Friday, August 20, 2004

Well, so I suck at updating. Sorry, to anyone who tried checking this in tha last month, but I was plagued by a severe lack of internet availability. So I'll try to give a short rundown of my adventures.
Good food, but pricey. I liked the parks and that I could understand what people were saying, but disliked living on the sixth floor of an expensive but crappy hostel/hotel that had bedbugs that bit Anna all over. We had to catch a 6:50 am plane to Austria and decided not to pay for another hotel night, so we spent a day or so homeless. We tried to sleep that afternoon at the British Library, a large imposing building, but you needed a pass to go into the reading rooms, so instead we ended up at Borders, where Anna slept and I read a lot of "Nickled and Dimed" and drank coffee. We spent our last actual night there in an incredibly cold airport sitting on a concrete floor.
Due to the sleepless night on the floor and the stress of getting from Salzburg to Vienna and then trying to find our hostel using the incredibly bad directions from, I was a wreck by the time we got to our destination. We passed out in our teeny uncomfortable hostel beds at about 4 or 5, I think, and slept straight until about 2 am, and then again until 7 or so. We went in search of breakfast, but everything was closed. Finally, we found this excellent cafe by a fountain and a cool gate thing, and had our first Viennese coffee, which is very very wonderful stuff. It comes with a cup, a coffeepot, a pitcher of warmed-up milk, and a glass of water for your throat, and it's delicious. We spent the day going to museums and parks, and eventually getting horribly lost and walking two miles to a place that no longer existed for lunch. In fact, I think we visited 3 or 4 places trying to get food, all of which were either closed for Sunday, under renovation or closed entirely and replaced with buger joints. That sucked. Then, the flea bites Anna recieved in London came on full force, and we had to go to a hospital because she was totally freaking out that she was covered in inexplicable red itchy bumps. After a few hours, some ER doctors saw her and gave her some cream, we went home and went to bed, and left the next morning, somehat disgruntled at Vienna in general. I'm sure it's a lovely place, but it didn't do good things for us. One interesting thing: the Freud museum, in his old house, with a ton of pictures and a really really strange computer program with no basis in anything I could see.
Budapest, I really liked. It's beautiful, and some of the things there were some of my favorite things on the whole trip. It was my first run-in, this trip, with a place where I couldn't understand a thing anyone said (Hungarian is crazy), which always takes a bit of getting used to. Budapest is actually two cities, Buda and Pest, with the Danube running between them. In the middle of the Danube is a small island, called Margaret Island, which I totally loved. It was the first thing we did there, and it was totally beautiful, covered in amazing parks and gardens and people out enjoying the beautiful weather. It was my favorite thing, maybe even better than Berlin for me because it came when I needed something good to happen. Other things we did include going to the biggest indoor crafts/food market I have ever seen, with a million booths all selling exactly the same chess boards and stacking dolls (do they think that all tourists are obsessed with chess? I don't get it), and going to a thermal bath. We chose to go to an older bath, because it was closer, and no one spoke english at all and we couldn't figure out what to do, and finally this tiny little old woman who spoke a little english showed us all over the place. So that was fun, once we finally found it, albeit filled with old men in tiny speedos.
Prague is a beautiful beautiful city. I was there last year, so I knew a hotel to stay at for cheap and where things basically were, so that was nice. We mostly wandered around and ate, sad to say, but it was excellent. I tried absinth again, and still hated it. We saw a few touristy things, like the outside of the Prague castle, Charles Bridge, and the old town square, and I remembered things I learned last year about the "Velvet Revolution" when the people peacefully overturned the communist government. Lots of tourists, but I think better than last year. It was a good end to the travel leg of our journies.
Spent most of the first three weeks of Poland teaching, which was sadly not such a good experience this year. Students were surly or just bored (I actually had a student that had been nicknamed "bad Mateus"), and frequently didn't come to class, and there were some majorly stressful moments when another camp of 100 students and 20 teachers moved in for the last week and kicked us out of all of our classrooms. There were good things too, and it was really nice to be in one place for a while, but still. I forgot how weird things sometimes seem to outsiders there (for example: one night, there was a mass wedding where everyone dressed up and got married to each other, and apparently this is traditional camp behavior. Also, there were two lesbians there, very blatant, even got married, and on the last night told it it was all a big, three-week-long joke.), or how disorganization is a given. The guy who organized things told us one night when we were out drinking that "in Poland, plan A is damage control."
After teaching was over, we got to go on a free week-long trip of Poland, which was awesome. We went to Krakow, one of my favorite cities ever, and a small town called Zakopane which reminded me of Flagstaff. We climbed in the Polish Tatras (amazing) and went down 300 meters into a 700-year-old salt mine full of sculptures carved by miners in their free time. There was even a huge cathedral entirely carved out of salt, with chandeliers of salt crystals and evgraved frescoes in the walls. It was awesome. However, Poland's disorganization was also present on this trip. One night Anna and I totally got left behind in Krakow because our tour person thought we had talked to him and told him we were staying in town for dinner, which was totally false. He also couldn't remember that we were vegetarians and that no one present could eat fish. We were driven around by a nice guy named Marcin who drove like a maniac, and his van frequently had to be push started. The highlight was, after hiking about 18 km, we returned to the van and had to push it up a mountain road to try and start it.
We left Pulawy at 4 am, and took a train to Berlin. Our hostel was in the middle of the Grunewald, a big forest outside of the main city (we had to go on a dirt path to reach it), so it was pretty but far away and kind of scary at night. But, I loved Berlin. I'm not totally sure why, but it really made me happy to be there. We saw a big section of the Berlin Wall, all covered with graffitti, and went up in the the huge glass dome of the Reichstag, the building where the reunification was enacted. The only bad thing was the bees. The bees there are totally crazy, and would follow us menacingly until I would just start running for a block to get the hell away. It sounds humorous, and it was, but also a huge pain in the ass. But anyway, I loved it, and it really seemed like somewhere I could spend a lot more time in.
So that's the update, sorry I didn't write before. I hope it satisfied everybody's burning desire to know how I spent my summer vacation. :-)