Even though Prague was pretty awesome (as I'm sure you read in my last post), I ended up spending exactly 0 weekends during my month in the city. It's not my fault, I swear. There's just too much to see.
The first weekend I went to Dublin and ran my first half marathon (gasp). In preparation for the race, we hydrated hard....like really hard......like "out all night at the bars in Dublin" hard. We found this "traditional" little Irish pub where some guy was playing Irish songs (and some American songs) and the whole crowd was toasting and singing drunkenly (they must have been hydrating for the marathon as well). It was so Ireland.
We also made a stop in the Guinness factory, which was actually pretty great. A lot of beer factory tours suck, but this one I give two (Irish) thumbs up. And the big news coming out the Guinness factory? I'm now a certified Guinness pourer (pouree? bar tender? alcoholic?). Let me know if you need one poured (and you're standing next to me) (and we're at a bar with Guinness on tap) (and there's no bar tender so I can go behind the bar) (actually never mind, don't ask me). The factory also had a bar on the top floor with a 360 degree view of the city, but more importantly had a big stage where they played traditional Irish music and even put on an Irish jig show. So Ireland!
Guinnesses (Guinni?) at different stages of settling
Hydrating for the marathon
I had a lot of fun going out in Dublin, but I was there for a bigger reason...to win a half marathon. The farthest I have ever run in my life before this was around 9 miles, so odds were that I wouldn't win...or even finish (plus the signs marking the way were in kilometer, leading me to believe I was done around the halfway point). However, good prevailed over evil, dogs prevailed over cats, Derrick Zoolander prevailed over Mugatu, and I finished the race in a time of 1:56:56. Not too bad considering I am traveling around the world and not exactly concentrating on training.
They said it couldn't be done
A group of us have also signed up for the Chang Mai (Thailand) half marathon in December. Its going to be so hot there that they are starting the race around 4AM. So, really we have two groups going; the runners, and the people coming directly from the bar to cheer us on.
Moving south down the continent, weekend number two was spent in Lisbon (that's in Portugal for you geographically challenged people). Lisbon ended up being the first place this year with consistent warm weather and a beach. They talk about digital nomads always chasing summer around the globe, well, we really emphasized the chasing part. We always seem to be about one month behind the warm weather, so it was nice to bring out the guns for a beach day (by guns I mean my giant arms (and by my giant arms I mean my "slightly above average on a good day" arms)). Good thing there's an open carry law in Lisbon.
Finally a beach!
In addition to the beach, Lisbon had some pretty great food as well. I went to this TimeOut market that was a huge cafeteria like setup with over 50 different Lisbon restaurants offering a limited menu. All kinds of good seafood was consumed.
That's a straight up whole octopus
But Lisbon's most prized food offering is their egg tart. These things are really delicious. I'm not sure why we don't have them in the US (we steal everything good and unhealthy). Hmmmm, I think I see a business plan forming.
Look for these at Matt's Bakery in the near future (hopefully I have a better name for my bakery by then)
I also had the pleasure of attending a Portuguese football match (thats soccer for you sports challenged people....and Americans). One of the best parts of the game was the setup outside the stadium on the street where hundreds of people partied pre and post game (cause you can drink in the street).
Drinking in the street
One odd thing I found about Lisbon was that it has some strange obsession with tiles. Everything (streets and buildings) are layered with tiles. There's probably a reason for it, but I'm not in the mood to Google, so I'll just call it weird.
Regardless of these tiles, Lisbon was quite an attractive city
That's an arch (and some tiles)
That's another arch (actually might be the same arch)
Looking out the castle wall (no arches in sight)
Guarding Lisbon and its arches
Weekend number three was spent much closer to Prague, in the Austrian city of Vienna. There's a guy in my Remote Year group that we call Jacek (because that's his name) who is from Austria and was gracious enough to show us his home country.
So what does one think of when they hear Austria? For me, its wienerschnitzel and Hitler (in no particular order). And I got a taste of both on my trip.
First up is the wienerschnitzel. I ate it.
Next, we have Hitler. Jacek, being the gracious host that he is, lead us on a walking tour through Austria. He was such a great tour guide and knew everything about all the sites....kind of. He actually just brought a speaker and played a downloaded walking tour guide through his phone, but, I still learned things. One of the places we went was Heldenplatz (oh, of course, Heldenplatz). Hitler gave a famous speech here after the takeover of Austria.
Actually, here's a video of that speech that Hitler gave on that very balcony.
That guy seems like he's going places.
Even outside of Hitler speech venues, there's lots of neato old school buildings throughout Vienna similar to this one.
Old School Palace
We also went to an amusement park which has a famous ferris wheel for some reason. My dad went to Vienna like 50 years ago and he even asked me if I saw this ferris wheel on my trip. I'm guessing it must have been more impressive back then (but so was color TV).
A famous, non-impressive ferris wheel.
I also saw the most depressing thing at this amusement park. I'm still crying from it, so I just want to share it with you as well. They had a merry-go-round with live donkeys/horses hooked up and walking around it. The lives of these animals consisted of just walking in tiny circles forever. Where's PETA when you need them?
I am crying inside
And on that sad note, we will leave Vienna and move onto my last weekend of Prague month, which was actually our travel weekend to Belgrade. We were taking a bus in between the cities and made a stop in Budapest. A bunch of us decided we would just stay in Budapest for a few days and meet the group later in Belgrade.
I basically knew nothing about Budapest, other than it had a grand hotel (never heard that one before) and something called Hungarian Goulash. I found at least one of these things.
Legit Hungarian Goulash
But Budapest actually ended up being one of the most beautiful cities I've seen on my whole trip. The Danube river runs through the city (as it had in Prague and Vienna and will in Belgrade) and the surrounding architecture is just awesome. At night everything is especially impressive.
More of my great nighttime photography
Budapest Parliament building. This one is unreal
Square of Heroes (thats why I was there)
Like many eastern European countries, Budapest has a dark past with a reign of terror for many years by the Nazis and some Communists dictators. We visited the museum of terror in the city to see all the fun they had during these times.
Happy times at the museum of terror
The museum wasn't the only thing that was terrifying in the city. They also had a statue of Ronald Regan. Can you get any more terrifying than that?
Really? Ronald Regan? Something about fighting Communism?
Even more terrifying than Regan, though, was this guy lying on a bench that we found passed out during our bike tour. Sorry, I had to take a picture and post it here.
Fortunately, that wasn't the only skin I saw during my time in the city. Budapest is apparently known for its baths, so I felt obligated to check one out (even though it was 90 degrees outside). These baths really just ended up being some pools. Some hot pools.
The Budapest baths (better known as a pools)
The other thing Budapest is now know for is ruin bars. These are bars that have been established in the ruins of old buildings. They're basically large open air courtyards surrounded by dilapidated buildings. So obviously very fun.
And thats how I spent my four weekends in Prague (but not in Prague) in DubLisBudaVien. Together with London the previous month and Belgrade the next month, I visited 7 countries in about 30 days. That's so Remote Year!
I used to say that my friend Dan and I were the only people who had been to Prague and spoke poorly of it. We visited 10 years ago on our post college trip around Europe. There was just a dark/sketchy vibe following us around the city and the things that we did there. Ten years later, I headed back to Prague with Remote Year and I was confident that I would feel different about the city....and I did. How could I hate a city that defines art as a statue of two guys peeing into a pool shaped like their country?
Warning: The video below is quite graphic.
In fact, there's "weird" art like this all over the city from artist David Černý.
Here's a statue of a guy hanging from a pipe at the top of a building:
(Not a real person hanging from building)
After this statue was installed, apparently a lot people started calling 911 (for obvious reasons). It's actually a statue of Sigmund Freud hanging up there and it's supposed to symbolize the societal nature of something something something. Really deep stuff.
There's also this crazy thing called Metalmorphosis:
I could watch that all day....and I did.
And finally here we have the Žižkov Television Tower (known as one of the ugliest building in the world). Please notice the babies crawling up it... they were designed by Cerny.
Go baby! Go!
They have a set of those baby statues in a park nearby and they are quite creepy up close.
Why would someone make this?
And Cerny's work isn't the only "interesting" art in the city. There's a building called the Dancing House. However, it is neither a house nor is it dancing. It actually appears to be some sort of office building that does not move at all. I have written to the mayor of Prague to start a ballot measure to change the name of this building.
Dance I say! Dance!
And then there's the Lennon Wall (John, not Vladamir...although that would be spelled Lenin....but I just wanted to clear up any confusion). This wall has represented love and peace over the years, especially through the Communist era. Even today, anyone can paint anything they want on the wall. In fact, some of the more creative ones from our Remote Year group added their mark to the wall (I am not creative and so added nothing).
Can you spot me among the wall's graffiti? Camouflage
In addition to (or in spite of) Cerny's work, the city is quite beautiful. The highlight of the city being Prague Castle overlooking the river.
As you may or may not know, I consider myself an expert photographer. So, when it comes to capturing Prague's beauty, I rely on my skills to do the talking.
Wow, what a great shot
Sometimes I let guest photographers include a picture on my blog (just so they can get some exposure from my giant readership base). I decided to let the exquisite Mr. Matt Sherwood include a picture in my blog (or I asked him if I could include one of his pictures since he's an amazing photographer).
In addition to its beauty, Prague has a lot of history. They say this land existed when earth was formed. But more recently, it had a big role in World War 2. Most of Czechoslovakia was just handed over to the Nazi's before the war even started, as part of the Munich agreement. I always found it interesting that a country could be given away, especially without even inviting that country's people to take part in the negotiations. Churchill came out of these negotiations telling the British people, "My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep."
Hitler loved Prague and spent a lot of time there. It was also the home of Reinhard Heydrich, designer of the final solution. Heydrich was assassinated in Prague and they still have the hideout of the assassins marked today (with a bar dedicated to them across the street).
Hitler's motorcade crosses the Charles bridge (yes the same one from above)
Speaking of World War 2, I visited the Terezín concentration camp right outside of Prague. Terezin was a fortress constructed several hundred years earlier, but the Nazi's took it over and turned it into a camp upon occupying Czechoslavakia.
Entrance to Terezin
As expected, there were a number of intense areas preserved in the camp, but a couple really stood out to me. The first was the tunnels of the fortress that run under it's fortifying outer walls. While in operation as a camp during WW2, prisoners marched a quarter of a mile through these tunnels to an execution field on the other side.
The SS guards of the camp actually lived in the fortress with their families during this period which is just mind boggling to me. Their families had completely "normal" lives and they even built a swimming pool on the grounds.
The town around the fortress was made into a Jewish ghetto where Jews were promised that they could live a "normal" life. Today, the town basically just stand as a historical site as no one wants to live there.
Moving outside of World War 2, there's lots and lots of history in this city. They say the city was formed during the big bang. But more recently, the Commonists controlled the country after World War 2. The mark of this era can still be felt very strongly throughout the city today. The Žižkov Television Tower (with creepy babies added later) was actually originally built to block signals from the west.
Prague's history is pretty clearly shown through its historical architecture and layout. It seems like a large amount of cities throughout Europe are still dominated by buildings from long ago. It's quite different than back in the USA. Everywhere in America, cities are constantly being torn down and built higher, but in Europe, cities are historical so can't be torn down. I don't understand how cities expand in Europe? They can't just expand out instead of up. I feel like they would be ginormous by now if that was the case. So, where do they expand?
The previous rant was brought to you by Budweiser. The Czech Budweiser, not the American Budweiser. The Czech and American Budweiser companies have actually been in a brand dispute since the 1800s. Because of this, Czech Budweiser is sold in North America under the label Czechvar and American Budweiser is labelled as Bud in all European Union markets, except for Ireland and the United Kingdom.
Not American Budweiser
That about sums up Prague for me. There is much more that I could have been explored and talked about, but I actually didn't spend a single weekend in Prague. I visited Dublin, Lisbon, Vienna and finally Budapest. But I'm going to save those experiences for my next post, so get excited!
Many moons ago, when I signed up for this Remote Year program (was there a time before Remote Year?), our July itinerary was listed as Istanbul, Turkey. Then some bombs went off and Remote Year decided to change the itinerary and send us to the country that I can only assume was created in America's image. No I'm not talking about Canada, I'm talking about England. The land of people who speak English wrong. The land of people who worship a king and queen instead of the almighty Sun god like the rest of us.
I'm going to eat you!
Although, I'm sure nothing would have happened, I understand the choice to not send us to Istanbul. But London? Why not just send us to do a month in rural Idaho (no offense to anyone in Idaho)? Alright, it wasn't that bad and I did have a great time in London for the month, it just wasn't the most exotic place I've ever been (that's Idaho).
As fate would have it, we arrived in London just in time to celebrate the 4th of July, the holiday where we celebrate something about independence from England....similar to how England is celebrating independence from the EU. We spent our 4th of July on a double decker tour bus listening to the Beatles, drinking champagne, and wearing masks that look like English royalty.
May not be real British royalty
This picture really doesn't show anything interesting
We also found an "American" bar which had a hotdog eating contest and so it really felt like we were back home. Actually it was back home for me in a way since the area of London that we lived in was called Acton (Acton is the town in which I grew up in Massachusetts).
The highlight of my month was by far going to Wimbledon. I do enjoy me some tennis and as I understand it, Wimbledon is a big deal in the tennis world. We arrived in London somewhat late in the tournament with only the important matches left, so I wasn't sure if we would actually be able to get a ticket. The online ticketing system for Wimbledon is incredibly confusing and even being the tech savvy person that I am, I couldn't figure it out. Luckily, though, they have this thing called the queue (that means 'line' for you non-British speakers). Everyday you can wait in this "queue" to buy tickets, but it can obviously take many hours since others also know about this "queue". So, one day, I decide to roll over to Wimbledon with Sam and Travis (do you remember them? they are our leaders...in the cult sense...and in the Remote Year parental supervision sense).
Sam & Travis - Cult leaders (this picture ruins the suspense of whether we actually got into Wimbledon or not)
The three of us took the tube down to the Wimbledon stop, which turns out to be the wrong stop if you are trying to go to the Wimbledon tennis tournament (cause that would make it too easy). It was the day that Andy Murray (from the UK) had his semi-final match, so I assumed there was no way we would be able to actually get a ticket and we would end up just watching the matches from a bar in the town. But instead, to my surprise and delight, we were met with a queue of....0 people!
Here's a picture of no one waiting in a line
Apparently, in the morning there's a queue of 4-5 hours, but if you come at noon, there is queue of 0 hours and 0 minutes.
Not waiting in line at Wimbledon
I guess the point is that I made it into Wimbledon. And let me tell you, it was well worth that wait in the queue. I spent the day drinking Pimms (which I had never heard of) and sitting on The Hill watching two semi finals matches, including Andy Murray.
I basically went to Wimbledon and watched tennis on TV
Wow, that story was a lot of build up, but not much pay off. It's kind of similar to visiting all of the touristy stuff in London. Take Buckingham Palace. So majestic!
Like really majestic
I actually just pulled that picture off of the internet. This one, though, was taken by Travis when we visited the palace that day.
Still so fucking majestic
We honestly have no idea how he managed to pull off this perfect shot. If you turn in any direction from where that shot was taken, it looks more like this:
Not so fucking majestic
Wow! This is great, because I love selfie sticks and crowds. I actually felt like London had a larger, denser downtown pocket than New York does. So, while its definitely impressive to see this stuff, compared to some of the most epic views I've ever seen in my life in South America, sightseeing in London felt more like:
I may be slightly spoiled
In summary, although there was Big Ben..
The largest Ben I've ever seen
And we went to Brighton beach where it was cold and rainy....
We took our shirts off and played frisbee for the photo op only (soo cold and windy)
And there was lots of fish & chips....
I don't like fish, so I didn't eat this
That's about all I have to say about London.
Well, actually I will note about one other thing. The city mostly shuts down at 11pm. Almost all pubs and restaurants close at 11pm SHARP and the tube stops running at midnight. I was in downtown London at 11:30pm on one of my final nights and couldn't find any place to get a drink except a club and couldn't find any place to get food except McDonalds. Sigh.
But if we aren't talking about London, I did take a week long trip to Belgium and Venice.
A guy from my trip named Brecht (which I apparently still cant pronounce properly) is from Belgium. Being the nice guy that he is, he decided to take a group of annoying Americans to his home town for a weekend.
Here's a picture of Brecht when he had food poisoning but still went ATVing with me in Bolivia
Here's Brecht giving a pretty face
We went to Brecht's home town of Leuven (it almost looks like Levin) and many puns ensued about Leuven it up. The first thing I had to do when I got there was try all things Belgian.
No more Belgian waffles
Lots more Belgian waffles
More Belgian beer
There was also Belgian fries and Belgian mussels (muscles?), but those pictures aren't as exciting. Belgians like to focus on their beer.
The bar with the largest beer selection in the world (over 2000 types) (in Leuven) #LeuvenItUp
Next, I had to visit the Stella factory (conveniently in Leuven) for what some may say is the ultimate Belgian beer (most would not say this).
Not sure what I'm pointing at
I am now a certified Stella pour master
Finally, I had to take in the architecture of this historic place.
Leuven town hall....not sure why it needed so much detail on the exterior
Really...too much detail
This is actually Brussels (so no longer Leuven it up)
This statue of a boy peeing is apparently famous (cause the world is a weird place)
Don't worry, I also left some time for partying. Leuven's downtown is made up a few giant squares surrounded entirely by bars. They say that its the longest counter in Europe since there are so many consecutive bars. They also say that there is always a bar open in Leuven 24 hours a day. They also say 'No free tap water'.
The result of the longest counter in Europe running 24 hours a day where you can drink in the street and cant get free water
Sometime after I committed to the trip to Belgium, I found out someone else from my Remote Year family (aww), we'll call her Kirsten, was going to be in Venice that very next week. A bunch of people from the larger group had gone to a Beyonce concert in Milan (cause thats they type of stuff people do on a trip like this), and Kirsten was going to spend a few days in Venice afterwards. So, along with this other girl from my trip, we'll call her Paige, I decided to fly from Belgium to Venice to spend a few days on the Canal.
Matt, Kirsten and Paige are Venice'n it up
Venice is quite a sight. Its a big island of old beautiful buildings, narrow winding passageways and of course canals. If you like having a meal on the water, then this is the place for you. Basically every restaurant sits on a waterway and it's chillness cannot be overstated.
A restaurant on the water...check out that chilness
Having a sangria on the water...total chillness
Eating Pizza and drinking wine (I swear the water is like 10 feet away and its total chillness)
The city is cool to see and great to eat through (mmmm Venice), but tthere's really no night life to speak of and most things close by 10 or 11. This is certainly not the city to come to if you are looking to "get lucky" (as they say in my old generation) since everyone already comes here with their partner. Also, as to be expected, everything is very touristy and overpriced. The Gondola ride we took was $85 for what came out to about 25 minutes.
The time it took to take this picture cost about $3
Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining (I never complain), and I would definitely recommend checking out this city. It's just that my life is quite tough this year, so I don't want you to have to endure any of the same hardships that I have had to go through.
Another piece of advice that I have for you is to try this fish pedicure thing if you ever see it (I guess its illegal in a lot of states, but not in Europe). It's quite an unusual experience.
Thank you fish for eating my dead skin
Good news! In the time it took you to read about my trip to Belgium and Venice, I managed to find some other interesting things that I did in London (yes, I write this blog in realtime). Here's some pictures of said things...
Here's the grave of Karl Marx....he had quite a beard
Here's the back of the Rosetta stone. You can see there's lots of people in front, so I decided to take a picture of the back with nothing on it
Here's the map room inside the Churchill Bunker where Churchill and his people ran things during WW2 (they forgot to tell that guy that the war is over and he can go home)
Here's Churchill's bedroom in the bunker where he gave his infamous radio addresses
Here's Arundel castle! You may remember Kirsten from Venice or previous picturesque engagement photos
Here's an unnecessarily large room in the castle
And Here's the London Eye on the river Thames
Finally, here's a time lapse that Travis took riding the London Eye on our final night.
Everything considered, London was a month full of things that weren't South America!
Total countries visited on my trip: 7 (next month this number goes way up...I can see into the future)