Sunday, June 27, 2010

Euro Trip- Part 1

So, I'm splitting this blog up into at least two different posts. Mostly for you because I don't think any sane person will want to read a 15 page long diatribe/description of my blundering through Europe. The other reason is because my brain will need a break. Do not fear though, I took notes during my trip so I should be able to remember everything important. If you'd like to see pictures, please go to my facebook, that's where I'm uploading them. So far I've only gotten throughTaiwan (I realize that's not in Europe but it was a pre-trip to my Euro Touro) and Vienna. I'm am currently working on Prague and the rest will be on there shortly.

You may be wondering why I haven't written yet and why it's taken so long for me to get anything posted. I have two main excuses including 1. I didn't take my laptop with me on my trip and 2. I don't have internet at my house as I'm in the process of moving. There's other excuses I could add like tired, busy, blah, blah, blah.

Let me set up the trip for you. I left on Saturday, June 5 for Taiwan where I met up with some good friends that I worked for/with in South Florida. He was my boss at the school in Hollywood and she was the HS English teacher. We were great friends and had so much fun when we worked together. In fact, he helped set me up with the man who gave me my job here in China. Anyway, they had been invited by a higher up in Taiwan's Department of Education to speak at several colleges in Taipei. It, of course, was not a possibility for them to be so close without seeing them so I flew down for 4 days to spent some good quality time with them. We had a wonderful time together. We laughed and shopped and talked and ate and made new friends. It was totally worth the quick trip. I left on Tuesday, flew back to Qingdao, stayed in the airport because 3 hours later, I flew back to Beijing. I stayed the night in Beijing and flew out to Vienna on Wednesday, June 9th. I took with me only a backpack with as few clothes as possible, and left behind my brush, blowdryer, facewash, and laptop. Only the bare essentials were taken. My route was 3 nights in Vienna, 3 nights in Prague, 3 nights in Krakow, 3 nights in Budapest and then I wasn't sure what I was going to do for the last two nights of my trip (which ended up being an additional night in Budapest and a night in Bratislava).

I did some tallying (just for the European part) and here's what I came up with:
  • I spent about 85 hours traveling or waiting to travel
  • I was in 4 airports (x2), 3 train stations and 4 bus stations
  • I Was in 5 cities (plus the Moscow airport which I think should count since I was there for really long layovers both there and back).
  • Had at least 15 different roommates.
  • Used 6 different currencies.
  • Learned how to use metros, subways, trams, buses, electric buses, cabs and trains all over Europe
  • Ate American, Thai, Italian, Greek, Mexian, Czech, Hungarian, Polish, Slovakian food
  • Made friends from Germany, Brazil, Canada, Australia, Poland, Hungary, America, the U.K., Wales, Russia, the Philippines

After quite a long trip (6 hour layover in Moscow), I finally arrived in Vienna. I walk off the plane, semi-dazed (because I usually become comatose when flying and it's hard for me to wake up when I arrive somewhere and I'm sure my crazy eye was out in full force) but super excited, grab my bag and walk outside. It's. Blazing. Hot. Like, put-my-hair-up-in-a-ponytail-and-wished-I'd-lathered-on-an-extra-layer-of-deoderant hot. And those of you who know me, know how I feel about being hot. Normally, it wouldn't even be that big of a deal EXCEPT I had PLANNED for 70 degree weather. I only had pants and layers to wear. My clothing was very limited because of my backpack size, I planned oh so carefully and the WEATHER WAS NOT COOPERATING!!!! No worries, I was sure I could cool down at my hostel. Nope, no air conditioning. Maybe at Starbucks...nope, no airconditioning. Apparently, hell showed up on Vienna's doorstep with out any warning and I was going to have to suffer. And suffer I did for the next three days. I sweated my way through Vienna and had the dry skin to prove it. My face was actually chafed from being wiped so much as I slicked away the sweat. Gross but true.

My impressions of Vienna...beautiful but totally stuck up. Unless you have a lot of money or are there on a honeymoon, it's really rather pointless. It's super expensive and very touristy. It's lost all of it own culture and has turned into this money making theme park. I'm sure the country of Austria is absolutely lovely and I WISHED I had gone to Salzburg and sung through the Alps. I'm not saying it was a waste of time because honestly, it really had some beautiful architecture and things to see but I wouldn't go back. And the truth is, I didn't realize I didn't like it until I'd been to a couple of other cities that had the same cobble stone streets, old buildings, beautiful churches and insanely long histories AND managed to keep some of it's own culture. Now, it's totally possible that this might be the anger from the blazing heat talking or from the fact that I didn't make one friend the entire time I was in Vienna or maybe from the pure exhaustion of finishing up school and then going straight to "vacation" where I walked every day for 10-12 hours out in the heat, who knows. Take it for what it's worth. I will say that in spite of the millions of Western tourists, the jacked-up prices and the fake rebuilt buildings, it was still possible to get lost on a little side street or alleyway and find yourself able to imagine what it was like 200 years ago. And I did find a really neat clothing boutique that I wish I could live in.

After three-unairconditioned nights in Vienna, I made my way to Prague. Traveling to the next city was always a little adventure within itself. I only planned a day in advance and usually went with whatever was cheaper. And cheap it was. I only spent about $175 on all of my buses and trains getting around Europe. Most of the time it was clean, convenient, safe and pretty easy to figure out. I just asked my hostel what was best, used a map, found the station, bought the ticket and went on with my sightseeing for the day. The next day, I packed up and headed out a couple of hours before my train/bus left. My bus from Vienna to Prague was about 4 hours and only cost about $15. My American mindset has a hard time grasping the fact that I can travel to ANOTHER COUNTRY for $15. Insane!!!

On my trip to Prague, we drove through an insane rain and hail storm. It was rather intense for a few minutes but made it safely. I'd only wished I'd brought snacks for the trip. Mostly, me and my narcolespy-ness slept. Oh, and I read a some. I have an app on my iPod that has over 100 classic novels that I can read at any time so I spent a lot of my traveling time reading. I think I got through 4 books on my trip.

(Just took a snack and coffee break...have I mentioned that I'm in Starbucks?)

Prague...was beautiful and has a lot of really neat places to go (The castle, the river, my hostel). First, let me say that both Vienna and Prague are really easy to get around in. Super user friendly. Just buy a day pass and you can use it for the bus, trams and metro. And as long as you can read a map, you can get around. This is a good thing because my hostel in Prague was a little out of the main area so I had to take the tram or subway or bus to get anywhere important. In spite of BAZILLIONS of tourist groups (I honestly don't mind individual tourists. It's the groups that drive me crazy. Because they travel in such large groups, they just kind of run everyone over and ruin any peaceful/beautiful place within seconds of arriving. They just kind of steamroll everyone). The Prage castle with it's view, a trip down the Vltava River, live music, delicious food, quaint shops and homey feel helped me to recover a little from Vienna's madness. At this point in my trip, the architecture was still totally enthralling (at some point it all just started to run together. I didn't have to be anywhere exciting, a good park bench would do. I spent a lot of time watching people, staring at hundreds of years of history and imagining what it would've been like to live during another time.

As I close up this blog, I'll leave you with a few random thoughts/events that occurred during my time in Vienna and Prague...

  • For all my Springfield friends, there was an Aldi's in Vienna
  • Oh, and literally every city I went to had an IKEA.
  • In the underground metro system in Prague, a guy as high as a kite offered to sell me his watch.
  • When I ordered my ticket to Prague (which I did online but should've done in person), I ordered the ticket for the wrong day. When I'm not in school and/or working, I have a really hard time keeping track of the days. It was a lot of ma fan to change the stupid thing. I went from being so proud of myself one moment to wanting to scratch out my own eyes in the next.
  • After living in a place where I am my own tourist attraction, it was so nice to just have people assume that I was from the area.
  • I cried in the first church I visited in Vienna. It's been so long since I've been in a place made for worship and it just felt so quiet and was very impacting. I'm not going to be able to explain why but for some reason I could still cry over it. We Americans and the West in general, we don't realize how "lucky" it is that we have the priveledge of choosing between 100 different churches, to find a place of worship that fits who we are, to have structural reminders on every street corner of God and how he has worked in our history. To have a religious structure that's remained for hundreds of years, that is still being used as a place of worship, that is incredible. Anyway, that was probably one of the favorite things of my trip, going to churches and just enjoying the beauty and peace found there.
  • Speaking of crying...the enormous amounts of beautiful men all over Europe almost brought on tears of joy. Now, I don't know if it's that there truly is a LARGE portion of extremely attractive men in Europe or if it's just me being deprived for so long but WOOOOOooooooohweeeee.
  • So, in Vienna, I went to a concert. We'll call it a concert anyway. It was supposed to be Opera, strings and ballet. And if I took that at it most literal terms, it was all those things. But mostly it was mess. Four musicians kind of dressed up in period outfits, a ballet couple dancing on a stage with a piano and 3 other instrumentalists that was the size of my twin bed. And an Opera singer who...was okay. Needless to say, I wasted $60 and left at intermission...along with half of the audience. It really wasn't that bad. I mostly just chalked it up to a funny experience.
  • Two major things in Prague- graffiti and Americans. Every building in every reachable space (outside of old town) was covered in graffiti. I would also say that Prague had the most Americans of any of the cities that I went to.

Anyway, that about sums up the first half of my trip. The last be continued.