Oh, For The Glamour Of Business Travel!

Back in the days when the firm unwisely allowed me to interview law students, I would occasionally ask what they hoped they would do with their practice.  Some of the fresh-faced, dewy-eyed students responded, with complete sincerity:  “I’d really like to travel.”  It was all I could do to avoid bursting into laughter at their ludicrous naivete.

Here is the scene that confronted us at Gate B77 at Bush International Airport in Houston this afternoon.  Gate B77 is in one of those infernal pod areas, where about 8 gates are crammed into a circular area.  The boarding area was packed with people and their carry-on luggage.  Clusters of people were standing in the open areas, blocking easy passage.  People were sitting on the floor, eating their fast food.  In the distance a kid was screaming.  At one point, a man walked by, carrying a live chicken under one arm and leading a goat.

Okay, I made that last part up, but the noisy, trashy, chaotic scene made me think of what the debarkation area at Ellis Island must have been like.

This, then, is the glamour of business travel!

Eurotrip 2011: Interlaken

Interlaken.

I planned to spend two nights in Interlaken, but after seeing the mountain peaks and turquoise lakes on the train ride in, I decided that the city deserved three nights.

It was an environment I hadn’t seen before. I’d seen big mountains in Colorado, but never a town in between two lakes (hence the name) surrounded by mountains. The water is extraordinarily clear, making the streams milky grey, the color of the stones at the bottom.

Unfortunately, you have to pay for the beauty. The cheapest meal I’ve found is a hot dog for 4.50 francs (about $5.50). The price of a gyro, which I’ve come to use as the standard for how expensive a country is, is 8 francs.

It’s frustrating that Switzerland isn’t on the euro. I withdrew 80 francs from an ATM when I arrived, which turned out to be way more than I needed. However, this mistake has ended up giving me a lot of pleasure, because I have to spend all the francs before I leave. So, I have been buying lots of food from restaurants – or, rather, from a restaurant called Mr. Grill’s, the cheapest in town. You can get a delicious bratwurst there for 6.50 francs.

My bratwurst from Mr. Grills.

At $29 a night, my hostel, the Alplodge/Backpackers Interlaken hostel, is the most expensive yet. However, it is exceptionally clean, it has a fully-stocked kitchen, more than enough bathrooms, and the staff is great at suggesting what to do in town. There isn’t much of a social atmosphere, though. The people staying here do their own thing during the day and come back exhausted, including me. My roommates are three Chinese girls. Interlaken seems to be popular among Chinese and Japanese tourists.

Yesterday I hiked to the other side of the lake to the east of Interlaken. It was a beautiful hike, taking me past many bright green farms. It was also exhausting, especially because I got lost twice. I visited a waterfall that, as far as I could tell by looking at a map, comes entirely from melted mountain snow. I ended up at a town called Brienz, from which I took a train back to Interlaken.

A farm by the lake.

The turquoise lake.

The waterfall.

Today I took a train to Grindelwald (20.80 francs round trip), a town higher up in the mountains. From there I hiked to the top of a mountain called Bort. I think the thin mountain air made me light-headed, because the joke from the Simpsons about Itchy and Scratchy Land having plenty of “Bort” license plates but no “Bart” ones kept running through my head. I hiked even further up from there to the top of a mountain I don’t know the name of. I stopped when the snow became so deep that my feet sank a foot into it with each step.

Despite the presence of snow, the weather was hot, or at least it felt hot to me. When I took off my daypack to get my waterbottle, I thought the waterbottle had burst open because everything was wet, but then I realized it was just my sweat that had soaked through.

Here I am as far as I hiked up.

The views were extraordinary from the top. I could see drifts of snow falling from the mountains in the distance, followed by the sound of it a split-second later. The snow seemed to be melting fast. Parts of the trail had turned into little streams.

The train ride back to Interlaken was very enjoyable, as train rides always are when you’re really tired from walking. Tomorrow, I head back to Italy to see Venice.

Eurotrip 2011:  Florence and Pisa

Eurotrip 2011:  Rome pt. 2

Eurotrip 2011:  Rome pt. 1

Eurotrip 2011:  Palermo

Eurotrip 2011:  The Journey To Palermo

Eurotrip 2011:  Santorini and Athens

Eurotrip 2011:  Athens

Eurotrip 2011:  Istanbul

Weird Hotels

The BBC has a slide show of some weird hotels in the world.  You can find it here.

Check out the Capsule Inn Akihabara, in Tokyo.  You sleep in one tube-like space that is one of a bank of identical units.  According to the Inn’s website, each tube is 1 meter x 1 meter x 2 meters, so the rooms really aren’t designed for your average oversized American.  (For the metrically challenged like me, a meter is 3.28 feet.)  Once you are inside the capsule, you use a control bank to watch TV, listen to the radio, and set the alarm.  The Inn’s website assures that each room “has blinds to be drawn for complete privacy.”  Well, that’s reassuring!

The advantage of the Capsule Inn is that it is cheap.  A room goes for 4,000 yen per night, which comes out to less than $50 at current exchange rates — and that’s in Tokyo, one of the world’s most expensive cities.  You get what you pay for, however.  Even if I could comfortably squeeze my ever-expanding girth into Room 504, I’m not sure I’d want to stay in a place that looks like the local kennel.