The Metro: Transportation for the Soul

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I’m sort of in love with metros. Is that weird? I think it’s weird. 

Not the smell of over-heated metals rubbing through windy sub-urban tunnels. Not the awkward and illicit encounters late night rides usually provide. And especially not the whole disease ridden, modern-medicine fail, where the zombie-apocalypse starts aspect of the metropolitan transit systems.

London the Tube

Those scare me. What I love is the spider-web. You know, that physical trace of lines we dig like war trenches into the ground, publicly cementing the makeup of our society. It is the connection, the shuffling of hundreds and thousands into straight lines and round bends, all shuttling together and forward towards something. 

Uniformity in the dense complex of human society. Mmm.

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Land’s End: Escape From the City of Noise

The hum of a city can creep into your skin. The endless flow of wheels on pavement, of six-second car alarms, of cops hooting and pedestrians blocking your every move. The simple act of parking your car, if you have a car, can turn into the ultimate test (and in my case, fail) of patience.

In Oakland, the city sure creeps. But in San Francisco, that golden dream across a bridge, there is no end to the level of mental and soul-sucking interfusion that can occur. I love these places, I really do, but sometimes you need quiet. You need peace. You need a strong gale of wind stretched into a wide expanse of land or sea and the calm loss of all that hulking metal.

In search of such invigorating peace I reached to the very edge of San Francisco: Land’s End. Yes, it’s a clothing brand, but in S.F. it’s the most northern, far reaching point the city has to offer.

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The Old Masters

The air in this place is thick, saturated, as if the dust of time stands in the sky. The sun comes through in a haze of soft light; the buildings assume an ornate and translucent quality. And all day we walk around as if in a daze, the sky colored in such a vague enchanting way. The reality? Milan(o) has almost no pollution regulation. The miraculous, movie-quality effects that filter down and through the ancient city are, in truth, the thick particles of car exhaust, suburb factory smoke, and the visible bustle and hum of a city at large. It puts the quaint smog of Los Angeles to shame.

Piazza della Scala , Milano, Italy, Marco Polo, Da Vinci, Statue, LeonardoThe magical qualities of this fashionista cultural hub continue in all ways. The language lilts like doves skirting in low lying trees—Italians being arguably the loudest and most friendly of all Europeans. The food wafts from corner to corner and as our feet walk towards the inevitably gorgeous Piazza della Scala, we must pause in the pure beauty of this Northern Italian city. Continue reading

Salzburg: The City We Would Have Never Seen

There are wonderful travel days filled with long walks, hot coffee, and epic photo ops—the kind that reaffirm your expensive plane ticket. Then there are those rocky travel days filled with—well, even longer walks, cold coffee, and the haunting underbelly of urban life.  Every day you might not know what is in store but in the end it’s all about your attitude, right? I am of the mind that with positivity your day has a much higher chance of being magical. This is even more true when you are traveling—the stakes are higher, the lows so much lower (did you see Taken? Yikes!) and the bare essentials suddenly feel like gifts from God. Our trip from Vienna to Milan took all of this into account, from the caffeinated beverages to the questionable gas station sandwiches, and it looked like it would be quite the bummer. Continue reading

Saturday Night

Wall Art, Space Invaders Against Racism, Vienna, AustriaWe are sitting around a plastic table in a smoke filled room. The ceilings are high—old Vienna architecture—and the chatter loud. Deep Purple spins into the air, black wax in the corner of the room, just one record out of a box retrieved by our new German friend. His grandfather had them from back in the day. This is his room, one of four in a large flat in the second district of the city.

As I sit there and listen to the German banter, not really understanding a single word, I am reminded of how similar this all feels. I mean, there are hundred year old buildings just outside, the beer is almost twice as large as normal, and everyone has a strong mixture of love-contempt for American (read, my) culture, but I feel at home. Continue reading

Viennese Wonders

Europe holds some seriously amazing art.  Lavishly displayed in churches, museums, and galleries, the art is arguably the most pertinent reason to be in Europe.  Upon arriving in Vienna we decided this was place to check out something solid, something officially “art” worthy.  This manifested in a museum, the Kunsthistorisches Museum (say that ten times fast), located along the inner-circle of the city, a historically key section of Vienna.

Kunsthistorisches Museum ViennaConveniently located at the “Museaum Quartier” metro stop—Vienna is a very tourist friendly city—the Kunsthistorisches Museaum, literally the “Museum of Art History”, was picked out of a slew of amazing art sights.  We wanted the excitement of witnessing a famous painting, akin to seeing a movie star; the rush of adrenaline that comes when you see that specific piece that changed the course of human art.  Or something like that. We also wanted to see some renowned local (read Eastern European) work. Continue reading

Tri Stoleti

Charles Bridge Prague

Charles Bridge, to the right Tri Stoleti. Pretty, eh?

We wanted a solid Czech meal while walking through the castle of Prague. Authentic was the mindset, the word we had been told to seek out and consume. The Castle itself has only two real food options: touristy small-time vendors selling overpriced doner and romantic outdoor chairs next to hill-side vineyards selling super expensive decent meals. Neither was our thing.

By the time we reached the riverbank we were hungry. Ready for our authentic Czech meal, if we could only find a place. For this particular outing (I’m getting there I promise), we took a hint from TripAdvisor. It pointed us (literally) to a nearby restaurant called Tri Stoleti. It was tucked away among the small wandering streets, just a moments walk from the Charles Bridge, a major landmark in Prague.

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The Stag Moat

The Royal Garden Flower Bed Prague Castle Pražský hradThe Prague Castle is the definition of a tourist attraction.  As well it should be.  It has churches and parks, it has a concert hall and fountains.  Peacocks strut the grounds and hawks stand tethered to low-lying branches.  The castle is a labyrinth of unique grandeur—the modern understanding of a royal palace.

But if you are like me, and I assume you are—because, well, I’m really cool—then you will want something to do that is less crowded.  Nobody likes a sea of contracting lenses  flashing in no-flash areas or large umbrellas intended  to herd tourist groups that, in reality, block your view.  Don’t get me wrong, the castle and its wonders should be viewed in full (especially the iconic St. Vitas church), but you can get away from this loud poshy area right inside the palace grounds.

Yes. You can dip in and out—you can tour and stroll—ike a visitor and citizen, all at once. Continue reading

Meats and Sweets in the Czech Republic

There are many amazing things to see and do in Prague: bridge strolls at night, the castle at sunset, innumerable amounts of theater in epic churches. But the most satisfying of Prague delights is the food! Yes, really, the food! From savory to sweet there are a few edibles that we stumbled upon in the Czech Republic that cannot go unannounced!

Drink

Unfiltered Beer, Prague Czech RepublicI love beer. Mostly light, lime-oriented Mexican Lager (California girl). I would not call myself a connoisseur because most beers are too dark, too hoppy, and too bitter for my taste, so when we discovered unfiltered beer in Prague I approached it with an open mind, but a weary eye. It is a bit unsettling to see foggy beer. Yellow, foamy, and served in the largest glass you have ever seen (Thor sized?), it initially looked like quite the beverage. But upon tasting it I was surprised! A powerful smell, thick body, and incredible flavor all led me to another half-liter. Unfiltered beer may not look normal, but it is incredibly tasty. Our amazing hosts let us know that unfiltered beer is actually quite common in Prague and made me a true convert in one outing. Continue reading

Sanssoucci

The New Palace Postdam, Germany

They say it’s like the German Versailles. But smaller.

So, you’re in Berlin. You like it: the food, the people, the general way in which the streets bustle and hum. All the green. I get it, I know. But you get tired after some days; you become weary of the long avenues and historic sites, of long walks through the mile-wide parks, of endless drunken raves into the night. Time to mellow out. But where to go?

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The Berlin Wall: A City Rebuilt

Berlin Wall Germany

“The Kiss.” Of fame and legend.

Berlin.  The East-side gallery, AKA the “Berlin Wall.”  Rainy and overcast, I have three coats on and my hood is up.  Here before me stands the most physical remnant of a city with a serious history, with a bloody and confused story.  This wall is a living symbol of all that happened in the Holocaust, the Cold War, the stark division of a society that has thrived for hundreds of years.  It is monumental in the eyes of the world, in the history lessons taught throughout schools in Europe and the U.S.

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Café Cinema

Berlin is filled with coffee shops and more coffee shops. It’s a caffeine culture, one could say. Yes Starbucks is present, just like everywhere else, but the more enchanting experiences come from the more native joints. Locals gather to chit chat, double-fisting cappucinos and .5lt beers, and take a much needed break from the cold busy city. Travelers have a chance to warm up, recharge, and write their travel blogs (cough cough). The best spot we found for coffee and tea is Café Cinema.

Food

From the street, tasty tasty.

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Green Fairy, Anyone?

Absinthe Depot Berlin Germany liquor

Care for a drink? How ’bout some Absinthe?

The Absinthe Depot is a must-do in Berlin if you have a slight interest in Absinthe or want to pick up a bottle of your favorite liquor. They have a huge selection of gleaming bottles, from St. Germain’s elderflower buzz to neon green bottles of Cannabis Absinthe (yes, they make that), the Depot will leave you feeling like you know a thing or two about spirits. Warm and cozy with old-fashioned golden wallpaper and a cheerful Brit welcoming you, this Absinthe bar emits a romantic and slightly risqué feel. Continue reading

Flatlands and the Rockies

Fields of yellow, clouds of grey

Mustard grass and rolling clouds.

Big Sky Country, or so they say.  The earth stretches out flat here, endless fields of tilled land, crops planted in long straight lines. The earth bends at the far edges, it curves down with the sky into the horizon and the two fall off like a river in the distance.

Montana, in my brief and cozy experience, is a large, empty place. True American heartland; the highways are straight and well-paved, the sky stormy one minute and bright blue the next.  There is a serious lack of cities, with exception of Billings (100,00 in population), and yet Montana is the third largest state in the states. Continentally speaking.  It is just open, huge and wide and open.

We stayed in the ultra small town of Brady, population roughly one-hundred, and frequented the “big town” of Conrad, a busy metropolis of about 2,500.  We have family in big sky country, which is always the best excuse to visit somewhere new.

There are many cultural aspects of Montana, all important in their own way I’m sure, but what I found most alluring was the history of U.S. exploration in the area.  We went to the Lewis and Clark National Historic Interpretive Center, a beautiful fortress of a building that stands over the Missouri river. They provide the detailed history of the Lewis and Clark narrative: the Presidential decree of exploration, the assembly of a down n’ dirty team, the good times and bad.  From D.C. to the rainy shores of southern Washington and back again, they had original fur pelts and pages from the journals of our national heroes.

A first-rate museum, the Interpretive center got me in touch with the roots of the land, the U.S. as a whole, but specifically Montana, and even more specifically Great Falls.  The troop made camp in the plainsland, they struggled up the Missouri river, which we could see from the Center’s large glass windows.  They exchanged culture with the Native Americans, wheeling and dealing as equals. They got lost in the icy hills of the Rockies and killed bears with their hands (well…sort of). They were true wanderers of the highest kind.

I found in their journeys my own wanderlust.  I have always found that with new land I feel new things, I become a better self, deeper and wider and curious about our past and present, why things are the way they are.

And Montana, big sky country, it feels untouched. From the fossilized dinosaurs to the farmstead family dinners, somehow it seems that Montana has always been the same. The land may be sectioned off and plowed season after season, and there are a few more paved roads than there were when Lewis slept under the stars, but the feeling of vast expanse remains.

Sunflowers At Dusk On Tiber Dam