Monday, January 15, 2007

Dear Washington Mutual: I am Stranded in Central Europe.

I have gotten a few complaints lately of a mysteriously silent blog… well, I am still alive and I have an excuse: Amy and I went on a three week “sisterly-bonding” Euro-adventure immediately after a visit from Rumbles, meaning the last month has been more play than work. But I’m back, and let me tell you everything worth mentioning:
Firstly, Amy and I had our standard travel mix, designed especially for long train rides and short airplane stints, constantly at hand. We were pretty happy about it:

A Different City- Modest Mouse
Wonderful World- James Morrison
Maps- Yeah Yeah Yeah
Amsterdam- Coldplay
A Jalalabad- MC Solaar
Diamonds from Sierra Leone- Kanye West
California- Hawk Nelson
Represent Cuba- Orishas
Vienna- The Fray
London- Third Eye Blind
King of New York- Newsies (can I help it if the soundtrack fits?)
23 Places- Matt Wertz
Copenhagen- Dave Brubeck
Globes and Maps- Something Corporate
Angola Bound- Aaron Neville (if you judge me I swear… The man can sing!)
Back in the USSR- Beatles
Chicago Is So Two Years Ago- Fall Out Boy
Leaving Las Vegas- Sheryl Crow
Jerusalem- Matisyahu
China- Tori Amos
A Whole New World- Aladdin (yeah buddy!)
Te Dejo Madrid- Shakira
Sweet Home Alabama- Lynyrd Skynyrd
Rivers of Babylon- Sublime
Aquí No Será- Ozomatli
Sketches of Spain- Miles Davis
Paradise City- Guns N’ Roses
Are You Gonna Go My Way?- Lenny Kravitz

Yahtzee! I dare you to make a better wandering mix.

Moving on. Aim and I took off for Dublin, crammed in the backseat of a tiny Irish car with half the Drennans and Malia. The first goal of Sisterfest 2006 was to locate Irish stew, Guinness, and a jolly bartender. All three accomplished, we spent the rest of our time wandering St. Stephen’s Green in intense cold, getting our pictures taken in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral by random Mexicans with a tripod and offers to “tomar algo,” (which we unfortunately had to refuse) and witnessing a drug deal in a back alley, from which we promptly turned and speedwalked the opposite direction, only to RUN INTO the cracked-out purchaser of said drugs ten minutes later. We love you, Dublin.
As two girls who passionately hate The Sound of Music, don’t know classical music and can’t stand up on skis to save our lives, we were fairly curious as to how we ended up in Salzburg, Austria first. But it ended up being an absolute dream, thanks to the cast of characters that began to assemble at our hostel. First we have Matt, the Stifler-twin from Boston who, after what we thought were only two beers, proceeded to grill the Brits in our room on “why they love the king so much?”
“We don’t have a king.”
“YES YOU DO.” Needless to say, that conversation went downhill fast, especially after Matt’s mockery of the Queen’s English was rebutted with an irrefutable, “Why are you making fun of my English? We invented it!”
Our second major discovery was after we got lost and found ourselves on top of a monastery overlooking the city. It was at this majestic locale that we found Dan. Dan, who has lived under a metaphorical rock for his entire life, is a 26 year old Texan wanderer with a heart of gold, and he decided to join us for the day. Although he really didn’t have a clue as to where the Salzburg catacombs were, he still tried to lead us to them for about 5 hours. After finally discovering them, we also found a restaurant carved out of the side of the mountain and warmed up with some gluhwein, the most amazing mulled wine, and stole our mugs for a souvenir. We then witnessed a loud, violent fight between what I can only describe as a transient couple with, well, a lot of agitated dogs. This led to what we now quietly refer to as “the time Laura almost got mauled by an unmuzzled beast.” I’m ok physically, but mentally I will never be the same.
Then we have Victor and Penny, our soulmates. Victor is from China, Penny is from Taiwan, they’re studying in Scotland and are two of the funniest people we have ever met. We convinced them to translate our names into Mandarin words. Well SURPRISE SURPRISE, Amy’s meant “Love, Beauty, and everything that is good and right in the world.” And mine meant “carrot.” I almost got upset at the injustice until I realized that Gwyneth Paltrow probably would be really content with a name like Carrot for her next child, but I got it first! Victor and Penny ended up, completely randomly, in our rooms in both Salzburg and Vienna. I’m no mathematician, but I think the odds of that are fairly low, ie. It was fate.
Highlights of Salzburg included a kebap dinner that we snuck onto the back “deck” of the Salzburg fortress and ate while watching the sun set over the Alps (amazing); Mozart’s birth-house turned “museum,” which was one of the creepiest things I have ever experienced: filled with black-lighted baby dolls, locks of Mozart’s hair, and incoherent “symbolism;” discovering my credit card wouldn’t work after all; and later, finding Matt passed out… with his shoes on… at nine pm. Travel is hard work, ya’ll.

Vienna cannot be fully explained until the train ride there is explained. Firstly, we ran into Dan at the train station and he decided to follow us. Secondly, our fellow-compartment-sharers were quite the intro to Wien. As Amy tried to break Dan of a bit of his naivete, a drunk middle-aged guy stepped in, sat next to me, and proceeded to hit on me- hardcore- in German. If anyone has seen “Eurotrip,” it was alarmingly similar to the part when the Italian guy gets on the train and, after every tunnel, ends up a bit more intimate with the guy next to him… the whole time saying “MI SCUSI!” I stood up a bit to brush some crumbs off my lap, and I’ll be damned if the guy didn’t help me brush off my upper thigh. I started laughing at him, and I’ll be damned if he didn’t think that meant I wanted him to hold my hand. And as the “double cheek kiss” that Europeans seem to love so much came into play when he left, I’ll be damned if he didn’t totally go in for the kill as I winced, turned away, and hoped my innocence was still intact by the time we got to our destination. He insisted on telling our entire group that I was “eine hupstcha Frau.” I don’t speak German, but I’m hoping that means “girl who is way too young and still has way too many teeth in her head to ever consider this an appropriate situation.”

Vienna’s Christmas markets were a veritable gastronomic dream come true and we spent a hefty portion of our time eating everything in sight. We also could not, for the life of us, figure that freaking city out (can we get a grid pattern, please?). We went to the Vienna Opera and saw Romeo et Juliette for a mere E3.50, only to discover, after getting lined up against a wall, kept separate from the normal opera-goers, and in general surviving the Spanish Inquisition, that life as a 3.50er wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But the opera was amazing, so we got over being second-class citizens pretty quickly.
Christmas dinner was with Anna, our new friend from Germany, Victor, Penny, Dan, and a random South Korean guy we met in the elevator. And by Christmas dinner, I mean happy hour in the hostel bar, the only thing open. After learning enough Deutsch to ask for directions (only to realize that we didn’t know enough to actually UNDERSTAND the directions), surviving yet another amorous couple’s sexcapades in our hostel room, and accidentally finding the Danube when we were aiming for the other end of the city, we knew it was time to move on to Prague.

Praha, for us, began as a forlorn and disturbingly dark place when our bus dropped us off in a random back alley, leaving us to fight the elements ourselves. For as bad as our German was, our Czech was even worse, but we found the only person more lost than we were: Carlos, the Mexican engineer who couldn’t help but note the “poos” on every sidewalk and needed help finding a hostel.
Our hostel once again contained a plethora of bizarre characters. We immediately fell in with a cast of Russians, a group which can only be described as a study in contrasts. We went to a club our second night there (Americans partying with Russians in Prague? Inconceivable twenty years ago. Jackpot!) during which: the really tall one fell asleep on a couch in the corner, Aleksei (who liked to use his eyes to do a ‘seductive face’) frequently ended up shirtless, bent over backwards, and tickling our cheeks, the lone female in the group was apparently on a 12-hour audition for Divas Live, and Alexander was the most intense breakdancer in the entire building. Carlos spent most of his time swaying with his eyes closed and clutching a beer like a lifeline, and I can’t blame the man.
Side note concerning Aleksei’s Number One Passion: “Wodka.” Before we had even been formally introduced, he asked, “Do you drink WODKA?” It was actually more of a bark. “Without chaser?” Sure. Impressed, Aleksei passed me a shot of vodka and a pickle. Crazy Russians…

Travel isn’t always a bed of roses. Technically, Prague is a gorgeous city. It is otherworldly to cross the Charles Bridge in the fog, incredible to see the hundreds of spires from the clocktower, and definitely memorable to pace the river. And I would never complain about dirt-cheap liters of delicious bier. But unfortunately, the city has an intensely high asshole ratio. We were in the WORST of moods and ready to Czech the hell out of Prague our last day there largely due to the woman who recently won the grand prize in the “Miss Heinous Bitch 2006” content/ pageant. (Runners Up included Naomi Campbell on her period and the girl who spread rumors about you in sixth grade). Lets just say the Japanese shirt at H + M never got purchased due to the Cold War that was waged upon us. Have we mentioned that Praguites (Praguians?) are not real people, but soulless robots? However, the men are too amazing for words, so what can you do?
The day from hell, during the could be heard a general torrent of negativity from our slowly blackening hearts and an odd f-bomb or two, was saved as we discovered new Italians moving into the hostel, who were asking about Absinthe bars and also happened the bear a striking resemblance to a) Gael Garcia Bernal, b) a supermodel, c) our future ex-husband. DAYUM! The money we thus saved on absinthe as we combined forces with our newfound friends was spent on crappy mulled wine later on, as we dodged men advertising a mysterious club called “Carioca” (“What you want?” -NOT BOOBS. – “Ooh, yeah, you don’t want this”). We found a secret bar where an intense foosball game and an impromptu dance session entertained us until 3:30 am. BTW, Amy on absinthe is amazing (alliteration suckas!). And life just seemed salvageable again. Aye aye, Italy, and aye aye absinthe.
But let’s not forget that we had a flight to Paris at 6 am… and maybe flying after the consumption of rocket fuel isn’t the brightest idea we’ve had in our lives. Upon discovering a ton of leftover Czech crowns in my pocket, I hatched a plan to buy everyone on our flight a coffee… despite the language barrier and the fact that it’s a creepy thing to do anyway. Luckily Amy quashed that plan, we passed out during the seatbelt demonstration, and woke up in the CITY OF LIGHTS!

Ah Pah-ree, the city of enchantment and $6 cappuccinos. In our brief stint in France, we managed to: see the city from the Eiffel Tower and the Sacre Coeur, find where Jim Morrison is buried (jealous Kendra?), feel extremely dirty in Montmarte (had to wander through the sex district to get to Moulin Rouge, but don’t think it was worth it), fall in love with the street markets, have our picture sneakily taken by a motorcyclist who thought it was funny that Amy was gallivanting around main streets with a bottle of wine at 10 pm our last night, get lost in the Louvre and Musee D’Orsay, and freak out at how delicious escargot is.
New Years Highlight: after a disappointing midnight at the Eiffel Tower, during which midnight came and went with barely a peep from the crowd, we wandered to a little bar with Yonkers, Asche and John. Within thirty seconds of walking in, I was dancing with the cook and John had found himself a middle-aged female admirer. We awkwardly meshed in with about four families, ages 12-80, who were doing an all-night party-situation, and whoever said Parisians were snobs was LYING. By the time we left at about 4 am, the ladies were all kissing us goodbye and the bartender was taking pictures. None of them knew any English. We knew enough French to say, “Could you play the Beastie Boys, please?” But somehow it all worked out. Basically, it was completely worth the E1,000,000 vodka tonic. Bon Année!!
After missing our flight out of CDG and spending 8 hours camped out in the airport, Aim and I finally made our way back to Belfast, where we hit up the Crown Saloon with Tim and Yonkers and ended the night dancing to a random Lionel Richie remix (ps. We could not escape Lionel the entire trip. He is going on a major European tour, and whoever his publicist is, they should get some kind of prize. The man is everywhere. Not that we’re complaining). “All night long… ooh, all night…”
Huysman sister bonding session? Success.

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