1 Month in Portugal, Spain, Italy–Germany, Czech Republic
In receiving guidance, during my countless hours spent-aimless on a couch, I set out a plan to travel across Europe; upon completion at Blue Ridge. After months of preparation, I boarded a plane at JFK and landed in Lisbon airport the next day.
June seventh, my first writing; I’m still working to bring my heartrate to a normal pace, after a 15-minute run through Puerta de Atocha (Madrid) to catch my train leaving in two minutes. Climbing up and down Toledo, under the sweltering sun has furthered my overwhelming feeling of exhaustion! Driven by a never-ending desire to experience my new surroundings, these last six days have involved endless movement. Consumed with a general anxiety over navigation and transportation, and reeling from a lack of consistent, quality sleep; my mind is heavy. My body is perhaps even more tired, not accustom to carrying a 35-pound backpack. My feet, back and shoulders are happy to find much needed relaxation on this three-hour train ride. First order of business upon entering Valencia, is to drop this baggage at the hostel; freeing me from its ties. It’s evident as I slowly meander around these Iberian cities, I am a foreigner.
Since I wouldn’t have made it without the help I have received from the native peoples, transportation employees, and shockingly the police; I must thank them all before I continue. I have found most people are willing to help me, and if they are able to speak English; have gone out of their way to send me on my path! It was telling of Portugal that the police officers on the Porto train were so friendly, it caught me off guard! My initial thoughts upon being treated as a foreign traveler has made me question how we as Americans treat our foreigners. I have received such openness, despite being unable to speak either Portuguese or Spanish.
Two individuals have stood out, Manu, who noticed me day one, lost staring at the map as he walked by. He interjected, offering his help and led me on the way to the Good Morning Hostel. As we walked further from the coast, he explained he was just coming back from the night before. We stopped and tasted some fresh cherries being sold at a street side market, then continued. We found my hostel to be near his apartment. I unloaded my baggage, checked-in and then left to join him for lunch at a casual family restaurant. The two courses meal, consisting of a meat platter and soup, was wonderful. Following the meal, we left requiring no payment! His extreme kindness continued to amaze me as he took me in for an espresso. He introduced me to his roommate Anna (a tuk-tuk driver), who insisted upon her guiding me around the capital city. We talked briefly on the rooftop before his exhaustion set in.
The hostel isn’t too difficult to find, located on Liberty Avenue; a large four lane street running perpendicular towards the coast. Inside the hostel I found a fun environment filled with many young travelers from across the world. In a matter of days, I became close to a few members of the group, this was quickly facilitated after a wonderful day trip to Sintra; a hilltop resort town, formerly a residence for royalty.
The van included our tour guide, Duarte; a fun-loving native of Lisbon, two Germans, Sascha & his brother Patrick, a Greek guy named George, Aleshia an Australian, and GUY from Macau. The sights of the lush green fields and forests were stunning, along with the coast and royal buildings. I will not forget our group efforts to climb an oddly shaped large boulder, or George running into the frigid sea waters. Before we toured the royal residence, we found a nearby intimate restaurant to gorge ourselves with octopus, pork, and plenty of wine!
Although I enjoyed walking all around Lisbon, highlighted by visiting the Alfama & Belem districts; I will most fondly remember the day-trip to Sintra and the evening that followed! The hostel after dinner turned into a Friday night pregame party. A table full of people, including the whole of the Sintra group, started to play queens which only led to more intoxication by way of in house made Sangria. Before going out, Sascha, myself and a Canadian guy took our turn with collective karaoke singing; Celine Dion!
It’s funny as the group went out, the combination of hormonal drama and intoxication would call for me to end my evening early; valuable lesson, no different than back at home, I have learned I am a day person. It was in that evening, walking home to the hostel I realized be true to myself. The remainder of my time abroad, I focused my attention and energy strictly to the daylight. This is not to say I was against being out in the evening/night, I would in countless cities in the next fifty days; but drinking and trying to find entertainment, I knew was not me! I was pleased with the decision to visit Lisbon and Madrid; but found a feeling that I have increasingly become more accustom.
The lingering feeling that I am missing something is obvious, since I do not have infinite money, time, or opportunity. In hindsight I would’ve liked to visit the former Moorish stronghold, the southern Andalusia region of Spain; particularly, Granada and Sevilla. Instead I choose to fly to Madrid; settle for a day trip to Toledo, which boasts plenty of Moorish history. After the two central cities I trained to the Catalonia coast for Valencia and Barcelona; providing me with a diverse learning of several Spanish cities.
My last evening in Madrid was my most enjoyable of the three nights. Thanks in part to the departure of some weekend guests, mostly older white Europeans looking for an exciting weekend getaway. For the first time in Madrid, I connected with someone; Diane from Costa Rica. Neither of us spoke each other’s language confident, however, with what would become a theme throughout Europe for me, she spoke English. Both being solo travelers, we were happy to have some company. After asking her to join me for dinner, we went out for tapas; her Spanish came in handy. Following dinner, we took drinks to go. Walking about the city, we shared our experiences and thoughts on our home countries. We exchanged our thoughts on Madrid, agreeing upon one truth; Flamenco is an incredibly sensual experience. I shared my conclusions upon my first two visited European & foreign countries. If the rest of Europe is as relaxed socially; good food and activities, then I can foresee a future outside of America.
Today started out as a discouraging & frustrating day. I left 360 Hostel in Barcelona intending to travel to Torino, so after departing the metro station; I entered the Renfe station. The plan to book my reservation through Valence and into north Italy turned out to be halted by a French labor strike; an act that I have since learned is common for the French. So, instead of a brutal ten-hour day of travel; I was informed I would be forced to stay in Barcelona. As I am enamored with the city after only four days, I cannot complain too much, however, my pre-booked reservation in Torino is now wasteful. Re-booking a bed at 360 Hostel put me down some more cash, yet; silver lining: I have a bed.
Instead of an additional day in Barcelona, I opt for a day-trip to the beach; Tarragona. The other options Sitges and Blanes did not offer so much flexibility regarding trains, which puts me here sitting out on the edge. Peering into miles of Ocean and mostly quiet coastline is what this physician ordered! Few local kids and tourists inhabit this beach from a distance, clearly, it’s too soon for peak season; however, I must thank this off the beaten path to my lovely spot, accompanied only by the water crashing against these rocky cliffs. The light teal green tint turns to navy as I look farther out into the distance. After exploring Tarragona; a quaint, historically rich, and wealthy seaside city; my mind turns to one option for dinner, seafood.
Another early morning following a late night, this one, however, is better than the previous; as I am headed towards Italia. The first step for me, Valence enters me into France, southern region; however, I am not guaranteed a ticket to Torino. My day trip excursion to Tarragona became interesting when my ticket wasn’t valid; so, I had to force myself onto the train.
The evening to follow was unexpected, upon my arrival back to Barcelona, I exited into the Ronda de Sant Pere metro station. Immediately, I recognized a familiar face; Samuel from the hostel in Valencia. We were both surprised to see each other, and it took a minute to recognize faces; we never really became too acquainted while in Valencia. Now, he explained his desire to catch the Italy-Belgium game at an Irish pub, and I was alone, free, and interested. As expected, most bars & pubs were filled to the brim, but with some patience and quickness we found two bar-stools; providing us an optimal view of the games. Samuel, a Swizz native; has Italian allegiance for futbol; he explained that most Swizz people follow one of the three countries surrounding them; Italy, Germany, and France.
Excited with Peronis in hand, we joined in with the large crowd behind us, in celebrating the 2-0 Italian victory. Afterward we set out for food, taking my hostel-mate’s recommendation; we found the tapas bar, 100 Mojatidos to still be open. Since most of the menu featured tapas priced at 1 and 2 euro, we ate like kings. After a couple hours sitting there, the manager came by to hasten our departure; however, after five minutes another man came to us. Holding a sign, he appeared to be asking for money or assistance. Unfortunately, neither of us knew the language; of course, Catalan. After repeatedly insisting we couldn’t understand nor help; he placed his sign on the paper. Cleverly, his ploy was to distract us, while he swiped the valuable object on the table, my phone.
It was clear and before he could take a step; I insisted on having my phone back. Clearly, this was his move; he would not let me take that sign. As he retreated out the front door, we looked at each other and laughed; lesson learned; don’t have valuable items in sight and out for the taking! We left, choosing to remain outside and explored the streets; finding two travelers; a couple. We spent the next two hours conversing with the young couple from Moscow; of course, in English, although I did encourage them to speak Russian & German to make my point; any language if spoken too fast is difficult to comprehend.
It was fascinating to hear such the opposite perspective of my American viewpoint. Picture these two superpower countries forging their own image of who won WW2, who was at fault during the Cold War, etc. Igor explained with all his encounters with Americans, that I did not match what he considered the average American. I’m pretty sure I blushed; not sure I could get a better compliment while abroad. Before parting, I disclosed that these conversations between myself and: American, Mexican, Canadian, Costa Rican, Portuguese, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Polish, Argentinian, Kiwi, British, Greece, Swiss, and now them(Russian); have made my trip! We all shared multiple commonalities, but most important; we view our respective countries, like the world as good & bad.
(Carmel Bunkers, Barcelona)
At this point I must be an optimist; this transportation through France, has by far been the most challenging leg of my journey. After engaging in conversation with a French mother-daughter across my train car, I learned more about the French striking. Many industries, aside from transportation, are being severally affected, but such is the way; silver lining-the countryside is stunning. I’m sure that first class travel is very nice, but I’ll opt for engaging conversations with locals or fellow travelers in my class; second class.
Spain made quite an impression on me, even now in France, on the way to Mulhouse, I find myself saying: gracias, si and other simple Spanish expressions. I will be back to Spain but would like to be more capable of speaking Spanish, so I can visit the entire country; including the northern trail of San Sebastian. I confidently say I will be back to Madrid and Barcelona; Spain is a country that provides a wide variety of activities and attractions, visitors take your pick. I found the people from Madrid slightly more welcoming and friendly, although most of Barcelona cater to the floods of tourist. Europe during the summer months, (invaded by tourists) I’ve been told is dramatically different from September to May. The Europeans must be used to tourists, I wonder how with these people, including myself are too annoying and obnoxious for me; I guess look at the revenue.
The following day began with a relaxing ride from Barcelona to Valence around 2 pm. That would prove the only enjoyable travel throughout France. The train that dropped me off in Valence then headed to Paris, another fact that led to my further irritation. Located in southern France, it would have been easier to Torino, instead due to striking, I was required to a 3-hour train north to Paris. From Paris I would then return south to Dijon; nice train station in Paris though. I arrived in Dijon, home of the mustard, at 8:45 pm. The train ride was forgetful besides the first rain I encountered in two weeks.
Thankfully, I was protected from it, soon it would hunt me down in Torino. Upon arriving in Dijon’s train station, I find myself again lost only speaking English, my little bit of Spanish is useless here! The night train, my only option, would take me to Milano at 5:30 am, one step closer. After waiting in the train station until 9:45 pm the train arrived, the French police possibly due to the heightened security measure necessary for the Euro Cup, are the rudest I’ve encountered. Considering my own country’s police issues, something Europeans all over seem to be very aware of and always up to discuss what Black Americans deal with everyday.
Upon attempting to board the night train, I was asked for my ticket, I provided my Eurail Pass. He explained that won’t be helpful here, I instead needed to cough up 125 euros for a reservation. This was by far the lowest feeling and point on my journey. A range of emotions hit me, none of them positive. To someone raised to be frugal with money, this was a terrible position to be in, but the alternative was to find a bed in Dijon at 10 pm; a city which is presently very dark. I entered the train like a dog with its tail in between its legs, still astonished this night would cost me 147 euros, and then add the wasted night in Torino; no refund within 48 hours.
To add to the range of emotions, there was hunger and thirst. I do not eat often when stressed and/or nervous; meaning in instances like this day! I arrived in an empty room of four beds, room 10 after being directed away from a room with two girls (8); I didn’t know any better (8). The beds were piled up to the ceiling. After unable to pay the 141 dollars, since the card machine was defective, I began to think I was scotch free; the attendant stressed he’ll be back later. After finally falling asleep from exhaustion; the two nights prior, I received a total of nine hours of sleep, I was awoken by three men!
After some light and difficult conversation, the men informed me their travel was free; not sure why I didn’t question that at first. Maybe two hours later, while in Switzerland the not so pleasant attendant came by to check for passports and tickets. This ended up being a problem for the three men from Sudan, Pakistan, and Tunisia, although he constantly stated it was “No problem.” The three of them were forced to exit the room since they illegally boarded and were without documentation. This was the last time I was to see the most outspoken guy of the three, Muhammed; who referenced his sister living in America, and the Sudanese man. However the man from Pakistan would not be so easily deterred.
I was awoken again later in the night or morning by him seeking underneath a bed. Clearly hiding from the attendant, but now without his friends, he wasn’t content. He mistakenly left, making for his last entrance into the train car, I locked it to get some peace and sleep! I awoke to beating on the door, the train attendant with a functional card machine, and so goes $140! I heard from my neighbor, Californian mother of two children that the three men were detained by the police. We were soon in Milano, and I could now reflect upon the last eighteen hours to get to Italy. From Milan, Torino is an hour away; of course unable to speak Italian, and not understanding the bus system it’s slightly difficult finding my hostel.
After two days in Torino, I can look back on my travels in Barcelona and laugh. In reviewing my first writing of this journey, I can confidently say my body has adjusted to the rigors of relentless backpacking. I notice the weight on my shoulders has become less apparent. My feet and legs have become accustom to the constant walking, although after a day trip in Milano with an alternative brown dress up shoes (huge mistake!) my ankles and soles of my feet are hurting. With the additional weight and less flexibility traveling around the fashion hub was tough; I should know always wear the blue Asics running shoes on the days I expect to traverse a lot. Which is pretty much everyday, so why did I bring those shoes?
(Il Duomo di Milano)
Milan for many I’m sure is a great city, but being a poor college student shopping is mostly teasing not to mention I’m not a person who chooses to fill the innate holes (internal voids/emptiness) with material objects, especially clothes; considering the Italian men & women around. Back to Torino, from what believe is from the two universities. The city is divided by the two rivers, which provided locals and tourists alike activities and pleasant views. I could see myself visiting here again, and maybe even potentially moving here later in my life. Going off topic again, it is something special when the greatest curve and eye catcher on a woman is her smile! For that I would do a lot like writing “you are stunning” translated of course in Italian…tu sei stupefacente.
To be clear, I wrote English meaning below, in case she does read English. She reacted unlike most American girls that I have come to know. I promise not bashing them more the culture, that they are raised in! Lupe’s “Bitch Bad” is a great representation or explanation here, of my thoughts. I seem to be received here better by the women then the previous countries and cities population, or is it my growing confidence or maybe the notice my part Italian side! I have certainly checked to see if I have something on my face, but it seems continuous here in Torino.
Portuguese women going back to the goddess who sat next to me on my way to Porto; I will find you in Braga one day, first though I must learn Portuguese! Also the brunette Torino local who partially runs the Bamboo Eco Hostel with pretty brown eyes. A lot to like in Italy thus far, including my new dorm mate from Milano, who is a performer; very cute, shy and humble, which are all very attractive qualities. Before I get off track, I will restrict my writing about them to this. Long dark hair, normally in good shape and curvy, pretty complexion and coloring, and an emphasis on being in shape! However, I’ve noticed that ass is not emphasized here or any country that I’ve visited like it is in America. I have a hypothesis why but back to Italian women.
The old school way of thinking of beauty is evident here, (not just in Italy but overall throughout these Mediterranean countries) an attractive figure, but faces that make you seriously turkey neck, risking death by bus. American women wear tight yoga pants and booty shorts, emphasizing ass, no problem with it but on my part, it is delightful to be captivated by women more elegantly dressed.
Portuguese women appear more similar to Italian women, I just believe in Torino they are plentiful especially on these campuses. Spanish women seem to be curvier, but still the yoga pants were a rare sight. I did not get to experience the French women but from what I’ve heard they are very open and pursue the men in many instances; that is alright to me. Back to Milan, I’m glad I went but with the lack of Italian culture, at least from what I encountered or didn’t and lack of support/disinterest for the Italia football match, today vs. Sweden was disappointing. Torino; however, I cannot get enough of, kind of the little brother/sister city to Milano. Like I said about the women; the food is rich, its culture, and this city provides a combination of nature, city, and an influx of students with varying ideas.
My roommate from Poland advised me on Croatian women or more so raved about them. This is my last night here in Torino and I can honestly say I will miss it! The locals have welcomed me, helped me when possible with translation and directions! The insight I have gained into the kitchens and or about the local wines have added to me, La Rusenta, Caffe Vini, Emilio Ranzini, and Café Rossino, the time and act of Aperitivo; a delicious buffet style meal started off with a drink; normally alcoholic…the good comes with the ordering of the drink! I got gnocchi and a glass of red wine, the drink of choice for six euro!
Also, the idea of tax is unfamiliar to Italians and now thinking about it, I think all these European countries that I have entered into. At the grocery store I purchased a breaded slice of chicken, I think and a bag of walnuts each 1 euro. After I inquired about no tax; he asked what’s that? Imagine, what a concept of being taxed to purchase something in which you’re contributing to the country’s economy, same with the shirts I bought in Milan today; yes, I know I had to buy something there like in Barcelona. I couldn’t explain to the man in the grocery store what tax is, I know what it is but realized how foreign the concept seemed and to be honest I am envious!
I guess so far that I have learned that each country has it pros and cons, but it continuously seems that Europe as a whole in many cases is more desirable to live! I acknowledge I have only visited two continents and have much to see before I could ever confidently say that a place can be my home, but the influx of ideas and many customs here that I have encountered certainly have me questioning my home in Virginia!
As I dive deeper into the journey, on this train to Zurich, I find writing in this journal to be more and more comforting, in many cases it acts as my confidant! It is like a friend that I can indulge myself and my stories into; certainly, taking me away from the fact that I am alone, and haven’t held meaning conversation with a person in four days; that train heading to Valence! To add to that I have not had a real relationship with someone; friendship if you will since leaving Samuel and Barcelona. Loneliness I believe gets a bad connotation; all how you deal with what you have been given, or not given. Marcus writes in Meditations, that nothing is naturally bad, just one’s thoughts and opinions upon something. My opinion about loneliness is that it isn’t easy to deal with, after all man is a social being. I can fulfill these needs though interaction with strangers; well I must, since locals and fellow travelers are my only options.
I consider myself a loner by nature but even I need social interaction every couple of days. There are quick remedies for feeling alone, I’ve always found safe haven in music. Exercise is another option, although it isn’t as easy as just going to the gym, I instead must exhaust my body and get my fix by walking these cities throughout the day! I found interest in reading a few years ago, but now I can pleasantly say how writing has provided me with an incredible outlet. I imagine I will look back on these pages after this trip, however who knows I could lose them as I have lost my Bluetooth headphones, hat, and towel. I certainly miss them, haven’t had them since Barcelona. I blame someone for stealing them, since that places the burden on someone else; allowing me to remove power from myself.
I have noticed an improvement on one of my many weaknesses…forgetfulness! Acknowledge your weaknesses! I don’t believe anyone should tell me something about myself that I don’t already know. I believe that’s how it should be! Face and work on your weaknesses, after all Every Day I’m Getting Better! To look back on June 1, landing in Lisbon I was a deer in the headlights! Thankfully that vehicle swerved, or I moved enough to get out of the way. Now I am adapting to my ever-changing environment every single day. Whether the locals speak Portuguese, Spanish, French or Italian; soon German, it doesn’t matter the people are all the same. There are countries or places in this world I don’t have a strong desire to visit, not because of the people there but of the customs and you can’t see everything, sorry New Jersey! To the musicians from that state, Tsu Surf & Joey…I apologize, your music is medicinal to me on these lonely train rides or strolls around an unfamiliar city.
My iPad is at 5% and with a broken charger, this will be a true test; can I make it going from 1500 songs to 200 (iPhone). Maybe I will be able to find a charger in Zurich, after all the Swizz are known for many products…chocolate? With what Samuel has spoken of Switzerland, I look forward to confirming or denying. So far the Portuguese seem to be a different breed of people; their kindness; although, the people of Torino are very polite and helpful. Milan is Italy’s second largest city, so too many tourist and big business! The smaller cities, like Torino, I can imagine to be easier to visit and would be more likely to stay true to their customs. Also a quick complaint about Europe, the birds; they’re everywhere! The pigeons occupy Milan’s main piazza, where I filmed a young boy (clearly a tourist) with a few pigeons on his arms and shoulders; I was scared for him! Saw others attracted to them just to have the dirty flying creatures land on there bodies as well! In return with so many birds openly flying around, there doesn’t appear to be as many insects or mice!
Looking out the window on either side of this train car, the views are breathtakingly beautiful; the mountains, the lakes; before our last stop Chiasso the views were non-existent, but now we’re headed to Zurich and I see entire villages nestled into tree covered mountainsides. The green everywhere with numerous mountain ranges; really hard to properly explain, that is for the real writers. Now a stop in Lugano, the locals are truly blessed!
(View from Train, Zurich to Munich)
Life is good, or at least better. I got my iPad charger so no restriction of my music, oh and got a pen to continue to write. Can only say good things thus far about Zurich and the brief sampling of Swizz culture; albeit only from an active train station, but well organized, even the ticket station was well staffed and efficient. The people I encountered were very helpful, even selling me this nice Schneider pen and helping me find an internet service (computer room, although it cost two franks for 15 minutes of use.) I used the time to book the Munich hostel, the Tent. After conversing with two gentlemen, one from Dresden and the other from southern England, I learned that the Swizz people as a total population have five different language: Swizz, German, Swizz-German (Didn’t count it), Italian, French, and in one small region to the southeast border they speak Latin; or a version of it left over by the Romans.
These Swizz people are the only ones in the country to speak Latin. The sights and activities particularly in nature and outdoors are superb here. I can understand why nature lovers around the world come here, the mountains, lakes and green hills everywhere. I can not however begin to understand the language, I did learn that Herren is men; from the bathroom door. Imagine if the words didn’t have an image attached. I did see one women wearing black and tight yoga style pants, I was shocked; this isn’t America, but she had the right to wear em! Ass was more prevalent in the brief time in Zurich, at the train station and vista; I’m missing the Italian women though.
Leaving Munich, I can confidently say I will try to be back here. As I anticipate remarking that about the whole country of Deutschland. The people are very rich in their culture and history, maybe nothing was more evident then last night’s visit to the beer hall, Hofbrahaus. The famous three-story building now owned by the state of Bavaria was originally built by King Ludwig, or his predecessors or successors, I don’t know. Nonetheless, the building is glorious and plays music on the top floor after 6:30 pm until closing at 11 pm. I was fortunate to experience it even just for a short period, I then got bored and wanted to explore.
The other famous building-restaurant-shop that I was amazed with was the Dallmayr’s Declicassten; offering food of all types! Sweets, traditional Bavarian food, both cooked and raw meats! The city itself provides a variety of sights, attractions, and food vendors worth attending. Public transportation in Munchen is by far the most impressive I have encountered thus far. Three forms of transportation stretch across the city and surrounding areas. Therefore, day-trips are a plenty. I chose to visit the Andesch Monastery, famous for the incredible beer that is brewed there and the only German based concentration camp, Dachau. Both trips were easily accessible by the U/S Train; Andesch a 45-minute trip south via the U-8 train headed toward Hersching, and Dachau a 30-minute ride north using the S-2 line.
Beside the two metro-like trains, the tram connected inner city locations; from the main station HBF. I took a 15-minute ride using the 16 or 17 line to reach the hostel. The Tent located at a campsite, hence the name, in Botaisker Garten; using the public transportation system is convenient enough. With so much to see, the three forms of transportation are both necessary and effective. Best, it is operated on an honor system (although warnings were posted if caught the offender would incur a 60-euro charge.)
My first day in Munich, a non-stop rainy day, involved me visiting museums! Particularly, the national socialist museum, which emphasized the impact of the Nazi party on Munich, this alone was an eye-opening surreal experience but could never prepare me for what I would see in Dachau.
Going back to my most memorable part of the two-day trips: Dachau is a humbling/sobering experience that I felt I could not pass up on. Walking the hallowed grounds of the former concentration camp entrenches my interest in European history; no matter how evil, the experience is powerful! I spent three hours walking the grounds surrounded by guard towers that once housed SS men commanded to shoot prisoners attempting to escape; some tried to escape just to end their suffering and accomplished it with a quick death; so people did escape.
Between the towers, the prisoners were entrapped by a high towering barbed wire fence. One barracks remained to show the conditions that the prisoners endured; the rest are rubble, however the rectangle area still remained. Must have been 40 barracks buildings that at its peak of Dachau’s population in late 1944, housed 60,000 prisoners. Its strange writing prisoners but this is how the Germans (Nazis) portrayed them as criminals, as if being Jewish, Roma, Sinti or any resistance to the Nazi regime was a crime! Even POWs of WW2 were housed here!
The atrocities seen here at this memorial are difficult to write, how can one possibly describe this experience, such terrible history! Aside from the prisoner barracks, visitors can walk into the crematorium and the bunker (the torture cells) that were used to enforce the extreme punishment from pseudo-medical experiments, beatings and pole hangings (again something best described with a picture; like most things seen at this prison). The three hour walk was chilling to see how human beings could treat their fellow man. The past is very important, we must learn from it and better our future or in this case to ensure that nothing like this goes unnoticed nor repeated!
The quote seen at the national socialist museum,
“Es ist geschehen, und foglich kann es wieder geschehen”, translating to “It happened, and thus it can happen again.” (Primo Levi, 1986)
This is unfortunately very true, we as humans have to eliminate genocide, violence and senseless death! To say we are past that (with the UN) or that it is in the past is a bold faced lie; look at the lesser known or cared about, yet, all too common genocides throughout Africa, or terrorism whether it be in the middle east or within our own country, on college campuses, churches, or public places.
The other day trip to Andesch was more of a happy experience, after a pretty 30 minute train ride through Bavaria (the views!) we arrived at the base of the village; now just a bus ride to the quaint village; or a 5 km hike through the forests! Hiking was relaxing, especially after I found confidence; thanks to two locals, that I was going in the right direction (it wasn’t clear which invoked irritation for some time.)
The village of Andesch seems to be untouched by time, such an emphasis on the rich Bavarian culture and nestled deep in the beautiful mountain-hilly terrain. The monastery, the first sight upon reaching the top of the hike provides an incredible view over the village after climbing 14 steep steps through a tight wooden spiral staircase. Overall, the village and food(!) provided a delightful experience, that was followed by a quick run down the mountain to burn off the many calories absorbed during lunch (a chunk of meat attached to a bone) heavy enough to knock out my large German neighbor looking at my plate of meat and large portion of sauerkraut!)
Aside from the two short day trips, the two things that I will remember most from my time in Munchen…the Tent Munich! This hostel, campsite differed from the rest of my lodging, or temporary homes; as I am a vagabond traveling from European city to city. This four night stay was the most challenging in terms of sleeping, showering, and eating. Being 15 minutes away on tram, from most restaurants and cafes, once I arrived “home” I was unable to get food out! I never purchased food to cook at the guest kitchen, although like in Italy the tap water is clean to drink; saving me some money there! Second, showering was a challenge and very frustrating; the first night before becoming accustomed to having goosebumps while showering. The water itself was hot, capable of reaching 50 degrees Celsius but it would cut off every 30 seconds, along with the cold air coming through the rafters above, made it tough.
This became, just as everything at the Tent, and my journey thus far, to be a challenge; something I must adapt and overcome! Sleeping was the most frustrating, as imagined in an 100 person tent. The bunk beds, aplenty, were not very comfy, nor were the folded blankets that were required to be used as pillows, a good substitute! The first few nights in that tent were cold, and the tent did not keep in much heat, despite all the bodies within it. To fight the cold, I requested a total 5 blankets; one for my head the other four for sheets and warmth. My first night the large German staff member mocked that the three guys for using 8 blankets a piece, some used blankets on the bottom bunk for privacy and to keep the heat it.
I didn’t trust the mattress, so I laid the most comfy blanket down for me to lay on, then the other three I could used as overthrows. I did not think it would be possible for me to use this many blankets and still be cold throughout the night! I also didn’t think it was possible for me to wear a shirt, long pants, and socks while sleeping but that first night proved that it was not enough! Snoring was common during the stay although it has been every night since I left the comforts of my bed or even dad’s couch…doesn’t seem as bad now!
Sleeping each night 5-6 hours, and waking up around 6 am, an hour before breakfast became the routine. I can’t complain though, there are pros and cons to it all! A recent pro came with being able to play 1-1 basketball on the premises; I got to shoot the first two days, then played a fellow traveler (Marco) from Napoli. I played poor defense, showed a questionable jumper but relied and succeeded on the drive to the right (nothing new since middle school, know your game!) Winning was fun, but talking was much of the game. The other most notable experience here came dining with five seniors who all provided interesting and enjoyable insight/conversation for this young traveler!
After coming to a crowded restaurant recommended by the Google, I was steered to a table of two separate groups. Conversation between the now three groups began, when I interrupted to ask of the best Bavarian beer. Excitingly, this prompted a continuous conversation for the hours to come; obviously the answer is all Bavarian beer. The school teachers and the one women’s husband are from France and the couple from the Netherlands are here for a few days. They all spoke English well, which I then explained to them that the most rewarding part of my trip is meeting and conversing with people, like them, that I would never have the chance otherwise.
Even writing that I must leave for Hamburg, it is hard to accept that I am leaving Heidelberg. It will be fixed in my mind forever. What a city, Mark Twain quotes “the last change of the beautiful” or something of that nature (I don’t know about the last change but certainly a chance!) Remember there is a university here, top eleven internationally I was told, how lucky are those students! Germany’s oldest university is cheap too, 150 Euro for a semester! I have visited the capital cities of Portugal, Spain; and Catalan, Switzerland, and the heart of Bavaria and yet the most desirable cities to live in for me; or attend school are Torino and Heidelberg. This is not what I expected when starting this journey or even planning it, in which I didn’t even plan to visit Torino (spontaneity is the best, once again proving how great individual-solo travel is great…I decide!)
Back to Heidelberg, separated by a river; connected by two beautiful bridges, most notable the old bridge (partially destroyed by the Germans during the WW2 invasion to prevent those damn Americans from coming to the old town, didn’t work!) The two sides of Heidelberg separated by the beautiful unknown river (at least for me) is contained by two different mountains. The one mountain houses the famous Heidelberg castle from the thirteenth century? A city like Heidelberg with such rich history from 700 Years ago may not know the exact dates of their most famous tourist attraction (that’s awesome.)
The hostel was a 5 minute walk to the castle, only because it is straight up; the view we had available to us was unreal. The castle was nice, however not the biggest draw (at least for me.) Upon checking into the hostel I quickly noticed the door full of tips from guests, I will take this time to thank those former well informed/knowledgeable visitors; you helped to make one hell of a brief visit to Heidelberg (one of multiple-looking to the future, if I had my way.) However upon walking the city and across the old bridge I sealed my fate for later in life (I’ll get to that.) The door of tips, this acted as my TripAdvisor, much preferred to the real thing!
After thoroughly reviewing the door several things attracted my eyes, in order: the walk to the other side of Heidelberg (across the old bridge, up the other mountain) fittingly named the philosopher’s walk for the large number of professors and students from the “university over the centuries who took on this hike (and yes quite the exercise to the top.) The castle of course, a café at the top of the mountain upon finishing the walk; they serve wild boar and wild trot, the Choc Company (apparently serving the best chocolate brownie in the world.)
(View from Philosopher’s Walk, Heidelberg)
Other restaurants appealed to me: Papis restaurant (best Italian food in Heidelberg.) I just left Italia, it was good although it sure smelled great, the local universities cafeteria and Destille a pub that serves fire shots (video). I managed to attend the castle, very pretty and then to make the hike, the final night with three fellow travelers: Abbey, Billy, and Stephen; quick friendships made either during the day before or on that walk. The pub occupies a spot on the longest pedestrian street in Europe. Destille, a cool place yet very crowded and rowdy. The best brownie shop was unfortunately closed, one of the few bummers of this surprise destination. The university cafeteria was a nice success, Billy and I encountered this on our first day. Eight euros for too much food, amazed I have somehow lost weight on this trip.)
After the university Café, we continued our exploration which took us across the old bridge where we found a baboon with its funny ass facing the other side of the city; apparently the lesser of the Mayans on the other side. The baboon had some allure to locals and tourist that we weren’t yet aware of, not until the free walking tour the next day (I guess don’t touch things without knowing the ramifications.) The rest of the walk was very nice, different to have company in Billy walking about with. We met earlier in the day at check-in and then found we were to be dorm mates. Billy not only a fellow American, but Virginian, and a VCU Ram; small world!
The next morning I started the day alone as I woke up around 830 am, to my new friends Phoebe and Vivian packing up heading to Baden Baden; the hot springs in the Black Forest. We met the previous night over a bottle of 2.99 Euro red wine. As they were drinking together in the room (they stayed only for one night.) Both of them are from Hong Kong, Not China as I learned! Sitting and just talking with someone from the other side of the world, will widen your perspective, deepen your knowledge, and only benefit you as a person. I now can say I have met and befriended people from Asia, honestly didn’t think I could ever say that. We talked for hours about U.S. Politics, and the customs and people of our countries.
After exploring most of the old town in the morning and early afternoon I entered the great castle; wasn’t overly impressive, but it is a wonder to have looking over the city or to look up to. After the castle and then lunch, I joined the free walking tour with the newfound friends. We followed the guide Giulia, I am very used to being guided by a confident woman named Julia. We traveled the old town, most of which I had already explored earlier in the day (I have a fast pace.) Although the information or German speaking/reading person did provide additional context and understanding to the beautiful and historical sights. We came upon the old bridge and then the ass up baboon.
Anyways it has significance for three things which locals and tourists touch but can be just once! Whoever touched the mirror it was holding toward itself, which signified wealth, thus that person would earn! Touching the left hand, which has three fingers pointed out, would guarantee a return trip to Heidelberg. Finally the three little cute mice which were located to the left of the baboon would supposedly have many children. Upon Giulia informing the 7/8 person group, she requested each member to touch one, only one!
Well, I made my selection the previous day (the cute little mice); which will take the blame for my apparent future. The remainder of the tour was nice, we separated at 4:15 pm with Emma (last of the friends, didn’t attend to the Great Philosophers Walk) wanting to do the castle tour instead. After breaking/sitting down inside the A/C, not common here in Europe, especially in Hostels; we then left for the hike. Before getting into the journey, I will state that the walk (for an able body is a great activity, unfortunately Billy drinks too much beer and smokes cigs too much…he had trouble!)
The hour and ½ hour walk up to the top, or end of our hike, was full of good exercise. The journey was filled with entertaining conversation (“you know what they say”) and a little bit of confusion with direction; like always! We came upon an old tower, walked up it to enjoy the incredible view of the city; had more fun conversations (Credit to Stephen he is funny, for a day maybe two) and then replenished with some water or Billy to pullout a beer, “I’m going to need some beer to forget this happened.” Upon exiting the tower, we started our descent, but the café w/ local wild boar and an amphitheater prevented me from continuing. I couldn’t let those sights and foods be unseen & un-eated; I was instructed the amphitheater was “up there,” the words of Teresa, the receptionist/hostel owner. The three of them continued down in an attempt to see the sunset?
(WW2 Amphitheater, Heidelberg)
I turned around and started back up. After passing the tower I came upon the café in about 400 meters, I walked in dripping sweat in an attempt to ask for directions to see the amphitheater, after the woman owner (attended U of M, in Ann Arbor!) pointed me to my destination, I asked. “Do you serve wild boar?” A ½ hour later I walked the grounds of the large WW2 venue; now I am back at that restaurant, sitting outside with locals enjoying a pilsner and a wonderful plate of boar sausages, mashed potatoes, and red cabbage! I have learned I like red cabbage!
Best food I’ve had in this city, possibly of Germany thus far! Maybe its the environment, and the staff. The walk down after the meal was no lie a high, walking through the woods at 10 pm at night was such peace. Again, something enjoyed in the best of company…one and only. I was blessed, a great combination of good group company: Abbey, Billy, and Stephen, then myself in nature! The views just like on the way up to the top make the hike true to its name, walking down through the darkness I found many a locals passing by in peace. Funny running/biking or sitting around campfires, all with the view of the city, river, castle, and mountain range, I feel what Mark Twain was saying.
After a shower for each of us, I of course last; we linked with Emma and enjoyed each other’s company. Walking the city streets, getting crepes, and a kebab; mocking parkour and crossfit provided simple fun. After a few successful selfies and bothering those poor kind locals for pictures we headed home for sleep. The sun which is out and hot for close to 10 hours; beating down while exploration consumes proves consistently to be exhausting. Billy and Stephen stayed as the other three, including me, traveled on early to the next destinations in the morning, I will confidently remember these brief memories; and hope to see the group again. Now to see a familiar face in Hamburg!
I arrived in the Hamburg train station Friday around 3 pm, or as I’m slowly converting to European: 15:00. After visiting the tourist office, I found them to be very helpful (obviously German). Arriving in a new city during work hours is so much easier than at night; take Munich for example, getting into camp around midnight and then Heidelberg, checking into the hostel in the early afternoon! The lack of tourist facilities, people out in general, and darkness; make the experience overall much more challenging. Even unable to distinguish the different buildings or street signs adds another layer of confusion and difficulty!
After boarding the metro (S1) heading to the airport, I stayed at the Airport hostel/hotel; more about that later. I found myself confused, not uncommon, and stuck to one single question; how do I get where I need to go? Luckily for me, as it always seems to be the case, I received help; not sure if I just display the lost face well or not, but three people on the metro proved especially helpful leading me in the right direction. After asking if this train car goes to the airport or if I need another metro; I was asked the norm: “where are you from, what are you doing here, what’s the reason you’re backpacking, for how long, and you’re alone?”
The young German man and older teenager were the two specific individuals that most helped me! A group of around four, all seemed intrigued about this unaware traveler. The German adolescent was both fascinated by and relatively knowledgeable of American culture; even aware of Virginia, thanks to Netflix. He informed me that he watched J.A.G., very funny I recall watching the show during my middle & high school years; particularly with Pop!
(Testament to Captured Jews, Hamburg, Germany)
There seems to be a delay with entertainment coming abroad to Europe, I have often heard songs from decades ago! He mentioned his interest to travel the states like my journey throughout Europe; and of his ties to a few people in America. After chatting for most of the metro ride, I was advised to exit and catch another metro headed in the right direction. I made a run for it to the last three cars, since the two connections would soon disconnect; it was a fun run. After asking a man at one of the desks in the airport, I was told I was a short one km walk away from my destination.
Upon arriving to the hostel, I quickly noticed this was not like what I had stayed in thus far. The location was actually a 25-minute metro ride to the city center! I did get one positive out of the surprising set up; there was a fellow American, even better from Maryland. He told me that his European adventure started with his birthright trip to Israel; an experience he financially took advantage of! Just as the friends I had made in Heidelberg, it was nice to explore Hamburg the first evening with Matt. We traversed the city before meeting Sascha, the only reason I stopped here in route to Berlin. Sascha turned out to be an excellent tour guide for us, introducing curry wurst and pommes (fries); so simple and delicious!
The three of us went about the city for the next few hours, first coming to the harbor, then to Reeperbahn (Hamburg’s red-light district.) I am constantly amazed how open the ideas of sex and nudity is shown and widely accepted here in Europe; but especially Germany! Americans, particularly Virginians are too conservative when it comes to our bodies! We walked down a side street, which was fenced in with a sign restricting men of age (18 and older). We came across windows and doors showing women sitting or hanging out of them scantily dressed.
On this train to Dresden, I realize how behind I am; not yet able to finish my writing on Hamburg, and then I have Berlin! This ride, only an hour and a half will not be enough for me to play catch up. I know by the time I board the train tomorrow evening, heading to Prague, I will then have more time to recount my short time in Dresden. Yes, it is the German train system that is at fault; if it were less efficient and quick, I would be able to catch up to the present! Luckily, the train ride from Prague to Budapest is seven hours! Then I will have one night in the apparent craziest party city in Europe, before I meet Mom and Julia! I have held on to that thought this last week…soon I’ll be reunited with family.
Anyways to Hamburg, I last wrote of my Friday night, the first night out with both Sascha and Matt. We were introduced to Currywurst; Hamburg has been my first introduction in Europe to the influx and prevalence of a migrant population; prior to here, the food has essentially remained authentically local. Aside from the sausage and curry, obviously imported from the Turks, there are an incredible quantity of Doner Kebab shops, the German fast food! Seafood is big here, being adjacent to the Black and Baltic seas, and having a large harbor.
After our fun night out, we departed from Sascha and returned to our hostel. Saturday was enjoyable aside from being rained on early and often! It was relaxing near the harbor despite the dreary weather, even spending some much-needed alone time exploring the city. Leaving the harbor, I came across one of my favorite spots in European cities, the university district. It’s interesting to see how the students live differently according to country and particularly from American custom. I’ve found I can better integrate into this small subset of the foreign city, blending in and obtaining rare solitude from tourists!
University campuses like in Torino, Munich, and Heidelberg provide free toilets (WC) and generally cheap, high quality food at cafeterias or nearby restaurants; a tactic I imagine implementing throughout my travels! The campus and city were delightful, and I’m sure if I didn’t have Munich, Heidelberg and soon Berlin to compare it to then I would be more favorable upon Hamburg. After the long day out including an hour period of standing to cypher free wifi in a bus station; talking to both mom and dad along with checking up on social media, I headed for my temporary home.
This time I did not ask Matt out, instead I freshened up for a night out; German style, celebrating one of Sascha’s friend’s bachelor’s party; my first. Before getting into that, I failed to mention a highlight from the night before. Walking down the street (Reeperbahn) the 3 of us, I locked eyes on a stranger who looked familiar. I ruminated about her while walking past until I turned back around, as she did! It took each of us a second, before realizing, we had met before, in Valencia.
We first met on my arrival into the Spanish city, I was tired and bogged down from the weight of the backpack and lack of sleep; back then the drag of travel was beginning to wear me out. She had asked if I was a backpacker as I passed by them in an irritated hurry. I responded and then asked for their assistance for directions to my hostel; Valencia with its narrow roads is difficult to navigate! She and her friend led me to my destination, briefly explaining that she is German as I told her my story.
We hugged; despite me warning of how gross and sweaty I was, she didn’t care. Figuring we’d never cross paths again, we exchanged good wishes for our future and left without getting contact info. Now however she was with a friend, another American from San Fran; he took a photo of us to show her Polish friend that I had also met, she claimed otherwise her friend wouldn’t believe her! I explained my thoughts on fate, if it would have it, we would somehow cross paths once more; although we did get names and numbers.
Now back to Saturday, after exiting the metro I returned to the party district, and found many pale drunk fools speaking gibberish. That weekend, in addition to them just being wild, was motorcycle weekend, Harley Davidson-Orange County, etc. I minded my mouth and body, not desiring to start anything accidentally with German biker crews. Certainly, can’t imagine finessing myself out of that one! The night entailed mostly 99 cent drinks, at the 99-cent bar; an entertaining tight place mostly enjoyed by the soon to be married man and his drunk friends.
Meeting them around midnight, I did my best to stay out until 5 am. The night consisted of; German dancing, lots of techno and awkward movements. Sascha found my mostly stillness to be strange, even telling me the points when the beat would drop…prepare yourself. Showering a few hours before going out seemed now pointless, as I was sweaty and covered in beer; I didn’t care too much, can’t say the same from a nearby female.
The night continued outside, which I then had two interesting conversations with his friends, naturally we got to talking about sex. The first man, in a relationship for a year firmly spoke about not having sex with his girlfriend every day, which he desired. His friend agreed; I stated “I have never been in a relationship for that long of a period,” since Jenn. They insisted that it was impossible to continue the prevalence of a sexual relationship while in it for that long, we agreed to disagree. Then the friend in a relationship, ended up making out with a random girl, apparently she has been trying hard to get him.
Sascha was as surprised as I was then responded that the girl is too tall for him; I insisted height isn’t that important (clearly!) Ultimately, the night ended and despite being cold, damp and tired, it was a good ending with my time with Sascha! We ate at a nearby brick oven pizza joint, I didn’t see a brick oven, I was skeptical, but hungry. Instead they were tortilla like pizzas, nonetheless they were exactly what I needed. We then left for the metro, parted on two different trains and once again I became a solo vagabond! I tried my best to explain my appreciation of how much his company meant to me, but ultimately it will be actions; maybe one day, I will be close enough to see him again. After all Germany has really shown out these last nine days!
This ICE Train to Berlin is probably the nicest that I’ve experienced so far, even in second class I feel spoiled! A quick 1 hour and 40-minute ride is not worth an upgrade to first class even if the condition was poor but being that is most definitely not…I’ll happily be a second class passenger. I will be interested to see the difference once I enter Eastern Europe. I did incur my third overage for cell phone data usage, now totaling $75. Next time I must find a better way to use my plan, since this phone has been crucial in getting me along.
With now a more comfortable environment, lets recall my last few days of travel. As I write this I must explain a present gross layer of sweat on me, and no real fix, aside from water & baby wipes; unfortunately a common state I have found myself in these past weeks. As I think back to June 26, my first day in Berlin, I quickly recognized that the city, separated into four different quadrants; due to the post WW2 split, would be too much for me to properly soak up in only two days! I stayed at the hostel in the former Soviet quarter, very unique I understand from the other three western quarters; if I was to return, I would look to reside in a different, unfamiliar district. There is so much to do in this city! History, sightseeing, nightlife, nature/exercise activities (the Tiergarten), just to name a few. Day trips of course are always a delightful option; I researched a few options for my first day, ultimately deciding on Potsdam for half a day, then to return in time for the Italy-Spain game (EuroCup)
Potsdam is wonderful; good food, plenty of sights (architectural and within nature), and of course a large beautiful central park! There is also a grand castle located at the end of my desired location, possibly my favorite park thus far in Europe. Plenty of other palaces, buildings and random sights grab my attention as I ride around this small city. Everything seems within biking distance, about 10 kms, clearly my best choice was to rent a bike after exiting the HBF; although it was a little trouble to find the tiny bike shop. Biking throughout Potsdam soon got me lost; naturally, as always seems the case, however I then find myself in solitude. After biking around the grand palace (built in the nineteenth century); around the period when most still standing seemed to be built, I came upon my fourth university in Germany!
This campus was hidden 200 meters behind the Palace grounds; seriously they have this (photo) as their backyard! The surrounding area was littered with tourists, thankfully with youth, a backpack and bike I could blend in; until I opened my mouth. If I do desire to return to Germany, thinking; perhaps a month long biking tour, I should probably be able to speak some of the language. Naturally, I visited the cafeteria. For only four euros I wasn’t just eating, I got to eat! For 1.90 euro, I got spaghetti, a muffin, pudding, and a carbonated drink (difficult to escape the carbonation here!) Seriously, I was fearing that I would go over the four euro I allocated for lunch! European Universities are wonderful. After enjoying in dessert, I did my campus tour; to do it all over again, I’d chose Potsdam for my four year! I left the palace, park and university grounds and headed to explore the greater park area; where I got lost within a horse farm. Asking for directions got me again on my way back toward the city. The ride was peaceful, strenuous, and enlightening; much like the rest of these last days!
Along with learning a taste for coffee, I have found a love for biking a city; something I imagine doing in Richmond. I caught the train back to Berlin right in time for the 6 pm match. Arriving to the Brandenburg metro stop, I found the famous gate; of course, photo provided! I continued on my short tourist trekking, taking my photos of the nearby Tiergarten and parliamentary buildings. As one can only imagine, the flocks of tourist are littered up and down the street leading up to the gate! I find myself instead enjoying the smaller cities or less visited regions of the big cities; as long as I am away from the plague! I cannot imagine being a part of a 20-40 person tour, all following an individual with an umbrella or stick held in the air; seriously as a local you would want to avoid them at all costs, thus those tourists wouldn’t every meet locals, which is one of the true highlights of being alone!
Upon entering Fanmeile, a giant blocked off street designated for the viewing of the EuroCup; I gazed upon an amusement park, adjacent to the park; seemingly set up for this four year occasion. Many vendors lined the long narrow street, serving Curry-wurst, various meats, beer and ice cream; although being hiungry, I restricted myself to first find a worthy spot; just excited about the game. The street had 10 to 15 enormous projectors lined throughout for the game, allowing people to freely walk up and down without ever losing sight of the match. After spending seven euro to lock my metal water bottle away, apparently it’s a weapon, I then only spent 2.50 euro for food…German sausage; challenging myself to conserve for several more days. The game was an incredible experience, watching it out in public; hearing the cheers and boos, it helped to see Italy pull away 2-0.
I returned to my hostel after grabbing groceries with the intention of making gnocchi for dinner and eggs with veggies the next morning; a worthwhile decision! The next morning I was up early, beginning at 6 am with a bike rental. Exploring the many sights in the rain, while Germans all around me biked to work, in their nice business attire! My last day, I had to move around with some urgency; so much still to see; racing against time and a relentless bladder. I returned at 1030 am to find Yoshe, my dorm mate from Australia, an inspiration for this becoming traveler; she held a seemingly common trait for Aussies. With her standing outside, in the courtyard, not yet having started her day; I invited her to join me for breakfast.
She accepted, which led to great conversation; embedded in shared extreme wanderlust. We previously met in our room, shared with three other travelers, from Seattle. The five of us went out for drinks that evening; despite their age, all about a year older than me, they seemed to be somewhat aloof and unaware. Yoshe and I talked about and both agreed, there is a higher level achieved when one travels alone; somewhat of a different breed. Unfortunately, Americans do not seem to fit this bill, often coming across as annoying, weak, and basic; that trend; again unfortunate, seemed to remain throughout the trip.
I’ve voiced my usual justified annoyances and grievances with American travelers; on the flip-side Australian travelers do not seem to disappoint! Beginning with Aleshia (Lisbon) and now Yoshe, they as females have undertaken traveling the world! Regardless of the continent; Europe, Africa, Asia, South America, they appear fearless! They both are currently on eight-month plus trips, then Erwin would later offer me future confidence; being the lone American who has shown to me that Americans can do the same; him blazing a trail of an eleven-month journey. This is truly inspirational, he however was able to bankroll some cash to front this trip; the Aussies have a minimum wage of 15-18 dollars(Aus) and often live at home, are seemingly more geared towards taking such extremes. The culture there as well, with the concept of a gap year provides more of the expected opportunity to travel!
Before this journey I expected to meet European travelers, like Tomis & his brother, Michael who I met; and another Aussie (Arwin) traveling for 6+ months, while in line for the Holocaust museum. The Polish brothers currently live in England, but are anxious to visit the U.S.A.; something not commonly done by these foreign travelers. We then explored the powerful museum, afterward; we would continue to explore before my departure to the train station. Since I find myself lacking the social connection, and overhearing in English; I seem now to put myself out there more, to interject into conversation! This is what happened with Tomis, Michael, and Arwin; which positively forged a brief interaction, friendship. Arwin voiced how he wanted to visit L.A. which is what led me to state, “Forgive me for interjecting but…seriously Los Angeles?”
This visit has now put me on a journey of Jewish studies; first the Holocaust museum in D.C. then the Socialist museum in Munich, soon afterward Dachau, and now this dedication to the souls destroyed by white supremacy. Again, the quote, “It happened, and thus it can happen again” Primo Levi arises! I believe in that concept, unfortunately, and thus want to experience the truth of all the atrocities of the past, just maybe then we can attest to them enough for the present and future generations!
In the exhibit there is a room, dedicated to all the concentration-extermination camps. On the walls it describes both written and verbally with machines, like a telephone, of prisoner accounts. These were particularly gripping, especially the woman who lived fifty years after her imprisonment, speaking to her story of standing in line in front of the “chief selector.” With her young son by her side, the selector asked if he was fit to work or not, she responded that he was twelve and worried he would be overworked! She ultimately convinced the officer that he should go to the line to the left; she then directed her mom to look after her child. The mom was led to work; she would later find out that the other line was sending people to the gas chambers; since they were deemed unfit to work. Her account of this, still to this day brings me to shivers.
Upon departing the final room, I found the three guys discussing the experience; they explained that they were waiting for me. Surprised, I joined them to add to their conversation; which quickly moved toward interests in our respective countries and cultures! Arwin left for the National Art Gallery, and myself; accompanied by the brothers, headed for the Topography of Terror and Checkpoint Charlie. We finally reached the Berlin Wall Memorial/Topography of Terror, unfortunately as our pace was quite slow, since I went by bike at their walking pace; and occasionally we stopped for photos, it became late!
My departure to Dresden was set at 7 pm; so before, we explored the memorial area briefly, made our way to Checkpoint Charlie (CC), (Two interesting characters dressed up there (photo!) and then parted ways). Real quick point of CC, it’s a serious tourist trap; one can get a photo with these guys for three euro, naturally I choose my own photo. The picture shows them beginning their response to my question, “Why are there only U.S. flags hung? (two of them) Better to business, I imagine.
(Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin)—>
After racing back to the hostel to get my pack, then to the HBF station, I heard over the loud speaker, “the train to Dresden has been canceled due to technical difficulties!” Cancellations and delays are something I have come to expect and prepare myself for; however, it was surprising in Germany! Now instead of the two hour speedy option, I am to take the long three and ½ hour ride; luckily I have my writing, music and packed food to provide me nourishment of this evening train. Nearby noisy German youth make it difficult to read!
Nonetheless, I made it into Dresden by 11 pm, then after taking a brief, dark Tram ride into the city, I arrived at my stop. Despite the difficulty of entering a foreign city at night, this proved relatively easy; also allowing me to see the nightlife, consisting of beer drinkers aligned along the many outdoor bars! Upon check-in at the hostel, I received a Use-It map (like in Torino!) which have proven to offer a heightened experience of a city.
The next morning, I set out early, first biking to the old town across the river. Thankfully, the hostel provides free bikes which I will always take advantage of to properly traverse the city. Naturally, since the bike is free…it is probably a challenge to use, adding to that, the cobblestone roads made this one of my more interesting biking treks. The old town appeared to be an entirely different city, boasting old beautiful Gothic style architecture; just like the many other tourists, I was memorized, keeping my phone in hand for photos. The map showed the wealth of the area, requiring a tourist like myself ample opportunity of excitement; I thus ventured deeper. Biking, I came across the shopping district, famous for the Christmas markets and a five-story adventure-outdoor retailer store; the map suggested a visit inside. The second floor is home to a ten-meter swimming pool, just for shoppers to try out kayaks!
After the temporary exhibit (Fashion) I went upstairs to the permanent hygiene exhibit, which proved both informative and chaotic, since school children were perusing through the rooms. I breezed through most of it until I came across the sex exhibit, fewer kids (understandably.) One of the focuses was an arcade game, which required some time to play to achieve orgasm.
One scene made an impact upon me and has stuck with me. It pictured a woman with writing, “Too much sex makes one short sighted!” Undoubtedly, this is a vice for me that I must be able to manage; like most acts, if done in moderation and safely however, I don’t believe to be an issue. After enjoying my time in the museum, I left and bike to find supper; naturally, the nearby university cafeteria! After getting slightly lost, and asking a student, I was redirected toward my destination. I came across two females, believably student aged, and asked for the specific directions to the dining hall; they didn’t know or they weren’t comfortable enough with their English language skills, always an option as “I don’t know” is a more common and easier response.
I did make it there, paid 7-8 Euros for a large plate of dumplings, meat sauce (I believe) and of bowl of delicious strawberries, finished off with a mouse like dessert. I explored the campus for while before following the river back up toward my hostel. I cannot stress enough my comfort and enjoyment of being on European campuses; especially the quality of the food at the cafeterias, difficult to determine if I’ve had better food in Torino, Heidelberg, Potsdam, or here. The Potsdam university campus wins out though, for its large open park; similar to the Munich’s English Gardens. After the enjoyable bike ride, I crossed the bridge and seemingly entered into a new city.
The rest of the evening in Dresden’s new town was spent eating a burger, then spent in preparation; a very common and necessary theme, for Prague. After dinner and booking the hostel for the next two days, I had one last item on my list, Norbad! The nudist spa or at least a portion of it is, will be something that will forever stand out in my mind. The nudist section of Norbad; the other a clothing mandatory area, since there are children and families, includes three floors. The first is for bathrooms, the main (second) housing three saunas, ranging from 70-95 degrees Celsius (!) and both a warm and cold bath. The top floor includes an inside glass window room filled with chairs and a nice rooftop terrace covered with beach and lawn chairs, receiving good sunlight! After becoming accustom to being nude with both men and women around me, I felt comfortable; aside from the extreme heat in the sauna! I figured if I were to be in a sauna, I might as well be in the hot one; roughly 203 degrees F.
Oh it was absolutely grueling, an incredible mental challenge for me. Every hour, a worker comes into the sauna to pour water on the coals and waves his towel around to spread the heat! I was advised by Juliane, the lovely hostel receptionist to find a seat five minutes prior to when the man enters; as most people will take the time in the sauna during that 10-15 minute window. Sitting nude on a towel in a tight sauna filled with people enduring the same extreme heat was an unforgettable moment! During the towel waving, the heat seems to beat against one’s body in an almost un-explainable way of both discomfort and joy.
The cold bath afterward, which is truly breathtaking, felt so relieving after the fires of hell! The showers also helped to center my internal body temperature back to normal. If I could I would attend this weekly for the sweating alone. The rooftop provided a more relaxing, enjoyable experience of the sunlight and breeze. Dresden with so much to offer left a strong impression on me, which made it all the more difficult to leave the following morning. The next morning, I was up early, like normal to catch a 7:52 train. I was awoken by my bunk-mate whom insisted upon having his obnoxious alarm ring consistently every eight minutes (Snoozing) instead of just turning it off! Again, a consistent theme of my travels; having to share a room with others, which has led to many a night’s bad sleep.
After arriving to my hostel in Prague on Thursday (June 30) I was upset to find no printed Use-It map of the city; like I’d had in Torino and Dresden. Instead, I downloaded it on to my phone which would ultimately require me to be more on my phone than desired; killing the battery faster, but positively would prevent me from looking like such a tourist (map in hand!) While I settled in, I planned out my two brief days in the Czech capital, until I met my dorm-mates; an Australian couple and an Ukrainian who resides in South Africa; fascinating story! I quickly figured out the two days would not be enough, but no worries; the lodging is cheap and I will do my best to keep in mind that I will be back!
(Lennon Wall, Prague)
I wanted to experience the local food, see the beauty the city has to offer from both the old and new towns, and experience some of the culture. The new town like most big cities is bustling with seemingly an endless number of cafes, shops, and stunning architectural tall buildings. Despite the impressiveness of the city, I had come from Lisbon, Madrid, Barcelona, Munich, and Berlin; and from what I had seen it hadn’t yet distinguished instead from the long list of majestic cities. The second half of the day, started with a large lunch and delicious heavy beer, (I believe water for the locals) at a restaurant quietly located underneath a large shopping area. The Use-It map steered me right to the goulash, beer and dessert that came out to be 130 Korunas, or $5.30. I came to enjoy this 24:1 exchange rate, especially at the dining areas like this, existing from 1989. I ended up coming back the next day for lunch, now trying pork and cream sauce dumplings, which are a staple along with a beer (Pilsner) in the Czech cuisine. After a large meal, I headed to the river and toward the old town for the remainder of the day!
This proved to be the right decision, as I began to see what made Prague so internationally desired by travelers. The river, like many European cities, divides the two sides of the city into old and new. The river itself boasts on either side plenty of bars, restaurants (some on boats), entertainment; with music and paddleboats, and naturally a relaxing view for all to enjoy. Later into the night, the riverside becomes a hotspot for locals to meet up, eat, drink, and walk about; using one of the many bridges to escape to the other side. The most famous bridge, the tourist lined Saint Charles Bridge.
The night before I came upon a park/vineyard (credit to the app) in the new town, now this to me was far more special! I love active parks, this provides a beautiful view of the surrounding area, along with being clean and free of the sickness! Enjoying the silence, only briefly disturbed by dog walkers or families; all apparently locals, many youths enjoying time outside (the European way!) After exhausting myself by walking around the old town on my last full day in Prague, I headed back to the hostel for a shower and dinner! In deciding not to eat out, an unfortunate necessity in many hostels, I went to the nearby supermarket (Tesco.) I wanted Mexican food, something very difficult to find throughout Europe, for obvious reasons.
Tesco was busy on the Friday night which provided an interesting experience especially since shopping alone is difficult since I couldn’t understand any of the labels. I made out with plenty of food for dinner and enough for breakfast the next morning. I didn’t buy eggs though, a questionable decision I would then have to remedy the next morning at 7 am. Chicken tacos worked well enough while watching the Portugal-Poland game, Ronaldo won, unfortunately, in penalty kicks. The next morning, I was up early, 5:30 am; due to apparent synchronized snoring!) So, I began to traverse the city at 6 am, only to find nothing open that early!
After crossing one of the many bridges I entered into the old town, and with the help of Use-It travel app I have explored my favorite region of Prague. So far, my favorite city, atleast before arriving to Budapest! The old town boasts the John Lennon Wall, the Prague castle & cathedral, a large green park & wooden area that leads up hill to a tower 200 meters high, providing a wonderful view of the city! The following morning, my first full day I got my breakfast and green tea (try new things!) from my new favorite café down the street, then headed over to spend the day in the old town seeing the musts (stated above.) After a long steep hike up the park, I made it to the tower; now the hard part! I’m beginning to enjoy the climbs up cathedrals, towers, bunker hills; anything that allows me to have a panoramic view.) After the spiral climb up the tower staircase (challenging for people anxious of heights), I was at the top with too many other people!
I then headed towards the Prague castle, now I could spend my entire time in the old town. Walking the streets is very peaceful without the fuss of tourist and the many businesses that work for them. Unfortunately, once at the Castel area the area was infested with tourists. One can only see so many castles, cathedrals, memorials, museums, etc. before they all seemingly become one. Don’t get me wrong, they are all very impressive, but I will go to great lengths to escape the plague, even if that means now visiting the supposed most attractive buildings Europe has to offer (side note-they are worth it, but just pick your timing!)
I did come across some locals, whom appeared to be making their way back home (I hope) from their night out; the only options for recovery food was a pizza place, kebab spot, and of course McDonald’s (free Wi-Fi!) I left the hostel after my lunch prep and breakfast, now including eggs since I did find an open supermarket after 7. I then headed to the train station, in anticipation of a long ride to Budapest! On the way to the metro station, I was provided a short, entertaining show. Passing through the main square, I walked past two men fighting (they looked to either be homeless or very drunk, or both.) They seemed to be fighting over a man purse, one of them must have stolen it from the other.
It was originally funny, but soon erupted when the one man became enraged which was not a good decision for him. He got over-hyped, loud and began to overexert himself, throwing hay-makers which would eventually lead him to the ground! It cut him above his right eyebrow, amazingly, a woman interjected, trying to grab the purse. After a lot of running around the streets of the square and screaming, mostly the cut man; a knife was pulled out! As I began to walk away, figured good timing, the police jumped in and separated them. This is an interesting end of my time in Prague; the currency exchange rate (1 US-24 CZK), cheapness of lodging and the many items I left still to do means one thing…I’ll be back!