Archive for May, 2000

In Paris

27 May 2000 at 3:34 pm
by Berck

Just a quick note to let those of you that both care and worry that I’m alive. (I’ve only got 7 minutes left from 10…)

I’m in Paris, I got here this morning at 6am. I really liked Zurich. It was too bloody expensive though. When I get rich, I’m moving to Zurich. Maybe it’s just because it’s a modern city for a change… but it’s more than that. In general the Swiss just have a wonderful sense of taste. Nice cars, nice shops, nice watches, THE BEST BLOODY CHOCOLATE, mountains and so on. The Zurich Hauptbahnof (main train station) is in and of itself quite impressive. I spent a couple hours exploring it, trying to do laundry, and getting free stuff. I managed to score a free meal, (apples oranges, chocolate and others from big company, mostly bank, promotions in the station), but had to walk across the street to McDonald’s to go to the bathroom for free. I take great pride in walking into McDonald’s wherever I am and using the bathroom without paying anything. The German word for urinal is pissoir, which, for some reason, I find humorous.

I walked around Paris today, saw a good bit of it, got a little lost, and spent too much money (6 bucks) on .5 kilo of damn good cherries. I want some more. Tomorrow is museum time. I think I’ll do contemporary art tomorrow and the Louvre on Monday.

I was going to meet Michael at a cafe (aka bar/pub in American speak) late tonight, but unfortunately, the Metro stops running at 0030, and I’m in a rather seedy part of town that I’m not sure I want to walk throw early in the morning. So I think we may just meet for dinner tomorrow, but I’ll talk to him again tonight. If nothing else I should spend a couple of weeks with him in London.

Anyway, 55 seconds left.

Living it up in Zurich

25 May 2000 at 2:30 pm
by Berck

I’m in the niftiest Internet cafe I’ve been in, sitting in the nonsmoking section (What? A European establishment that acknowledges some people really hate cigarette smoke???) and sipping a Coca Cola with lemon. I never drank much coke before I got to Europe, I drink it all the time now. With lemon when possible.

I had a Dr. Pepper in Prague. It was… well… not very good. Either I’m over my addiction or it tastes different here. I could really go for a cold IBC root beer though.

I don’t know how Europeans keep from being perpetually dehydrated. It takes much effort for me here. I find it difficult to get water sometimes, especially at restaurants. If you order water at an eating establishment, you get a minuscule amount of fizzy clear stuff that somehow isn’t what I associate with water. And it’s expensive. Tap water is beyond them. So I’ve been drinking coke whenever I’m not eating grocery store food because it’s just as expensive as water and tastes better than that fizzy stuff.

I spent the last two days in… Innsbruck! After having lived on 1302 Innsbruck Dr., I felt some compulsion to visit Innsbruck. It’s silly, I know. I was wondering where to go from Berlin, wanted mountains, saw Innsbruck on the map.

Innsbruck was the site of the Olympic games at some point. I don’t remember when. Now that I’m not responsible for dates for a few months, I think my brain goes out of its way to not learn them.

In any case, it is absolutely beautiful. The city is an overgrown ski town (180,000 people, I think) and is surrounded on all sides by snow-capped mountains. The Brenner pass heads toward Italy in the south, and the Inn river surrounds the city to the north. Just across the Inn is the Nordkette.

I looked at the Nordkette after I got off the train with my pack and decided to climb it. Then I realized that if there was snow at the top, climbing it alone was going to take awhile, and it wasn’t going to be easy, and doing it alone was probably not bright. I went and got lunch at a cheap pizza place.

I like European pizza places. It’s like a little bit of home everywhere I go. There’s probably something wrong when I consider little reminders of Italy, “home”, but being there for 4 months… it grew on me. Most of them serve fairly Italian pizza cooked by Italians. Most of them speak Italian, which is great, because they love it when I speak Italian to them. I can speak just enough to get around in a restaurant. I always get a Pizza Margharita, not because I’m not adventurous, but because I like it, its always the cheapest, and comparing Pizza Margharita from different places has become a sort of hobby.

I ate my pizza, and decided to write for awhile because I just didn’t feel like getting on a bus to go find a campsite. Paying for a place to pitch a tent is annoying, when for a dollar or two more I can be sleeping in a bed. So I wrote a bit in my journal and a letter or two, then got up and paid. I chuckled to myself as the guy said “Caio!” with a German accent as I left.

I was walking along the river, and when I came to a bridge, rather than crossing it I headed down to the river bank next to it. It was about 6 feet down, and there were about 2 feet of wet rock and mud along which one could walk between the wall holding the river in and the river which wasn’t high enough to actually go up the wall. I passed a girl playing a guitar. I wanted to sit down and listen, but she gave me an evil look as I walked by, so I decided not to. I kept walking and looking at the mountain. I wanted to climb it. It looked possible. There were snow fences at the top for avalanche control, and a little cable car went up it a good bit. Cable car. How annoying. Full of Americans heading up for a view.

I took my guidebook, train schedule, dirty laundry and a few other non-essentials out of my pack, and put them in the small daypack I have. I climbed the wall of the river, and buried the backpack in the bushes in a spot I’d remember where it was. I probably should have left it at the train station, but didn’t feel like walking all the way back.

I put on my substantially lighter pack and smiled. I was going to climb a mountain. I stood in the river and let it wash off my waterproof boots. They’d gotten filthy and scuffed, and a few minutes soaking in the water helped them a lot. They needed to be scrubbed, but I was about to climb a mountain. I’d clean them when I moved into an apartment, I decided.

There was something purifying about letting the Inn river clean my boats with the knowledge I was about to hike up a mountain. I like standing in water with my boots, watching the leather(ish) material soak up the water, while my feet stay perfectly dry. I reflected on the $160 spent on them, and was decided it was definitely a good choice, and probably my best investment on the trip before I left. They are now my only pair of shoes as I left behind, in Rome, my leather Bass walking type shoes which I could have worn for another month before they developed holes in the soles. (Say it outloud, “Holes in the souls.”)

I started walking toward what looked to be the highest peak on the closest mountain. The Nordkette is the name of the mountain; Hafelkar is the name of the peak as I learned later.

I found a little foot/bike road leading uphill, and started walking on it, noticing signs for the Alpenzoo. About 20 mintues later I found the Alpenzoo. It smelled like a zoo and had lots of kids outside. I dislike zoos, the animals inside all look so sad. I walked around it, and found a gravel path with a sign that said, “Hungerburg”. About another 20 minutes later of walking uphill I was pretty tired, but had arrived at the little village of Hungerburg. I’d consumed 1.5 liters of water on my way up. I filled up the bottle outside the cable car stop, and kept walking up, snickering at the tourists and their cable car. I walked on the gravel path for awhile, while a few amazing people bicycled up past me. A few really old women with their dogs walked past me. I was feeling beat. I took a trail that said “GeosomethingorotherinGerman”. It went up and around some cool rock formations, and past a neat natural cave. Also went past a door in the side of the mountain. A solid metal door with the sound of water behind it. It was locked and said something in German. The geo trail met up with the other one after awhile. I kept going up, stopping frequently. I tried taking a little trail numbered 216 with red and white markings. I lost it in the woods, and just wandered up without a trail for awhile. I found the gravel road a bit farther up. People went whizzing down on their bicycles at amazing speed. I didn’t see many people still going up. I found 216 again, and finally realized how to find the trail markings. The trail was easy, but there were few people on it. I say easy, but it was just dirt and rock, some of which was slippery, and went mostly up the side of the mountain with just a few switchbacks. Every 10 meters or so, or when the trail got confusing, there was a little red dot with a white circle painted on a tree. Sometimes I had trouble finding the trail. On some of my many stops to catch my breath, a German, typically in his late 40s would march on past me with a small pack and two ski poles. The ski poles were a rather good idea. They’re light, and make good hiking sticks. I figured I’d pick up a stick when I got to where I needed one.

The trail got steeper and steeper, and I had to stop more and more frequently, until I was stopping every 20 meters or less. It was a beautiful day, about 65 degrees outside, a cool breeze, and I was sweating like a pig. And running out of water, even though I’d completely refilled my 1.5 liter bottle. I thought I was going to just have to collapse on the side of the mountain and hope for unconsciousness, I was so exhausted. I made myself keep going though. Up, and up, and up. The trees got smaller and smaller. At about 5pm, the trees got to be about my height. The ground got rockier. Further up, the trees were just evergreen shrubs, and the ground mostly rocky. Footholds got to be more difficult, and my pack which had felt so light early in the afternoon on the riverbank, felt as if I were carrying around lead for the heck of it. I kept running through my mind every little item I’d left in my bag. I thought of nothing I wanted to just leave on the mountain, though there were a few things I figured I probably should have left on the riverbank. My tent and sleeping bag were the main problem, light as they were. My camera was the next heaviest thing.

The trail would disappear, and I’d just head straight up the rocks, and it would reappear awhile later. I saw a building ahead, as it approached 7pm and I thought my legs would do nothing else. The building was built into the mountain and surrounded by a fairly grassy area with not as many rocks. I could see straight up to the top with its snow capped peaks, even though it was a long way off. The little hut had people sitting around drinking beer and eating dinner. I found no menu, no signs, no indication of how anything worked. I wasn’t sure at first if it was a private lodge, or if they were open to the public.

I finally got the courage to ask for a Coca Cola. The lady inside handed me one, and I went back outside to sit and drink it. The sweat started evaporating and I cooled off. I even got a bit chilly. I wondered how to get something to eat. Swallowing the last bit of pride, and wandering inside like an idiot, I just sort of announced, “Can I have something to eat?” A lot of German was hurled at me. I felt really stupid as about 20 people just stared at me, pointed, and laughed in German. “Does anyone speak English?” I asked. Germans tend to. Rural Austrians apparently do so less. One man with a thick accent said, “Yes, what do you want?” He looked to be in his 50s, had a completely grey mustache, and sat in the back corner surrounded by a crowded table. “Something to eat.? “What?” “Something good.” He laughed, pointed a plate with something unidentifiable to me, and asked if I wanted one of those. “Yes,” I said. “Sit down?” He asked. They all squeezed around a bit, and made room for me. “Where are you from?” “Texas,” I told them. I don’t really consider myself from Texas, but its a good enough answer. They laughed for a good bit at that. We talked for awhile, and they warmed up a bit after discovering I wasn’t just an annoying tourist, and was actually interested in them and their culture. They brought me a plate with a salad kind of stuff on it as well as fried cheese with stuff fried in with it into a little pattie. It was very good. “Just like McDonald’s?” they asked, and laughed at me. “No, McDonald’s bad, this,” I pointed, “very good!” They seemed happy I liked it. I finished and he asked if I’d like the same thing in soup. I said yes, and he spoke to the woman, Etna or something was her name, and before long a fried thing in some really good soup showed up. They asked if I wanted to put some… sauce stuff in it. It looked sort of like soy sauce. I indicated that if he ate it like that, I would as well. He told me to pour a little bit in. I did, and he laughed, said, no more more. I handed it to him, and he poured a good bit in while everyone else at the table started protesting, and laughing at me. The stuff was some sort of pepper sauce. I didn’t find it too hot, the soup was wonderful. After awhile Etna brought us all some clear liquid in little shot glasses. They gave me one, I hadn’t ordered it so, I didn’t take one, but they conveyed it was a gift from Etna. I smiled, and took one. They all held up there glasses and looked at me and grinned and said, “Cheers!” I laughed, said cheers, and knocked my glass against theirs. Then we did it again in German, only I don’t remember what it was. I wasn’t sure how to drink it, if it was supposed to be sipped or downed. They downed theirs, so I followed suit. It tasted almost like grappa, only more like Metaxa, but not quite. (Grappa: The Italians take the gunk from the bottom of wine barrels and distill it. You get clear stuff they call Grappa. Tastes sort of like Ouzo or Sambuca (clear sambuca, not sambuca black) only not as licoricy. I don’t like it. Metaxa is Greek homemade brandy stuff, usually looks like brandy, though sometimes clear. I like it better than Grappa, but I’m not a huge fan…) I smiled and enjoyed the warming sensation. When it came time to pay, they charged me all of 60 schillings, a little less than $4. And it was a REALLY good meal.

Most of them headed down the mountain as the sun began to set, though some stayed at the little hut. They asked where I was going to sleep saying that the hut was full. I thanked them, but told them I had a warm sleeping bag and wanted to camp. I pitched my tent on a “flat” space about 20 meters up the mountain. It wasn’t really flat, but had few rocks, and didn’t slope TOO much. I pitched my tent, climbed in my sleeping bag and tried to get warmed. Before I knew it the sun was up, and I was hot. I rolled over and went back to sleep, I hurt everywhere. I finally got up at about 11am after some noisy hikers on the trail woke me up. I packed everything back up and around noon, sat down for lunch at the same place. They brought me food and a coke. A guy who looked sort of out of place sat down by me. After awhile they asked him if he wanted something and he spoke in English, pointing at my plate. Astonished, I started talking to him. He was from Chicago. He’d taken the lift up to the top and was walking down. We ate a leisurely lunch, and for some reason the guy from Chicago decided to come up the mountain with me. I told him I would be very slow, he probably didn’t want to do that. He said he wasn’t in a hurry. He tried not to look impatient as I would sit down on the trail for quite some time, looking up at the sky. There were four or five hang gliders up the sky, soaring the thermal rifts. They reached amazing heights, would come swooping down and ridiculous speeds, then zoom away from the mountain at the last minute, and spend the next 15 minutes riding the thermals back up. There were a few parasailers as well who seemed to get even higher up than the hangliders. In fact, watching some of them land, it looked like they had to work to get the things to actually come down. The hangliders would have to dive, and the parasailers would pull in parts of their sails. At one point I heard a whizzing zinging sound and looked up to see a beautiful glider zooming barely 100 feet above me. I saw a few gliders, they were amazingly fast compared to everything else up there. It looked like they could all defy gravity as long as they wished. I suppose they probably could until the sun started setting. One day I will hanglide. It just looks like so much fun. I found out I can do it in Interlaken, Switzerland riding tandem. $80 for 10-30 minutes. Sounds a bit steep to me, but oh so tempting.

I was having trouble breathing, and my head hurt. Thin air. Chicago was doing a lot better than me, he eventually took off without me after much prodding. He wanted to take my pack from me, I wouldn’t let him. He was worried he would miss the last cable car down, which was at 5pm. He left a little before 4. The trail headed into a huge snowfield. I couldn’t follow it, the snow was too slippery. The mountain slope was headed up well over 60 degrees, it seemed. It was slow going without a trail, carefully trying each foothold. I no longer could really just walk up the mountain, I had to grab onto rocks for support. It got harder and harder the further up I got. I could see the whole city below, it was beautiful. The peaks of the Brenner pass across the city, and the valley running through the city with a bit of air traffic. I could see the runway as well, and watched little dots land and take off on it. The trains were little snakes. I couldn’t see any people or cars.

The trail would occasionally dart out of the snow and I could follow it, but it would dart back in before long. I finally made it to the top about 15 till 5. Which was good, because I could grudgingly catch the cable car down as it would be far too dangerous to try to climb DOWN the same way I’d come up. The cable car was the only way down. A few tourists looked down amazed at me as I made my way up the last 20 meters. I sat for 15 minutes until the cable car was leaving, looking out at the Alps. I was proud of myself.

I only had to pay $6 to get down to Hungerburg, after which it was easy going on foot. I only had to buy a ticket for that one short bit because they’re not used to people buying tickets down but not up, so it was pretty cheap. Roundtrip up and down the mountain is something close to $50 I think.

I spent the night in an annoying HI hostel. HI hostels have to conform to certain standards, and seem to be run by nazis. They always kick you out of the hostel early in the morning for one thing. They dorms are segregated which is okay except that it seems that frequently there are a lot of guys and few girls, which means that they’ll pack 10 guys into a 10 bed room, and 1 girl into a 10 bed room, which doesn’t make for good sleeping in a mostly empty hostel. Private hostels tend to be cheaper, co-ed, flexible with their rules, and generally more enjoyable. I suppose if I were a girl and traveling alone, HI hostels would probably be good.

This hostel had a guy with a shaved head who had wet laundry hanging from his bed. This isn’t atypical, hand washing laundry is something most of us do, and your bed is the only place to hang it. Only he had girly stuff hanging from his bed. Panties, little striped girly socks, a tank top shirt with spaghetti straps… It was all a bit weird. He was up and left before anyone else.

I had a rough sleep, which annoyed me because I’d payed for a bed and slept much better on a mountain the night before. No one snoring on the mountain. And it was nice and cold up there. Oh well.

I’ve typed for something like 2 hours now, so I suppose it’s time for me to pay and leave.

I called and reserved a place to stay in Paris for Saturday night. I’m not sure what I was thinking, I meant to try for tomorrow night, leaving in the morning for Paris as I plan to come back to Switzerland with Anne. Only, I said Saturday. Finding a place was tough as well. There were no night trains from Zurich to Paris though, so when I found the place I’m staying at tonight, I went ahead and told them I’d stay for two nights, and they made me pay for both in advance otherwise they were going to give the bed away. And now I rechecked the train schedule and found there IS A night train from Zurich to Paris, only not on Saturday. So, I could have left tomorrow night, but I payed for a place to stay already. I could have tried to change my reservation for Sunday, and night traveled Saturday, only the train doesn’t run Saturday. ARGH. I hate traveling during the day, it’s such a waste of time. Night trains are so nice.

I want to go to Scandinavia. But in a few days, I think I’ll be meeting Anne in Switzerland, provided she emails me again, if she’s still alive down there in Israel. So its not enough time for me to get up there and spend any amount of time. I want to go to Spain as well, but I think Spain isn’t going to happen. I spent one night in Paris and saw very little of it. I want to go spend at least a day in the Louvre, then a couple other days seeing other sites….

I bought a copy of the Herald tribune. I like the Trib, it’s a European paper, in English. It’s slightly liberal, and is basically an amalgamation of anything newsworthy from lots of other newspapers such as the Times, the Post, then they have lots of Reuters and AP stuff. Unfortunately, I’m being spoiled. I like it because it’s the only English newspaper that actually has news in it, not crap about the traffic in the United States, and which presidential candidate smoked what where. There is usually a few newsworthy bits from the US, but US stuff ALWAYS get the front page. It makes me happy. It’s also depressing, I get to read about all the wars happening everywhere. Sri Lanka, Eritrea, the Balkans, Israel, disputes between Pakistan and India, North and South Korea, Russia and everyone. The US giving billions of dollars here and there to help one side of the battle or the other. It just seems so pointless. I guess I’d have made a good hippie.

So then I turn back to my Tolstoy. I’ve been reading a few of his short stories, but I’m almost done with the book I’ve got. Annoying, because then I’ll have to find an English bookstore.


22 May 2000 at 1:54 pm
by Berck

I took a walking tour today. 10 marks ($5) for a good seven hour tour around Berlin. The guy who gives the tour was quite knowledgeable, and very atypical of most tour guides which is why I went. I generally despise tour guides and accompanying tourists, but this wasn�t bad.

Berlin has been absolutely bewildering. It wasn�t so much so, until I heard the history behind much of what I was seeing.. Starting really with world war I, the German conquest of the world, the money Germany was made to pay, the crush of the depression and Hitler�s rise to power, the allied conquering and subsequent occupation, the Soviet oppression of Germany and their retaliation for the 20 million dead Russians in WW2… The early period of extreme religious toleration by the Germans followed by the Nazi�s. It�s all written on the walls, in the buildings, the ruins. This isn�t much different than Rome, except the history is all so very recent, so much of it during my lifetime.

The city is fantastically scarred from its division, yet amazingly unified. Because of its having been really two cities for 40 years, the result of the reunification is a monstrosity.

And I just keep asking why. It makes sense in terms of one event to the next, but as a whole, what�s the purpose… And the bombing. Between Italy and Germany, and the damage resulting from WWII that STILL REMAINS, I can�t believe there are Americans who think bombing anyone anytime still makes sense. As evil as the Germans were, it just seems different when you’re here and see it.

The Allies blew everything up in WW2, and while West Berlin was mostly rebuilt, the Soviets left East Berlin as a hovel, exacting revenge on the Germans. The number of buildings still in ruins after so long….

I wanted to write more, but this still isn’t the place to do it. I�m hopping a train to Munchen tonight, and I think I may head to Spain, or maybe just the Alps for awhile. I was originally planning to meet Anne in Switzerland in 10 days or so, and I may still do so…

Berck’s in Berlin

21 May 2000 at 1:28 pm
by Berck

Just a brief one, because this keyboard is German, stiff, and I have to stand up… (Not to mention pay 50 cents a minute..) Man Prague was nice. Actually, it was fairly nice, but so cheap that it was great. The expense of Germany has already made up for it though, I’m sure.

I was going to spend Saturday in Prague then head to Berlin Sunday morning, but the main reason I was staying was to go on what was supposedly a really good walking tour of the city. The guy canceled it and moved it to Sunday, but I didn’t want to stay in Prague until Monday, so I just left Saturday afternoon for Berlin.

I exchanged email with Chris before I left, he�s heading to Berlin Monday or Tuesday, but I probably won’t seem him, and he�s headed to Rome after that.

The train station in Prague was annoying. Actually, I think I was feeling annoyed in general. Two guys stood behind counters with no lines behind them, and one woman stood behind another counter with a huge line behind her, only they don’t know how to stand in line in the Czech Republic, so it was a huge mass of people fighting for attention. Everyone, including me, who asked one of them men behind the counter for something, pointed us at the “line”. I�m not sure what the difference was because I can�t read Czech. I finally pushed, shoved and fought my way to the front, with much better success than the poor Englishmen who were trying to behave themselves in a que while the Czechs and I were rude. I bought a ticket to the edge of the border where my Eurail pass would work again, and unfortunately a Mexican guy overheard me. It was only unfortunate, I think, because I was feeling easily annoyed.

You going to Berlin, he asks me. Yes, on the next train, and it costs 156 krowns. (a whopping 4 bucks) I wandered around looking for a decent place to grab food in 10 minutes, and only found mediocre looking sandwiches for a mediocre price. It tasted less than mediocre. Annoying. While buying it, the Mexican seems to have taken me for lost, rather than hungary, and asked if I knew where it was leaving. I didn�t, I hadn’t looked on the board yet and told him so. It�s on 3 he tells me. Annoying. I find the track, get on, and sit in a smoking car with obvious non-smokers. You learn to find the non-smokers in a smoking car quickly when trains are fairly full, you hate smoke in a train car, and really hate sitting in a compartment with 5 or 7 other smelly people, one of which is an idiot that smokes anyway. After a few hours, the Mexican guy, his name is Carlos I find out later, knocks on my window. He wants to know when we have to switch trains. We don�t, I tell him. Yes we do, he tells me. I check the sign on the car, it says Hamburg through Berlin, and show him my cook time table as well, and tell him we’ll get in at 1914. I think really wanted someone to travel with, but I just wanted to be alone.

I get off the train, buy a phone card, can�t find an unoccupied working phone, and decide to head to the hostel I was thinking of staying at when Carlos guy finds me. I explain the S-Bahn (elevated train which is free with a Eurail) and U-bahn, subway which is not free. He doesn’t understand, but follows me anyway. At the station where I�d have to walk from we call hostels and find out they�re all booked except the expensive ones. He goes to an expensive one. I decide to camp.

The camping is listed in Let�s Go (my travel guide) way the heck south of Berlin, but an S-bahn line goes there, so I hop on. About a half hour later, I get off, and Let’s Go says to walk back between the train station and the lake. I don’t know what THAT means, never figure out, and no one there had any clue where camping is. I found a really neat little stretch of grass with a walkway by the lake though, walked along it for awhile, found an empty spot and rolled out my sleeping bag. I didn�t know if I�d be harassed or have to move, so I didn�t pitch the tent. I was chilly, but once I zipped my bag up all the way, I was warm and cozy and slept fine. Cheaper than anywhere I’ve slept yet.

Anyway, I�m in a Hostel tonight for about 14 dollars and will get a shower, which is nice. I�d tell you about my day in Berlin, but people are waiting for this and I�ve spent 3 bucks, so, until next time…


18 May 2000 at 2:30 pm
by Berck

So, here I am. In Prague. That’s in the Czech republic for those of you like my sister who never learned geography, for which she should be beaten severely. I keep wanting to say Czechoslovakia even though it hasn’t been so for over ten years. It’s what I get for learning geography too young, which, I suppose is still better than Sydney:)

Budapest (that’s Hungary, Sydney) was much nicer than I expected. Chris and I went to the baths. I fear we went to the touristy one because it had signs in English, though that did little to allay our confusion. We went at 5pm because it was cheaper (for a grand total of something like $2 instead of $4.) [Hmm.. the girl working here asked me if I wanted something to drink, I said sure, I’ll have a beer. This typically results in the cheapest beer available which, aside from some places in Italy, has always been quite drinkable. This stuff is VERY bitter yet somewhat puny. I’m paying $3/hr for this net cafe. Eastern Europe is awesome that way.] Back to the baths. We walked in and payed the woman for a ticket to get in, and proceeded down the holiday, and followed the signs for men. Luckily, I’d been warned by my classmates that the Turkish baths in eastern Europe are awesome, but bring your own swimsuit otherwise you’re stuck with a rented Speedo… So, I had my bathing suit, and we walked into this room with a sign reading, “Pre showers are obligatory” We were confronted with about 100 numbered doors, did they have showers behind them? We were confused. Did we need a number? So we asked the guy standing there what we needed to do. He held out his hand, “400 forints.” “What for?” we ask. “400 forints.” “Yes, but why?” “Go upstairs,” he finally said shrugging and waved us up some stairs. We were in a locker room, so we changed and a guy came buy and wrote a number on the inside of the locker on a slate, and handed us a metal tag with the number on it. (When in a bathing suit we weren’t sure what to do with the tags, luckily I discovered I had a zipper pocket in my swimming trunks.) We wandered up stairs and down corridors and found a pool with waves in it, and a warm looking pool a bunch of people were sitting in. We got in that for awhile, then the wave pool, then wandered around some more. I noticed a sign for “Men’s thermal baths” and followed it down some steps. There was a locked door with a button next to it that said “Bell”. I wasn’t sure what to do. A man walked in front of me, pushed the button, and a man let him in. I followed suit a few moments later after showing Chris where we were. There were some changing areas and stuff, but we just walked out to these large pools. One was marked 38, the other 36. Lounging in the various pools, swimming etc were a bunch of very old men, with a young one or two thrown in. Only, we were the only ones in swimsuits. Well, a few people had speedos, but all the other men were wearing these aprons. And nothing else. Just about a square foot of light material which they tied around their waists. Chris and I were trying not to laugh, it was so funny looking. We saw enough naked old men to leave us scarred for quite a while, I think. Some where so overweight that they couldn’t get an apron around them… Despite the company, the baths were very relaxing. It was like taking a bath, but only a swimming pool sized bath, and all HOT water. We started getting exhausted, lounged in the cooler water for awhile, then took a shower and lounged in the sun to dry off since we were too cheap to get towels and didn’t remember to take ours with us.

The hostel we were staying in was full of Japanese, and we had to take our shoes off before we were allowed in. It was run buy an old Hungarian woman that spoke almost no English named Tereza. She was supposed to cook us goulash, but we forgot to be there on time. We payed $2 a night to sleep on the floor. This would have been okay, but the Japanese are just loud and obnoxious and talk all night long. Justin, the canadian, was the guy who told us about it, and besides us, there was only one other guy that wasn’t Japanese. His name was Pierre. He grew up as a French Canadian, worked in Hawaii for awhile where he managed to acquire a daughter and now lives in Stockholm where his daughter is. Pierre had an amazing sense of humor, us three English speakers were rolling around the floor laughing at his stories. He works tending bar at a huge bar/club in Stockholm where he’s been fired twice for such acts such as breaking a chair over a customer’s head, throwing water on a customer, and exposing himself to a customer. His boss keeps rehiring him because he’s his best worker. I can see why, the guy has not only a sense of humor, but he’s got an enormous amount of energy. He looks a bit like Woody Allen, though taller, and sounds just like him. He learned to speak English with a New York accent, and he’s not sure why. He swears he’s not at all Jewish, but that he’s often thought that perhaps he was a Jew in another life, or that someone in his family was lying. There’s something about meeting random Europeans, they’re invariably more interesting than Americans I’ve met.

A rather strange thing happened while Chris and I were walking down a busy street in Budapest. I heard someone say “Berck!” I looked up, and saw three girls, Robin, Meagan, and Amanda pointing at me. Chris was confused as ever, didn’t know WHAT was going on. We explained that we’d gone to school together in Rome, and we stood there and talked for about 15 minutes, and told them a good place to get a cheap steak for dinner, and went our separate ways. It was an awfully strange meeting. “I thought you were in Sicily,” I told them. “Yeah, and I thought you were in Scandinavia,” they told me.

Speaking of which, I finally got an e-mail from Anne. she’s off in Scandinavia having a blast without me. I’m glad she’s safe anyway. She had trouble getting her bag out of storage in Termini, was late, and just figured I’d gotten on the train without her. Oh well.

Chris and I were going to go to Krakow (Poland–where Auschwitz is) but we missed the train. Actually, the woman wouldn’t give us a ticket because the train was leaving in just a few minutes, and she didn’t think she could write the ticket fast enough. Budapest is so backwards they actually WRITE OUT tickets. She could have, because our ticket to Prague was done before the train left. We bought ourselves huge loaves of bread with the remainder of our forints, or at least, most of them. I always end up with little change that’s too small to spend on anything. Not to mention a forint is worth 1/300 of a dollar. I had a pocketful of 1 and 2 forint coins.

The train to Prague was 8 hours, hot, and mostly empty. They didn’t stamp our passports which was annoying. They never check, much less stamp, passports when you travel within the EU, so we were looking forward to stamps. But no, they check our passports on leaving Hungry, entering Slovakia, leaving Slovakia, and entering the Czech republic and don’t stamp them once. I suppose we could have asked, but guys with big guns who don’t speak English are not the kind of people I want to try to communicate with when I don’t have a clue how to speak whatever it is they do speak.

We’re staying in a fairly cheap hostel in Prague, the cheapest we could find anyway.

“250 krowns for a bed in a 36 bed dorm,” said the guy who looks remarkably like Howard Stern at the counter in the Clown and Bard Hostel. “Do you guys have lights out times, noise restrictions, and/or curfews?” I asked. “Nope, none of the above.” “Are people generally loud and obnoxious?” I asked. “Frequently. It IS 36 people. They have been known to yell, snore, fart, and even have sex.” We took the beds anyway. We could have taken a double, or a 6 bed room but they were a bit more expensive. We slept just fine last night.

The guy wanted our passports, etc, to fill out the immigration crap they always have to do. He made us fill it out though, and it asked what our point of entry was. Seeing as how they didn’t stamp our passport, we didn’t know. The guy made one up. As he wrote his name down on the sign-in sheet (So the staff knows who checked us in), I started laughing. “Is your name really Guy?” “Yes, and lets not talk about it.” He gave us sheets and keys, and said “Go through those doors, and go all the way up the stairs until you can’t go up anymore because there’s a door in your way, open the door with this key, and then keep going up until you can’t go up anymore, open the door at the top of the stairs with this key and Bob’s your uncle, though its about a 30 minute walk.”
“Bob’s my uncle?”
“Yeah, it’s an English expression, you never heard it?”
“No, what’s it mean?”
“Sort of like ‘and everything’s okay.'”

I think I’ll try to use it is much as possible.

We started climbing the stairs, and after I don’t know how many flights, more than 4 or so, I lost count, I started paying attention to the signs pointing up the stairs “DORMS >” it said. Someone had written under it and infinity symbol and a cube. The next flight had an infinity symbol and a square. How comforting. The next one had an infinity symbol + 1. I tried not to laugh because I was far too out of breath. The place is an old, old building that seems to be falling apart and covered in graffiti, much of which is in English and is hilarious.

I told Chris I’d meet him downstairs, and walked into the bar area of the hostel (every good hostel has a bar) where they were playing Pink Floyd. I ordered a beer, and she poured me a Budweiser, only the ORIGINAL Budweiser that’s actually a good Czech beer whose name was stolen by an annoying American company.

“18 thousand,” I thought I heard her say.

I tried hard to do the mental math, and decided that was about $40. Hmm.. Uhh. No. I have trouble paying $4 for a beer.

“How much?” I asked again.

“18 crowns,” she said much more clearly. Whew, I guess I was just used to lire prices where everything is thousands. I computed that and liked the answer much better. Less than 50 cents. For a beer. Not just an American sized beer, a whole .5 Liter glass. (I know, because over here the glasses always have the amount printed on them with a fill line. Mine was filled past the line with a nice head)

I still can’t get over 50 cents for a beer. I payed about 33 cents later that night at a pub. I hear that if you buy it at a grocery store it’s more like 15 cents.

Its nice feeling wealthy. On the train I was so thirsty and didn’t have enough forints left for anything, and just a few US dollars. I never buy anything on trains, it’s so expensive, but I was so thirsty. I walked up to the dining car, and asked if they had water. They had some really good bottles of mineral water. I asked for two, and gave the guy a dollar. He was happy with it. It’s amazing what green money will do, the price he had posted was about a dollar for one once you do the conversion.

I think I’m going to go find steak for dinner, I hear you can get a good steak for a few dollars. I haven’t had steak since I left the states.