October 4th, 2003
First off. A huge thanks to all the replies from people from my last email. I got some really inspirational letters from some great freinds and some great words of wisdom from dad. It all made me feel better than I'd be able to tell you. I also got a letter from a guy who said he found my site while searching for information on his hometown in Ecuador (where I went) and got caught up reading the journal at work. It was too time consuming so he printed the whole thing and took it home to read. It was 300 pages. Whoa. Flattering, but eerie in a Truman Show sort of way.
I came to an ironic realization while going through all of my travelfunk in my head. One thing that appeals to me about traveling is that each day is different. Some people like the security that not moving provides, but I prefer changes. So, each day I find something different. Each day is different, and at the end of the day, I go searching somewhere else for something different. I think I reached a point where I was so used to seeing things that were different, it became normal. Each new differentness took on a sameness. I started wanting to be in one place for a longer period of time where everything would be the same for a while, because it would be..... well, different.
And now for something completely different.
Prague. Everyone I have met who had been there told me it was a "must see". No one could really explain why, just that it was an amazing city, with cheap beers to boot. I think half of the reason I wanted to go there was just to try to pin down exactly what it was that made everyone fall in love with this place so much, and perhaps to fall in love with it myself.
Prague is a very beautiful 1000-year-old city that was one of the only major European cities to have escaped damage from WW2. Its located pretty much right smack-dab in the center of Europe. However, I think a lot of people think of Europe as just western Europe, in which case somewhere like France would be more centered, but if you take in to account all the baltic states, that makes Czech Republic and Prague the center. You can sort of feel the Russian-esque influences in the archetecture, the greyness, and even in the language. Czech sounds a lot like what I would expect Russian to sound like. And the greyness?... well, its fall, the skies are overcast, but I think that adds something to this city rather than detracts from it.
But what is it that makes you like it here? Czech Republic is not a rich country by comparison to its western neighbors. Its not a nation in poverty, but not well off either. I think the fact that its not poverty stricken makes it a safe destination for backpackers, so many of them tend to go there, especially due to its aforementioned central location and cheap beers. But I came up with a theory, and hear me out on this one. When you visit any city like Paris, Barcelona, London, they all have an image. When you are flourishing economically, you have the luxury of being able to worry about maintaining some sort of image. Even an image of what your city was like hundreds of years ago (like Venice has) is expensive to maintain. A country and people that are working to survive, do just that. They're not concerned with image. And I think Prague falls in to that category. You see the city raw, for what it is and you really feel like you get to know it. Just like when you meet a person, often times that person has a front, and it takes some time before that comes down and you get to know the heart of the person. The longer I stay in a place, the more I tend to fall in love with it. Prauge has less of a front, so it is easier to know it and fall in love with it sooner.
A bit far fetched? Maybe, but thats the conclusion I came to. I think thats also why I loved South America so much. Now, on the other hand, Prague has quite a lot of tourist traffic these days, because it has become so popular. I think there are other western European cities that would have this raw beauty, but better, and without as many tourists. Many people have told me Budapest is like this, but at the same time, they are saying that it is also becoming popular like Prague. My thought?- Romaina. It sounds like an awesome place from all accounts I have heard and read, and I really think it would be a great place to check out.
I spent my days in Prague just walking through the streets of this amazing city. None of the streets come together at anything remotely resembling a right angle, which makes it impossibe to figure out where you are or where you're going without a map. But that makes it all the more interesting to walk around. I took a trip to the Prague castle, which has been the home of the Czech government for 1000 years. They had an adjacent church with a bell tower that could be climbed for amazing views of the whole city. I wandered home through the royal gardens and then headed back to the hostel and went for a run.
The next night was more fun. Back in April, I got a random email from a girl named Deana who saw my website, liked the idea of the trip, and said that if I ever made it to Prague, we should meet up for beers. I replied that if I made it that way, I may do that, and filed it away under my "people from Europe" mailbox. I opened it when I got to Prague, sent her an email letting her know I was here, and after we cleared up a breif "Wait, who are you?", we agreed to meet at the bar where she was having her welcome home party (she was back in the US for a couple months). She really had an amazing group of friends, all in Prague teaching English. One of the more interesting guys was her friend Justin, who was also from Hawaii (he and I were both born and raised on the same island around the same time, just different sides). A nomadic, creative and interesting person who was real fun to hang out with. All of Deanas friends were a lot of fun to hang out with, and I think it was the fact that Prague probably just attracts a good type of person.
I got together with all of them again for my last night in Prague. There was a small festival going on in the area where they lived and we walked through it. Everyone was drinking some sort of cloudy liquid out of green 2-liter bottles. We didnt get any as we just thought it was beer, but later learned it was some sort of Prague wine made only during this time of year. The reason we thought it was beer, is because you can walk in to any bar in Prague and give them a 2-liter soda bottle, a milk jug, or anything you like and they will fill it for a small fee. Voila, you have your beer to take home for the week or night.
If you're interested in more information on Prague, check out prague-tourist.com
Before leaving Prague, I hit a piercing studio and got another piercing. Mom, dad, you're going to love this one. I have been thinking about getting this for a while, and as my friend Dave in San Diego put it, "Listen man, its a piercing. You don't think about it, either you do it or you don't". So I did it. I had found the actual jewelery in Berlin, but they wanted about €80 to put it in, and they did it in Prague for about €14, in a studio that was cleaner than the Berlin one. Its not the eyebrow (too highschool), not the lip (too clumsy), not the nose (too hard to blow), and not the chin (not me). Its not one you see often, in fact I've seen it in magazines, but I dont think I've ever seen it on the street. Keep your eyes peeled for the photo updates. :) I'm not going to take photos specifically of it, but its visible, so it may show up.
Interesting silly Praguefact: All the escalators in the subways are set to hyperdrive. These things fly so fast you nearly have to leap on and off of them. Usually, if presented with the option of stairs side-by-side, I'll take the stairs as its usually faster. You'd have to be a world-class sprinter to beat the Prague subway escalators.
The inter-country train station in Prague had to be one of my most bizzarely aggravating travel experiences yet. I bought my ticket to Munich, as its the closest major city to Innsbruck. When I walked out of the ticket line,and looked at my ticket, it was about as informative as a gum wrapper. It said "To: München, From: Praha". The areas of the ticket that were for printing the departure time, the track, any connections, were all conveniently filled in with "****".     ****?     ****!     So I go back to the lady at the ticket window, waiting in the 15 minute line again. Finally, I get to the window and I ask her:
"When does this train leave?".
As I walked away, another backpacker had overheard what happened and remarked "This place is crazy!!!". I replied, "Yes, mind boggling". He had been back and forth between the ticket and information windows 3 times now and still had no ticket or an idea of when the train he needed left.
For the record, I transferred at Nürnburg. If there was another place on the board that began with N with a train going to it at 2:35, I would have had a 50% chance of making it to the right place.
I got in to Munich at about 10pm. My plan (if you could call it that) was to try to call Rich who was at Oktoberfest, if I got in touch with him, find him, stash my bag in a locker, and then we crash on the street or something. While I was leaving Rich a message, Nils called and asked when I was coming to Innsbruck. I took it as a sign and said "tonight".
Arriving at 1:30am, we headed right for a party at Jimmys bar hosted by a company called PornStar Clothing. No, they don't make clothes for making adult movies, just t-shirts and jackets with a name that is risquè enough to sell. Cool party. We headed to another bar afterwards and finally called it a night by 6am.
Sunday in Innsbruck, just like any other city in Europe, is closed up like a beach town in winter. Nothing much to do. So we decided to try start the van. See, my plan was to get the van, and drive it to Munich where it would be easier to sell. In fact, I had an ad running on eBay Germany and even had a bid the first day. Provided I could get it to Munich, I could sleep in it a few days for Oktoberfest, sell it to the highest eBay bidder, and be done with it. That plan died about half way around the block. The oil pressure problem which miraculously solves itself sometimes did not solve itself this time. The vans final resting place has been sealed as Innsbruck, at least as far as this owner is concerned. Perhaps the next owner will feel differently.
The next day I ran some errands with Nils, and then headed to Munich that night to go to Oktoberfest by train. I got in to Munich and despite what everyone told me was impossible, I found a hotel within 2 minutes. The tourist office had a listing of 20 places with vacancies. Yet everyone warned me that I'd never find anywhere, no matter how hard I tried.
Rich had said there was a possibility he might be there on Tuesday, but it was a long shot. I went alone regardless, figuring I would just meet some people. I had met a lot of revelers the hour I waited to change trains in Munich just a couple days earlier. This time, I guess things were just a little different. I figured I'd walk around until I heard people speaking english, then ask if I could join their group. Believe it or not, all I heard walking to and fro the beer tents was german. Where do these people think they are anyway?
So I walked around and spectated. Oktoberfest isnt much of a spectator sport. Its also more of a team sport than an individual sport, and without a team, I wasnt up for staying on the field very long. A couple things that took me by surprise, was first, it was much smaller than I expected. I thought it was going to be this huge expanse of beer filled praries in the hills. Nope, its in a medium sized park in the middle of the city. The beer tents are actually buildings shaped like tents, and theres only about 8 or so, although they are rather large. However, the beer ladies do carry about 8 of these 1-liter mugs at a time. And don't stand in their way unless you want to know what it feels like to be hit by a truck. One funny thing I saw was reminiscent of the NFL. Ladies with fists of beer mugs had one of the stockier bar maids run blocker in front. This blocker lady went through the crowd with the force of a diesel steamroller. I saw her coming and jumped out of the way, but got to watch as any person not watching was nearly knocked over. The knocked person would regain balance and turn around with fire in their eyes and looking to fight, then realize it was the lead car of a beer convoy, and let it pass. The other thing that surpised me, is that there is actually a carnival as part of Oktoberfest. Complete with rollercoasters, rides, and games to win stuffed animals.
I cant say I wasnt dissapointed with my time at Oktoberfest. I would have liked to had a good group to go and drink a few fistfuls of mugs. But I just wasnt in the mood to find a surrogate group. I was glad I saw it, but if I go back someday, it will be a trip out there with some other people.
Back in Innsbruck, I began mass marketing my van. I printed up a bunch of flyers and put one in every part of Innsbruck we could find. Everyone we met, I asked them if they or anyone they knew would want to buy a van for parts or fix. The major obstacle to selling it is the UK title. Trying to register an out-of-country car in Austria is not easy, especially when its older. Laws are strict and designed to keep other countries from unloading their old cars in to Austria. For this reason, it is nearly impossible to sell it. In fact, if I want to give it to the junkyard, I need to pay a €70 disposal fee. Thats better than the €1000 fee in Switzerland, but it still doesnt make sense. There are hudreds of dollars worth of parts on it, and if I lived here, I would part it out. But thats a long process, one I dont have time for. But you'd think the junkyard would at least dispose of it for free, considering they will likey be able to sell the parts off it with reasonable success. I have also put an ad in the local AutoTrader, which comes out Tuesday. If I get no calls on it by Wednesday, it goes to the junkyard.
Yesterday, Nils and I went to go talk to his friend about a job. His friend Barb is the manager of a hiking boot shop, and is running a promotion and needs someone to pass out fliers for it. We agreed to come back the next day and do it.
On the way out of the shop, we passed a small Italian food shop. Part bakery, part butcher, part grocery store. The owner was this great Italian guy who kept singing and shouting in Itaian and giving us samples. We ordered a couple slices of his bread that had meats and cheeses baked in to it, and ate it in the corner of the tiny store. All the while, he kept bringing us more meats, cheese and wines that he wanted us to try. I felt like a 5-year-old local kid, being fed out of charity by the man in the corner candy store. €2 charge.
Today, Nils and I headed back to the shoe store to pick up our flyers. You've seen these people. You're walking along the street and they try to hand you a flyer. They're practically shoving it in your hand as you tell them no and you try not to have a higher percentage of the flyer touching your hand than theirs, because then you lose and you have to take it. I wasnt looking forward to being "the flyer guy people try to avoid". But this is Innsbruck. I simply put the flyer out, and people gladly took it. Most people even said thanks. It was amazing. I'd say 70% of the people we offered it to took them, and the majority of those said thanks. The ones that said no were gave heartfelt apologies. By the end of the day, we were having a lot of fun with it, chasing after people and handing them the fliers in creative ways. We moved through the streets theatrically, sliding sideways towards people and handing them a flier, or slam dunking them in the baskets on the bicycles that passed. By the end of the day, we had put the spin on it that we werent handing out flyers, but rather giving away free photos of a shoe. Most people laughed, and it really made it a fun day, and not bad at €10/hr. I have now worked 3 hours this year. I hope no one on this list works for the IRS.
Hope all is well.
Nils has a few words he would like to say: