It’s been quite a while since my last ‘Things I’m Getting Used To’ update, mainly due to the new website I’m building, the cat café review masterpiece-in-progress The Neighbor’s Cat. After a eureka moment in a Shanghai cat café where I threw out the comment ‘Did you know I have more visits to my website for cat café reviews than anything else I've written?’ things went from idea to fully fledged plan within weeks.
While the concept may seem a bit silly, it’s actually been a serious skill building experience as I simultaneously create a website from scratch while writing reviews and blogposts, teaching myself the basics of SEO/Google keyword search and getting a handle on all things social media. All while changing location every three to four days.
Despite all the time I am devoting to this endeavor, I haven't stopped musing on the magnificent and mundane aspects of long-term travel, lucky you, dear reader.
Fast Travel… is Happy Travel?
We are back in Europe for 'round two' in order to capture all the chocolate milk (Perry) and cat cafes (Paula) we missed last year. With only 90 days (the duration of time Americans can stay in Europe as regular tourists) and a lot of ground to cover, we are moving fast and furiously. Normally, we stay in one location for at least a week, but lately, three to four days is it. So far, the biggest downside has been the extra time I'm spending on logistics, so we have adopted a ‘divide and conquer’ approach with Paula responsible for lodging (using my well-tested methods for identifying decent, yet cheap Airbnb apartments) and Perry in charge of transportation via planes, trains, buses and ferries!
I was concerned we would burn out moving so quickly, but so far, so good as we have interspersed previously visited places (Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Berlin, Prague, Budapest) with brand new ones (Malmo, Hamburg, Cologne and Vienna). This has helped give us enough down time between tourist activities. On the horizon, we’ve got several new cities back-to-back (Krakow, Warsaw and Vilnius) in a short period of time, but if necessary, loins will be girded.
Speaking of fast, moving at this pace has seemingly accelerated time itself. It might be a side effect of our new ventures as last year our open days seemed to slow the clock while this year, the hours of work we are putting into our various websites have sped it up.
Rain, Rain Go Away
Even though we are nearly to 18 months on the road with countless hours spent outside doing everything from combing city streets to hiking mountain trails, we’ve rarely had rain affect our activities. I don’t even carry an umbrella because the need for one has occurred so rarely. I can remember one soggy excursion in Sapporo, but nothing really in last year's European travels.
I guess I just figured we were lucky (or invincible), but that attitude has come to an abrupt end. We’ve had multiple wet outings since we returned to Europe on August 17, and our rain jackets have been in such steady rotation, I keep it in my daypack instead of rolled up deep in a packing cube, which is where it usually lives.
I succumbed and purchased an inexpensive €5 umbrella to get through a day of touring Cologne, but then had to leave it behind as it was not one of those compact models, but rather a classic curved handle sucker. I keep telling myself I will buy one of those lightweight cheapies from H&M, but then forget until we get caught out in the next downpour.
I'm crossing my fingers for a spell of dry weather. Or a timely visit to H&M.
The Wheels on the Bus
We’ve always been budget-minded travelers, but our thrifty ways have been kicked up a notch with this second round in Europe. Our new mantra? FAF, or Frugal As F*ck. Pardon the vulgarity but I'm a big fan of economy AND alliterative slogans.
I love trains, but in Europe they are just crazy expensive compared to the bus. Since Berlin, the two of us have traveled to Prague, Vienna, Budapest and Krakow on the bus for less than what we paid for one ticket from Frankfurt to Berlin on the train.
Most of the trips have been pretty awesome (exception being the crowded bus to Vienna which got lost in rural Czech Republic) with comfortable coaches and gorgeous sights/scenery, like Orava Castle in the mountains of northern Slovakia.
From Vienna With Love
In addition to less costly transport, we are much more hardcore about eating most meals at home so we can have the occasional splurge like the eating out we did in Vienna.
Then, there was the Heuriger we visited with Bill and Judy.
What’s a Heuriger? I hadn’t heard of one either before we went, but the concept is somewhat similar to Italy’s agriturismo where a vineyard has its own restaurant where they serve their wine and local dishes.
On (yet another) rainy day, Bill and Judy, (fellow Americans we met at the Diverbo language program in Laubach, Germany and who used to live in Vienna), graciously walked the grounds of Schönbrunn Palace with us and then shared their favorite Vienna insider secret, Heuriger Nigl in Perchtoldsdorf.
After a ride to the outskirts of Vienna on an old-fashioned street car, we walked through the lovely village of Perchtoldsdorf to Nigl. Escaping the cold rain, it was warm and inviting inside, with traditional Austrian chalet-style interiors-- all rustic wood, yet at the same time, refined.
But it was the food and wine that really blew me away. Simple, yet perfectly prepared, we feasted on a smorgasbord of roasted pork with knödel and sauerkraut, fried emmentaler cheese and pickled vegetables, washed down with generous (look at our glasses!) pours of Gruner Veltliner. Even though the food was plentiful, we made sure to save room for apple strudel in vanilla sauce and crepes with apricot marmalade. I'm in rapture just remembering it.
They don't happen every day, but these are the authentic experiences that make for magical travel memories. Thanks Judy and Bill!
My Spanish practice, which has been ongoing for the past three years (but has accelerated since we've been on the road) has improved to the point where I'm almost ready to strike up actual conversation on the streets and not just skulk behind Spanish speakers attempting to practice translating conversations while I eavesdrop.
My big test will come this winter in Argentina and Chile when we hike Patagonia, so if you are a Spanish speaker who would like to help me out with a few practice conversations on Skype, let me know!
And finally, have you ever wondered what are the strangest things Perry and I carry around in our backpacks? Wonder no more.
Paula: Dish Scrubbers/Sponges
I'm seriously creeped out by the ghastly state of sponges we find in Airbnb apartments... I wouldn't scrub a toilet with the condition I've found some of these so-called kitchen scrubbers, much less a dish I'm going to eat off of!!! Thus, I travel with brand new sponges because they are lightweight, take up very little room and contain no mysterious microbes yet-to-be-named.
Not the flowers, but the yellow rubber gloves used for washing dishes, Marigolds are a UK brand which have been a constant fixture in Perry's life since he became an honorary 'homemaker'* in 2012.
Thanks for reading!
*The inside joke is that when we moved to the UK we were at the bank to set up our account, and after responding to the banker's question of his occupation as 'Student', was met with an awkward silence which was finally broken with 'Well, since I don't have that selection on the form, I'll just put you down as 'homemaker.'' Perry's friends in the US sent him the fake license plate as a gag. But the Marigolds are no joke.