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Saturday, April 30, 2011

PUB CULTURE

BICYCLE PROTEST

Today, in Budapest, they were having a bicycle protest. Everyone, it seemed, was out riding their bikes to show how many of them there were. It was a shitload of bikes but really nothing compared to Amsterdam. Automobiles were stopped or diverted. I presume they were going for 'equal rights'. Usually, bikes lose to cars. According to one bicyclist I spoke to, it had reached 'critical mass'. Do I think it will really help? No - but it was interesting to see.



POSH RESTAURANT

At the repeated urging of the staff of the hostel "Colors" I went to a posh (but not too expensive) restaurant called 'Bor la Bor' to try some traditional Hungarian food. I got table bread and the tap water I requested. Both were free. I'd like to note that you never get butter with the bread. I don't ask for it because I'd rather have the gut shrink than grow. Also, you can play 'spot the American' by watching who is trying to explain to the staff that ice goes in water. I don't play this game - I can drink lukewarm water and not care. I'm also curious as to whether food sent back comes out of the waiters paycheck as it does in the Czech Republic but the waiter I had didn't really have enough of a grasp of English to go that far off of the 'I want to order food topic' to deal with that.

This is the kind of restaurant that has cloth napkins. The food arrangement was very well done. The dish was "Venison stew with a touch of red wine with Hungarian potato dumplings". I had an Irish Coffee for desert which they used Jameson's to make. Posh.

Main course, 2390 HUF; Irish Coffee, 690 HUF. Total cost 3080 HUF (AKA $17 - the price of a small or medium pizza with delivery, tip, etc).



ORGAN CONCERT

I decided to go to a (free) organ and choir concert. I did it partially because I am curious and partially to annoy some of my readers who artistic types. They will say things like "Logan (the heathen) went to a classical music concert in Budapest? But he has no real appreciation of the arts! I should have been the one to go!" And they would be right. It's especially funny because I'm looking pretty rough (scruffy) - like I just got done with a two week NERO event. I was sitting between two older gentlemen, both of whom were wearing suits. I was dressed in Czech sweats and a T-shirt with English and I believe Polish writing. Rough.

Before going, I had fortified myself with three glasses of Hungarian wine. Happy days.

The church itself was quite old, but I'm not sure from when. I don't know what your opinion is on churches but I will say that this one gave some nice acoustics.

It was organ and a shitload of people in a choir - the most I'd ever seen. I'm not sure how many. I had originally guessed a hundred but the program I got (also free!) said double that. Lot of fucking singers. I think they may have been famous as the program said they had done a lot of work for the BBC and such, but meh. They did a bunch of music by a guy name Liszt. To quote the great American philosopher Homer J Simpson, "If he's so smart, how come he's dead?"

High culture + Logan = ????

I did (to a certain point when my ass started to hurt) actually enjoy the concert. The brain can only absorb what the ass can endure. "Over the years my ass has taken a pounding." - Me, Myself and Irene.

I was disappointed they didn't play a piece by Bach I like, but I'm guessing the organist has heard that as often as a guitar shop owner has heard the opening chords of "Stairway to Heaven". So, I didn't start yelling for it in the middle of the concert. Chalk one up for culture...

After about two hours, I got burned out on culture and as they continued playing I wandered off. Culture is best in small doses. Or the booze wore off. I'm not sure. I just knew if I had been forced to sit through more I'd have stood up and demanded everyone bow to lord Satan or something. Best to take off early. [Disclaimer for those for whom English not their first language - I have no interest in Satan.]



HUNGARIAN MONEY

I don't recommend carrying anything larger than a 5000 HUF bill - they will have trouble breaking it. 2000 and 5000 are usually OK - anything smaller is definitely OK.



CHEERS

In the bar Cheers, I met up with Sam Olawuyi, a Nigerian gynecologist. We got talking about Africa and he told me something interesting. He felt that the problem was that a lot of people left Africa to go get educated in 'foreign parts'. They came back and their 'new ideas' were not really appreciated by the natives. Also, the culture there is to help support the family. And they have really big families. There is an African saying that if you have one rich man and seven poor men, you have eight poor men. The problem then comes in that the educated man feels strapped for cash and turns to corrupt means to get it. And that is what causes 'asshole-ism'. Which is what brings about dictators, which Africa seems to have in abundance.

The bar Cheers is very good to me. After the concert, I went back to see if I could talk to more people. I did. There is a great diversity of people there from doctors to laborers - and they are all old friends.

Apparently, 55 years ago, Elvis did something good for Hungary. I'm not clear on what, but the bar was celebrating him. I made the mistake if they wanted to play one Elvis song to honor it and they played them until I retreated.

And I tried out a shot of Unicum - it is Hungarian for 'firewater that has herbs in it therefore must be good for you while it kicks in your teeth'. Buy a bottle of it if you'd like a slow, painful suicide. I hit the escape button when locals started wanting to buy me shots of this. Shot of Unicum (yes, it sounds very interesting in Engish) 600 HUF.

After walking out of the bar, I wandered back to the hostel and...ran into the poles drinking in our room. And guess who they wanted to help them drink shots of vodka? There was one French lady and five poles. Severine (French) and Yedrek (the only male), Izabela, Joanna, Mafda and Aleksandra. After putting away a couple of small bottles, several of them went clubbing and I typed up this blog for YOU! Hope you like it.






OTHER PRICES

Inexpensive Hungarian wine - 300 HUF. The 'good shit', triple cost.

Pack of smokes, around 500 HUF.



RAMBLINGS

I'm not sure how common Kahlua is here; they didn't have it in a liquor store I visited. Sad.

I wish to reiterate, get a map before you get to Budapest and study it. This is not at all an easy city to get around in without one.

Steer clear of Hungarian cigarettes. They are pretty foul. Most Hungarians seem to despise them, with at least one exception. The price is also darned close to American cigarettes.

I don't know if tipping is customary in Hungary. I haven't been basically because I am poor as shit. That being said, the waiters and such of restaurants that I repeatedly visit always seem happy to see me. It could be because I treat them like people.

TERROR!

THE TERROR MUSEUM

I was advised to see the Terror Museum. It opens at 10 AM (sharp) TUE-SUN. To get in is 1800 HUF, no photos. For the audio thing it's an extra (I believe) 1300 HUF. I didn't get the audio thing because a) I am a cheap bastard - still trying to rebuild my money after the last trip and b) I typically don't like the long speeches. I'd much rather have a native just give me the Cliff notes, if you know what I mean.

My thoughts on the Terror Museum. Well, it was obvious that they put a lot of work into this thing but I felt like I was looking without really seeing. I think I got the gist but the subtleties escaped me. Doubtless, if I was fluent in Magyar (Hungarian) or had sucked it up and got the audio thing I'd have gotten more out of it. Although Budapest plays host to tourists from all over the world whose common language is English, only about a third or so of the signs were in English as well.

There were a lot of exhibits I just didn't understand. For example, there was an old style car surrounded by black drapes. Tense violin music played. The room lights would dim while the lights on the car would increase. Then, the lighting would go back to what it was previously. I have no idea what the fuck that was all about. My only thought was 'perhaps this is the car that came to pick up people and whisk them away?' If so, I'd have been more interested to see inside of a vintage car. There was also a pig made out of plaster or paper mache standing by itself with a sign (only) in Hungarian. I have no clue what that was. Given it's location in the former 'secret police headquarters' where they slaughtered and tortured assloads of people, I figured it must be an evil fucking pig.

They also had a video of a trial for a guy and his cronies who had attempted to overthrow the communists. Their biggest crime - as I see it - was failing.

I also got to ride down the same exact elevator that Michael Palin had ridden down and watched the video in. That was kind of cool though I do remember that he had sprung for the audio guide. That's what having the big BBC budget can do for you.

The basement was a bit moving as it served a grim reminder to what dicks people can be to each other.



COSTS

Lukewarm Chinese food at a Hungarian 'working man's' eating place with a lemon flavored Fanta, about 900 HUF.



TURKS AND POLES

I met a group of four Turkish nursing students as well as two folks from Poland. I think that they have more people in their group but I'm not sure. I gave folks my card and said that if they enjoyed my blog to let me know when I get near the country. I'd love to go visit them, stay with them and chat with them. Good stuff. All of them seemed really nice and I think it would be fun to learn about their countries through their eyes.

I did get two of the Turkish guys names - Honour and Serdar (pronounced "Sar-Dar"). I hope I get to meet them again when I eventually reach Turkey.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Budapest

SETTING

As I sit here typing this, 4-6 (it fluxuates) rowdy German girls are having a chat behind me at the next table. [And yes, Travis, they are...] I had a French girl eating across from me and a British guy has just waved good bye as he heads out to hunt women.



GENERAL PLAN

I've got to admit that I was getting frustrated enough with the crazy directions I was getting and the pack - mainly the pack that I almost threw in the towel and went on to Croatia. But I think Budapest has enough to offer that I really want to check it out.

I would like to point out though that the frustration was all my fault. (I can see Pete nodding). But this just the sort of trial and painful error that will help me get better at this traveling. Plus, I'm sure any doctors reading are thinking about how wonderful the walk was for my health. The bastards.

On couch surfing - thus far, the only people I've heard back from quickly have been the folks who were full already or currently overseas or otherwise indisposed. They were all nice about it and I'm disappointed not to have met them. But I remain hopeful!

I'm going to keep working at the couch surfing thing for a bit because I know that meeting the local folks is what will make this trip special and interesting for me. It won't be the architecture - I've seen so much through Europe that a lot of it is starting to (mentally) bounce. It won't be the museums or the art - if I have to go through any of those soon I might have a screaming fit. It will be the people.

Today I'd guess I sent out about 50+ couch surfing requests. The only response I've gotten from less than half is summed up as 'sorry'.

My loose plan right now is that they have some bloody big long lake to the SE of Budapest that I've been told is picturesque. Plus, it kind of points right at Croatia. I'm wanting to slowly work my way toward Croatia - preferably staying with the locals via couch surfing if I can make that work - and try to get a feel for Hungary.

After a few days in Croatia I'd like to head to what will hopefully be cheaper in Serbia, Bosnia, etc.

Update: Monday I head to Sarajevo. I've heard from talking to other travelers that Bosnia and Serbia are much cheaper. We'll see if that's true.



TRAVELER'S TIP

I'm pretty sure it is obvious - sounds obvious - but is often overlooked. Eat where the locals do. Price, food quality, etc all tend to be better.



COSTS

Mediocre goulash (not soup) for one - 1375 HUF (about $7.63).

The place I'm staying ("Colors") 3100 HUF, laundry 1500 HUF.

I was eating at a fairly trendy restaurant called 'papirtigers' eating a 'lunch box' that cost 1740 HUF. It's a bit upscale and trendy for me but it smelled good and been several hours since I've last eaten. I'd gotten directions to a 'traditional Hungarian restaurant' but it was about twice the cost of this place. As an interesting side note I found out apartment rent is 2000 HUF per day. [Logan note: Corrected, thanks Reka!] Egad! In talking to a nice Hungarian lady (Rika) who works at the hostel she told me about a place that I can get some cheaper food from without cooking. I'll let you know how that works out tomorrow.

Take out traditional Hungarian food - a big flat piece of pork, breaded - very tasty, around 1500 HUF.

Imported Weiss Beer (a Logan thing) 835 HUF. [I drink this because it reminds me of 'the old days'. Before Jana was born. Que Jana's eye roll - and done. Thank you Jana!]

Locally brewed beer, small size - 250 HUF, big size I think 350 HUF.

Heaping plate of cheap Chinese food, 600 HUF. A Coke to go with it, 280 HUF.

200 business cards, with layout, cutting etc - 2730 HUF.



HUNGARIAN SERVICE

I have never been refused tap water here. [I've been running an experiment on it as well as trying to get the local 'good bacteria' into my system to build up my immunities.]

I think the worst service I've gotten in this country so far was 'mildly indifferent' and it ranges all the way up to wonderful. This may cause many Czechs (who are use to the notorious 'Czech service' I have previously written about) to go into culture shock.

I like the restaurants here thus far. I am concerned that Czechs who come here may suffer culture shock.



HUNGARIANS

Well, I've seen some very attractive women but many (who could be foreigners - I have no idea) who appear to like McDonald's. I swear, fast food is a bane on the battle against the bulge. Among the people I looked at, the 'muffin top' seemed to be in style. Again, I'm not sure if it was locals or not but they don't have a 'Czech stair master' here.

Once I get through the "I live in a big city and don't talk to other people' (which seems universal) I've found the Hungarians to be very pleasant people.



MORE RANDOM JABBERINGS

Cost saving measure - I've discovered the hostel I'm currently in offers a free breakfast. Mostly stale toast and very odd cereal. I'm working on stuffing myself with that to avoid the first meal out on the town. I've been working on achieving some sort of balance with my funds so that I can stay here and check out the town a bit more. I'm not sure if it will be possible or a slow leak of money. Everyone keeps telling me that Thailand is very cheap but I'm really wanting to check out Central and Eastern Europe for awhile.

I was sitting in a restaurant listening to an older Brazilian couple discuss their (end of life) vacation with the waiter. They seemed to be sprinting between the major cities of Europe before their money ran out. They were trying to make some sort of 'once in a lifetime' memory. I feel extremely lucky to be able to do what I'm doing. I just need to get to a cheap enough place that I can start saving some money.

Seriously, if you want to lose weight, get your fat ass to Europe.

In the USA, doors open outward so that in the event of a fire (or bomb) the panicked masses will be able to easily flee into the street where they can be shot by panicked bystanders. In many of the countries in Europe, this is not the case because the door would smack someone walking by on the sidewalk if it were opened quickly. [In some other parts of the world, the door does open outward and does sometimes get torn off by a passing car.]

I went to a restaurant and tried out the stuffed cabbage. [Traditional tourists seem to eat at McDonald's. Pussies.] They have some sort of 'paprika bread' [alfoldi pogacsa] on the tables that absolutely rocks. The stuffed cabbage was that plus a sausage and something I didn't identify as bacon until I bit into it. Then I knew. I've never seen a piece of 'bacon' as thick as a (thin) steak before. I was completely full and couldn't finish the food. 2650 HUF.

If you want to start a fight with three or more people from Budapest, approach their group and politely ask for directions to something that can't be pointed at. They will fight with each other (you can call it an 'extremely lively discussion') over the route you should take.

You never see the guys in travel shows buying tickets because it is boring, tedious and doesn't make good TV.

The Eastern train station (they have three) has a guy in the 'tourist information booth. He was fluent in English and I believe he could help you with hostel information and such. Where was he on my first day here?? I'm also unsure of his hours so if you get here, try to arrive close to 'normal working hours'.



CAVE CHURCH (that's in English - speak Hungarian for the right name)

I went to a 'cave church' thing I found across the 'green bridge' (chain bridge) - it was interesting time. It was 500 HUF to get in there and that price also gives you a pretty slick audio guide thing. Find a number on the wall, type it in and you get talked to about what you're seeing. I think there were twenty or thirty entries. I listened to one as I wandered around the church. The church wasn't all that big. When I came back to the check in/check out place, the guy who had checked me in blinked and said "You're kidding." I responded that it wasn't a very big church, I just wanted a quick walk through and I honestly found the people to be more interesting. He nodded and said cryptically "You know."



CAST OF CHARACTERS

Andrew Budai:

I met a tour guide who is fluent in English, German and Japanese. He said that you have to have one of the 'rare' languages in order to get a job as a tour guide - like Japanese.

I bought him a beer and we talked of many things. Logan's comments are in []. He said that:

Drinking in public is legal. [This doesn't seem to be unusual for Europe, just Puritan America.]

Hungarians are very mixed, having roots in Germans, Turks, Mongols, etc.

The third largest synagogue is here in Budapest, due to Hungary being very liberal until the first world war. The largest is in the UK, second largest in France. Also, before WW1, Hungary was huge.

It was interesting when I asked hi what the biggest problem facing Budapest is - he said smoking. The government is working on passing a bill to outlaw it in taverns. The tavern keepers don't like this at all as they feel it will drive off their business.

I asked him if there were any problems with the Roma (Gypsies). He said the biggest problem there was education. The Roma don't have any. They live a very segregated life and because their folks aren't educated, they don't have their own doctors, lawyers, etc. When the Roma were admitted to the university for free (under Communism), only a small percentage of them actually completed it. Also, during the communist time, they would hire three times as many people as were needed to complete a project (example, building a road) hence everyone (including the Roma) had jobs. After communism, most of the Roma are unemployed. The Roma also have huge families. If they can't support them, the Roma [I am told] turn to crime. The local opinion is that 80% of all criminal activities are committed by the 10% of the population that is Roma. There is no official figure on this as 'racial profiling' is illegal. There is a huge amount of tension between the Roma and locals in smaller villages. Apparently, the locals don't feel the police are doing anything to protect them so they hire local security guards who make a strong 'police presence' within the villages. This causes tensions to further ramp up. He also told me that villagers would plant gardens and by the time harvest came, the plants would be picked clean. He related a story that someone had put up an electrified fence and apparently it killed a couple of Roma kids. More tension. And another story that some guy was urinating in the street toward the Roma and yelling bad things at them. There were many of the Roma and only one guy so the pisser was nearly beaten to death. [What kind of idiot yells things like that to people who wildly outnumber him? Either way, it sounds like a big problem Logan is glad he doesn't have to figure out a clever solution to.]


Chris - a soft spoken English guy (from Brighton) I've had the pleasure to speak to a couple times. He has journeyed in the Croatia (and other stuff around there) area and warned me that Croatia - being a big vacation spot - isn't really cheaper than where I'm at now. He may also be a master chef! He tells me that if you eat enough meet, you get the 'meat sweats'. It may take a bit. This sounds horrifying but I can see people doing that.


Shinae and Jihong

Two Korean girls, co-workers, who are traveling around together. They both work with kids in Slovakia. They had been to Venice and felt that it was all tourists, no natives. They went from the fast paced life of Korea to the slower Slovak lifestyle and are still making that adjustment. They're going to stay in Slovakia for a year or two then head back to Korea. They seemed like a lot of fun but sadly, I met them on their last day here. Perhaps I will run into them in the future?



CHEERS BAR

Where after just a couple days, everyone knows my name.

Vera, Gabor and Mayer.




Mayer Aliz is a scientist who I had asked about 'what is the best thing about living in Budapest? She told me that the opportunities to study, work, get culture and such.

We also talked about the subway cars I had seen earlier. She confirmed that they were indeed made in the communist time and that they belong in a museum. She mentioned that just last week one of them either lit on fire or burst into flame.

She also gave me the quote "The heart of Budapest is in the river."

She also recommended to travelers to buy a three day card instead of three one day cards for the metro and such. It is cheaper.

While we were chatting, I asked her what kind of person I was. She said - and I quote - "You are a little strange."

I enjoyed meeting her, Vera (who is the Big Boss of the place!) and Gabor (who is a scientist who studies birds).

I keep on meeting interesting people in there and having good chats, so I keep going back.



THE SEVEN MIRACLES OF COMMUNISM

1. Everyone has a job.
2. Even if everyone has a job, nobody is doing anything.
3. Even if nobody is doing anything, the plan is to do more than 100%.
4. Even if the plan was to do more than 100, there is nothing at the stores.
5. Even if there wasn't anything at the stores, everyone has everything.
6. Even if people have everything, people steal.
7. Even if everyone is stealing, nothing is lacking.

[From a sign in Hungarian, translated into English by Mayer.]

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

BUDAPEST DEATH MARCH

Note: At the time of this writing, $1 = 182 HUF.



CAFE COLONE

At a very posh cafe, Pete and I had "100 grams of marinated duck breast with apple salad with sour cream and cranberry sauce." 169 CZK/ea. Despite the run on sentence in their description (I can do that too!) it was the only small meal I have ever had that I would consider 'refreshing'. Both Pete and I enjoyed it. It was served with white and brown bread. This was served at the cafe 'Colone'.

The service was actually good and helpful there. Overall, a very nice experience.

The total bill for two weird coffee and kaluaha drinks (and a tea for Pete) plus food was about 530 CZK (about $31). Note, this is about the same as lunch for two in Blacksburg, VA and those were served in a much less posh environment.

Cafe Colone, Palacko 7 40/1, 11000 Praha 1. 420 202 518 816, www.cafecolore.cz.



CURRENCY CONVERSION

Remember, when you are trying to get currency exchanged, shop around. Even at 0% commission places, the posted rates you see might be confusing, misleading or in the local currency as opposed to the one you want. Shop around. Take notes and stuff. When I was working on getting Hungarian Florens, I drug Pete around to three different places and got three very different rates. I'd suggest keeping it simple - instead of asking the rate and all of that, pull out (for example) a hundred dollar bill. Have them show you on the calculator (a normal European thing), write it down and move on. Don't let their shocked or saddened faces dissuade you. When you are getting your currency exchanged, get a receipt and (this is the important part) their business card. Take a picture of their store if you want. Let them get the wrong idea. It may help or perhaps I do it to nurture my sadistic tendencies.

The third place I went to that had the better rates is:
Salsid - Smenara
vodickova 30, Praha 1
tel 02 / 24220611 or 777223400 kadi



CORRECTIONS

Note - the beer festival at the pub I went to at the 'Village of Rabbits' was actually an Easter Festival at a winery. Apparently, Ivan's wine is so good that if you drink enough of it you don't know what the hell is going on any more.

Before and after the Village of Rabbits, we had been talking about staying at Jana's house but Marianna generously allowed us to stay at her house. As people who have played or listened to Heroic Cthulhu know, Sanskrt (Jana) had rocking internet from Marianna's house. When I was there I was able to get my photos uploaded. Thanks again Marianna!

Thanks Pete for pointing these out.



WELCOME TO STARBUCKS, BITCH!

I'm not sure what percentage the mixture between Czechs and tourists was, but the place was huge and packed. It was confusing given the Czech mindset of 'penny pinching' I'm wondering if it wasn't mostly tourists. Here's the baffling part:

Chai tea latte, 115 CZK ($6.76)
Frapicchino (my usual drink), 135 CZK (7.94).

This makes Starbucks in Europe about 50% more expensive than in the States. I'm not planning on going again, but I wanted to drag Pete in so that I could report on the prices. End result, stay the fuck out of Starbucks unless you want a really overpriced, overrated cup of coffee. The posh coffee cost less, tasted subjectively better.



MORE CZECH MEETINGS

We also met up with Anna's boyfriend Fanta who gave me a good quote: "I think people (in the Czech Republic) need to learn to use freedom." Interesting stuff that.



REFLECTIONS ON THE CITIES

I had asked Pete (forgot to ask Jana) what he thought the major reason to go to some of the cities were. We really couldn't think of some simple reason to go to Munich. It will always be one of my boyhood homes but to travel there now- I'm not really sure why someone would want to unless they had a keen interest in Bavaria.

Pete's:

Prague: Old buildings, architecture, history.
London: History.
Amsterdam: Feels safe.

Logan's:

Prague: Stuff to photograph.
London: Least scary for people who only speak English as they kind of speak English there.
Amsterdam: Drugs and whores.



AN EXPAT PLACE

While we were at a coffee shop (a proper one) Pete found that the back was some sort of 'expat place'. I went in to check it out so that I could report on it. There was one guy on a computer who didn't speak any English or German. There were four women talking at a table who completely ignored me. After a few minutes, I thought that it was the typical bad Czech service I've come to expect and left. I have no idea what their deal was nor how they made money.



DISCLAIMER ON BUDAPEST STUFF

It may sound like I'm hating life and such but I am actually greatful to be here in Budapest. The first day was just really amazingly hard on me.



BUS TO BUDAPEST

Due to getting only three hours of sleep before leaving - or my bad memory - I had forgotten to offload my Czech coins to Pete. It turned out to not be a horrible thing though as the bus hit me up for a 10 CZK charge to keep a bag under the bus. Later on the bus, I managed to convince the lady in the seat next to me to accept 150 CZK of change for a 100 CZK note that I could trade for HUF later in Hungary. She seemed really well disposed toward me until I had nodded off for awhile then she changed seats claiming that the sun was shining on her too much. Such odd behavior! It is a complete mystery to me.

Even on the yellow 'Student Bus', I'd highly suggest taking your own food and drink as the guy who deals with that is a good example of the stereotype of bad Czech service. Plus, the coffee and water he gets come from very near to the stand up coffin they call a toilet so there is just no telling what happens with that. I believe you could even bring your own alcohol and it wouldn't be a problem if you are the kind of person that likes to initially arrive in a foreign country drunk.

In general, the countryside of the Czech Republic is fields, with a few trees. In Hungary it gradually switched to pretty much forests with some copses of wind towers. A shitload of wind towers.

One of the places we'd stopped in was Bratislava and my first impression was "Holy shit, Eurotrip was right!" In the same way that Prague is a lot of old and new, Bratislava seemed to be decrepit and new. Although where we were at looked like a shithole, a brother and sister (Germans) in Budapest told me it was a great party town with a lot of hiking and nature stuff. No, that tends to not help Logan's opinion but I put it in for completeness. While we were in Bratislava (the bus was on a smoke break) I did chat to a lady from Budapest who was confused as to why anyone would want to visit it after seeing Prague. My initial impressions confirm this but more on that later.

And, naturally, by the time I arrived in Budapest I sure was Hungry! That joke never gets old to me.



BUDAPEST DEATH MARCH

What a fucking day I've had so far. Pete would say that is my fault but I prefer to think of it as 'not my fault'. Pete is probably right.

I had gotten about three hours sleep plus a couple cat naps and I've been hobbling and standing for almost four hours since. My back and legs have given up complaining after the first two hours. I didn't even have anyone to complain to.

I had the wrong impression of what would happen in Budapest. I figured the bus would drop me off in or near the city center and there would be some hostels nearby. I was so wrong.

Although English has become the 'international language' (Czech use it here, for example) the people I have encountered in the so called 'tourist information booths' in the subways don't seem to speak much of it. They also attempt to appear closed and are annoyed when the ticket seller two windows down refers you to them. They have no useful information or maps for you. Several people (Hungarians) I talked to have nodded sadly when I mentioned this to them.

The subway cars I've encountered look like they are from the communist days and are pretty run down. I've since seen new clean modern street cars, but the subway system cars I rode on were not new at all. Avoid getting trapped in the doors as they look to be able to take off an arm. This appears to be a sport for the subway operators.

I got dropped off near the outskirts. I met up with an older Czech couple. The lady was asking me for directions. In her ability to approach random strangers and ask stuff, she was my equal. I decided to go along with them to see if there was any rooms free in the hostel (it wasn't) they said they had booked into. After watching her use the same method I use when trying to find directions to places (keep asking people enroute as you get closer and closer) we at last made it to their strange hotel. The manager wasn't around but the building security guard allowed us to use his cellphone to talk to them. No vacancies. I departed from the happy and nice Czech couple and started walking around asking people where a hostel was.

I don't recommend randomly asking for directions without having a map handy in Budapest. There are three possible reasons why and I don't know which, if any of them is true: a) the people didn't know what I meant by 'hostel'. It's the same word in both English and German. I used both. b) the people were ignorant of what was in their city. Note, this reminds me a lot of Jana. One guy I asked for a street location was a street sweeper. He said he didn't know and it turned out to be the street he was sweeping. I wonder how he gets to work? c) the people I talked to thought 'there is someone who can stand to loose a few pounds - lets give him the run-around.

All of the directions I got were confusing, misleading, bad, false, etc. I did manage to find a place that wanted 14,000 HUF ($54 or so) for a double room but that was out of my price range. I even got physically accosted by a homeless and/or crazy person. I was very close to saying perhaps I should just move on - but I wanted to give Budapest a chance.

But I found some nice people at a hotel that was charging around 50 euros per night (very much out of my price range) but the good people at the Ibis hotel took pity on me. They found me a place, called them to verify they really did have a room, gave me a map, got me directions and off I went.

Logan's advertisement for the wonderful people at the IBIS HOTEL. Stay there. They won't know who I am. Ibis Hotel, H-1134 budapest, dozsa Gyorgy ut 65, phone number (36-1) 392-0200. Nice folks. They sent me to 'Colors Budapest Hostel' Veres Palne utca 14, tel 361 266 8153, near the Ferenciek tere metro stop. Colors is a so so (for people I have been teaching English to, 'so so' may be replaced with 'meh') place but does nearly fit into my price range. And that's what counts.

In all of the other countries, Hostels want your business. They buy a big obvious sign to stick on their building to show you how much they want your business. Not so here. The custom in Budapest seems to be to try to hide a small business card somewhere on the building you are in of your establishment and try to avoid getting found. This has been the case of three different hostels I've been to. I don't know why.

Note that Budapest thus far does NOT seem to be easy for tourist to find their way around but I am still learning it.

While I was writing this, I am drinking overpriced German imported Weiss Beer (white beer, made of wheat) at 760 HUF ($4.22) each.

While I was sitting there, a group of five Germans and I fell into a discussion about Jaegermeister. They liked my comments about it so much they filmed a video clip of me pointing at one of their party and saying "Jaegermeister - he will die!" I doubt that it will make the German equivalent of the Sundance Film Festival but if it becomes part of a movie there, you'll get to see me in it. I am doing my part in German. Joy.

Anyway, after being fortified by two Weiss beers and two cigarettes, I attempted to stand up. I am sure that nearby people thought I was drunk but even on a really empty stomach (so hungry!) that doesn't happen. My legs had locked up. Like when you exercise but don't cool down and stretch afterward. So I slowly hobbled off cursing in several languages and vowing revenge on God for my pain.

Costs: One day ticket for all public transportation, 1550 HUF. Unlike in Prague, they write down on the ticket when you get it rather than allow you to stamp it as entering the subway. This is less convenient as you can't stock up on tickets and burn them as needed. Interestingly, the ticket checkers also stand where you are going to enter to look at some of the tickets. Not very sneaky of them.



DISTANCES IN HUNGARY

"Not far away" - under one hour walking.

"Five meters" - "I don't speak English. Please thank me politely and quickly leave."

"Five hundred meters" - Up to one kilometer away.

"Twenty meters" - Up to one kilometer away.



COUCH SURFING

Due to the high cost of lodgings even here and being reminded by a nice German girl (whose name and the name of her brother I sadly did not get though they may be reading this some time) that it exists, I will be checking out couch surfing. I'm not sure how that will work out but you will find out after I do.



PAST REFLECTIONS - SHAWN O'MALLEY

I can use this guys name because a) I might be spelling it wrong and b) there are so many of them it is almost like saying 'John Doe'. I've tried to look this guy up since and been overwhelmed by how many others there are. Unfortunately, he was someone from the times before Facebook or I'd still have his contact information.

So, I now give you a couple of stories from a long time ago (before Jana was born!) about when I was about eighteen and new someone named Shawn O'Malley.

We initially met up at in Germany. I remember the first meeting well because it was at an unusual Halloween. I was in the military at the time and a bunch of us decided to throw a big Halloween party. I think I contributed something like $200 and it was the smallest individual contribution of anyone. Others contributed up to like $1000. I'm not sure of the exact numbers but there was at least a half dozen people. I remember hearing some or many (not me) of the people actually made their money back by charging a dollar (or a couple of Deutsch Marks - back in pre-Euro time) for admission. There were so many people there it was amazing. We had taken over two large apartments across from each other and the people kept coming and going. Many alcohol runs were made.

I remember meeting Shawn and immediately knowing who he was dressed up as - bathrobe and towel. Arthur Dent? He seemed pleased that I was the only one who knew. Strangely, after he said that I said something along the lines of "That's because all of these other people are idiots" - which is close to the line used in the film. Unlike in the film, the music didn't accidentally cut off just before I said it. No comeuppance! That's what I like!

After the party, the carpeting that was in the apartments was deemed trashed beyond saving, rolled up and thrown out. The carpets weren't cleaned and everything - cigarette butts, spilled drinks, vomit and a human body were all rolled inside and thrown into a big dumpster.

I met Shawn in front of the dumpster - he was still dressed the same aside from a large reddish spot on his bathrobe where someone had probably spilled a drink on him. He still had half of his drink. We fell to talking while the guy who was rolled up and literally trapped within the carpet slowly became conscious and took new stock of his surroundings. Without discussion, Shawn and I ignored his piteous whining and feeble cries for help (I guess you can't get all that much air in your lungs when rolled tightly in a carpet with about 20 kilos of trash) and decided to wander off to go find food together. Later that day as I returned to my home, I noticed the dumpster had been emptied. I speculated how noisy the back loading, fully automated German garbage trucks were and resolved to never pass out at a party.

We never saw that guy again. I'm sure he is living happily in a landfill somewhere.

After that, Shawn and I became friends. And one thing that friends do for each other is to keep lookout when one of them wants to go commit a crime. Asking a new friend to actually help commit the crime is a bit much but 'yell if you see anything bad like police' is still within the acceptable range.

So, Shawn had decided he wanted to rob a church for some reason. During the middle of the day. He was just that kind of guy. I personally figure God has enough shit and wasn't going to miss whatever Shawn could make off with. I figured robbing from a church was a bit much but you must remember that at that time I was a mere eighteen years old, slitting throats for our country and making a decent living at it. So, I was more dumb than now. Many people who currently know me well would object that me being dumber than now is not possible to which I reply 'Shut your stinking holes!'

So, we went to rob a church. It wasn't actually that unusual of day for that time in my life. Anyway, the church was unusual in that it sat in the middle of a large and fairly spooky graveyard. Which was having a funeral. With a couple hundred people.

I felt smug in this because I really didn't have a big interest in seeing if there was a God and I could anger him by robbing from his minions. No, I wanted McDonalds instead. But I could console Shawn.

"Looks like you're fucked." I said, being the consoling, caring Logan.

"Nah. I'll just think myself invisible and go rob it." Shawn replied.

A couple interesting points to make. Shawn had an unusual dress sense. He normally wore a brown leather jacket and (for some reason) a black scarf with silver piping. And black pants. He wasn't well enough dressed to fit in with the mourners nor was he poorly enough dressed to fit in with the grave diggers. In other words, he'd stick out. A lot.

The second thing to know about Shawn - he thought he was a ninja. Not a movie or TV show ninja but a real live ninja. The fact that he was of Irish descent and had never been closer to Japan than eating with chopsticks didn't seem to impact this belief pattern.

"OK." I replied. I thought about it and said "If we get separated, we'll meet at the McDonald's." My evil plan was fiendish in it's intricacy. Shawn thought that was a good idea and waded into the crowd. After waiting for a minute to see if crowds of angry machine gun wielding German policemen would pop up from behind the tombstones, I hurried off to McDonald's. I figured Shawn would scope it out, be defeated by way too many people and join me in McDonald's.

So, I'm at McDonald's justifying not ordering Shawn and trying to figure out if the reason was that he gets to eat prison food or that I just don't know what he wants. Shawn showed up to McDonald's and seemed disinterested in the food. I grunted and he sat.

"I thought it would be too hard." I said around a mixture of fries and Big Mac in my maw. Shawn smiled and placed a gym bag on the table. I eyed it and said a common American expression - "What the fuck is this shit?"

Shawn opened it and showed me the priests clothing.

"You stole his clothing? Really??"

"While he was in the next room in the shower." Shawn smiled.

At this point, I began to suspect Shawn might not be lying about being a ninja. Later, when Shawn was sparring with my Hapkido instructor, Bob Spear, and they both came to mutual destruction using the same blow, I was taking his outrageous ninja related claims more seriously.

It feels weird sitting in a hostel in Budapest reminiscing about someone I met in Germany.

Monday, April 25, 2011

BUDAPEST OR BUST

BLOG STATISTICS

As of 25 April 2011, in order of the most hits on the blog here are the top ten countries reading this: United States, New Zealand, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Germany, Poland, Sweden, Netherlands. The statistics tracker only keeps track of the top ten countries for the day, week, month or all time. Overall, this blog has seen hits from every continent aside from Antarctica and Africa. It averages about a hundred hits or more a day and the readership is on the increase. I have no idea why but I'm glad people are enjoying it.



REMINDER FOR THE READERS

As we have readers from literally all over the world that read this, please feel free to contact me either via facebook or in the comments section if you see that I am coming to your country. I'd be grateful for information or if you want to meet up for a drink or whatever.



WEIRD CZECH SHIT

Apparently microwave ovens are not in fashion here. I don't get it. The microwave oven can replace virtually every other piece of equipment in the house, yet Jana and her friends don't seem to have one. What the fuck? Really?

In addition, I'm told that the toilet and sink are usually not in the same room. This does make it harder to wash your hands.



BUDAPEST OR BUST

Tomorrow, really early in the morning, I'm off for Budapest. It may be a bit before I can put up my next blog post depending on what I find there.

I was looking back to see what information I had on Hungary and it is fucking sparse.

Aside from warnings on the US State Department page and from travel wiki I didn't really find a lot. If the information is still current, it might be rougher than the Czech Republic. Hell, the Czech Republic feels to me to be one of the safer nations I've been in. Cops are everywhere.

I've still got to get to a dentist for my tooth and a doctor to see about getting renewals for my prescriptions. Possibly business cards. We'll see if it is really as cheap as I've been told.

I've still got two months left i the various Schengen countries before I need to get the fuck out but if Hungary is anywhere close to as expensive as the Czech Republic, it will be a quick pass through.

I've enjoyed the time with Pete and Jana I've gotten to spend in Prague but Pete's got to get back to work and Jana is looking more and more haggard every time I see her. Spending time with Logan can be like that.

So, I've written down the phrases in Hungarian for: hello, please, thank you, yes, no and the Logan special, 'I'm sorry'. We'll see what we can do with that.

Apparently, Hungary is not on the Euro as I had originally thought but on the HUF (Hungarian Forint). I'm going to work on stopping by a currency exchange today so that I have some before entering the country.

It seems that my German will again be useful in Hungary - it came up several times in the Czech Republic. Good deal.

I found coins for three euro dollars. The nice lady at the desk gave me two Fanta's for it. Considering that the coins were pretty much now useless to me, I'm up on the deal. I'm going to have to try to remember to give Pete any CZK 'shrapnel' I have left over before I leave the country as it will be useless further on.


I'll post again when I'm able!

WELCOME TO STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS, BITCHES

SOME OF THE PRAGUE PICTURES

My theory is that if people wanted to see 'standard pictures' of Prague, hell they've got the internet. Obviously, if you're reading this. Unless you have minions print this shit out and bring it to you. If you do, please get another minion to edit it.

Ranting aside, I wanted to show you some pictures of things very different from the USA. If you are already living in Europe, 'good on you' but this may still be interesting. Prague through Logan's eyes. Note, that the scenes where I am watching the cobblestones and huffing and puffing my way up some giant fucking hill are not in here even though it is a common sight for me.

BTW - if anyone would like to send Jana coupons or gift certificates for KFC, please let me know and I'll get you a mailing address.



It may be in this store, but everywhere else it's OK...




Logan tells the others about an exciting new place he can smoke!




Jana on a normal day looks like this.



Or this.



Jana often disagrees with me. Especially about her black nail polish. She tries to claim it is extra dark purple, I claim it is 'goth'. I asked her to show it to me and this is the result.



This is actually a Czech custom Jana told me about. When you are done eating, you put your knife and fork next to each other on the plate. I go an extra step and put the burial shroud over it as well. I think it makes it a bit more obvious to the waiters as well as hiding the food from the Belly (TM) so it doesn't decide to attack it.



If this bar was in England, it would be called "Couldn't be bothered to name it".



This picture is entitled "Hug? Hug! Noooo!"



Please point to the one you killed...



Failed saving throw.



A coat of arms made entirely out of human bones - and me.



Logan contemplates the nature of the universe and the nature of death. To misquote Homer Simpson, "If they were so smart, how come they're dead?"



Jana lived all of her life in Prague and claimed there were no cheese shops at all. In less than an hour or two, Pete had found something that looked promising.



Pete waits for Jana to return from some mysterious errand she wanted to run. We're not sure what she was up to but we waited.



Soviet block architecture. From what I've seen inside it's pretty random on where sinks, toilets and such are. One friend has her shower in the kitchen. No, I am not fucking kidding or 'being Logan'. I think they left these up because they were cheap dwellings for the masses. The put some paint on them to make them look nicer but - to quote Michael Paylin, "You can't polish a turd".



Logan with his 'Aren't I fucking posh' look on his face as I try out traditional Czech duck legs. What they didn't tell me about ahead of time is that they would send out the crippled duck for us to poke with sticks as it tried to drag itself away. Some of them could even be trained to get around in tiny wheelchairs. Good times, as Travis would say.



My impression of the Cubism museum. Also known as 'What the fuck is this shit?'



Logan say 'yuck' to too much culture!



Fortunately, they didn't have enough of that cubism crap to fill the building they had.



The only good thing about Hooters in Prague - they served one 'American sized' drink.



A nice picture of Jana and her brother Jan.



Go to different countries to drink and smoke! Hell, that's what I do!



Jana attempts to take down religion by pushing down a cathedral. If God is dead, it's because she killed him.



Jana also found out which car belonged to the priest and did something bad to it. She really hates these guys.



A traditional Czech house. The live like hobbits.



This is Ivan, one of twenty or so wine makers in the Czech Republic in the place where they make and store wine. He is holding a glass of wine for the readers (well, one guy probably) who has never seen what wine looks like before. That, and we were drinking a fair bit of wine. I had no idea that the Czech Republic made wines but I will say their wines are quite different to anything I've had anywhere else in the world. It was quite a pleasure to meet Ivan!



Ivan's friends who adopted me, part 1.



Ivan's friends who adopted me, part 2. These two pictures are some (not all!) of the people who really made me feel welcome at the 'town of rabbits'. Good folks!



On the right is Tomash (Tom) who helped organize the trip, let us stay at his home, gave us a tour of his city, etc, etc. I would describe him as 'outgoing and charming'.



Can you fucking believe the name of this bar? It was closed or I would have gone in and demanded a White Russian! If you are clueless on this, go watch the movie.



In case you can't tell, those are giant, black babies crawling around the structure. Jana tells me those are quite a problem in Prague.

CZECH OLKLORE SONGS

This is Jana's favorite Czech folklore song but this is a close second. I had no idea they were Czech songs but she assures me this is them done in English.

THE GREAT BRNO SUBWAY HUNT

BRNO

"If you want to make someone from Brno angry, ask them where the subway is." - Prague saying.

For those who don't get it, Brno has no subway because it is small though the second largest city in Czech Republic. I suspect the lack of a subway has given some residents inferior feelings, hence they are angry. I had fun asking for the subway. Yeah, I'm that guy. When we were headed down there on the bus, I got to find out who spoke English that had a sense of humor when I announced to my companions who were sitting back a few rows that we were suppose to meet our contact at the Brno subway station. Hey, it helped break the ice a little.



THE STORY THUS FAR

Last we left our intrepid group of adventurers, they had survived the Road of Death and Trains of 'It's after Midnight and the Czech Republic is closed, you foreign devils' and made it to Brno.

After yet more walking, and hills, we made it to Thomash (Tom) and Margaret's (they're flat-mates) home. We crashed in Tom's room.

Poor Jana woke up sneezing her head off. After we located and reattached her head we ended up with an early start to a day I had felt certain that they would get to sleep in. Pete was looking his normal dignified self but Jana was beginning to get that 'I've been traveling with Logan too long' look I fear. It can precede an incident which the jury (do they have them here?) would let her off of the crimes quoting both sleep deprivation as well as just cause.

We ate at a trendy little cafe in their garden. They have a lot of nice looking ivy covering the ancient brick walls. Breakfast for four people, 260 CZK.

Afterward, Thomash gave us a bit of a tour of Brno as we headed to the train station. He turned out to be a much more knowledgeable tour guide than Jana who I deeply suspect of being Italian rather than Czech.

Tomash also stopped by one of the booths and directed Pete and I to buy and drink a shot of something Czech 'with herbs in it'. Surprise, it was firewater. I should have really seen that coming.



TRAVELER'S TIP

Any time someone wants you to try a shot of something (especially in the morning, right after breakfast) always insist on 'Sure - if you do one with me!' This gives you the opportunity to give your host a small gift or at least make sure he is poisoned from the same cup you are.

I wanted to take a moment to thank Tom (Tomash) and Margaret for letting them stay in their home. It was very kind of them.

Tom was also a much better (if you want the actual historical facts instead of the interesting other facts) tour guide than Jana. Unlike Jana, I found it easy to believe he actually lived in the city he showed us. [Jana = Italian].



BACK TO PRAGUE

Train from Brno to Prague, 160 CZK. Note, we believe this is an 'Easter special' rate - no clue what the normal rate is. Approximate travel time, an hour and a half.

Yes, I do see the irony that I'm going north through the Czech Republic so that I can travel south in a few days.

On the way back to Prague, in addition to fascinating my companions with such amazing games as "I Spy" and "Twenty Questions", I asked Pete and Jana their opinions on 'the village of rabbits'.

Jana: "I liked the feast, the atmosphere of freedom. You didn't have to worry about anything. You could talk to people, get food or go for a walk. Whatever people felt like doing. I also liked that I visited the country. I'm not from the country or there a lot. It was interesting to see a different part of the Czech Republic."

Pete: "Good company. Even the people not of the group we went with tended to be friendly. The locals reaction to us was pleasantly surprised. I might have been the first Australian they encountered. It was nice. I had a lot of interesting and enjoyable conversations with our group as well. When wandering around the town, the locals were friendly, even when we tried to invade their homes."



LOGAN'S EASTER PERSPECTIVE

Czech custom: On the Monday after easter, women become water spewing chocolate and egg vending machines. In order to activate this machine, you hit (not hard!) them with a special stick you can buy anywhere. It has bright ribbons on the end of it. Is that phallic or what? The women are suppose to give you an egg or chocolate when you do. After noon, the women defend themselves by throwing water on the men. I don't think any of this symbolism is really too hard to work out. It seems they are only allowed to do this after noon. I don't know why.

Traditional American custom: The parents hide colored hard boiled eggs. The kids run around trying to find them. The parents try to remember how many eggs they hid and inevitably forget some. Later, these become smelly bombs as the eggs are left to rot.

New American custom: Being that for many families the 'traditional' way was a lot of work and the kids have gotten too fat and jaded to care about 'seeking' the eggs. So, instead, the kids find a pre-packaged selection of chocolates and candies (not eggs) that can be bought from the store either in their bedroom or just outside of the door. The kids (and often, parents) then gorge themselves on these treats and lie in bed panting as their lungs try to work despite the layers of fat. It's a happy time that Jesus rarely intrudes into for most families.



JANA QUOTE

One of the things I have become fond of saying in the Czech Republic is "(Something) is broken, there are no replacement parts." It's a good summation of many things. The other day, Jana said "Logan is broken. Thankfully, there are no replacement parts."

According to Jana, her favorite Czech folk music song is entitled "My shit's fucked up". I have not yet heard this song but I am sure it is a classic.

Upon being asked what she thought about dogs, Jana immediately responded: "Skinned. Maybe boiled in water for a bit. Then, released into the wild."



MOVIE REVIEW - THE EAGLE

It was a pretty basic buddy/adventure story. I can't really say much without giving away the somewhat linear plot. A couple of interesting points, it is one of the few movies in which you get to see kids getting killed. This is an uncomfortable topic for people and they handled it tastefully. It is, however, historically accurate. The other thing is a personal bitch of mine. I know that not everyone else shares this opinion but you are stuck reading this blog so you get to hear it. I think directors who use 'unsteady cam' need to leave the amateur film school shit behind. I would personally love it if there was a law that forced advertisers to put a big warning label on any movie that used unsteady cam for more than 10-20% of the movie.

From wiki "The camera operator can hold the camera in his hands. This allows greater speed and flexibility, but even the most skilled camera operator cannot prevent the image from shaking, if only minutely. Hand-held footage has therefore traditionally been considered suitable mostly for documentaries, news, reportage work, live action, unrehearsable footage, or as a special effect to evoke an atmosphere of authentic immediacy or "cinéma vérité" during dramatic sequences."

In my opinion, you lose a lot of the 'authentic immediacy' when you use unsteady cam for the whole fucking movie. On the plus side, they didn't hire a poor epileptic having a grand mal seizure to film this one like they did with the second and third Bourne movies.

Needless to say, both Pete and Jana liked the movie and disagreed with my opinions. It would absolutely kill them if I became a famous movie reviewer.



CZECH CUSTOMS

I haven't been to what I'd consider a good cross sample of Czech homes yet but the few I have been to are the 'remove shoes upon entering' type. Remember, if you see an assload of shoes near the door, add yours.

In Prague (and Brno, I believe) they seem to have a lot of casinos. I have no idea if these do more business late night but the ones I've seen always appear abandoned. I don't think that the Czechs are really into handing their money over at the tables. Jana said private poker games are more the norm here.



CZECH SERVICE AND DRINKS

Beware of white and black Russians. These are drinks.

Pete has ordered a lot of Black Russians and ended up teaching a lot of European bartenders how to make a childishly simple drink. In fact, if you want a Black Russian and ask for them to hold the milk or bring the milk separately and just don't add it to your drink. This may still confuse them - even if it is said in their own language.

Despite both Black and White Russians being a shot of Kahlua and a shot of vodka some places still manage to fuck this up and give you a third the Kahlua you need. I'm guessing it is to try to save just a little bit of money. Some don't give you the right amount of milk. There is a way around this and that is to order all of the ingredients separately. It will cost you more but you won't get something fucked up and foul tasting.

One way around this is to stick to beer. Just say "pivo" ("Pee-voh" - 'O' as in the sound you make when you say "Oh shit") and you will get beer. I don't know what kind but beer you will get. They won't fuck that up.

One thing to be aware of on beer - Czechs like a big head on their beer. They call it a 'cap'. Well, I don't know what the Czech word is and you don't care but it translates to 'cap'. They see this as a good thing as opposed to other nations which see it as an attempt to rip them off of a few ounces of beer they should get.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

VILLAGE OF RABBITS

Prague photos can be found here.

Czech for Xenophobes
If you're wanting to find out more about the Czech mindset - which is interesting - check out this book! It was advised to me by Jan - not Jana's brother, the one from the coffee shop. Although it cost about 4-5 times as much as he thought it did, I found it to be a very interesting read and give a lot of insight into the Czech mind. If you are ever wanting to go to the Czech Republic, read this book ahead of time.



BEER

When I used to live in Germany, I tried Pilzner beer. It was very bitter. Not so with the Pilzner here - totally different creature.



DOGS AND BABIES

Sometimes, people in the Czech Republic leave their dogs tethered outside of the store. No problem, I've seen that in the USA as well. Interesting thing I've seen here on three separate occasions - women doing that with their babies. I don't mean tethering them to a rail - which would be entertaining - but just blithely leave the stroller outside and go into the store. I've noticed that they are clutching their handbag tight as though worried about pickpockets, but it hasn't seemed to occur to anyone here that people may want an extra baby that is just lying about. In the sun. I'm not even kidding. It's just one of the new things I have to get use to.



THE TRASHCAN

There are some dogs that when you chain them to something stationary just lie down out of the way. This story is not about them. It is about the dogs who endlessly bark, knowing that by doing so they will bring their master back. I've always wanted police to ticket such owners of those animals with a nice triple ticket - animal cruelty, noise pollution and a possible safety hazard to the other poor bastards trying to use the door that the dog is inevitably leashed next to.

So, I sat there watching the dog chained to the garbage can. Next to the door of the store. I was bored and waiting on the others. Eventually, an attractive woman came out and unchained the dog. Then her girlfriend came out and they began to make out. I sat and watched the drama unfold, wondering what would happen next. Eventually, the lesbians got bored of making out in public. Perhaps it was because I was the only one watching and I'm certain my face showed 'hey, I'm bored but you guys trying to make out beats watching that stupid dog'. They wandered off and my gaze returned to the garbage can.

A couple of well dressed men approached and started going through the cigarette butt collection sand at the top, looking for something that could be smoked. I suppose it wasn't as interesting as watching one good looking lesbian make out with a fatter and uglier one, but when you get bored, you have to take your entertainment where you can get it.



SKATEBOARDING IN PRAGUE

The streets are cobblestone. Don't even try it. I've only seen one group of skate rats in this city. Come to think of it, there aren't a lot of bikes either. If you want to see those, Amsterdam.



PULITZER

Pete doesn't think I'll ever win a Pulitzer unless my writing style either improves dramatically or the bar falls way, way down. I'm waiting for the bar to continue to drop.



CZECH SERVICE - YET MORE

Interesting thing I didn't know about. If they bring you the wrong food - something totally different than what you ordered, you have options.

a) have them apologize and you eat it anyway - I am not kidding. Believe it or not, they expect you to just sit there and eat it. If you ordered a ham and cheese sandwich and they brought you an omelet, guess what? That's right, you fucking eat it and like it.

b) send it back for the right thing. Apparently, this is rare among Czechs as it is known that anything sent back comes out of the pay of the waiter/waitress as they are blamed for 'getting it wrong'. So you can bet your ass that any new food you get will either have something horrible in it or be tainted in some creative way. The Czech's I've talked to don't understand the concept of restaurants throwing out returned food.

c) say 'this is not what I ordered', get up, leave and never go back. Obviously, this is not done by any of the Czechs I've talked to but for tourists - if you don't want to eat what you are given (whatever that may be) this is the safest option. I doubt most people are rude enough to do something like this and will think 'Logan can't be right on option B' and try that. Good luck. BTW - this was suggested as an option by Miranna (Jana's friend, a Czech) - not by Logan.



JANA QUOTE

"In dreams, you can see reality much more clearly than in reality."



TRIP TO BRNO

If you recall from the previous blog post, Tomash (Tom) is one of Jana's friends from Brno. I've noticed that with Jana and her friends, there is no plan and the schedule can change hour by hour. This is also the case here.

Marianna got us three one way train tickets for Brno via the internet on some random bus line.

The plan was to meet Tom (Tomash) there and then go to a small village to see their Easter celebration.

We started the wake up procedure at 7 AM. Jana was thrilled about having to get up early and kept loudly saying things like "I am trying to survive here!" but Marianna helped us out by physically dragging Jana out of bed.

The ride from literally one side of Czech to the other is interesting. It takes about two hours. They have these weird divots in the road every few feet that make the bus rattle so much that it knocks bags off of the overhead shelves and such. I was concerned that one or more of the windows might fall out. Nobody on the bus ride talked the entire time. I was told this is the normal custom for bus rides. Weird.

According to the advertisements, they had 'luxurious' wifi on the bus but neglected to provide a password. Since the driver is the only person to ask but it's really best not to disturb him, you're out of luck. Also, the bus seats don't recline. This has a disadvantage in that you can't really get comfortable but an advantage in that other people can't make you uncomfortable.

After we arrived in Brno and wandered around waiting for an hour or two, we met up with Tomash and two of his friends - Margaret and Julius. They were really nice people and the six of us (including Pete, Jana and I) traveled to the small village to the festival.



THE VILLAGE OF RABBITS (ZAJECI]

The village is about 1000 people. It is not connected directly to the rail line but by a little used road that is about 2 KM in length. For 'disgusting fat body Logan', that was a long very painful walk. Tomash (Tom) had no idea where exactly the party was but being a charming, outgoing sort soon had directions from other people in the area and we were off with Logan windging away and telling Margaret (who teaches English in schools) some of the English actually used as well as American customs.

The beer festival was held in and around a very good sized pub. I thought that this was the 'village pub' but it turns out there are like 7 or 8 pubs there. Amazing - I wouldn't have thought that a portion of a couple hundred people could support such a massive place.

When we got there, we were told we needed to pay 150 CZK to get in and 50 CZK for a wineglass. There was also an optional charge of 30 CZK for a menu. Nobody bought a menu but it turns out that it isn't really needed.

Here's how it works - you can go into the bar and get your wine glass filled (European filled, not American filled) as often as you'd like. Period. As we'd paid like $12 or so for this, I have no clue at all how they actually made any money. I'm told this is a common thing.

In the cooled house, they had a few hundred bottles of wine with numbers (or numbers and letters) on them that presumably corresponded to the menu (in Czech) that we had no interest in.

Food was extra but very reasonably priced - between 50-80 CZK for 'BBQ style' meals. Enough to eat on a 'European stomach'. If you've just arrived from the USA and your stomach hasn't had a chance to adjust (shrink) you might need a couple at once.

A note on insects in the Czech Republic - there don't seem to be very many. Less even than in England where they also don't need screens in their windows. The USA got the short end of the straw on this one I am here to tell you.

As I was hanging out there, I met by chance with a guy named Ivan (pronounced Eee-van) as he was crawling under my chair to get a stray piece of trash off of the floor. We got to talking and it turned out he was the wine maker. I love those sort of random coincidences! I think I am very lucky to have met up with him.

Ivan gave me a private tour of the wine making facilities. I got to taste several interesting wines. I've noticed that in the Czech Republic, many things are said to include 'herbs'. Medicine, strong liquor, wines, etc. It is my belief that Czech's think these are good for them and so make it a point of using them and bringing up that things are made with herbs. Due to the small amount of vineyards within the Czech Republic I was told they didn't have enough to export much wine. It is my belief that the wine was good enough they actually didn't want to export it but drink it themselves.

After my private tour, I'd asked Ivan if he wanted to show it to my friends - he graciously agreed. He also expanded the tour and told us how one guy was digging a shaft through sandstone about 20m (and still going) into the hillside in order to store more wines. They don't use bracing or anything so he had a big drill and a tube to breath through if it collapsed on him - and there was enough left of him to breath.

It was cold enough to see your breath in the winery place, where they store and age the wine.

Ivan is a fourth generation wine maker and he is marrying into another wine making family. We got to meet Ivan's parents. I think they were a bit surprised that some foreign visitors were poking around the winery especially since one of them was a bit 'scruffy looking'. I'll leave you to guess who that might be. Pete and Ivan had made a temporary swap. Pete was wearing Ivan's over-sized sunglasses, Ivan was wearing Pete's hat. In English (as Ivan's mom was or is an English teacher) she told Ivan she didn't like his hat at all and it was very silly looking. This caused a lot of laughter when it was revealed whose hat it really was. If I was rich, I'd have sent Ivan a hat like that just to remember the occasion. Being that I know how much Pete spent on it, Ivan gets no hat. Sorry Ivan. I am poor.

Ivan the adopted me into his circle of friends. I got introduced to his girlfriend, Aneta. Both of them had been together on a trip to California and were happy to talk to me about it. It sounds like they had a good time. Both Ivan and Aneta's English was great so communication wasn't a problem.

I also met a man whose last name in Czech means 'cake' so I called him just "Mr. Cake" - he is a local taxi driver but sadly doesn't speak any English. There were a lot of other very nice people I met (including a lady who does massage and worked on my arms) but I didn't get all of their names down. [Note, his actual name is Mr.. Buchta.]

There are about 20 total wine makers within the Czech Republic. I think it was interesting to see my first wine making and storage facility. Later, Ivan consented to show the same thing to my friends. More description follows when we get to that part of the story...



TRAVELER'S TIP

I call this one the Czech swap though it might work or be needed in other countries. I found that at the wine festival, if I drained my glass it would get filled with more wine. Drinking water (especially with wine) is crucial. Here's a tactic I found worked. When you've got a small amount (but still respectable) left in the glass, grab the water pitcher. Down the last bit of wine and in one smooth motion refill your glass with water. This may confuse some of the locals who might wonder what happened to your wine but just smile and nod at them.



ON WITH THE TOWN OF RABBITS

I felt like I was seeing more of the Czech Republic in the couple of hours in this village than I did in the tourist infested streets of Prague.

It's the people. It's always all about the people.

At this party, they had a twelve piece band - I'm not kidding. About half were violinists, a cello, a big dulcimer, and some woodwind instruments. Something that struck me as interesting about the band - none of them (I would guess) was above thirty years old. Usually, bands that play the 'old songs' are made up of 'old people' - not so here. [Note: A dulcimer is a big table like thing with strings on it that the person playing it hits with two small strange drumsticks.]

The band was playing the 'old songs' which, sadly I had no clue of the words to. I was told that all of the songs were either about wine or love. I told one of my hosts that they often went together. This got hearty agreement.

This was a really nice time out for everyone. I know it sounds trite, but I saw literally all ages from toddler to ancient having a very nice time. Rather than trying to show what rebellious badasses they were, a lot of the 15-25 year olds were doing the same thing as everyone else and having a great time.

I got offered the last room in the inn the party was at three different times. [Yes, I would have been paying for it but I think it was very nice of them to offer.] Old men I don't know have taken to refilling my glass if it gets low so I'm nursing the wine really slowly.

Whenever the band goes on break, the locals take up the singing - whether they know the words or not. I was hanging out with the locals while the others were wandering around touring the village. I figure in just avoiding the touring part, I'm a winner. Unfortunately Margaret had to go do her Lent stuff so she took off early but the others are still somewhere around. One of the old men who keeps refilling my glass seems to be wanting me to get married to the lead violinist. For reasons I can't figure out, Ivan gives me his keys to hold onto. These are a very trusting folk. So, I retreated, drank water, observed and wrote. During the music, the crowd does many of the same 'whooping noises' heard during Mexican music. I found that interesting. A lot of the music has a very 'gypsy' feel to it. Some of the music is Czech - some is Slovak. Julius (who is Slovak) told me that all of the interesting fast paced music is Slovak while the slow (and as he put it) boring stuff is Czech.

From the treatment I got, I might have been the first American (and Pete the first Australian) to ever visit that village. I felt a bit surprised because other people kept pointing me out to their friends. There were no signs of cops or bouncers around - just everyone having a good time.

Who the hell would have thought back when I was in the states bored out of my mind doing movie reviews that I'd end up sitting at a shindig in the 'village of rabbits' having a great time? I really didn't see that one coming.

We got invited by Ivan to go with him and a bunch of other people to another winery for more late night partying but some of my friends were tired and wanted to get back to Brno to go to sleep. So, the group got together and we had the next exciting challenge to go.

Remember the 2KM death march we had with the little used road? It was all still ahead of us though we were a bit drunk. Some, more than a bit. Unlike in America, the road was completely unlit and it wasn't a particularly bright night. Being from around here, they all wanted to walk it. A dark road, miles from anything at night.

With traffic.

I was quite concerned about how much traffic a small country road had. We were passed by 15-20 vehicles on this road that had no shoulders. [By shoulders, I mean the areas on the sides of the road that aren't normally driven on.] That was dangerous as fuck, especially since the cars didn't slow down at all. Very, very dangerous - and stupid. We almost lost Julius a couple times as he was a bit drunk and confused about the 'get the hell off of the road when a car is coming' thing. I went and stood in the ditch to the side and prayed the driver wasn't too drunk and could miss us. I have no idea how long it took but Charley was in the bush.

Fortunately, and with a couple close calls, we made it to the train station with everyone alive. And we'd missed our train.

So, we had to catch a train going in the opposite direction so that we could wait two hours for one going in the correct direction. Apparently, the train for Prague didn't stop at that time near the village of rabbits.

So we got on one going the other way and witnessed interesting things like a soldier who was carrying bottles of beer in his 'webbing'.

Eventually, entirely 'shagged out' (tired) we got back to Brno.



TRAVELER'S TIPS

Europeans don't carry a lot of cigarettes. It might be due to the price, their own forgetfulness or that they are 'trying to quit'. Carry extra cigarettes so that you can give them away one at a time. I don't think I'd recommend it for a non smoker but if you carried a cheap lighter it might be OK and possibly save your life if you get trapped in a Bear Grylls survival situation somehow. But carrying extra cigarettes for people is a very social thing.

Traveling to me feels a bit like a very extended NERO event. Extra socks and underwear are where it's at - that really does determine when you can shower. I'm sure this one has been mentioned before but I wanted to reiterate it as I've found it to be true.

Pete's Travel tip: Carry tea bags with you. They travel well and hot water is easy to get.



ZAJECI FACTS

Located in the south of the Czech Republic, about an hour or so by train from Brno, 40KM away.
Famous for it's vineyards.
'Zajeci' means 'town of rabbits'.

The pub/bed & breakfast I was at is called Zayecsky Vinny Sklep (Zajeci's Wine Cellar). I recommend going there for either the Easter festival (Easter Saturday) as I did or the big one (the locals tell me much bigger) the first weekend in July for the harvest festival, called Hody. During the big festival, about 1000 people show up for it.

What struck me as particularly odd about this place is that the only two foreigners there seemed to be Pete and I. Well, one other guy did come along later but I didn't really get to see him for long which I felt was a pity. This is exactly the kind of thing tourists would love to see - even pay big money to see. If you can decipher the train schedules and know the days, this is a very inexpensive way to delve into the real Czech Republic. The only 'tourists' there were Czechs. This is one of those 'undiscovered' things.

PICTURES

{{2011}} London, GB | Rail N Sail | Amsterdam, Netherlands | Prague, Czech Republic | Budapest, Hungary | Sarajevo, Bosnia | Romania | Chisinau, Moldova | Ukraine: Odessa - Sevastopol | Crossed Black Sea by ship | Georgia: Batumi - Tbilisi - Telavi - Sighnaghi - Chabukiani | Turkey: Kars - Lost City of Ani - Goreme - Istanbul | Jordan: Amman - Wadi Rum | Israel | Egypt: Neweiba - Luxor - Karnak - Cairo | Thailand: Bangkok - Pattaya - Chaing Mai - Chaing Rei | Laos: Luang Prabang - Pakse | Cambodia: Phnom Penh | Vietnam: Vung Tau - Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City

{{2012}} Cambodia: Kampot - Sihanoukville - Siem Reap - Angkor Wat | Thailand: Bangkok | India: Rishikesh - Ajmer - Pushkar - Bundi - Udaipur - Jodhpur - Jasalmer - Bikaner - Jaipur - Agra - Varanasi | Nepal: Kathmandu - Chitwan - Pokhara - Bhaktapur - (Rafting) - Dharan | India: Darjeeling - Calcutta Panaji | Thailand: Bangkok - again - Krabi Town | Malaysia, Malaka | Indonesia: Dumas - Bukittinggi - Kuta - Ubud - 'Full Throttle' - Gili Islands - Senggigi | Cambodia: Siem Reap | Thailand: Trat | Turkey: Istanbul | Georgia: Tbilisi

{{2013}} Latvia: Riga | Germany: Berlin | Spain: Malaga - Grenada | Morocco: Marrakech - Essauira - Casablanca - Chefchawen - Fes | Germany: Frankfurt | Logan's Home Invasion USA: Virginia - Michigan - Indiana - Illinois - Illinois - Colorado | Guatemala: Antigua - San Pedro | Honduras: Copan Ruinas - Utila | Nicaragua: Granada | Colombia: Cartagena | Ecuador: Otavalo - Quito - Banos - Samari (a spa outside of Banos) - Puyo - Mera

{{2014}} Peru: Lima - Nasca - Cusco | Dominican Republic | Ukraine: Odessa | Bulgaria: Varna - Plovdiv | Macedonia: Skopje - Bitola - Ohrid - Struga | Albania: Berat - Sarande | Greece: Athens | Italy: Naples - Pompeii - Salerno | Tunisia: Hammamet 1

{{2015}} Hammamet 2 | South Africa: Johnnesburg | Thailand: Hua Hin - Hat Yai | Malaysia: Georgetown | Thailand: Krabi Town | Indonesia:
Sabang Island | Bulgaria: Plovdiv | Romania: Ploiesti - Targu Mures | Poland: Warsaw | Czech Republic: Prague | Germany: Munich | Netherlands: Groningen | England: Slough | Thailand: Ayutthaya - Khon Kaen - Vang Vieng | Cambodia: Siem Reap

{{2016}} Thailand: Kanchanaburi - Chumphon | Malaysia: Ipoh - Kuala Lumpur - Kuching - Miri | Ukraine: Kiev | Romania: Targu Mures - Barsov | Morocco: Tetouan

{{2017}} Portugal: Faro | USA: Virginia | Michigan | Illinois | Colorado |

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