“Oh, The Places You’ll Go!”

IMG_1817

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.

Today I come to you with a trip, my love for Dr. Seuss, and a valuable life lesson from Oh, the Places You’ll Go!. It was his final work and one of his best-selling as it is a firm favourite as a graduation present. From beginning to end, the book thrills and delights. Even when I first read it at the age of 20 I could tell it was something special, something beyond ‘just’ a kid’s book. It is a tale of life. It follows an unnamed character as they adventure, and it is honest. It has the bad times as well as the good. For me, today was one of the good ones.

We, myself, my fiancée, and my friends Tom, Ray, and Yana, went to Czech Switzerland. At first I thought this might be a joke name, something slangy and self-deprecating. Even as a former visitor of the Scottish Highlands I will say it surprised me with how good it was. It had impressive vistas, a verdant forest, and more large rock formations than you could shake a decent sized stick at. The trip all started when Ray and Tom discussed it and sent word around. Never one to pass up a good day trip, I eagerly went for it.

I had been getting stressed. The heat of the city, the mugginess of the oppressive air, and the occasional existential question. A trip to the wilderness was needed. Why could I find not relaxation in the city, you ask? I will let the good doctor explain.

image

And the next page!

image

And this is why I love Dr. Seuss. He uses the right amount of space to express things. “It’s opener there in the wide open air”, indeed!

Some stress relief on a moderate hike seemed a capital idea.

The crew was made up of other English teachers. About half were American, two from Scotland, and a Russian. All of them are here for different reasons, but I tend not to discuss why other people are here. It hits me as too personal a question, even if I know someone well. They are an interesting crowd. The first thing to know about Ray is that’s he’s giant, and the next is that he’s very warm and personable. Tom hits me like a father-in-waiting, at that cool sepia toned photo stage of life that all our dads went through, when they were just cool dudes and not fathers.  Still tells a million dad jokes, though. Yana hits me as one of the most inquisitive people I’ve ever met. She must have asked me 50 questions, mostly about things or people I hate. I like talking and hate quite a lot so there were no specific problems here.

On the train here we talked shop and life. As we were leaving the greater city area, I took out my copy of Dr. Seuss and started reading. This developed into a round, each person saying a page. Poor Yana got stuck with darker pages almost every time. On the dark pages, the story gets a little sad as Dr. Seuss essentially says, “You know what kid? Life may suck and get bumpy from time to time. You might not be good at everything, but with the right attitude and mindset, you’ll go far.” It’s a valuable lesson for kids and for adults.

image

This was the last page Yana read to us on her round. It is my favourite page in the book. To me, it says that even if you aren’t the best, you should push yourself and see what you manage. Most of the time the result is good and you might end up like this guy.

image

Pulling a damn mountain with a smile on your face like it’s no issue. We made it up the hill in good time and look at the sights from the top. The Doctor was right, it is certainly open.

IMG_1815

The trip itself was not difficult and end to end it all went well. Still, there’s a brilliant sense of accomplishment that I think we all feel when we do something big on a weekend. It was also a brilliant antidote to the difficulty of city life. In a way, it was a perfect encapsulation of Dr. Seuss’s main point; life has its challenges and difficulties but if you keep on going you have a good chance of doing something amazing. As I go forward in my attempt to write something new every day this month, this lesson will surely be of use.


Extra words: We saw this big rock on our climb. It was so big that everyone had put sticks next to it to hold it up.

IMG_1819

Each of these sticks alone stands little chance of stopping the stone from falling, but with the collective effort of enough people they can hold back the tide. Here was my addition.

IMG_1818

 

The City of Gnomes

One thing that’s always fun about travelling is finding your legs in a new city. My girlfriend and I pulled into Wroclaw bus station with no clue on where we were going next. After about 10 or 15 minutes we realised the logic of the place.

I have been told Wroclaw is the most German city in Poland. Having neither seen much of Germany or a lot of Poland I couldn’t especially say. Instead, I’d like to talk about gnomes.

IMG_1495

Many

IMG_1491

Many

IMG_1532

Different

IMG_1573

Interesting

IMG_1569

Different

IMG_1589

Cute

IMG_1566

Gnomes.

Wroclaw has over 300 of these gnome statues all around the city. It has something to do with their history, some anti-Communist group made political points using depictions of gnomes. He city decided to honour them with a statue. Before you could write an op-ed on the effect of gnomes on society, they were everywhere.

I’m not perfectly certain if they are gnomes or dwarves. The map we bought says gnomes but the website says dwarves. I’d fancy, at least in a Tolkeinesque style of myth, Dwarves would be bigger. Like the first one.

IMG_1571

Technical distinctions aside, I highly recommend Wroclaw as a place. The food had that nice Eastern European homeliness to it. Alcohol remains fairly inexpensive as with most Slavic countries. Like any good European city the buildings are beautiful and the public transport affordable. They have a delicious type of cake, vaguely like a donut, called a paczek. And they have hundreds of gnomes to search through the streets for.

Happy hunting!

Coming up in future weeks – a review of some restaurants in Zizkov (Magical Listicle Tour II) and probably some politics chat. Stick around!

Hungary Like The Wolf

IMG_1459

It’s funny when you’ve moved country how travel retains the same sense of wonder and confusion. Most recently, for the Easter Weekend, I was in Budapest. Here are my thoughts thereof.

My girlfriend and I took the bus from Prague to Budapest, via Brno, Bratislava, and some Hungarian town which I think was called Gyro, but with accent marks I cannot readily recall. Due to holiday traffic, the journey was annoyingly delayed. On the upside, we did get to see the countryside at length, especially beautiful on the westernmost part of Bohemia and the easternmost part of Moravia. On the downside, we arrived in Budapest quite a bit later than originally hoped. There’s a big advantage in a four day weekend, though, in that we had two days of no travel to see the city. As an additional benefit, Roland, the landlord of our AirBNB, a good-sized flat in a leafier, hillier district on the Buda side of the river, was able to give us a lift from the bus terminal.

We met Matthew, a friend she’d made while at university, and who has lived in the city for several years now. He was a very excellent guide to the cool places on the Pest side. Always good to have allies in foreign cities as they know how much things are supposed to cost and where the most is happening. With him the nights we had in the city were far fuller than they likely otherwise would’ve been.

IMG_1458

Some thoughts in the coming city in comparison to Prague; bigger, quite a bit dirtier and smellier, more differences between streets as far as architectural style, more pubs with different flavours though primarily fairly punkish. A hell of a lot of character. When I said dirtier and smellier back there you might think it’s a criticism, but I personally love lived in places. And the smells weren’t all bad necessarily. The food is more spiced than food in Prague, especially paprika, and it drifts throb the streets. Really, it smells like any European city; meat, coffee,  chocolate, alcohol, occasionally piss in the streets. It smelt of gyros and life.

The place was tense. Years of political unrest appears to have led to a fomentation of protests. Most recently, the government shut down Central European University. Students, already prone to protest, having not been made fully cynical of the world yet, now have nothing to do but protest. As a result, there were a litmus of events in the city related to these protests. From small demonstrations in the streets to full on shutdowns of the public transport network. I hope they get the University open again without any violence bubbli over. But it appears the government is doing its best to further stoke up resentment between protestors and the police. At any rate, not nearly something I can comment much on beyond acknowledging the injustice of trying to quash dissent while simultaneously making the operation of NGOs more difficult, so I will abruptly stop commenting here.

IMG_1466

To conclude, definitely worth a trip. Beyond the standard things that make cities worth visiting, this is an especially vibrant and vivid place. Watch yourself on the money front, as Forints are a totally different beast from Euros, Pounds, Dollars, or Crowns. They look very good, I think former Communist countries do their best to outdo each other on note design, and the value of the Forint is very different. Multiple 0s different. Also, look out for the protests when the Rendorseg (Hungarian is the one language where police is so different) are in an offensive mood.

Also, thank you to my girlfriend for paying for a lot of the trip, and happy birthday to me!

 

One Year On – Growth and Ireland

I have now been in Prague for a year, with my girlfriend for a year, and a teacher for a year (almost). It’s been a massive year of growth and change, and generally pretty good for me if a bit awful for the planet as a whole. (It’s annoying that now anytime someone asks how you are you have to respond “pretty good, considering”, but let’s leave that aside a minute). In addition, it was my mother’s birthday recently! Her 40th.*

And so I went to Edinburgh for her festivities. Here we can see clearly a point of growth: I booked all the flights and none of them were incorrect!

It was a great trip. I saw my brother for the first time in 4 years. These days he farms in Australia so it’s a bit too long for afternoon trips to the pub like we used to do. Still, great stories about farming, which is different. His farming stories didn’t used to be as interesting.

I had the chance of showing my girlfriend my home town – might have scared her a bit because I went into a bit much detail about shit and corpse disposal in the old days, which is an idea I had for an Edinburgh tour years ago. The Sex, Death, and Shit Tour of Edinburgh. Shelved for, among other things, I could not find enough things to say about sex in Edinburgh. The location of sex is hard to pin down sometimes. Still, a good trip for us as we went to Mary’s Milk Bar, featured on a Buzzfeed list of the 19 best hot chocolates in Edinburgh, and Mother India – which may be the best Indian food in the city, country, or beyond.
Following on from the trip home, we made our way onwards to Ireland. Despite living most of my life a very short distance from there, I had never before been to either part of the island. I don’t know if it was lack of money or just a general apathy about going anywhere that stopped me, but I’m gladly over the latter. It certainly wasn’t fear though as I don’t think I’ve ever been clever enough for that at the right times.

I feel like a tree, but the new rings are months rather than years. Now I travel AND I get appropriately concerned when stuff is bleaker than normal. Speaking of trees and bleakness, the dark hedges.

IMG_1340

Anyway, onto the trip. It’s a long one so you might want to put the kettle on.

On our first day, we had no plans. Just walk around Dublin and see what the craic is. We wandered about the university buildings, but didn’t visit the Long Room as I fancy the queue was even longer. They have an interesting design, a real mesh of architecture with some more modern buildings further back in the campus but with the majority of the front facing parts probably around the late 18th or early 19th century. I wanted to see some building that had Oscar Wilde’s name on it but couldn’t find it. We did however find a donut shop called Offbeat Donuts, which claimed to be in the same address as his birthplace. I now choose to believe Wilde was born in a donut shop.

Here’s some Dublin:

I remembered how much I loved Irish born writers only when we arrived in Dublin. Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, and W. B. Yeats. As luck would have it, we were walking past the National Library right as it opened for an exhibition for him. My girl bore my love of poetry for a while and in we marched. I saw the book in which Yeats wrote ‘The Second Coming’, amongst my favourite of the poems anyone has written. Couldn’t read his writing very well as it was a bit small and joined up, but I feel an affinity with the hard to read. We walked more then ate tapas for dinner, with a half of Guinness because the desire to drink Guinness in Dublin has clearly been priced into the market.

We went on a couple coach tours with a company called Paddywagon on the second and third day. The story I’ve heard is that it was started by two brothers who ran a hostel when the tourism boom began. They bought a bus, painted it green, and put a leprechaun on the side. The drivers we had were hilarious, totally different characters, making wee jokes throughout the trip. I would imagine the brothers who started the tours are extremely rich now as the buses are famous throughout the country. No idea if the buses go up north during marching season. I’d have to guess they don’t as the insurance would probably cost a ton, but that’s not for several months so it was safe to go North.

The difference between the borders is subtle. Only the line at the edge of the motorway. It’s broken on the Republic side and solid on the Northern. Blink and you’d miss it. In the past, I’m told, it was far more solid. British Army solid. The North looks a lot more rugged in it’s terrain, many more hills and cliffs once you cross the border. It looks like a butter advert in places on the way up to the border from Dublin but then gets a lot more dour and sharper once you cross. Kind of like the difference in character between the more orange Northerners I’ve met and the more green Republicans.

With that tour company we saw the Giant’s Causeway on our second day and the Cliffs of Moher the day after. Here is the best picture I took of the Cliffs, famously used in The Princess Bride and one of the Harry Potter films.

IMG_1402

This day the visibility was marked fair to good. You could have fooled me. Visibility is a lot better with a camera than live. I could hardly see the path and was very thankful for the solid enough looking wall. Visitors would be advised to pack a raincoat or poncho. Also, if possible keep a keen eye on the weather patterns. Still, I love rain and mist

So that was our trips. They were exciting, a bit different
*Not actually but I have a hard time imagining her as much older than that. She has so much energy all the time.