Friday at the Bar

La Fete des Vendanges, Neuchatel, Switzerland
La Fete des Vendanges, Neuchatel, Switzerland

My last night in Montreal was one of those perfect kind of nights out where, before the hangover kicks in the next morning, you can’t help but laugh and marvel at the way we dance through this universe.

I went out with a bunch of guys and a couple girls I had met at the hostel.  The drinks were cheap, the music was the average top 40 “dance” music, and we got there way too early.  Things didn’t start getting good until at least midnight.  I did a lot of dancing, which, for me, is basically jumping around and making weird hand motions, and I also did a lot of people watching.

There is an ebb and flow to what happens at the bar.  People surge forward to order drinks, and retreat back to suck them down.  The music builds to a crescendo, coaxing dancers to the floor.  Then a shitty song comes on, the floor empties, and more alcohol is needed.

Guys strut around like roosters, chest puffed out, hair gelled in place.  They swagger, they survey, they are territorial.  Honing in on a girl, the guys lean down and purr something about how this girl is the coolest girl at the bar.  When singled out from their gaggle of girlfriends, girls bat lashes and sip drinks.

A couple girls inevitably get too drunk and rub themselves on nearly every guy in the bar, skirts riding up to expose a bit too much leg.  One girl makes out with three different guys, propositions two for sex, one bewildered guy accepts, and they have sex in a bathroom stall.  Other girls in the bathroom point at his shoes, visible underneath the stall door.  An hour later the girl runs out in the cold, in her minidress, and her friend puts her in a cab.

Meanwhile, guys and girls take more shots and try their best not to look too silly on the dance floor.  Some have concentrated looks on their face, others have eyes closed, floating away with the alcohol and the beat.  The alcohol loosens bodies and enables getting low.  Foot traffic goes in and out; people take smoke breaks and catch fresh air to fight off the nausea from the mixing of different alcohols.

There is singing and fist pumping and sweat and laughter and life.  There is an invisible thread that connects everyone at the bar, all part of the same unfolding drama.  There is a feeling under the pulsing lights that anything and everything can happen and that it all will.  From each moment stems infinite possibilities, each as likely as the next.

It’s my last night of a week of travel; there is an excitement of being in a foreign city, with a foreign language, with foreign people who are now friends.  I buy shots, my friends buy shots, we dance, we try to chat over the music.  At closing time, we are herded out like cattle.  We walk home, in the freezing Montreal late night/early morning.  We stop for poutine and pass the square filled with homeless people.  It’s really not night anymore.  We get back and sit in the hostel living room, still in jackets, not ready for the night to be over.

I wake in a few hours, say goodbye to those who are conscious, and check out.  On the walk to the train station, I laugh and smile at the perfect orchestration of everything, still giddy with the chances and choices of this life.  And, most of all, I am grateful that I’ve had this week of exploring new places and things and meeting some new people.

Exploringly yours,

Alaina

You Might be a Traveler When…

Kurpark, Bad Aussee, Austria
Kurpark, Bad Aussee, Austria

While planning my upcoming trip to Montréal (leaving tomorrow!) some thoughts occurred to me.  One being: “Why am I not going somewhere warm?!”  But, I haven’t really planned anything (except how to get there and where I’m staying), and most of my friends at work think I’m crazy “brave” for going somewhere alone, for a week.  Through these conversations, and in my own experiences, I’ve noted some characteristics of the traveler

You might be a traveler when… Your bag is a backpack, and you carry it on your back.

Rolling suitcases are for business people in airports.  Travelers ensure all of their belongings transport quickly, easily, and efficiently on their person. And they have the sore shoulders to prove it.

You might be a traveler when… You only bring one pair of shoes.

The ones on your feet!  Even if they are snow boots.  Hey, there is no room for extra shoes in that backpack.

You might be a traveler when… You sleep in a bunk bed, in a room with 4+ strangers.

Minimum.  Whenever I mention that I stay in hostels, I typically get two questions: “Have you seen the movie Hostel?” and “Where do you change clothes?”  There is no privacy, hardly any quiet, and not boring.  But also – it’s cheap.  That’s a win!

You might be a traveler when… You book your transportation to your destination, and your accommodation there, and just kinda go.

Traveling tends to be more about the journey than what you do once you get there.  Yes, I want to see and do all the things but I don’t know what those things are yet.

You might be a traveler when… You take trips and not vacations.

Traveling is kinda hard work; I hesitate to consider it “relaxing.”  Staying at home in my bed would be easier.  To a traveler, traveling is a mandatory, often times intense, experience. It’s about exploration and discovery of a new place (and yourself).  Poolside piña coladas are typically not included.

You might be a traveler when… People ask you about your upcoming trip, and you’re not sure how to respond.

“Are you excited?!” my mother and a couple friends might ask pre-trip.  I don’t know – am I?  Sure, a traveler looks forward to the next trip, but excited?  I don’t know.  A traveler needs to go, there is a deep-seated desire to explore the world around her.  Whether that elicits excitement, or is a feeling that you care to explain to any person who asks, is up to the individual traveler.

There are many ways to experience a place.  But, in my mind, “travel” does not always come with a daiquiri on the beach (but, that wouldn’t be too bad eh?).  Travel should push you, pull you, mold you.  Travel is good for the soul.  Exploration is essential.  However you do it, just go.

“Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe.” -Anatole France

Food for thought.

Exploringly yours,

Alaina

Oh, hi there!

Waves on Lake Michigan; Grand Haven, MI

Well, hey there Blogging World, how’s it going? It’s only been about a million years since I’ve updated and I’m terribly sorry about that. It’s been such a busy summer that I’ve barely tackled anything on my Bucket List, (sadly). Alas, c’est la vie, and I really can’t complain, as I’ve been so busy that free time was minimal anyway.

What were you so busy doing?, you might ask. Well, let me elaborate…

  1. BELL Summer Program. After a month of “vacation” (aka, sliding back into my American life) and spending time with family/friends, I started up teaching (well, teacher assisting) summer school in Detroit at the William Beckham Academy. Detroit, Home of 8 Mile, is the #1 most dangerous American city, as ranked by Forbes.com, and one of the top 10 most dangerous cities in the world (along with Baghdad), as ranked by CNN.com. Yes, friends, I was busy teaching little rambunctious kindergarteners for 6 weeks in this fabled Michigan city. And while I was never told to “Fuck off!” or called a “fat bitch” by my students (like other TAs I know), I sure had my hands full. Five year olds do not listen to logic, nor do they respond well to a raised voice. Additionally, these kids needed more help than I could give; a number of them could not write their own name or identify all the letters in the alphabet. It’s hard to imagine that a 1st grader could not write her name, but I encountered it. My time there was difficult and tiring, but I miss those sweet little hellions more than you know.
  2. Logan’s Roadhouse. BELL ended nearly a month ago now (I can’t even believe it), so I was quickly on the hunt for another job… And I found one, hosting at Logan’s Roadhouse. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s “The Real America Roadhouse,” as they say, and we’re famous for steaks and peanut shells on the floor (woo.).

Beyond that, it’s pretty much been “business as usual” around here. I have managed to make it to 7 concerts (Brad Paisley, Something Corporate, Passion Pit, MGMT, Tom Petty, Pink Floyd Laser Spectacular, Lynyrd Skynyrd), and I have a few more up my sleeve. Believe it or not, I won concert tickets to Eminem and Jay-Z. The two are only playing a few shows in their respective hometowns (Detroit and New York City) so it will be a wild night in Detroit, (September 2nd!).

I have spent some time Up North and on the west side. My family went up to Traverse City for the Cherry Festival, and that place couldn’t be more beautiful. I hope to spend more time there in the future. Also, I ventured to Grand Haven for the Coast Guard Festival and the waves on Lake Michigan were 3-4 feet high! People were surfing them, for Pete’s sake! So I have managed to get in some travel. 🙂

One thing that was on my Bucket List that I did was learn how to golf! I really enjoy it, though I never thought I would. I’m not very good, but then again not too bad for a beginning lefty who is golfing right-handed. Hopefully I’ll get out to the driving range again this week.

I’m gearing up to go back to Austria, and can’t wait for another year of (mis)adventure. (Part of the reason I chose to make this post, to get the blog wheels once again turning.) I still have a number of posts in mind about my trip to Berlin, so I hope to get to those before I land in Austria.

Hope everyone is well.
Cheers,
Alaina

Czechmate: Adventures in the Czech Republic

Have you ever been to the Czech Republic? If not, I highly recommend that you go: it was everything I hoped for and more.

Two weeks ago, I started a journey with three assistant friends (Frankie, Jameson, Peter) to this country to the north for Easter Break. One week in the Czech Republic — three nights in Prague, and three nights in Cesky Krumlov. Prague, of course, was an obvious destination choice, being the capital and all. But Cesky Krumlov was recommended by the former assistant here in Bad Aussee, and I’m glad I listened to her.

My friends and I had heard a number of travel myths about the Czech Republic, and I’m here to tell you: they are true.

1. Prague is beautiful. The hostel we stayed at was slightly outside the Old Town of Prague, however the walk wasn’t bad at all. After we made it in to the Old Town, the architecture and sights bombarded me on all sides. “Eastern Europe” definitely feels different than “Western Europe,” and I like it. Additionally, we were there the week before Easter, so there was a huge Easter Market in the main square, and the people were out and about and excited. The atmosphere reminded me very much of the Christmas Markets in Austria. Although Prague is such a huge tourist destination, the amount of English I heard astounded me.

Now, if Prague is beautiful, I’m not sure what adjective I should use to describe Cesky Krumlov, a town in the Southern Bohemian region of the Czech Republic. The city looked as if it was taken right out of a fairytale, and I could have stared at the pink, cupcake-like castle tower all day. The Vltava River winds its way lazily through the town and definitely adds to the chill, hippy and — dare I say– Bohemian atmosphere of the town. Prague impressed me, but I’ll never forget Cesky Krumlov and the hostel built right in the town’s walls, the cobblestone streets, the sun shining on the river, the bears guarding the castle, the freshly fried potato chips in the town square and the beer. Ooh, the beer. (But we’ll get to that later.)

2. The Czech Republic is cheap. Being part of “Eastern Europe,” my friends and I had heard how cheap the country is. I believed such myths, but they rang more true than I possibly could have imagined. One night, the 4 of us got 19 beers for €30… that’s €1,50 per beer! In Austria, one beer is about €3,50. I believe that’s all I have to say about that.

3. Czech beer is delicious. Compared to American beer, or piss-water-drank-from-a-sock as I describe it to my Austrian students, Austrian beer is amazing. There are no light versions of beer and it all tastes crisp, refreshing and full of flavor, (the slogan of one Styrian beer, Gösser, is “Gut, besser, Gösser”… good, better, Gösser.). Beer, in Austria, is my drink of choice. My friends and I had heard that our neighbor to the north had some good beer, so we were eager to try it out. And one sip of that delicious Czech nectar, and we knew our beer drinking in Austria was ruined. The hostel in Prague served a unpasturized, local made brew. It was a dark amber color and very sweet. Pilsner-Urquell, which is apparently available in the States but I had never had, is a pilsner with a buttery taste.  And in Cesky Krumlov, we went straight to the source: the Eggenberg brewery (the name sounds very Austrian, no?). I got the dark brew, and it had a carmelly smooth taste which I very much enjoyed. Not to mention, the beer at the brewery was only 20 Crowns for a half liter…. which is less than €1.

The trip, in all, was awesome. I know that word is a bit cliché, but it’s true. The company, the country, the cities, the hostels, the beer (the beer!)… it was all fantastic. The four of us got along so well and we were always laughing and chatting. I couldn’t have asked for a better Spring Break. My only regret is not having spent more time, and sooner, in Eastern Europe.

In the basement, aka Party Central, of Hostel Marabou in Prague.
Crazy huge monument up on a hill that you can see from anywhere in Prague.
Easter Market in Old Town Prague
My crazy travel buddies
At St. Charles Bridge… (stolen from Jameson)
The cupcake-like castle in Cesky Krumlov (stolen from Peter)
At the top of the castle tower (stolen from Peter)
At the top of the castle tower pt. II (stolen from Peter)
A moat of bears! (stolen from Jameson)
Just bein’ cool in Cesky Krumlov (stolen from Peter)
Our fave place in Cesky Krumlov
Jameson and I pretending to be rhinos on Peter’s birthday (stolen from Peter)
Playing scenarios on Peter’s birthday… not sure what this is. (stolen from Peter, there are a lot more of these on Facebook…)

So, that was my Easter Break. Very enjoyable!

And for those of you who do not know, last Thursday, I got confirmed to stay for a second year teaching English in Austria! Next year, however, I’ll be in Graz, the second largest city in Austria and the capital of Steiermark (Styria), the best state in Austria. So I’m pretty pumped. A lot of American friends are staying on for a second year, including the two guys who went to the Czech Republic. Next year should include a lot more jokes. =)

Anyway, hope all are well.
Cheers,
Alaina