Note: Written 19 January 2008.
Anyone can travel. The world's cities and resorts eventually blend into one blurry memory. Everything becomes the same. So what's the point?
Why travel to Prague when nearly all of the Old Town restaurants and pubs print menus in English? Who cares that an odd bridge exists when it's plagued by swarms of people looking for a photo?
This morning my international travel resume has reached double-digits. Austria is officially the tenth country outside of the US that I've visited. I'm not bragging about this...it's quite common for the average European to visit that many countries by their tenth birthday. I'm trying to find authenticity in my travels.
What's authentic American? New York City? Maybe certain parts. Philly? Maybe more so. But give me St. Michaels if I'm an international traveler. Yes, it's touristy, but in a very American sort of way. There is more down-home authenticity there than in any major city. But that's my taste.
I've attempted to see the world from a locals perspective, as much as that's possible. I think I've managed pretty well so far. I managed to escape Vienna and am currently writing this in a cafe in Melk, absolutely undoubtedly the only native English speaker in the establishment. I'm quite proudly getting by on my much-forgotten German (I'm mixing it with Swedish and Czech all the time). I'm surrounded by Austrians playing Yachtzee and smoking cirgarettes, living out their ordinary lives.
These are the experiences I crave. At my side is a German National Geographic; and again, I write in pencil, to later translate online.
In Austria it's Melk in winter. In Costa Rica it was the beach village of Gandoca. In Sweden, Enkoping, Finland, Aland. In Australia is was Hobart and Byron Bay, New Zealand, Blenheim and Wanaka. In Fiji it was Lautoka, The Bahamas, Georgetown (though I don't remember too much). I've yet to find that special place in the Czech Republic, though I'm more determined to do so now, maybe next weekend.
I'm buzzed and it's only 8:30pm. I wonder what Nate and Ryan are up to tonight. I ought to send them something. Maybe some Absinthe from Prague. Maybe just a postcard. i wish I'd have ordered this Gosser Bier a bit earlier...it's the cloudy, wheat beer that I so enjoy, and it's delicious. Bob Dyland is playing now, my soul at ease.
The cafe I'm in has a distinctly 1950's feel. At least how I'd imagine a cafe in the 1950's to feel. The lighting is bright yet soothing, emanating from several globe-shaped fittings hanging from the ceiling. The walls are decorated with photos of the days gone by, adding to the old feeling. Wooden booths are upholstered in dark red faux-suede, creating an elegant atmosphere. There is a magazine rack attached to the bar, but all of the publications are in German. Suddenly I'm rather looking forward to retiring to my room upstairs and watching TV before falling asleep. I predict tonight will be my best night's sleep since leaving Sweden...
Should I have one more beer? I shall, aber ein kleines bier. It's too early to kill the creative mood I'm in right now.
(Interesting aside, and this is written as I transfer the pencil to the computer...I just recalled a part of the Kirk, Mark and Shamrock Show from Baltimore's 105.7 radio station...they were discussing funny song names, and one person called in and suggested "It's too early to drink, but too late to stop." I remember laughing at that.)
Tomorrow I may meet Karinth, an interesting girl with an even more interesting name. She's from Alaska, and I ask her if everyone from Alaska is from Anchorage, and she confirms this. She was with our party of 6 on the train to Vienna. I had only just met her and Lisa, a Korean-American girl, also on the TEFL course with us. It was originally their idea to go to Vienna, and me, Michael, Alison and Sara kind of tagged along.
ANYWAY, the 6 of us enjoyed pleasant conversation for the duration of the train trip this morning, and I may have convinced Karinth to meet me in Melk tomorrow. She's accustomed to the quiet town atmosphere, having once toured British Columbia via mountain bike. She also has a Czech boyfriend, so we can relate well in the foreign-significant other departmant. I'll wait for her by the train station tomorrow, and if she doesn't show by 11, I'm out. It would be nice to have some company to visit the abbey with tomorrow.
'Hast ein Kaiser, Bist ein Kaiser' - the slogan on my Kaiser Bier coaster. It means 'Have a Kaiser, be a Kaiser.' Nice.
This may seem like a rather disjointed entry, but I've been sitting in the same cafe since it began, so I feel it's continuous enough. I'm still waiting for the waiter to acknowledge my request for ein kleines bier, but he's yet to pass by. Since my evening began, nearly 3 hours ago, I've consumed 2 litres of beer...
Two Austrian girls are playing pool right now...I feel the need to mention this. I can't help but think I've stumbled into the real lives of other people and have managed to escape the tourist traps of Prague and Vienna. The people here know what is going on...they're not merely passing through, but actually belong here. It's kind of weird actually...I feel like an invader of a very private, sacred place. Like this is a haven for people, outsiders not allowed. It feels like The Chesnut Tree, 'where I sold you, and you sold me' from the classic 1984. Any minute I might be whisked out of the place by the Thought Police for merely considering the idea...
I've paid, I'm leaving...Goodnight.