“I love Prague. The sun is coming up and although I just rode home in an uber with my homies, I can’t stop thinking about making out with Anna in the club we just left. The birds are chirping, a choir to ring in a new day and a new gay Prague with double Ds and a pretty face, brown hair and a mole above her upper lip. A girl that wants to show us Prague like a local. She was born here, but for half the time I was straddling her I thought she was from California. That kind of girl. I’d still be there if my homies weren’t ready for bed. But I sit now, listening to the birds and reflecting. They said it was a night to be weird. I took it to heart.”
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.
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.
Things we learned today:
1. It’s true that you can sit in a cafe for hours (even in the airport) after ordering and finishing food and be no bother to the wait staff. They don’t mind you using their internet to try and finagle a place to stay for the night.
2. Book stuff earlier (and don’t rely on an AirBnB host to not unexpectedly cancel on you) or you’ll end up in a half-swanky hotel for the night, determined to get and stay at least a few steps ahead of your wandering feet for the rest of the trip, if for no other reason than your budget.
3. Hostels are cheaper and easier to find online when you’re in the actual city, although hard to get same day (see above lesson). Most I looked at online in the States were more than twice than what we found for the next couple nights.
4. Public trans is great as long as you’re paying attention to where you’re going and not joyously ecstatic about finally leaving the airport and heading to a place with a shower after six hours. Otherwise, you may or may not miss your stop twice while figuring out how to indicate to the bus driver that you need to exit.
5. The Amsterdam airport may as well be a suburban center- a mall, train station, and airport packed into one- where you can find good food cheaper than outside the airport in Denver. Also, the coffee packs a mean punch, in both flavor and caffeine boost, but for you’re only served one creamer pack. The kick made the bitter 110% worthwhile.
6. The bathrooms in the Iceland airport are glorious- single fully enclosed toilet-sink combos that feel more private and clean than the one in my old apartment, where I lived alone (lol). Also, the crisp, clean, beautiful modern architecture thematically spread into the food market where we sought out breakfast- fresh salmon subs, chia power boost yogurts, and the vegan breakfast option (baked beans below a fat farmhouse tomato covered in pesto). It’s hard to feel clean after seven hours on a plane, but that place did it.
7. I should pack before the day we’re leaving. At least the night before, because inevitably, the Iceland air queue will be unbearably long- stretching to Bridge Security around the corner from the kiosks, giving me enough time to repack the clothes and supplies I’d literally thrown into my backpack forty five minutes before.
And last, but certainly not least,
8. The Dutch are handsome, tall, and well spoken men who work at waterside restaurants inspired by Hemingway (which just make me super happy inside) who will tease us about asking where to find a gay club in Amsterdam and for eating appetizers as dinner. Our inner meal schedules say dinner and a beer at 10:00PM though it’d been telling us to eat at every airport junction while traveling all day.
BIG SHOUT OUT TO ZORRO FOR DRIVING US TO THE AIRPORT! [you da best fr fr]
Tomorrow, we (hopefully) find our way easily into downtown via train, to our hostel for the next two nights, and then exploring museums and markets.
And from my Danish seed scientist seat neighbor flying out of DIA, the quote of the day-“Ah, yes, because flying is transportation, but the train is travelling.”