Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Hofbräuhaus in München (Munich) is the most famous beer hall in the world. At first it was kind of a bummer to go by myself, but half way through that sucker and I felt just dandy (and 'oom pa pa' music was the best thing I've ever heard). I made friends with some regulars who didn't speak English and ordered dinner for a Japanese couple that didn't speak German. Ein Mass (a whole liter!) is the only size that can beer ordered. The place was noisy as hell and lots of fun.

Have you ever played The Sims?

The Sims, a PC video game, puts you in control of a number of fake computer people (sims), guiding them as they commence and repeat mundanely realistic daily routines. Their physical and emotional needs are represented by constantly depleting meters, only replentishing when any specific need is addressed - their hunger meter resets when they eat, their social need meter when they socialize, etcetera... If any need becomes neglected, the meter will fall below a certain comfort threshold and the sim will enter a state of distress. It's an apt representation of how human need fulfillment operates, and I bring it up only to explain that I have discovered wholly new comfort thresholds.Time and money are your primary assets when traveling (well, anytime really), and in effort to make better use of both, it becomes necessary to dismiss a number of previously granted comforts. Living out of your bag, everything you own only makes you ache and sweat faster, so you have to be a minimalist. More for the sake of others around me than for myself, I am trying to keep up with my hygeine, but the summer heat and kinetic nature of traveling aren't good for keeping your shirts dry and sweet smelling.
I make calculated splurges at restaurants, but if I am not enriching myself culturally, I'm better off eating grocery store food on the go. Can of beans and a pocket knife. With my beard I'm looking more and more like a homeless man. I'm trying to maintain a plastic bag with some fruit, bread, and sometimes cheese to thwart off impulse buys.
Paying a euro to use a public restroom from time to time adds up quick. It seems a silly thing to plan, but scheduling bowel movements for the morning through use of stool softeners saves money, time, and stress. Laundry is expensive too, but can be managed incrementally. While technically it's not allowed in most hostels, it's easy wash a set of clothes and hang them inconspicuously off a ladder rung or hook on a wall.
I was skeptical of hostels at first, but have really grown to appreciate them. Their pitfalls can be navigated and there's still many a good thing about them. Sleeping among noise and light is tricky - I like a pair of earbuds and a bandana wrapped around my eyes to the back of my head, keeping the light out and the earbuds in. There's an easy kinship between hostelers. Everyone is there to travel, learn, and have a good time. Here, people seem friendlier and earnestly interested in one another. If travlers get along well, as they often seem to, it's common to swap full names for networking on Facebook, which everyone in the world seems to have an account on. 'If you're ever find yourself in Buenos Ares/San Sebastian/Los Angeles, come say hi. I'll show you around,' seems to be a common farewell. It's amazing and in the future I hope to take advantage of some of the contacts I have made(More and more I'm liking the idea of spending a year or so learning Spanish and backpacking in South America for my next trip (Who's with me?)).
I'm under budget so far (which is great), but I still have Paris ahead of me, so we'll see how that goes. The cost of a hostel in Paris is equivelent to my entire daily budget in some cities.
Berlin is amazing. Prague is amazing. Everytime I leave a city I am sad to go, but my conquest must continue. I want to see everything. I feel like a little spider, determined to spin a web around an impossibly large animal. Like a cat. I used to think people where dopey for taking pictures of things that could be pulled up on a Google image search, but now I see that you don't shoot a sight to capture it specifically, but rather your relationship to it at that time. I'm taking lots of pictures and notes and when I get home I'm going to make the most comprehensive annotated photo album the world has ever seen. I probably should slow my pace just a little, though. Each night I hit the sack, I feel like I had taken a rumble in an industrial size washing machine with a laundry basket full of rocks and hammers. My feet don't like it, but I am getting used to the I'll rest when I'm dead mentality.
I went quite a bit out of the way to see this, but it was worth it and then some. A chandelier of human bone:

Monday, June 22, 2009

A General Update

I am tempted to say that the squirrels in Europe are more charming than the squirrels in the United States, but I think this impression only exists because they are similar to, but still different, than the squirrels I am accustomed to (and I think this condition likely explains many of Europe's subtle charms so far). Swimming in a different gene pool seems endlessly fun, making nature one of the most exciting parts of my adventure so far.
German/Austrian food is in a lot of ways analogous tothat in the states: very meat-and-potatoes-centric with lots of fat and cream. Substantial, but poor for health and also bland (the beer however is quite good (I am enjoying some now as I type in the internet cafe)). Alternately, it is rarely difficult to find Turkish food stands, offering cheap and spicier options that are likewise hearty, but more interesting and vegetarian friendly (I have heard the Turkish situation here likened to that of Mexicans in America, both in culinary offerings and otherwise - they have been immigrating in large numbers, affecting a very old culture and making many natives uneasy).
Veganism had to be put on hold for the sake of my health and bank account (two things I have stated I would never compromise for this ideal), so I have been eating plenty of cheese and eggs. It has been easier to absorb culinary culture this way, but I have not yet tasted anything that would make me feel like I am missing out as a vegan. Guilt has never been a motivation for me - even still I have none - but if there is anything on my emotional spectrum that can be classified as homesickness, it is the void caused by the loss of my ability to be vegan without challenge. I feel deprived. Anyway, I am not losing any sleep so the main point is: I am not homesick.
There are bicycles everywhere here and I LOVE it. Hippies, poor people, and athletes are not alone on the road, they are joined with priests, business people, and old ladies. Bikes are so ubiquitous here they don't even bother locking them to posts, and there are dedicated bicycle lanes everywhere. The commitment to efficient consumption is impressive. There are sorted recycle bins in most busy areas, grocery stores don't give bags away, and windmills fill the fields as abundantly as cows do.
I spent nearly two weeks in Vienna and have had naught to say about it, which is stupid because it is utterly beautiful (if at first difficult to navigate). It's heart beats at the center it's old town full of statues and cathedrals, a world class opera house, excellent exhibits in a palace showing of the excesses of the Hapsburg empire, and the kind of shops and restaurants (and women) that make being a playboy millionaire seem like a really good idea. Vienna manages to be an immensely cultured and industrious capital without compromising its greenery - it is encompassed by woods and the Danude river, so it is never hard to retreat to a more natural setting. My favorite evening had to be that of the Sommernacht-Fesitval Koncert, a yearly event that has the Vienna philharmonic performing classical arrangements in the royal gardens behind the Shönbrunn Palace. The event is free to the public and it ended with fireworks and a night of drinking at a local Wiener's flat.
Today is day one of the solo leg of my journey. Within two hours of being by myself everything was going wrong and I was nearly having a panic attack. After collecting myself and a helpful online chat with Jessica Deahl (thank you), I was able to man up and get to Berlin, which is awesome. As are hostels. And beer. Now I am having fun and look forward to the enjoying the duration of my quest.
And to sign off...

Monday, June 15, 2009


was once the home of Mozart and the von Trapp family of 'The Sound of Music' fame, two assets for the city which make it the most touristy place I have been to so far. The workers here don't even humor me with my attempts at Deutch; they hear my accent and greet me with well practiced English. I visited Mozart's birth place, crawled all over a fortress, and paid a visit to a surprisingly thorough brewery/museum, which nearly a liter's worth of beer samples are offered with the price of admission. I also decided to climb a mountain (a real mountain). The first time I saw said mountain, I squinted at it judiciously and promptly decided that it would be mine, regardless of whether climbing it would be a good idea or even possible. Which mountain did I decide to climb?

The beginning of its trail (and all along the way) is lined with memorials marking places where people had died. Would my name become the newest addition to its gravely roster (continue dear reader and find out!)? The whole of my taking Untersberg was peppered with jeopardy. With a bearing no more speific than 'up,' twice I found myself on the wrong path and having to double back, which was especially inconvenient when the wrong path involved shimmying against a rock face on a narrow path. Very often I would have to employ all of my attention and limbs in order to continue, and I braved foul creatures that would lurk unseen in the foliage only to erupt from their hiding places when less than a meter stood between us (I hope that never again am I made to shout in terror by cute baby deer). I packed little more food and water than I would need to reach the peak. From there I hoped to take a cable car that leads to a small town just south of Salzburg. I missed the last car by an hour and had to about-face at the top and revisit my path from a higher perspective (higher as in altitude, not moral attitude). Gravity would imply it is easier to unmount a peak than to climb it, but I would not argue that is the case. Halfway down, my legs were quivering like spagetti. On the plus side, my blisters are now very nearly callouses. Despite the pain, I was often smiling. The effort was beautiful every inch of the way ... all six hours of it... and I am eager to do it again.

Over breakfast on the day after my ascent, I discovered that over the weekend a young man had fallen 300 meters from a ledge and perished, and that another couple had gone missing. :)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

I had a one night stand with Budapest

...the duration of which was sadly insufficient. Despite its being the least vegetarian friendly city I have maybe ever been to, and that it's dirty enough on its outskirts that it can be hard to take a step in a patch of grass without making contact with half a dozen cigarette butts, it had been non-stop fun and I look forward to returning one day. The city is also very affordable, though the Forint's denominations are bewildering... I accidentally withdrew 75,000 ft. when I guess I intended to extract 7,500, which is enough for a few square meals and a couple of museums entries. While there I bought and drank a lot of juice, which I must have sweat out pretty rapidly as I somehow decided that I could get to know the city more intimately if I stole it by foot. I didn't once step onto a metro line, and I have blisters to prove it. My tendons are now made of beef jerkey. I was nearly delirious when I returned to the Keleti Pu station and had temporarily forgotten the one language I know.

In just 24 hours I had caught up on 15 centuries of Hungarian history (don't test me on it), toured a building that had once been the headqaurters for the Hungarian National Socialists and then the Soviet secret police, climbed two mountains (practically), relaxed in a century old thermal bath (I had never been so at ease among pruny naked gentlemen), stopped by the coolest bar I had ever been to (a kert is a bar set up in a building scheduled for demolition - this particular kert was so popular they canceled demonlition and now the bar is a permanent fixture with all sorts of crazy crap like a seat cut from a bathtub and a spring loaded revolver on display), I learned the ropes from an experienced solo traveler from Quebec, added to my increasingly massive photographic collection of cross Jesus-es, crawled down a hole to a restaurant run by white Hungarian Hindus (maybe the only vegetarian place for miles), previewed the expansive Hungarian brand of night life (they know how to party and they do it well), split a bottle of wine and talked film with a pair of locals (my first Couch Surfing experience (the first of many, I assume)), and still had time to take it easy in a cafe in Buda with a pot of Earl Grey all to myself.

If anyone has any personal news or just wants to say hi, please fire me an email at . Make me smile. I would appreciate it. Ciao.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

My blog will be temporarily un-cancelled whenever I make a post

My backpack is quite heavy but should get lighter as I plow through paperback novels and the 30-some Clif Bars I brought with me. My walking muscles are getting very strong.

My favorite place in the world so far: the Wienerwald (Vienna Woods). Never have I so greatly desired to capture a smell the way a camera does an image - the scent is so clean it is sweet.

So far I'm thoroughly enjoying all the things I've planned to do, but none of it quite compares to the small but beautiful surprises I just happen to come across. To be taking a stroll in what seems a typical park and then happen upon a crumbling but intimidatingly large ruin from the Roman empire being retaken by greenery is nothing short of amazing. I've not been gone long, but I feel like I'm swelling with positivity and I'm excited for everything.

Also, I now have a tentative return date. I plan on coming back to the States in early August, after meeting Alan Jern in Amsterdam. I will have more beard and less money. Come have a glass of wine with me on the boat I'll be living on in Dana Point.