From Berlin: 06/28/17

The setting sun casts warm shadows across the beige stucco and red painted iron balconies of the resident apartments across the street.  The view from the forth floor window ledge of our hostel room isn’t anything spectacular but it holds an allure, maybe about the days to come or about the regrowth of this city since the last world war.  The sky is small here, even more so than in Amsterdam, as the long, wide buildings reach across blocks of downtown nearly touching each other.  Despite its size though, the powder blue of a late summer’s sunset now deepens to periwinkle, boasting beauty and with it, shedding a stillness in the air.  Cars roll by on the street below, but none disrupt the stillness here, just as the babbling of a few men in the room next door do not disturb.  We are all peaceful, ready to spend the night inside and around the hostel.  Our roommates are ghosts for now, a nice touch, and we decide to hang around and do laundry.

Five hours spent in the Duisberg train station last night was generally uneventful.  By the time we’d arrived at the station it was after midnight, so the only people around were beggers, drunks, and a handful of backpackers like ourselves.  At the entrance to the station, four rows of benches were nearly crowded by us, our friends, and a handful of others, who all seemed to be waiting for the train the next morning.

With thirteen platforms and double that may shops, only two were open upon our arrival.  A baker stood at one open counter, his thick German accent I’d hadn’t adjusted to when I’d asked where the bathrooms were.  I repeated my question and understood his answer the second time. Charley swooned at the pastries in the glass case, and I couldn’t help but reciprocate.

Our friend who’d confirm the suspicion that we’d missed our train at the Arnhem station was still tagging along and we finally introduced ourselves.  Her name was Claudia.  

I walked right past the bathroom at platform ten, stopping at the bottom of the stairs, and not listening so well, Fati had to repeat herself twice before I realized she was pointing at the bathroom entrance.  It was covered in bright royal blue and yellow graphics without a door handle, but next to a coin machine, asking 1 euro for entry.  I stuck my hand in my right pocket, rattling around the change I’d collected through the day.

“Well, we’re all in this together,” I annouced, and I dropped a 2 euro piece in the coin slot, expecting change, but not getting it.

Surprisingly, the four of us and all our packs fit comfortably inside the bathroom.  Fati thought that maybe we could’ve just slid in and out as the door opened for each of us, and though the forethought was good, we’d already begun.

From there, we wandered to the other end of the station, where we found the entrance, the boys, and the rows of seats.  They were navy blue and shared armrests, just like the ones in American airports.  

We stopped next to the only other open concession stand in the station, a McDonalds, eyeballing couch bench seats as a decent place to try and sleep.  We had five hours ahead of us to fill, and considering it was midnight, sleep seemed like the mostly viable option.

Stood in a circle, Fati suggested having a smoke and I concurred.

“Weed or tobacoo?” I asked.

“Well, we’re not in Amsterdam anymore, so I don’t think we can just smoke anywhere.” she replied.  I nodded in agreement, but wondered where we could go.  

To my left, just outside the glass doors of the station, a small group of drunkards and vagrants leaned, stood, and sat against an information kiosk covered by a gray tarp.  They looked harmless, but still, I didn’t know anything about the German people.  Matter of fact, I had still thought we were in the Netherlands, and I didn’t know much about their people either.

What I did know was mixed.  Most of the couch surfing accounts Fati had looked into for us in Berlin seemed weird: off-beat humor and interests, so I found and booked a hostel.  Hostels in Berlin were cheap, most around 25 euro a night, but we found one for 19 and I jumped on it.  

I also knew that a few people in Amsterdam had told us that the German people were a bit mean and unaccomodating, but then, from another momentary friend, were told how great the city was.  On the last platform, Claudia had expresses to us how much she liked Berlin, though she hadn’t been there on as a tourist, but visiting friends outside of City Center.

Then, she taught us something else. “Oh, you can,” she nodded, making the motion for smoking with her hands while nodding.

“We can smoke outside?”  I asked her, and she nodded in response.

“You can here.  And in Spain too.  Just when the police come…” she motioned extinguising a joint on the sidewalk, “It’s ok.”

So we walked outside to the end of the entrance patio, which stopped at sets of large stone pottery filled with dirt and plants and benches attached to the sides.  We formed a circle again, facing inwards on each other and dropping our packs in the middle.  Charley’s day pack fell to the outside of her left foot.

“Watch that man,” Fati pointed at it while she spoke.

Charley moved it between her feet.

We chatted for a bit in English, while Fati packed a pipe of tobacco, but as would happen again the next day, Claudia asked for a single world translation to English, which spurred them into a side conversation in Spanish.

I had the pipe, had remembered again how to smoke tobacco out of it, and was thoroughy enjoying the whisps of tobacco in my mouth, even as they escaped.  I handed the pipe back to Fati.

Inside, Claudia had told us she’d never smoke weed from a pipe before, so once we finished the tobacco, Fati packed a bowl up and we set on instructing her.  Fati handed her the pipe, while telling her, but she attempted to light it without having the hitter in her mouth and pulling.  

Fati continued to explain, but after another failed attempt, I put my hands out, asking to take it from her, to show her how to do it.

She’d told us that none of her friends smoked this way, but that she’d mostly smoked joints, and a couple times out of a homemade bong.

“Made with a plastic bottle?” I asked enthusiatically, to which she nodded and laughed, exhaling the smoke.  I laughed rotundly too, hopping up on one foot and throwing my right arm out pointing.

“Yes!”  I exclaimed, “It’s a universal experience.”  We all laughed a bit.

A few minutes later, Fati asked Claudia if she spoke Catalan and we diverted into a conversation about Catalonian history.  Though she spoke fluent Spanish, she also spoke Catalan as her native language, and we asked her what it sounded like.

“What do you want me to say?”  she giggled a little through.

“The sky is blue.”  I responded, to which she interpreted and rolled off her tongue.  It sounded a bit French to me, with maybe a bit of Spanish as well, but Fati thought it was more French than anything, with a little Portuguese.  We asked her a bit more about Catalonia.

She explained to us the old world movement to succeed from Spain, but that it was undesirable for her to vote for such a referendum because she didn’t want to lose her EU citizenship.  Makes sense, I thought.

Then, as I had mentioned earlier that Fati and I had originally planned to begin our trip in Barcelona and move up the French Rivieria, she told us that the Rivieria wasn’t much to see anymore.  She said that maybe ten or fifteen years ago it had been beautiful, but now, it was overdeveloped with all large buildings.

She stuttered trying to expand in English upon her idea, but stopped, agreeing with me when I asked her if it was just like a resort, and agreeing, but saying, “I cannot explain because I would compare it to other places in Europe, but you do not know these places.”

I nodded, accepting the explanation.

Fati and Claudia broke into a Spanish conversation, of which I tried my best to listen and understand, but was soon lost, just trying to pick out words then, when Charley caught my eye, shifting her weight onto her toes, popping up and asking, “Can we eat?”

She hadn’t been loud enough to interrupt our companions, but I nodded agreeing it was time for a snack.  That was one big blessing for the trip- we were all on the same eating schedule.

After a request to the others, a bit of waiting once conversation took a turn and then died down, we trompsed back inside to the bakery, where Charley and I picked out a sandwich and a pastry quickly.  I pulled more euro coins out of my pocket, paying less than two euros for my chocolate vanilla square.  It was good too, and fresh.  Charley gnawed into a sandwich on baguette.

Fati had seemed a bit undecided about getting anything, but as Charley, Claudia, and I began to wander away, she hollered out to us, “Hold on guys,” and grabbed the same pastry as me.

She bit into it, thinking aloud, “I shoulda just gotten the chocolate.”

We meandered back to the rows of seats.  McDonalds was now closed, so retired in the empty spaces next to the boys, we all took turns napping, uncomfortably with our heads laid over sideways on our shoulders or slouched down so far in the seats that most of our asses hung off.

The rest is a blur.  I awaken sharply in the station, my contact lenses glued to my eyes.  I rub them to create some tears.  Upstairs, we boarded the train, and quickly fall back asleep.  Claudia’s head folded down on the table between our seat like that of a tired school child and I wedged myself perpendicularly across the seat up against the glass window outside.

Hours later, we arrived in Berlin, all still sleeping.  Luckily, the boys woke us up when we arrived.  Foggy eyed still, we exited, thanking the boys and taking the escalators up to the main level of the station, where we parted ways.  It was five stories tall, full of open shops, the morning sun bursting through the glass-paned exterior walls of the station.  It was time to wake up, if only briefly, and find our way around a new city.  To Tiergarten we’d head, after dropping our luggage and grabbing groceries for lunch.

“To hard-ons & heartbreak” (circa 2015)

We clink our Irish coffee mugs together at a high-top table for two on the second floor of Slainte and smile.

“Cheers,” she says.

“To hard-ons and heartbreak,” I reply.  We laugh and take a biting sip of coffee.

Earlier that morning, I found myself outside in the glaring summer’s sun without shades, wearing last night’s clothes, old and dirty, and smelling like sex.  My sandals on the sidewalk make a particularly tense clopping sound as I walked the block to my car, the wrong way first.  My face lit up as Pablo, my old reliable red Honda Civic, comes into view.  He starts right up, as always, and I proceeded home.

Last time I stayed the night there was in a particularly manic drunken state,where my intentions were not so clear and bold.  Nowhere as clear and bold as last night.  

I laid on my stomach, awoken by the morning sunlight, stark naked, with my head turned towards him.  For maybe half an hour, I drifted in and out of a sleep state, depending on what he was doing.  A few times he touched me in a way that revealed his intentions, but I wasn’t feeling like doing much but dozing off, hiding from the hangover that was starting to creep on.  There’s a comforting feeling in knowing that someone is watching you sleep, really genuinely caring, that redeemed his desires.  

It was only right that we had a night together before I leave, before I’ve disappeared completely.  It didn’t even need to be spoken.  I knew he knew.   Part of him may hope that it’ll happen again but I can tell you he’s brighter than that.  It’s hookup culture, baby.  I live intimately only in hours of drunken stupor.  It’s the only way I know how to open up again and again.

Now I sit, listening to my best friend talk, listening to her worry about everything about other people that she can’t control.  She cares a hell of a lot, I’ll give her that.  I explain things about the people that are causing her worries, that most people need different things from romantic relationships than us.  She understands then and calms down, accepting that different people have different needs.  We chat more waiting on our brunch, speaking now on friendship, as we often do, and comparing other peoples’ bond to our own.

“That’s it,” I realize, “I know I can always call you to just be around me.”  I pause briefly,  “But I also know that when I don’t want to be, you’re still ok.”

She nods in agreement, smiling and saying, “You’re my best relationship.”

 

The hardest part

The hardest part about having a friend who’s an addict in having a friend who’s an addict  There are times where they’re completely unable to be your friend, but they also aren’t capable of communicating it.  

Next thing you know, you’re waiting in a sketchy part of town in a Royal Farms parking lot for a more than reasonably average time it should take a person to shit in a public restroom.  You wait.  You don’t know what to do so you wait more.  

After fifteen minutes goes by you start to get mad, and if you’re me, mad means severe introversion.  You make resolution with yourself while you wait.  You decide to drop the person off at home, because it would be a completely shitty thing to leave them so far from home, still considering their feelings when they’re so inconsiderate of yours, because your mother raised you by the golden rule, but once you drop them at home, you tell yourself, you won’t talk to them anymore, at least for a month.  

You sit steaming in your resolution for ten or fifteen more minutes, but you stopped keeping track of how long it actually was once your temper started to flair.

They finally come out of the store, eyes low, unseemingly relaxed for just spending twenty five minutes locked in a public restroom.  They flop down in the passenger seat, and you know, immediately, that they’re high.  

You don’t speak.  You try to reason with yourself, trying to imagine the best possible scenario of them not using, in this seedy public restroom just outside the west side hood of Baltimore City.  You really hope inside that you’re jumping to conclusions and they just had to take a particularly uncooperative shit.

Then they open their mouth and justify your initial anger.  You’re mad that you even began to give them a second chance, all in that short ninety second period it took them to plop down in the car, close the door, and put on their seatbelt.  They don’t sniffle, so you know it’s really bad.  Then they want to tell you a story.  

You don’t want to hear it.

“This guy came beating on the door.”

I inferred it was a single stall restroom.  The right environment.

“I yelled out a him, ‘what? I’ll be out in a minute.”

The store clerk knew a junkie would hole up in his bathroom for a quick fix.

“I mean, jeez man, can’t a guy take a shit in peace?”

I barely respond, nodding only slightly as I back out of the parking spot.

As I look over my shoulder out the rear window of the car, I catch glances of my companion.  It’s dark, but I can make out some indicative body language.

He slouches forward in the entirety of his back and in his neck, his head has dropped a little lower than normal.  In his left hand, he grasps his phone, looking down at it, the light illuminates his face.  His features are overly relaxed.  His eyes appear to be only half open.  He doesn’t notice me sneaking glances at him.  He thinks that I’ve bought his lie and I leave it that way.

Wannabe

Wanting to be something, specific

Never reaching that point

Thoughts have plagued

Forever my life, my mind

My therapist said ‘Maybe

The content isn’t as important

As you think it is’

Implying that I can fill the space

With nearly any of the ideas

That come and go

Remembered and forgotten

Simultaneously between

Grand dreams of adventure

Never persisting beyond

The artist, the creative process

 

But in a world of technology

In blogs, constant opinion

And dead media

How can one man

Call himself an artist

And another just a wannabe?

A bunch of lesbians at Camp Dick

Yesterday morning I woke up at a normal hour to feed the cat, because he’d been harassing me about food for at nearly thirty minutes.  Once he was fed, I crawled back in bed, burying my head under the flat sheet in effort to shield my eyes from the morning sunlight peeking around the curtains.  I figured I’d give myself a couple more hours to sleep off the soreness in my neck muscles from hooking the entire game and the  general achiness of rugby and dehydration that still lingered in my bones.  Being outside in the summer sun the entire day didn’t help my fatigue.

The morning had slipped away by a matter of minutes by the time I woke up again.  I opened the french doors to friends up and dressed at the dining table and the invitation of warm cinnamon rolls.  The smell of breakfast filled the house, complementing their smiling faces, like it had the last three mornings.

“You still wanna go camping?” Zoro prompted, adding, “We’re gonna leave in like an hour.”

I dug the side of my fork into the soft dough of the cinnamon roll as she asked, but didn’t answer before I’d had my first bite.

“Backpacking?” I asked, wanting to go, but knowing that my backpack had seen better days.  I remembered the heaviness of it on my traps through the last days of Europe, and still haven’t figured out if the strap mount is repairable or not.

“Nah man, just car camping.  So she can be at the airport in time tomorrow,”  Zoro responded nodding at Ariel.

I looked up from my plate and at the crew, who all looked at me now, anticipating my answer.  I pursed my lips and nodded slightly as I answered, smiling, “Yeah.”

What better place that to spend a night in the woods with like-minded friends, a cooler of beer, shish kabobs, a little bit of whiskey, a ukelele, and a new campfire song stolen from Liv’s mom and her kindergarteners?

‘Goin’ on a bear hunt/Goin’ on a bear hunt

I’m not afraid/I’m not afraid

Sittin’ round the campfire/Sittin’ round the campfire

Hangin’ with some babes/Hangin’ with some babes’

 

And a poem for good measure:

 

Campfire songs and goofy jokes

Illuminated our cheeks in between

The ebb of our burning wood

Left us silhouettes in the night

 

‘New relationship, who dis?’ & ‘Damn, Gina’

Thrown around lightly as each of our

Outfits became more and more gay

With the setting of the sun (warmer too)

 

Five camp chairs and a cooler for our leisure

Synchronized standing to replenish our drinks

Swing dancing in the crescent moonlight

Until a dip ended up as a fall

 

We all laughed, often and loudly

Our voices overflowing the air around us

Louder than the fast rushing whoosh

Of the creek behind our campsite

 

Ukulele accompaniment and campfire songs

We made plans for karoake later in the week

Being thankful for each other’s company

Embracing already new good people in our lives

 

I wandered away from spot 10 each time

More comfortable with the darkness

Less worried about the black bear who’d made

Camp Dick his home, taking time

To look up at the twinkling stars

The crescent moon, our fire that burned

Like a beacon over my shoulder

Leading me back to my home for the night

 

Knowing tomorrow

It would be home no more

Next summer

We’re going to Alaska

Can’t life be like this always?

Charley just looked down at me from the top bunk and said,

“Nap or read? I’m just so busy right now,” while rolling her eyes for emphasis.  We both giggled.

“I’m writing a blog post about that right now,” I told her, as I stood up and crossed the room, headed for the open locker where my most valuable items are locked away while we’re gone.  “You inspired me.  That doesn’t happen so often.”  I smiled back over my shoulder at her, resolving to put on a sweatshirt cause it’s cool in our room despite the intense heat outside.  I laid my laptop down on the brown covered couch in our room of six bunkbeds and one queen size that Fati and I are sharing.

“Can it be the title?” she asked me.

“Maybe,” I answered her, pulling the Redskins hoodie I stole from my mom over my ponytail which hangs loosely to the right side of my head, “but it’s definitely the opening line.”

It’s three in the afternoon in Budapest, our first morning in another new city.  We’ve been gone for three and a half weeks, but we only just made a shared album on Facebook so we can share photos (I’ll post the link at the bottom).  It’s been awhile since we fucked anything major up, like getting caught hopping trains without tickets or missing a connection all together and being stranded at a nowhere train station for the whole night.  I dare say we’ve got a good routine figured out.

This morning we all woke up around 9:30, stirring quietly amongst our three suite mates who came in well into the morning, now snoozing, the backs of their heads and various limbs hanging out from underneath each one’s single flat sheet.

We were out of the house a little after ten and headed to a park on the corner of our block, that we’d noticed on the walk from the train station last night.  It proved unsuitable for exercise.  The only open patches of grass were being watered by a gardener and adorned with signs that I could only assume said “Keep Off Lawn” in Hungarian.  The rest of the small park was just a very well designed playground teeming with kids and parents.

So we headed for the National Museum, which appeared to have a lawn on the map our receptionist gave us last night, across one of the major streets in Budapest’s city center.  The high metal gate around the building, our rumbling stomachs, and the heat of summer sun cooking the sidewalks below us nearly nixed our workout plans, but we’d finally gotten in a groove and I wasn’t willing to let it go.  The girls bucked up and we found a patch of grass and the coolness of shade under a cluster of trees, next to a statue of someone important to Hungarian history.

Doing ankle PT, I wasn’t sure if I’d offend anyone by using his base for calf raises, but I peaked around the ground and decided it was worth the risk.  There didn’t seem to be anyone around to offend.  An hour later, we’d sweated enough, and went on the hunt for food.

Following the receptionist’s advice, with our map, we headed back towards the hostel and towards the river, passing numerous restaurants with mostly outdoor seating.  On the way back, I noticed kebap for 450HUF (about $1.75) and promised to have some later. [Mom, you need to come out here if for nothing less than authentic tsasiki] But now, our hearts were set on breakfast

Approaching the river, our stomachs grumbled the last of our patience out, and Charley resolved to check Google for a market.  I stood next to her, pointing out to Fati the shiny ceramic tiles on the massive building across the street from us that were similar to those on the Viennese cathedral.  Charley’s map loaded.

The building was market! With various meat and produce and textile vendors through three rows, a loft upstairs, and an Aldi downstairs, we spent the equivalent of 10 bucks on fresh food for breakfast and dinner, and headed back to the hostel to cook.  After a plate full of potatoes, peppers, cheese, over easy eggs, and couple pieces of toast, some yogurt and a banana, we were back to ourselves, feeling full and fine.

“This is the life, man,” I said to Charley, as Fati cleaned up our plates.  She nodded in agreement.  “Why can’t I live my life like this always?”

The three of us brainstormed for a little while before retiring to our room for showers and afternoon naps, not coming to any complete answers.

There’s one thing I do know, though.

I won’t stop until I figure it out.

 

 

 

 

Amsterdam ~ Berlin ~ Prague ~ Cesky Krumlov ~ Vienna ~ Budapest

Posted by Sus Kitchen on Tuesday, July 18, 2017

 

 

a short list of universality: a reflection

It’s been an ongoing conversation, with realizing the smallness of our world especially within Western Civ, and here’s just a few of our observations…

Some things are universal, like

-everybody hates Trump (it’s a great topic for starting conversation)

-racism & populism & propaganda (from the Czech-Roma problem that spans back hundreds of years and embodies lower education, poor employment opportunities, and profiling to the a drunk Brit explaining to us the platform of Brexit [who also explained that UK citizens don’t feel like Europeans])

-nationalism (the light-hearted rivalry that Austrians, ‘little brother’, have with Germany, or, bigger, each country’s pride in their alcohol, their flag, and their past leaders, as well as, contempt for those nations and leaders who took away their autonomy)

-public trans (trains/buses & airports) organization (from major stations with retail stores and food courts to the color designated train lines and letter designation to indicate the type of trans)

-ice cream/gelato (duh)

-coffee (Vienna’s coffee remains supreme)

-alcohol (duh)

-pizza! (double duh)

-selfies and/or selfie sticks (and tourists taking pictures of things, then looking at their photo instead of enjoying the view in front of them)

-American pop music (I’ve heard Despacito in every country thus far)

-escalator etiquette: stand right, walk left (or get patted on the back/told to move/pulled over my your comrade)

-landscape (besides the hills between Dresden and Prague, most of my window time on trains has been rolling hills with little towns next to farms of spiral bailed hay, like much of what you see in rural mid-Atlantic/east coast towns)

 

And some things aren’t, like

-long island iced teas (has become a side adventure for Charley, so far Amsterdam had no idea, Berlin’s tasted like rubbing alcohol, but Prague knew what’s up)

-stair size (they’re often very short and deep, but many times, are also uneven; the stairs down from Cesky Krumlov castle varied in depth by 3 inches and randomly)

-mandatory quiet hours (in Germany/Austria it is illegal to be loud in public between 10pm and 6am; Prague had a similar policy with bouncers outside to ‘shush’ the smokers)

-pedestrian crosswalk lighting (the best of which, in Vienna, is two people holding hands, standing lit in red with their hearts clear through, but when lit, the two holding hand, their hearts draw out and illuminated and walking together in green/or maybe the Ampelmann in east Berlin who was designed by a traffic psychologist and has become a city mascot of sorts)

-currency (duh, though a bit unclear because not all EU nations have Euros and some non-EU nations do)

-language (duh, except most everyone knows some English)

-hospitality/openness/general friendliness (embodied by the Austrians we met in a matter of 36 hours; the first our friend Florian, who picked us up at our hostel, drove us to his house, fed us chips, rented a movie and shared a pizza, gave us endless things to check out while sharing his love for Arnold in a legit Austrian accent, and not expecting a damn thing in return, and then, our friends at the film festival who pulled two park benches together and snagged a six pack along with a bag of pretzels, told us to come back because they’d put us up, and left us with hugs and hearts full)

//

Expect some expansions on this list, as we continue our explorations!  Tomorrow, first a workout, and then around Budapest.