San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

The last time I’ll ever mention Europe, I swear

This is it. I’m taking you on the last leg of my journey, and then we’re hitting more controversial subjects. I just can’t seem to get this trip out of my head ?

After our time in the Baltics, we were anxious for a brighter environment. So don’t ask me why we headed for Poland. It’s possible we had U2’s “New Year’s Day” (written about Poland’s former president Lech Walesa) ringing in our heads, or maybe we just thought Warsaw had to be culturally dynamic.

Warsaw’s train station is infamous for several outstanding features: thieves, drunks and Gypsies. Some may feel, stereotypically, that those things go together, but after reading “Bury Me Standing” in the first month of the trip, I had a better handle on Gypsy culture and my curiosity was peaked. Just be warned: Watch yourself in that train station, day and night. Pickpockets are everywhere. And they represent all ethnicities.

Travel in fall is obviously preferable to the summertime to avoid crowds, but good timing won’t always save you. We ended up on the hostel floor a few times, but the scariest incident was in Warsaw. Somewhere in Europe there probably still roams the ponytailed Italian who wanders hostel dining rooms in his bikini underwear, pretending he can’t speak English, wielding his knife and threatening young travelers who take two seconds too long to turn out the light. I never did have the pleasure of catching his name, but his underwear is black and his ancestry probably involved the mafia.

The guide books say that walking through Auschwitz is a shockingly unemotional experience. Not for me. In fact, I can’t even imagine the possibility of feeling apathetic while walking through Poland’s most infamous concentration camp. Our visit coincided with a field trip for hundreds of Jewish schoolchildren, so as I stood before a glass case of confiscated baby clothes, the cries of the school kids echoed all around me. I lost it.

Visiting the Czech Republic is an inexpensive experience for most people, but for us it was a rip-off within an hour of arrival in Prague. Even after noticing our backpacks, probably especially after noticing our backpacks, a taxi driver took the liberty of charging us $130 to travel about two miles. I can’t explain how very close I came to slashing his tires. Lucky bastard, he is.

Back to Germany for a few days in Munich and a send-off for my friend and travel companion, RD. It was planned from the beginning that he would be with me for two months and then head for home, but as the time drew nearer for him to leave, I had to prepare myself for traveling a foreign continent alone. The anxiety was mounting, but so was the excitement. Here was something I could really be proud of. And I am. Eventually, I learned that it’s definitely more fun to travel with other people, but I treasure the time I had on my own.

The first place alone was the Neuschwanstein castle built by the eccentric, supposedly clinically insane, young king of Bavaria, Ludwig II, in southern Germany. This place was a major inspiration for Walt Disney for Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, and once I got there I understood why Disney disturbs me so much. Ludwig built a private altar in his bedroom and a chapel off the dining room, tiled the walls with fake jewels and basically constructed a glowing white testament to his own greatness. Two years later he drowned in a lake under mysterious circumstances.

I started to have serious doubts about this traveling-alone thing on the train to Italy. Italian men are relentless in their pursuit of women, and it can be extremely annoying when you’re too exhausted to deal with it.

I arrived in Venice on Halloween night, which was wickedly perfect. I have a thing for masks, so Venice was very tempting. Too bad my backpack couldn’t hold even a single Venetian mask.

Some may say that Venice is overrated as a city of romance, but let me tell you that I was very sorry to be alone. How easy it is to get lost among the canals under pink skies, with only the sound of boats gliding through the water all around. Believe the hype, people. It’s beautiful.

In contrast, Rome is a huge disappointment. It’s possible that a city with so much history could stop fully appreciating it at one point, but the dilapidated state of many parts of Rome is a travesty. Statues are chipped and stained, the Coliseum is surrounded by screaming traffic and the Trevi fountain is filled with garbage. Thank god for Florence.

A museum was built especially to house Michelangelo’s statue of David, so if you visit no other place of art in Europe, let this be it. No picture of David could ever do him justice. You’ll just have to see him for yourself, if you’re interested. The amazing thing was that I met an art major in Florence who had no intention of seeing David. She had no idea what she was missing.

In Verona, Italy (yes, they milk the “Romeo and Juliet” thing for all it’s worth and more), I met up with a girl from Orange County and four Canadians, and traveled with them for a week. After that, two of the girls and I decided to continue on to Switzerland, dashing my plans to hit the Jacques Cousteau Aquarium in Monte Carlo, but what we ended up doing was 20 times better.

Judging by the carvings on the walls of Balmer’s Herbage in Interlaken, Switzerland, I’m not the only San Diego State University student to have spent a little time in the Swiss version of heaven. I left my own message in Cabin 30. Check it out if you go.

Balmer’s is by far the most brilliant lodging for travelers in all of Europe. A plan for a two-night stay turned into six glorious days after we saw how much there was to do in the little town of Interlaken. Especially above ground.

Balmer’s is best known as a center for creative recreation. We chose to paraglide. I have a shot of my shoes above the clouds taken right before we dove down into a virtual cloud blanket. Paragliding is not for everybody (my Canadian friend Lori swallowed her fear of heights to do it, but few are as brave as her), yet I loved it so much I went up again two days later. Those were some of the happiest moments of my life.

One of my best friends was studying (well, partying, but don’t tell her parents) in Valladolid, Spain, so we caught up with her for about a week. My best memory is walking through the house of Christopher Columbus hours before we cooked up a big Thanksgiving feast in Tonya’s apartment. To my horror, but not to my surprise, Columbus’ house is filled with confiscated indigenous artifacts, proudly displayed and labeled.

After an hour of my anti-Columbus comments, I accidentally tripped down a step in the foyer. Tonya’s Spanish friend Roberto felt obliged to offer the theory that Columbus was trying to kill me from the grave. Ha ha.

My final stop before flying home was Paris. I’d figured that by the time I got to Paris I’d be sufficiently toughened up for any amount of rudeness the French could throw at me, but the truth is that they are as rude as New Yorkers ? not at all.

I became a huge Salvador Dali fan after the exhibit in Venice, so the Dali museum in Paris had my name all over it. Darkened rooms, shifting lights, space music ? we were not disappointed. We dropped by Jim Morrison’s grave (I headed back alone the next day to visit my teacher in love, Oscar Wilde), and then we hit Disneyland Paris. All I have to say is that the French know how a Space Mountain experience should be ? darker, faster and plenty of loops.

If you’ve never been to Europe, go. If you have no desire to go, rethink it. As RD and I say: Europe is the best and the worst of everything, an experience unmatched. Thank you to RD, Melanie and Lori for sharing it with me.

Mandy Parkinson is a history senior and the assistant opinion editor of The Daily Aztec. Her e-mail address is

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San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913
The last time I’ll ever mention Europe, I swear