Go There Now
This entry was typed in 2007 during my leave of absence from teaching. I used my Blackberry to type emails back home. Facebook or Instagram would have been nice, but emails were just fine. Enjoy and I welcome your comments and thoughts.
I'm sitting atop a vista point at the Vysehrad Castle in Prague to escape the crowd in the main town center (it felt like Disneyland!). It's about 70 degrees today, partly cloudy, and a westerly wind adding a steady breeze to the amazing view that's having the most calming effect I've enjoyed so far on this trip. Most importantly, I'm enjoying the scenery at the top alone. Tranquility found. This is the Prague I was dreaming of and finally found.
Three weeks and five countries have blown by and already wondering about who’s who in the names and new e-mail addresses I've collected along the way. There is a daily sense of urgency I feel to get up and go, explore the city every day. Sometimes the body and the mind reminds me to just sit at a scenic lookout, have no agenda for the day, write emails, read, or just process the new friends and the experiences.
Taking photos is nice, but sometimes pictures seem to stare at you with a blank look and it isn't until a passage in the journal that brings back the euphoria felt during the ferry ride to Slovakia along the Danube, listening to the Polish waitress/psychology student giving me a history lesson on Krakow and Poland, finally understanding how to play the Austrian card game Jassen, the chill, the sadness, and the creepy feeling of seeing hairs of Holocaust victims in Auschwitz and its gas chambers and used yellow canisters of cyclone gas. I don’t want to forget the many random conversations with strangers with whom I didn't share emails with. Sometimes, there is no need to keep further contact after a good conversation. I guess like a good movie, a sequel is not necessary and prefer to remember the encounter for the moment.
I've seen mostly two types of American tourists, the post-university Euro trip with their backpacks and the retired, mostly huddled in a group with a name-badge following along their guides usually carrying a prop/flag leading the group. I often wonder if it's their first time on the continent, perhaps few were stationed in Europe in their 20's and marveling at the former Warsaw Pact countries they sworn to defend against, now blossoming into a "Disneyland."
The countryside of Europe is beautiful and it's sometimes difficult to fathom that such serene landscape was once used as a killing field many times over throughout the history and the irony of taking a bus ride through the pretty countryside to eventually arrive at the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz. Chilling.
I try not to take standing next to a 12th century monastery for granted and touching its walls and seeing 500+ year old graffiti makes me either chuckle or wished I could have caught the guy in the act and sign his name on the wall with his blood.
There's a lot of cohesiveness among Europeans, but old nationalistic pride and latent traditional rivalries and anger seemingly will always play its ugly side and influence Europe's future in one form or another.
I enjoy sitting down at one of many sidewalk cafes and hearing a kaleidoscope of languages and seeing if I'm able to discern the tourists' origins and hoping to practice my Portuguese. All Viennese speak English. Slovaks also learn English early in school, less in Hungary but perhaps it's because even the Polish will tell you that Hungarian is difficult...even the Polish...and perhaps the Hungarians have enough to deal with as is! Still, find a 20 something University student and he/she will amaze you how their humble "...I speak a little English..." will even impress a high school English teacher. Same in Poland, especially in Krakow.
I still find it difficult to understand how most English speakers and other tourists don't take the time to learn few basic phrases: do you speak English, please, thank you, you're welcome, will you marry me? They really do appreciate the effort and respond in their native language, especially after your “thank you.”
I'm comfortable being an American and no one, on any of the continents I've visited, seem to mind and never suffered bad incidents for being an American, but do hear praise for the Americans, especially from those who have actually been to the States. We also apparently tip better than anyone else from my informal survey and it's a pleasure to meet other Americans as long as you're not a self proclaimed "actor who is from LA, Republican, but not gay and says 'Americans love winners'?". Ok, which restaurant do you work at again bud?
As for our foreign policies? Better you talk about the wonderful weather or beer. I've witnessed many stereotypes and generalization of cultures and people, but plenty personal experiences to counter them. Best to see the best in others while traveling and especially in a diverse company, you don’t know the connection they might have.
It feels nice to have a shock and awe effect on even the Australians with my travels. I'm enjoying the people more than any part of the trip and the food. I figure, I walk at least 8 miles wondering...getting lost and retracing steps...in the cities. My pants are starting to fall off.
Most hostels are coed dorms. It's amusing to see topless European girl, sharing room with me and other travelers, get up and close the window. No big deal. I like hostels.
I wish I was in East Europe 7-10 years ago. East Europe is not the backwards, dull, primitive, and gray as most tv, movies, and media portrays it to be. The cities are beautiful, people are beautiful, friendly, and it's being discovered and well established on the tour circuits. I wonder how many places in the world will remain undiscovered.
I will be visiting Albania and Macedonia hoping for a more "pure" experience. Did Bush really get his watch stolen in Albania?
I hope for those of you who have bought into the fear sold by the media and our "worldly" politicians that you will step out of your comfort zone and form your own opinions and experience and see what I am seeing and hearing now (ancient castles off in the distance connected by cobble stone roads and multiple languages being tossed into the air).
Moving onto Berlin tomorrow on a morning train. Enjoy your weekend!