The Continentals

Day 18: Going to California

Netherlands to California

I don’t know how I managed to wake up without an alarm at the exactly perfect time to catch my 8am flight, but I do know that I was still intoxicated from the night before. To be fair, the “night before” was only four hours prior.

Animal was sound asleep in bed. It was good to see he made it through the evening.

But hey, it’s back to California! Three weeks of bliss have come to an end. We had some fun, didn’t we? We learned some lessons, had some laughs, and even cried a little.

Now it’s a return to the 8-5 cubicle job, Mexican food, and 875 high def channels of nothing. And it may be a while before I get a trip like this again since I borrowed vacation time well into 2008. Oh, but it was worth it.

Until that time -

Day 17: The Blowout

Amsterdam, Netherlands

This is it. The final full day in Europe.

The morning and afternoon were neat, but let’s skip to the self-defamation good stuff. We have money now, loads of it, unlike nearly every other country where we were on a stiff budget sometimes as low as zero dollars. So we’re treating ourself to fancy dinner and improv show at Boom! Chicago, a famous comedy house that’s a launching pad for aspiring MADtv and SNL actors (Seth Meyers, Nicole Parker, etc.).

When we went to purchase dinner tickets and found something that changed our lives forever. For 15€ we could buy an “all-you-can-drink” ticket that lasts for the entirety of the 3+ hour dinner and show. Need I justify each of our actions?

So we’re drinking. Two waiting for dinner. Two during dinner. Two after dinner waiting for the show. Then I lost count because the waitresses started bringing them to us four at a time because Animal tipped one 5€. We wondered if they would cut us off when we bought the drink card, but on the contrary, they tried to increased our consumption after we had lost that sentient look in our eyes.

The show started and this pleasant four-star restaurant experience suddenly became a drunken bar scene from a spaghetti western. The crowd was yelling out various things at the improv comedians and it quickly became apparent that Animal and I would have to step up to our A-game to keep up with these drunken Scots on the balcony. One of them was getting married so he was, obviously, dressed as a chicken and drunk as brewmaster on his last day of work. The improv group asked the crowd what they thought of Americans, and while most clapped and cheered, he kept repeatedly screaming “they’re a bunch of f**king puritans!”.

We’re a bunch of f**king puritans? Puritans… Those are the ones that think pleasure and wealth are evil, right?

So Animal and I are getting pretty sloshed at this point. In fact, Animal mentioned to me a week later that blacked out and couldn’t remember the end of the improv show. And we were up for another three hours afterwards. So everything I write from here on is brand new information to him.

We had too many beers left on the table, so we both grabbed two and headed out to the bar section of the theater. We were around for about an hour chatting with nearly every person there and making lots of world connections… only to be forgotten immediately. Animal clearly had no humanity left in his eyes. And I was probably the same, but I didn’t have a mirror and I wasn’t about to hand Animal a camera to break.

Speaking of the camera, I’ve never been so confused as when I downloaded photos from that night. Here is a fairly representative sample, and I still have no idea what I was trying to capture. It’s like a clown midget high on peyote took my camera for two full hours and ran around the city.

What was I taking a picture of…?

So here’s how Europe ends: Animal is blacked-out drunk. We’re right outside the Red Light District near our hostel. Hopelessly drunk tourists always get swarmed by drug dealers and thieves because they are an easy target. We’ve been seeing it for days. And now we’re that target.

In a few minutes three young drug dealers offering us “our pleasure” turns into eight or nine goons trying to take us to a “night club”. We both know the club will turn out to be a dark, blood-splattered alley. In a calculated move worthy of Bobby Fischer, Animal starts yelling about how he has 840 Euros and wants a good time. More shady gents come over and start fighting with each other over us, the catch of the day. So a group starts following or dragging Animal off one way (I can’t remember which) and I get pulled in another direction. Not in a friendly manner, either, they hold you up by the elbows and try to get you off your feet hoping you’ll go limp for the ride. But I’m tired and I have an 8am flight.

I yell over “I’ll see you in America!”. And Animal calls back “that guy loves speeeed!!”

Day 16: I, Amsterdam.

Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Lions in the street and roaming
Dogs in heat, rabid, foaming
A beast caged in the heart of a city
The body of his mother
Rotting in the summer ground
He fled the town.

Don’t stop to speak or look around
Your gloves and fan are on the ground
We’re getting out of town
We’re going on the run
And you’re the one I want to come.

One morning he awoke in a green hotel
With a strange creature groaning beside him
Sweat oozed from its shining skin.
Is everybody in?
Is everybody in?
Is everybody in?
The ceremony is about to begin.

This little game, is fun to do
Just close your eyes, no way to lose
And I’m right there, I’m going too
Release control, we’re breaking thru.

I am the Lizard King.
And I can do anything.

So we met this gent from Australia. Damn-dest thing. We thought he was a normal bloke, like you or me, but he just kept getting more and more off throughout the evening. Let me explain.

He was walking really close behind us on the street so we started talking to him and became fast friends since clearly we have a lot in common: the English language. He bought us some beers at a coffee shop (not a typo) and he mentions he’s only in town for one night and he tried to buy some coke for fun since he’s all alone and ended up with 50 euro in flour. “They saw me coming a mile away.” And he mentions his girlfriend of four years is sweating him being in Amsterdam. Animal asks if he’s going to marry her. “God I hope not.” Gewwww…

So after we leave the coffee shop he wants to see the red light district. Then he tries to buy coke again in the middle of the street and ends up with another 50 euro in flour and numb teeth from the taster.

So we arrive on the main strip with women of the night standing in the windows. Mostly they’re college girls trying to make a dollar or two (thousand) so they can become doctors, lawyers, and accountants. The red light district really isn’t what Animal and I expected. It’s real people! And then it happens… One girl we see looks twelve, at best. Like Interview with the Vampire young. So we freak out. We’re ready to jet. Things just got way too real.

So we start walking out and this Australian begins asking how “the transaction” works. “What if they’re on the second level window? You don’t want people to know!” Whatever, we’re walking and talking about various things, and out of nowhere he says “Alright guys. Nice meeting you.” Then proceeds to hop up to a second floor window and into his destiny with one of the sirens.

How do people like that happen? One day you’re a mild mannered human being, the next you’re trying to buy coke for the hell of it and cheating on your girlfriend of four years with a hooker.

As we exit down a side street we see comatose drunks being robbed blind and escorted off by drug dealers and thieves and God knows who else. The police clearly turn a blind eye.

I’m not sure I can handle the touristy parts of Amsterdam much longer.

Hey, not every post has to be funny.

Day 15: No Sleep Till Amsterdam

Prague, Czech Republic / Amsterdam, Netherlands

So instead of sleeping last night, Animal and I curled up with Sleepless In Seattle in a hostel common room. Then it was a Taxi to the airport at 4am and Amsterdam by 8am. We figured we could catch a few hours of sleep before attacking Amsterdam, but Tom’s Hostel won’t let us use our beds until noon. Even worse, we stepped out to get some breakfast to pass the time, but nothing opens in this trippy little town until 11am. I guess hangovers are expected. That’s a good sign…?

Amsterdam is the sort of place that is completely in love with itself, not unlike every state in America except Wisconsin. (Go ahead, try bragging about Wisconsin.) That’s a complete change from Eastern Europe, which is more like an attractive girl before she knows she’s attractive. That is to say, Eastern Europe will talk to me. Amsterdam is hot-hot-hot!, and she (…he?) knows it.

But Amsterdam is not all soft drugs and STD-free coitus. It has the Van Gogh museum… and… I think I saw another museum, too. Yah, there are definitely two museums.

And a casino.

In all fairness, we are visiting Amsterdam completely on the spur of the moment and didn’t really plan any excursions or sight seeing. There is an email in Animal’s inbox from me that says “I’m not into drug tourism, let’s skip Amsterdam.” But I’m easily swayed by peer pressure and everyone, and I mean everyone, at the hostels told us that we “have to spend a few nights Amsterdam before going home“. Plus with $50 flights, how could we not?

We went to the original Heineken brewery where you can experience being a Heineken beer in one of those fancy Disneyland-eque motion-rides. Though I got a little motion sickness when a bum threw us up into a mailbox at the end of the ride. The sneaky thing about the brewery tour is that they hire cute women to remember you and make you feel really good about yourself as you drink Heineken beer along the way. It’s Pavlovian conditioning at its best.

Tomorrow we’re taking the big plunge and visiting the Van Gogh Museum. Holla!

Day 14: In Transit

Krakow, Poland / Prague, Czech Republic

Getting back to Prague from Poland is a bit frustrating. Most train rides take 14 hours because of stops and layovers, but we found one little train that could. It’s an 8am ride that’s a direct seven hours to the center of Prague. Somehow we managed to wake up in time with no alarm clock.

In the afternoon we toured Prague Castle a second time to finally trot up 287 steps to the top of the cathedral, which has a spectacular 360° view of the city. Then we hiked around a bit in the Prague hills and headed back down to our hostel after a cheap McDonalds meal. McDonalds is still terrible, but better in Prague than the US.

Except that it isn’t our hostel per se. We decided since our flight to Amsterdam is at 6am, we’d just stay up all night and take a Taxi to the airport at 4am. No point in paying for a hostel bed, so instead we claim jumped other peoples’ beds. We took a nap in the evening in some 10-bed girl’s room that looked unoccupied. I hope they enjoy the smell of Tim’s feet on their sheets.

Tomorrow: flight to Amsterdam, then maybe some sleep.

Day 13: On the First Bus to Auschwitz

Krakow, Poland.

Historically speaking, Auschwitz has been good for two things: Schindler’s List and proving Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a complete ass.

That said, we visited Auschwitz and took the full day tour of all three camps. Up until now I thought that the five hour “Original Uncut Version” of Das Boot was the longest most depressing thing I had ever seen. I’ve been wrong a lot on this trip. It turns out that the extermination of over a million people in a 300 acre converted military barracks is more depressing than watching germans die slowly in a U-Boat. Hell, if I watched Das Boot again I’d probably laugh and cheer.

It is Easter Monday, so the Krakow buses aren’t running to Auschwitz. We caught the one and only charter bus to Auschwitz, which ironically enough people were pushing and literally fighting to get on. Half the line was turned away and our bus was packed full with no standing room.

Once there, we gawked and gaped at the places where various atrocities occurred: light deprivation rooms, starvation rooms, standing rooms (can’t sit for days), gas chambers, crematoriums, and the infamous “hospital” (hint: it’s not for fixing you). One thing we learned is that Jews, homosexuals, and gypsies were never burned alive. That makes me feel better…

My least favorite aspect of Auschwitz was the “medical” experiments on all the little gypsy girls. All other children were immediately murdered after getting off the trains. I also don’t like the blankets made of womens’ hair. If someone offers you a WWII era blanket, just say “no”.

It was a very bitter and windy day and dust from the ground was caking everyone there. We spent much of the time trying to clear our eyes from the stinging earth. And predictably at the end of the first tour, they informed us that the cremated remains were scattered to the ground around us. One teen girl’s response was “ohhhhh… shhh*t.” Check, please!

Since Tim and myself have decided not to plan anything ahead on this trip, we don’t have any Polish money so we haven’t eaten today. That starvation room seems pretty horrible right about now…

When we visited the toilet room, we were told that 50 people would do their business all at once. The guide played it up like it was a big deal, but to be honest, after being dehumanized in so many ways I’m pretty sure that would be the highlight of the day. If not humanizing in itself. Everyone could talk and laugh at doodie-jokes together, and the germans didn’t come in for fear of disease.

When the Soviets were about to capture Auschwitz, the Nazis blew up all the mass gas chambers which had been disguised as shower rooms. They could murder up to 2,000 people at once in these rooms in about fifteen minutes. The holocaust deniers point to this lack of evidence, but com’on…. of all the things to destroy when abandoning Auschwitz, isn’t it a bit suspicious Nazis picked the showers? I guess they didn’t want anyone mistaking them for cleanly.

So what do you say after visiting Auschwitz? It was… good? Fun? Interesting? I’d rather not give anyone an in for accusing me of finding the extermination of people groups “interesting”, so I’ll just leave it at this: No matter who you are and what you think, seeing Auschwitz in person changes you. Its grandiose and tragedy is inescapable.

Day 12: Deer Hunting

Krakow, Poland

As I mentioned yesterday, it’s Easter weekend in Poland and Poland is about 95% Catholic. So that means every point of interest, including food, is closed. We gorged ourselves on Polish Pizza yesterday, so that should hold us over until we can find something else. Banks are closed so it looks like won’t have the local currency again. You’d think we’d learn to get currency in advance. Although we did buy a Lonely Planet book called “Europe on a Shoestring”, which is useless since that is more than we have. We should write our own book called “Europe on Credit: Beg, Borrow, and Stealing Your Way”.

In the morning as we checked our email and booked our next hostel, someone put in a movie called The Deer Hunter. It’s a Vietnam flick with young Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken, and others. I want to get this in writing so I can remember it later: this movie is screwed up. I think it won an Academy Award for Most Russian Roulette Scenes. In the hour we watched it, there were at least three. And once you see that intensity, there is no going back. I don’t think I can ever watch any movie again without thinking “this would be better if there was Russian Roulette”. For example, Lord of the Rings would have been more exciting if Frodo and Samwise had to do a round of Russian Roulette while Orcs bet on their lives.

Krakow is bustling and beautiful, but the areas fit for tourist consumption are small. Mostly it is hailed as an uproarious college town and laws keep the police out of the students’ way (for the most part). But since all of the students went home for Easter we’re sitting here with 20 other people in the hostel trying to think of things to do. Tim and I eventually found a godless (that is to say open) supermarket and bought three bottles of Polish vodka. We played some drinking games and whatnot and went out on the town in the evening. Bars never close.

In other news, it’s really chilly here. I’m not sure if I mentioned this, but Tim left his only jacket back in Hungary.As if The Deer Hunter wasn’t depressing enough, tomorrow we’re off to Auschwitz.

Day 11: Easter Gone Wild

Czech Republic / Poland

Well, we’re really doing it. We’re heading off to Krakow for reasons likely known only to God. It’s Easter weekend and any way that goes, we’re screwed. Eastern Europe loves Easter like Tom Jones loves comeback tours. All stores, museums, and all places of interest will be closed until Tuesday. So we’re going to get to Poland having absolutely nothing to do, but at least we’ll be somewhere new. Plus some guy told us Krakow was the most “beautiful and fun city in the world”. We’re heard that about every country we’ve visited, so I don’t know why we would believe any one person in particular…

We’ve also heard from lots of people that the 7 hour ride to Krakow is notorious for theft. Passengers wake up with their pockets cut and their belongings nowhere to be found. It’s a mystery how this is done, but the theory is these terrorists drug you while you are sleeping with a mist spray. Allegedly the border of Czech Republic and Prague is a conflict zone of sorts and is particularly bad. But Tim and I have a plan. We call it Stinky Feet.

I think it’s pretty self-explanatory, but it involves using Tim’s socks to ward off any would-be intruders. We will get our own 6-seat booth and simply take off the shoes. Anyone inside will leave, and anyone outside won’t come in for fear of various apparent rotting corpse diseases inside.

With any luck we’ll be in Krakow late tonight with all our personals still on hand.

Day 10: Where have all the merrymakers gone?

Prague, Czech Republic

After a late night of clubbing, we were woken at around 7am (or at least it felt like it) by a hostel worker coming into our room and yelling “Pierce?!”


“Pay your bill and get out!!”

So a couple hours later we got up, packed up our things, paid the bill, and bought another night in a different room at the same hostel. They treat you great when you pay.

At every hostel we frequent, we are the deadbeats. We never have any currency when we first visit a country, so we can’t pay for hostels up front but we get reservations on the internet so they don’t turn us away. Then they leave notes for us and try to track us down for days until finally we pay the bill at the end of our stay.

After putting our stuff in the new room, we jetted off to climb a hill and visit Prague castle. But we were kinda disoriented and hung over and didn’t think to buy water before we hiked across town. Once we reached the castle we realized we were probably in stage 5 of dehydration (fatigue, cotton mouth, hysterical pregnancy), hadn’t eaten, and super tired from getting kicked out of bed. We don’t often plan ahead and this is no exception. Price of water at our hostel? 22 cents. Price of water at Prague castle? $3.

We toured Prague castle for a few hours and found it a delightful little violent place. It was Catholic castle and, I think, the capital of Catholicism before everything moved to the Vatican. Highlights include happy statues like the couple pictured above and a torture chamber complete with an early iron maiden. I’m not sure what the 10lbs balls with tiny iron hooks were used for exactly, but my testicles ache with empathy. “Take that, heretic!” Ha-ha!

Not sure what’s going on here, but this is sort of how I imagine pilates exercises:

“Dude, I stab at thee!”

The views were fantastic from the castle, overlooking Prague and various hills. Prague is absolutely huge, though the old town (touristy part) is only a small portion.

We napped away the early evening to make up for this morning’s abrupt start and tried out some different bars and clubs afterwards.It’s odd, but the main square in Prague has about 120 drug dealers blanketed about 15 feet apart from each other. It’s extremely conspicuous and they always approach us and offer “whatever we are interested in”. When they follow Tim he usually points to me and says “that guy loves speed”.

And I scored some for half-off. As if we need it.

Day 9: This Bud’s for you.

Prague, Czech Republic

At 4 am we arrived in Prague and found the hostel. Our hostel, the Old Prague Hostel, is in the middle of everything in Prague. It’s fantastic. Walking distance to any of the sights. And it has a party rating of at least four stars. Most of the hundred or so inhabitants were still up and about drinking (the hostel sells booze), puking (the hostel sells booze), and sleeping with each other (the hostel sells condoms). Brilliant!

In the morning we found that Prague was alive with pre-Easter celebrations and a ye olde festival in the main square. They were selling all sorts of shoddy crap made by skinny, pimpled blacksmiths that probably deliver pizzas the rest of the year. We bought some various pig products and were having beers in the old town by 10am.

The Czech Republic, or “The Israel of Europe” as I like to call it, has been fought over for centuries. It isn’t the beautiful architecture or the prime central location, but the crisp beer that draws so many imperialists to their borders. I’m talking Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen, and Plzeňský Prazdroj. These breweries have century-old recipes that can only be pulled from their cold, dead hands. Slovakia invaded and attempted for decades to get the brewmasters drunk enough to reveal their techniques before finally throwing in the towel and giving Czechs their independence in the 1990s.

After a day of museums, shopping, and drinking, we started drinking and pre-partying for the clubs at about 6pm. (Good beers are about 20 cents, so it’s hard to keep away.) The main room of the hostel is something of an orgy of world travelers swapping stories and… other activities. We heard of a mythical five-story club close by and headed out around midnight. Eastern Europeans don’t usually go out until 1am, bumping and shlumping until the sun cracks.

Funny thing about Prague women… they appear to like dirty club dance sweat. One kept rubbing her hands on Tim’s chest and then on herself as if it were a novelty. It was almost like those stories you hear about white explorers discovering black tribes in Africa and the Africans trying to rub the white off their skin.

One more odd thing…

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