Category: Travel

Adventures and Misadventures.

Bratislava–It’s in Slovakia 

Bratislava is close enough to Vienna that people do a day trip to the capital of Slovakia and then head back to Austria before the sun goes down. There are river cruises and bus trips, and then there is how I ended up in Slovakia. My wife and I were picked up at our hotel in Vienna and driven to Bratislava in a fancy car by three lovely ladies. Sounds pretty good doesn’t it? Well it was. 
Two of the young ladies were ex-exchange students I knew from a few years ago. I was expecting to see Linda because Slovakia is her home country. Irene was a surprise. She lives in Madrid, which is not anywhere near Slovakia. (Okay if you were sitting on Mars, Madrid and Bratislava would look pretty close.) The third young lady was Linda’s friend and along to give directions and help Linda find her way around. What I noticed right away was that when people speak in Slovakian it sounds like they are fighting. It is the kind of language that wars are made from. (The Slovakian accent is almost exactly like Natasha from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.)

Our first stop was at a castle, Hrad Devin, where the Morava River meets the Danube. This place is amazing. They believe it was established as early as the 5th century BC. I don’t know how they determine these things since Wikipedia hadn’t been invented yet, but figuring that stuff out is not my job and therefore I trust these so called experts. There was a little museum inside the castle where they had laid out all the stuff they found from all the ages and it was pretty cool. (Once the lady behind the counter found out we were Americans she started trying to sell us all kinds of fridge magnets, books, and postcards. She was really disappointed when I passed. I think I got an eye roll from her.) The exhibit focused on the slow transformation of making pots from clay to then working with bronze. It is almost miraculous to see pots made from easy to work with materials and then see the next step and the next step, like the first person who said, “I wonder if putting an onion ring on a hamburger is a good idea,” and then someone else said, “But what if you also put BBQ sauce on that?” I don’t know who first discovered that heating dirt makes it melt, but he/she must have been a pretty smart person. Since then, we have been turning that stuff into things to kill other people with, we are a creative bunch. Mankind hasn’t changed all that much when you take the long view like Carl Sagan and I do. 

Here’s the important part, if you are going to Bratislava you must go to Hrad Devin, it is super awesome, and I got to shoot an arrow at a target. (I missed. The bowstring hit my left arm so hard I had a big bruise for two days.)
After the castle it was off to downtown Bratislava. We parked at a mall that could be dropped in any major American city and be pretty swanky looking and then walked along the riverside to the historic city center. The riverside is really cool and there were lots of restaurants with seating alongside the water. The historic center is one of those places that time seems to have forgotten. Lovely, really just lovely. Winding little cobblestone streets, fountains, and some of the coolest statues you will ever see. The Slovokians have a little bit of a sense of humor. 

We ate lunch at a traditional restaurant. I ate some meatball things covered in some type of dumpling stuff and accompanied by a sweet and sour cooked cabbage deal. My wife ate a plate of pasta with a Slovakian cheese sauce that Linda said most people don’t like at first, but it was good too. 
After lunch we began a grueling up hill climb to the other castle, the new castle, about 10,000 feet above the city. It was hot, it was steep, I am old, and we eventually made it to the top. The views were worth the climb and if I were 30 years younger I would not have felt like I was going to pass out from exhaustion. 

We took a bus down the hill and went to the train station. I had to buy a train ticket for the next day and you can’t do that online because…I don’t know why, but you can’t. So you have to go to the train station, and buy a ticket like the old days. Linda did all the ordering, and when I insisted on reserving a seat the ticket lady didn’t look pleased, actually she never looked pleased, but I got my tickets and reserved two seats. (Here’s a life tip for all you rookies out there. If you are traveling by rail in Europe during the summer, RESERVE A SEAT! Especially if your train is leaving in the afternoon. Early in the morning, before 9am, you’ll probably be okay, but once the dirty-backpacking-across-Europe-on-a-Eurail-pass kids roll out of their flea infested hostel bed there will be zero seats for people who aren’t willing to body slam someone else for a seat. It costs a couple extra bucks and when you are taking a four hour train ride you’ll thank me.) 
Linda then drove us to her hometown. It was really interesting to see the Slovakian countryside. It is a poor country. People look worn out, the houses look worn out, the streets are worn out, but being a part of the EU will slowly transform this sleepy little country. Linda’s hometown is about 20,000 people and about 45 minutes from Bratislava. For dinner Linda took us to the golf course. I have never had dinner at a nicer golf course. This place is amazing. It is a Jack Nicholas designed course and was the type of place where if it were the US someone would have come up to me and said, “Sir, you know you don’t belong here. It’s time for you to leave.” Instead, I ate dinner overlooking the 18th’s green (an island) and not one golfer hit it into the water. 

It was a long day for the old people, but it was also a day I will not forget. 

Linda, Irene, and two old people.

Vienna: Keeping Things like 1780 since 1941

The Viennese are a little aloof, this happens when you rule Europe for several hundred years, but it isn’t a bad kind of aloof it’s just that the people aren’t super-American friendly. Imagine what the world will be like in another 20 years where everyone has spent 40 years on Facebook, listening to their favorite iTunes mixes, and writing blogs about their daily existence…in other words, moving to the point that everyone is the center of their own universe. I know that sounds negative, but it really isn’t meant to sound that way. I really like Vienna, but maybe that says more about me than about the city. 

What Vienna offers the traveler is a collection of some of the best museums in the world (ruling Europe and stealing everybody’s stuff has it’s benefits), a music history that is unmatched, and lots of really cool old buildings built back when Vienna was the center of the world. Now don’t tell the Viennese that Vienna isn’t the center of the universe because I’m pretty sure they still think the sun circles Austria, and again, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing because Vienna has done an excellent job of freezing time circa 1780. 
The visitor to the city has some big decisions to make, what do you do when there is so much to do? Inevitably you will be asked, “Did you do_____________?” And you will have to say, “No.” Because you can’t do everything there is to do in Vienna. Chose carefully, but then again, don’t worry too much about it because you really can’t make a bad decision. Went to the Leopold and not the Belvedere, oh well, the Leopold is pretty awesome…and so is the Belvedere. With this in mind, I planned carefully where I would be going and then life interfered with my plans and Vienna was set upon by catastrophic storms where the wind blew like mad and rain fell so hard I thought the sidewalks might be damaged. 
So, you ask, “What are the must sees in Vienna?” Okay, for once I will give a little advice. I think you must go to at least two art museums, you have to roll through the opera house, you must visit one of the famous cafes, and you should ride around in one of the trolleys that ride around beside the famous buildings. Then walk through the old town and get lost, it isn’t hard. Eat some street food and then step on the scales that seem to be next to all the street food vendors. (Yes, that’s right. You pay 20 cents to weigh yourself in Vienna. I don’t know why, I don’t really care, but the message is clear–you are fat.)

I put this advice to use and had three pretty productive days in Vienna. We took a tour of the Vienna Opera house. Where they have 180,000 costumes, and put on so many different operas each year it is slightly mind numbing, but you can go to the opera during the season for $3 and dress like a slob. The guide said what I was wearing would be fine. They also put on a ball every year that our guide said would cost you somewhere between $20,000-30,000, so I’d put that in the maybe category if I were you. I really can’t think of a bigger waste of money–pay that much to dress up and dance. I’d rather spend my hard earned money doing something fun like eating for an entire year, but our guide said the tickets are sold out six months in advance so as PT Barnum said, “Some people are so stupid they think the USA is going to build a wall and Mexico is going to pay for it.” 

I went to two art museums: The Belvedere and the Kunst Historisches Museum (Art History Museum). I selected the Belvedere because it has Klimt’s The Kiss. It is one of my favorite paintings, but they don’t let you take pictures of the painting because there is a room right next door where they have a terrible poster of the painting where you can take pictures if you want a picture of a poster. I have two posters of The Kiss in my classroom if you want to roll by and get a pic there too. I also like that the Belvedere has a good selection of Klimt’s other work including really early stuff that is photo-realistic. So all you Klimt haters can see that this dude could really slap that paint around with mad skillz. 

I picked the Art History Museum because they have an awesome collection of Bruegel paintings (The Tower of Babel is righteous) and have Vermeer’s Art of Painting. The Bruegel paintings are all hanging in one room, but they have hidden the Vermeer so you won’t just run into it. I’m serious, you have to walk around behind a closed door and through three tiny rooms just to find it. I would not have found it if I hadn’t reached the end of my visit and gone, “Where the hell was the Vermeer?” I then retraced my path like Hansel and Gretel and found it hiding. If you want to play a dirty trick on people then hide one of the best paintings you own in a closet. It is probably the best Vermeer because it is bigger. (That’s art critic talk for you people without a proper education.) The Rijksmuseum has a bunch more Vermeer’s but there are always 100 people standing in front of them, maybe that is why the Viennese have theirs hidden in a dark corner. 

Over my days I squeezed in the two most famous cafes in town: Sacher and Demel. These are very different spaces and let me warn you upfront, you can drop some big change in these places. We tried the Demel first and there are about 400 rules to eating there. First, walk into the cafe, go by everyone and walk upstairs. There will be a much shorter line there. You will still wait but the cafe experience is about waiting, so play some solitaire on your iPhone or take pictures of your shoes accidentally. We waited about 20 minutes, sat down, and then ordered our drinks. Then you have to stand up, leave your stuff and walk over to the girl behind the dessert glass. Tell her what you want…90% of the people get the chocolate torte so I got the apple strudel because I’m a rebel. The dessert girl will give you a little piece of paper and then you take that back to your table and hand it to your waitress. 20 minutes later you will get your desserts and they will either be worth the wait or not. I ordered a big beer to drink to pass the time. I was the only person drinking a beer in the place and I was also the only one who ate the apple strudel…which wasn’t as good as other apple strudel I have had. I wanted whipped cream on it but I guess that isn’t done. It was done in Inglorious Bastards so I guess Tarantino has some explaining to do. 

The next day we went to Cafe Sacher and I had the time of my life. First off, we were seated right away. It was about 11am. I was dressed like a slob but nobody looked at me like I was a deviant. Then as we got our seat we were treated to the best one Act show ever put on at Cafe Sacher, which is saying something because there have been some pretty happening things that have occurred at Cafe Sacher. (Grace Kelly ate here, JFK, Emperor Franz Joseph, Queen Elizabeth, and it was in the movie The Third Man.) As I was saying before I interrupted myself, I sat down and right away heard our neighbors complaining to no one in particular about their bill. I could understand them because they were American and talking in that familiar dialect called English. They had been drinking coffee like madman and now had a large bill to pay. These poor folks were operating under the impression that they were at the local coffee shop where you get unlimited coffee…and they were at Cafe Sacher where each cup costs five Euros. They each had five cups. The lady said, “No wonder they were here so quickly to replace our coffee.” Yeah, that’s it, this place is hard up for cash and thought they would soak a couple rubes and squeeze a few extra Euros out of them. My wife and I have been married long enough to know when it is time to talk and when it is time to listen/eavesdrop. This was eavesdropping time. We did order our food, after I asked the waiter if it was too early to order the tower of Sacher treats. “Oh, no, now is a good time,” was his response. It reminded me of the time I asked a German waiter if I should have beer or a strudel for dessert, “Why not beer and strudel?” He said. By the time the couple got up to leave we learned a lot about them: they were staying at the Hotel Sacher, they wanted their bill reduced, they thought the hard boiled egg was not hard enough, and then there was a misunderstanding about what room to charge the bill to because the room they gave was not the one they were registered in. Anyway, it was worth every cent of the tower of treats. (By the way, the tower of treats costs half of what our neighbors drank in coffee. It would be poor behavior to discuss the actual cost–22 Euros–because high class people don’t talk about money.) After couple #1 left the table, my wife and I were having such a good time. Maybe it was the chocolate, maybe we are just the right people for each other, maybe it was because we really shouldn’t be eating in places this nice, but anyway, the lady sitting to the West of us said, “Enough laughing you two.” She was also American and from Seattle…and soon we found out we knew a bunch of people who they knew…there you go, you travel all the way to Cafe Sacher to meet some people you probably already knew. (My wife said that the chocolate torte at Cafe Sacher was much better than the one at Demel, and my wife knows a lot about chocolate.) 
After our visit to the cafe, we walked around the old town and got lost. We walked into a bunch of churches and looked at the bits and pieces of dead people stored in pretty awesome boxes and enjoyed our freedom to just get lost. There are plenty of churches in Vienna and St. Stephens is the only one where you have to pay a little bit to look around. The rest of them are cool with you coming in and looking at their art and relics, but don’t walk around talking on your cell phone like an idiot.  

The highlight of my visit was going to be an evening outdoor opera that the city puts on every summer. I was really (I’m not lying) looking forward to sitting outside and watching a bunch of people singing songs that I hadn’t really heard before, but the damn Euro Cup cut the outdoor opera season short and I only got to see one opera for free: La Boheme…and that is only half of the story. The best part of the night was what happened before the opera. 

One of the best parts of the opera experience isn’t the opera itself, it’s the fact that lots of restaurants set up little booths and serve food and drinks. This isn’t a paper plate kind of deal, these meals are served on plates and glasses are filled with beer and wine. I like this kind of thing, eating and drinking. Anyway, because this was the first night of the season, it was crowded. (I’d bet it’s always crowded.) It was so crowded that finding a seat to eat your fancy meal was challenging, so humans being human started staking out their territory. I had an advantage, my wife. So we found a table, she sat down and saved our spot and then I went hunting and gathering like the old days. Other people dashed around like a really big game of musical chairs looking for a place to sit down. Two people decided that they would “hold” their seat by putting their meals down on a table and then come back with their drinks. This is something that wouldn’t happen in America because someone would probably steal your unattended food. And guess what? The same thing happens in Vienna. 
There was a lady walking around waiting for her chance and when she found it she pounced. First she shoveled everything into a plastic bag she had for such fine dining experiences, and then she realized she had plenty of time, so she ate the bits she missed tossing in the bag and then strolled off like nothing happened. I took pictures of the whole thing because I am a bad person who found the incident pretty awesome. If it had been my food, I would not have thought it was funny at all, but I’m not stupid enough to leave my food out for someone to steal. I don’t trust the better angels of mankind. Could I have stopped the lady and reported her? Sure, but I don’t think she was doing this because she had a gambling addiction, she looked like she needed that meal more than the idiots who left it there. 

I’m no criminal, but I would figure once you get your food it would be a good time to hightail it outta there, but this lady stuck around and kept at it. I don’t know if she got any more food, but she was still on the lookout for more. It probably got easier as the night went along because people tend to drink a fair amount when they are about to watch a free opera. I’m not saying that you need to be drunk to enjoy opera, but it might not hurt. 

Eventually, La Boheme started and I think there was one song I had heard before, but Opera isn’t one of those deals I really get. The music doesn’t seem to match with the singing and I don’t understand what is happening 80% of the time, but I do get to say, “When I was in Vienna I saw an Opera…La Boheme.” I probably won’t say I left early because it was cold and that I ran out of toothpaste and all the stores were closed because that will make me sound like an idiot. 

Hey Munich, Let’s put on some pants.

If there is a stereotypical version of Germany it is Munich. Munich is all the things that Americans think about Germany: Beer, sausages, oompa music, lederhosen, and young kids walking around in soccer kit. It would be too simplistic to say that is what Munich has to offer the world, but if you are visiting for a few days I’d be surprised if you came away from the city without drinking at least one beer, eating one sausage, hearing at least one oompa song, seeing someone in lederhosen, and at least 10 kids wearing soccer kit, but Munich has more to offer the world than great beer and oompa music, it has some great museums, one of the world’s best public parks, and plenty of ways to kill time. 
My wife and I were looking forward to seeing the city, but we were really looking forward to seeing our German daughter, Maike. Maike stayed with our family five years ago and she took some time to come down to Munich to play tour guide and show us around the city. We had three great days of catching up, eating really good food, and walking until the rubber on my shoes wore out. Maike made our visit extra-super-fantastic. (The only German word we picked up was super which is pronounced with a z like zuper. So I added another language to my resume of fluency.)

Most of our time was spent in the English Garden because it was very hot. The garden has at least two beer gardens, plenty of green space to run and play, and a river and canal to swim in if you need to cool off. There were a bazillion people hanging out in the park and we spent one day cooling off in the beer garden and one day sitting next to the canal with the rest of Munich. The only thing that can spoil a nice time like this is a naked old man or two. I don’t know why this happens, but it seems like there are a few guys who always think, “You know what? Not enough people get to see me naked.” In reality only one person should be seeing that guy naked, himself. Why punish the world with your obvious lack of exercise and dining restraint. Hey, I’m not perfect, but I keep my shirt on in public…and pants too, if you were thinking I might be running around with uncovered nether regions you are wrong. 
So while I was enjoying the sunshine by hiding in the shade with my wife, we were entertained by at least two older guys who needed to dip their twigs and berries in the water without any clothing restraining their man region. There is one good thing about these guys showing off their bodies by Elvis…I feel better about myself. 

The English Garden does have some explaining to do. Why is it an English Garden and why is there a huge Chinese pagoda sitting in the middle of the world’s largest German beer garden? These things probably have some historical rationale, but that might mean I would research something for my blog and if you’re here for the first time that will not be happening. 
Munich is also a great for just walking the streets (and I mean this in the most innocent way). The tall buildings provide shade and we were able to see tons of interesting old stuff. The streets around our hotel were crowded with people enjoying the Christopher Street party. I assumed Christopher Street was some German dude who had experienced some form of hatred for being gay, but through some research called posting bad information on Facebook I came to find out that Christopher Street was the name of the street where the Stonewall Riots/Protests took place. So for three days we walked through the throbbing crowds of drunk people dancing to techno music and wearing odd outfits, in other words, a normal weekend in Munich.

Munich looks really old, but most of it was rebuilt since 1945 because the USA dropped a few bombs there. (The next 6-20 sentences are completely wrong as far as recorded history goes, but a rewrite won’t happen because these italicized words are fair warning.) Munich was also part of the GDR (East Germany, the bad guys, during my high school years). The 1972 Olympics were held there and if you don’t remember how that went then you need to Google “1972 Olympics” read that and then read about “1972 Olympics Basketball.” If you are from Oregon you probably know the 72 Olympics as the Olympics where Steve Prefontaine almost got a medal but lost because he tried too hard. I could go on about Mark Spitz and the poster I wanted of him with his gold medals since my mom wouldn’t let me get the one of Farrah Fawcett in the red bathing suit, but my point isn’t how I wanted posters I never got and how the 1972 Olympics is burned into my memory, it is that East Germany was our enemy. Less than 20 years later Germany reunified and our nations became BFFs. This is what gives me hope for the future. Could my children someday visit Iran and see where the American Embassy hostages were held? Could they go to North Korea and see the Sea World where all the animals (fish?) were trained by Kim Jong Un? The world always seems like a big scary place with lots of people trying to kill each other and when you get out there, away from your televised news, you find out that the world is full of people just like you: Same fears, same passions, same need to be loved, and the same need for a shower and a shave.

So, I leave Munich with a feeling of hope for the future…unless Trump gets elected…then I’ll be moving to Mars with Matt Damon and farming potatoes. 

Damn…Amsterdam, 19 Random Amsterdamian Things

  1. I ate a pancake in the smallest restaurant in Europe. (Just like the Beastie Boys.)
  2. A pigeon hit me in the head as I walked through Dam square. This was odd for a couple reasons: The Dutch are as tall as me therefore the bird should have had plenty of practice around guys my size, I was standing still so it wasn’t even close to my fault. The only explanation is that the bird was stoned like the rest of the kids under 30 at Dam Square. 
  3. If you legalize pot in your state (Washington, where I live is one of the US states where you can buy left-handed cigarettes) Amsterdam’s casual drug use isn’t shocking at all. Now the prostitution…that’s another deal. 
  4. You can rent a booth in the red light district and go into business…I think. There were lots of “Rent me” signs in empty booths in the red light district. This surprises me because I thought the sex workers had lots of regulations to follow. So, if you are looking for a way to make a little extra spending money on your vacation…

    This lady wouldn’t move so I could get a better picture. She probably waited in line.

  5. The Van Gogh museum has online tickets…do not stand in line like an idiot. 
  6. The Rijksmuseum has tickets online, but there wasn’t any line at all. 
  7. The Anne Frank museum is not over-rated. You must go, but get your tickets about 60 days in advance or you’ll be waiting in line with the rest of the rubes. I think the website opens each months reservations on the first day of the month. For example, I bought my tickets for July 7th on May 1st. 
  8. Those auto-massage chairs in the airport are worth the 2 Euros. 
  9. Running up an escalator to pass time in an airport at my advanced age was funny for the first 30 seconds, but when I went crashing to the ground the two old ladies who were watching me were pretty scared. They said, “Are you okay?” How did they know to speak to me in English? Hmmm…probably because any European would know better than to do something that stupid. 
  10. No matter where I go I end up sitting in front of someone who is messing with my chair. They guy on our flight from Amsterdam to Munich grabbed my seatback three times to pull himself up to standing. The flight took an hour, nobody needs to get up that many times. It was like he was trying to launch me over a castle wall. 

    I got bacon and cheese, which was good, but my wife was smarter.

  11. Get the strawberries and cream pancake. 
  12. Eat a strupwaffle. Actually eat five of them. 
  13. Dutch is the funniest of languages. 
  14. Amsterdam needs better man-hole covers. 
  15. The liquids on planes thing is more strict in Europe, but you can take your pet rock with you.
  16. Canal tours with The Damn Boat Guys is really great, and not just because I got some free beer. 

    You migh pay 2 million Euros to live here and your neighbor might be on state assistance.

  17. The Dutch mix their housing. Wealthy people live alongside people who have subsidized housing. “Isn’t that how it should be?” our boat guide asked. Yep, that is how it should be. 
  18. If you find yourself in a Turkish restaurant where no one speaks your language, do not try the yogurt drink. Sometimes trying new things has a cost. 
  19. Old paintings and statues of musicians often portray them as drunks…things haven’t changed too much in 500 years. 

Playing Frogger in Amsterdam

If you survive the first five minutes of walking on the streets of Amsterdam you will probably be fine the rest of your stay, but if you hear a the ding-ding of a bicycle bell coming from an unexpected direction then brace yourself for an impact. You probably won’t be hit by the bicyclist, unless he is a drunk Englishman in Amsterdam for his bachelor’s party, but be assured–it is your fault. The Dutch will not hit you with a bike, they are too good at riding for that. Before I traveled to Amsterdam I read about the number of bicycles on streets, I read about being aware while you walk the streets, I read a lot, but nothing can really prepare you for playing a real life game of Frogger on the sidewalks and pavement of the city. (If you don’t know the video game Frogger then here is a quick description: Try to cross a street without getting squished.) Each time my wife and I approached street crossings like we were members of Seal Team 6: look left, right, up, down, behind, forward, left again, right again…announce, “After the guy in the white shirt,” and then run like hell across the street. 
I did not see a single accident while I was in Amsterdam and there is a single reason for that, Dutch patience. The Dutch are tolerant: Legal soft drugs, legal prostitution, and most impressively, not shouting or running over tourists who are operating on the false premise that a crosswalk means something in Amsterdam. The Dutch attitude about life seems to be, “I don’t mind waiting.” 
My first encounter with this attitude was when my wife and I hopped onboard a trolley to get to our hotel. I didn’t know how much a train ticket costs, because I’m an idiot. I didn’t have my money ready, because I’m an idiot. I barely knew where I was going, because I’m an idiot. The trolley was packed to the brim, and the driver closed the door behind us and said, “Put the money here when you are ready.” Then he started driving the trolley. It was as if he wasn’t aware that he should be stressed out. Which is probably why the Dutch live longer than people in the US do even though they smoke like they are all on an episode of Mad Men. 

Because I am American and have a built in drive to be first this country is confusing. It is the most chaotic and organized place ever. If Mogidishou and the German rail system had a baby it would be Amsterdam. Several times during our time in Amsterdam we accidentally cut in line. The first time was when we were at a fast food place near our hotel and I wanted to get a deep fried Dutch treat. We came in, saw a guy standing near the ordering place assumed he had already ordered and then began an awkward attempt at ordering food because we speak no Dutch at all. (We ended up with two plates of fries, two deep fried things filled with mashed potatoes and ham or sausage. It was very good whatever it was.) Only after we finished did we realize we had cut in front of the guy standing there. We apologized, he said, “No, problem,” and I believe he was telling the truth. To him it really was no problem. I, on the other hand, am taking pictures of everyone cutting in line in front of me while I’m traveling so I can have a post titled: People who cut in front of me, when my trip is done. Another example was when our boat tour was delayed, the guy in charge, Vincent, said, “I’m sorry this is our screw up, go into the bar and order a beer and I’ll pay for it.” Really? Okay, if you say so. If Vincent was German I don’t think we would have waited in a bar drinking free beer. 

How the Dutch became so tolerant of others is simple, “It’s bad for business.” I heard this from a couple people therefore it must be true. The Dutch are no longer running all over the world like they did during the Golden Age, but for a country no bigger than the average American state, they do pretty well. 

What this attitude does for the traveler is makes Amsterdam a very easy place to visit. It is safe. Almost everyone speaks English. It is not a particularly expensive European city and you are free to screw up without much pressure, but if you hear a little ding-ding from behind don’t try to figure it out, get out of the way, that bell tolls for you. 

Noticing Things in Copenhagen 

1. Groups of British women under the age of 30 are not nice. I overheard (I wasn’t eavesdropping, these folks were belting it out like Chile’s soccer team singing the national anthem) several conversations while in Copenhagen. Almost all of the conversations were about how much they hated one of their friends who was not there. It was like watching one of those Housewife’s of ___________ shows, but a live version where I couldn’t change the channel. 
2. I don’t trust men who nap on their bellies in parks. I don’t know what it is, but there is something not right about it. 

3. Chinese tourists are quickly replacing American tourists as the most clueless and ugly travelers. We’ve held the title for a number of years, but I think we will soon be number two in one more category. (Good thing we still lead the world in other stuff like military spending and prison population.)

4. Eating an entire Danish sweet roll meant for a family of six is possible if you are really dedicated.

5. There are some really funny words in Danish.

 6. When in Copenhagen get across the water to the food truck building. What a great place to eat…now if they just finished that bridge. (My apologies to the Danish people for indicating that they work slowly on building projects. I thought very little had been done in the three years between my visits, but most of what has been done is underground.)

7. I’m still afraid of heights and climbing this tower was a bad idea. It did get the old ticker going. (I’m not sure if I should post these pictures because one of my blogging friends recently found his picture being used on dating sites…and not by him…he claims. On second thought, anyone who finds these selfies helpful in their dating pursuits needs more help than I can give them.)

8.That statue of Hans Christian Andersen looks pretty solid until you try to climb all the way onto his shoulders. 

9.Everyone should visit Freetown Christiania. (The three rules of Christiania: No photos, no running–because running causes panic?, Have fun.) This place was an abandoned military base and some hippies came along and started squatting there, and 30 years later somebody needs to buy a broom. For those of us who believe there could be a utopian world out there if we could all just chill out and live in peace, Christiania is a realization that it can happen, but it would be a huge mess with lots of old dudes sitting around at 9AM drinking beer. 

10. You can get a magic rock through airport security, and you can sit on the floor with the magic rock between your legs while doing the splits. 

11.Biking is by far the best way to get anywhere in Copenhagen and therefore it should work in the rest of the world. Copenhagen doesn’t have Southern California weather by any stretch and they make the whole bike thing work. If you are a bike hater you need to come to Copenhagen and see it in action. 
12. If I were ever to run away from life Copenhagen is where you’ll find me. 

Copenhagen: The city not the chew

We traveled from Oslo to Copenhagen on an overnight ferry. The boat was one of those 11 floor numbers with hot tubs, bars, dinner buffets, and thousands of people trying to find a good deal in the Duty Free store. I prepaid for a dinner buffet thinking that it would be a good way to spend some time while onboard. I was about half right. It was a feeding frenzy. Imagine trying to get next to the stage of a Pearl Jam concert with a full plate of food, it was like that. I did get my money’s worth, which should be the subtitle of my tour. When I asked the waiter what drinks were free he said it best, “Nothing is free.” Wiser words have never been spoken by a multilingual waiter. 
This is my third trip to Copenhagen (aka the city I have been lost in the most), and my list of places to visit has not diminished. There is a vibe to this city that can only be compared to a very old version of Portland, Oregon. 

We walked through the spine of the city looking for lunch and ended up at my favorite food area near Norport. There is a permanent marketplace with lots of fresh food choices and outdoor seating. The sun appeared, we ate Danish open faced sandwiches, and relaxed. 
After lunch we walked to the waterfront, I was really curious about what it would be like down there since the last time I was here the plans for revitalizing the area were expansive. I was surprised, not by what had happened, but by how little had been done in three years. It looks like they added about 100 feet of work to the walkway and built three quarters of a bridge (and three quarters of a bridge won’t really get you too far). After my initial disappointment, it made sense. What I like best about Copenhagen is it’s relaxed attitude about life and I suppose you don’t get a Danish level of relaxed if you are driven to complete a huge building project in one year. The lack of progress on Seattle’s waterfront is nightly news back home…but here in Copenhagen I’d bet there isn’t too much angst about the bridge to nowhere. 
We climbed to the top of the Round Tower. Walked the streets and eventually checked into our hotel. It was laundry day, so I did my load of clothes, hung them up around my room and then took a little nap. 

We looked for dinner for about 30 minutes before deciding to eat hot dogs and it was the best decision of the night because there was a little concert area set up for the Copenhagen Jazz Festival. We sat down with our dogs, got a couple beverages, and then watched the show. The featured jazz performers were on their break while we got situated and then a bit of magic happened. Some guy got up, started belting out a couple tunes on his clarinet, and I turned to my wife and said, “Is that guy part of the group?” She couldn’t tell either. Here’s the problem with my jazz ear, I can’t tell good jazz from bad jazz. What I could tell was that this guy was really into it. He was blasting out some notes, some squeaks, and he moved around like he knew what he was doing so I assumed he was pretty good. When he stopped the crowd applauded loudly, which just goes to show that I’m not alone in understanding good and bad jazz. Then reality hit. He picked up a bag and started hitting up the people who were clapping for him. Some people gave him money and then the most Danish thing happened. The guy who ran the beer kiosk confronted the musician and told him to stop. (I assume all this through the body language because my Danish is limited to: Hello, I’m American and don’t speak your language.) Anyway, the musician stopped begging for a minute and as soon as the beer guy turned around, the musician/beggar went back to work on the crowd. The beer guy came over again and the process was repeated. I couldn’t help but think that this was the Danish attitude in a nutshell: There was a level of respect for the individual, but in the end, the guy was going to do what he was going to do. Nobody raised a voice, nobody called the cops, nobody got upset. When it was all said and done, the begging musician took his earnings to the beer stand and bought a big beer. (I’m thinking about buying cowbell and putting this strategy to work today. Wait for the musicians to break, start banging a cowbell, collect money, buy beer…). 

We got back to the hotel to watch Iceland lose to France in the Euro Cup. It was a little disappointing, but hey, I’m in Copenhagen it’s hard to stay bummed when you can say that. 

Oslo Observations

  1.  There may be no greater evil in the world than bus tourists. (Okay, this is a huge overstatement, but hear me out.) Bus tourists bring out the worst in mankind. This is a fact. Confine any person in a group and then let them free in an area with a limited amount of time to see whatever it is that they have come to see. Not only do these people now feel it is their duty to cut in line, push their way in front of polite people (me…at least 35% of the time), and cause everyone to act like John Snow crushed beneath a pile of dead people. Now the important question is: “Does the bus make people act this way, or are people who take bus tours naturally predisposed to step on your face to see the top of the ski jump?” This is a very chicken and egg philosophical argument that I will leave up to my readers who come here for the brilliant philosophical wonderings…men in prison who google searched “mob mentality.” 
  2.  The Norwegians say, “There is no bad weather, there is only bad clothing.” Okay, I want to update this saying to “There is no bad weather, but there can be if you are packing for a vacation during the SUMMER!” Come on Oslo! Give me a break. Let me see the sun shine with dry shoes. 
  3.  I would believe that is impossible to get drunk in Norway, but I have seen a number of men who were very, very drunk in public. These men must be millionaires because any form of alcohol in Oslo costs as much as a new Tesla. Norway has a way of forcing people to act in a more healthy fashion, they tax the hell out of anything they don’t want you to do. A beer at a bar costs between $10-$20. So if you want to get your drink on in Oslo be ready to take out a second mortgage.
  4.  Like many major European cities there are a good number of Romanian beggars on the streets. My wife and I have been fascinated by the beggars outside of our hotel. The hotel we are staying in is near the main train station and our breakfast restaurant overlooks the main square of Oslo so we have been watching the interactions of the beggars with interest. Now this may make me the worst person in the world, but I want to understand what is going on with these groups of people. I did a little research and read a few articles and then watched the people while I ate far too much for breakfast. According to the articles these Romanians have traveled to Oslo to beg, they earn about 200 Kroners a day half of which they send home (200 K is about $25 US), they live in large groups in small apartments, there are a number of NGOs assisting the members of the community who are homeless, and they are not organized by a mafia type organization they are primarily extended family units who are looking for a better life but don’t have job skills or language skills to get jobs. The news articles were split pretty evenly that these people were either evil or just victims of unfortunate circumstances. I suppose a truly compassionate person would talk to them and find out, but I don’t want my wallet to get stolen.
  5.  There is a national conspiracy to make people walk in Norway. I’m serious. Yesterday, I went to Holmenkollen, a big ski jump on the hill above the city. It was pretty cool and had a train stop called Holmenkollen so one would assume that the train stopped right next to the ski jump. You’d be wrong. The train stopped, we walked, and walked, and walked, and walked until we arrived at the ski jump. It was steep, and far too long to call the train stop Holmenkollen, a better name would have been Kinda Near Holmenkollen But Really About 2 Kilometers From Holmenkollen. Now, Holmenkollen isn’t the only example. Every metro stop is about five city blocks from a tourist attraction. You must walk, or catch a bus. The museums on Bygdoy (Fram, Kon Tiki, Viking, Norwegian Outdoor Folk Museum) are all spread out to make you walk to get to all of them. Could they all have been put right next to each other? Yes, certainly. This might be why there are so many bus tours in Oslo because fat people want to see stuff too. I don’t mind walking, but when the weather has been rain followed by heavy rain, followed by wind and rain, I start to get a little grumpy. I do believe there is a national conspiracy to make people exercise, there are signs on public transit of bad people playing video games or watching television and good people jumping off diving boards and skateboarding. 
  6.  Norwegians know how to do breakfast. The breakfast spread at my cheap hotel has smoked salmon, baked salmon, eggs with bacon, 10 types of fresh bread, fresh fruit, yogurt, granola, sausage, liver paste (terrible), coffee, tea, 10 types of fresh juice, cheese, sliced meats, salad bar…it is insane. For a country where eating costs $25 a meal, this excess of breakfast foods has turned me into a pig and I’m not sorry.
  7.  Locals dress in a very neat and fashionable way: Tight pants, slim cut shirts, and fancy haircuts. Tourists stick out in a crowd. For example, I’m the only person in Norway wearing a checkered fleece shirt. 
  8.  Outdoor folk museums sound like fingernails scratching on a blackboard to me, but in reality they are pretty cool if you give them a chance. The folk dancing is still pretty lame, but it brought out a million dollar idea: 1980’s Folk Museum. Think of how awesome it would be to visit the 1980’s. Instead of meeting a young lady churning butter you could talk to some kids plunking quarters in a Space Invaders game in a video game arcade. Or, you could visit a family watching Miami Vice on a 25 inch television. You could buy Wham albums at a record store. There would be phone booths, day glow clothing, big hair, and MTV would play music.
  9.  American city halls suck. The city hall in Oslo is an attraction. I can’t even imagine visiting any city hall in America and getting wowed. LA? No way dude. Seattle? Do we even have a city hall? Portland? Only if you like Portlandia. We need to take some pride in our public buildings. America’s motto shouldn’t be: ” We built that under-budget and on time.” 
  10.  No matter where I go I end up hating the people in museums. I show up ready to see paintings and by the time I get to the second room I’m already mad at three groups of people: The Bus Group, who move together; The Clueless Guy, who stands in front of every painting I want to see; and the Guy Who Takes Pictures of all the paintings using a flash. I should learn to take a deep breath and relax, but I can’t. If I ever get in a fist fight in my lifetime it will be in an art museum. 

Seattle to Oslo in 36 easy steps

Disclaimer: The Irresponsible Adult Tour (TIAT) is not a travel advice blog. Using TAIT as a travel guide will probably get you lost, arrested, strip searched, and jailed. The TAIT is exactly what it states to be: an irresponsible trip taken by two adults who should know better. 

  1. Buy airline tickets.
  2. Get to the Bainbridge Island Ferry without an accident since everyone in an RV has decided that this is the year to visit the mighty Pacific Northwest. Most RV drivers are between the ages of Moses and Methuselah and spend most of their driving time looking at the trees lining the highway and saying, “This sure is a beautiful place, Martha,” as he drives across the double yellow line into oncoming traffic. 
  3. Take the light rail from downtown Seattle to SEATAC.
  4. Regret taking the light rail from downtown Seattle to SEATAC as you discover you have entered the train car with a young man who is pursuing a rapping career by hoping someone on board will offer him a contract for rhyming words with truck. 
  5. Wonder if this train also serves Western State Mental Hospital as the rapper starts doing push-ups in the aisle, asking anyone who isn’t white where they are from, and dancing like he is auditioning for Singing in the Rain 2: The Light Rail Edition. 
  6. Feel bad for the rapper as I begin to believe he might be insane. 
  7. Stop feeling bad once four large security men enter the car and the rap artist begins shouting, “What about my First Amendment Rights?” (Sidebar: I believe your 1st Amendment Rights end when everyone on the train car is so worried about their personal safety their sphincters get so tight that if they were to fart it would make a dog whistle sound.)
  8. Pass through the TSA checkpoint and get extra searched because I have a screw in my wrist that set off the fancy new detector thing.
  9. Eat nachos in an African themed restaurant. 
  10. Board the plane and discover Comfort Class only means that you aren’t in Purposefully Discomfort Class. 
  11. Gloat when the meals are passed out because you registered early as a vegetarian and you got your bean cake with spinach before everyone else got their three choices of better sounding food. 
  12. Regret ordering your bean cake as your intestines begin to make growling noises that eventually become noises like refried beans in a microwave for thirty seconds too long. 
  13. Try to get comfortable and sleep. Give up and watch Deadpool for the third time, then watch The End of Tour for the third time. 
  14. Get “Jimmy Legs” (restless leg syndrome…whatever big pharma) so bad that you try sitting like a yogi. 
  15. Listen to a relaxing sounds app on your phone. The soothing sounds of waves gently caressing a shoreline make you have to pee defeating the entire purpose of the app. 
  16. Wonder what the hell the lady sitting behind you is doing to your chair. Is she practicing the drums? Is she having a seizure? 
  17. Hate the woman sitting behind you. 
  18. Eat more beans…start really regretting being a “vegetarian” for the purpose of getting your food first. 
  19. Begin the descent into Amsterdam. Wonder if Dutch is a made up language. 
  20. Remark to your wife that, “Yes, there are lots of canals and dikes in the Netherlands.” 
  21. Get off the plane at gate D 80 and walk to customs located somewhere near Spain. 
  22. Pass through customs and volunteer to do a survey with a nice young Dutch man. The survey turns from, “Would you use self-serve kiosks?” To what is wrong with people who think Donald Trump is a good candidate. 
  23. Walk to Gate D 85…about twenty feet from where you just got off the plane but after walking 15 miles. 
  24. Get told that your flight is now leaving from gate D 60. 
  25. Notice how good Italians are at cutting in line. I mean this as a compliment. They cut in line without any guilt. They never go to the end of a line. They have my respect. 
  26. Get a tongue lashing from a Dutch KLM lady because I didn’t get my pre-boarding ticket even though my ticket says, “Go to the gate…or ticket counter…” Okay, I didn’t read that part. Get help from a nice young man who says my last name is very Dutch. I say, “Friesland,” and that is where he is from! We are now BFFs. 
  27. Get on the plane, eat a falafel burrito…regret it. 
  28. Arrive in Oslo. 
  29. Can’t get my App to work so I can use the train. I show it to an older man in a ticket booth. He says, “Have you tried restarting your phone?” It works, he looks at me like I’m an idiot, but smiles like all Americans are idiots. I can’t argue. 
  30. Take the fancy train to the central station. Get lost in a mall looking for our hotel. 
  31. Find the hotel. Check in. 
  32. Go for a walk to the Opera House. Take some pictures. 
  33. It starts to rain Noah and the Ark amounts. We hide in a fancy hotel and act like we belong there. 
  34. Eat a traditional Norwegian dinner of Tika Marsala and Thai Chicken from a place called Yum Yum. 
  35. Get back to the hotel.
  36. Sleep for three hours and then can’t get back to sleep…blog. 
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