Jim: The Vacation!

Vacation '98!

Friends, are you tired of sitting around all summer, consuming ridiculous amounts of alcohol and hoping that someone will find you attractive enough to ACTUALLY SLEEP WITH YOU? Well, stop fooling yourself, drop that minimum wage job that you either take way to seriously or blow all of the earnings from on malt liquor, and get your ass to Europe!

Yes, friends, Europe- it's not just for snooty French people anymore! I can verify this, because I was there myself, and met snooty people from literally DOZENS of countries, especially America! Europe is the birthplace of Western Civilzation, and if you inhale deeply enough, you can still smell the social placenta decaying. Or perhaps that's just the subway...

Anyway, as I spent THREE FULL WEEKS across the pond (and believe me, whoever decided it was a pond never compared overseas phone rates between "The Old Crick" and the Atlantic-by-God-Ocean), I am more than an expert at every facet of European culture. And like every self-appointed expert, I shall take it upon myself to offer YOU advice on how to travel Europe without incinerating your life savings. The way I see it, there are three options:

  • Option 1: Kill a rich guy and get your ass to the travel agent.
  • Option 2: Become an Ambassador or something.
  • Option 3: Get a copy of LET'S GO EUROPE! and call anybody you've ever met who is currently residing in Europe, who might remotely remember you, and practice looking really pathetic.

    Clearly, the obvious choice is Option 3. Now that we have a plan of attack, we are ready to embark on our journey. However, before actually getting aboard the plane, it is helpful to have done a little preparation. Below I list some very imortant preparatory steps:

    Jim's Very Important Preparatory Steps:

  • Step 1: Obtain a stepfather from somewhere in the British Isles. If necessary, Ireland will do.
  • Step 2: Make sure said stepfather has a very good job that requires significant amounts of travel and allows him to keep his frequent flier miles.
  • Step 3: Make sure SF obtains so many miles that he could never hope to use them all before they expire; look cute and friendly. Mention how nice it would be to visit "The Old Country".
  • Step 4: Christmas.
  • Step 5: Make sure SF still has relatives in the British Isles.
  • Step 6: Board plane.

    Not quite so fast. Before you board the plane, be sure to procure a ride to the airport, preferably from a close female friend, who will pack you a bag of goodies, books, and strange pornography. If you are really lucky, she will also pack you a stuffed animal without your knowledge. Perhaps it will be say, oh, I don't know...a flat bunny, for instance. You can make this stuffed animal your traveling companion. If you are traveling alone, you can use him as a subject in nearly ALL of your photographs. You can do this either to impress the close female friend, in hopes of becoming more than just friends, or you can merely do it to make all of the locals laugh at you and consider reporting you to the Mental Health Ministry of whatever country you happen to be visiting. Either way, bring lots of film.

    Upon landing in London, you will be very tired, because roughly 14 hours have elapsed. (NOTE: Do not believe your watch. It will try to convince you that only six hours have gone by. Clearly, this can not be the case, since you will have gone through sunset, sunrise, and at least three bad airline meals. I believe this erroneous chronometry to be a devious conspiracy crafted by the Swiss. I don't know what their aims are, but I don't trust anyone who would sneak holes into their cheese...) It is now time to start mooching off of- er...VISITING friends and relatives. Start with the aforementioned step-uncle. This will keep family bonds strong, in the event you have any hope of returning and mooching- I mean, VISITING again.

    Next, head down to London proper. Perhaps your good friend lives in the southeastern part of the city, near the docks. This area is called "Deptford", but those in the know lovingly refer to the area as "The Projects". Whatever you prefer to call the area, leave it quickly, and head into central London. There are many, many things to do in London at night. I chose to attend a party on a boat on the Thames. Here, memory becomes a little bit hazy, though I do recall significant amounts of dancing and even more significant amounts of alcohol. Memory doesn't really start becoming clear again until the next morning, when I awoke in a bed with three people that I did not know. But clearly, a good time was has by all.

    Fortified with lots of big city savvy (and perhaps still some big city booze from two nights ago), you are now prepared to set off for scenic, majestic, peaceful, Belfast. Belfast, for all of the explosions, blood, devestation, death, war, and horor, is a very quaint and peaceful town. It also serves as a great home base for a three or four day Ireland tour, especially if your grandmother and her spry old neighbor happen to be there as your transportation and tour guides. Not to mention innkeeper and drinking buddy, respectively. The reader should definitely check out Giant's Causeway on the Northern Coast, The Mountains of Mourne, and of course the Old Bushmills Distillery (the "World's Oldest Licenced Distillery"). Try also to make it to Eire and sample the Guinness. It really does taste better there. I sampled Guinness all over Ireland, purley for scientific taste-test reasons, and I can assure you that this is true. Wasn't that considerate of me?

    Head next to Scotland, particularly Glasgow (mainly because it is really fun to say "Glaswegian!"). After spending a day in Scotland, where you can't understand what anybody is saying, you should head on down to Paris, where you can't understand what anybody is saying. Unless of course you were prepared and took, say, French or something, but that's more effort than you really need to put into this whole ball o' wax. Speaking the local language is overrated, if you ask me. So long as you ask me in English.

    By now, your trip may seem somewhat humdrum, so I would recommend throwing a little adversity into the mix. Hey! I know! Why not have your wallet stolen within the first two hours of being in Paris! And make it even more fun by putting all of you credit cards, cash, traveler's cheques, IDs, and maybe even your passport in your wallet before you have it stolen! All you need to do is wander to within 30 feet (METRIC NOTE: 30 feet equals 12 liters) of any Metro stop, and let the turmoil begin!

    Since you will be spending a good part of the next day (as well as any remaining cash) in the American Consulate, begging them to believe that you are an American citizen, it might be nice to make friends. I chose a couple of nice, friendly-looking priests. This seemed like a fairly safe bet, considering I am well past choirboy age. Father Gus and Father Jose, while touring Europe to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their ordination, were robbed on the subway when some (I'm guessing Protestant) nice young person (who had better be stocked up on his asbestos underwear) decided to slice Fr. Jose's handbag off of its shoulder strap with a surgical scalpel. The three of us went out to lunch, toured some cathedrals that day, and a few museums the next. They were a heck of a lot of fun, especially because they didn't adhere to such smothering priestly rules as wearing black "priest outfits", not referring to the other priest as "asshole", etc. They were really a fun couple of guys.

    After recovering your identity (and most importantly, the Visa Goldcard!), it is now time to set off for somewhere less- well, French. If you are into fun, mirth, any sexual act imaginable, and lots of drugs everywhere, head to Amsterdam. Amsterdam is the capital of The Netherlands, a country that (according to folklore) used lesbians to push back the sea until a little boy stuck his finger in one to stop them from draining. Sticking unusual objects into women gave rise to the entertainment industry in Amsterdam, a city best described as "a playground for men". Chock full of "coffee shops" (read: hash bars), whorehouses, and live sex shows, Amsterdam is a city that just makes you want to take a bath. But as soon as you step out of the shower, you are immediately surrounded by a cloud of reefer smoke, so put personal hygiene aside and enjoy the filth. Once you've got the Sex Museum under your belt (no pun! Really!), it's time to move on.

    Perhaps you should jump in a river, to get rid of that body-wide "not-so-fresh feeling". That's exactly what I did after an eight hour train ride to Bern, Switzerland. Well, that and have dinner. At the house of the U.S. Press Secretary for Switzerland. Steak and wine. Not that I am smug about it. (It pays to have a friend in the Embassy) The river in question was the Aare, a beautiful jade green river that runs through Bern. Jumping off of a twenty foot bridge and being swept a half-mile downstream is a great way to drown your cares, not to mention yourself. But, clearly, I lived, even if I don't live clearly. Yeah. Did I mention I stayed at the house of the U.S. Press Secretary?....

    If you are like me, you should be dragged into the street and shot. Oh wait, I mean if you are like me, you have a great interest in ancient Rome, as clearly evidenced by the 20-odd credits you have in Classical Civilization (for the "You want fries with that?" career potential in all of us). You might then consider taking your flat stuffed rabbit to beautiful old Rome, so that you can take his picture next to lots of decaying buidings and random chunks of cement. But be forewarned: the worst Italian food in the world is found in Italy. Get your fill at your local "Giuseppe's Pasta Emporium" before you get on the plane, and stick to the Golden Arches in Italy. Trust me.

    Rome is a downright spectacular city. Honestly, from an historical perspecticve, it is amazing. As you walk through the ancient Forum, the square mile that was once the command center for the entire world, you are bound to think to yourself, "Where did they plug in their air conditioners?" Then you can consult your guidebook and learn that that much of the city was pillaged by Vandals, Goths, and Special Prosecutors as the city declined; these groups likely scavenged all of the electrical outlets and wiring for their sweeps across Europe, because God knows that the types of plugs and voltages are different in every single European country. But I digress.

    Another must-do in Rome for Catholics and other peoples oppressed by their religion is a visit to the Vatican. Not everyone realizes that the Vatican is its own walled-in country entirely surrounded by Rome, but I guess if my main emphasis was a Virgin, and I was surrounded by Italian men, I'd probably wall myself off, too. St. Peter's Basilica is a truly awesome church. It also purports to house the remains of St. Peter, though I would imagine that 2000 years after the fact, NOT MUCH remains of St. Peter. Still, the spirituality of the place is almost tangible, especially when topped off with a visit to the Sistene Chapel. Michaelangelo's masterwork alone is worth the trip to Italy. The more that you look at the ceiling, the more intrigued and drawn in you become. I hadn't felt like that since Amsterdam...

    No trip to Italy would be complete without a trip to Venice, dear reader, and I hate it when things don't feel complete. So get your butt to Venice, but I'd recommend seeing it with someone else (preferably of the opposite gender). The city is very romantic, especially when you consider how many extra nights people stay in their hotels there, because they got lost on the way to the train station. Venice is a very winding, quaint city, with lots of starnge little boats that nobody in the real world would let near the water. These boats are called "gondolas" from the latin "gondolare", meaning "to navigate through sewage". While the water might not be the cleanest in the world, the city itself is quite clean. Thousands of signs point the way to St. Mark's, the church and plaza that draw tourists like car washes draw rain. In the plaza, you can feed the pigeons out of your hand. Vendors in the sqaure sell bird seed; as soon as you start feeding them, pigeons surround you, land on you, and in general envelop you faster than a pack of lawyers at the scene of a slip-and-fall accident.

    When returning to London, make sure to make a big side trip to Zurich, Switzerland, during the National Unity Festival. This city-wide rave party makes Mardi Gras look like Sunday school. There were three outdoor raves within 2 minutes of the station alone, and DOZENS more going on throughout the city. Over five million people were expected for the weekend; I think I met about half of them in the train station, dressed like rejects from a "Rocky Horror" screening. The party atmosphere was just incredible. GO HERE.

    The return flight was all right, except for having the Arm Rest Nazi on my left and the Malodorous Polish Woman Who Spoke No English on my right. Oh, and the airline left one of my bags in London. But aside from these little things, you, too can have a fantastic trip to Europe. It was no doubt the best three weeks I have ever spent. Hell, having the flat rabbit's owner pick you up at the airport alone makes the trip worth while. Especially when you kiss her for the first time...

    In front of Buckingham Palace, in London.

    In London, with my good friend Wanker- er, uh...RYAN.

    New Canadian friends in Scotland.

    At the Old Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland.

    Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland.

    At Coney Island, in Northern Ireland (Van Morrison fans, take note).

    Somewhere in the Republic of Ireland, about a quarter-mile from some IRA "road work".

    The Europa Hotel in Belfast: The Most Bombed Hotel in the World.

    Flat Bunny at l'Arc de Triomphe, about 2 minutes before finding that my wallet had been stolen.

    The view from my hotel in Paris. Very cool window.

    The good reverends and me at the "Grill Your Own Steak " place.

    Near the altar at Notre Dame in Paris, with Flatbunny in my pocket.

    About to jump into the (very cold) Aare River in Bern, Switzerland.

    My traveling companion, in a very tight situation.

    The blankety-blank-blank Trevi Fountain, in Rome.

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    The Vacation Log of James C. Knapp, Jr./ jimknapp@umich.edu/ Last modified 2 September 1998