A bus to Prague

Sometimes you get on a bus to Prague. Granted, usually you don’t. Usually you wake up and go about your business. But sometimes, if the conditions are just are right, the only acceptable course of action is to get on a bus to Prague.

That’s how it was this morning, or rather right now. This morning the only acceptable course of action was to buy a bus ticket to Prague, since I couldn’t stay in Berlin because it was too expensive and I have it in my head that Berlin hostels are dirty and full of dirty people. This probably isn’t true. But maybe it is. And in Prague the hostel will cost $6 and if it’s dirty (it won’t be), or people are snoring (I’ll be snoring), I can just get a room for $20 a night and bask in anonymity and loneliness and a strange desire to drink gross amounts of pivo.

Though to be perfectly honest, I prefer tea.

People are filtering onto the bus, and one of them looks oppressively Czech. Maybe it’s the mustache. This bus continues on to Vienna, which seems a small miracle. Travel in Europe always seems like a small miracle. If you get on a bus for five hours in Washington State, the most interesting place you could go is Spokane, a city known for cold weather and felonies. But if you get on a bus for five hours (or less) in Berlin you can get off in Hamburg, or Denmark, or Poland, or Leipzig, or of course Prague.

After Copenhagen, Berlin was a boost for my soul. I’m going to be honest: In Copenhagen I went off the rails a bit. What does going off the rails entail? For starters, it involves spending too much money. It also involves drinking too much beer, though for me at this point in my life anything more than a sip is too much. I don’t know what happened, but my body no longer tolerates beer. It makes me tired and cranky. Wine I can still sort of drink. I like to have one glass of wine, sip it slowly, barely feel the effects, and then after an hour inexplicably feel relaxed and jovial. If you don’t want to drink beer, you’ll feel like a bit of an outsider in Berlin. Though to be fair this is probably also true in Prague. I don’t know. This is basically my first time in Prague, since I don’t really count the real first time. The real first time was in 2012, and it was not ideal. I stayed with a girl who I thought liked me, but it turned out, to make a long story short, as they say, to sum things up, as they say, to put it in a nutshell, as they say, to cut to the chase, as they say, to “go to the grain,” as they say in Spanish, to get to the point, as they say, to spit it out, as they say, to tell it like it is, as they say, she didn’t like me. Not even a little bit. You might even say she “disliked me,” though at this point it’s a hard to tell. The whole situation was confusing and involved sleeping on a couch and hugging at a bus stop. The situation also involved not really seeing Prague, since my mind was in another place. But this time my mind is in the right place. My mind is focusing on the already waning light of this Berlin afternoon as we struggle to make our way out of the city amidst confusing roads and hordes of cars. My mind is more at peace than it was this morning, because I know what I’m doing, at least for the next few days. I’m going to Prague. I’m going to the Czech Republic. Who knows after that, and, to be frank, who really cares?

Breakfast in Berlin

The apartment I’m in right now smells like cigarettes. Why does it smell like cigarettes? Because it’s directly above a bar that’s vaguely Mexican-themed and that allows smoking inside, and that smoke drifts — seeps rather (though seeping is usually associated with a downward motion) — into the apartment above it. When my friend Magda greeted me the other day I thought to myself, “Since when did Magda start smoking?” I was a bit intimidated, but as I soon learned neither Magda nor her brother, Alex, had been smoking, though they certainly smelled like it. “How many stars did this place have on Air Bnb?” I asked Magda, not being able to fathom how an apartment above a bar that has constant music pumping (they were doing karaoke last night; Germans can’t sing) and also a pungent cigarette smell could have more than two stars and she said, “I don’t know.”

This morning we went to breakfast at Cafe Bilderbuch, where we communicated with the waiter in German for the first four or so interactions. I was impressed, because Magda barely speaks German, and her brother even less. We got the Hansel and Gretel breakfast, which was a plate piled high with all sorts of meats and cheeses and spreads, smoked trout and smoked salmon, sweat cheese, paprika spread, grapes, melon, pineapple, deli meats, accompanied by a bread basket, accompanied by pots of tea and cups of coffee and glasses of orange juice. It was a festive affair. There was a baby that looked like Cousin It from The Adams Family sitting directly across from us and I wondered to myself, “Do these people know their baby is ugly? Like, do they realize people look at their baby and are terrified? Do they realize because they brought their baby out in public today my sleep is going to be troubled tonight?” We shared a table with two middle-aged gentlemen because I hadn’t made a reservation and when we walked into the back room, usually the best place to sit because the furniture is old and ornate and there’s the feeling of being in a mausoleum, the waitress said to me,” Wait you don’t have a reservation? That’s bad. Try the front.” So we went to the front, which was considerably livelier apart from the baby that looked like it was out of a Steven King novel, and the two men shared their table with us. Apart from a slight odor of sausage and feet, everything was perfect. We lingered over our meal and enjoyed each other’s company, saying we were full and then always going back for more.

Afterward we went for a walk and Magda and Alex were instantly soaked. It wasn’t a hard, but an insistent, rain. We stopped by a flea-market where they were selling everything from old shoes to VCR’s to, well, basically just old shoes and VCR’s. I wondered, “Who the hell buys this stuff?” I mean I can’t imagine any rational human being in the year 2017 walking up to a booth and seeing an old Samsung remote and thinking, “Score.” But obviously people are buying this stuff. I mean, if there are people selling it must be because people are buying, right?

The flea-market was right next to the entrance of Volkspark so we stood on the bridge above the Rathaus-Schöneberg station looking at a little pond where swans were dunking their heads underwater next to floating trash. Then we got on the U-Bahn, which never fails to fascinate me, I’m fascinated by trains and parks and eating, all of which we did today, and the U-Bahn brought us to Alexanderplatz which, if I’m not completely out of my mind, that is, if I’m not a complete fool, that is, if I’ve ever been to Berlin before or looked at a map of Berlin, that is, if geography even remotely interests me, that is, if I’m not mistaken, one of the most important landmarks in Berlin. We saw a massive nativity, at least 50ft high, that was waiting for the Christmas festivities. They were also putting up the stalls for the Christmas markets, and we discussed how if you’re going to come to Berlin at this time of year you should come in December, because snow is better than rain and then at least at that time you have the Christmas markets and festivities and everyone is guzzling hot chocolate and feeling merry. But November is just dreary. Granted, it wasn’t dreary for us, because we were in our own insular world of traveling happiness.

After Alexanderplatz Magda and Alex had to meet Magda’s friend Henrik, and I went with them even though I planned on leaving shortly thereafter to go back to the apartment to chill and do my physical therapy exercises and secondhand smoke through my pores. I had a day pass for the metro and buses, and felt immensely free because of it. I could get on any bus or train I wanted. I could get on a 100 buses or trains if I wanted. I could get on for one stop and then get right back off. Or I could just stand there and watch all the buses and trains going by, and never once get on any of them. The world felt like my oyster, or at the very least like my razor clam.

Lemon Water in Copenhagen

I’m getting my money’s worth out of this cafe in Copenhagen where I just paid the frightful sum of $6.86 USD for a cup of tea. Granted, it’s more than a glass than a cup, and granted, this is normal for Copenhagen, but I’ve still been parked here for well over and hour and just discovered that they have a pitcher full of lemon water, the contents of which I plan to empty into my stomach over the next hour more.

Copenhagen is, well, like pretty much any other town in northern Europe. It’s apparently the “cool kid” of Scandinavian capitals (according to Lonely Planet), and I’ve sort of seen that with its Christiania neighborhood, a hippy neighborhood on an island with no cars, only pedestrian and bike paths, where men sell hashish at little stands at night and where people from Greenland gather to, according to my friend Linda, “drink all day.” You feel like you’ve traveled back in time a century or two being there. It’s ideal. And last night, after we walked through Christiania we went to a sort of Danish dive bar, and that’s where the real fun began. Have you ever heard Danish? It SORT OF sounds like English. Emphasis on the “sort of.” And also on the “like.” And also on the “English.” And also on the “sounds.” It sounds like the kind of English a group of Americans from Virginia might speak if they’d been marooned on a fishing boat in the North Sea for 20-100 years. We sat in a smoke filled room with a bunch of old men who apparently were there for some kind of billiards tournament and then to eat potato salad (I saw potatoes and fish and nothing else), and I had the pleasure of listening to a group of seasoned bargoers bantering in Danish at close proximity. I was delighted. They would look at me when saying the punch lines, and of course I would throw my head back with laughter even though I didn’t understand a thing. And then I would grab my beer and shake my head as if to say, “Oh Magnus, he’s such a character,” while inside I was thinking, I have no idea what’s going on right now. To be fair, some things I DID understand, just because they sounded very similar to German, and I’ve lately developed an affinity for this Teutonic tongue. For example one of the guys said something to me, and then said to Linda, “He didn’t understand,” in Danish, but I DID understand, because the sentence “He didn’t understand” in Danish is similar to “He didn’t understand” in German. But he didn’t understand that I understood.

Understand?

After the bar we went to eat “Danish street food,” which was not on a street but rather a dock and certainly not street-like in price. I paid almost 16 dollars for a smattering of meat with Moroccan bread, and that was on the CHEAP side. I don’t even want to know what the “expensive side” looks like in Denmark. I imagine an expensive dining experience looks something like this: You sit down, you drink some wine, you have a bit of rye bread with cream cheese and a piece of dead fish on top, and then the bill comes and you have a heart attack and they cart away your lifeless body. I imagine most restaurants, like the famed two star Michelin-rated Noma restaurant, have a cart in the back for this very purpose.

Anyway. Denmark. Copenhagen. This is actually the “Kingdom of Denmark,” which I didn’t realize included such far-flung locales as the Faroe Islands. There actually is a ferry to the Faroe Islands that leaves every Saturday and which I’ve been eyeing lustily over the last few days, but I probably won’t go, especially since I’ve just bought a ticket for Berlin.

I don’t particularly like Berlin, but I’ve found myself there a fair amount over the last few years. The one thing I do like about Berlin is its relative cheapness, and also the ease with which one can be anonymous. Nothing sounds better to me right now than getting a cheap yet comfortable hotel room and walking many miles around the many parks that Berlin boasts, talking to no one, getting coffee from time to time, scribbling in my notebook, getting another coffee, still talking to no one, and then, just when I’ve finally had enough solitude, getting another coffee, but this time with someone, or better yet getting breakfast in a place called Cafe Bilderbuch, a place I wrote about in Roads in Kingdoms even though they changed the title to make it atrocious (they love atrocious titles), and also they edited the article more than they usually do, but they did leave the only good line, which was about the bread having seeds big enough to “choke a ferret.” Which is completely true. The bread in Germany is delicious. And tomorrow I’ll have some. But first I’m going to focus on Denmark.  And drink a little more lemon water. And maybe empty my pocketbook for another tea.