Browsing Tag

travel

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Living

No Nobel Prize winning ideas yet

I’ve had the (mis)fortune of catching the tail end of whatever Fresher’s Flu was floating around Wolfson Court this weekend and am hanging out in bed on this fine, grey morning in London. I’ve gotten through half of the December issue of Vogue (which even included a whole three pages with words) and have put my sad, dried-out teapot back in action with a round of chai and a second round of fresh lavender infusion. It’s almost like a day at the Whitechapel Spa, complete with the soothing buzz of the Overground twenty meters away and the smell of frying onions and curry from every single apartment in my block.

I realized that I haven’t actually spent a full day alone since early September. I’ve miraculously managed to become a working girl, and The Austrian and I have successfully maintained a weekend relationship ever since I left Cambridge and he returned from the Holy Land of Sachertorte. I work five days per week, and then either head straight to the train station on Friday and return Sunday night, or meet up at the train station at around dinnertime on Fridays. The arrangement has worked pretty well so far, but I’ve definitely forgotten what it’s like to have more than one hour at a time for myself. I thought I would have solved world peace by now (12:30 PM), but so far all I’ve managed is a healthy dose of Facebook scanning and a thorough debate with myself about whether or not I really need to put on pants today.

American pants. Not British pants. Relax.

Pictures, top to bottom: Attempting the Nobel Prize in blogging from bed; The Austrian and me from last weekend after discovering our new favorite pub in London (I’m not telling…); and an evening of British coworkers learning how to handle winter in what should have been the location for the cheesiest Love Actually scene.

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Going

“So what did you do in Vienna?” “Uh … I drank wine?”

Taken from an actual conversation with my mother.

I texted The Gaberator earlier this week telling him that I needed inspiration. His response? “You just spent a week in Vienna!”

Duh.

It didn’t occur to me that I should keep writing about my travels, especially since I’ve been so … stagnant for the last while. I mean, already over seven months in the same place without moving? Unbelievable. Also, I kind of figured that I’ve already used and abused my rights in “artistically” bashing all the cities that I go to – people must get sick of that at some point, right? You tell me.

But anyways, here we are. After leaving behind the seemingly bipolar weather of the Concrete Jungle, I went to spend a week with The Austrian, his family, and his cat, Lady, who actually owns the apartment they all share in Vienna.

She owns that house and she knows it.

The owner of the house.

Let’s for a minute ignore the part of all of this where I learned to speak German in northern Germany. You know, the place famous for its crisp-sounding dialect, compared to Vienna’s very southern-sounding slurred language. Let’s also ignore the part where I turn into a machine gun of sneezes whenever I encounter a cat and had to religiously take Allegra all week.

So we’re past all of that? Great. Vienna is lovely. It seems to be the perfect combination of southern relaxation and northern organization, with an emphasis on lovely old architecture (congratulations for not getting bombed as much as the northern German cities) and a penchant for coffee and wine.

Sounds like heaven, right? Right. Drinks are cheap, public transport is cheap, it’s a small city surrounded by nature, and the airport is less than a half hour away.

So what’s the other shoe, and when is it going to drop?

Let’s go back to the German for a minute. A certain someone told me, some time ago, that I should learn German in Germany, because “don’t let the Austrians teach you how to speak.” Okay, well … how bad could it be?

Oh.

Before I start bashing Viennese German, let me clarify something: it sounds nice. It’s noticeably smoother and easier on the ears than German German. But for someone like me, who paints puppies and who seriously considered spending time speaking with a four-year-old as practice, smoother is not a good thing. Especially for a language which allows infinite combinations of compound words and puts such a heavy emphasis on word order (which, for the record, means that my drunk German skills are more slam poetry than anything), hearing each and every syllable is important. And Viennese German, as lovely as it sounds, does not allow for that.

With that said, it could be a lot worse. We went out to visit a friend for a night in a town near a town near Fürstenfeld (to give you an idea of where that is, when we told people about our plans to go out that way, the overwhelming response was “…why?”) with the intention to arrive, have lunch, drink wine, drop off the car, drink wine, eat dinner, drink wine, climb a castle. It was rough.

Our view at lunch on the second day. It was terrible.

Our view at lunch on the second day. It was terrible.

Anyways, the Viennese dialect didn’t even begin to prepare me for the accent spoken in that region. I’m happy to say that during the week in Vienna, I was gradually able to respond more and more – or at least to understand what was going on. But that didn’t happen in Styria. I spent the approximately 28 hours there smiling and nodding (and drinking wine) and allowing my three translators to do all the chatting (while I sipped my wine). It seemed to work well for everyone. And there was wine.

So, as of last week, I’ve seen virtually every Western European capital city that I can afford (meaning I still haven’t been to Oslo or Bern). If all goes well, next time I travel I’ll be on a beach (again) looking for a coconut full of alcohol (again). Until then, I’ll be transcribing interviews full of thirteen-year-old students talking about the Holocaust and using the word “like” as punctuation, and bringing up genocide at the dinner table as often as socially acceptable.

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Going, Living

One for the road

It’s once again time to leave the best island in the world to go back to a paradise of free healthcare, guaranteed vacation days, and warm, flat beer. It’s been amazing, and like always, I’m having a hard time knowing that I’m not sure when I’ll be back next. It mostly depends on where I find a job, I guess.

Someone please hire me?

It’s a bit exhausting sometimes, the constant back and forth. Maybe living abroad is a phase in my life. I’ve always thought I would end up back in NYC permanently. But the astronomical living costs, the comparative working conditions in the US, and the atmosphere of northern Europe has always pulled me back. Sometimes it feels like I’m waiting for something decisive to happen, something that will drag me back to the States, where I’ll live with my husband, 1.6 children, dog, cat, and white picket fence.

Except I won’t, because suburbia has no place in my future.

The point is, I don’t have a plan. And I’m really fine with that, at least most of the time. No twenty-three year-old has a plan, or at least not a good one. I’m still at the point in my life where I go straight from work to happy hour and then forget to eat dinner, so I’m really in no position to make any major decisions right now. But every time I leave home, I’m aware of what I’m leaving behind: my family, my friends, the cutest (and neediest) puppy in the world, the city I always thought I’d live in. And every time I come back home, I’m fully convinced that I’ll be back in Europe soon enough, it’s never the last time. So maybe I am waiting for something, something to pull me one way or the other, to force me to make a decision. I have no idea what that will be – a dream job, a relationship, the knowledge that that there’s no Zabar’s overseas. It could be anything.

I suppose I’ll find out soon enough.

In the meantime, it’s time to go again. It’s been three and a half weeks of eating out too much, talking to some very eloquent thirteen-year-olds, some not-so-eloquent seventeen-year-olds, being touristy, puppy snuggles, UConn winning at everything except academics, running my first 13.1, the tail-end of the Polar Vortex, and the first two days of the second-most-unpleasant holiday on the Jewish calendar, at least in the culinary sense (because I suppose that eating cardboard is preferable to not eating at all). As always, it flew by far too quickly, and here I am, in a car headed towards the airport to go for a week of coffee, relaxing, and painting puppies in the romantic capital of the German-speaking world before heading back to The Bubble. Thanks to everyone who made it as amazing as it was, and particular thanks to some eighth graders for inspiring me and for reminding me of how much of a dumbass I was ten years ago.

Until next time, NYC.

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Going

I’m going to plant a rainforest to make up for this.

I got bored a few weeks ago and made a list on my computer of all of the travel I’ve done. In the past three and a half years, I’ve completed 42 one-way flight routes, or 53 flight segments (with some form of a layover or a stopover). If we include the flights I’ll take in the coming month, that becomes 46 one-ways and 57 segments. I’ve spent a lot of time in an airport, and even more time in an airplane. I’ve seen virtually everything, including a bomb scare at the airport metro in Paris, a guy with a cardiac machine with a lot of wires in a box at the security desk (at the time, no one knew that it was a cardiac machine, all we could see were wires), lost luggage, exploded luggage, stupid long check-in lines, cranky airline attendants, emergency landings, RyanAir, crying babies, drunk old ladies, and people without enough deodorant.

So basically, don’t be that guy.

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1. Let’s start with the basics. Get to the airport on time.

This is what your mom has been telling you for years. Leave with enough time to have the train suddenly get stuck between farms in Belgium, because it will do exactly that. A general rule of thumb is to plan to spend 2 hours at the airport for domestic flights, and 3 hours for international flights. Some people will say you need more, but I’ve never missed a flight following those rules. I’ve also never been bored enough to chew my leg off.

With all of that said, if you have a RyanAir flight, get there early. Early enough to avoid the lines and the REALLY cranky, underpaid desk agents. Better yet, don’t take RyanAir.

2. Fold your damn clothing.

Yes, I am an Ouija board, and yes, I am channeling your grandmother from the grave. The one time you don’t pack your clothing like a proper human being is going to be the time that the x-ray machine makes your toiletry kit look like a portable meth lab. While we’re on the topic of packing, weight limits. Flirting with the desk agents will only get you so far over the weight limit for free, and you’ll look ridiculous if you can’t carry your own suitcase.

3. Security lines. Get your shit together.

We all know what is going to happen in the security line: shoes off, laptop/tablet/camera/Google Glass/personal robot servant goes in the bin, as do keys, change, beepers, belts, and anything else that sets off a metal detector. Metal stuff. It goes in the bin. Water bottles should be empty or non-existent. This stuff is standard. Keep things moving, or else everyone will hate you.

4. Boarding passes and passports out during boarding.

I can’t believe this one actually requires a spot on the list.

5. Don’t drink at the airport, wait until you get on the plane.

You chose the wrong airline if there’s no free alcohol on board.

6. Window seats are your friend.

But work on your bladder skills first. Don’t be that guy.

7. Headphones.

Please.

8. Order the vegetarian meal, given the option.

This one is serious. For one, we all know how amazing the meat is in airplane food. Unless you’re into dog food, I recommend skipping it. If you’re into dog food and you eat meat on an airplane, your dog is hanging his head in shame. Second, specialty meals are usually served first. You’ll be eating 15-20 minutes before everyone else.

9. Use and abuse your movie privileges.

Free movies! No commercials!

10. Drink a lot of water.

See, some of these tips are actually useful. Listen to this one, you’ll thank me when you can still breathe out of your nose and your skins isn’t flaking off.

11. Don’t fly RyanAir.

You’ll sleep on the floor of the airport in Madrid, on the benches of the airport in Málaga, and you’ll still end up with an emergency landing in BackwoodsOfNowhere, Belgium. There’s a whole slew of other reasons not to take RyanAir that you should already know by now.

12. Coffee and alcohol are both your friends, depending on your flight time.

And as mentioned above, they should both be free. If they aren’t you need to rethink your airline choices.

13. Frequent flier accounts.

Have one. Or many. Keep in mind that within an airline alliance (such as Star Alliance), you only need one account – the points will work with all of the airlines. I suggest keeping an account with each of the major alliances, that will keep you about 90% covered. The points really do add up.

14. Do. Not. Nap.

Yes, we all have that little voice of self control that says “take a thirty minute nap! The rest of the day will be so enjoyable!” That’s the same voice that tells you that your college professor won’t notice that you used Wikipedia as a source. It’s lying. Don’t nap, it will only aggravate your jet lag. Just charge through the day, drink as much caffeine as you need, and keep busy. You’ll be on schedule the next morning.

15. Be nice to the flight attendants.

This should go without saying. It’s basic courtesy. They’re the ones who are going to save your ass if anything goes down. Also, they’re the ones who decide just how much free alcohol you get. Keep that in mind.

16. Deodorant, guys, this isn’t difficult.

You are in a metal tube full of recycled air and 250 of your nearest and dearest. Every time you get on an airplane without deodorant, a puppy dies.

17. The doors don’t pop open the second the plane touches down.

Cool it. You will get off of there eventually. If you have a quick transfer, talk to the flight attendants beforehand.

18. Get your suitcase and move right on.

There is nothing worse than an entire family standing at the luggage conveyer belt and blocking the whole damn thing.

19. Do not come into US Customs if you don’t have all of your paperwork together.

Sorry foreigners, we have some really nasty customs agents.

20. If you flap your wings, the plane will get you there faster.

Trust me, I’ve tried.

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Living

23.0577 trips around the sun

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I set a bit a goal for myself this year – a birthday resolution, if you will. I planned to write out this poetic, tasteful, yet not too out of character post about turning 23 that would go out the day after my birthday.

Shockingly, that did not happen.

No, let’s get real here. I have a full list of stuff I want to write about, but I’m presently working at a law firm, so the best I could do in terms of creativity was calculating exactly how many trips I’ve made around the sun to the day.

So I’ve got nothing to say about turning 23 other than that lobster innards are gross. Give me tails, give me claws, or better yet, give me shrimp. But no innards.

In a half-assed attempt to do this right, here are some lessons learned in the past year:

1. Friends are awesome. Let’s stick family in this one also, no need to be redundant. I have somehow managed to collect a pile of the strangest, most amazing friends who tolerate my tendency to talk too much after a drink or two, never let me forget any stupid things I’ve ever said, and still love me when I come home “permanently” and then say HAHAJUSTKIDDINGI’MLEAVINGAGAINILOVEYOU.

2. “There will always be others.” I don’t remember exactly what my momma was talking about when she said this, but she was right (as always). Things come and go. With that said, if we could just keep the Thai food and craft beer coming, that’d be great.

3. I already wrote a note to my future kids telling them who to call if they get arrested (it’s not me). I know it’s a bit preemptive, but I figured I should do it before I forget and they get arrested.

4. Live abroad while you can. Since I turned 22, I’ve set foot in about 13 countries. I’m not good at counting. But my passport is pretty full. It’s been an enlightening experience, to say the least. I can say with full confidence that the Arctic is cold, that German was created by a sadist, and that meeting people everywhere is fun, but it’s usually a bit easier after a cocktail or two (I’m looking at you, Sweden).

5. Sweet and salty are best friends.

6. Being hungover sucks. I’m not one to drink until completely drunk, but slowly I’ve been learning to simply cut myself off in the evening in order to be able to enjoy the following day. I think this is most pertinent in the summer, when it’s beautiful out. I would much rather spend the day at Sheep’s Meadow in the sun than have those extra drinks the night before.

7. With that said, should a hangover somehow happen, a fried egg with cheese, coconut water, and a banana are your best friends.

8. Genocide is not a dinner table topic. As for a first date topic, on the other hand, it seems to do decently. And no, this doesn’t make any sense to me. Men are strange.

Anyways, I think this will have to suffice. The future lawyers of America need to be recruited, and here I am writing about my secret hangover remedy.

Going

Rocks, rocky beaches, sea urchins. Oh, and the summer solstice.

Right, so I’m really behind.  Also, I had a really funny thing written out before, and then my internet was an asshole and deleted it for me.  So now my fingers are lazy and I will attempt to recap everything in one post.  My goal is to spend the summer with a pitcher of tequila spiked lemonade and my laptop, so maybe I’ll become a real bloggy blogger for a few months. Or something.

Split, Croatia
Named for what it does to your feet.  The beaches are rocky, to say the least, and the bottoms of my feet look like a latticed cherry pie.  They slice you open.  I left a pair of The German’s sandals in the form of a biohazard, and I’ve immortalized myself on a rock somewhere with a nice, rust colored footprint.  Also, Croatia is cheap.  Cheaper than we ever realized.  I think our hostel owner was in a permanent state of that 30 minute period between drunk and hungover.  We found Brits on Tour, and spent most of our time with them at the beach eating pizza and quoting Dane Cook.  Most people got tan, I turned into frecklemania.  And got tan.  Cliff jumping happened.  Life was good.

Stockholm, Sweden
Mistake number one in life: going from Southeastern Europe to Sweden.  HOLY EXPENSIVE.  Life was good.  Partied at the Patricia, this conversation ensued.
Peter: Darling, let’s go dancing.
Me: No, we can’t yet, it’s not dark
out.
Oh, it was 12:30 AM.  The sun hadn’t set yet.  Or more accurately, the sun was setting and rising at the SAME TIME.  HOW???

Reykjavik, Iceland
It turns out that Sweden was a good stepping point, because the sun in Iceland literally never set.  Like, it was still bright and sunny out at 11:30 PM. Also, Icelandic sounds a bit like a cat purring, sunscreen is a must, and I highly do NOT recommend having dried fish when hungover.

In other news:
I am back home, finally! I have been showering three times daily, I get sweaty from sitting still, and I have been sustaining myself largely on salads and cold beers.  Also, The German is in town and I am happy to report that he has been charging through red lights like a champion.  He might not be allowed back in the country.

 

This was the beach. We suffered.

This was the beach. We suffered.

Water so clear, you can see the rocks you're going to slice your feet open on.

Water so clear, you can see the rocks you’re going to slice your feet open on.

Brits on tour

Brits on tour

I was a swimsuit model in a past life.

I was a swimsuit model in a past life.

Ahhh Stockholm.

Ahhh Stockholm.

Sunset? Hah. NOPE.

Sunset? Hah. NOPE.

Sunscreen, kids.  It's your friend.

Sunscreen, kids. It’s your friend.

Going

Vacation guilt. Can I just get a coconut over here?

Like all relatively minor decisions in my life, it took me the better part of two months and numerous phone calls to The Old Man to decide if I would travel at all before finally coming home from Euroland after a year of smiling and nodding at the happiest! language! ever! and wordsthatareapproximatelythislong.  My worry is that coming home in late June and having The German in town for the first half of July will leave me high and dry during the rush for summer jobs amongst the intense competition of fierce college freshmen.  But, there’s also a possibility that this might be my last chance to be only $50 away from Italy.

Hear that guys? I might be coming home. Maybe.

EDIT: I originally drafted this when I had planned on coming home more permanently.  See below.

Anyways, The German was supposed to go on a biking trip in Scotland, which didn’t work out.  We decided to travel together for a few weeks, and booked a trip down to Trieste, Ljubljana, and Split for about two weeks.  For those geographically challenged, or American, that’s Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia, respectively.  We booked through RyanAir, cuz ain’t nothing like a good vacation without some heart-racing terror.  From there, I will head up to Stockholm and Reykjavik for about three days each before finally flying home and into the wide, open arms of a bagel with cream cheese and lox from Zabar’s.

And my parents.

Needless to say, I am looking forward to this trip.  I mean, Braunschweig is nice, I guess, and the sun comes out on occasion, but I seriously just want to be in a sundress everyday, getting lost in ancient alleyways, and finishing off the evening with a cold beer in the warm air.  Preferably barefoot on the beach.  That’s what I want out of those two weeks.

I’ve spent most of the past three years in a variety of countries, meeting people, seeing new places, studying, exploring.  In particular, the people I’ve met were of a special breed.  The kind that travel with a purpose.  They want to learn something, they want to better humanity, they want to discover something.  They want to sit in on ancient rituals and to go hiking in undiscovered natural beauty and eat unmentionable parts of unpronounceable animals.  And that’s cool.  I’ve been like that too.  I slept in -5 degrees in northern Sweden.  I slept in a Bedouin tent in Israel.  I drove from Tangiers to Fes in Morocco, stopping in a few of the small villages along the way.  I did a bike trip through the Canadian Rockies.  I’ve done quite a bit of the adventurous, WOW COOL stuff.  And in general, I’m not opposed to continuing my travels that way in the future.

But, with that said, the following conversation more or less conveys what I want out of our coming vacation:

Me: I’m looking forward to spending our time at the beach, drinking fruity cocktails out of a coconut.
The German: We’re going to Southeast Europe.  Coconuts are native to … not Southeast Europe.
Me: Watch me care. WATCH.

Right.  So basically, I plan on being in the sun, conservatively exploring the local cuisine, being in the sun, napping a bit, seeing some nature (I mean, Slovenia. Nature. Obviously), napping in the sun, and finding a stupid coconut to drink from on the beach.  Realistically, I’m sure this will be open to some changes.  I mean, I’m fantastic at being lazy, but two weeks is a long time to do nothing.  The point is, I feel a bit guilty.  I’m traveling to three of the most culturally rich countries that Europe has to offer, and what do I want to do?

Hang out with my coconut.

But frankly, after hitting up thirteen countries in the past three years and never once seeing a beach (and frankly, hardly ever seeing the sun either), I don’t feel so bad about this.  I deserve to be a lazy, bikini-wearing, slightly sunburnt beach bum for a few days.  And realistically, this will only be possible in Croatia, since we will be inland in Slovenia and in a city with a rather rocky coastline in Italy.  So four days of beachbumming are in my future.

And I don’t feel bad about it at all.

I’m also excited because this trip marks the end of my tendency to move all over the place all of the time.  Sort of.  I’ll be headed back home for the summer, to be followed by the EDIT above.  I got accepted to study an MPhil in Politics, Development, and Democratic Education at the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge.  So it looks like I’ll be spending nine months starting in October hanging out with the former colonizers, drinking tea, suffering through the local cuisine, and trying to figure out what the hell everyone is saying.

Til then, I guess the weather has decided to warm up, German style.  Slowly and while I’m stuck inside working.

This was last week. The flowers are already turning brown. Germany.

This was last week. The flowers are already turning brown. Germany.

Cheerio.

Don’t mind me, I’m just practicing.
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Going

The journey of a turtle shell

So my one-month anniversary with my backpack passed a few days ago.  I’ve been “roughing it” for over a month now, and the journey is more or less over.

Okay, “roughing it” is maybe pushing it a bit.  I’ve been showering daily, sleeping in some quite comfortable beds,  and definitely not surviving only on peanut butter.  But still, my turtle shell is quite heavy.  I’ll be glad to get rid of it.

Anyways, my backpack has so far survived more or less without incident.  At last check, it was 13.2kg/29lb, but since then a rather nice pair of boots made out of worn out prayer rugs have been added to the collection, so maybe it has gone up a bit.  In any case, I am on the last leg of my journey, with three more hours on the ever-lovely and timely Deutsche Bahn ICE towards Berlin.  And of course, now, in the last few hours, my über-long strap on my backpack decides to wedge itself between the armrest and the chair on the train.  Minor chaos ensues, complete with me being convinced that I will have to amputate a small piece of the bag that has been so good to me.

Enter the hungover Dutchman with a Swiss Army knife.  I have no idea who you are, but I owe you een grote bier.  None of those .18l biertjes that I accidentally bought for F last week in Maastricht (sorry!).

Also, in the past five minutes of writing, I noticed that I have not yet named my backpack, aside from generally referring to it as my turtle shell.  Coming from the girl who has named bikes (Smurf, Jan, Erik, and the German one will come soon), I surprised myself a bit with this.  But I think I can justify it by saying that one rides a bike, which justifies a name (and a man’s name at that), while one carries a backpack, which renders it very un-masculine and perhaps a bit inebriated.  Thus “the turtle shell” seems like the least insulting way to refer to the thing that has faithfully carried my stuff for a month straight with almost no problems.  German engineering at its finest.

Anyways, I spent the last 48 hours of my trip between Rotterdam and Utrecht.  Rotterdam is more or less a standing proof of the wide variety of creativity that was bursting out of Dutch architects after World War II in a country where crooked townhouses with breakneck stairs are the norm.  It is somehow reminiscent of a combination of Epcot Center and Alice in Wonderland, complete with an oddly charming yet out-of-place old white building right in the middle.  In Rotterdam I stayed with the original Dutchie in my life, who believes herself capable of convincing me to move to Amsterdam, where I will marry a tall, handsome Dutchman.

In all fairness, she managed to talk me into going up to claim Bingo at an Irish Pub when we did not, in fact, have Bingo, where I was then forced to apologize to everyone over the microphone (thankfully I am 160cm/5’4” American in the Netherlands and no one can actually see me).  So maybe she actually has a shot at this.

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Utrecht consisted of the discovery that the lockers at the station were out of commission, a very disappointing find since I was quite ready to free myself of the turtle shell for 24 hours.  This was followed by a trip to one of the cleanest Dutch student houses largely inhabited by males I’ve ever seen, complete with a finely prepared frikandel.  Truth be told, I’ve never used the word “finely” in reference to a fried log consisting of some combination of mystery meat and an unknown white substance.

I never ask questions.

So, this was later followed by a conversation about the complexities of the English language, complemented by three beers on each side and a plate of nachos, and the discovery that apparently Dutch has even more exceptions and even fewer rules than English and German put together.  So hopefully my future husband won’t mind my likely inability to profess my love for him in his native language, mostly because Dutch is about as romantic as a frikandel.  But I can assure you, my pronunciation of “ch,” “j,” and “g” is impeccable.  Thank you Hebrew.

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Maybe it is time to change this truck’s logo?

At present there are two men sitting behind me on the train drinking beer, so I feel that it is fair to say that we have successfully crossed the border and are now in the land of cowboys driving rocketships.

“Sank you for trahveling viz Deutsche Bahn, goodbye.”

Going

Conquering Belgium and mayonnaise

I was going to write this post from a small café tomorrow on some side street with a canal view in my current Amsterdam, but in light of my last post, I have decided to hit up a photography museum called FOAM.

Update: no, I lied.  I went to the museum, and now I find myself canal-side in a café with about five tables and wallpaper covered in various string instruments that I wish I had the skill to play.  All with good intentions.

Since we last spoke, I survived Belgium.  A fine accomplishment by any standards.  I went from Maastricht into Liege, and from there into Bruges (which includes passing through Brussels) with no delays.  Perhaps I had the luck of the French-speaking Irish on my side (thanks M).  I even drank a hot coffee on the train and didn’t spill it all over myself, which I assumed would be the next best thing to a two hour delay between stations with a R. Haar paper due the next day.  But nope, nothing.  I made it to Bruges in one piece, and proceeded to spend about 24 hours walking around, being charmed by everything I saw, drinking beer, and eating fine chocolate, lace cookies, and ribs.  More or less in that order.

In other words, life was good.  Twenty-four hours of bliss.  Bruges is possibly the most charming place on earth (and I say that having already lived in Granada and Maastricht).  It’s just completely full of crooked houses, canals, cobbled streets, and, well, bridges.

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And the ever-charming Flemish-speaking drunk 18 year olds yelling at 2 AM.  But alas, nothing gold can stay, and Belgium yet again went back to its old ways with a small delay on my train to Roosendaal that led to me almost miss my connection to Amsterdam, which would have obviously led to an hour of eating frietjes with no mayo, thank you very much.  But because unlike a turtle, I am very skilled at awkwardly running with a shell on my back, I did make it onto the train.

Belgium, I win this time.

I have since landed in Amsterdam, where it has snowed, rained, and sunned all in a span of twenty four hours.  Because Holland.  K has taught me the art of picking tourists out of a crowd based on their apparent love for the AMSTERDAM hats sold only at the tackiest of tourist shops.  I have also been learning an appreciation for mayonnaise.  As it turns out, frietjes speciaal makes a fantastic drunk snack.

Please don’t make me repeat that, please.  It hurt my soul even to put it in writing.

True to my old ways, I have successfully scraped the mayo off of every sandwich I’ve had here.  Old habits die hard.

Preluding this late-night snack was a trip to an impressive whiskey bar, where I proceeded to drink only beer.  When asked why, I had to recount the story of a particular night when two of my favorite people on earth managed to give me an incredible distaste for whiskey.  My life has not been the same since then.  Thanks L and M, you guys are great.

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In a few hours I will head to Rotterdam to visit the original Dutchie in my life, followed by a trip to Utrecht to visit one of the tallest people to ever grace Poland with his presence.  Obviously very little logic went into this route planning; thankfully with more than an hour in any direction I will be swimming in the ocean or speaking German, so my journey will be short regardless of the fact that I am making a complete Ronde van Nederland.

Hopefully by the next time I write, someone will have talked me out of moving to Amsterdam, where I will undoubtedly be the shortest person on record and will probably never learn to speak Dutch.

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Going

Learning to be a tourist

Okay, it’s time to come clean.  I have a problem: I am a travel snob.  J was kind enough to point this out to me last night, after I wrote about how much I didn’t really love Prague because it was too touristy.  I’ve moved around a little too much by now, and the cathedrals and castles all start to look the same after awhile.  I’m sitting here at my favorite place in Maastricht, Café Zuid, with my mint tea with honey (because apparently that amazing melon-mint-lime juice is only on the summer menu? whatever) instead of marveling at the church-turned-bookstore at the Vrijthof.

A terrible problem to have, I know.

It has occurred to me though, I travel more to see people than things.  To see friends, maybe, but largely to see how people live.  To see a lifestyle that doesn’t involved skyscrapers, 20% tipping, a concrete jungle, living in a liberal paradise in an oddly conservative and confused country, a boat, an Addams Family-style house in the middle of nowhere, a dog and a father who both don’t realize how old they are.

You know, the normal American thing.

I guess it also explains why I don’t travel as much as I move.  As in, I move to places and I live there for up to half a year, and then I get up and move again.  It’s exhausting, believe me.  But it allows me in.  I get to connect to people, to learn a city inside out, to adapt to local customs and mannerisms.  I get to temporarily transport my life to somewhere else.  It’s fun.  It’s a cool, if not tiring, way to live.  But it has its drawbacks.

Let’s start with the obvious: I move a lot.  I’m spending this entire year living out of two suitcases, which need to hold clothing for temperatures ranging from -20C/-4F to 30C/86F.  I have to coordinate my bags to end up in the same place as I eventually do (big thank you to T & co. for help with this one).  And it gets lonely.  I meet people, which is awesome, but I’m never there long enough to really connect to them.  It’s tiring.  My best friends are mostly on the East Coast, and I miss them.

But another problem I recently discovered is that this style of moving around means that I no longer appreciate tourism.  To me, to be a tourist is to stand out.  To be an American tourist means to talk loudly in English, nose in a guidebook, stopping in the middle of the street to take pictures, and of course, the infamous socks with sandals.  All things that I do not want to be associated with.

Okay, guys, I know.  English is my native language, there’s no way around that one.  But the image.  You all know what I am talking about.

Anyways, the point is, I’m not a good tourist.  I don’t like crowded areas, they make me anxious.  I find most souvenirs to be tacky, I don’t plan my days hopping from one museum to another, and I truly cannot see the difference between the gothic cathedral in Prague and the Kölner Dom.  So shoot me.

I also hate watching people take pictures with an iPad.  Apparently this has become quite popular since the last time I crawled out from under my rock.  Guys, what happened that this is suddenly okay?

But yesterday, on my way out of Paris, V suggested that we stop by a certain famous shopping area for an hour or two.  Because I had my turtle shell with me, that wasn’t really an option.  Instead, we opted to be complete tourists by getting off the RER C at Champ du Mars/Tour Eiffel.

That’s right.  I, Leah, hater of all things touristy, went to the Eiffel Tower.  And guess what?  It was kind of cool looking.  From far away, it looks like a bunch of huge metal beams put together in a weird shape, and up close it looks like a bunch of toothpicks glued into really intricate designs … and then all put into a huge weird shape.  Sir Eiffel must have had some skills with popsicle sticks.

And it pains me to admit how romantic it looked, covered in fog.  Guys, please never remind me that I said that.

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Anyways, it actually wasn’t as crowded as I had feared.  We had the weather working for us though – it was cloudy, rainy, and snowy for days in Paris, so no sane people were outside.  Except for me (well, both of us).  Because I love crappy weather.  It’s an excuse to drink tea, wear huge sweaters, and not be surrounded by people.

So, the point is, I was a tourist for a few hours.  And you know what? I liked it.  I still hate crowds, people taking pictures of everything they see, and overpriced cafes with bad coffee.  But sometimes being a tourist isn’t so bad.

Anyways, I made it out of Paris in one piece.  My French still sucks, but apparently I can fake a good enough accent to order a coffee without attracting any weird looks.  But because, you know, I was heading into Belgium on my way to Maastricht, something had to go wrong, right? Right.

“Mesdames et Messieurs, nous arriverons à Liège avec un délai de 30 minutes. Nous nous excusons pour la gêne occasionnée.”

Belgium, you never fail me.