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.
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 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.
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.
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.”
Speaking of London, it 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 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.