Subway Characters

As a petite female, traveling via subway during rush hours can be quite difficult. I always have to hold on to something, or else I lose my balance (and I don’t have the best balance either). As a result, I pay close attention to the other passengers, mostly those who I see as being inconsiderate or just plain annoys me. I’ve categorized passengers as follow.

The Pole Leaner: This person leans on the pole prohibiting people from holding on to it, or makes it uncomfortable for others to hold on. I encountered a girl who was leaning on a pole and refused to move from the pole, even after I asked her. This is probably the rudest person I’ve encountered thus far.

The Coffee Addict: This person holds on to a cup of coffee, in a squished train. Honestly, 30 minutes without drinking will not kill you. It bothers me because the drink could possibly spill on me. Maybe I am just jealous because I can’t hold an open container without spilling it.

The Backpacker: This person refuses to take off his/her backpack or a huge bag. I mean come on people, just remove your backpack and (1) hold on to it (2) put it on the floor. The space the backpack takes up can fit another person (like me).

The Giant: This person tells you to move to a space that you, being short, cannot see that there’s even space. If you can see, then just navigate through the crowd of people to get to it. Don’t push me.

The Barrier: This person just won’t move. Get off the damn train, so that people can exit; or move in so that people can get on the train.

The Grabber: This person thinks that he’s tall enough to grab the bar by reaching over your head. If throughout the duration of the train ride, you can hold it at the same place, go ahead. Otherwise my head or my face is not something you can rest on.

Disclaimer: I’m not exactly the most considerate passenger either, but I try my best not to annoy other people on the train.

Lessons Learned: Traveling with a EuRail Pass

The travel guide books (Lonely Planet, Rough Guide & The Idiot’s Guide) that I used did not provide information on how to use the pass. I guess they assumed that it would be a breeze to use. I would like to think that I am a savvy traveler (c’mon I traveled to China and lived there for three months  by myself  with limited Chinese), so it was astonishing how difficult it was to use the pass. Anyways, below is a summary of the lessons I learned this summer:

Purchasing Rail Pass -Although places tell you that you have to purchase a pass before going to Europe, you can still purchase one there (at least in Switzerland). My roommate tried to buy one at the Rail Europe office in Geneva and was told that she had to buy it in the U.S., but she was able to buy it at the train station.

Receipt & Pass – Make sure to look at your receipt to ensure that you bought the correct pass. If you use STA, call them to verify; they do not provide that information on the receipt. Regardless, if your pass does not have boxes for you to fill in the dates – you have not purchased a flexi pass (read my previous blog post about my experience with this issue).

Activation – When you activate your pass make sure that it is stamped. It’s not valid unless it’s stamped.

Reservation – You have to reserve a seat on ALL TGV trains. I highly recommend that you reserve seats on all non-regional trains. If you’re traveling during the high season and are not traveling within a region (in a specific country), you should always reserve a seat at least 3-5 days before your travel dates. I’ve traveled to only 3 countries where you didn’t need to reserve a seat for non-regional  trips – Switzerland, Germany & Austria. However, I  still recommend that you make reservations for long trips. For example, when I took a train from Kehl, Germany to Munich, I didn’t have a reserved seat so I had to get up whenever the seat belonged to someone else on a certain stop. Let’s just say it was pretty annoying.

*** You should try to reserve seats at the local train station.

Reservation fees – There is a fee for every reservations you make. I’ve had to pay as much as $20. Had I decided to go to Prague with my pass, I would have had to pay around 200 Euro to reserve a bed, which is ridiculous. You can fly for that price.

Limited seats – Another reason why you should reserve early is because there are limited seats reserved for rail pass holders. If you’re unable to reserve a seat two or three days prior to your departure date, don’t give up. Keep going back to check if there are open seats (you’ll need to be flexible). My roommate and I were able to  get seats the day before our trip to Verona.

Luggage – Don’t travel with huge suitcases on TGVs. I had one large suitcase, a small duffel bag, and a small bag with me on my trip to Paris from Strasbourg; I couldn’t sit in my seat because I had to hold onto my luggage in the entrance of the train. Luggage compartments on most European trains are really, really small and limited. I also recommend buying the four-wheel suitcases; the aisle on most trains are narrow.

Trip Itineraries – Don’t be like me. You are not limited to the trips that are provided on the timetables. Use www.raileurope.com to figure out your itineraries and then reserve your seat at the local train station.

*** I don’t recommend buying a pass during the high season. Depending on your schedule, I suggest buying tickets while you’re there; sometimes it’s more convenient to fly. Even before my pass was taken, I still had several days (assuming I had a flexi pass) that I wouldn’t have been able to use.

My Disastrous EuRail Story

I bought my EuRail pass from STA Travel before I left for Europe. It was touted as the best option for people who wanted to travel in Europe, because you didn’t have to reserve seats except for express trains such as the TGV. My sister had bought one when she was in Europe, and suggested I do as well. My plan at that time was to travel to as many places/countries as I could within a little less than two months, so it was perfect.

I spent several weeks before I left searching for the best price and the best travel option (see raileurope.com for options). I had originally wanted the 22 countries daily pass within two months, but settled on a  15 days flexi pass to be used within two months.  I compared prices for both website, but eventually bought the pass from STA Travel because it was cheaper and it was offering 2 extra days. When I received the pass, it stipulated that I had to activate it before I left, or when I arrived. Because I wanted to use it right away and I was going to take a TGV (I needed to reserve a seat), I tried to activate with a STA agent but I never received a response.  The pass also had down – continuous, but I didn’t think much of it. I thought it was continuous within the two months, not daily.

When I arrived at Charles De Gaule (Paris), I attempted to activate the pass, but the sales agent told me I wouldn’t be able to use it on my trip from CDG to Cholet, France  via Anger, France.  She didn’t explain why I couldn’t use it , but I assumed that it was because it was not in the timetable that STA had sent me. So I ended up spending around 70 Euros on a one way ticket to Cholet.

After visiting my relatives for a week, I headed to Geneva, Switzerland. I planned on using my pass, so my cousin took me to the Anger station. I had planned earlier that week, using my timetable, to take the train from Anger to Paris then down to Geneva; I thought this was the best option. When we arrived at the train station, I found out that there were no seats available on the train to Paris (I was under the assumption that “reserving” a seat  meant you could reserve it a few days beforehand or the day of the trip). My only option was to purchase a ticket to Geneva via Lyon, France; so I did. I also activated my pass that day. The sales agent simply wrote down the date on my pass; but since I was clueless about the process,  I didn’t think much of it.

I traveled every weekend in June. I reserved seats on every trip, and didn’t have any problems with my pass until the third weekend in July when I was going back to Strasbourg from Munich. Munich is quite interesting because in order to travel with my pass, I had to get a ticket. Here’s how the story went downhill. When I gave my ticket to the sales agent, he said that my pass was expired – it was a daily pass and not a flexi pass. We got into an argument over whether my pass was a 17 “daily” trip pass or a flexi pass. I told him that I have been using the pass since June and never had a problem with it (I even traveled through Germany with it!). Furthermore, there was a receipt, but I didn’t have the document with me so I had to get on the internet to find it. However, the receipt didn’t say anything about what kind of pass it was. I went back to tell him, and he told me he was confiscating the pass. Then I called the US Embassy who wanted to talk the sales agent, but I was on a pay phone so I had to go back to give them  the phone number. However, they wouldn’t call the embassy, so when I asked for my rights (I had been reading the fine prints) they called the police. [Yeah, the first that I have encountered the police was because of my EuRail pass.] I sat in the office for a bit before one of the officer came back and told me that Munich station people wanted me to pay for every single trip I took after the first 17 days. My reaction was not pleasant. I told them that they needed to call the embassy, etc… Eventually, they let me go after copying my passport. They refused to give me my pass even though I told them they could cross everything out. They gave me a copy of it instead. [I honestly do not get it.] Evidently, I took the first train that would get me out of Munich.

I’m still a little bitter over it even though some of it was my own fault – not checking everything beforehand. I feel like if they had done a better job we wouldn’t have gotten to that point. However, I did get a good use of it. If I had used it like I was supposed to, it would have been worthless; I could not travel consecutively.

Monet’s House & Garden

August 1, 2011

My third day in Paris was to be my Monet & impressionism day. (I LOVE impressionism art works.) I wanted to spend my morning at the Musee d’Orsay and my afternoon in Giverny where Monet’s House and Garden were; but I was very unlucky. First, I discovered that Musee d’Orsay was closed on Mondays. Second, I decided to visit the Musee Marmottan Monet, but it too was closed. I did, however, get to visit the Asian Art museum, which was pretty neat. I realized as I walked through the museum that much of the art work were of Buddha. It was not surprising as I had studied it in my East Asian Art History class; if I had only remembered, I probably wouldn’t have gone to see it. But I did enjoy looking at the Korean art pieces, which I was not familiar with.

After my museum visit, I decided that it was time to go to Giverny via Vernon (you have to take a bus/taxi to get to Giverny from Vernon). I was completely unprepared for what was to come. I had read in my travel guide book and online that it was a quick train trip to Giverny and that trains came regularly. I assumed that I could hop on and off, but I was wrong. I had to purchase a ticket for a train that came regularly but were within an hour or so of each other, not thirty minutes as I had assumed. My departure time was not until four and I had 2 hours or so to kill, so I grabbed lunch and shopped. I had wanted to buy Longchamp bags, so it was perfect since the train station was a couple of blocks from Gallerie Lafayette. Shopping for luxury goods in Paris is crazy; there was a ton of people. I had to wait in line to enter the Longchamp section of the department store, which I have never had to do before. But I was content after I bought two bags.

Anyways, here goes my crazy, crazy Vernon/Giverny story. It’s so ridiculous that I still don’t even know how to react to this day.

It took me about 40 minutes to get to Vernon from Paris. Vernon is a small town, and I don’t know much about it except that it’s the only way to get to Giverny by train from Paris. I had read on the following sites – www.foundation-monet.fr and giverny.org that there were regular buses from the Vernon train station, so I decided that once I got to Vernon I would take the bus. However, there was no bus when I got there. After waiting for 5 minutes or so, I decided to grab a taxi since I had less than 30 minutes to get to the house/garden before last admission. Upon arriving, I had less than an hour to tour the house/garden and take lots of pictures before it closed at 6 PM. Before I left, I bought some pictures and a book on Monet.

When I left, I asked one of the employees to direct me to the bus stop. I had read somewhere (I swear it was on www.foundation-monet.fr) that the bus stops right in front or not far from the house/garden, but it was obviously wrong. Anyways, I followed some people hoping that I was going in the right direction. I eventually got to a parking lot but there was no bus around. I looked around and walked back and talked to some people but they didn’t know much about the bus. I asked if they had a phone number for a taxi, but they didn’t have any. I thought I was screwed and honestly, wanted to cry. I walked back to the parking lot and found a nice French couple (spoke English) who helped me look for a bus or a bus stop. A passerby told us that the last bus was around 5. I was now even more screwed (if that’s possible). I walked back to the parking lot trying to figure out what to do. My options were to ask the couple to take me to the bus station, walk (it would have been an hour), or hitchhike. I was FORTUNATE that they offered to take me to the bus station.

The train to Paris was not due until 7:30 so I went to the “pub”next to the station to grab food but they didn’t have anything except for a sandwich. As I was eating, I realized that I had forgotten my bag that was filled with things that I bought at Monet’s house in the car. I was extremely disappointed that I had forgotten it and it stills bother me to this day; I think a lot of it has to do with my emotional tie to the trip. When the train came I was just happy to leave; I was exhausted from the entire ordeal. But I don’t regret visiting the house and garden; it was one of the highlights of my trip. I plan to visit it again in the future. I hope it will be better the second time around.

Now for happier things, PICTURES!

I didn’t realize that we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the house. This is one of the pictures that I took before one of the security guards stopped me. It’s basically a living room filled with different Monet pieces. Amazing!

   

Flowers in Monet’s garden.

 

Monet was influenced by Japanese art, which I did not know. The garden is filled with bamboos.

The waterlily pond!

<3 <3 <3

Paris: Day 2

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Louvre

I started the day bright and early in order to visit the Louvre and Versaille. Both sights are closed on Mondays, and my travel guide book suggested to visit the Louvre early because there would be less tourists. The travel guide book was correct. I think that I was the first time in Europe that I didn’t have to squeeze between people, or take a picture with a ton of people in the background. For example, I took several shots outside of the infamous entrance.

 

I also got to see the Mona Lisa and take a picture of it. I had read and been told that it’s hard to actually see it because of the crowd.

Anyways, I spent about a few hours there and grabbed lunch before I left for Versaille. The Louvre is amazing but after the Vatican City, I was a little tired of looking at art pieces. But more importantly, I simply did not have time to spend the whole day there.

Versaille

This picture captures Versaille in its essence.

Several parts of the building was closed, but I was pretty satisfied with what I saw. Every single room in the palace was unique and beautiful. Furthermore, the artifacts completed the look of each room making the entire palace amazing.

{The Hall of Mirrors}

{The Queen’s Bedchamber}

After visiting the interior, I tried to see/walk through the massive garden, but they were charging entrance fee because there was going to be a show later that day. There was no way I was going to pay 9 euro or so to just walk around the garden; it was not worth it.  Instead, I headed to Trianon and Marie Antoinette’s house. Like prior situations, it took me forever to find those them. I had wanted to walk through the garden to see them, but because I couldn’t enter the garden, I had to walk around to find it. It was rather complicated.

Grand & Petit Trianon

The Trianon had a fashion display of outfits from well-known designers; this was one of my reasons for visiting it. But I discovered that there wasn’t much to it. It had a small collection – maybe 20 or so outfits, and we were not permitted to take pictures. =( However, I was able to take pictures of the rooms.

 

Marie Antoinette’s House/The Queen’s Hamlet

After Trianon, I walked East? (I really don’t know my directions.) Anyways, I walked for a bit to see Marie Antoinette’s House – technically a “village”, which she used as a playhouse. The “house” was surrounded by a garden, perfect for a picnic or just to relax.

 

After exploring the area, I headed back to the train stop. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to cut through the garden, but I decided to give it a try.  It was a success. Most people were gone and there was no one monitoring the area to ensure that tourists have paid to enter the garden.

 

Paris: Day 1

Paris is now one of my favorite cities. I didn’t get to do everything that I wanted, so I will be going back to Paris in the future. I love everything about the city – the sights, the food, the environment, the metro (even if it smells, it’s still very efficient), etc… Maybe I should just move there. Anyways, I was determined to see the sights that I had to memorize in French class in junior high, which I’m still familiar with. [Madame Merchant will be very proud. I even remember the songs that we sung in class.]

While I was there, I stayed at a hotel that was within walking distance to the Louvre & L’Opera. I didn’t realize it was a Best Western hotel until I got there (the reservation site failed to mentioned this fact), but it was still good. The disadvantages were that the room was really small, and it seemed like they placed me in a smoking-room area when I had requested otherwise.

I left Strasbourg on Saturday, July 29th via a TGV trained and arrived in the afternoon in Paris. The train ride was horrendous because of my luggage; the aisles in the train was narrow; and there was no space for luggage. I ended up sitting by the doors, holding on to my luggage. It was a very long two hours train ride.

I didn’t want to do much on Saturday, so I decided to do visit sites that wouldn’t require much efforts. I stopped by the Eiffel Tower and walked around to take pictures.

 

I wasn’t particularly interested in going up the Eiffel Tower, because the line was way too long and I’m scare of heights. I didn’t spend much time there, perhaps thirty minutes? There’s really not much to see – it is just one fascinating, gigantic tower. But if I had more time and if there were less people, I would have had a picnic there. =)

After walking around a little bit, I left to visit the infamous les Champs Elysees, Pace de la Concorde and L’arc de Triomphe.

{Place de la Concorde}

 

{Les Champs Elysees & L’Arc de Triomphe}

Because les Champs Elysees is just a long street with lots of luxury brand stores, I just shopped. I didn’t buy anything but I fell in love with a gorgeous coat from Zara. It would have been ridiculous for me to buy the coat – it wasn’t the right season and I didn’t have room in my suitcase; so I didn’t buy it.

I decided not to visit the Arc de Triomphe, because it wasn’t something that I had to see. I was tired and I needed to eat, so I went back to my hotel.

Vienna, Austria

Travel dates: 22 July 2011 – 24 July 2011

I realized when I checked in at the hostel in Munich that I had reserved all my rooms in Munich & Vienna for the incorrect dates. It was fortunate that the hostel in Munich had availability. The hotel in Vienna, however, was a lost cause. I tried to change the date, but since I went through hotels.com it wasn’t easy. Anyways, I decided that once I get into Vienna I would stop by the hotel to see if I could get a room for the night. Unfortunately, the hotel was all booked. I ended up stopping by the tourism office to pick up some brochures and to find a hotel. I didn’t have the time to be selective, so I chose one of the cheaper rooms that was downtown (near the tourism office). It was the best and most comfortable night that I had in Europe; it was worth the money.The location was also great.

Ferris Wheel

It was late by the time I settled into my room, so I decided to visit the advertised “big ferris wheel.” I didn’t realize that it was going to be a ferris wheel at a fair. I was disappointed because I was expecting something amazing. I did, however, get cotton candy. I guess it was worth the trip.

I didn’t spend much time at the fair (I walked around in 15 minutes), but I was able to capture this:

Schonbrunn Palace

I had an ambitious schedule the following day; I wanted to squeeze in everything possible. I especially wanted to see the palaces, so I started off with Schonbrunn Palace. Let’s just say the palace is huge and gorgeous. It justified my reason and dream to be a princess or at least really wealthy. LOL. Unfortunately, I was not able to take pictures of the interior, so I can’t share its gorgeousness. It was quite strange, because most places in Europe allowed tourists to take pictures – i.e. the Vatican City Museum.

 
Imperial Apartments & Sisi Museum

After spending a few hours at Schonbrunn, I left to visit the Imperial Apartments and Sisi Museum. It was as gorgeous as Schonbrunn.

Besides the beauty of Schonbrunn Palace and the Imperial Apartments, I was able to refresh the limited knowledge I had of Austria and at the same time, learn more about the Austrian monarchy.

After I visited the Imperial Apartments, I decided to walk around and shop because I had a couple of hours to kill before I had to return to Munich. The shopping thing didn’t really work out; Vienna, like the rest of Europe, basically shuts down on Sundays. I was a little disappointed because I wanted to have something from Vienna and buy gifts. I ended up buying scarves at the train station, which I still have. =)