Tuesday, 13 January 2015

18th April, 2014. Best Brno Beer.

Ivan lives in a castle with a big black dog named Mego he adopted in Seville. Together they trotted the Camino de Santiago and never parted since. He now dedicates his time to helping immigrants and baking friendship cakes. It is a slow and peaceful life.

The morning sun baked the grass and heated through the tall glass windows of his castle. We held up a cloth to the wind and let it flow down to the ground. Atop it we arranged the cake, eggs, bread with tomato and fruits. Together with Ivan's childhood friend he called "the Chinese man" we rested on the gorgeous Czech countryside. He told me of his travels with Mego as the dog chased down bees.

Most young people I met so far in my travels speak English to a level that surprised me. Ivan was no exception and that day we took a walk through Brno with his old English teacher, a man with a dress code from the 60s and wrinkles from many more years of meaningful adventures. He hitch hiked his way from California to Brno in the late 80s, armed with a Soviet journalist visa. Upon arrival he fell in love with the country and stayed, teaching English to the then Czechoslovakia.

He took us from beer to beer, pointing out curiosities on dilapidated mansions and ex-Soviet military bunkers turned into housings among the way. My very Spanish taste for wine broke down that night. The Czech Republic has the highest consumption of alcohol in Europe and beer after delicious beer, I understood why. While I still cannot pronounce their ř, my tounge has found the Czech inside me. I now need Czech beer in my life.

Friday, 18 April 2014

17th April, 2014. Guerrilla Gardening

One of the first things my host, Ivan, said in Brno - as we were standing beside a rotating phallic sculpture in the city square surrounded by bars overflowing with students drinking green beer - was, "I need to go make sure my friends don't end up in jail."

His friends were a group of students and interns, most of the Erasmus kind, who had gathered on a small patch of green in the middle of the city to plant a vegetable garden. As everyone knows, turning up the soil of a public space and pushing in some seeds is considered destruction of public property and can end with two years jail time. While surely interesting, I didn't really plan on witnessing the lush landscapes of a Czech prison this trip so while the students were busy emptying sacks of dirt, Ivan and I stood lookout.

There were activists of all backgrounds, French, German, Swedish, Czech and including one of canine origin, who's speciality was sniffing plants and quality testing materials. Instructions were given out in English and small banter occurred in as many languages as our rows of diverse plant species, cushioned inside the laboured soil. While I tried to stay out of it, two French girls seduced me with their assortment of paint brushes and coloured acrylics. Through their paint splattered brushes they imagined flowers on wood and the words "Welcome to your Garden" once in English and once in Czech. I took up a spare brush and huddled down with them to decorate the sign with with my own flowers.

Once the destruction of property was sufficiently restored, everyone patted each other on the back, snapped a few pictures and headed down to the pub. "Prepare yourself," warned Ivan. "Everything happens in a Brno bar." Unhinging the century old door and creaking down steep planks, we were welcomed by a haze of smoke so thick, the wooden chairs coughed out nicotine when we sat down. Though bad singers swayed on stools, the beer was the most delicious I have ever tasted and so we gladly stayed, drinking Czech beer, chatting, playing pool and learning my first words in their language.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

16th April, 2014. Contradicting paragraphs.

Anyone who has looked at a map knows that Austria doesn't have a sea. During the age of the empires, as Spain and England and Portugal were swimming in riches, flaunting their colonies and drinking their rum at the envious eyes of Europe, Vienna came up with a master plan. In the basement laboratories of breweries they fashioned a Frankenstein of sugar and colouring until from among the glass tubes emerged their own drink. They baptised it Innerländiche Rum and it is still brewed today.

Everything is monumental and proud in Vienna, every facade decorated in fauna and angels, flora and royals. Modern crowds bustle awkwardly while men and women dressed in powdered wigs and cloaks fit the city like silk gloves. Horse pulled carts trot on cobbles in front of symmetrical antiquity and tourists gape where decades before dictators marched.

Something about the city brought out my urge to write so I sat in libraries and cafes filed with students wrapped in scarves and intellectual old men wearing spectacles. Among changing sceneries and conflicting time frames, I scribbled on the blank page.

Viktoria and Lucia lounged under the high ceiling of their living room projecting videogames onto the wall. We played games on our tablets and computer screens, discussed the moral implications and messages only transmissible through the medium of games and introduced each other to queer music. All while outside the tall windows, Jewish men in woolly hats and curly hair hurried to the synagogue.

15th April, 2014. Language and Film in Vienna.

A couple of boys sat down next to me on the bus from Bratislava to Vienna, chatting in a language I could not understand. I was at first grateful as I could read Anna Karenina without the cacophony of other words. Then I realised I could understand them. It was a heavily modified version of German. As someone who was hoping to practice her German in Austria, I started panicking that I was so rusty. Yet when I arrived and met my hosts I realised my German was fine. Those boys were speaking a very particular Austrian dialect.

My host was a couple by the name of Viktoria and Lucia. They live in a 19th century apartment with high ceilings, a winding staircase, decorated with 70s paraphernalia. Lucia is a games programmer who once tried to solo travel Europe but only made it to Switzerland. Viktoria is an organiser for a queer feminist magazine with a passion for all things philosophy and games.

They showed me their university which actually turned out to be a palace but that is of no surprise in Vienna. Every building is it's own wedding tart of a palace. Underneath one of them, next to the opera house, you can find a cafe decorated with posters of golden classics and the entrance to Vienna's film museum That night they were doing a special of two 1930s film. The first was a Ukrainian documentary, known by the name of Entuziazm (Simfonija Donbassa), set in the city of Don. Known for its facial closeups and repetitive machine movements, Viktoria called it 60 minutes of coal going one way, then coal going another way, then hay going up, then hay going down. The second film was the first acclaimed surrealist film by the name of L'Age d'Or. It had a line up consisting of Luis Buñuel, Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, making it no wonder that the entire cinema was in crying laughter half of the time and laughing tears the rest.

After a few beers with a couple friends in another film-themed locale, German was the language that rang through our throats. The fears of that morning were gone and the girls joked I would end up talking to my old high school friends in Aachen in an Austrian accent. Either way, I was glad to be gearing up my German tongue after eight years of rust. It felt like coming home.

Monday, 14 April 2014

14th April, 2014. Grey Day.

When in a new city I try to use its language to navigate it but in Bratislava the language was all over the place. There was concrete next to plaster next to glass in the most random of ways. I was expecting to see buildings get older or the peak of a church that would guide me to the historic centre but all I could see were concrete high rises.

Eventually I made it to the old government building where they used to burn witches. Instead they now have a piano underneath arches. Someone was playing music on its coloured keys. I sat down to sketch and later tried my own hands at playing. The keys were battered from so many strangers' fingers but it was enough to retrigger my piano playing addiction.

Marek gave me just one suggestion, climb up to the Slavin. As I struggled up the hill, I crossed an equally incoherent suburb. I encountered no one on the streets and instead 19th century mansions, next to concrete cubes perforated by windows, next to Bauhaus style chalets. The majority of all of these lay abandoned, the ones that weren't were worthy of ambassadors and kings.

The Slavin is a graveyard and monument built in the 60s to commemorate the fallen soldiers who fought against fascism. I don't think I've ever been in a gloomier place than under the grey and sharp angled shadow of the communist era obelisk. Yet from among the gravestones was the most gorgeous view of Bratislava with all its incoherent beauty.

The grey day ended when I walked back to Marek's and we both sat down on his sofa to watch the colourful world of game of thrones. Hours after we were still discussing the episode and what it meant.

13th April, 2014. The Story of the Geeks.

There are some things people don't know about going to architecture school. The most important being on good nights you will have 6 hours of sleep and all-nighters will become a weekly habit. It is a nightmare but on this day I was grateful for my three years of training.

Three hours sleep before catching the bus in a country where all I can say is hello and thank you and the energy was still springing. Perhaps it was the adrenaline. The bus from Budapest to Bratislava was three hours but it came with big leather chairs, our own tv screen with an assortment of entertainment, newspapers and tea and coffee services. All four the wonderful price of 8 euros. With so many things to do how could I fall asleep?

Nothing describes Marek, my host in Bratislava, better than his apartment. In his living room there are busts of Strauss and Elvis surrounded by seas of bells. In one corner is a piano, and in another my bag rests against a musical organ. His bedroom is Lego heaven. Four shelves are reserved only for Star Wars, next to his Mac, a tiny Doc in a devorlean with a cheering Marty from Back to the Future, another shelf houses rows of Marvel and DC, and behind a glass casing is a full replica of Bilbo Baggins' Bag End.

I didn't see much of Bratislava as I spent the day nerding out with Marek. He is only 7 years older than me but when it comes to games and the internet, that is an entire world. Very few people of his age have seen Star Wars, and games were impossible to get. When someone got their hand on a copy from the Austrian or German border, everyone would copy it. No one cared that the entire underground geek market were pirates. In fact, piracy was state funded. "You had to really love the geekverse to be a geek back then," he told me.

After a meal of dumplings, cheese and bacon, we played some Scott Pilgrim. For the first time ever I started to question how much of my own fandoms were handed to me on a platter, sprinkled with marketing and niche talk. Whatever the answer, I still can't wait to watch the next episode of game of thrones tomorrow!

Sunday, 13 April 2014

12th April, 2014. The Last Night.

What would you do on your last day in a city you absolutely love? Eliza and I were stumped. We wandered past Hero's Square and into the gardens where we sat by a fairy tale castle. The pollen of the dandelions flowed through the air like snow to fall into the lake surrounding the island. Ducks painted stripes of black on the water and a busker played classics on a hammered dulcimer.

We spent a good hour laying on the docks in the sun, Eliza sketching the palace while I wrote. There I decided that this wouldn't be my last day in this beautiful city and coming back to live in Budapest for a few months is something that needs to happen.

Our group of patchworked travellers met up in a ruin pub where we decided to spend our last florents on arcade games and beer. Hopping around from bar to bar, we made a few friends including two couch surfers, Ali from Egypt and Camila from Italy, a British-Hungarian traveller and a mix-from-everywhere pilot. With my handy pack of cards we played a heavily altered game of war and chatted as old friends.

Eliza and I didn't get to the hostel until three in the morning. By four Eliza, Kieran, Bekah and Dave grabbed their taxi to the airport. I am back to being a solo traveller.