Friday, June 24, 2016

France, je t'aime

I bid farewell to England and took the ferry across the moat to France. I have always wanted to travel by sea, only so that I could say "This ship has sailed!". And to get the feel of the adventures of yore, when brave men sailed into the unknown in search new lands and fortune, without knowing if they'd fall of the edge of the earth, without Google Maps. My departure from Portsmouth was a rather staid affair. None of the hoopla and fanfare that you see in the movies. No waving and cheering. No foghorn. No "weigh the anchor!". Just a quiet rumble and we slowly pulled away from the bleak gray coastline of southern England.

The next morning dawned crisp and clear. Land Ahoy! That was France ahead. It really wasn't that exciting as the journey had only been 12 hours (covering a measly 200 km) and I had slept through most of it. Besides, there were no icebergs or pirates in the English Channel. While the sea journey was quite uneventful, the rest of the day made up for it. I saw the good and the bad of the French in a space of a few hours.

They ferry was delayed by an hour because of the annual summer strike by French workers. And so I missed the only bus to Mont St Michel, my day trip plan for the day. I decided to rebook my train ticket to leave St Malo at the earliest. The attendant grumpily took care of it, but I wasn't told that the changeover in Paris involved changing stations. Thankfully I read the tickets. When I reached Paris, I headed to the info desk to inquire about transit options to the other station. The guy at the information desk spoke to me as though I had insulted his mom or had stolen his girlfriend or both. Why do people whose job is to help people behave like that?

I got on the metro as instructed, but when we arrived at the metro stop, the train didn't stop as the station was closed because of the strike. Now how could Mr Grumpy not have known this? Thankfully a guy on the subway helped me figure out a new option and I made it onto the train just in time. I arrived in the beautiful Loire valley and hopped off the train at Amboise. I made my way out of town and into the countryside towards my Airbnb reservation. After a good 45 min of walking, I was there. Only problem, the place didn't exist. I looked at my Google Map, it said I had arrived. I didn't have a phone to call the host. Eventually I knocked on a neighbor's door. I was a little embarrassed to have interrupted their dinner. But they were very kind and I asked to use their WiFi. I got through to the Airbnb host, but couldn't understand his French. One of my new found friends offered to speak and translate for me. He figured that I was on the wrong street and began to give me instructions. But the older lady in the house insisted that they drive me over. I love the French! Finally, I had made it to the Airbnb place. In hindsight it was good that the strike led me to book an earlier train. Else I would have been wandering the countryside all night.

After the roller coaster of a first day in France, it was time to explore the country. I had seen the gorgeous French countryside on TV when I used to watch the Tour de France. I was quite stoked to ride those same back roads through quaint towns and over rolling hills of golden wheat fields. Loire Valley is famous for it castles with Chonenceau and Chambord among the finest. Also, soak in the small town ambiance in Blois and Amboise

My last stop in Europe was Paris, the city of lights. Paris was absolutely gorgeous and Paris after midnight was magical. With the Euro 2016 on, the party was definitely in town. The piece the resistance was the Eiffel tower of course. It is arguably the most recognizable landmark in the world. The view from the top at dusk was spectacular. But Paris was more than monuments and museums. It was about the ambiance. I loved walking the streets, past the cafes with chairs facing outside. Seriously, it's a thing in Paris where people don't face each other, but sit on the same side of the table, facing outside. A long lunch in one such cafe, watching the world go by, secretly or openly judging others is a must do thing in Paris. Throw in a rude waiter and your experience of Paris is complete.

The French are surprising friendly. Or maybe I had really low expectations. Much has been made of the French attitude and ennui. But I didn't see much of it on display, except for the odd waiter or help desk attendant. I wonder how they'd have reacted if I had said that Calif wine was better than the French wine. And they really appreciated my efforts in speaking in French. It was probably the first time they had heard French in an Indian accent. Now I speak only a little French. So whenever I initiated a conversation in French, they would just keep talking. And I would have no idea what they had said. But French sounds so beautiful that I didn't want them to stop. I once told a lady to just keep speaking because it was especially mellifluous. I think I would want to listen to bed time stories in French.

Paris was an amazing end to this trip. I had my doubts and fears with the strike, floods, Euro crowds, terrorist warnings, etc. None of it mattered. France, truly je t'aime.

Shout out to Lenka and Gabo for hosting in Paris.


Thursday, June 16, 2016

Musings over Afternoon Tea in Britain

As I stood in line at the immigration counter at the airport, I wondered whether the Brits stood in line when they arrived in India. I believe it's a little hypocritical of them to check others before letting them in into their country. I thought that maybe I should at least get a free beer as restitution for the plunder they carried out over the centuries. Though minor detail, I should have taken up my case with the Portuguese, not the Brits. I looked around and noticed that all the signs were in English. Obviously. But this is the first place in Europe that had only one language. At least they should have had signs in French as well to placate the French for losing out as the universal language.

The first port of call was York, famous for its medieval setting. At the station I was disappointed not to see the famed queuing tendency of the Brits when the train arrived. But I was well pleased to see rules strictly observed on the stairways. Basically you can only walk up/down on the left side, with prominent 'No Entry' signs on the right side. And even if one side is packed, no one would walk on the other side. Given that people depart a station in waves and arrive in trickles, it made no sense to have both lanes to be of equal width. While on the topic of no sense, what's with sinks that have two faucets, one for hot water and one for cold water? I was left constantly alternating my hands back and forth to prevent scalding and freezing of my hands. Also, they use a curious mix of metric and imperial units of measure. Distances are in miles and elevations are in feet for instance. All things aside, the one thing that I applaud the Brits for is the double decker buses. Why haven't other countries thought of that? It's such an efficient use of space. Plus you get great views from the upper level.

Getting back to York, after that important tangent. The York Minster is one of those places where you spend more than 5 min just because you paid a hefty entry fee and you linger around pointlessly to get your money's worth. Couldn't they tell you that the church has been converted to a theater temporarily? All you could see was the ugly back side of stage sets. The main draw of a Gothic structure is the feeling of space, created by the tall slender columns. Here, there was scaffolding everywhere. I darted for the exit once the respectful 5 min was up. The bright side of leaving right away was that I caught a 'free' history tour of the city. A colorful guy talking about the colorful past of England was an ideal combination. Potter around the medieval streets and along the city wall, and York is a great day trip destination.

The next stop was Bristol. It is where London hipsters go to retire, just like Calif hipsters retire to Portland. It has a great vibe or maybe I'm just biased towards hipsters. A visit to the pub felt like gate crashing a family gathering. The atmosphere was that homey. There were some guys who seemed to have come straight from their evening run, all sweaty in their running shorts. We need these pubs in Calif. Once I went to a neighborhood dive bar in Santa Clara and I thought I was at a convention of AA rejetcs. While on the topic of drinking, we know that the Brits love their tea (PS: The Brits stole tea from the Chinese). Afternoon tea in a garden was an experience to savor, just like thinly sliced scones slathered in clotted cream and jam. A light drizzle and ominous clouds weren't enough to deter the Brits from being outside just a little longer. After all, a light drizzle would be considered good weather in Britain. Blessed are those with low expectations.

The final stop was London. That's where the party was. It was the Queens 90th birthday. I am beginning to believe she is immortal. The queen is so old that her memory is in black and white. Meanwhile, thousands of royal aficionados lined the street for the parade. The event though was a yawn fest. It was a lot of doing nothing, just like the royals I suppose. Occasionally a few guys in funny hats marched by. It was the kind of party where, even if you didn't have any expectations, you'd disappointed. I saw the queen for about five seconds, too short a time to ask about that Kohinoor diamond she's been holding hostage. I'll get her next time. And just like that, the parade was over. The fans of the royals obviously continued the party by excitedly discussing her green dress, her wave and her (purely imaginary) smile. While I will never understand the concept of royalty, I applaud her longevity in her role as the queen. Waving to peasants a few times a year is a tough life indeed.

After the extremely mild dose of excitement at the parade, it time to wander the streets of the great city. London is an eclectic mix of cultures and architecture. There is no old town in London. The city is a mix of beautiful Victorian and Georgian, ugly 60s and bold modern. London, or England in general, is expensive for a tourist. It was a good thing that I had a few extra pounds on me from all the desserts I had eaten over the past few months. One penny saving tip, attend a service or free organ concert in St Paul's Cathedral for a free viewing of this impressive church.

Meanwhile, Catholics looking for a good Sunday service should head to the Jesuit parish in Mayfair. I'm not playing brand ambassador here, but it was a wonderful service and I met some awesome young adults who hung out at a nearby pub thereafter. It was great to get an insight into the Brexit debate that is raging in London. My take from the discussion was that Brexit was mainly about immigrants. And these (probably liberal) young professionals felt that the 'exiters' were just a bunch of xenophobic racists. I'm not entirely informed about the whole debate, so I'll pass no further judgement. But one things is for certain. The immigrants have definitely improved the food scene in England.

With that, I cast off across the moat to France. Au revoir!

Cheers to Matthew, Nikhil and Milroy for hosting!


Wednesday, June 08, 2016

High Life in the Low Countries

The last time I was in Brussels, it was 7 years back, a layover on my way to the US for the first time. I guess layovers don't count as being in a city, but the thought of that layover did bring back some great memories of that eventful journey. This time was a layover as well, but it's much easier to get out of a train station and stroll around the city for a few hours than say leaving the airport to stroll around and voluntarily having your body cavities searched a second time when back at the airport.

Stepping out of the station you are greeted by fully armed soldiers and armored vehicles. Not an entirely warm welcome to the capital of Europe. But I guess better safe than sorry? It's complicated. Though I wonder why they wear the green camouflage in a city? Maybe dress in red and yellow, the colors of McDonalds, if you want to blend in an urban environment? Brussels, meanwhile, was having a litter festival. Who knew that the drab grey streets could be livened with thrash in bright colors?

Brussels was where Tintin was created. My favorite comic book series. Seeing Tintin pictures in windows and alleys brought back some fond memories from childhood. Blistering barnacles, I only had a couple of hours to see the highlights of the city. I spent most of it in the central square, the grandest in Europe. I took in the 360 degree panorama of ornate facades and majestic spires. And it was time to head to catch the connection to Bruges

Moving on to Belgium's number one destination. Bruges is a lovely medieval city with narrow cobblestone streets lined with gingerbread houses. It was lovely to walk around the back streets and canals, everything silent and a mist, albeit a little annoying, adding to the ambiance. Sometimes a long walk through a maze of quaint homes, with no fixed plan, is just what the mind needs. To be with your thoughts, to pray and to just be. At the end of it, I stepped into a cozy coffee shop and ordered waffles and chocolate, followed by beer. Not a gourmet combination, but it covered all things Belgian. 

Netherlands
Finally! Finally, I saw how beautiful life could be if the conservatives in the US would finally let go of their unfounded doubts and entrenched mentality. I'm not talking about weed or the sex shops, two of the most famous things in Amsterdam. I'm talking about biking.

Amsterdam is a city on bikes. Everyone is on bikes. The old and the young, men in suits and men in speedos and women in heels. Though almost no one was in spandex. Europeans consider biking as a form of commute, not a workout. Kids are strapped in the front or the back, or sometimes two in a box in the front. I hadn't seen two on a bike (passenger on the carriage) since I was maybe fifteen. One guy was multitasking with a phone in one hand and a cigarette (maybe a joint?) in another. If he had more hands, he would probably be drinking coffee and painting as well. And there were stretched bikes and cargo bikes. A few were cheating with electric assisted bikes. But it all counts. This is a city on bikes.

I decided to join the city on two wheels and rented a bike. The city looks so much friendlier and more fun from a perch on a saddle. Except when I almost got hit by a bike, a scooter and a ped at the same time. And watch out for trams and tracks. Red lights are suggestions to yield rather than stop. It's incredible that there are no crashes. I'm not sure if the Dutch and the Italians are somehow related. It's chaos on the streets. Even old ladies go like there's no tomorrow. Though some are so old, they probably think that that is the case. Everyone is zipping by with a #yolo attitude. The dedicated bike highways make for smooth riding, until you reach cobblestone streets. I love walking on a cobblestone streets, but definitely don't want to traverse them on a bike. Unless it's a full suspension mountain bike.

I loved the vibe of Amsterdam. It was the best city for ambiance. It felt alive. Amsterdam felt local. The tourists were not obvious with their tour guides and buses. Though the canals were patrolled by gangs of bros and woo girls. Also there are no obvious tourist sites for a selfie and duck face exhibitions. Except for the Anne Frank museum where the lines make it look like an Apple store on release day of iPhone 17 (I don't know what number they have reached).

I wandered around this wonderful city taking in the sights and sounds. Dutch sounds remarkably like English. It felt like I should  know what they were saying. Just that they started clearing their throats suddenly and uttered something incomprehensible. It was time for a break. But I was too scared to go to a coffee shop as I was apprehensive about baked goods in case I got baked. I learned that coffee shops = weed, and cafe = normal coffee shop. I once had to go to a pharmacy and had to make sure that it was a pharmacy and not a 'pharmacy'. It's just that I'm not into weed and the only joint I have rolled is my ankle. And isn't it a fun coincidence that the city coat of arms is a triple x and their main clock tower was built in 1620? Amsterdam is just fulfilling it's destiny.

A must visit in Amsterdam is the Anne Frank House. I had read the Diary of Ann Frank just a couple of years back and it's still fresh in my mind. The pain and suffering of a teenager, a family, a community, a nation and the world can never be forgotten. Seeing the places described in the Diary was a profound experience. We have to remember that both Anne and Hitler were human. But their lives were so different and have been remembered so differently. We are the choices we make. It's also a stark reminder of the dangers of excessive nationalism. It's important to remember that Hitler was human. Not a demon or an extra terrestrial. He could rise up again anytime from among us. Those who consider themselves good need to be vigilant. In the guise of a strong leader, we could have a tyrant lurking. A visit on the 72nd anniversary of D-Day added to the sense of occasion. Let us truly mean the 'never again'. Pro tip about tickets. The tickets are sold out online weeks in advance and the in person queues are long. But you can get tickets on the day off if you check online at about 9am.

With that, from the highs of Amsterdam, I head across the sea to the big country on a small island.


Friday, June 03, 2016

To the Alps!

On to Germany. The current economic powerhouse of Europe, a country that rose brilliantly from the ashes of WWII. First up, I was disappointed that the train from Prague to Munich was late by over 2 hours, causing me to miss my connection. We seemed to have fallen behind only after we had crossed into Germany. Not a good first impression of the famed German efficiency. Though I later learned that Germans over estimate their efficiency and build no slack into their time train time tables.

My initial plan was to visit Berlin, but after Rome, I had developed a general aversion towards big cities. So I decided to go to Bavaria instead. However, I did get a chance to visit Munich for a few hours. The former base of the Nazis was flattened during the war and the city has been rebuilt in a mixture of old and new styles. Strolling around a city for a few hours doesn't do justice to any city. But I did get a feel of Munich's beer culture around every corner. I guess I checked off the most important item on Munich's to do list.

My decision to choose Bavaria over Berlin was richly rewarded. The first stop was Benediktbueren. A nondescript town that for some reason popped up in my Google search. My couch surfing host gave me an authentic Bavarian experience. A house set in the countryside with views of the mountains was just the beginning. There was a Bavarian breakfast of sausages, pretzels and of course beer. Some of them even dressed up in traditional clothes. Another experience, a hike up a mountain that rewarded me with spectacular views and beer. Yes, in Europe you can get beer and lunch on the trail. Talk about instant gratification.

My second stop in Bavaria was Fussen, for the famous Neushwanstein Castle. The castle appears to have come straight out of a fairy tale, framed by snow capped mountains, overlooking a lush countryside. The inside is very ornate as well with ever square inch covered with carvings and paintings. While the castle trip was very rewarding, I was a little disappointed that the view made famous in postcards is not to be found anywhere. Those views are either from the air or by hiking through private property. Oh well, nonetheless, still a worthwhile trip.

Journeying through Bavaria on foot, bike and train made me feel like I had died and gone to heaven. The scenery is picturesque and the setting idyllic. The towns are like the ones you see on Christmas cards and in children's books. Wandering along the back roads, the only sounds you hear are cow bells ringing and church bells tolling. Occasionally a tractor will rumble through. It got me thinking that if I ever try those farm work vacations, it will have to be around Fussen. And like a prayer answered, I met a lady in line at the station who has a farm and gave me her email address asking me to contact her if I'm ever back. Southern Bavaria is definitely a hope-to-be-back place for me. I also loved Radler, a drink made from lemonade and beer. Sweet alcoholic drinks, they hit the sweet spot for me.

One a side note, one thing on my bucket list on this trip was hitch hiking. I gave it a shot in Bavaria. I got a ride for a short distance, but didn't get further after that. After a long wait, I decided to cut my losses and catch a train. I'm not sure what exactly was the problem. A national holiday or low traffic route or single guy. I don't think I'll have a chance to try it again as rural Germany was probably my best shot.

One thing I have been asked is whether I have been affected by the migrant crisis and the rise of extreme right wing views in Europe. Overall I've head a great experience with friends and strangers alike being very friendly and helpful. But there were a couple of incidents that could be attributed to the current migrant crisis. First, in Budapest, when I need a phone to call up my contact, people even crossed the street to avoid me when I approached them. Maybe it was because it was after dark or because I'm a tall guy with a big backpack. But I hope I don't look too threatening to warrant such a response. And the second incident was in Fussen when a bunch of kids asked for my passport (while pointing toy guns) as I was strolling through a quiet neighborhood. Now I attribute their moronism to plain stupidity as I was a guy with a big camera in a town overrun by tourists. And I was more concerned about their stupidity than their xenophobia. But I'm sure they must have gotten their views from the adults around them. I have been following the migrant crisis in the news, but seeing it first hand definitely gives a new perspective.

I could be a dreamer and imagine a world with no borders. I wish I could see all the great cities, experience the cultures and taste the food everywhere in the world without worrying about visas and passports. I wish there was no migrant crisis. I wish there was no war. The reality is very different and the causes highly complex. Trying to address any of these in a blog post would be an impossible task. But I hope that travel will leave me with a better understanding of the world and I hope that the people who have met me have a slightly better understanding of India and the US.

Switzerland
The above paragraphs about Bavaria being heaven were written before my time in Switzerland. This note is important because if there can be only one heaven, it has to be Switzerland, not Bavaria. Switzerland has many things going for it and the flag is a big plus. It is a small country, but there are so many things Swiss. Chocolate, cheese, watches, knives, banks, etc. And now they even have the longest rail tunnel.

The first thing you notice in Interlaken is the number of Indian tourists. Years of SRK romancing with the Bollywood ladies in the Swiss mountains have led to Switzerland having the highest number of Indian tourists in my observation. It is a great destination, no doubt. But the bang to buck ratio is average because the place is outrageously expensive. And factor in the atrocious weather (I saw the sun for about 10 minutes in 5 days), you've got a good chance of being underwhelmed. It's a good thing they have beautiful pictures of mountains on clear days everywhere. It helps imagine the scene when you are standing in fog as thick as pea soup. Or maybe it leaves you ruing what might have been. Thanks to Michael for trying his best to optimize my trip by checking detailed weather conditions to decide on the plan every morning.

Switzerland is known for it's scenic train journeys. The train snaking up and down steep mountains as it makes its way through the tiny picturesque villages hugging the mountain side is a quintessential Swiss experience. Throw in a few waterfalls, alpine lakes and rugged mountains and you've got heaven on earth. My personal favorite leg was Interlaken to Lucerne. Besides, all those tunnels makes you see the truth in the old adage "there's a light at the end of every tunnel." The only downside of seeing the country this way is that you don't get to stop and take it all in. I'd suggest to get off the train sometime and hike around one of those tiny villages and imagine what it must be to live in paradise.

On one of the train journeys, I met a Swiss lady who claimed that her people are too cold and efficient and that she loved the vibrant and chaotic Italian culture. True, Switzerland is always on the clock. Train schedules are optimized to around the top of the hour. And there are clocks everywhere. The capital, Bern, is the epitome of Switzerland; clean, efficient, organized and a tad boring. Though the Swiss kids seemed like normal kids; boisterous, mischievous and rebellious. I wonder at what age do Swiss kids morph into Swiss adults.

With that it was goodbye mountains. Let's hope it's downhill here only literally as I head north.

Thanks to Daniel Siebel for hosting me in Benediktbueren!


Monday, May 23, 2016

Slavic Peregrinations

My next stop as I stomped around Central Europe was Roznava. I imbibed in the Slovak countryside that is like the Microsoft XP wallpaper, endless rolling hills of verdant green. Roznava is a small town in Eastern Slovakia that isn't used to tourists. A tall brown guy with a camera was a subject of attention everywhere I went. Maybe if they started receiving bus loads of Chinese tourists, their curiosity will be diminished. I jest. Those cute villages cradled in gorgeous valleys are best left in the time capsule they are in.

One thing I noticed was that every home my host took me, I was offered Slivovika, a Slovakian spirit. It doesn't have to be 5 o'clock anywhere for Slovaks to drink. I guess this is the source of the high spirits of the Slovak people. Apparently they drink spirits to kill bacteria in their systems. Given the amount they drink, either they have superbugs in their tummies or they are just plain hypochondriacs. Another peculiarity of Eastern Slovakia - Gypsy villages. These are pretty much clean slums. The Gypsy people have a culture, language and society of their own. And they are known to have originated from North India. Though their language is very different from Hindi, the only North Indian language I know. I tried speaking Hindi to one guy, and he just stared at me. Maybe I just spoke really bad Hindi. What a strange parallel society to exist in the heart of Europe.

Krakow
Moving on to Krakow, a quick stop in Poland to get another country checked of the list of countries I have visited. It is the relatively undiscovered Prague of the East. Emphasis on the term relatively. It has a lovely old town with numerous magnificent Gothic churches. And for once there were people praying! Most of European churches have turned into museums of art and architecture. So it was a pleasant surprise to see people of ages showing some form of piety.

But as I stepped out of a church and I got accosted by a pretty lady trying to make conversation with me. Now in my 29 years of existence, I have concluded that I will never attract a hot girl based on my looks. It's not that I suffer from low self esteem (read this blog URL), but facts are facts. How did I become attractive suddenly? So naturally this lady's overtures made me suspicious. She said she would get me free drinks at a gentleman's club. I asked her if I looked gentle, given my 5 o'clock shadow from last week. Besides, I wasn't thirsty. The problem with puns is that they are completely ineffective when English is not the first language of the audience/victim. And I don't think she was interested in my jokes anyways. She moved on to her next target and I was left wondering about the contrast of churches and strip clubs in the heart of Krakow.

A must visit in Krakow is the Schindler Factory museum. WWII brought out the best and the worst of the human soul. There was brutality and horrors beyond words. And there was sacrifice from people who went above and beyond the call to help someone else, sometimes at the risk of their own lives. You read about stories of hope and resilience of the human spirit. And finally it is a lesson in history. One mustn't forget that these events transpired less than a lifetime ago. And history repeats itself for those who forget.

Prague
If any city could be a melody, it would have to be Prague. The seamless blend of architectural styles surrounded by spires in all directions results in a delightful harmony. It is easily the most beautiful city I have been to so far. Prague is simply stunning. There's something magical at every turn as you stroll through the medieval streets of the old town and over the Charles Bridge towards the Castle. Thank you WWII leaders for not bombing the crap out of it.

Charles bridge is probably the most famous sight in Prague. Every time I walked across, I was awestruck by the views in both directions. The panoramas never ceased to amaze me. Agreed that it is so crowded that they almost have foot traffic lanes with pull outs for photo ops. I wouldn't blame you if you thought for a brief moment that you were on a subway train in Tokyo. But go there at 7am (or earlier) for an experience to savor. The quiet of the morning augments the eminence of the spires and arches looming over the horizon. Now who wakes up that early when on vacation? Well, if the offspring of a peasant wants a royal experience, you gotta do what needs to be done. The other famous attraction in Prague is the clock. At first I was, well, whelmed. Not over or under. It seemed nice and fancy, but not deserving the throngs of tourists who gather faithfully every hour, like clockwork. Later, after reading about the details of the clock, I was definitely overwhelmed. I encourage you to read up before you go see it so that you are not left thinking that staring at the clock was a waste of time. Give it a second glance and the minute details will manifest themselves.

If all that sight seeing has made you thirsty, grab a Czech beer. Oh yes, pilsners and lagers. Enough with the pale ales that have infested the American beer scene. Czech beers are refreshing, delicious, potent and cheap. They love their beers so much that once my coffee was served in a beer glass. And with the foam at the top, it looked like a porter. A delightful place to enjoy a cold one and feel like a million dollars (for $4) is at the bar on the roof of U Prince. It's a hidden gem overlooking the main square. Best time is after 5pm as the best views are to the east.

Time for a little general rant. Why do people feed pigeons? I don't want to be a party pooper here. But I'd rather poop on this party figuratively than be pooped on literally. Let's keep these flying rodents away please. They are menace to the outdoor spaces and monuments. See those ugly nets hanging everywhere, that's to scare the pigeons. And while on rant mode, what do smokers think when they drop cigarette butts all over the place? Do they think that when they stamp it out, it just magically disappears? Cigarette butts are one of the major polluters of the oceans as well. I wish I could tell smokers that dealing with their smoke was enough. Now if they could clean up after they are done, it would be a breath of fresh air.

Shout out to the Dorcakovas in Roznava and Vieroslava&Marek in Prague for hosting me.