From Amsterdam, I headed to Berlin by train. It took about six and a half hours, and that was probably the most relaxing day I’ve had since Reykjavik. Watching the European countryside fly by out the window was so nice that I legitimately got off the train feeling like I’d just spent a day at the spa. Getting to my airbnb there was a piece of cake, since it was the first time I didn’t need to figure out transportation from an airport. It was out in Neukölln, a gentrifying ethnic neighborhood that’s pretty artsy but still a little rough around the edges. My host there, Michael, met me outside and carried my bag upstairs and then cooked us a delicious dinner of pasta with homemade pesto. We chatted about life and travel and future plans around the kitchen table for a couple of hours, and he patiently gave me a crash course in Berlin sightseeing since I’ve really fallen behind on my vacation research. The apartment was huge, quiet, and beautifully decorated. I absolutely loved, loved, loved my time in Berlin. I can’t even pinpoint why I liked that city so much, but it’s probably at the top of my return-to list. With only two full days there, I mostly just hit the tourist highlights- Brandenberg Gate, Berlin Wall, a few of the Holocaust memorials, Reichstag Building, Tiergarten, etc. But I think all of those things gave me a huge appreciation for what that city has been through and bounced back from in relatively recent history. Even the Mozart/Beethoven/Haydn monument I visited was riddled with bullet holes. It’s an incredibly unpretentious place, and despite the German stereotypes, every local I interacted with was remarkably warm and kind. I spent a half a day just exploring Neukölln, even, and really fell in love with that neighborhood.
I left Berlin on Thursday morning and hopped on a train to Prague. That train was set up a bit differently with the seats arranged in groups of six in little enclosures. I managed to find an empty one and spent a few minutes trying to muscle my bag up on the overhead shelf (and I’m pretty sure someone was Vining it from outside the train). Soon, I had company in the way of a very tall Norwegian named Magne. I had to swallow my pride a little to ask for help stowing my bag, but it ended up leading into a great conversation that lasted all four and a half hours to Prague. We swapped email addresses and met up the next day for beers, and I really enjoyed having some company for a change. And if there’s one thing I’ve come to really appreciate about Europeans, it’s their collective ability to keep a conversation going for any length of time without pulling out a phone.
Prague, like Amsterdam, is full of beautiful old architecture and huge cathedrals, and tourists! This is definitely the most Americans I’ve come across anywhere since I left almost two months ago (!!!). But the Christmas markets here are top-notch, and holy goodness everything is cheap. I think I’ve eaten more here than I did in the last four cities combined. Not sure how all Czechs are not 300 lbs., though, because this place is like 110% team meat and potatoes. Beautiful as it is here, I can definitely start to feel myself losing some steam. There are two adorable fat-faced cats at the airbnb, Mia and Vigo, and I find myself wanting to curl up under a pile of blankets and snuggle them more than I want to run around the city at this point. Only about a week left of this, though, and I don’t want to miss anything!
Speaking of the airbnb, this was my first time getting lost on the way out to one of them. For some reason, I got really turned around coming out of the metro station and wound up stopping for directions in two different hotels along the way. Then when I got here, I was supposed to ring the neighbor’s buzzer to get the keys but she wasn’t responding, so I went to the market on the corner to see if I could borrow their phone and call the person. The guy behind the counter didn’t speak English but thankfully one of the customers did, and she offered me hers. I got in touch with the neighbor, agreed to meet her downstairs, and the woman whose phone I borrowed told me she lived in the building and I should buzz her if I needed any more help. As independent as I like to think I am sometimes, having to rely on the kindness of strangers is a good reminder that we don’t have to live in a vacuum, and good people are not actually hard to find.
So tomorrow I’ll head to Vienna for a few days, and then Budapest after that. From Budapest, I’ll fly back to Reykjavik via a 20-hour layover in the Oslo Airport because I’m an idiot. I’ll be staying with the same family I stayed with back in October, but at a different property right downtown this time. We’ll see if I can resist the urge to go visit and kidnap Neighbor Cat. Olafur Arnalds also announced a last-minute show on December 18th at Harpa Kaldalon, a really tiny 150-capacity basement venue inside of the big concert hall. I managed to snag a ticket before they sold out, so that’s how I will spend the final night of this trip and I can’t think of a more perfect way to wrap things up over here.