Sunday, May 30, 2010

Wieder in Berlin

28 days
22 trains
13 cities, and
8 countries later, I am back in Berlin for the last time in the foreseeable future.
In two days time I close this chapter of my life and return to the States indefinitely. Wah!
I have many half-written posts on Berlin delights and many still to write on the places I visited in Europe this past month so those will be posted retroactively in the coming months.
In the meantime, I leave you with the winning song from last night's Eurovision song contest from, you guessed it, Deutschland! I was watching in a living room in sweden :) Here's "Satellite" by Lena:

Bis bald,

PS. I picked up some new vocabulary in Austria and Switzerland...
trinkfest: able to hold one's liquor. A handy one-word description!
Klugscheiss: wise-ass, literally "wise shit."
FilmriƟ: blackout...literally, 'film rip', a rip in the film of your evening! I think that's so clever.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Travels Week 1: Praha

Last Sunday night I hopped an overnight bus to Prague to begin a month of travel around Europe with an Interrail pass. The pass is like a Eurail pass, but a cheaper version available to people who both have European citizenship and have resided in the EU for six months or more. It covers unlimited rail travel in 30 European countries, excluding your country of residence. With a 22-day pass bracketed by a bus journey to start and a flight home to end, I was set for a crazy 30 days of travel! Rather than give a blow-by-blow of my days, I'm just going to try and jot down some of what I learned in each place.
So: Prague!
Every guidebook I read recommended checking out the Charles Bridge at dawn, to avoid the crowds. Since I arrived at 4:30am, I figured I might as well take that advice. It was really nice having the bridge to myself, but I have to say that an empty Old Town Square, streetlamps still blazing in the dawning light, was more impressive to me, at least relative to their respective daytime appearances.
On my first day I went straight to the castle and have to caution: do NOT pay for the all-inclusive ticket and audio guide! I didn't have the exchange rate straight in my head and when I realized later what I had spent on that, I kicked myself. Instead, if you have a limited time in Prague like I did, start with a free tour around Old and New Town and then take the optional paid tour with the same company that continues to the other side of the river and the castle. I wish I had done it that way. The paid tour cost less than half what I paid for the stupid audio guide.
Prague is a great city for walking, I recommend just strolling with your eyes wide open and you'll make lots of discoveries, like I did.
I also ate some traditional Czech food, and can highly recommend pickled cheese with your beer (mmmm). I also tried a beef dish in gravy, which came with what they call 'dumplings' but which actually seemed more like slices of bread to me. I reeeally wish I had tried fried cheese, another Czech specialty, and their traditional onion and garlic soups.
I wanted to check out the synagogue converted into a Holocaust memorial, but you can't buy a ticket to that without buying a ticket to all the other sites in the Jewish quarter. Because it covers so many sites, the ticket is pricey, and I only had time for the one museum, so I didn't end up getting it. It's a weird system...had I known in advance, I could have planned to make the ticket worth it, time-wise, but I wasn't able to. Something for a future visit.
The Kampa Museum was cool and I loved the little island-park it's located in. It was being renovated when I was there, so when the renovations are done it will be even better. I learned about a few Czech artists I hadn't known before, and even encountered one of them at some Viennese museums in the days following. I didn't get to make it to the new DOX contemporary art center, unfortunately, nor did I see the Mucha/Dali exhibit in Old Town Square.
What with lack of sleep, it being the first few days of my trip, and a totally incomprehensible language and currency to deal with, I think I was a little loopy and didn't make the most of my two days in Prague. I really want to go back someday! My host did teach me how to make sushi though. That I will always remember.
I've got to dash but stay tuned for more updates as I have time.
Bis bald,