Students Only: Partying in the Black Diamond Library in Copenhagen

Black Diamond Student Party

While Copenhagen is famous for its architectural flare, one of the city’s famous landmarks is the “Black Diamond“. Built as an extension to the city’s ancient Royal Danish Library, the Black Diamond is a neo-modern 7-story addition which extends from the old library building to the city’s harbor/waterfront. It was finished in 1999.  Granted its nickname due to the polished black marble and dark glass used to design the building, it houses a theater, armies of book shelves and a classy waterfront cafe.

Black Diamond Student Party

The library holds a yearly event with a local students group which puts on a fantastic evening of music, drinks, and social mingling. The event is limited exclusively to students and their guests. This year it showcased a variety of wonderful musical performances ranging from a lone cello performance to well known hip-hop artists.

Black Diamond Student Party

While the individual library wings were closed (understandably) to the general audience, all of the open spaces were made available and filled with wild lighting, musical performances, and space to mix and mingle.  With large open halls and an acoustically friendly atrium crisscrossed at different points by flying bridges it made for a delightful experience. It is also interesting the difference a legal drinking age of 18 plays in enabling these sorts of events.  While still possible in the US, the lack of a need to ID, wristband, and police the event as well as the more responsible drinking behavior among undergraduate-aged students that results from the lower drinking age makes a huge difference. While you could hold a similar event in the US, it would definitely be far more challenging logistically and have a different ambiance as a result.

Black Diamond Student Party

The main performers were set up on the flying bridge that cut across the center of the atrium at the 3rd story.  It served as the perfect stage as the rest of the atrium consisted of wrap around, open air causeways which formed a large U before giving way to the ceiling to floor glass windows.  The main windows which stretched from ceiling to floor before warping into a large skylight offered a charming view of the harbor at night.

Black Diamond Student Party

A group of students from the Communication, Cognition, Film and Media Studies programs met up before the doors opened for a relaxing drink along the harbor waterfront. As the sun set we made our way into the Black Diamond.  It set the mood for the night.   Once inside we split into smaller groups as we explored the library (for most of us, it was our first time inside) before re-connecting to catch up on the week’s events and antics while listening to the various music performances.   The entire event was more than just music or drinks.  It was a beautifully executed experience and definitely ranks as one of my favorite events in Copenhagen so far.

Black Diamond Student Party

There’s something truly magical about a great concert series in a captivating venue.  The added effort the organizers put into building on the library’s native ambiance also made a huge difference. One surprising aspect of the evening was the number of international students in attendance.  Though University of Copenhagen has a relatively small international student population (in comparison to its size), the event was very foreign student heavy which offered a fun mixture of accents, cultures and personalities. Holding the event as a students-only event also ended up being a great thing.  It eliminated the potential social discomfort that often goes with attending a formal event and served as a fun way to bridge the gap between a more traditional event and student life’s informality. The event was an absolute delight and one I hope to participate in again next year. Have you enjoyed a concert or event in a particularly unique venue?  I’d love to hear about it in a comment.

**I didn’t take my camera with me to the event so the photos in this post were taken by Frida Zhang and are used/hosted with her permission.

Three Countries in 10 hours and New Years Celebrations

Flores, Guatemala

I didn’t sleep well.  I was nervous.  It was sometime around 4AM in the twilight hours of the last day of 2009. I had an early bus to catch, was traveling on a holiday, would spend time in 3 different countries over the next 10 hours, and had to sleep with my camera. Why the odd bedfellow?  In the absence of an alarm clock, watch, or other time keeping device – the internal clock on my Canon G11 was my sole time piece.  Luckily my internal clock held true, waking me a half hour or so before I needed to be up.

Sunset - Flores, Guatemala

I stretched, groaned at the odd noises one of the local birds was making, and then stumbled over to my locker.  A few brief minutes later I found a bench outside my dorm room and sat down, carefully making sure I had everything as I tied my shoes.  The sun had just begun to rise.  It was the start of a gloomy, but invigorating day.  The type that was made for travel – gloomy enough that you don’t feel like you’re missing something, but nice enough that downtime between buses etc. isn’t miserable.

From there it was down the uneven cobblestone streets to the waterfront where my Flores (Guatemala) -> Chetumal (Mexico) bus would pick me up at 7:30.  I confirmed my booking, then opted for a bit of breakfast at the small cafe next door.

Flores, Guatemala

As I sat down at one of the outside tables, I chuckled while making eye contact with a vibrantly colored, inquisitive parrot who was carefully perched (dare i say stranded) on top of the “Break Fast” sign.

There were a few of us out and about. All bleary eyed. All wishing we were still in bed. My food arrived, as did a bland black coffee just as there was a loud POP! Crackle! POP! From somewhere overhead.  Startled I looked over and up in time to see the large power pole begin to spark and smoke.  The two locals underneath it jumped back as I leapt out of my chair and got under the cover of the building, carefully eying the power line which stretched directly over the table i’d been sitting at.

The owner quickly grabbed a wooden broom, then ran around turning off all of the electronics as the power pole/line continued to smolder and throw off periodic sparks. Eventually it died down…just in time for the local who had previously been standing immediately under the pole to walk over and tentatively touch it.  Luckily, the danger appeared to have passed and with a wary eye I returned to my table, plowed through my food, paid my bill and made my way to the bus stop.

The bus ride itself wasn’t anything special.  A long trip with brief pauses ever hour or two.  Two quick stops – one at the Guatemala/Belize border and another at the Belize/Mexico border where we disembarked, paid a plethora of fees, then wandered aimlessly into the country.  The highlight, however, was a wonderful husband and wife who were traveling together. The husband was a scientist and professor at UNLV who shared a wealth of insights with me about climate change, recently discovered micro-organisms in extreme locations, and other like-kind scientific insights.  Our conversation was both fascinating and extremely informative which went a long way towards speeding up the trip.

Eventually we arrived at the Chetumal bus station, where we would book the second leg of our trip.  For me it was onto a 1st class bus for the 4 hour bus ride to Play del Carmen where I hoped my hostel reservation was waiting for me.  Unfortunately, the first bus was sold out, leaving an hour plus layover and adding to my anxiety.  Nervous about losing my reservation I found a tiny internet cafe in one of the Bus Station coffee shops, from which I sent a follow up/confirmation e-mail to my hostel.  “Please hold my spot, I am coming from Guatemala today! If everything goes according to plan I’ll be arriving sometime between 10-11:45”.

I was exhausted, smelled, and stressed. The last thing I wanted to do was spend New Years on a Mexican bus.  Luckily, the bus eventually appeared, was on time, and got me safely to Play del Carmen by 10:30PM.

Nervous about my reservation I made a B-line to the hostel and was relived to find that they’d received my e-mail right about the time they were debating giving the bed away.  I was in luck, they’d kept a bed set aside for me in one of the dorms. I’d made it before new years – and I was ready to celebrate.

In a small mealstrom of activity I washed up quickly, deodorized, changed and made my way up to the hostel bar.  A couple of dollars later and with a beer in each hand I set to the task of making new friends.  I quickly fell in with a Dane and some Aussies. As the seconds ticked by we counted down,  drinks held in in the air:  10, 9, 8, 7 – whew I’d made it! – 6, 5, 4 – What an amazing year.  I’d kicked it off in the Plaza del Sol 12 months earlier in Spain and now I already found myself saying goodbye to 2009 on a different continent, with equally delightful people after a year of incredible adventure – 3, 2, 1…..and then the rooftop bar exploded with a roaring cheer.   Hugs and high fives were exchanged, glasses and beer bottles clanked together and as one, people from all over the world celebrated the start of a new year and a new adventure.

After another hour or so at the Hostel bar, a group of us formed up and set out to explore a few of the local clubs.  Before long we found one along the beach with an incredible view of the ocean and great music.   For the next few hours we danced, drank, socialized, and exchanged stories.  At 4AM I realized I was quickly approaching the 24 hour mark and that I was drained of every last ounce of energy I had.   I said by goodbyes and made my way back to the hostel where I crawled into my bunk, let out a great sigh and drifted towards sleep.

Unfortunately, I was in the top bunk located in the very corner of the room, immediately between two large windows. The good news was, that the sunrise was spectacular.  The bad news was, that between the sunlight and eventual heat coming off the windows I was awake and drenched in sweat by 8:30AM.  Hungover, I set out to walk the beach and get some fresh air. To my amusement and surprise the party was still raging at one of the beach clubs.  With more than a few people passed out along the beach in front, the bar itself was full of people dancing.  Many were still in evening dresses from the night before, though most had long since lost their shoes.  Most of the guys were in similar form, though almost all had long ago abandoned their shirts.

Beach New Years Day

As I strolled along the beach I paused and couldn’t help but laugh.  Immediately in front of the club, half buried in the sand a reveler was sound asleep.  Passer-bys had decorated the individual with beer bottles, sand breasts, and upended cups.  The only sign of life was a periodic roaring snore.

Eventually feeling refreshed I made my way back to the hostel where the Air Conditioning had kicked in.  I crawled back into bed for a quick nap.

By 1 I made my way to the rooftop common area, where I settled in with a large water and my book.  Before long Daniel and Jesse joined me.  We exchanged stories from the night before, and I quickly learned that after I’d left Jesse and Daniel had continued full force.  As it turned out, much to Daniel and my entertainment – Jesse was locked out of his room.  With nothing better to do, we opted to head down to a beach front bar for a lone drink as we recovered.

Play del Carmen

Before long we’d stumbled on the site of a week long rave/music festival that was operating 24/7.  Set up around a resort’s beach front pool the area was packed with people dancing, celebrating, and relaxing. The scene was an incredible chance to people watch and full of entertaining antics.  Before long, someone volunteered to grab the first round which obliterated any hope we’d had for a relaxing 1 beer afternoon.  As the part picked up steam we drank, danced, and met an entertaining mixture of locals, travelers, and vacationers.   In what seamed like the blink of an eye 1PM had turned into 6PM which had bled into 8PM.  Hungry we tore ourselves away from the party long enough to make our way back towards the hostel.  The walk there was amazing, mostly along the beach,  and under a full Blue Moon.  Once back to the hostel we picked up a few more people, changed quickly, then found a near by dollar taco stand.  The jokes were hilarious, offensive, and often told around a mouth full of taco and Pacifico.

With laughter and salsa induced tears streaming down our faces we eventually finished dinner, before striking out to find a nightclub.  The first attempt was a failure…apparently night clubs didn’t care for one of the Australian’s ball-bulge-spedoesque-swimsuit, which set off another round of jokes and laughter.   Making a scene as we ambled through the street – often laughing hysterically or making odd faces – we eventually found a club that welcomed us with open arms…and free drinks.  From there it was on to the Blue Parrot where we watched a fire show, danced, and laughed at each other mostly because  Daniel, Jesse and I had all begun to lose our voices and sounded ridiculous.

By 3 we’d all started to hit a wall and eventually opted to limp our way back to the hostel and turn in.  If New Years Eve/Day was any indication, 2010 will be one hell of a great year.

Celebrating the New Year in Madrid

The small travel alarm I had with me let out a loud chirp ripping me from the throes of my quasi dream state. I’d mentally told myself I needed to be up early – which left me just awake enough to spring into action. Rolling over and silencing the small alarm clock, I quickly glanced around the room feeling a bit guilty. I was relieved I hadn’t woken up any of the others in the room. Apparently, the alarm was nothing compared to the trinity of earth shattering snores two of my fellow hostel mates and I had been responsible for over the previous 4 nights. Holding my breath I gently eased myself down from my perch in the back of the room on the top bunk bed. Making more noise than I’d have liked I quickly dressed – pausing to moan and rub the sleep from my eyes. I tossed on my backpacks and made my way to the elevator. It had been a late night and my train left far sooner than I’d have liked.

Half in a daze I checked my e-mail in the lobby before setting out into the crisp morning air. It was a cold, wet, gray day. It made me regret leaving Granada a bit less, for which I was grateful. Five minutes later I was standing on the Grande Villa scratching my head and hoping I was about to board the right bus. Eventually, I found the one I needed and after a quick five minute ride, disembarked in front of the train station. With a few minutes to spare I picked up a small box of Pringles and found a bench. Eventually the train arrived and I said my goodbyes to Granada. It was a bitter sweet moment. Effectively the end of my explorations and my latest adventure. From Granada it was back to Madrid for New Years and then onto a plane for the 12:40pm flight back to the states.

The train ride back to Madrid was comfortable. The scenery attractive. Having arrived at the central station, I quickly found my way back to the Musas Residence. I’d stayed at this hostel when I first arrived in Spain. There I settled into my room, showered, grabbed a kebab and began taking vitamins. It was December 31st – I knew I had a long night ahead of me, and with a 14 hour flight waiting for me on the 1st it was time to prepare. I read, napped, ate and drank water. Only venturing out to enjoy the city briefly for food or fresh air.

New Years Eve in Madrid

As evening settled in, there was a palpable electricity in the air. Everyone was excited and eager to begin the evening’s celebrations. Madrid has a reputation as one of the most exciting New Years Eve celebrations in the world and I was eager to experience it. I swung by one of the local stores which was still open and picked up two bottles of wine and another kebab before heading to the hostel’s kitchen/common room. There, after a bit of a hunt, I found a cup and corkscrew and settled in at a table with 3 other Americans – a brother, sister and their mutual friend. They’d just arrived from the Midwest and were eager to kick off their trip. We shared wine, stories and got acquainted – quickly polishing off a bottle of champagne and both bottles of wine. As we warmed up for the evening we joked, laughed and teased each other and the others who drifted over to our table. We decided to make our way out on the town and headed towards Puerta del Sol – Madrid’s New Years Eve celebration ground zero.

As we wound our way from plaza to plaza…and past bar after bar…we eventually found a fantastic little dive which had bathrooms in the basement, down a winding flight of stairs that resembled a dungeon more than restrooms. We paused for a side of olives, quick tapas and glass of Sangria before rejoining the throngs flooding through Madrid’s streets. Everyone was in high spirits and most of the Spaniards were dressed with colorful wigs and fanciful outfits as part of the festivities.

Starting to feel the bottles of wine we’d had earlier, I led us through the winding streets towards the Puerta del Sol. With about an hour to go, we found the entrance to the event…A barricade across the street with at least 6 police officers standing guard. We paused, taking in the sight, and quickly realized that instead of carding or giving people grief as they entered the police were handing out giant plastic cups to party goers. Not to be left out, we quickly backtracked to one of the entrepreneurs turned street vendor selling grapes (more on this later), beer and bottles of wine – expecting price gouging we were surprised to find a bottle of champagne was only 5 Euro. Hardly more than we’d paid earlier at the local supermarket. Two bottles and 4 large plastic cups later we were inside the barricades and working our way through the crowd. We’d managed to beat the majority of the crowd and as a result ended up with a great view of the main building (note the building in the attached video).

Once in position we settled in and waited, quickly getting to know the various groups around us. Some were Spanish, others were English, others Australian and yet others German. The square was packed and despite it’s great size quickly filled to overflowing. The dull roar of the crowd was deafening…and then the final countdown began. Marked by twirling lights we all stood, jumping up and down and shouting at the top of our lungs with 12 grapes in hand.

As the final 12 seconds of 2008 clicked by we quickly ate our grapes – one for each second. The 12 grapes signify the 12 months of the year and have become a fun tradition, albeit difficult to execute. Cheeks stuffed with grapes, Madrid ushered in 2009 with the roar of thousands of voices and one of the most incredible fireworks shows I’ve ever seen. As one the crowd jumped and cheered – pausing only long enough to steal a new years kiss – we watched as vibrant explosion after vibrant explosion lit up the evening sky. As the firework show subsided the crowd slowly began to untangle itself. Like water poured onto parched earth we flowed back out and away from the square en-mass. Heading in every direction and clogging all of the side streets.

After a quick pause I realized I’d lost the others. After a few minutes spent looking for them, I eventually gave up and undaunted slowly made my way back to the hostel – pausing as I met new friends along the way. Once back at the hostel I reconnected with the Americans and settled in for a few rounds of drinking games with a group of other travelers and hostel employees. Somehow time quickly slipped past and long before I was ready I realized it was 5am. With a heavy heart I said goodbye to three Italian girls I’d met (all from Milan) and crawled into bed. I had to be awake at 9am – there was an hour’s commute to the airport, and then the typical 3 hours advanced check in for international flights.

In rough shape I woke at 9. Half standing, half rolling out of my hostel bunk I crawled into the shower for a quick rinse before hoisting my backpack up and onto my back. The walk to the metro was easy. The stale metro air however, was not. With a grimace I purchased my metro ticket and waited for my train all the while fighting the urge to vomit and sweating in silent misery. It had been a good night. It was going to be a rough morning. As the metro train rattled along its tracks I paced at one end of the car as women nervously watched me. I quickly realized that my pacing – though necessary – made me seem nervous. Combined with my size (I’m 6’4″, 200 pounds), general appearance and two backpacks (one on my back and a smaller a smaller day pack strapped to my chest) the pacing understandable left them a little edgy. The whole scene was comical. The metro itself looked like a war zone filled with hundreds of party-goers in all different states – all bedraggled – making their way home.

Somehow, I managed to hold it together for 40+ minutes across 3 separate metro lines. Believe me when I tell you that when I reached the airport station I was the first one off. Like a lightning bolt I made my way to the surface and to fresh air. I never actually got sick…but it was a close thing. Another 5 minutes on the metro and I doubt I’d have made it.

Once inside the airport, I made it through security in a matter of minutes. So much for needing 3 hours! I grabbed a quick bite to eat, then quickly located a set of benches where I could stretch out. It was 10:30 – my plane left at 12:40. I took a quick nap and recovered some before heading to my gate. Luckily I arrived early. In some sort of odd Spanish form of efficiency the plane was boarded and heading towards takeoff by 12:35. Scratching my head in wonder, I shrugged and counted my blessings – it was a good thing I hadn’t arrived late.

The flight back was long…the planes old and the service mediocre. Despite the discomfort though, I didn’t mind. It had been an amazing adventure from start to finish – and oh what an ending.

If you ever have the chance to celebrate New Year’s in Spain head to Madrid. It’s without question, one of the most amazing parties in the world.

Prague Part 2, Vienna & Bratislava

Bit of time to kill before I catch my bus to Croatia, so hopefully I’ll get caught up! It’s brutal how easy it is to fall behind and I hate writing when things are not still fresh in my memory…but here goes!

Prague continued: The show and ballet I saw were both the highlights, but in general Prague is a very musical city. It was not unusual to find street performers which always livens up the experience. On the first day I explored the natural history museum. Quite a different experience than many of the others I’ve seen. The whole thing seemed stuck in time. The exhibits came in basically three different forms…the mineral exhibit, the early human artifact exhibits, and the stuffed animal exhibit. The early human exhibit was interesting, but fairly small. It consisted of a few old artifacts prior to and including the start of the bronze age and a bunch of bones. The mineral exhibit was large, but very different in feel as all of the gems were locked away in old wooden cases with viewing windows. It would not surprise me to learn that they dated back to at least the early 1900s. The stuffed animal exhibit was just that. Rooms and rooms of anything and everything they could kill and stuff…a very weird vibe to it, especially as some had not weathered well and as a result the various butchering cuts and stitches were becoming evident. The building itself however was gorgeous with a beautiful interior.

Night life – while I spent just about every night mixing and meeting people, I only spent two of the nights out at the main bars/night clubs. The first night I did a pub crawl. So far these have been a fantastic way to explore the city’s night life and meet other people. The crawl was lead by an odd American and his sister, and took us to 4 or 5 bars and clubs before ending at a night club. Both were friendly and the crowd on the crawl, despite being almost all guys, was a good group. We wandered the bars, hitting up some interesting ones, some dead ones, and some boring ones. At one point, while walking through the bottom levels of a club that was just starting to pick up, I encountered a group of friendly Nigerians selling weed and smoking it in the bottom part of the club. It struck me as really odd, especially since the people working at the club must have been aware of what was going on. Needless to say, I ended up back upstairs fairly quickly.

The second major evening out was my final one in Prague. I formed up with a couple traveling from England that were at the hostel and then set off to meet an Australian guy I had met in Frankfurt at a club recommended to me. To be honest, it was really bizarre. There were loads of beautiful girls on the subway and around parts of town, but at night in the bars and clubs they were nowhere to be seen and it was mostly tourists. When we arrived finally at the club recommended as a locals joint there was a massive line. I think we were the only 3 (4 once Brad joined us) foreigners in line. But, as we talked to the people around us it turned out the club was all inclusive so the door cover included unlimited drinks even though it cost a good bit more. We’d all hit up happy hour at our hostel and decided to check out another club instead – apparently one of the largest in Europe that was in the tourist district and a good 5 stories tall with different themed floors.

We set off for the club and after a brisk walk and quick tube jump we were there. The place was just starting to pick up. We did a quick walk through of all the floors and then because it was a bit brighter and completely ridiculous, ended up on the 3rd floor which was oldies with light up squares on the dance floor. There is nothing like a huge white dance floor with bands that lit up in different colors to the music. It was definitely fresh out of the movies. We grabbed a beer (the great thing about Prague was even at the club half a liter was only about 2 dollars US) and started dancing a bit. Before long others came out and joined us and we had stumbled into several others from the hostel including a big group of girls from the States of all places. We spent the next few hours dancing (during which I realized that the beer I had been ordering was 12%…ouch). It’s been a slow process, but I guess my ballroom stuff is finally starting to help me on the non-ballroom dance floor. Within about 15 minutes, I had two of the American girls repeatedly tell me how good I was and that they were intimidated. They would rotate intermittently throughout the night until the night club got so hot that I took my leave and headed out for air.

The Prague castle is interesting but was a bit disappointing. Overlooking the city it’s not a castle, even in the more Eastern Euro-German sense, it’s more a monstrosity with a wall stuck on top of a hill with large marshaling grounds and a cathedral in the middle. Still the view was beautiful.

On the day I caught the quartet in the small library that I loved I got out right around sunset and made my way down to the river. Luckily there was just enough cloud cover to make for a few fantastic minutes as the buildings and trees reflected on the river water and cast everything in a rosy hue.

The main Prague cathedral was pretty impressive with fresco and gold paint everywhere. They definitely were all about the gaudy look. The inner city itself was beautiful with a great mix of architectural styles. Many of the buildings had fantastic doors with a very old, medieval, almost castlesque feeling. It was also really interesting to see how many small courtyards there were and in many cases there were arches and small walkways between the streets creating a kind of interconnected maze. There is also a large astrological clock in Prague which draws a lot of tourists on the hour for a little animated show. The clock itself was beautiful…the show was dumb. It’s just a bunch of figures on a circular piece inside the clock. Two small doors open and they walk up to the window and look out as they revolve past.

It’s an odd thing how in Prague and Vienna to a lesser extent they often build right up to/around their cathedrals. They usually, but not always, still leave the public square part, but it can also be a ways away from the cathedral.

Vienna: Vienna is a very different city than Prague. Every bit as beautiful as Prague, if not more so. It still has the rural industrial feeling but the inner city is composed of large grass areas, squares, and ornate buildings. You can see the wealth that the rulers had and invested in the city in their massive palaces and buildings. While some of the buildings are gothic, most have been designed with greco-roman architecture in mind. In fact one of the main buildings (I believe it was the Parliament) is a massive building that was obviously based upon the Parthenon in the Acropolis though it also has distinctly Roman elements (two curved, sweeping walkways to the entrance). Located between the walkways is a huge statue of Athena with various figures at her feet. I believe it’s closely based on the statue of Athena that was originally located in the Parthenon. At each of the 4 corners of the building’s roof there are huge bronze chariots with horses in motion. They are elegant and beautiful.

Located in the heart of the city is the palatial area which now spreads between the city hall (a stunning gothic building) and the old palace which is now a set of classical reading rooms, modern library, set of museums and galleries. Between the two sets of buildings there is a huge park with gardens, statuary, another much smaller greek building, and large grass areas. Off to one side mirroring each other with fountain-filled gardens are two identical buildings which are now used as art and sculpture gardens. These buildings are massive and incredibly elegant.

Beyond that area are Vienna’s wandering streets. In the older parts of town each building is strikingly different though they are all based on the same uniform architectural style. Most of the facades have some sort of figure or scroll work supporting, surrounding, and adorning every window, corner, and door. On some of the buildings the null space is then painted with ornate images. The theaters and opera houses are exactly what you would expect and right in line with how i envisioned them. They fit right in with the rest of the Viennese theme.

While I would have liked to have seen a show like I did in Prague, many were expensive or playing odd pieces I didn’t have a desire to see. I did however attend an Opera at the old opera house. The ticket was 2 euro for standing space, which while a fun thing for a quick peak at the house and the show, was definitely NOT the way to see the opera. Despite enjoying the show, at the first intermission I took my leave, my legs were killing me, it was hot, the view was poor and the acoustics were marginal (we were located all the way at the back in the top). While not as small or ornate as the opera house in Prague it was definitely very impressive.

I met an Englishman who was killing some time after having plans fall through. He was staying at the hostel, but had lived in an Austrian town a bit outside of Vienna for a while a bit back. On the day I’d set aside to tour the city, he was eager to join me, and offered to play tour guide. Apparently, he’s also a fairly proficient musician (level 8 cert) and about to start a masters program in linguistics. As we wandered the city he had all sorts of fun tidbits to share. In addition to covering the bits I mentioned above, we also walked through a large outdoor market street which runs all week long. While there we were passing a wine shop selling (I believe it’s called Vino?) and we stopped for a drink as he introduced me to it. Made from the thicker parts of the wine that they sift off it is apparently only available a few times a year and because of how it ferments cannot really be exported or sold elsewhere. I tried a red, he had a white – it was a potent wine, but also had a champagne feel to it. Much thicker than wine, it would settle if you left it sitting for more than a minute or two. It had a much sweeter and juicier element as well. All around a very pleasant drink.

Later, again ready to rest our feet after hours of walking, we made our way to a small dingy coffee shop he had found during his time in Vienna. The sign looked like it was straight from the 40s and the interior was dark, musky and brown. The walls had mismatched wallpaper, which definitely came from a wide variety of mixed fashion styles and decades. (It reminded me my childhood when my grandparents would take me to the old Brown Derby for hot chocolate. This place though was much older and grungier.) In some places the wallpaper had peeled off…in others it looked as though it had burned and in others people had written all over it. The chairs and tables were piled into the place and the lighting was marginal. The place was fantastic! We made our way to a corner and ordered our coffee and rested our feet. I felt as though I should be madly writing an opera, book, or poetry.

Yesterday I decided to check out Bratislava (some of you may remember it from Euro trip) – located about 50 k (or miles I’m not sure) from Vienna. It is a 10 Euro round trip bus ride and takes about an hour and a half. Lewis (the guy I’d toured Vienna with), Sarah (A kiwi girl I bumped into in Prague and saw again here in Vienna) and I were preparing to set out when we also picked up another American (his name escapes me at the moment). We set off, caught the bus and were in Bratislava by noon with open minds and high hopes. I’d heard that it was worth a visit but not worth an overnight stay. That was an exaggeration. The city itself is an industrial mess with a skyline that is interesting only because of the number of smoke stacks. It has cheap multi-story residential buildings being built and smog. The old city itself has one or two beautiful buildings. The rest are built in a very simple, very plain architectural style that was generally bland and boring. Even the castle perched up above the town on the hill reminded me more of a Holiday Inn than a castle. We explored the city for 2 hours or so, then looking for more to see and feeling like there had to be something we were missing started looking at postcards…unfortunately, everything on the postcards we’d seen. The only really cool thing was a set of bronze statues they have built on/into the streets. One is a camera man peaking around a corner, another is a classicaly dressed figure leaning on a bench, and the third is a chubby construction worker up to his shoulders in a manhole leaning out.

Hungry and done with the city we looked for a restaurant. We’d each converted between 5-15 euro into the regional currency. For me that meant my 10 Euro got me 330 or so SK dollars. Initially we’d expected to find keepsakes, have to pay for museums etc. No such luck. Not wanting to take the hit transferring it back we looked for a restaurant with what might be regional food willing to pay a bit more than usual to get rid of the notes. The place we found must have been an old monastery or wine cellar. It was a a maze of small rooms that wound down into the earth with small domed ceilings, brick walls, and odd paintings on the walls. We settled in, ordered, then waited eagerly for food…which unfortunately ended up being nothing like what we ordered. The waiter completely messed up two of the 4 orders (I think he just didn’t want to cook the pork knuckle i was going to try) bringing us instead plates of spaetzel with goat cheese, and another with sauerkraut and bacon instead of the goat cheese. Not having the time to wait 40 minutes more for them to correct the order we made do and ate hungrily. After finishing the meal we still had some time to kill and a few SK left. Somehow we found an old lady selling a bottle of Bratislavian mead (of all things) and decided to try it. We chipped in for the 150 SK we needed for it, got 4 cups and headed down to the river (Danube i think) where we sat around waiting for our bus, reflecting on how shitty a town it was and commenting on how odd the mead was. I guess at least now I can say i’ve been there, and it only cost me 20 Euro.

Next stop Croatia. Catching the 6 o’clock bus this evening. Wish me luck!