Max Does Europe (Posted on December 31st, 2015)
You've made it to one of the longest blog posts I may ever write. So long that I'd consider it more of a short novel rather than a single blog post. If you're more of a picture person head over to http://imgur.com/a/seJ1P or my Facebook page for all the images from my trip (including ones not shown here). Alternatively, find me, buy me a beer and sit back and relax while I tell you the epic stories from my journey. Estimated read time: 60 minutes.
With that disclaimer out of the way I guess you should know what you're getting in to before you begin. What you're about to read is a journal of my 22 day trip to Europe and back. Like many journals it may be a bit slow at times, my apologies. Some things may have been left out/accidentally forgotten about but it is mostly all here. Every now and then you'll see some horizontal lines like the one below:
This line just means that is where I started typing the previous day's details because I was on a train to a new city. Details were only ever logged on trains, planes and at airports. You may notice a change in tense around this area. You may also notice terrible grammer and weird tense changes in random other places as well. Fear not I passed all my English classes in school and learned that as an author I'm allowed to do whatever I damn well please. So I did. With all that out of the way, enjoy!
Day 1 && 2 (11/09/15 - 11/10/15 San Francisco -> Amsterdam)
Travel days are always long days. 9.5 hour flight in to Stockholm then a 5 hour layover before catching a flight to Amsterdam. Lost 9 hours on the flight to Europe due to timezone changes. Can't wait to gain those back on the way home.
I got in to the hostel pretty late but was greeted by friendly staff and travelers. Enjoyed a beer and a good chat with some people from around the world before crashing hard from lack of sleep.
Day 3 (11/11/15 Amsterdam)
First real day in Amsterdam! Luckily for me that started with some Dutch pancakes. I had no idea that the Dutch had their own style of pancake! I ordered the apple and bacon pancake. What I got seemed to be just a fairly flat pancake that had batter around some small apple and bacon slices. +1 to team America in the pancake game. Afterward I got my Eurorail pass validated because apparently that is a thing you must do before traveling with it. Based on the amount of people that reminded me to do so I'm guessing this is a real problem. Validate your pass people!
Around 2:15 I met up at the national monument to do a walking tour of the city. There was a ton of awesome history to learn about how Amsterdam was built up and how it affects it today. I won't bore you with the details here, you'll just have to visit for yourself :D (or use the internet). If you're spending a few unplanned days in Amsterdam I highly recommend doing one of the walking tours. It sets you up with the knowledge of the city and gives you some ideas of what would be cool to do. The particular tour I did ended at a cheese shop (which there are a ton of in Amsterdam). We all got free samples of this 2.5 year old cheese (which costs ~$400 per wheel). Maybe I'm too simple but I wasn't a huge fan.
While walking around I ended up in Rembrandt Square which seemed to be a pretty happening area.
Outside one of the nicer hotels of the area a large group was gathering so I figured I'd join in. It took me awhile to realize what was going on but after some time I realized I was standing in a large crowd of screaming high school girls shouting for an encore. Up above were some speakers and lights from someone's hotel room. I guess some famous artist had given a free performance. Can't believe I missed it!
Next up was finding some time to grab dinner. Google maps lead me to a place called Cafe de Klos or something of the sort. In anycase it was definitely a highlight because I freaking love BBQ. I just about ODed on these smoked spare ribs. I'm not sure they were meant to be finished but I'm a champ and that's what champs do.
Day 4 (11/12/15 Amsterdam)
This day was dedicated to the museums of the city. I'm typically not a huge museum person but I figured I'd give it a shot since they seemed popular. The hostel I was staying at had year long passes that they bought and rented out to people that stayed. This was a far better deal than anything else that could be found throughout the city, but that's because it probably wasn't legal. The big hint was that there were a few museums that the pass was supposed to work for but didn't because you'd get IDed trying to get in to them and the pass was registered to someone else.
In any case, the Rijks museum came highly recommended so I checked that out first. The outside of it was incredible, unlike any museum I'd ever seen.
The inside looked like it was out of some movie as well. Very extravagent. I also learned how to check my coat and bag here. Aparently this is a thing people from cold climates do. Who woulda thunk. There were lots of paintings but I found the ancient weapony surprisingly entertaining. If paintings or medieval history aren't your thing then you can probably skip this place.
Next up was the royal palace that I was super excited for. It's apparently where Nepolian used to live because it was the nicest building he saw when he arrived in Amsterdam. While the inside was nice it wasn't anything too special imo. After walking around the first floor in what felt like no time I learned that there was no second floor and left highly disappointed. Maybe my expectations were too high for a "royal palace".
I ended the museum trips with a trip to the NEMO science center, after all I am a science geek at heart. The museum had some cool exhibits and in true Amsterdam fashion had a section dedicated to sex and drugs which was pretty interesting.
Afterward it was time to grab dinner and then be social on the hostel's pubcrawl. The pubcrawl was definitely a fun way to meet people and visit a few different bars in the city, but I can't help but feel it was very Americanized. Each bar played american top 40ish from the 90s-today. May not have gotten a traditional Amsterdam tour but it was still fun nonetheless.
Day 5 (11/13/15)
This day was dedicated to some of the things Amsterdam is known for, sex and beer. Though when it comes to beer it seems it's Heineken or bust. Even on last night's pub crawl it was all Heineken. In fact it was hard to stand in one spot and not be able to see the Heineken logo somewhere. I guess it has something to do with the fact that Heineken was started and still resides in Amsterdam.
The day started with a relaxing breakfast near the beautiful Vodel park. I got to taste what was described as a traditional dutch breakfast, poffertjes. They're basically really fluffy mini pancakes which were doused in powdered sugar and presented with whipped cream and strawberries :) I also opted for some ice cream because fuck it, I'm on vacation.
After loading up on calories I decided to burn off a few with a walk around Vondel park before heading to tour the original Heineken brewery which has now been turned in to a tourist experience. Here I got to learn about the brewing process and taste the different ingredients and stages of the beer. Was definitely interesting, even learned how to drink beer more properly (big sips :D). LPT: Don't get the audio tour because everything is in English anyway. Or you can just download the app on their free wifi like I did.
The next stop of the day was Amsterdam's sex museum. For 4 euros there were 4 floors of the history of sex and pornography. It was a midly interesting experience and for 4 euros you can't really go wrong. Especially when there's what felt like a mini tropical storm going on outside. LPT: get a better umbrella.
(I felt that picture belonged somewhere on this post)
The only way to follow up the sex museum was to head to Amsterdam's finest condom shop, Condomerie. There were lots of hand panted and oddly shaped condoms to check out. I'm not really sure if you'd ever want to use one though and they didn't seem too appealing to display on my desk so I passed. Definitely some unique stuff in there though (no photos allowed unfortunately).
Clear across town, on the outskirts of my Amsterdam tourist map is another small brewery that happens to be right under a windmill. They do 30 min tours but the walk was kind of far which just lead to the experience being kind of meh.
After some dinner came the Redlight District at night. It's definitely way different during the day than it is at night (the personnel and seedy people around Amsterdam's famous red light windows included). I figured the only way to do Amsterdam, without doing Amsterdam, was to see the famous Casa Rosso sex show. For 50 euro you get 2 drinks and unlimited access to the live show which just repeats every 2 hours. There were all sorts of different sex and strip acts, including some who grabbed volunteers from the audience who were sitting in movie theatre style seating. There was no shortage of full on nudity here. Definitely a fun and unique to Amsterdam experience for me even if a bit overpriced. I don't want to ruin any of the acts so I'll leave them to you to discover.
In the evening hours of the night word broke of the Paris attacks. There was definitely a solemn feel throughout the hostile. Some people even deciding to change trip plans. Things like this really suck and it's likely to cause some rather unpleasant side affects for my trip with the heightened security. Not that I'm not grateful for the added security, but it kind of sucks that these things have to happen in 2015 :(.
Day 6 (11/14/15 Amsterdam -> Brussels)
I decided I should write a blog about my journey while on this trip. Should serve as a good way to kill time on all my train trips across Europe. So here we go!
I woke up a bit later than I wanted. I didn't think I'd make the train as I only showed up 10 minutes before departure. Luckily, and surprising to me there was literally no security checks for getting on to one of the trains. Especially surprising after yesterday's attacks and given the fact that I was traveling internationally. I just walked right in and on to the train, simple and painless. Would be great if air travel could one day be like this again.
The day in Brussels got off on the wrong foot when I ended up getting off at the wrong train stop while it was pouring rain which made the walk to the hostel a little bit longer. No worries though because when I got there I realized I didn't read the welcome e-mail like I should have which states that you can't get in between 1300-1830 without having checked in first. You can guess already that I arrived at like 1330...
With my 44L bag and my "trusty" umbrella I set out to find the best waffles that Belgium had to offer. After some searching I was able to find a restaurant that had some nice outdoor seating under an umbrella which allowed me to enjoy the hustle and bustle of what is Grand Place Brussels. LPT: Belgium waffles are dense. Don't be a fool like me and order 2.
After my daily carb load I headed up the street to see what I could see. Great things are always on top of hills. What looked like a really important building actually turned out to be some museum. However, Google Now alerted me to this really cool underground building called the Coudenberg which ended up being really awesome. The coudenbourg is the remains of some old, underground building that was used hundreds of years ago for royalty. If this place doesn't do spooky stuff for halloween I'd be depressed.
As the night wore on I was finally able to check in and set my bags down which made exploring the city much easier. Found a cool bar, had some great Belgium beers and even had a quiche for the first time. I ordered quiche because it was one of the few things I could read and I saw that it had bacon in it. Also the google image search for it turned up looking great which is always a plus. Fun fact: Quiche is actually pronounced Keesh (not sure if this just me living under a rock or actually a fun fact).
Day 7 (11/15/15 Brussels)
Time to explore all that Brussels has to offer! First order of business is obviously food which is obviously code for more waffles. I'm slowly starting to learn that every meal in Belgium is served with a salad for some reason. Not that I don't like salad or anything..just weird for breakfast.
Brussels has a small downtown area and then is really spread out so my goal was to start on the outskirts and work my way in. Originally I was planning to head to the Atominium which just this giant atom like structure that is basically a tourist trap with a really great view. At the last minute as I was waiting for the metro I called an audible and decided to head toward this baller park which also had a car museum. As you know by now I'm not really a huge museum person so I walked around the outskirts of the museum real quick, saw all the cars, and then left to enjoy some rain in the park (it rains 24/7 in Belgium).
On the bus ride over to the park we passed the EU Parliament building in Brussels which is known for having one of the largest visitor centers in the EU. So of course I had to see how the EU was planning to implement freedom. It is also free to visit and there is a TON of information about the past and current EU. You could easily spend an entire day here. I grabbed the cliff notes version, left them a note
and then got back on my real quest for Belgium, chocolate and beer. First though a quick stop in front of the royal palace :)
I found a list of the best chocolate places in Brussels and set out to hit as many as I could before ODing. This ended up getting capped around 3 because it's just not reasonable to only get 1 or 2 pieces of chocolate from each place. My favorite was definitely the pralines from the world famous (or just Belgium famous) Neuhaus which is known for having invented the praline. Points to Pierre Marcolini for putting together the best presentation though. Here is a pic of the mereveilleux and hot chocolate I got there:
After a stomach full of chocolate I hit up Delerium which is this cafe known for having the most beers in stock of any place in the world. Or atleast that was once true according to the Guiness Book of World Records! Would highly recommend this bar to anyone visiting. One of the better atmospheres of any bar I've ever been to. After some great beers there I set out to find an "American" bar to find some more beers and catch some of the Sunday football action which actually kicks off at the mildly reasonable hour of 1900. As it would turn out there are almost no bars to watch football at in downtown Brussels. After some time I found a cool Irish bar which had a few people who seemed like regulars popping in to say hi and talk to the Irish brothers who were running the bar.
I rounded out the night with a short trip to the Everard t'Serclaes statue which is supposed to bring good luck by rubbing it from head to toe. So of course I went for some good luck. Let's see if it pays off.
Day 8 (11/16/15 Brussels -> Ghent -> Brussels)
After much debate between taking a day trip to Ghent, Bruges, or Antwerp I finally decided on Ghent, which is actually spelt Gent if you're there (Brussels also seemed to be sometimes spelled Bruxelles if you're there as well). Ghent has a ton of castles and just plain cool medieval architecture. I toured an old watch tower, visited an old castle, chilled on the roof said castle, toured St. Bavo's Cathedral, and even saw the coveted Mystic Lamb painting which costs 4 euros just to see...
Just walking around the city was amazing. I usually don't get too interested in just the architecture of a city but this place was just absolutely insane. For lunch I ate at this chic place called Balls of Glory which serves one giant, stuffed meatball with mashed potatoes and vegetables. I also experienced the natty light of Belgium and had me a Vedett. Was appropriately disappointed. Also made sure to stop by the local college bar, Vooruit, to grab a beer and get back to my roots. I grabbed the one with the cool logo and was not disappointed.
After seeing all there was to see in Ghent I made one last stop in the grand market there to pick up some noses (or Cuberdon if you're looking for the proper name) from a street vendor. While it didn't fit the chocolate and beer life it was definitely a delicacy of the area and definitely something to be tasted. So much sugaaaarrr.
Ghent has some weird opening times for businesses, like every restaurant closes down between lunch and dinner time (which I guess is reasonable *sigh*), so I headed back to Brussels for dinner. Since Brussels is one of the French areas of Belgium (Ghent was dutch for example) I decided to grab a crepe for dinner and was very satisfied with my choice of letting the waitress pick because I couldn't read the menu. I ended up with a chicken, bacon, cheese, and onion crepe. Could not have been better!
And so ends my Belgium experience. Alright, alarm set for 640. Going to try and make the most of the daylight in Luxembourg and catch the 737 train!
Day 9 (11/17/15 Brussels -> Luxembourg City)
Soooo some jerk in my room decided his alarm should go off at like 615am (which was only 25 minutes before mine, but still...) and he decided it should go on for about 2 minutes... Welp I guess I'll get up and find some more waffles before heading to the train. Going to be a long day.
So all the reviews online said the hostel I was staying out was at the bottom of a hill and that it was their biggest gripe. Can confirm it was at the bottom of giant. Luxembourg is like San Francisco but instead of hills they have small mountains to climb. In Luxembourg every day is leg day.
With that said, after checking in I went to explore the Casemates which are an underground series of tunnels throughout Luxembourg used in times of war many, many years ago. Unfortunately most of the tunnels close for the winter which starts on Nov. 1 for Luxembourg. I didn't account for this when planning my trip :( While walking the Casemates though I found a series of signs with the word "Wenzel" on them with an arrow pointing in a direction. I have no idea what the path was about but I followed it to the end which lead to some great views and cool spaces. I also got to learn about Melusina while on the trail who happens to be a cool tale from Luxembourg history.
After walking around the outside of the Casemates I headed up to the old quarter which is where the Grand Ducal Palace is located and is quite a nice area. It was starting to get late in the afternoon so I found the Luxembourg tourist center and asked what would be a good place to grab lunch. I was directed to quite a fancy restaurant to get a very Luxembourgish style meal. Luxembourg is a very French city so it is common to have wine with most meals. As in typical European fashion I also paid for some fancy water as shown below.
From there I went around explored some of the ancient cathedrals and just took in the magnificient views all throughout the upper and lower city. Luckily there is a giant elevator that goes from the old quarters down to the Grund (lower floor of the city). The elevator was a little interesting as it goes 0, -1, -2, -4. RIP -3 floor.
After exploring various places in the city I decided to head to the Chocolate House which is apparently a famous chocolate restaurant in the city. They're most known for their Chocospoons which are just giant pieces of chocolate attached to a spoon which you dip in to some hot milk to make hot chocolate. I opted for a Chocospoon with some Bailey's and a giant piece of cake. It was good :D
Tomorrow I'm off to Germany for a week. The path from Luxembourg City to Munich is about 3 trains and 7 hours. Can't wait!
Day 10 (11/18/15 Luxembourg City -> Munich)
Another early day catching the 726 train out of Luxembourg but I managed to pick up an hour of sleep on the train to Munich so it should all work out when I get there. I literally have no idea what there is to do in Munich so it should be interesting. I should probably work that out sometime in the next few hours. In the meantime the German countryside is quite nice :)
It's starting to get late in the afternoon as I arrive at the hostel so I just hop in, drop my stuff off, and then am out to enjoy the city. The main city plaza (Marienplatz) is about a 10 minute walk away so I head over there first and grab some late lunch from a place Yelp recommends. I open the menu to grab my first beer of Germany and lol they measure by the liter. So this is why people love Germany so much. After some pork sausages and potatoes I'm off to Hofgarten.
Hofgarten is this great park/garden in front of the Munich Residenz which is where a ton of state-owned artifacts are kept. After some relaxing time in the park I head over to the famous English Gardens to hit up my first biergarten (Chinesischen Turm) which is also supposed to be one of the largest in the country with over 7000 seats. After walking about 20-30 minutes in to the English Gardens I found out the biergarten is closed :( As I would find out the next day it is closed for the next few days while they setup the Christmas shops, double :(
Since it's now pitch black outside I figured I'd head back to the hostel and see what events were going on there for the night. On my way back I pass back through Marienplatz and try to grab a German pretzel from a street vendor to get that authentic feel. I walk around the city center for far too long before coming to the conclusion that the only street vendors here sell fruit and Maroni which are just sweet roasted chestnuts. There are a few stores which sell pretzels but they all looked like they had been sitting out all day and weren't warm so I took a pass. Google directs me over to the Viktualienmarkt which is supposed to be an area of just street vendors, which gave me some higher hopes. However, a lot of the shops were closing up as I arrived so I decided my pretzel hunt would have to be postponed until tomorrow.
I get back to my room and meet two brothers from California, what a small world. Being the American bros that we are we instantly hit it off and went to claim our free drinks the hostel provides upon checkin. After that we pick a random direction and walk until we see a cool German restaurant to grub on some authentic food. I'm not really sure on the food we ate but it had a very German name and was pretty tasty. Having eaten we can now grab more beers at the hostel with others before calling it a late night.
Day 11 (11/19/15 Munich)
I think this is the first day in awhile where I haven't needed to catch an early morning train. I enjoy it by sleeping in, which for this day is only til 9 as there are many things to do, including getting that elusive pretzel. LPT: Open a pretzel stand in Munich and you'll be rich.
I've given up on street vendors and head straight to a shop called Bretzeln (which is German for pretzels) which would serve me one of the biggest pretzels I'd ever seen. It turns out that it was just standard size for Munich.
After my morning carb load I head back to the hostel for the free walking tour of the city. Unfortunately not enough people were interested in the trip so the would be tour guide just gave us some great advice on things to do in the city, way better than the hostel staff. I actually liked this better because it freed me up to do only the things that what I wanted.
My first destination was St. Peter's church tower which is supposed to have a fantastic view of the city from the top. Despite having to climb a millionty stairs I definitely enjoyed the view from the top. Even though it was a tiring climb to the top I appreciated the fact that they didn't try to modernize the historical building with an elevator and other fancy tech like in past places I've been.
From there I grabbed a tram ticket and headed to the Olympic plaza. The trams in Munich are quite nice, spacious and include an informational TV of where you are and what the latest news is. BMW is headquartered in Munich so I head to BMW Welt to learn all about their brand and some of the cars they have, including Rolls and Mini. It wasn't necessarily the most interesting experience but it was free and provided a nice break and had some cool cars. Perhaps I should have also opted for the BMW museum. Nonetheless I headed out of the BMW Welt and on to the Olympic grounds.
The grounds are super well maintained and are now used for things like rec soccer, a gym, and hosting large concerts. It was really nice to walk around especially since there were very few people out there. While there I even ran in to my boi Snoop Dogg and shared a moment.
After walking around the grounds for a bit I hopped back on the tram and headed off to the Deschutes Museum which came highly recommended to me since it is supposively the largest science and tech museum in the world.
While the museum was definitely large and had some rather cool machinery, I feel like some of the interactive exhibits were somewhat lacking. A lot of them appeared to be out of order, likely from all the school groups that come through. A few of the big exhibits, including the Planetarium, were also under construction or just closed cause November :/ They did have a pretty rad computer science hall that had old giant computers all the way down to new microelectronics tech. I even got to play a computer with vision in rock, paper, scissors. Not trying to brag or anything buttttt I was able to take some games from the computer.
There was also a cool computer vision setup that could tell your emotional state just by looking at you. RBF confirmed.
After an eventful day I headed to the famous Hofbrauhaus to grab a beer and enjoy some live music. I had been warned that it was a bit expensive and touristy but the prices actually seemed pretty reasonable so I settled in for the long haul with a couple liters of beer and some pork knuckles with potato dumplings. After some time, and trying way to hard to take this selfie
I headed back to the hostel to see what was going on that evening. On the way back though I caved and grabbed some Maroni since it feels like the Munich thing to do, and as you can tell I love food culture. They were alright.
At the hostel I ended up falling in with a decent sized group of people from all over the world which provided for some great entertainment and beer + shots for the evening. Even grabbed some late night pizza which always hits the spot :D. Unfortunately as midnight approached I realized I'd need to say goodbye to my new found friends for I needed to arise at the lovely hour of 0600 to catch the train to Frankfurt. And with a final farewell I was also ready to say goodbye to Munich which provided a freaking great time!
Day 12 (11/20/15 Munich -> Frankfurt)
On the way to the train station I feel the first drops of rain of Munich. Definitely got lucky with my stay to have great weather the past 2 days. Now it's off to Frankfurt for the Dota 2 Majors and to enjoy some time with my Dota brethren. So excited!
On the way to the hostel I grabbed a quick pretzel off the street. There would be no time for a nice breakfast today, not that I was really eating breakfast many other days. After dropping off my backpack I headed out to Festhalle to catch the first games of the day that I woke up so early for.
Donning my Live Dota shirt I entered the arena and saw the long lines to get past security and I knew I had found my people. The vibe of the whole event was great. The first game of the day featured a Chinese team and you could tell just how well those teams traveled based on the number of people in the audience speaking Chinese. Just sitting in the crowd I could hear at least 3-4 different languages being spoken which just goes to show how worldwide this game is. Unfortunately, finding a group that wanted to speak English was kind of tough.
As the day grew on and the more crap food that was consumed, the better the games got. I was even able to find some people who were fans of my app, Live Dota, which was a super cool experience. After the games ended around 2200 I went and grabbed dinner with another spectator. We ate at McDonalds which marks the first time I've eaten there in about 5 years. Twas about the same as I remember.
After dinner I headed back to the hostel to catch up on some sleep which I had fallen behind on over the past few days. Of course that didn't happen and I ended up hanging out til around 0100. Saturday's games don't start until 1030 though so it should all be good.
Day 13 (11/21/15 Frankfurt)
The finals of the Frankfurt majors are today. Some group of 5 gamers are going to walk away with $1.1 million which I still find mind blowing. In order to ease my blown mind I jump on the breakfast buffet and learn about the stories of an Australian traveler in Frankfurt on business. I ended up getting caught up in the conversation and barely made it to the arena for the 1030 game. Unfortunately it seems that everyone else had the same problem and the line to get in through security was massive (like it wrapped around the building). In fact I waited over an hour to get in. After waiting in line for about 20 minutes myself and a few others learned that you could just skip the giant line and get in to a smaller line inside the building if you were a jerk.
Luckily I was queued up with a bunch of people form the UK who enjoyed speaking English :D I found it amusing to hear them complain about the line because they kept referring to it as a queue which just sounds funny coming from America. The long line also gave me a chance to plug my app and allowed people to gather around to watch the first game since the line was so long. In fact the line to get in was so long that we all missed the first game of the day. Ugh.
After watching the lower bracket finals I grabbed a couple mediocre sandwiches from the event, not wanting to wait in line to get back in and then headed to some floor seats to cheer and support Team Secret. I ended up running in to some more people who recognized my shirt and were fans of my app which just made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside :D They even recognized all the gaming personalities that were there and got some to come over which was cool.
All and all the event was great. The underdog team of probably the entire tournament ended up winning, and since they were a European team they got a ton of support and a large group of new fans. I always love a good underdog story.
Frankfurt provided a nice break from the 5 miles or so of walking I was previously doing every day. Next up is Berlin to finish up my tour of Germany.
Day 14 (11/22/15 Frankfurt -> Berlin)
I opted for a late train today (1013) thinking that would give me plenty of time to sleep. However, some jerk staying in my room decided that she needed to randomly switch the lights on around 5, 530, and 630. Wayne Brady almost had to choke a bitch.
In any case I've made it to the train and am listening to people talk about Dota in German. Not really sure what they're saying but I don't really have the voice to talk anyway. The past two days have been amazing. As I write this I can't believe it has already been 2 weeks. It feels like my trip is just starting. On to Berlin!
My first stop in Berlin, which happened to be close to the train station was the Reichstag, Berlin's huge and beautiful parliament building. Unfortunately it turns out that you need an appointment to get in there for security purposes. Since I didn't really do any planning for my trip to Berlin I had to pass on the place and head over to the Brandenburg Gate. The Brandenburg Gate is now just open and very touristy but has served many purposes during it's time including being a checkpoint between East and West Berlin. I suppose the ironic part of it all is the that it used to be the Peace Gate and features the god of peace in a horse drawn carriage. Definitely a cool site to see.
Sooo the forecast for Berlin said "light" showers. However, it turns out that when it is below 0c it also means that water freezes. So Berlin welcomed me to the first snow storm I've been in since I was born. I ducked inside and grabbed a late lunch at some random German restaurant which ended up serving a really great meal of curryworst and fries. It was also refreshing to see a place that had more than 3 beers on the menu for a country that is supposed to have such great beer.
Afterward I walked around to the Holocaust museum since it was close by but ended up not going inside due to the giant line waiting to get in which would have meant standing outside in the snow storm for awhile. Since it was starting to get dark I headed down to my hostel which happened to be kind of far from the city center and train center, whoops. It did end up being one of the better hostels I stayed at though since it was only ~12 euro per night and that included a free drink, 2 nice pillows, and someone who made the bed every day.
Since it was Sunday I decided to try and find a bar to watch the football games at. Unfortunately the two big bars that are supposed to have the games on were super far from me. However, after walking around the area I was staying and not finding any good food I opted for the long trip which turned out to be a great idea. The bar I chose was part of a hostel so there were a ton of people and the food and drinks were good and cheap. German and football culture share the idea of sharing tables with strangers so I felt right at home. The group I sat with ended up being super knowledgeable about football which was refreshing to see. One of the more knowledgeable people was actually British which surprised me a ton. His use of the words cunt, wanker, pussy, fucker, bloody hell, etc made the experience even better :D
After watching the "morning" and "afternoon" games I ended up leaving the bar at 0200. Like most places in the world transit isn't very reliable at 0200. In fact the place Google directed me to had the sign off for next bus so I opted to find a taxi. However, finding a taxi that takes credit or a nearby ATM didn't end up working out. After some time I decided to cut my losses and make the 45min walk back to the hostel to be that drunk jerk that barges in at 0300. For full disclosure I don't think I was the jerk and don't think anyone woke up, but sorry if I was that guy.
Day 15 (11/23/15 Berlin)
Let's just jump in to the all you can eat breakfast that included bacon. Yea that was great. After breakfast I headed to Checkpoint Charlie which was one of the main checkpoints between East and West Berlin. There was also a cool museum that had a ton of history of the wall and time period. It was honestly too much if you ask me. At some points it felt like someone just printed out a history book on the time period, blew up the font, and put it on the wall. On the plus side there were some really cool time pieces showing how people were smuggled across the border in giant amps, "bullet proof" cars, fake suitcases, giant fuel tanks, and various other ways.
After my history lesson I headed to the remaining part of the Berlin wall. Very little of the wall actually remains. What does remain of the wall is actually just super graffitied. I can't say I didn't want to leave my mark on the wall too though.
After spending some time reading through the highly recommended tl;dr history of the wall I headed down to the Gendarmenmarkt for lunch. I ended up accidentally sneaking in, tickets are 1 euro which I would find out later. Lunch was obviously another bratwurst, though this was a thüringer bratwurst with some fried potatoes.
The market was a very happening place. Germans seem to be really in to their Christmas markets. I found a chocolate shop offering hot white chocolate which I've surprisingly never had before. It wasn't bad but I think I prefer milk chocolate. When white chocolate melts in milk it actually looks like butter. Not saying I wouldn't drink a cup of hot butter or anything, just trying to paint a picture for you the reader.
While drinking some hot chocolate I listened to the lovely band play for the Gendarmenmarkt. When they finished up I bought a candy apple and headed to Tiergarten which is a giant park in Berlin. I popped open my candy apple and went to town on that bad boy. Hopefully my dentist never reads this. After some walking around I saw a giant statute in a clearing which garnered my attention. It turned out to be a memorial soviet memorial for the more than 80,000 soldiers who died during the battle of Berlin. It kind of felt like the tomb of the unknown soldier since not even a tenth of the soldiers who died were commemorated there.
With my candy apply devoured I headed to Alexanderplatz which had also flourished in to a beautiful Christmas market complete with an ice skating rink. I grabbed some snack food for the next leg of my trip then ate some long German word which I think translated to cut up pancake with strawberries, bananas, and nutella. A trip to the cold market wouldn't have been complete without some more hot chocolate, this time with Bailey's :). After enjoying some more of the evening I was ready to call it a day and headed back to the hostel to get ready for my trip to Copenhangen the following day. Thus marking the end of my trip to Germany.
Day 16 (11/24/15 Berlin -> Copenhagen)
One of my final tourist destinations on my trip. It's crazy to think that I've been through four countries (five if you count the layover in Sweden) already. It's a seven hour trip from Berlin to Copenhagen. I've spent the last of my euros on chocolate and donuts at a stop in Hamburg since Denmark and Sweden have their own currency. On to Copenhagen!
A quick story before I sign off from my train ride. A smelly man was thinking of sitting in the seat next to me but I was being classic American jerk and left my phone on the seat. Unable to communicate with me while I was writing of my trip to Berlin he was left to assume the seat was taken and moved on. Whew. Ok, now really on to Copenhangen!
First stop in Copenhangen was the hostel, as usual, to drop off my bags. Upon checking in the hostel staff informed me that my due balance was three hundred and something and I had a mini heart attack, thought to myself its because I'm murican isn't it, and then finally made the conversion from Krone (danish currency) to USD in my head and realized it was only like $45 for the two nights. Whew.
With that behind me I headed over to the Christiansborg Palace which turned out to actually be a really cool palace as opposed to the one in Amsterdam. They even made you wear little baggies over your feet while walking around. The palace was broken down in to 3 sections: the royal stables, the reception room, and the tombs. My first stop was the royal stables where I nicknamed a horse ghost and tried to escape with him. He wasn't having it.
Next was the reception rooms which showed all the fanciness you'd expect to see in a royal palace including an all velvet room! Finally I headed down to the tombs where there was a lot of cool history here of how the place kept burning down over the past few hundred years due to bad engineering. They're currently on their 5th iteration of the palace.
Attached to the palace was a giant watch/storage tower which featured a fancy restaurant and a great view. Unfortunately the restaurant was closed when I was there, but it would have made for a cool experience. The view from the top was equally good dispite the light rain that was coming down.
After seeing the view I headed down about a km or two to another giant tower that was part of a church. The view from the top was fairly similar and probably not worth the trip but nothing ventured nothing gained. The one crazy part of this tower though was the giant guard rail around the perimeter at the top. Some how some photographers found a way around it and were on the very edge taking pictures on a tripod. I was pretty sure one of the giant wind gusts coming through was going to knock them off the edge but they managed to survive...probably.
It was starting to get late at night so I walked over to the Christmas markets for some street food and warm drinks. The food was fairly mediocre but I had gløgg (or mulled wine) for the first time which was amazing, warm and delicious. I also tried some mulled cider but it was no where near as good.
Finally I rounded off the night with some laundry and drinks at the hostel bar. Even met a guy who used to live at the hostel and now just lives in Copenhagen doing his masters in physics. He gave me the insider tips on things to do for tomorrow which was greatly appreciated.
Day 17 (11/25/15 Copenhangen)
It seems like there is so much to do here. No idea how I'll have time to do everything.
I started the day off with the breakfast buffet at the hostel and enjoyed some good morning conversation. My plan for the morning was to start off with the walking tour to get a general view of the city. The walking tour left from the hostel at 1045 so I decided I should poop before going, I know TMI. Unfortunately when I headed back down I was too late. Luckily the bartender knew where the group was headed to meet up so that I could catch up which I did :)
The tour was 3 hours long and was filled with great jokes and history. Even learned a fun tech tidbit that Bluetooth technology is actually named after a former danish king. The guide even timed everything properly so that we could see the marching of the royal guard
and the changing of the royal guard.
He also taught us how to spot the time period of buildings based on their architecture. Apparently Copenhagen has a long history of things burning down so after some time they started making buildings with rounded corners so that it would be easier for fire hoses to wrap around. So many fun facts.
Along the way I even met another Packers fan who was visiting from the UK. The UK really seems to be getting in to football, and I ain't talkin about soccer.
The tour finished up within walking distance to Christiania which is this small sect in Copenhagen that has basically defected and is its own country with its own rules. Though I say rules loosely as there really aren't any besides no racism, no photos and no cars. They don't allow photos because all the illegal drug stuff that goes on there, though it's mostly just pot which happens to be illegal in Copenhagen. Christiania is literally just this run down area of shacks where people smoke weed, eat munchie food, and sometimes drink. They seemed to have a friendly culture though with lots of signs saying, "joint the club and never smoke alone". It's also known as the Green Light District for a reason, which you can kind of see from this zoomed in pic.
(the exit back in to Copenhagen)
My friend from the bar last night says they don't allow pictures so they don't get caught. Not sure if it's true or not but it sounds like some grade A stoner logic.
After that trip I headed over to one of the oldest theme parks in the world, Tivoli. Some of you may remember the park from your Roller Coaster Tycoon days. Well it's actually a real place! The park is absolutely beautiful. They even sell just admittance passes in case you only want to walk around instead of ride the rides. However, I traveled too far to not the ride the rides so I totally did. Even had some popcorn along the way :D I uncharacteristically skipped on the cotton candy though as the popcorn was huge. Starting from 1800 on they have a light and water show on the lake which was supposively pretty good. I personally thought it was a bit underwhellming given the hype behind it. Nonetheless I grabbed this cool pic from it.
Soooo I kind of accidentally on purpose skipped lunch this day which gave me more time to do things but ultimately left me pretty hungry (maybe popcorn was lunch). So I left the park to grab some food. I ended up finding this really cool burger place which had a build your own burger style menu. The beer there was pretty meh though. Luckily on the train to Copenhagen I randomly found some Redditors who wanted to meet up for a drink. The bar we ended up meeting at also shared the name of my favorite bar in San Francisco, Mikkellers. To my surprise Mikkellers is actually a small chain all over the world with the original being the one in Copenhagen. What a great treat! After a few drinks and some good conversation I headed back to the hostel to get some sleep for my trip to Sweden!
Day 18 (11/26/15 Copenhagen -> Jonkoping)
If I were in the states today would be Thanksgiving, however, in Sweden today is the start of Dreamhack, the largest LAN/rave in the world.
I didn't wake up with enough time to grab a true breakfast so I opted for spending my last Krone on an apple at the train station. On the way to the train station I realized I planned my trip around going to a slightly further out train station (only an extra 20 minutes). Unfortunately I would need to setup a reservation to get on the closer train and I just didn't have the time to do it. I didn't want to risk missing the train over an extra 20 minutes with the downside of having to wait an extra 2 hours.
So I'm on the train now and we seem to be a bit behind schedule due to recently increased border checks in Sweden. Normally I'd have 14 minutes to make the connecting train in Alvesta but now it looks like I may be lucky to have 6 minutes. Hopefully the conductor can pick up the slack over the next few stops.
Well I made it to all my trains on time which was a plus for the day. Unfortunately all the buses in Jonkoping require cash for single ride passes but the ATMs don't give out Krona (Swedish currency) in that low of denominations so I ended up hitch hiking it to the Elmia conference hall where Dreamhack Winter is hosted each year. The plan was to find some food for lunch on the way but all I found on the way was crappy pizza joints. It's cool though. Got to see a new city and walk along the beach.
As I'm walking up to the event I get a random message on Facebook from someone I've never seen asking when I was going to be at Dreamhack. The real question was more how did you get my name and how did you know I was going to Dreamhack?! Well it turns out I forgot about the seat map for Dreamhack which gives the names of where everyone is sitting so it's very easy to look up people. Turns out the person asking was just asking to be friendly. A bit of foreshadowing as Swedish people just all seem to be really friendly and good natured people.
I get in, get my wristband, and am just blown away as I walk around and see the everyone getting setup. The place is huge! People all over are playing games, tournaments are going on, and the music is bumpin! After awhile of walking around I realize I haven't eaten so I grab a kebab and head to my seat in the main hall. It is here that I meet the mysterious Facebook messenger and her friend whom I would end up hanging out with for a good portion of the event. We exchange hellos or hallås as they say in Sweden and I can instantly tell we're all going to get along really well. I mean they had candy after all. I also got to meet another Redditor from /r/Dota2 who was attending Dreamhack as well. Always cool to talk to people online and then get the opportunity to meet up with them in person.
After getting in some afternoon gaming sessions it was time for the opening ceremony where the event coordinators basically show off the super cool lighting and pyrotechnics that they have setup for the event.
After this it's time for some more gaming before Adrian Lux takes the main stage. I've wanted to see him perform for awhile so it was super cool that he was going to perform while I and a thousand or so other people just sat around and played video games. Of course I didn't miss out on the opportunity to jump around and get ear raped by the main stage.
The show finished up around 0100 and not too long after that I grabbed a few things and headed up to the sleeping hall. You can think of the sleeping hall as the largest hostel you'll ever sleep in or basically just a large warehouse that is kept dark and quiet throughout out the event. If you've ever wanted to sleep on a cold concrete floor for a few hours, surrounded by about a thousand people, this is the place for you.
Day 19 (11/27/15 Jonkoping)
As most days will probably go, the day begins with a bit of video games and a donut. After pwning some n00bs my new friend and I embark on a discovery mission of all the booths at Dreamhack. In addition to the LAN/rave that is always going on, during the day vendors setup booths with tons of giveaways and game play demos. Some even give away free food :D
The first stop on the list was one of the few vendors in D hall, EA's Star Wars Battlefront which was setup in an epic 21 vs. 21 arena mode.
After demoing EA's latest addition to the Star Wars series it was on to the actual vendor hall which was more or less situated between the main 3 gaming halls.
The first setup we came across was one called Mindball. It's exactly as it sounds. Using your brain waves you control a physical ball on a board. The game is setup in a 1 vs. 1 mode where the goal is to focus all your concentration on the ball in order to get it to move to your opponent's side of the board. I'm apparently not that great at focusing as I got crushed within about 15 seconds of the game starting. Here's a pic of some randoms playing to get an idea of how cool this game is.
There were a ton of awesome booths and to go through and list them all would probably be boring. Especially since I don't have many pics of them all. To give you some examples though one had a demo setup where you can control an Asteroids like game with your eyes, another setup to see who could put 3 condoms on 3 dildos the fastest (this may give you some hints on the type of people the Swedes/Scandinavians are), a UFC style octagon with CS:GO deathmatch going on, a driving simulator (which I personally felt was flawed), a mouse and keyboard demo to see who could move the mouse the fastest and who could press the enter key the fastest (some people are freaks), and many others (many of which featured CS:GO + some sort of hardware demo/giveaway).
Perhaps the seemingly coolest demo was that of Valve and HTC's new virtual reality setup. Unfortunately you needed an appointment to book a room and try it out. Since all the slots were booked for the day we set a reminder to get up there early and schedule an appointment for the next day.
During the day Fnatic's CS:GO team did an AMA on their Swebus, which of course we fought our way on to. They asked the participants if they wanted to do the AMA in Swedish or English and since I was the only person that didn't know Swedish I was easily outruled. Luckily my Swedish friend was able to translate for me and make it an enjoyable experience <3. Getting on to the bus meant you also got access to their private lounge across the street. VIP, afterall is the only way to go. The lounge area was showing off some of the new, branded hardware they were getting ready to release along with some free drinks. Nothing too impressive but definitely had a cool vibe.
After browsing all the demos it was time to play some more games in the LAN of course! Then my two Swedish neighbors and I set out to Willy's to grab some food and snacks for dinner. Willy's is just your standard run of the mill grocery store from Sweden. It was here I picked up some fine Swedish delicacies which of course include frozen pizza and candy! We get back and eat dinner then I head off to check out the match halls where there is a large crowd gathered around 2 booths of professional CS:GO teams. It turns out the match was the final of the group stages and featured one of the Swedish teams, Ninjas in Pyjamas (NiP), who needed a win in order to get out of the group stages. The crowd and energy here was insane even though NiP lost.
Right next door to the CS:GO match a HotS match was getting ready to be played except this was the finals for the HotS tournament, so of course I sat down to watch. The crowd for this match was no where near the size of the CS:GO match but the ending was way cooler. Blizzard had a nice setup, including some small indoor fireworks for when the Swedish home team, Fnatic, won the bo5.
Around the end of this game it was about 0200 so I headed up to the sleeping hall to catch a few hours of sleep before enjoying the last full day of Dreamhack.
Day 20 (11/28/15 Jonkoping)
You probably already know how this day starts but I'll remind you just incase you forgot, video games and donuts. For some reason very few days in my life start off like this so I'm going to enjoy them while I can. After the morning routine and a rousing round of hallås being shouted throughout the hall my friend and I head up early to wait in line and reserve a room to try out Valve's VR demo. So excited for this!! The videos posted online of this seem so promising and sound so cool.
The rest of the day honestly felt like a blur waiting for our appointment. I'm sure it was filled with video games and giveaways (of which I course won none of). Somewhere in between all that I got the chance to experience Sweden's own Sibylla which turned out to be your average fast food joint serving hamburgers and chicken.
For some reason I found the whole experience of someone DJing while I played video games somewhat surreal #completelyrandomthought #onlyatdreamhack
Finally it came time to try out Valve's VR demo. We were escorted in to a room approximately 15x10 feet which was equipped with a suspended VR headset, personal demo assistant, and wall sensors to detect your position in the room. During the 15 minute time you were allowed to try all 4 demos: ship wrecked boat, air painting, zombie shooting, and a visit to Aperature labs. I found the zombie shooting one to be the most fun. I feel like it could definitely be a game changer for games like Left 4 Dead, I did however feel like the shooting accuracy was a bit off. The demo needed more of a Counter Strike spray/pray pattern.
Saturday is known as finals day at Dreamhack. I spent the evening watching the Dota finals with my buddy from /r/Dota2 which was a great experience. The crowd for Dota filled out most of the alloted seats which was nice to see considering how Counter Strike heavy the whole event was. Team OG, the team that won the Frankfurt Major, also won Dreamleague that night. Perhaps I'm their good luck charm.
After the Dota finals were over the CS:GO finals started up. This was basically the event everyone in the place wanted to see. As such there was standing room only for most of the match. The only way to get a seat was to steal one during the 30 minute wait in between games of the bo3 series. The crowd was definitely fun to be a part of as the Swedish home team, Fnatic, ended up winning the whole thing in game 3.
To close out Dreamhack they brought back the DJ who has apparently closed out the last few Dreamhacks, DJ Altégo. Nothing like a good rave after the home team takes the biggest tournament of the event. I ended up staying up pretty late this night just talking to different people in my area about gaming and life in general. I kind of kept wanting to go to bed but it being the last few hours of Dreamhack I couldn't come up with a good excuse to do so. I was just having way too good of a time.
Day 21 (11/29/15 Jonkoping -> Gothenburg)
The final hours of Dreamhack are upon me. I'm not really sure where yesterday ends and today begins as I didn't really get to sleep til about 0530 and woke up around 0700. I ended up just sleeping at my computer as I was too lazy to walk all the way to the sleeping hall for such a short nap. The internet goes down around 0800 and everyone has to be out around 1000. Around 0830 the staff open the garage door that is about 20m behind our row which lets in a "lovely" blast of cold air. Alright, alright we get the message and we pack up quickly and head to grab some breakfast.
When breakfast was over it was time to say goodbyes. It was definitely sad to leave. I met a ton of awesome people at this event and hope to return back for Dreamhack Summer next year.
(Network stats: Throughput: 15.8 gps, Devices: 17,822, Transferred Volume: 219 TB (equal to a 404 meter tall tower of CDs))
(Saying goodbye to my new Swedish friends)
For now I'm headed to Gothenburg to catch up on some sleep and maybe enjoy some Swedish cuisine. It's Sunday so hopefully I'll find a place to watch some of the games, though I think that may be unlikely. I opted to stay at the hotel right by the airport which is in the middle of nowhere, about 20 minutes from the city. I have an early flight and would rather not be dealing with public transport at 0500. Originally I was thinking of spending time at Liseberg which is Sweden's biggest amusement park but I was just too tired to do so and the place seemed pretty empty as the bus I was on drove by it. I think I rather grab some sleep though and be well rested for my hike through London tomorrow.
Sleep sleep sleep sleep dinner sleep sleep
Day 22 (11/30/15 Gothenburg -> London -> Ft. Lauderdale)
With several alarms set for 0445 I awoke with enough time to pack up, check out, and walk over to the airport to catch my flight to London. Upon arriving in London I was informed by the border control agent there that my 7.5 hr layover wasn't really enough time to get out and see the airport. I laughed at her, which may or may not have been a great idea. Her partner seemed skeptical of my plans to see the city as well. Fun fact: it rarely takes longer than 30 minutes to get from any airport entrance to your gate.
Nonetheless they finally let me through and I was off to grab a train ticket to and from the city. What I didn't realize is that the British pound is about 50% more valuable than the US dollar. So the 30ish pound over priced tickets cost closer to 50 dollars o.O. But I was already in London sooo fuck it yolo.
I flew in to Gatwick which has happens to be closet to Victoria London which is the area of Buckingham Palace. So I obviously need to pay a visit to the queen, but first I needed some tea.
After filling up on breakfast it was time to see the sights!
First up was Buckingham Palace. To see the whole thing, including the gallery and stables it would have taken about 3 hours or so, so I opted against going inside. I figure I'll be back in London eventually and can do a proper visit then. The palace is surrounded by tons of parks and the area is just beautiful to walk through. Google recommended me to see Churchill's underground war room which sounded pretty cool. Unfortunately they weren't really keen on me taking my giant backpack in since they didn't have a place to store it. After getting denied I decided I'd just set off to visit the Steeler's QB, Big Ben, who happened to be a short hop away and right near Westminster Abbey.
After walking around the area for a bit I had a random flashback to a Christmas market in Copenhagen where a street vendor was selling British fudge. It looked really good but I felt like I would have been doing the British a disservice by tasting British fudge in Denmark so I skipped out on it. Now that I was in London it felt like the perfect time to continue on with one of the themes of my trip. With that I made the trek over to the famous Fortnum and Mason to pick up some fudge. Before leaving I tried to go up to their tasting room only to get denied and told that the tasting room was just the name of one of their private party rooms. Lame!
London seemed like an awesome city. There was definitely no way I was going to see all of London but it was a cool way to spend an extended layover. It was one of the few places I visited where jay walking was rampant and people got to where they were going. Not that I would ever jay walk or anything like that but if I did I'd follow these signs which are everywhere to tell pedestrians where they're going to get hit from.
For now I'm headed back to visit some family in south Florida before heading back home to San Francisco. It's been a long trip. Super happy I went and did it all. Not sure how I'm ever going to get back in to the grove of every day life. Can't wait to come back and see more of Europe!
Life is what you make of it. So what are you doing still reading this?
My name is Max Burstein and I am a graduate of the University of Central Florida and creator of Live Dota. I enjoy developing large, scalable web applications and I seek to change the world.