Tuesday, August 26, 2003

First Day of Class

My life is completely out of control. Picture this: I'm sitting in my appartment, realizing that I'm completely strapped for cash, (this never would've happened if my damn purse hadn't been stolen, I would've had a 1,000 dollar pillow of money to ride on until I got my life figured out.) Instead, I come home completely penniless, with a bank account in the red. I look desperately around my room for something to sell. The only thing I have in abundance are clothes and shoes, and now that I'm used to having only three outfits, it should be an easy sell.

Thinking my backpacking days are over (for the time being, anyway), I put the ol' monster to good use a final time and head off towards the Buffalo Exchange, a trading post for clothes. The only problem being that the clothes have to be really cute, vintage, or brand-name for them to sell. After two backpack loads in the blazing heat of a Las Vegas Sunday, I come home with an additional 40 bucks, having sold a mere ten items of clothes. The situation has now gone from sad to desperate. Besides having no money, apparently, I'm also a candidate for TLC's "What Not To Wear."

I work for two terrible hours in Holly's dad's auto parts warehouse. Picture me, all dolled up in a little, white sundress, after attending my first day of class. I roll up to work in a dirty, hot, smelly warehouse and start sorting car parts. I manage to completely bungle my job, and rearrange all the car parts in the wrong way. When Holly's dad shows up to access my proud work, he nicely tells me that I did it all wrong. I hate this job.

My first day of school is also hell. My first class is conducting with the evil George Stelluto. He decides to sit around all day asking broad, metaphysical questions and then making fun of us for trying to answer. It gets so bad that other people actually express sorrow for me. Conversation between Holly and some kids from my class-

Kids: "Yeah, George is such an asshole. "
H: "My friend, Colleen, was saying how condescending he was, and how much that class sucked."
Kids: "Wait, was she that vocalist girl in the front?"
H: "Yeah."
Kids: "Man, I felt bad for her, he ripped her a new one!"

Saturday, August 23, 2003

Back in the U.S.A

I am currently in Las Vegas!

I am back in the USA. First impressions? It is a relief to run errands here. Everything is so much simpler, and more efficient when I can actually go into my bank and speak English!

My school loan goes through and pays my tuition. Which means I have seven dollars to my name. I can't buy a cell phone yet, I can't even buy groceries or necessary goods for the appartment, which I am currently living in illegally.

I thought obtaining a credit card would be easy. Who knew that having no credit, no job, and no money would be held against me? So I've given up on the credit card. I'm just going to have to live a miserable, penniless existence for a few weeks until I get a job and my first paycheck.

There's some major plane drama on the way back that involves a delayed flight and an overnight stay in Atlanta. So Holly shows up the day before to pick me up, and I have to call her to pick me up again.

So she does, and we immediately get into a car accident. When it rains, it pours!

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

The Cesspool of Mankind

Ah, London. The cesspool of mankind.

We are here with my sister's friend Cat. (Short for Catherine, but because we call her Cat, it makes for some fun moments of purring and growling on red double-decker busses. Don't ask.) Cat loves flirting (and has a knack for attracting some real wankers), she loves dancing salsa, and she's a lot of fun.

Not that it matters, because I am a huge party pooper right now. I'm burned out to the max. Really, after thirteen months abroad, I just can't be asked.

I am not looking forward to the airport shuffle. I am not looking forward to dragging my shit (half of which is Cara's) to the evil London Gatwick airport, which is dead far away. Nor am I looking forward to spending another night alone in this flea-infested hostel. Yes, I spent nights in Egypt hotels for one dollar. Yes, I camped and shit in the woods. Yes, I slept on the ground outside of the Florence train station. And yes, I stayed in sketchy hostels with thirty people per room. So where am I inflicted with the worst bug bites/rash of my entire life? Yep, London, on my last night. It's an absolute cesspool.

But I love it.

Friday, August 15, 2003

Caught Red-Handed, Stroking the Wrong McMuffin

We embark on a 27-hour bus ride from hell, which is about as appealing as eating my own toe lint or washing my hair in a toilet. (The latter is something I have not yet done, as desperate for a shower as I've been at times. I have, however, flossed my teeth with my own hair. Don't be grossed out, it's all part of living out of a backpack.)

I attempt to sleep with my skull rebounding off the safety glass, leaving gross varicose-like greasy squiggles across the windows. The irritating man in front of me feels the need to crank his chair back as far as it goes, so in silent retaliation, I dig my knees into his back. In an attempt to save money, we actually drag half of a pizza all the way across three countries and on two different busses, only for it to slide out of the box and decorate the pavement in Berlin.

We change busses in Vilnius, at the tender hour of 5am. My face is permanently adorned with lines from the seat, and my eyes are crusty with sleep. Having worn the same pair of underwear for an infinitely unspeakable period of time, I hasten to the bathroom (or the squatter I should say) to change. Feeling a thousand times better, I cheerfully stroll out of the bathroom, whistling and swinging my arms, a little too deftly, because my dirty underwear sails out of my grasp, unknown to me. There it lay, offending the floor of the main terminal, for an early morning audience of many. An older lady has to tap me on the shoulder, mutter some words in Lithuanian, and point at the dirtied article of clothing in order to bring my attention to it. With my head hanging, I shuffle my feet in reverse, and do the walk of shame to retrieve the underwear. Oh, the embarassment.

The next leg of our trip consists of several too-loud movies dubbed into Russian, and me trying to escape from them by listening to Chris Rock and Adam Sandler. This means just adding more obnoxious to the already obnoxious. We stop at a lovely little outdoor resteraunt (you wouldn't do this on Greyhound, truly a unique European bus experience), and are served a two-course meal, which is included in our fifty-nine dollar ticket! We enjoy minestrone-esque soup, a beautiful slab of schnitzel, garnished with seasoned potatoes, and a fat pile of cole slaw.

Our ride comes to an end at 1:30 in the morning. We're dumped off into the cold of a Berlin night, and at this point, we actually don't want to get off the bus. We're not looking forward to seeking accomodation heavily clad in backpacks and long faces. We drag ourselves to the only establishment in Berlin that I know of, the dreaded Zoo hostel. Even though it's two in the morning, all the knobabouters, er, I mean busabouters, are still up partying. Luckily, we squeeze into the last three beds, and collapse to go to sleep. Only at that point, I can't sleep, it's as if all my tiredness from the bus has been sapped by the long, dreaded walk through oblivion with our heavy packs. (But I did have this really freaky dream, where I was attacked by this huge, tyranosaurus rex-like dog that tried to eat me, while all my friends, new and old, watched indifferently, no one attempting to save me. I wonder what that means... Any thoughts?)

This morning (in Berlin finally), we go to McDonalds (surprise surprise). While I'm waiting for my egg mcmuffin and orange juice, the cashier is placing an egg mcmuffin on a tray, so I assume it's mine. I'm in the middle of explaining to Mike how much I've been craving an egg mcmuffin, and to emphasize my point, I stoke the muffin lovingly. This is all fine and dandy, except it turns out I'm stroking an egg mcmuffin that doesn't belong to me. I don't realize there's a man behind me waiting for the exact same order. He busts to the front of the line, snatches his tray, and defiantly glares at me. I've been caught red-handed, stroking someone else's egg mcmuffin!

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Gambling Virgins

We spend an entire day in the exotic city of Riga; only to sleep, shower, and lay around watching the BBC news. We opt for the "unrenovated" rooms at a three-star hotel. After two overnight trains, we're exhausted and ready to enjoy some luxury, which includes going out to a fancy dinner. I get a delicious fried squid in a shrimp sauce concoction (sounds a little too fishy? Don't worry, it's not.) Mike gets some type of lemon sauce delight, and I don't know what Trent gets, I'm too horrified listening to his racist jokes.

Trent: "How do you fit 6 million and 3 jews into a car? 2 in the front, 1 in the back, and 6 million in the ash tray. What do you call Mexicans parachuting out of an airplane? Air pollution."

Quite appropriate jokes, considering we just got back from our Crackow visit to Auschwitz! I can't believe I just repeated that slander on-line.

We stroll through the old town of Riga, and it's lovely. Then we decide to go sleep some more. This must be the most amazing thing about youth. You can sleep all day long, yet still go to bed at night, and wake up 12 hours later. So we do just that, barely waking up in time to check out at noon. We then wander through an enormous and exciting market place on our way to the bus station, where Trent assures us we can catch a bus to our coastal destination of Jurmala, Latvia. This is not so, as usual, our fine friend Trent is mistaken. (I think I'm still mad at him for the ridiculous liberal vs. conservative discussion from the previous night, in which he discloses that he will, indeed, vote for The Bush again.)

The marketplace is a wonder. Four US dollars gets us two loaves of bread, a hotdog, a pizza, a humongous hunk of excellent cheese, a pack of meat sticks resembling slim jims, a bag of grapes, and three bananas.

We make the executive decision to just jump on the bus to our next destination, Kleipeda, a port town in Lithuania, because we need to find out about a ferry back to Germany.

So we jump on the bus, after having spent every last Latvian cent, and meander our way to Kleipeda. We're restless, it's a five-hour bus ride, we're hot, and I decide to keep us entertained by reading out loud (yes, I'm such a librarian at heart).

We're driving along, and we're about 30 minutes from our destination, when I notice that we're pulled over at the infamous "Pelanga", a destination I'd seen on a postcard in Vilnius, which contained several swimsuit-clad bodies strolling along a fine, white sand beach. At the time, I gazed at the postcard dreamily.

Me: "This is the beach, you guys, we should go." Cara responds
Cara: "Actually, I think that's just the Lithuanian word for beach."

Upon discovering that Pelanga really is a town, I exclaim with child-like wonder-

Me: "I knew it was real!"

We impulsively decide to get off the bus. The fact that we had seen a camping site about 3 km back added to the decision. We take a taxi to the camp site, where we pay a whopping 7 ooglie mooglies (my name for any currency I can't pronounce the name of), which is the equivalent of fifty US cents each.

Mike, of course, is creeped out by the fact that he's actually camping for real for the first time, in an actual campsite, that isn't part of the pilgrimage. I'll give him credit for being scared because it is a pretty sketchy area. We wind the night away with me teaching those two gambling virgins how to play "real" blackjack.

I'm feeling terribly claustrophobic all night long, and it's raining, so it's not the most comfortable of circumstances. Add to it the realization that we have to catch a flight in three days, and we're halfway across Europe. With my heart set on the ferry, imagining myself in the swimming pool with a cocktail in hand, watching the sun set as our boat jets across the Baltic sea, we set out for a travel agent to see if it's possible. It's not. The ferries are booked for weeks, as are many of the express coaches to Berlin. We do, however, after much pulling of teeth, manage to secure a ride to Berlin, from Vilnius. 27 hours on the bus, somebody kill me please.

Prior to leaving, we spend a rather enjoyable day at the beach. The small, lovely town of Pelanga is just about deserted, so we're pumped for a private beach. But when we emerge onto the beach, it's like being in California, with many bodies per cubic inch. We laze about in the sun, and I attempt to enter the freezing Baltics. I immerse myself up to my neck and enjoy swimming around in the nasty pollution. We pay a small girl with a scale to weigh and measure us. Having heard pilgrimage success stories of people losing up to forty pounds, we were sure we had at least lost ten. Sadly, we didn't lose a single kilo. In our disapointment, we treat ourselves to a large, angry, and extravagent dinner.

Monday, August 11, 2003

Boyscouts with Guns

After our sprint from Catholicism, Cara wants to indulge her obsession for H&M. The highlight of our day in Warsaw consists of another forced march across the city in order to find an H&M that doesn't exist. We walk another 10 km, it's like the pilgrimage all over again, and about the same in spiritual significance, seeing how we end up at a KFC. (At the end of ten days in Poland we were supposed to end up in a church where the statue of Mary cries blood, and other healing miracles occur. Right up there with KFC, in our book.)

The good news is that the extra long crispy chicken sandwich is the equivalent of 75 US cents. Afterwards, we decide to visit the all-time famous Warsaw ghetto, which has been turned into a park. Highly disapointing when you expect to see a rubble of buildings with the occasional body strewn across it. Nope, they transformed the wreckage into a park with a lame statue commemorating the ghetto that once was there.

We cruise past the old square and take a closer look at the main sights we marched past when starting the pilgrimage five days ago (fresh, uncertain virgins that we were then, little did we know the pain lingering ahead!) Warsaw is a delightful city, we listen to multiple street artists playing the accordion and carving wood (although not at the same time), and afterwards we catch an overnight train to Vilnius, Lithuania.

Random, I know, but I've always wanted to go to the Baltic States. Prior to boarding the train, we meet a kid from Iowa named Trent, who's traveling by himself. He asks if he can accompany us, until he breaks off and goes to Estonia, which will be sad, because he's a riot.

All four of us get seperated into different compartments. The ride is pretty uneventful, except for the part where we get free goods, such as cookies and washcloths! I'm sharing a compartment with two french girls. Cara scares the crap out of them by marching into our compartment at 7am and asking me to accompany her back to her room, which has been emptied out. We crawl into her small bed, and are lying there together, when the conductor bursts in, gives us a funny look, and asks if we want coffee or tea.

We aren't prepared for the fact that the train rolls in roughly two hours early, (and there's an hour time change to boot). We fling ourselves out of bed, hurriedly pulling on our shoes, when the conductor bursts in unceremoniously with a stream of Polish which we take to mean-

PC: "What are you doing!? We arrived at the last stop five minutes ago!" Sure enough, the train is no longer moving, and the words "Vilnius", loom outside our window.

Groggy-eyed, we take our time in the train station, arranging yet another overnight train ride to Riga, and taking turns in the scary bathroom with squatters, peeing through holes and washing our faces in sinks that don't work.

Trent has an obsession with sampling bathrooms all over Europe. He rates each country based on whether they host clean facilities or not. The Baltic states so far aren't doing too well.

The weather is erratic all day, and we get caught in a downpour, so we head into a resteraunt for lunch. Mike orders the mysterious "beer" pizza, which he ends up hating, because it's covered in peppers. (Mike cries from the mildness of tabasco sauce. Wuss.)

We go see a movie, and I cause a ruckus by ripping open my snack pack, only to have the contents spray across the laps of everyone in our row. We're getting hussled by a cabbie on our way to the train station, so we decide to end the ride early, and walk the rest of the way. First, we stop at McDonalds. (I have eaten more fast food abroad then I have during the entirety of my life put together), but I guess that's what happens when you're a budget traveler with under 300 bucks left over from your student loan.

On this train ride, we're ecstatic to discover that the seats of our compartments turn into couchettes, and we get ourselves settled into a gigantic bed. The conductor is not appreciative of our efforts, because she bursts in and starts cursing us out in Lithuanian. We get the gist of what she's saying, that we're not allowed to lay down, because we only purchased seats. We decide to plead ignorance, and spend a quiet night sleeping in our illegal couchettes. Nobody else joins our compartment, so why does she care?

We're awakened around 5am, by some disgruntled boyscouts with guns stamping our passports and scowling at us, like we're planning to smuggle drugs into their country.

Saturday, August 09, 2003

The Polish Pilgrimage

Why is there a blog update, when I'm supposed to be on a freakish religious pilgrimage across Poland? Yep, you guessed it, I'm a quitter. Cara, Mike, and I cut our losses and run for the border. FREEDOM! We last for four days of torture. Among other things, Mike learns how to crap in the woods, which really freaks him out. Why do we leave? Well, there are many reasons. But, let's start at the beginning.

Day Prior to Actual Pilgrimage: We reach Dominika's house, via the address she gives us. The first of a long series of small panics set in. We have no idea how to enter, as it appears no one is home. Just as the cabbie's driving away, leaving us standing there with way too much of Cara's baggage, and an expression of despair on our faces; Dominika, three yippie Chihuahua dogs, and a family full of Poles come lumbering into the yard to let us into their home.

Chaos ensues. We meet the family. There's Uncle, who manages to converse with Cara in French, while pulling out his pension plan, brandishing a fist in the air and loudly extolling the horrors of capitalism. There's Dominika's mom, who's adorable, speaks English with a thick Polish accent, and uses the word "awesome" excessively. There are two naked baby cousins. There's an older cousin, Isidora, who takes us to buy hair dye. Last but not least, there's Grandma, who has dementia and is constantly giggling about God-knows-what.

I'm determined to get my hair done in Poland for a cheap price, but it ends up being expensive and doesn't turn out like I planned. For all our efforts, I now have blonde and red stripes, and I look like a zebra head. The dying process lasts all afternoon, which leaves Cara and I to babysit the naked little cousins. This is an interesting experience, due to the language barrier. They ask us questions in Polish and we smile and respond with-

Us: "I have no idea what you're talking about." They're good kids, they choose to play make-believe games and babble to themselves, which at least keeps them out of my hair (literally.) Have I mentioned that I hate kids?

We're not sure what the hell is going on. There's mad chaos in the household. A Russian masseuse stops by to give Dominika and her mom hour-long massages. The whole family goes wedding dress shopping, but since I have dye in my hair, Cara and I are left behind to make friends with the dogs. I'm worried about Mike, but I tell them he needs to be picked up at the train station at 6:30, coming in from East Berlin.

6:30 comes and goes, no Mike. No Dominika. No one. 7:15 comes. Dominika calls and asks for a description of Mike. Turns out she's at the wrong station. She heads to the central train station, and her entire family trots about asking tall guys with country-name t-shirts who are wearing socks and sandals (turns out I'm wrong about the last one, he doesn't bring sandals for the pilgrimage) if they are Mike. To my relief, he's located, and a half hour later brought home.

We take the last showers that we will take for ten days. (Mike wants to kill me, I assured him that we would be staying in fully-equipped camping facilites, just goes to show how little I know what to expect on this pilgrimage...) We spend the night on the floor.

Day 1 : We're roused from peaceful slumber at the unsettling hour of 4:30am. We dress ourselves with bleary eyes, choke down a cup of tomato soup with rice, and head out to our first of many long, boring, Polish masses. Problem #1: The three of us are not practicing Catholics although we were all raised Catholic. In fact, we lean slightly towards the "atheist" side of the religion spectrum, so what are we doing on a religious pilgrimage? Good question, one we probably should have asked ourselves prior to embarking.

At least watching the boyscout cops trying to stop passer-bys from wandering into the street, and failing miserably is enough to entertain us during the mass.

When the mass is finally over, (and this isn't the first time we will kneel on concrete), we line ourselves up against the Warsaw wall and wait for our group to pass so we can jump in with them. We are in the "green" group, the so-called "rock" group. Loud and proud. The military groups kick off the walk, literally, with a choreographed heel click, and we're on our way. Our group is out in the front of the pack. It's an amazing experience (to begin with). The streets are lined with people crying and waving, because they're so moved by our presence. This pilgrimage is a monster. The route we're on includes 4,000 people, split into 19 different groups, designated by colors. It's all a bit confusing; there's our group, the "green" group, the "neon green" group, and the "green and white" group.

Problem #2: No one speaks English. Not that we expect them to, but the entire pilgrimage consists of prayers and songs in Polish, broadcast over loud speakers that the "neon nazis" (you'll understand this title soon, as they comprise problem #5) have strapped to their backpacks. These backpacks also contain a long cord, that we pilgrimas grasp while we walk, thus seperating us from traffic on the freeway. (Yes, we are walking on the freeway.) It's a bit claustrophobic, and during this first leg, we find ourselves wishing that the crowd will thin out a bit, so we can stop stepping on each other's heels. We assume that once we get out of Warsaw, this will be the case. Problem #3: Never assume anything about this pilgrimage, cause inevitably, you'll be wrong.

We don't thin out, but we do reach our first stopping point, where there's an excellent spread of open-faced sandwiches (you'll hear more about these later too). So far we're vastly impressed by the food. We're expecting a dash of soup and crust of bread, as we're to be entering a time of fasting. This is not the case (yet). During the second break, the food is absolutely amazing, and we're stuffing everything into our mouths that we can get our hands on.

My feet are still going strong. We discover we're not without English speaking friends. But they're few and far between. There are some Aussies in our green group. An old priest and a couple from his congregation, as well as my new best friend, Daniel, a fellow backpacker who's jumping into the pilgrimage just for the day (he has the right idea). The green group proves to be quite welcoming, and gives us Americans and Aussies a special shout out.

Our day (and all the days that will follow) are seperated into chunks of walking, resting, setting up camp and taking down camp, masses and appels (more on those later) and sleeping. Problem #4: Complete boredom.

The first day I'm loving it. Polish people step out of their houses, wave to us, and offer food and refreshment, for free! I can't believe it. In America, everyone and their mother would be setting up booths and jacking up the prices in order to make a profit off of us weary pilgrims. It's amazing to see a community in complete and total support of each other.

Problem #5: The neon nazis. The people who run the pilgrimage are completely insane about the rules. We're told we can't wear tank tops. This just isn't going to fly, as it's super hot and sunny, and I am damn well showing my shoulders if the men are allowed to. This doesn't stop the neon nazis from telling us no fewer than five times to cover up. But we're not the only ones who choose not to listen to them.

Problem #6: Perhaps it's our disdainment for rules, but we're soon viewed as "Americans." I don't think it helps that Dominika advertises us as such. (And may I say that Mike, Cara, and I are extremely well-traveled individuals, and more culturally sensitive than the vast majority of Americans), however, we stick out. We're instructed to say "We're American", in response to any inquiries about why we're breaking the rules.

This ends up backfiring, and we discover that while it's okay for the Polish people to break the rules, it's not okay for the "Americans" to do so. All of a sudden, everything we do wrong, is because we we're "American." This ends up being the biggest reason we leave the pilgrimage. This, and the boredom factor.

Anyway, back to the first day. At one point, I'm given a huge green flag, and have to carry it for 7 km, which is a bit of a struggle. Now I know how Christ must have felt, shouldering the cross! The total distance we cover the first day is 40 km, and the last 5 are definately the hardest, as I'm just beginning to get blisters. I'm really getting into the idea of the "Polish" experience. Here we are, experiencing an authentic pilgrimage, seeing the countryside, and getting off the beaten path and into the heart of the people. I am amped and ready for more, as the first day concludes.

We set up camp, fetch Daniel a ride back to Warsaw, and poor Mike is stricken with the runs from a scary pate open-faced sandwich, and he has to frequent the nasty outhouse. As if it isn't traumatizing enough that he has to cram into a tent for the first time, and sleep on the ground with a bunch of girls.

To make matters worse, we're forced to go to mass. This is the beginning of the end. Dominika and her cousin wuss out during the last leg, and catch a ride back to the camp with the medical team. By the time we show up, limbs aching, all we want to do is crawl into bed, as we have to rise early in the morning and do it all over again the next day. We ask if we can skip mass, and are told flat out that we can't.

This has been our intention all along, as we aren't interested in sitting through long, boring, Polish masses. But now it appears we have to attend them, as well as the appel, which is a sing-along at the end of mass, (a completely seperate ceremony) in which we sing the virgin to sleep. Not that we can even participate, because again, we don't speak Polish. Although I do manage to entertain myself by pretending to sing along, muttering nonsensical syllables, based on the shapes of the singing mouths. Finally we're allowed to go to sleep.

Day 2: The food starts to thin out a little, but there's still a large multitude of open-faced sandwiches available. Today and the two days to follow start to wear on in the same pattern. Walking, stopping, praying, while my blisters are growing. Dominika and Isidora are constantly wussing out, and leaving the three of us to fend for ourselves. Which is how we end up marching with the Polish military for the afternoon, and how I end up screaming "Gesu!" and smashing my fist into the air with a bunch of men in camoflage. (Jesus!) It's a pretty funny sight. Although the best sight is when we stop at the Maximillian Colbert church for a quasi lunch break, featuring Mike trying to sleep by propping his forehead up on his clasped hands, in order to look deeply in prayer. Our feelings of disillusionment, boredom, and resentment are starting to set in.

This is nothing compared with how we feel by the end of the day. The three of us manage to start wandering on our own (the military group are suprisingly the least nazi of the lot) and we brek free from them during a compote break. So much better. We've been wanting to stroll around on our own the whole damn time.

We have, however, no idea where we're going.

Monday, August 04, 2003

Rotten Apple Cores

Cara gets scammed. For her huge, horrible African basket, the driver tells her to pay an extra ten bucks for safe storage (it only should have been an additional 3 bucks, a Czech person later told us).

That's just the beginning of our misery. The bus ride borders on hell because it's so hot, and it's impossible to sleep sitting up. As usual, the bus keeps stopping at random borders and mysterious people appear to remove our passports and a different official reappears with them a half hour later. It always makes me a bit uneasy, no matter how many times I've ridden the bus across borders.

A Polish girl throws her gross, chewed-up apple core into Cara's basket. She must be assuming it's the trash.

Sunday, August 03, 2003

The Human Compass

Cara and I decide that we are going to embark on the overnight bus to Warsaw, as it is twice as cheap as the train (bastards say that there are no student tickets, too bad we know they're lying!) Due to this recent development, the super-cheap ticket I bought to '"Don Giovanni" tonight, does not get to be used. So I tried to scalp it yesterday, a miserable attempt. Me, standing by the ticket booth, feebly trying to get the attention of everyone who walked past. The ticket man took pity on me and tried to scalp it for me, so far to no avail. Hopefully today, since it is the same day of the opera, some poor backpacker who's roaming around on their own will want a cheap seat.

This morning's event was to pack up camp. Easier said than done, and we arrived fifty minutes late to meet Nikki and Prue at their hostel. Prue, otherwise known as "The Human Compass", due to her magnetic breasts which always point us in the right direction, got us headed towards the bus station. Nikki, otherwise known as "Sniffles" for her excessive use of kleenex, lended a hand by carrying Cara's absurd, enormous, falling-apart, African basket (which almost resulted in disaster more than once). Our plan was to catch an early bus out to Kutna Hora, the infamous bone church. I had heard tell of such a place, while I was residing in the Pink Palace in Corfu, Greece. Other backpackers said it was truly disgusting, a chamber built with human remains. Sounds right up my alley! We cheerfully set out for the bus station, looking forward to feeling disgusted.

We missed the bus due to our tardiness, so our only choice is to take a train. This wouldn't be such a big deal, except that we made quite the spectacle, lugging Cara's basket, her heavy day pack, and her ridiculously heavy backpack. My beast of a bag paled in comparison. Cara tried to balance the load on her head like an African. But the sad truth is, she's so white, it just didn't work out. I don't know how we arrived at the bus station in one piece, but somehow, we made it.

Back in the day, Kutna Hora was in high demand as a burial site for the rich and famous, because holy water had been carried here after a long pilgrimage to the holy land. During the plague, and the war that followed, there were so many human bones, that a half-blind monk dragged them all inside the church. For want of something better to do with them, he started piling them into pyramids and decorating the place. He had to do something with the bones, because the cemetary space was a hot commodity, and there were just too many bodies. In the 1800's, a self-proclaimed "bone artist" decided to jazz up the joint, and formed a chandelier made from every single bone in the human body, a crucifix, and a coat of arms. The artwork was amazing, and the volume of bones, disgusting. There were all these skulls looking at you, and piles of human bones in massive pyramids unsupported. Amazing.

Afterwards we almost got a Czech waiter fired. Caused a ruckus by ordering no less than nine cokes with our lunch, and marvelled over the fact that a 'coffin shaped dessert' was offered on the menu. It seemed a bit sketchy, so we decided not to order it.

Another highlight of the day was when Cara flicked a lady bug into a sleeping man's face on the train. Luckily he didn't wake up, nor did she mean to flick it at him, she was just trying to flick it away. But we got some dirty looks, and almost died laughing.

It is so bloody hot here! It's like walking around in a sauna, I hope Poland isn't so hot during our pilgrimage! Apparently tomorrow we're supposed to help Dominika pick out a wedding dress, as she intends to marry her fiancee Ray, at the end of the pilgrimage. I have a feeling there are going to be some wild tales for the blog in the ten days ahead.

Saturday, August 02, 2003

Gordy and the Others

The train ride from Vienna consists of me and a noisy compartment full of Italians singing Radiohead. Next, some Spanish backpackers join in the festivities. By the time we reached Prague, the sing-a-long had acquired an acoustic guitar, several strong accents, and horribly off-pitch voices. It was pretty amusing (at least to us). Although the Germans in the compartment next door did not appear very happy.

I arrive in Prague, visualizing a spectacular welcome scene, as I descend the rickety steps onto the platform where I was to meet my sister. No sister. A minute goes by, then five, then ten. I'm worried now, and realize that all cities in Europe have about eight different train stations. Not specifying which to meet at was a problem. On top of that, we should have done our research in advance to figure out which was closest to the camp site. Unfortunately, since we're fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants kind-of gals, these thoughts don't normally occur to us until after the fact. Still no Cara. I consider my options- should I take the train to the next Prague station and see if she's there? Then I remember that I can't be asked to do anything. So I settle onto a bench and proceed with 'Crime and Punishment." But I've already exhausted the punishment of trying to read said book, and soon, I become restless. I pace about, consult my eurail handbook, and decide that Cara must have missed her train, and would be arriving on the next train from Hamburg in two more hours.

"Colleen!" I look up to see an apparition lugging a humongous basket clasped in two arms. She's red-faced and panting, stumbling across the train station. Not exactly the reunion I had imagined, but I rush over to help Cara with her burden, which also consists of two extremely heavy backpacks, filled to the brim with African ceremonial masks. We get to the campsite and collapse. Decide to check out town, have dinner, and go to sleep, as we're both exhausted from the day's excitement, (or boredom- riding trains and whatnot).

We jump on a tram, and rejoice at the site of a Pizza Hut. I don't feel too guilty, since I already did the Czech food thing, the last time I was in town. A little slice of home sounds just like the ticket.

Feeling uncomfortably full, we head back to the campsite, ecstatic at the thought of our sleeping bags. This turned out to be a rather difficult endeavor. When we left the site earlier, we lazily asked each other- "Hey, maybe we should bring the map?" "Nah, we'll figure it out, it's all good."

Not so good; as it turns out, Prague transportation is a week bit tricky. After consulting a series of confusing maps, and getting on various wrong trams, we find ourselves in the scary boondocks. It's getting late, and trams are starting to run very infrequently, so we decide to walk. Cara, jollily extolling the beauty of taking a stroll at night. And me, wanting to punch her in the face and grumbling that I can't be asked to do this shit anymore. After many more wrong turns, with the night wearing on, we finally emerge into familliar territory. One stop until the campsite. Phew! Almost there!

But alas, there is a "no walking" sign posted for the remainder of our journey, which takes place across a set of railroad tracks. Considering my usual disregard for rules and regulations (Mom, ignore this part, just skip to the end of the entry), we shrug and start to walk on the tracks anyway. We should be all right, since a train hasn't been posted to come through for another ten minutes. It's all fine and dandy, until we reach a bridge. We decide to cross it, "Stand by Me" style, and like Gordy and the others, we are worried we will have to break into a sprint mid-bridge, or cast ourselves headlong into the filthy river. We approach the other side of the bridge with a minimum amount of mishaps (I did weave drunkenly a bit, and almost fall through a comforting man hole.) Upon reaching it, we hear a low, unmistakable rumbling issuing from the tracks, and look up to see an approaching strassenbahn. However, we are safe, because it's coming on the other side of the tracks. Breathing a sigh of relief, we hustle back to the campsite, and try to get some shut-eye, now that adrenaline is coursing through our veins.

We awaken and decide to reduce Cara's burden by shipping gifts home, as Prague is supposed to host ridiculously cheap mail. This was an adventure in and of itself. None of the postal workers spoke a word of English, and of course we rolled up utterly ill-prepared and in need of help. One of Cara's friends is now receiving a box of Belgian chocolates (duty free) shoved into an unmarked envelope. Mom gets a box filled with shredded magazine pages (the jury's still out on whether we rememberd to actually include the African masks in the box.) Londi, Cara's recently married friend, will be receiving an enormous box, consisting of one, tiny African mask. Again, no cards or instructions. It will be as if random presents are descending from the sky, with no hint to who sent them.

Then we met up with Prue and Nikki outside of the decidedly lame astronomical clock. All the tourists gather round, wide eyed and gaping, as the doors open, and figurines parade past. I'm expecting said figurines to start tap-dancing or doing a jig, to necessitate such a spectacle. Nothing; and the presentation lasts a tantamout 20 seconds. Don't ask me why Cara and I have now witnessed this occurence twice today, we certainly weren't impressed. Everyone else was, the tourists exclaimed with glee and start applauding those fucking figurines. Christ, I think it's time to go home.

Maybe I shouldn't take the lord's name in vain. I am, after all, marching with a bunch of hippie catholics in two more days across Poland.

My financial situation, due to purse snatching drama in London, is raging out of control. Gulp, the train ticket to Warsaw is significantly more expensive then originally planned. In a quote from Pulp Fiction- "Well baby? You takin' the bus!"
Travel blogs Top Blogs Blog Directory Submit