to Who & for What

rolaids-adspoof

To who and for what
For what purpose, to what end
A trailer for your boat and a truck with which to pull it
Dinner sitting badly but antacids with which to null it
Things for your stuff
Such special instruments
Line your sepulcher
Toll for the bridge to the beyond?

From the outside looking in
One could easily be mistaken
Taken by the fact that I’ve got nothing to show for

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No Czech Wordplay Permitted

Stop complaining and have some pivo already.

Stop complaining and have some pivo already.

“How long are you staying?” asks everyone at one time or another.

“Um, for at least the next six months,” I reply to everyone at one time or another.

České Budějovice has had its tendrils wrapped around my heart and mind for some time now. But at first it was my legs.

My fiance and I were weary of travel, and getting here was a feat accomplished with no small amount of luck. We spent a couple of months in Prague being turned down or even outright ignored by language schools because we didn’t have our trade licenses yet. Money was running low and we were right up against the end of our 90-day Schengen Zone tourist visa. We were eyeing Croatia as an escape hatch when I received a job offer here in České Budějovice.

The city in which I live. That rad looking blue building in the background is city hall.

The city in which I live. That rad looking blue building in the background is city hall.

In all honesty, I was doubting the decision to come here near the end of the bus ride. I saw the panelaks and the industrial outcropping of the city and lastly the gray glory (sarcasm) that is Nádražní.

But then I saw the square and the restaurants and the shops and our flat. I was incredibly fortunate that I was hired by a company that provides visa assistance and help finding accommodations. My boss at the time (and my boss now for that matter) began the gradual process of changing my mind about what Czech people are all about, well, to an American like me anyway.

I experienced countless times the cold stare and gruff public manners of Prague’s citizenry. Having lived in Seattle, Washington just prior to leaving for Europe, I was well-acquainted with big-city demeanor, but Prague seemed especially icy. The same can be said for here in ČB but to a lesser extent and a more infrequent degree. People don’t smile at strangers. There’s a lot of formality when it comes to greeting people in businesses, schools and workplaces, but it’s all pretty sterile and impersonal for the most part.

The difference, I learned, was actually knowing somebody.

Prague is beautiful. The people are, well, there. And um, there is some dog poop. But otherwise, Prague is beautiful.

Prague is beautiful. The people are, well, there. And um, there is some dog poop. But otherwise, Prague is beautiful.

I was cut off from the other expatriates here for most of my first year, so I actually made Czech friends before meeting other native English-speakers. And I noticed very quickly how hospitable and generous people could be here once you’ve been introduced. It reminds me of small-town, Midwest American living. Honest, good-hearted people who are dropping kindness and food on you at a rate higher than you can take it all in.

Something that took much longer for me to really get was the way Czechs see the world. And to be honest, I could still have it wrong. But as far as I can tell, it goes like this: You’re walking down the street, you see something you don’t like. So you walk around it.

There is a fair amount of public urination here in the Czech Republic as it's not illegal per se. As a man, I have benefited from this countless times. Here's an installation by David Černý. His works around Prague are numerous, crazy, a bit odd, and oftentimes hilarious. In this piece, two men are continuously pissing on the Czech Republic. While they pee they're writing quotes by famous Prague residents. You can text from your phone while next to the sculpture and they'll write your message in piss. Neat, right?

There is a fair amount of public urination here in the Czech Republic as it’s not illegal per se. As a man, I have benefited from this countless times. Here’s an installation by David Černý. His works around Prague are numerous, crazy, a bit odd, and oftentimes hilarious. In this piece, two men are continuously pissing on the Czech Republic. While they pee they’re writing quotes by famous Prague residents. You can text from your phone while next to the sculpture and they’ll write your message in piss. Neat, right?

That is so far removed from a typical American point of view that it required almost two years of being here before I understood what it was really about.

In America, we pride ourselves on our freedom of speech, our liberty, and our personal rights as citizens. But believe it or not, you can take these things too far. We brandish them like weapons at times. Americans have a tendency to feel that if someone is doing something they don’t like that they can complain loudly or tell the person how wrong they are until they stop even if it’s perfectly legal.

I think that this comes from being spoiled. I think Americans have had it so good for so long that we haven’t got a healthy perspective on day-to-day life. Here, the Czech Republic has its problems, but it’s still a pretty new concept when you think about it. I’m older than the country I live in, that’s a weird thing to realize. America on the other hand, has always been America ever since they first gave it the name. We’ve never been occupied by an invading force. We’ve made our own boundaries. We haven’t had a war fought on our land in so long that the last soldier who fought in it died almost sixty years ago.

Hitler taking a totally casual stroll in Brno, Czech Republic. I wonder if he also found it to be kind of underwhelming. (ed. note: History nerds would be well-advised to Google "Munich Appeasement" and ready one's self for a face palm.)

Hitler taking a totally casual stroll in Brno, Czech Republic. I wonder if he also found it to be kind of underwhelming. (ed. note: History nerds would be well-advised to Google “Munich Appeasement” and ready one’s self for a face palm.)

We simply haven’t got the kind of history that teaches one to appreciate the finer things in life. We chafe and bristle at every little thing but oddly enough, we only say, “I’m fine” if someone asks. It’s a strange emotional constipation we put ourselves through.

I’ve seen the faces of the old ladies who swarm the bus stop at Poliklinika Jih every day during my commutes. They don’t seem to be the cheeriest bunch of blue-haired old biddies, but I don’t seem to ever catch them wagging their fingers at someone. Nor do I witness them causing a ruckus because some one neglected to give up a bus seat, forcing them to stand.

I can’t know why they react, or rather, don’t react in displeasing situations. Maybe because they lived through Communist rule and maybe because some of them are old enough to remember Nazi rule. It’s all conjecture on my part, but it certainly makes sense to me.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Maybe that’s what I’ve learned here. Someone bumps into you, don’t get into a huff. Someone cuts in line, don’t make a stink. There are more important things in life than a momentary annoyance.

As Kafka said, “So long as you have food in your mouth, you have solved all questions for the time being.”

And now, for no reason whatsoever, I’m letting the legendary Czech punk band, Visací Zámek play us out.

Hi-ho the Derry-o a Poland We Will Go

 

Polish Resistance

Poland is not a typical summer vacation spot, definitely not for Americans and certainly not for Czechs. The majority of Czechs we’ve informed about our impending three week long Poland excursion have either shrugged and ambled away at a medium pace or stared blankly, mouth agape and said, “Why?”

My now-former boss Marketa put it best. Most Czechs probably think that Poland is too much like the Czech Republic to be worth visiting. She may have a point. It’s another former Eastern Bloc country and Slavic to boot. On the surface there aren’t many differences. Geographically they are similar as well, save for Poland’s coastline on the Baltic whereas the Czech Republic is landlocked.

I’m anticipating some key differences upon arrival though. I’ve heard tales told of Polish hospitality, and I’m looking to experience it firsthand. I’m expecting a lot of the same food but looking forward to pierogies, a Polish specialty. The language will be similar to what I hear around here, another Slavic tongue but with variations of course, and their alphabet has different characters that I haven’t seen before.

But I suppose what I am most eager about is just educating myself. As an American, and in particular an American born and raised in the Midwest where the Polish-American population is quite high, I’ve grown up hearing and reading stereotypes and misinformation about Poles. One of the first and biggest is that they’re dumb. Well, Polish schools test higher than American schools for starters and to follow that up, based on my research the stereotype of Poles being stupid stems almost directly from xenophobia. It comes from the days of large groups of Polish migrants settling in America in the late 1800’s through to the early 1900’s. They didn’t speak much, if any English and they were willing to take any job available. I would stop to point out the modern-day corollary but I imagine you’ve gotten it already. Otherwise, the notion that Poles are somehow naturally dumber than other groups is purely an American creation. The Germans and Russians had their own stereotypes as well, but it’s by and large only Americans who think Poles are stupid.

A lot of misinformation I learned about Poland was in high school during history classes. We were told that the Nazi blitzkrieg flattened Poland in a matter of days. Not true, they lasted just as long as France and in the end they didn’t surrender. In the lead-up to the Nazi invasion they signed a pact with Britain and France to protect themselves against the Nazis but when the attack started, much like during the end of the war, the Allied powers were nowhere to be seen.

Another common and erroneous bit of information passed to me was that the Polish forces were outdated and collapsed easily. True, no one had the technology the Nazis had at the time, but the Polish airforce, as small and inferior to the Nazi airforce as it was, downed planes at a rate of nearly one to one with the Nazis.

A rather embarrassing one that has hung around for a while is that the Polish cavalry charged Nazi tanks with lances. It’s true, they did have a mounted division, but so did every one at the start of the war but they didn’t charge tanks on horseback.

I guess my larger point here is that a lot of what I’ve learned about Poles and Poland has been dictated by everyone except the Poles themselves. The Nazi propaganda machine published false and potentially embarrassing stories about the annexation of Poland to both demean the Poles and rally supporters at home. Americans started making jokes about Poles out of xenophobia and paranoia.

I’m hoping that I come back from Poland with my own perspective. I’m not looking for what proves or disproves anything I’ve learned up til now, I just want to find out for my own damn self.

I See a Man Without a Country

I’m an American sasquatch and I’ve been in Europe since the beginning of September 2012. My girlfriend Cynthia and I spent a few months travelling and then getting certified to teach English before landing in České Budějovice, which is in the southwestern corner of the Czech Republic. We’ve been living and teaching here for almost eleven months now. We love our flat, our jobs, and are making more friends all the time. After initially being strapped for cash upon arriving here in CB, we now make enough from our teaching jobs to pay for trips without needing any of our (her) savings for funding. Everything is great and every day feels like we’re living the dream. Except for one thing, one huge problem.

We don’t know what to do next.

At first glance, it seems like one of them good problems. We’re living in Europe, regularly travel and can afford to do so and live comfortably while only working part time. But we don’t feel that CB is our permanent home. We have aspirations to make a real home somewhere, you know, the kind of home you renovate and buy furniture for. We’ve accumulated very little in the way of personal effects in order to keep ourselves light and streamlined for more travel in the future. The biggest thing either of us have bought so far are an acoustic guitar and a typewriter, but both are so cheap that they could be easily jettisoned when we go to move again.

If CB isn’t our permanent home, then what is? She’s from the state of Washington, specifically an island town near the San Juans and I’m from the thumb knuckle of Michigan. Seattle perhaps? Detroit maybe? How about other cities? We share a former boss who would hire us in a heartbeat in San Diego but it would require making coffee again. What about Colorado? Montana? Alaska? A lot of European countries bear consideration based on availability of work; Croatia, Germany, Austria and a few others included. Hell, even though it’s America’s attic Canada is on our radar.

I think this is the Prime Minister of Canada. Truth be told, I don't know who's in charge of any country nor can I find most of them on a map. 'Merica!

I think this is the Prime Minister of Canada.

That last part may have sounded a little silly, but it’s quite simple to me. Why is Canada even an option if we decide we’re going to go back to North America? Why not just go back to America? Well, even though I sometimes consider myself a proud American I can say that Canada seems so damn attractive to me because they seem to care more about their own people.

There’s the whole universal health care thing. Yeah, we kinda sorta maybe got some health care in the United States now, but it’s a lot of half measures because Republicans are obsessed with low taxes and protecting big businesses. I’m skipping the political debate here, but I could go a lot further. And anyway, since the Democrats don’t have a solid majority in the Senate and are in the minority in the House, we got a camel for healthcare reform. Just so you know, a camel is what you get when you design a horse by committee. In first world countries, free healthcare is damn common and America doesn’t have it. Countries we tend to look down our noses at have a better record of taking care of their sick and elderly than we do.

Anyhoo, what’s another thing that is important for young people to consider who may want to settle down and have a family?

Paid maternity leave, another thing that America doesn’t have. Canada has fifty weeks of it and here in the Czech Republic you can choose to have up to four years of paid parenting leave. That’s right, four years. Granted you only get a percentage of your salary, but being on leave for that long right up until your kid starts school means no babysitters or daycare if you don’t want any. To make it sound even a little crazier, the parents can switch off during parenting leave. Yeah, it almost sounds like magic. Next thing you know I’ll be telling you that every kid here goes to Hogwarts and that you can find herds of unicorns in the forests of South Bohemia.

Biggest drawback of living in the Czech Republic? Nothing gets done unless Jaromir Jagr wills it so.

Biggest drawback of living in the Czech Republic? Nothing gets done unless Jaromir Jagr wills it so.

To be absolutely clear, the Czech Republic does have a lot of problems. We aren’t planning on starting a family here or anything. People are not always very kind to visitors or humans in general, there are ongoing issues with the Romani, the roads here are Michigan-level bad and the government is Chicago-level corrupt. And yet, every one has healthcare and paid parenting leave. So, yeah, you gotta take the good with the bad, but at least the people are being looked out for.

Is it silly to have considerations like these affect your choice of where to raise a family? I don’t know, to me it seems pragmatic, maybe too much so I’m willing to concede. Maybe to others it seems too opportunistic, but I’m from the motherfucking land of opportunity so yeah, I like a sale. What’s that? You’re giving away free healthcare and paid parenting leave? Gimme gimme gimme.

But there’s also the point I’m trying to make. And that is, “Hey America, what gives?”

One issue that I find really agonizing and that affects my view of America greatly is gun control. I.e., the lack of it. It breaks my heart that I would rather not live in America because of the gun problem than live there and have to stomach it. I can’t change the way I feel about it, plain and simple. I’m not afraid of guns, I don’t want everyone’s guns to be taken away and melted down, and I don’t think I’m in great risk of being shot. I just frankly am quite depressed when whacko birds with guns mow down a bunch of kids and nothing changes because a bunch of other whacko birds with guns think that the solution is more guns.

If I'm being honest, I do really like Seattle quite a bit and I lived there for three years. I just don't have the same feelings about it that Cynthia does. I'd rather live up in the islands near where she grew up.

If I’m being honest, I do really like Seattle quite a bit and I lived there for three years. I just don’t have the same feelings about it that Cynthia does. I’d rather live up in the islands near where she grew up.

I love America, but I don’t always miss it. Okay, I’ll be honest, I rarely miss it. But I am a misanthrope with little to no feelings so this isn’t news to those who know me best. I don’t miss things often, I don’t do whatever “homesick” is, and even though I love my family, I don’t choose where to live based on where they are. It has nothing to do with them, and as cold as that may sound, I was raised thinking I could do whatever I wanted if I worked hard because that’s part of the American identity and that’s exactly what I’m doing now. I don’t exactly know how it sounds for me to say that, but as an American I can expect to be welcome in a lot of countries and even anticipate less stringent VISA requirements than other non-European Union citizens. With those and other advantages available to me it seems silly to not make use of them.

Cynthia and I have differing views of what being American means and whether or not we should live in America permanently. At the present, I’m thinking that there are countries and situations that people are born into where they’ll never get to leave their country even though they want to. Whether it’s because they’re poor or oppressed, they will die having never crossed the border. I hate to get all heavy handed here, but am I wrong? No, I’m not. So I think being American means making the most of the chances we get and using our freedom that way. Cynthia’s opinion on the matter is that America is a part of her, it’s where she’s from, it’s where her closest friends are, and the Northwest specifically is where the people who she relates to the best live. She’s not wrong to feel those feelings, you might never have friends who get you like the people you grew up with or met in college. And she is much more sentimental than I, but not to a fault. I mean, come on, she quit a job that she liked quite a bit and moved out of the Seattle neighborhood of Ballard that she loved to go on an adventure like this. So I don’t think she suffers from an abundance of sentimentality and I also don’t think she’s incorrect to feel the way that she does.

So, does that mean I’m a bad guy? Am I too hard, too distant and callous to consider living anywhere but America? Does it mean I hate America now?

All Detroit jokes aside, it's got a certain Berlin post-wall thing happening at the moment. If it continues, it could become an entirely different kind of city than what is the norm in America.

Detroit’s got a certain Berlin post-wall thing happening at the moment. If it continues, it could become an entirely different kind of city than what is the norm in America.

No, if anything it just proves that I’m feeling conflicted and that our predicament is a complex one. Detroit is atop the list of places in the States where I’d want to settle, so I don’t think I’m completely anti-America nowadays. Actually, I have several places I’d be willing to live. However, when it comes to Detroit I want that city to be great again and I want to be a part of it. I also love the idea of cheap ass real estate. However, if we don’t settle the issue of which country to live in will we always be looking? Will we ever really settle in a single spot?

Having kids would probably do that. We know a Czech family here and we’ve both taught their daughters. I’ve never been entirely clear on what the father does but I know he commutes to and from Prague regularly these days. His work used to have the family living in New Zealand and I think both of the girls or at least one was born there. The older one is seven and the younger one is five. They both are fluent in Czech of course as their parents are Czech born and raised. But because of growing up in New Zealand for a little bit, the seven year old is fluent in English with no accent and the little one for her age is about a decade ahead of any other five year olds when it comes to English. At some point they either decided to live in Czech Republic again or his work required him to, but whatever the impetus for their return was the experience was incredible for their daughters. Parents are shelling out money here to teach their kids English and these two girls are light years ahead of their peers because their parents lived abroad. I could have bilingual kids solely because I raised them abroad and the doors that could leave open for them are a great many if they keep up their second language.

I’m getting way ahead of myself here. We don’t even know if we’re staying here in CB past this school year yet but we’re looking into finding work elsewhere before we decide. The likeliest course of action is that we stay in Central Europe. If not here, Germany, maybe Austria if there are jobs anywhere other than the bigger cities.

In Berlin there are lots of cool things things to see and do and lots of cool people to meet and party with and lots of free time to do all these things because no one has a job in Berlin.

In Berlin there are lots of cool things things to see and do and lots of cool people to meet and party with and lots of free time to do all these things because no one has a job in Berlin.

An aside, Germany and Austria would be slam dunk propositions to move to if we felt that the salary/cost of living ratio was doable and met our travel expectations. Vienna (Austria) or Hamburg (Germany) would be a dream if we could do better than break even but we’re not confident that we could. There is no work to be found in Berlin so that’s right out, so maybe the small to medium sized cities have a better ratio of pay to cost of living. Par exemple, CB compared to Prague is a dream. I don’t envy friends who live in Prague and the rents they pay or the commutes they have to deal with.

This is literally a can of worms. And so is the VISA process in most countries.

This is literally a can of worms. And so is the VISA process in most countries.

In a nutshell, moving to Germany is a whole other can of wax or ball of worms when you start thinking it out. Finding work, a flat, getting VISAs in another country, it all shaves years off your life. After all that we’ve been through here thinking about going through it again leaves us both a little short of breath. There’s also where I started this whole post: we are really loving where we live now. We have a massive ass place at a fraction of the cost of the smaller Seattle apartment we used to share and we’re right by Germany and Austria and countless other places that are easily enough reached by bus or rail. We both really like our bosses and our landlords are the greatest people on the planet. They bring us more furnishings whenever we need them as well as the occasional cake and just yesterday one of them invited us on a cheapo day trip to Vienna. So if we take the leap to another country, are we falling prey to the “Grass is always greener on the other side” trap? Because let me tell you, the grass here is pretty fucking green.

So yeah, it’s totally a bunch of pansy ass first world problems, I can admit that. But they are problems for us none the less. Do we move back to North America? If so, where to and when? Do we stay in Europe? If so, where and for how long? If we leave Europe we will regret it forever? If we leave CB for somewhere else in Europe will we have it as good?

At some point we will make a tough decision and cross our fingers and toes that it doesn’t lead to a long, regret filled life where each day we cook alive in a personal hell with the crushing realization that we ruined ourselves by making the wrong choice and that no matter what we do, each morning the brimstone oven fueled by our self inflicted misery will fire up anew and the hot suffering will bear down on our minds and hearts even fiercer than the day before.

In the meantime, Happy Holidays!

And now, an old favorite from Kids in the Hall to take us out:

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My Feet Are Sore

It’s been nearly a year now since this whole Europe madness began and all I got was this crappy t-shirt. During the course of our travels which began August 31st, 2012 and continue to this day, we have been to nine countries, each of those countries’ capitals, and several other places in between. In this write-up I will attempt to share what I saw without exhausting myself or you. We’ve been living in Czech Republic for nine months now but I will largely focus on our other travels for the time being. If you at any time feel daunted by the amount of text, skip to the end where I give out super neato awards!

Glasgow Necropolis, where everything is awesome and scary at the same damn time.

Glasgow Necropolis, where everything is awesome and scary at the same damn time.

Scotland, oh Scotland. The first stop began with a very jetlagged day in Glasgow. After a four-hour nap the trip commenced in earnest. A real city Glasgow is. The Glasgow Cathedral is a pretty scary looking joint but then the kicker is the Necropolis situated up on a hill behind it, overlooking the city. I’ve been to a lot of cemeteries (I don’t smoke cloves or wear eye-liner) and I think that it’s my favorite, even over Père Lachaise in Paris.

The people of Glasgow are nicer than they want you to think, as on more than one occasion a local volunteered their assistance. But, the Glaswegian accent HAS to be one of the hardest to decipher of all English-language dialects. Take the typical caricature of a Scotsman and then imagine him talking about five times faster, it’s incredible.

Glasgow is a city I really want to return to some day, I don’t feel like I had enough time to poke around the Barras Market which is the most insane flea market I’ve ever seen, picture the pikeys from the movie Snatch and you might begin to understand. I’d also like to tie on a few more rounds at the Horseshoe Bar to wash down some bangers and mash. Glasgow, I will see you again.

Iona, at the beach. Most beaches in the isles off the west coast of Scotland look like this but I was just as stoked any time I saw one.

Iona, at the beach. Most beaches in the isles off the west coast of Scotland look like this but I was no less stoked any time I saw one.

This part is hard, as we spent five weeks in the Western Highlands and I feel the need to condense it into a few short graphs. Not to undermine the rest of our Europe trip, but it has to be said, the absolute highlight thus far was our time in the Highlands. We spent the lion’s share of the time at workstays that we arranged via HelpX.net and that is definitely a factor as sharing a home for multiple weeks at a time with gracious hosts can positively impact a visit to any country much more than sleeping in hostel dorms. The area is beautiful and most can agree Glencoe is the place to see.

Our first workstay. Yes, it really was this pants-crappingly beautiful.

Our first workstay. Yes, it really was this pants-crappingly beautiful.

As for the workstays we stayed first in Arisaig and then Oban. On weekends and in between stays we took trips to the various islands off the west coast. The Isle of Eigg was our favorite as it is not the most popular destination for travellers yet is as beautiful as any other other island and features Massacre Cave, the name of our as of yet unfinished debut album from our death metal band of the same name, Massacre Cave. Our first single will be the appropriately titled, “Massacre Cave”. Iona must also be seen, as well as Isle of Islay just for its Scotch whiskey distilleries alone. (My favorites Scotches in order are Lagavulin and Ardberg.) Isle of Skye is perhaps the most visited but we found it to be slightly overrated. However, nearby it on the mainland is Eilean Donan Castle, my favorite European castle yet, and not just because it was in Highlander. By the way, most of the hostels in the area and especially on Iona and Isle of Islay are fantastic.

Yup, it's that Edinburgh Castle from that thing you saw once.

Yup, it’s that Edinburgh Castle from that thing you saw once.

Edinburgh was a place I really wanted to like. It has great museums, it’s worth it to head up to the castle, and one of my favorite restaurants in all of Europe is there, Mosque Kitchen. But it didn’t leave me wanting more like other cities I’d been to previously or since. Sorry Edinburgh. I wouldn’t recommend that people skip it or anything, I would just say it’s not a real Scottish city. It’s closer to feeling like London than Glasgow if that makes any sense.

London. My favorite Churchill quote: "I may be drunk, Miss, but in the morning I will be sober and you will still be ugly."

London. My favorite Churchill quote: “I may be drunk, Miss, but in the morning I will be sober and you will still be ugly.”

Speaking of Londonit was crammed with tourists to the point you were certain that they were coming out of the storm drains like a gang of souvenir-buying C.H.U.D.s. The Tower of England was a highlight and listening to a Beefeater-guided tour is totally worth it. Maybe my expectations were unrealistic, but I got a lot of tourist-trappy vibes from London, which is really strange because it’s so rich with history and art but that’s just the feeling I came away with.

In Paris places like this exists by the hundreds.

In Paris places like this exist by the hundreds.

Ah, Paris. Idyllic to be sure, manicured, pretty, a postcard photo waiting to be taken every step of the way. For me that’s a problem, silly as it sounds. Excellent food of course. Running into Dominique Pinon from films like Amelie and A Very Long Engagement was a nice surprise. No one ever warns you about just how huge and daunting the Louvre is, it may stress you out in fact. It was fun and a little romantic to take our couple’s photo in front of the Eiffel Tower even though about two hundred other couples were doing the same thing. Coming from Michigan and an area with no shortage of factories and industrial parks, I’m familiar with beauty butting up against reality and grit. Paris doesn’t have that. It’s a Disneyland city. Apologies if that sounds too derisive, it’s merely how I feel about the place. It didn’t feel real or lived-in. I couldn’t picture myself living there and it lost points because of that. The people are kind if you attempt some French, but if they’re rude forgive them, most pay out the nose to live in shoe box-sized flats.

This isn't THE wall, it's just A wall. That said, it's pretty typical of a wall in Berlin to have something like this on it.

This isn’t THE wall, it’s just A wall. That said, it’s pretty typical of a wall in Berlin to have something like this on it.

And then there was Berlin, one of my favorite cities to date. First things first: Eat at Dolores Burrito. Then have currywurst. Then have döner kebap. Okay, you may continue. It’s hip, artsy, international, dark history,  and has amazing food. The first of the European cities that I’ve been to with a truly magnificent public transit system. The East Side Gallery was pretty killer. It’s a remnant from the Berlin Wall that’s still standing and covered with art from one end to the other. The people are kind and the odds that some one speaks English if your German sucks are high. We walked into a dance party taking place in a space about a hundred square feet in size in between two possibly vacant buildings. It was heated by a fire in a barrel and there was even a DJ manning the music in the rear of the cramped quarters. I hope to go back to Berlin soon, it’s probably not a city for every one, but it certainly is for me.

The famed Charles Bridge of Prague covered in snow and as empty as you'll ever see it.

The famed Charles Bridge of Prague covered in snow and as empty as you’ll ever see it.

Oh, Prague, first impressions can be damning. We arrived in Czech Republic under high stress. Low on money and beginning a course to be certified as teachers of English as a foreign language. It all worked out in the end, but Prague is a case of a place being affected by your life as opposed to the other way around. It was a bitterly cold winter and the city has a dog shit epidemic. There is architecture there that rivals anywhere else in the world, but I will remember it as the city where I was freaked out about green card paperwork pretty much every day. Great street food, beer is cheaper than water, they love hockey, and the public transit is solid. I can recommend it, but learn a little Czech before you go or it could be rough sledding. Also, I hope you don’t mind public urination.

Part of a series of sculptures in Bratislava designed solely to make you double-take over and over again.

Part of a series of sculptures in Bratislava designed solely to make you double-take.

The city you’ve never heard of is up next, and that is Bratislava, Slovakia. And cripes, why should you have heard of it? You might still be referring to the region as Czechoslovakia anyway, so why do you care? Let’s put it this way, I would never tell someone to fly to Europe just for Bratislava, but if you’re in Czech Republic, Poland, Austria, or Hungary, Bratislava deserves your love. The first time we were there it was in the middle of a blizzard and we still liked it. How’s that for starters? The second time we saw more of the history and great side streets and plazas. It’s got plenty of quirks and art and it’s even cheaper than Prague, which shouldn’t be possible but it is. It’s also home to Patio Hostel, one of my favorite hostels in Europe thus far. The company I work for has an office there and had the circumstances been different, I could absolutely live there in the short term.

Winter beard growth which soon saw its demise after returning from Easter in Vienna.

Winter beard growth which soon saw its demise after returning from Easter in Vienna.

Our time in Vienna was short but we had just seen The Third Man so it felt a little extra special. “Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever?”

That, and we were there over Easter. Vienna is a beautiful city and an enormous one as well. Excellent food, loads of shopping, great museums and exhibits and more of that excellent European public transit.

Hallstatt, Austria. A place so intensely pretty that it's unfair to the rest of the planet.

Hallstatt, Austria. A place so intensely pretty that it’s unfair to the rest of the planet.

After later trips into smaller cities in Austria it easily became one of my favorite countries, still behind Scotland though. The country is clean, well-maintained, and once again, if your German stinks they are quite commonly bilingual down old Austria way. Linz I can recommend, it’s just over the border from Czech Republic and has great museums. And Hallstatt is the ideal town to go unplug and just be by nature. Austria, you can’t go wrong visiting it. I think it gets overlooked at times, but it totally shouldn’t be.

I believe Hova would refer to this as "Big pimpin."

I believe Hova would refer to this as “Big pimpin.”

We most recently returned from Sweden, which is competing with Austria for runner-up to Scotland. The biggest thing holding Sweden back is cost. Of course the natives’ pay is adjusted for cost of living, but if you visit from any other country other than Norway everything is expensive. A beer might run you ten dollars American on average. Save up before you go is all I can say. Stockholm is one of my favorite big cities now, so I’m glad we went. It’s a bit jarring at first but there are more 7-Elevens than anywhere I’ve ever been, and guess what, they’re really friggin’ nice in Sweden. Grade A transit, food, coffee, and people. They have to be the best non-native English speakers I’ve met so far. Some even have English accents, it’s ridiculous. If you’re at all self-conscious about your body, I have bad news, all Swedes are gorgeous and fit. If you’re terribly ashamed of how you look, don’t go to Sweden, it will do nothing to elevate your self-esteem. Stockholm is more or less in the Baltic Sea due to the geography of the city, which makes it unbelievably scenic. If you can swing the expenses, go.

You were probably wondering to yourself if I could go a whole blog post about travel and avoid sharing a photo of a sunset over water. Now you have your answer.

You were probably wondering to yourself if I could go a whole blog post about travel and avoid sharing a photo of a sunset over water. Now you have your answer.

Grinda is an island in the Swedish Archipelago and gee is it swell. A great place to unwind and take it easy, but prepare for all sorts of weather. We went kayaking in beautiful weather and half an hour later when back on the island it hailed for roughly twenty minutes. Uppsala is a city back on the mainland near Stockholm and if you’re a amateur scholar of Viking history like me it has to be seen. Every nine years they came from all over the country to gather there and make sacrificial offerings to please the Norse gods. The city proper is quite nice and makes me wonder if I can ever afford to live there.

That’s about as barebones as I can make it. No place I’ve mentioned is totally skippable, but I absolutely have my favorites. Here’s the run-down.

Congratulations Scotland! For the first time since ever you won something and this time there's zero chance that England will just take it for no reason.

Congratulations Scotland! For the first time ever you won something and there’s zero chance that England will take it for no reason.

Third Favorite Country – Sweden

Second Favorite Country – Austria

Favorite Country – Scotland

Third Favorite City – Glasgow

Second Favorite City – Stockholm

Favorite City – Berlin

Least Favorite City – Edinburgh

City I’d Most Like to Visit Again – Glasgow

City I’d Love to Live in But Can’t Afford – Uppsala

City I’d Love to Live in But is Too Isolated – Bratislava

City with the Most Bodily Waste (Human) – Prague

City with the Most Bodily Waste (Animal) – Prague

Favorite Island – Isle of Eigg

Best Foodie City – Berlin

Best Transit – Stockholm

Worst Transit – Bratislava (The first time we were there we saw a tram come off its track)

Too Touristy to Completely Enjoy – Paris & London

Places I Still Want to See – Hungary, Poland, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Portugal

Amount of Money We Have Left after Sweden – $1.28

We are poor. Poor are we.

We are poor. Poor are we.