it's all quaint and historic.

They have these street trams but I couldn't figure out how to buy a ticket, and anyway they all looked crowded. Plus in Krakow it's pretty easy to walk everywhere.

I walked down Karmelicka to the main square, Rynek Glowny, which supposedly is the largest main square in Europe.

The markethall in the main square.

Pierogies + Okocim = the perfect lunch. At every restaurant I went to in Poland, food was about 1/3 the price of food here, and the portions were like twice as big. This, for example, was about $3. All the more perplexing is that everyone there is ridiculously thin. I'm like, do you people eat your own food? Oh, and this is random but the pepper in Poland is really good, it's more spicy than here. I meant to bring some back but I forgot.

Feets, don't fail me now. We've got lots to see!

St. Mary's church

Krakow has all these little green parks and paths everywhere.

If I lived in Krakow I'd definitely get my body-building supplies here

These shoes in a store window reminded me of the room full of shoes in the Holocaust museum.. there's also one at Auschwitz.

I walked down to the old Jewish quarter, Kazimierz. There are all these old synagogues that are museums, but there are no Jews there anymore. It's actually like the hip, student-y part of town now.

Kupa Synagogue

Tempel (reform) Synagogue

In the bar next to the synagogue they were playing Jimmy Soul - "If you wanna be happy for the rest of your life, never make a pretty woman your wife" - needless to say I had to stop in for a Zywiec.

Old Synagogue:

Cool stick sculpture in a vacant lot:

My favorite graffiti ever I think

The Wisla at night

Krakow reminded me of Baltimore in a weird, indeterminate way. I basically just hung around Kazimierz drinking at the cafes and watching people. There are a ton of doner kebab stands and they also sell hamburgers and this street food thing that everyone eats called Zapiekanke - it's a toasted piece of bread with cheese, kind of like a French bread pizza but instead of tomato sauce it has ketchup (I think) on top of it. I ate a spinach one and it had this spinach paste and then some kind of white sauce. Possibly mayonnaise. It was kind of good.

The next day I went to Auschwitz.

Auschwitz I:

This is the wall where they would shoot people, between cell block 10 & 11.

The guide told us that because so many people were burned here (1.5 million), everywhere in the vicinity you are still walking on human ashes. I applauded my choice of footwear.

Crematorium I

They think they're just going in for a shower..

Auschwitz II - Birkenau

Auschwitz I was getting a little small to accommodate all the people who needed killing, so they built a bigger camp, Birkenau, just adjacent. All the vertical things sticking up are the heating chimneys where there used to be bunkers as far as the eye could see. The bunkers were wood (they were made from a prototype for a stable) and the Polish government couldn't afford to preserve all of them, so they only kept the first row there.

The train tracks

The SS lookout tower


The remains of Crematorium 4 - the Nazis blew it up as they were fleeing

I went back to Krakow and went out to a couple bars and cafes, and then...

:: 27.06.06 - 28.06.06 :: WARSAW ::

Palace of Culture and Science

My hostel (mad props, especially b/c of the bar inside)

At the place where I ate dinner, my waiter kept giving me my beer with a straw! I couldn't tell if it was some bizarre flirtation attempt or if he thought Americans drink beer with a straw? It was cute though. Polish boys are incredibly sweet and polite. And also HOT. Polish girls on the other hand seem like annoying catty bitches. They are hot too, but they've got that skank streak.

I called it an early night and woke up early to explore the city. It was 80-90% destroyed in WWII. The main square and other historic things were restored, but there are a lot of post-communist buildings like this, and a lot of big new skyscrapers and construction.

My new knee-hi's from Krakow

Church with offerings(?) Catholics are weird!

Jewish theater

Nozyk synagogue - amazingly escaped bombing. They had a kosher shop in the basement and I chatted with the guy working there for a little bit. I don't think there are too many Jews in Warsaw either. I guess anyone who survived the war would have nothing to come back to anyway since the city was all but flattened. The tour guide at Auschwitz was saying that Poland lost 6 million of its civilians in WWII (including the 3 million Polish Jews), something like 20% of the country's entire population at the time.

Wow, I'm deep.

More places I want to go!

The Palm Tree

Entrance to Most Poniatowskiego

Me and the Wisla.. definitely too early to be removing my sunglasses

Warszawa, from the other side of the river

There was supposed to be a Russian Market in this overgrown amphitheatre, but it looked like there hadn't been any activity there in about three years. Someone later told me there IS a market and it just closes at noon, but I still had my doubts.

Copernicus statue

Tomb of the unknown soldier, I think

Gardens in the middle of the city

Stare Miasto (Old Town) - completely reconstructed

The Warsaw Mermaid (the city mascot)

A nice pond near Stare Miasto

I walked through the Barbican to Nowe Miasto and there was this street artist and I had him do a picture of me. He cuts out your profile with little scissors. It was fascinating to watch.

Pond in the central park

I read that a piece of the original Ghetto wall had been preserved between two apartment buildings, so I tracked it down. I snuck into the building courtyard (which was gated) behind two men to look at the wall:

However, what I didn't realize was that you also needed a key to exit the premesis. So I was trapped in there for a few minutes and starting to panic until a little old lady came in through the gate and I made my escape. Phew. I don't think I would have done too well in the real ghetto.

Then I went and had a favorite Polish cocktail - "The Green Frog" (vodka, blue curacao, and orange juice)

Later I went to this weird punk/student bar complex. It was kind of gross. Mostly I tried to bum cigarettes from scruffy little boys since I was out.

:: 29.06.06 :: PARIS ::

I had a stopover in Paris on my way back home. I arrived in the afternoon and hightailed it to Oberkampf where I was staying, and hit the streets to snap some touristy shots of the city before the sun went down.

The first thing I did was go hang out at the river. The Seine is great, I think we would be BFF if we had spent more time together.

At The Louvre


13-year old me would have been rather disappointed if I didn't check out the Paris Opera.

Words cannot express the profundity of this woman's camel toe.. unfortunately I couldn't get a clearer shot, as I was trying to be discreet.

Then it was off for some partying with Paule at a mod club..

And that is the end! Thanks Europe, I love you and I will see you again soon.