Sunday, March 11, 2007

Summing it all up a month & a half later...

It was a bit difficult to make proper blog posts once I left Prague, so I'll sum up a bit of my trip before posting on anything else. Since I promised to do so. (It's a good thing I don't necessarily believe in promises.) Obviously, I will probably get a bit more verbose as I get into it, so just try and keep up.

First Detour in Austria (Vienna)
Recommendation: Go to Prague for 2-3 days. If you're there for a 4th day, you will want to get the hell out of there at some point, even if it means slitting your wrists. Perhaps that is too extreme, but even when I ended up at the wrong train station in an effort to get to Ljubjana (Slovenia), I still took a train to Vienna, just to get the hell out of there. Unfortunately, mine was the last train that night and I would not be able to get to Slovenia until morning. Finally found a hostel after roaming the red light district. I slept for a few hours. I showered. I took some pictures on my way back to the Sudbahnof. Had no idea Vienna was so big. Already a bit sick of hearing Mozart.

The train ride from Vienna to Ljubjana was beautiful, just as one would picture the European countryside. The hills. They were totally alive. Since I got into Ljubjana in the evening, I decided to stay the night and depart for Rijeka the following day.

Stayed at the Hostel Celica, the "hippest hostel in the world" according to Lonely Planet. Very cool and incredibly nice. It's a coverted former military jail. There is a nice bar and restaurant, plus an art gallery. Went downstairs for dinner and had some dark beer. Met some Slovenes. They go there because it is supposedly one of the few places in town with dark beer. Hung out. Learned about why the E.U. isn't that great an idea and that people actually do miss socialism (they don't like us to know these things in the U.S.). Still don't understand why an unofficial national anthem of sorts is a remixed, electro version of John Denver's Country Roads (in Slovenia, not just like in Prague where they played it in English).

Next day, roamed around the city with Tim, a guy in my room who had just been through Serbia and Croatia. Ljubjana is an incredibly beautiful city, with a laid-back & youthful vibe that was much needed after those few days in Prague. The river that runs through the city center is one of the most exquisite shades of green I have ever seen. Prices are still inexpensive and they have perhaps one of the most beautiful markets of fresh food I have ever seen. Most Americans have no idea what, let alone where, Ljubjana is located. Perhaps that is a good thing, but I have definitely been recommending this city to everyone I met while traveling and since I've been back.

Rijeka, Croatia
I arrive in Rijeka, the third largest city in Croatia, following a 2.5 hour train ride. I go to the only hostel in town via a bus from the train station. This is probably the first and last time I will be the youngest person in a hostel. Ivana, the fellow pole dancer I have been communicating with since she found me on YouTube, then picks me up and takes me to the health club where she dances and works. I meet Vesna, a manager and pilates / pole dancing instructor. There is a beginning class that night. As we sit outside the gym smoking cigarettes (Yes, there were tables out there with ashtrays...outside a gym. Never in America. Love it.), Vesna informs me that I will be teaching the beginning class that evening.

So less than 3 hours after arriving in Croatia, I am standing in front of 6 or 7 Croatian women who only know some English. Vesna translates for me. They do it differently there, more emphasis on the actual moves and less on the transitions and "exotic" dancing. I have video and photos. This was definitely one of the more unique experiences of my journey.

Ivana takes me for burgers after we leave the health club. She says I must eat Croatian burgers since she has no homemade wine. We do go to some quasi-scenester bar near the water that seems to have a Sopranos theme. Literally. With posters and images of the cast located in several places. I drink the main Croatian beer, as I have been trying to drink all the beers indignous to the countries I have been in.

The next day, Ivana takes me around Rijeka. We take pictures. She is the most incredible amatuer photographer. I meet her other friend named Vesna, who also pole dances. Ivana and her boyfriend take me through Opatija and we eat the "best burgers". We then go to Trsat before I have to leave. At this point, I am sad to go and wish I could spend more time because I've had the most incredible experience, seeing how beautiful just a small part of this country is and meeting such great people. This isn't the main tourist destination in Croatia and obviously, I was traveling everywhere in the off season, but it was still one of the most beautiful places I have seen. Just walking along the clifs and touching the Adriatic was incredible.

At this point, I realize I am probably not going to get to Berlin. I am pissed, but I decide to go to Munich. I get back on the train and will have to switch in Ljubjana. It will be a 6-hour ride, overnight. Of course, nothing is that easy. On my way to Ljubjana, I share a compartment with a wonderful older man who is returning home. He owns an electronics factory. We trade cigarettes and he gives me his business card. I tell him about the magazine (and website) Wired. He thanks me profusely. He helps me out of the train with all my stuff and goes to meet his wife. Even with his limited English, we still managed to have a great conversation. I make a point to tell my mother about this, as she thinks I would be targeted by "sexual predators and / or terrorists" while traveling alone in Eastern Europe. Sorry, mother, but its been the exact opposite.

Somewhere in Slovenia / Austria
I do not get a sleeping car because I do not think the train will be that crowded. I was wrong. There are 3 other people in my compartment. I am finally starting to fall asleep when a conductor comes in and tells us, in both Croatian and then English, that there are "hurricanes" in Germany and we are being diverted to Salzberg. The man in front of me asks if I am British. I reply no, that I am American. By this point in my trip, and perhaps b/c I spent a few days living with my British friends and have been making a point to speak more clearer just so people will understand me better, I realize that I can almost fake a slight British accent when speaking in short sentences or giving one word replies. (Nicole later points out that it is because I have begun to phrase all sentences, even statements, like questions, in certain instances. Good observation.) I say, no, I am an American. He goes back to reading. I realize I am starving and there is no food cart and that I will once again be stranded in Austria. I am thinking about these things only to stop myself from asking how there can be hurricanes in a landlocked nation.

Later on in the journey, the train is forced to stop somewhere in the middle of nowhere for a couple of hours. I go in and out of sleep. I put my backpack on when I think we are there, but we stop again. The Croatian woman in my compartment nudges me to wake up. I have fallen asleep while leaning on my backpack. I am once again in Austria. It is 8am.

Second Detour in Austria (Salzberg)
I find someplace to eat and do not care that it costs me almost 10 Euro. I realize that I am eating ham & cheese sandwichs for at least 2 meals a day (You simply ask for "toast".) No one seems to have any knowledge of when the next train to Munich will be leaving. Although all service has been suspended, the departure times will not disappear from the screens. I go to a platform, hoping that I can leave. Ha. That would be to easy. It is here I meet, Tom, the first American I have spoken to in 5 days. He, too, is trying to get to Munich. We join forces and we discover that we probably will not be leaving until 3pm. It is then we decide to get beers (it is now 10am).

We have a beer and then decide to go look at things. He has already been here and says he knows of a good beer hall & restaurant. The winds are rather high, but since I live in Boston, I wasn't too amazed. I couldn't quite understand why train service was canceled, but I suppose it is better to be safe than sorry. Tom is my age and is traveling before he begins his studies at a seminary in Rome. He decided to go back to school and get his masters in theology, leaving a good job with IBM. I find this fascinating, not because I am a greedy slave to the dollar, but I wonder about why people turn to religion at certain points in their life. The beer hall is not open, but we do find someplace to eat. We talk about whether or not priests should get married and scandals in the Catholic church. He says he would be a priest but he wants a family and he thinks that priests much devote to much time to their church and the congregation to be able to do both. He says all his friends think he is going to end up a priest but that is not his plan.

Tom did his undergrad at Purdue so I ask him what it is like to go back and be in an entirely different environment. The school where he has been studying for his Masters is all-Christian. He told me stories of the dating scene there, as it is a small school and everyone knows everyone. He tells me that he thinks much of what goes on is ridiculous, as some people will not go out on second dates unless they think they will fall in love with the person. I find these stories to be absolutely hilarious. Even though I know him and I can drink beer together and talk about such ridiculous things, I don't have the heart to tell him that I am pretty much an atheist. (If he reads this, he will discover this fact and I welcome the intellectual discourse. Hope you're doing well in Rome, Tom!)

We finally get on the train at 3pm, the first one out. We hop on the U-Bahn somewhere to go to the city, but we must get on a bus for part of that trip because of what I rightfully assume is because limbs have fallen on some of the tracks. The bus ride lasts an hour. Imagine standing on a city bus with 100 other people, half of which have tons of luggage. We get on another U-Bahn train. Even though getting to Germany has been the most insane ordeal, I am already amazed at the quality of their public transportation.

Leaving the train station and entering the city was almost a shock after spending a week in Eastern Europe. It was as if I had forgotten what "Western" looked like. I am impressed with how modern this area is, as I feared being innundated with more Mozart. (Honestly, I do not need to hear Mozart for awhile. Even at this point.)

We check in to the Wombats hospital, which is only a block away from the train station. I check into a big room and Tom checks into a smaller room. Upon entering my room, I meet Yannick, a 21-year-old Austrailian guy who has been traveling for the last month. We go to the bar downstairs and meet up with some other Aussies and decide to go to a nightclub.

I have to run...but will continue the rest of the adventures shortly. I'll do my best to "promise" as much.

No comments: