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Izzy, Nice, France. Mike, Maastricht, Nertherlands.

You went and visited Izzy in Nice, France, and then Mike in Maastricht, Netherlands

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A little while ago you flew off after work on a Friday afternoon to Nice, France, to visit Izzy. She has been working there for almost as long as you've been in Europe now, and is coming to the end of her au-pair job with a nice British family. Izzy was taking care of an ultra-energetic 5 year old boy called Benjamin while his mother was pregnant with her second child. A car, a room and some small amount of money was afforded to support her poor-little-au-pair lifestyle, but in the city of Nice you'd better be rolling in money. Poor poor Izzy. Instead of travelling herself, she had other people come and visit her there. Bargain!

There have apparently been studies done in Switzerland showing people unwind after one week off work and then begin to relax in the second. From these studies it became law to take a minimum of two consecutive weeks holiday here. Having a three-day weekend in France was NOT long enough to unwind for you. Since you didn't want to waste a day in bed you were up and active early every day at the crack o-noon. Luckily, without money there is not much to do in Nice so lazy half-active days were manageable. If one can afford to buy a baguette and a coffee then one may have a marvellously cliché-French afternoon sitting atop a hill by a church looking out over the ocean; perhaps this was best part of the whole trip. Meeting friends and chatting somewhere with a nice view: holiday goal complete.

Izzy had become so lonely all alone in her little servants guest house that she's begun watching bad 90's tv shows to pass the time. You can imagine that soon a whole new group of Izzy's pals will be forced to watch Seaquest DSV. These new pals being people Izzy meets while working in a French skiing chalet. Her next move is Hotel Christiania, a French skiing chalet for work during the winter months, followed by boarding a luxury mega-yacht as a something-something ship maid the following Summer. At least Izzy has been planning their next job move, unlike some (you glare at Karl with a disapproving look).

So what does Nice offer in terms of tourist appeal, one asks? It has very good weather there and if you like cafes, French restaurants and arty stuff then you're in luck. If you want to do something adventurous, however, then your only choice is to drive up a hill to the man made waterfall and... err... visit the gift shop? The only event that made the trip seem a little adventurous was swimming under a rock arch at some random point on the bay. Another fun but slightly less extreme activity was people-watching: spotting couples with matching outfits, watching teenagers riding scooters while talking on mobile phones - these things amused you.

Skipping forward a few weeks now - you went to visit Mike in Maastricht, Netherlands. You began regretting your decision to go by train after ten shitty hours. You liked to brag about superior European rail networks until this point but will never dare to again; five train changes, every train late and too many grumpy German ticket inspectors changed your mind. After finally arriving in Maastricht, the first thing to notice was there are ONLY three types of weather: [1] About to rain, [2] Raining, and [3] Just finished raining. You immediately appreciate why Mike was always so eager to travel to dirty London, shifty Serbia and economically-broken Iceland: you'd want to escape too if you were studying in depressingly grey, wet and cold Maastricht. With little else to do there, wasting away time playing Warcraft III, looking through some Masterricht shops, and making friends with a horse kept Mike and you happily occupied.

You visited Brussels with Mike and had some waffles. They were terribly sickly but that was ok... No, let's be honest: it was far from 'ok' - they were gross. You wonder how tourists can eat them and keep a straight face, all the while the locals surely snickering in the background - those cheeky bastards. You may be aware the further north you travel, especially in Winter, the shorter and darker the days become. However, something you didn't know was that architecture follows this pattern too. The further North you travelled (generally away from Switzerland) the crappier, darker, and more run-down the bad side of the tracks became. The epitome of this trend was the crooked letter T at the Brussel Centraal station's lettering. Brussels did have some nice French comic book shops with Harry Potter wand sets, 1:1 scale, and some 100 Euro Lucky Luke figurines. Also amusing was their preoccupation with Manneken Pis, a statue of a peeing boy. He has t-shirts, beer mugs, and even a line of lolly shop sweets. Berlin's Ampleman seems a little bit more sensible now, if something must be iconsied / commercialised anyway.

Let's end with some more proof Switzerland is better than Germany: train inspectors. At about stupid o-clock Tuesday night when you were on you way home, just as your train crossed into Switzerland up walked two German train/passport inspectors. The stood in the aisle surrounding you, glaring down at you as intimidateingly as possible and demanded: SHOW YOUR PASSPORT!! You handed it over nicely to one of them, who walked off down the carriage with it and began seriously analysing while taking into a WWII styled mobile phone (large one). While this was going on, the other one stood his rigid guard over you, making you feel like some kind of criminal. You eventually (reluctantly) got you passport back from the guard, who seemed more annoyed that he couldn't arrest you than he should. Two minutes later up came four Swiss train inspectors. The big difference was they were all smiling and politely asked to see some kind of ID... You know, if you didn't mind. Thank you, by the way [smiles]. While one of them inspecting your residency permit the others joked about the HUGE beer can beside you (not your's). Take that Germany! Further proof was seen an hour later on a local Swiss train where some ticket inspectors - one fat and jolly, the other slim and pretty - sat with and chatted to some drunk teenagers like they were all mates. It was so genuine and friendly it made you feel all warm and fuzzy (and tired).