Bad news: my feet hurt days one through 14. At times the pain made me nauseous and once I felt the lights going out on me. The low point was when I cried in a Budapest metro station. Julia said it best, what I really needed was the air sandal.
Good news: Julia and I are dreamy travel partners. We made very good use of the term “party machen!” [NB: machen is German for 'to make', we were basically bastardizing German for our own amusement! - JM.] without annoying each other and at the same time we’d find ourselves singing “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie…” in front of a romantic view. We were always hungry and tired together.
We also struggled with languages together (Julia mostly with English). The standout mistake was when I ordered “one father, please” (ein Vater, bitte) at a German pretzel stand instead of water (Wasser).
Prague: is smaller than any European city I know. It has an older population and a quiet, conservative culture. Most importantly, their language is absurd. Just crazy. Vowels are apparently very expensive. I’m certain this is a Czech word: Pnlzrdemtcs. You can make your own word, too. Try it. But, Prague is beautiful! There aren’t many places in the States where you’ll find yourselves sitting in a Shakespearean courtyard in the summertime, talking as late into the night as you like, without mosquitoes. Or watching the European football finals alone in a private room of a Greek restaurant being served like V.I.P.!
Highlight: On our way back to Prague, on a train from Budapest, we met real life Praguer, Tomas(h). He took us for a walking tour around Old Town Square, after which we went to a restaurant with his friends. While Julia got to know Tomas(h) better, I had the pleasure of talking with his pal Pawel. Pawel is from an eastern Czech village with a population of 1,200. No, I didn’t leave out any zeros. He is so proud of the fact that he has a Civil Engineering degree, is a “Senior” “Project” “Manager” at his firm and has to wear a suit. He plans to work in Prague until he is 40 or 50 years-old and then return to his village retired with more money than God. He was so sweet and it was so refreshing to meet someone as easily pleased with the world as he is. I miss Pawel.
Berlin: Julia and I arrived by train to Berlin late on a Friday night and were like giddy little school girls once we realized we could drink beer everywhere! The town was festive because Germany had made it to the football championship and everyone was drinking beers in the U-Bahn, in the streets. It felt really good.
We saw Fidelio (Beethoven’s only opera) at the Staatsoper which, apparently, is very difficult to perform. Julia and I were duly impressed. The opera culture in Berlin is different from that of the States. For one, the orchestra pit was hoppin’! It looked like a jam band was down there because the musicians were so physical. The crowd was much more casual and comfortable, yet very interested. There were furrowed brows, excited whispers and people slouching as far forward in their seats as possible.
Julia and me, proof that I really was really there (our reflection in the column at the Reichstag or German Legislature):
Highlight: Waiting at a bus stop at 2AM, beers in hand, on our way to a club, I saw a lone man with a fanny pack stomping toward us. He was picking things up off the street and throwing them back down. He then went over to a fence, grabbed it with both hands and very angrily shook it with his entire body! (Coincidentally, this is exactly how Jane Goodall describes alpha male chimpanzees’ behavior when showing their strength and power: dragging logs, shaking trees, throwing rocks…). As he came closer he yelled something in German at us, when that didn’t work he tried Russian: Pivo! This means beer and is the lone Slavic word Julia taught me that I remember. I shook my bottle upside down letting him know I was empty. But Julia kept sipping on what was left of hers. A foot away from Julia, fanny pack and all, fresh from fence-shaking, he says to her “Pivo?!” I couldn’t believe my ears when she said nein to this guy. To this alpha male she would not give her backwash beer! I was nervous because it was late and not many cars or people were passing by, so I put the neck of my empty beer bottle in my sweaty, shaky palm so I could use it club-like on his face if I had to. Instead, his posture crumbled and he said in a whiny voice, like he was starving: Pivvoooo? She looked him straight in the eye and said nein again, then took another drink. Defeated, he looked at the bus map and asked if we knew how to get to where he was going. He then skipped over to the other side of the street to catch his bus while Julia finished her beer. Oh, how I miss Julia.
I could go on about Berlin, but to keep it short I’ll say this: it’s amazing, and you never feel far from the wall or forget for a second where you are. It’s a liberal, safe, friendly place and I had a few discussions with myself about the possibility of living there some day.
Budapest: is a beautiful, beautiful city. The Hungarian people have done a fine, fine job of maintaining and organizing their history. This is quite a feat considering it’s a less than peaceful history. Yet, Budapest has some of the most amazing, well-maintained museums I’ve ever seen. Helping already good matters, our hostel was as centrally located as a hostel can get (thanks, Andrea!).
The Plague Column outside of Matthias church:
Highlight: Julia and I went to two different baths. The first being the outdoor Szechenyi Baths which are surrounded by the most beautiful buildings. One of the pools had foot-massage jets, body-massage bubble jets, AND a circular track thing with a current inside that pulls you round and round. Getting in and out of the circular current was difficult and, therefore, funny. I felt like I was seven years-old.
We also went to the indoor Gellert Baths. For 20 USD, you get access to a women’s side: two thermal pools, a eucalyptus infused steam room and an ice bath which you can’t be in for more than 10 seconds or you’ll die. The unisex (?) section had a beautiful sparkling pool with bubble jets and lion head statues along the edge spouting water so that you could sit underneath for a fabulous shoulder massage. Our skin never looked better; we were literally glowing walking out of the baths.
In conclusion, there really is nothing like leaving your own continent for two weeks to really bounce you back. I’m hoping Julia and I can do it again, and this time, in much less than seven years. Click here for my personal gallery. [NB: towards the end there are pictures with actual people ;) - JM.]