I feel like a complete nomad! I don’t have any reference point, be it a home or friends traveling with me. Both my bed and social circle are changing every few days. I’m on the train from Prague to Berlin, and this time I am sad to leave a city for a different reason. As expected Prague was beautiful, but what was special to me were not the monuments I visited as much as the many people I met along the way. But before I get carried away, let’s start at the beginning.
I arrived in Munich on Monday night, and headed to my special hostel not knowing what to expect. Remember the 40-bed dorm? You should have never let me sign up for that! Upon checking in, I receive a free Jaeger shot! That should give you a pretty good idea about what this hostel’s about. Of course, I take the shot then head to the dorm. the best way to describe it is comparing it to some sort of contemporary or avant-gardiste exhibition room. Piles of clothes and shoes laid everywhere and were hanging from all sides. If I tried to describe the mess it probably wouldn’t give it justice. Instead, I’ll talk to you about my attempt to sleep. With 40 people in the same room, it was almost certain to have some movement at any time of the night. Either from people returning after a night out at 2-3-4am or others waking up early to make the most of their visit at 6-7-8am. But let’s forget about this and enjoy Munich instead.
I decide to take a guided tour of this Bavarian capital to make the most of my half-day. And out of all the people, I end up with an American couple who’s daughter is marrying a Lebanese, and another Texan girl who has Lebanese family! I’ll give you a brief run through of the tour, but expect to get a little confused with all the weird sounding names. What’s spectacular about Munich is that after WWII, only 3% of buildings were left intact. This means that a lot of the iconic buildings I visited have been restored, and that’s the case with almost all of Munich. A good example of this is the municipality building that was restored in a unique way, combining the classical remains of the pre-WWII building with some ingenious modern architecture.
Other symbolic buildings include the Neues Rathaus (new town hall) and Altes Rathaus (old town hall) in the Marienplatz square. I also visited the very famous beer gardens; these are big spaces (both indoors and outdoors) where germans meet to drink beer and eat local food. The Hofbräuhaus, for example, can house 2,300 people. If you thought you were a man, think again. Here women trying to cut down on drinks order a pint of beer, the rest have 1L glasses… Refilled a couple of times! (not to say that I quantify manliness by the amount of beer one drinks, it just felt like a dramatic way to make my point) It’s not for nothing that Bavaria has the highest beer consumption per capita. Next on my must-see list is the Englischer Garten one of the larger city parks. Yea it’s green and fresh and all, but all these “details” fade away when you realize locals sunbathe completely naked!*
*Wouldn’t you like to know if I joined them? You’ll have to find out for yourself! this blog is PG-13.
For lunch, I head to the Biktualiemarkt where a large number of food stands and bakeries set up shop around a big open space with lots of benches. It is customary to buy your food then sit down with total strangers at a table and start chatting away! It’s a very open and friendly culture. On this episode of The Blasphemies, I decided to follow locals around the market to find out what they ate. I chose the foods that seemed to be eaten most often: Lebarkäs (cured ham), Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), Weißwurst (white sausage), and pretzels. I had a great lunch outdoors in the company of three German women.**
**Don’t get any ideas, they were three times my age.
Next stop was Prague. And similarly to Lucerne, it was a city stuck in the past. If you walk around Staré Mêsto (the old town) or Pražsky Hrad (Prague Castle) you’ll find yourself imagining how people lived several hundred years ago. The castle in fact is more like a whole village, with a big gothic cathedral at the center, a basilica, a convent, a royal palace and houses. Even the Nové Mêsto (new town) built in the 14th century is too old for it’s own name. On day 1, I did a usual walking tour of the city on my own (no guided tour this time – to mix it up). I especially enjoyed looking at the whole city from atop the castle. Imagine it covered with a red veil. I also walked on the Charles Bridge, a very busy pedestrian-only medieval bridge lined up with street musicians, souvenir stands, and painters.
I know I’ve already complained a lot about the swarming tourists, but trust me nothing compares to Prague so far. I’ve never seen a city so jam-packed with tourists, a human tsunami is an understatement. At times, it was downright unpleasant. This is too bad, this city’s charm is eclipsed by the torrents of people flowing around the major spots. Also, I almost never encountered any locals. And the few I did encounter, were not very friendly. You can definitely feel they’re getting tired of all these tourists taking over their town. Two other visits are worth mentioning: the sex museum and the medieval torture museum. Both require a significant imaginative effort: you’re shown tools and devices and left to wonder what their applications could have been. In some cases, there are more similarities than you would think between both museums.
I came to Prague wanting to watch a classical music concert. And so, on my first night, I went to the Municipal House to enjoy a rendition of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. It was an amazing performance, and only my second time listening to a live classical music performance! I was reminded of how captivating it is! I’m sure the elder Asian sitting next to me would agree: I was impressed by his intense dedication to taking in the music; he listened with his eyes closed, and seemed to be in a deep trance. It turns out he was indeed in a trance; a trance called sleep, at least until his wife woke him up angrily right before the end of the show. He did applause with lots enthusiam though.
After that, I really wanted to watch another performance on the following day, but had already planned to leave in the afternoon. The city of Prague, on the other hand, would have it differently: on the next day, I was informed there would be a complete transportation strike. In other words, no trains coming in or leaving the city, I was stuck in Prague wether I’d like it or not. And of course, I did like it! This is great, it takes off the burden of decision making. I would be able assist to a second concert, as it was decided by a higher authority that I was staying an extra day! I ended up watching an opera for the first time (Tosca at the State Opera House), equally captivating. Although, I have to admit, it’s more of an acquired taste (a musical taste that is; the other type of taste I will talk about next).
Let’s talk food! I’ll start with the easy stuff. I had the classical Czech goulash. Then I was recommend to try some venison (deer), as it is also a Czech specialty. So I went hunting for some around town – in vain. It turns out they are quite elusive! However, I did manage to catch an apple strudel instead! They, on the other hand, are quite tame. Mine didn’t seem to like moving a lot; it laid there, freshly baked, waiting to be eaten. Very good! Now let me tell you about my main course. Yes, my only main course, because this thing was so massive it’s probably enough to feed an entire family for a week. But of course, in the Czech Republic it’s your average meal. I had wild boar ribs! Not your typical westerner wimpy ribs, I’m talking about the real thing! I literally had half a boar’s chest on my table. It’s a good thing I was sitting alone on a 4-person table, it wouldn’t have fit otherwise. And no, it wasn’t beautifully trimmed to look esthetically pleasing. It was dripping with fat and still had joints and blood vessels attached. Remember that analogy about real men? Yea, I think my T levels doubled after that meal!
Before I let you go, let me tackle the point I made at the start. Somehow, my visit to Prague was different. I enjoyed discovering the city, but I enjoyed meeting people even more. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been traveling on my own for more than a week now (in Paris and London, I was alone for the day but would meet up with friends on evenings). It seems I craved some social interaction because I ended up meeting more interesting people in those 2 days than in the past 2 weeks. Sitting alone for dinner one night, I struck up a wonderful conversation with a stranger also eating alone. Somehow, that conversation lasted for 3 hours and hit every imaginable subject. On another occasion, I met an older couple and had another long and interesting conversation. I also became “good” friends with two receptionists at my hostel, and was even referred to as “the friendly guy” by one of them. Weird what being alone does to you! FYI the people I met came from Norway, the USA, Costa Rica, and the Netherlands.
Is it me, or are these posts getting longer? I wouldn’t mind reverting back to “Prague was beautiful, I also met interesting people. Heading to Berlin now!”. Well, I’m already in Berlin. And I’m starting to get a little tired of passively watching structures and art, I hope you don’t think less of me because of it :). I am going to try to do more and see less in Berlin. Please do send me recommendations if you have any. Until next time!
[This post is part of a series on my 2011 eurotrip, check out the whole series here]