(the significance of this picture will be revealed at the end of the series)

A photo will capture a wonder in Iceland, but it won’t show that Iceland itself was a wonder; we could have stopped our car anywhere and at least one good photo would have been there. Nature’s improvisations came in a playful rhythm: sudden patches of dandelions (apparently used by locals as a Viagra substitute) and lupine adorned a desolate yet attractive landscape, with stern skies and rugged rocks that would have been great for faking the Moon landing. In impossible places were the ancient stone structure, a bird with a beak of the wrong color, or the carefree sheep, as if a tired artist made a few errant strokes before bed.

Sometimes, one of these guys would somehow find their way onto the tops of these mountains.

The sheep were the most unreasonable, stuck onto sides of vertical walls like scattered cotton balls, or curled for a nap in ditches from which I would have trouble escaping. I was jealous of the views they had as we drove by, imagining them baaing at me with arrogance, as if they owned the entire island. They were haughty creatures who would scuttle away in rapid little steps when we came close. I ate a lot of lamb on this trip, the most memorable of which at the Indian restaurant in Reykjavik which was purportedly ranked as the 2nd “best thing to do in Europe,” beating out the Louvre and only losing to the Eiffel Tower. Later we found out that this was the result of some online survey with 12 total votes. However, the lamb was excellent, with rich, juicy onion slices on the side.

Continue reading “Iceland”

Europe Sampler, Part IV: Munich-Zurich-Finis

“Excusez moi?” The cute girl with the nose ring had said. Her gold hair was spiced with a brown streak, and she had very smooth skin, so maybe I would have bought her facewash if I knew any French. Instead, I shrugged. She understood my nonunderstanding, while I had no way of telling her I was in the least English-appreciating country on my trip, with neither a place to sleep nor a train ticket.

The evening, when I was most lonely, was filled with people. Families, couples, tourist groups – smiling, having fun, maybe even willing to help me. Only hours ago they were warm and fair companions, soaking up Paris alongside me without taking more than their share, but now they seemed almost like cold extras, simply there to decorate the scene before darkness shambles in with its army of horrors. My lack of a cellphone suddenly made sense as a move planted by the malicious director.

Continue reading “Europe Sampler, Part IV: Munich-Zurich-Finis”

Europe Sampler, Part III: Paris

comic072209“The trains are never late in Europe,” the gent in the black brimmed-hat had said.

The train to Paris was delayed by 11 minutes, but to cry bad luck would have been unguestlike, considering the absolutely gorgeous weather that Europe had given us so far. We slumbered through a comfortable ride, and exited at Gare Du Nord, a hulk of a train station with a great window view. A French pigeon sauntered down the second floor, proud to observe its suit-wearing peons and the Asian tourists.

The Meridien was in Montparnasse, a ways south of the left bank. W advised me to get food on Rue St.Louis-en-l’ile, known for its homely atmosphere and reasonably-priced food. The thirty-minute walk gave plenty of time for smoke breaks and general banter, despite Y’s hunger-driven orders to change the leisurely walk into a force-march. At times I felt like one of the oxen in Oregon Trail when the player decides to be sadistic.

The Parthenon, one of the landmarks on the walk. We could not see all we wanted in Paris in 3 days, so this was one of the many things we passed on.
The Parthenon, one of the landmarks on the walk. We could not see all we wanted in Paris in 3 days, so this was one of the many things we passed on.

Continue reading “Europe Sampler, Part III: Paris”

Europe Sampler, Part II: Brussels

comic062809We first sampled Belgium chocolate through a box of Galler in our hotel room. Unfortunately, G and P ate 3/4 the box in about 5 minutes and entered blissful hibernation. However, if not for the sacrifices of my teammates, I would not have survived to write this post, instead, I would be lumbering in chocolate heaven, never to return. The remaining members of the Team, Y and me, would be covering Brussels by ourselves the first day.

Brussels probably had my favorite architecture on the trip, next to some parts of Paris.
Brussels probably had my favorite architecture on the trip, next to some parts of Paris.

Our first goal was Autoworld, a museum of historical cars located in the awesome Parc du Cinquantenaire. The archway was the most breathtaking building I’ve seen up to that point, unapologetically magnificent, from the extremely wide wall paintings on either sides of the horseshoe to the bronzed guardians on the chariot. Brilliant. Continue reading “Europe Sampler, Part II: Brussels”

Europe Sampler, Part I: Amsterdam

comic062309The bad luck started early when my Boston-Newark flight was delayed for 2 hours. Anxious idling in a waiting area is not my style, so I struck up a conversation with the businessman to my left, who turned out to be a partner in a bank.

He looked like he was trying to look happier than he was – his smiles sighed and his laughs frowned when we talked about mundane work and life and he gave advice that seemed to have been nailed to his heart: “If you get the big things right – and there are only two big things really: your job and your wife (chuckles, points to ring), you can make all the small mistakes you want. Never make the mistake of working for money. It drives people crazy and doesn’t make you happy. Find a job you love and you will not have to work.”

But there was no mistaking the youthful sparkle in his eyes when he recalled the tonic-like air of Notre Dame and the comfortable drizzle of the streets of London. A naked glee surfaced when he talked about how the best part of 8-AM meetings in Europe was getting to climb mountains and enjoy parks for the rest of the day. I handed the conversation to him at that point, and his hat no longer looked as heavy on him.

“Good meeting you, son. You have a long and exciting life ahead of you. Good luck on your trip.”

“You look like you still have sixty years yourself.” I was not really joking.

Of course, we get another delay taxi-ing in the airport, so by the time I exit the plane,  Y, G, and P were already in the plane to Amsterdam. I started running Olympic-speed (in the event involving flip-flops and two bags). “Final boarding call for Yan Zhang for flight XXX, departure time 5:20” repeated itself twice, but two Continental workers cheered for me (“Go go go!”) as I Usain Bolted down the final stretch, ending with a long jump into the gate at 5:09. “No need to be so feisty, brother,” said the second worker.

Continue reading “Europe Sampler, Part I: Amsterdam”