Archive for October, 2007

Cellar Bars

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

After aimlessly walking around Prague, I was feeling a little down. It just kept getting colder, and I felt like I had seen everything I cared to from a tourist’s standpoint, at least for a 3 day jaunt. I was sick of the language, sick of the hostel, sick of not knowing anyone, and angry that I didn’t get to see as much as I wanted to, because of those German bitches.

Turned out I just needed a nap.

So, I went down from 2:00 to 4:30, woke up, and felt great!

I went to the bar, had 3 beers (in Prague, you just order a beer. There is no selection. You just say, “I’ll have a beer.” And they give you one. Its good.), and spent some time packing, showering, and get ready for some action.

Here was the plan:

At 8:00, I was meeting Jillian, an American from Couchsurfing, by the national theater for a good old-fashioned American take on the Prague experience. Jillian was (and remains) 25, and portrays herself as a true partyer. She teaches English in Prague, but she’s clearly here for the nightlife. This is a girl who thirsts for the thump of the disco. It had the potential to be a good night.

I arrived flawlessly at the National Theater, our meeting spot, at 7, just in time for a traditional Czech meal. Earlier in the week, I had had pickled brie cheese, some Czech sausages, but this was excellent. I had roasted pig’s neck, potato dumplings, with some kind of brown sauce. Americans have a problem with Czech food, mostly because of the descriptions, and they have a point. If they just called it Roasted Pork, I think we’d be fine. We don’t need to know whichpartof the pig it is. Roasted Pig’s neck? This is not information that I require as a diner.

I also ordered Budvar, which my father requested I try in Prague. He had watched some documentary on Discovery, or some shit, talking about how Budweiser originally was spawned from the original Prague Budvar recipe, and that the Budvar beer was among the best in the world. So, I ordered two pints, and guess what?

It tasted…a fucking lot like Budweiser. So, so much for that.

At 8, I paid my bill, and went across the street to meet Jillian, who arrived to greet me at 8:15.

“So, what do you want to do?”
“Jillian, I don’t need the best experience. I just want an experience.” As an afterthought, I added, “And I want to go in a cellar bar.”

“Okay, well, the first thing I want to do…is buy some marijuana.”
“Hmmm…okay. I will be curious to see how you do that, Jillian.” That’s what I called her.

Jillian.

So, we darted off one corridor, down into another, a quick turn in an alleyway, and we opened a nondescript door to the left. Inside, there were some people drinking beers, many of them Rastafarians.

“This used to be a big ex-pat bar,” said Jillian, as if this would somehow be significant to me. “Down here.”

We went down a hidden staircase. As we descended, I asked, “Now what?”
“Now, we just ask for a bag.”

I hung out behind her while she conducted the transaction, and just like that, we were gone.

“Okay, we’re good. It was funny. They were all giving you the evil eye. That big rasta guy in the back? He likes me.”
“Hmmm.”

From there, we went to some crappy bar, where they sold us roughly pint-sized pints of pilsner for 25 crowns ($1.32). Jillian and I sat and caught up while we waited for her Czech friend.

“Do you know how to roll joints?”
“No, I’ve always been terrible. Its the pinching that fucks me up.”
“Yeah.”
“So, you moved to Prague as an English Teacher.”
“Yeah, I’m here for the nightlife. I visited for a month, and just…kept…staying. I’m here with a program, and I keep saying this is the last year, but I just love the partying.”
“Well, it sounds like I picked the right person to hang out with on my last night in Prague.”
“Yep.”

Eventually, we were joined by her 20-year-old Czech friend, whose name escapes me. Jillian leaned in, “He’s just here to roll joints.”

He was a sweet kid. Enthusiastic and happy. He made sure we didn’t get screwed over, turned a cigarette into a joint, and we chatted a little bit about the typical European misconceptions about Texas and George Bush; etc.

As I burned the joint, we were joined by Jillian’s Portuguese upstairs neighbor, Andre, and some chick from Quebec, whose name also escapes me.

Jillian had told me about Andre, that he was a little…intense, as in he had no concept of personal space, and didn’t really know how to dominate a conversation in a way that didn’t freak people out a little. He also hosted couchsurfers all the time. I guess it was his primary means of getting girls. A good gig, if you can get it, or if no one wants to hang out with you in your hometown anymore.

Andre looked like a caricature of Mick Jagger, and acted the same way. His jokes were terrible, and he was definitely very intense.

We ordered a round of Bechyrovka, a traditional Czech liqueur that kind of tasted like Christmas…if Christmas were evil. This was followed by another pilsner and a shot of plum brandy. Keep in mind, I was still puffing on the joint, and my evening started to spiral out of control. I leaned into the only American I knew,

“Jillian, I’m starting to freak out a little bit.”
“Just ride it out. Its cool.”
“Okay.”

We left the bar and headed to this place called U Sudu. Andre was blowing my mind with his antics (think Portuguese Mick Jagger on stage strutting like a chicken, and then putting his arm around you and saying, “Just kidding. No seriously, you want to fight? Just kidding. Here, watch me make out with this girl. Will you give me a dollar? Will you?!”)

Okay, so picture this:

You walk into a traditional, crowded British pub. There are old men and withered soldiers sipping on pints, and there’s barely enough room to order, let alone find a table. “This bar’s kind of dumb,” you might think to yourself.

And then someone shows you a tiny door in the very back of the bar, so hidden, you probably wouldn’t have noticed it. You maneuver past the old men, and go through the door. As you descend the steps, that’s when you start to hear the faint thumping of the disco.

Down the stairs you walk. Further and further down, until you’re in an intense cave-like disco, with flashing lights, sweaty europeans, and a glowing neon bar.

Cellar bars. The closest thing I’ve ever seen to the Star Wars bar on Tattooine.

Things started to get fuzzy here. Jillian started making out with the young Czech. Reluctantly at first, but with growing enthusiasm. The Quebec girl would not shut up about how many languages she knew, how much she hated Canadians (that were not from Quebec, of course), and Americans, and Europeans. This was my first introduction to anyone from Quebec, but she certainly confirmed all the haughty stereotypes.

More shots of Becherovka…more plum brandy…more beers. Another stair case further down, revealing hip hop, and then alcoves with jazz and jungle.

Another bar, called The Cellar, with more of the same. I couldn’t really stand up or focus. We kept losing Jillian in the mazes. Andre put his arm around the Quebec girl.

One final bar. More shots. “Now you show me American shot!” “Hmmm, a lemon drop?” “Andre, you are in rare form tonight!” “What is this, ‘rare form?’ Are you making fun of me?” “Its possible.”

The Quebec girl and I were staying right next to each other. We stumbled home, while she told me about the nice Czech guy for whom she moved here. “That’s nice.”

I fell through the doors to the hostel, as the front desk clerk eyed me warily. I went up to the first floor to find two young travelers emerging from the shower.

It was 4am. They skipped sheepishly towards their respective rooms.

Nothing says ‘wordly’ like getting fucked in a bathroom…

Germans

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

(editors note: I ended up marrying a German, so, the lesson as always: I’m an idiot)

Germans.

Those gold medal in gymnastics winning, world war losing, aryan race loving, sauerkraut eating, ugly language having, shit on each other in pornos filming, accordion playing motherfuckers.

I just didn’t have it last night. I really wanted to go out, because, let’s face it. I am a drinker. That’s what I do. And Prague is one of the world’s great drinking centers. I should be drinking. All day. And yet, I was too worn out from the night prior.

So, I hung out in the hostel bar until about midnight, had three beers (for five bucks), and called it a night. I was just falling asleep when they came in.

Two German bitches.

I’ve traveled enough to know that there are only a few rules for hostels. First and foremost, from midnight to noon, spend as little time in the room as possible unless you are sleeping.

These German bitches tried to keep quiet, bless their hellbound souls, but instead just talked in a loud whisper the whole time. They unpacked everything, put on makeup, brushed their teeth, turned the light on and off.

I was up and couldn’t get back to sleep. To make matters worse, all this Czech food has given me terrible gas. The last thing I wanted to be in the hostel was “That guy who farted all night”, so I just held it in. Of course, that didn’t exactly help me get to sleep. And the sharp pains in my legs from walking around all day were no picnic either.

I woke up again at 10:30. Those bitches, having slept peacefully all night long, were up and adam, brushing their teeth in the room, talking, trying on clothes, laughing their horsey laughs.

I hate them.

To make matters worse, it just keeps getting colder here. Its raining today, and my legs are sore from walking around. I tried to find the Communist Museum, but I think it closed due to lack of interest, which I find ironic.

I don’t think there’s anything left in Prague for me to see. I was going to take a daytrip to a small town outside of Prague which has a cathedral whose interior is entirely made of human bones, but I woke up too late, and am too tired. Those Germans took that from me.

I hate them.

Is that a coldsore?

Okay, now I know it sounds like I’m complaining a lot, and that I’m not appreciating the opportunity that I have, but those of you who know me well know that I love to rant. I am still having a good time, and am planning on having a very good night in Prague, if I have to use every ounce of my will to do it. When you’re tired in a strange city, the loneliness tends to come out. You think about home, your bed, your dog, and how its 30 degrees out and your legs hurt.

But this is what its about. If I wanted a pleasure cruise, I would have gone to Aruba. Every negative experience tells you more about who you really are.

Tomorrow, I fly out to Barcelona. Two nights ago, one of the Czech’s at my table boasted, “Czech Republic has greatest transportation system in world!”

“Is that so? So, what’s the best way to get to the airport on Friday?”

“You have to, uh, take bus.”

“I see.”

So, hopefully, I won’t get too lost. Some things I’ve noticed about the Czechs

They get up for old people on the bus. Without question. There is reverence for the old. And it makes sense, because I’ve never seen any group of women decline in looks faster than Czech women. Its amazing. The young women? So hot. Like all of them. All hot. Even the ugly ones are hot.

But after about 38? None of them are hot at all. No one smiles. Maybe its the food, the cold weather, the Communism. Its hard to say.

They like McDonalds. A lot.

They hate gypsies (I have only had one gypsy encounter thus far. I was walking outside drunk at 2 in the morning and this old fat women came up to me, grabbed my crotch, jiggled it and said, in a husky East German accent, “How much I suck you dick? I suck you dick. How much I suck you dick?”

“Um, no thank you. But I believe my companions, Alex and Rob, were just talking about how they wanted someone to suck their dicks.”

Yesterday, I toured the Prague Castle. Really impressive. Its like a city within a city. I’m too tired to describe it, but maybe someday you can ask me about it over beers, and I’ll explain it as best I can.

This week on…

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

“Thank you for joining us for this week’s episode of…

Soul-crushing Hangovers of History (istory, istory)

Joining us today is Justin Strackany, from Austin, Texas. Nice to have you again, Justin.”

“Great to be here.”

“Now, sounds like you have quite the hangover this morning.”

“You bet your sweet ass I do, Bob.”

“Ho ho! Oh, Justin. Why don’t you tell us how it all went down.”

“Well, I finished explorning Prague at around 4:00, and wasn’t set to meet Craig and Olga until 8. So, I had some time to kill, and it was too cold and rainy out to do any further exploring.”

“So, what did you do?”

“Well, I’m getting to that. I decided that my best bet was to sit in the hostel bar and have a couple beers. The most expensive beer there is $1.57, so it seemed like a good bet. So, I drank three beers, and I noticed something very peculiar. It almost seemed…like I was…drunk!But that would mean that three beers had somehow gotten me drunk. Was that possible?

I don’t know if its the weight-loss, the lack of dinner (oops), the unusually large glasses, or the very strong beer, but this new feeling of drunkenness. I liked it!

So, I went up to my room, pitzed (and fliffer-flaffered) about on the Internet for a while, then went back to the bar for two more beers. While there, I met two Australians who were on their way out to a sponsored bar crawl. For 12 Euros, you get taken to three “exclusive” Czech bars, with an hour of all-you-can-drink at one of them. They were downing shots to get ready, and we got along pretty well. I generally really enjoy hostels. Its very much a community. There are many things you don’t have in common, but everyone there is a traveler of the same cloth. And I like that.

They invited me out with their girlfriends, but I declined, and also declined an invitation to go bar-hopping with a shy Brazillian next to me (General…exactly how many…isa Brazilian?), but met two dudes from San Antonio next to me a few minutes later. I invited them out (Alex and Rob?) and together we went on the train to meet Craig and Olga.

I met Craig at the Metro Station, and the first thing I noticed was his Czech accent…in that he didn’t have one. He was from Pennsylvania, and was working here as a software developer. We went to a pub ominously called…The Pub.

“Wow, Justin. Sounds ominous! You know? How its just called “The Pub.” Like its branding itself as the only pub? Did you catch that?”

“Yeah, Bob. I caught it. So, the owner of the bar is a very clever, clever man. Picture this:

Each bar has its own three-pronged tap coming out of the center of the table. There are also two jets where you can place your pint and wash out your glass (great for gleefully spraying the table). Above the tap is a push button control. Think bowling alley. So, each person at the table gets their own account, up to ten. When you want a drink, you click the drink button, click your account number, and then start pouring. The counter in the bar counts the number of mililiters dispensed! And keeps a running talley! So, at any point in time, you know exactly how much you’ve consumed, and at the end of the night, you’re charged by the mililiter!

Isn’t that fucking brilliant?! Every once in a while, a big screen at the front would display which table had consumed the most (we were in second place with 54 beers), and which account was winning. The tables would race each other, and compete all night. What a great idea! If this was in Austin, there would be a line around the block. So, I probably had about eight beers. Alex & Rob at one point overheard me say my age.

“Whoa! You’re31?!?!Jesus, you should be walking around with a cane!”
“Alex, would you mind if I just let that comment stand by itself for posterity, and reflect on its stupidity from time to time?”
“Ha ha…okay!”
“Yes. Ha ha.”

So, the people gradually dispersed. They had work the next day. Czechs drink more alcohol than anyone in the world, I think. It was pretty impressive.

The three Americans (myself included) left to try to find a disco, and ended up wandering drunk around the corridors of the city (my father probably just thew up in his mouth a little), but we couldn’t find anything happened, and so we took a taxi home.”

“So, how was the hangover, Justin?”

“Bob, its frighening in its power. I feel like it should have a name…like a hurricane. Hangover Andrew or something. I have bags over my eyes the size of IV’s, and my entire body smells like smoke. And for breakfast…they are serving Nescafe. Nescafe? Are you kidding me? This place bills itself as an Internet Cafe. If you don’t serve real coffee at an Internet Cafe, you should have to change your name to Internet Nescafe, cause you’re not a fucking cafe.”

“Sure thing there, Justin. Well, that’s all the time we have for today. But before we go, what’s your plan for today, Justin?”

“Well, I’m going to have to drink a couple of beers to kill the hangover, and then I think I might tour the Prague Castle. Tonight, I’m either meeting Craig and Olga again to tour some authentic Czech pubs (woot!), or I might be meeting an American English Teacher from Nebraska named Jillian to go to a club called Cross Club, which supposedly has 18 floors and mazes and shit. With my luck, it will probably be full of vampires, and blood will spray from the ceiling, and I’ll have to wait for Blade to save me, and I probably won’t even get my cover refunded.”

“Sounds great, Justin. Well, thanks everybody for tuning in. We’ll see you next time on…”

Soul-Crushing. Hangovers. Of. History (istory, istory)

Prague — Day One

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

As I walked through the streets of Prague, I tried my best to blend in and not look like a tourist. “Think ‘oppressed’, Justin. Think ‘haggard’.”

I think I did a fairly good job, as several people stopped to ask me various questions in Czech. And I just cocked my head to the side, and said, “I have no idea what you are saying to me.” And then they would leave.

One guy stopped me and held out three coins.

“Blah blah blah,” he said.

“I do not know what you are saying to me.”

“Blah blah blah.” He held out the coins.

“You want to give me some money?”

“Blah blah blah.”

“You want money from me?”

“Blah blah blah blah blah blah BEER.”

“You want me to give you money so you can buy beer.”

“Blah blah blah! Blah blah blah! Beer!”

“That’s it! You want me to give you money. So that you can buy a BEER!”

We understood each other. We. UNDERSTOOD. each other.

“No, I don’t do that sort of thing.” And I walked away.

I spend an hour in the Museum of Medieval Torture Devices. What a fucking trip. The virgin of normandy? Holy crap! The Spanish Tickler? Get me out of here! And the impalers? I almost threw up.

The most ingenious were probably the spiked collars. They had spikes around the collar, but the catch was that they also had handcuffs on short chains around the wrists. As the arms tired and involuntarily lowered, the spikes on the collar would pierce the throat, killing the victim.

The worst of all was the handsaw. Oh. My. God. They’d hang someone upside down, spread their legs…*swallows*…and saw them, between their legs, up the middle.

Anyway. I also did some quick tours of Wenceslas Square and Old Town. I marveled at the Eastern European women. The only experience I have with Eastern European women is from Scorpions videos and low-budget porno downloads off of Kazaa. They look pretty much like you would think they would. Colorful scarves, with acid-washed jeans, boots, and callico hair. They are also devastatingly georgeous. Full-figured, with sharp cheeks, piercing eyes, and long legs. I’ve noticed that ethnic women (ie non-americans) tend to have very sharp features, which either makes them beautiful or shockingly ugly. I think all of our cultural mixing in American serves to help us meet in the middle. Americans as a whole have much softer features, I think. Not as breathtaking, but not as ugly. We’re a composite, if you will.

I really like the spirit of this place, and I LOVE my hostel, except for the fact that they’re out of locks for the locker. “Oh, we’re all out. Ha ha ha!” “Yes. Ha ha.” And just try finding a hardware store in Prague. The word for hardware probably has 28 letters, and this is a language that I really don’t have a clue about.

The center of town, with its winding labyrinth of buildings and streets, is particularly cool. I imagine Venice and certain cities in Spain to be laid out similarly.

Guess I’ll find out!

Its 4:00 now, so I’m going to get a slight buzz at the hostel bar, and then meet couchsurfers Craig and Olga for a beer at a new pub. The beer here is fucking fantastic. Dry and increasingly complex with every sip.

Hooray beer!

London Heathrow

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

I had big plans for my 8 hour layover in London. I was gonna get out of the city, take a train to Paddington Square, hop on one of those double-decker buses, see the sights, drink two pints, and breeze onto my flight to Prague.

Not so much.

First off, I’m really, really tired. But that’s okay. As a friend said, “Its just one cocaine all-nighter. No big deal.” Fair enough.

The flight was good. American had two meals, and you can play video games at your seat, and I read about unlocking the hidden secrets of my financial power.

When we landed, I took the opportunity to check out the Londoners. Some of them are roly-poly, with ruddy cheeks, and jolly disposition. Others are flittery, with thin noses and proper stance at all times. Still others are super hip. With scarves, hats, sunglasses, long boots over stockings, collared shirts underneath sweaters. Best to keep up appearances, eh, old chap?

When I got off the plane, I realized I wasn’t really…in a typical airport. It was just a hallway, with closed doors. No restaurants, nothing. I could do nothing but just continue to walk down the hallway. The plan was to check in at the American Admirals Club, have a scotch, get some directions, and get the fuck out of the airport.

Finally I followed the line…right into a dingy security line…complete with flickering flourescent lights.

Ugh.

And in this line, you could only have one carry-on bag. So, I couldn’t even get into the terminal with my bags. But I couldn’t check a bag without going into the terminal to see the attendant.

I could go to Terminal One, check a bag, and come back, and I thought about doing that. I left the line, and found a tram to Terminal One.

We all rode the bus, hopeful for the promise of freedom. We didn’t even mind that it took twenty minutes. We didn’t listen to the drone of security warnings in several languages. We gritted our teeth as the bus stopped moving for ten minutes so it could get us the requisite 6 inches closer to the curb.

We got off and I thought it was over, but we walked straight into a huge room. With people directing us all over, and voices in German and French warning us about liquids. I looked to my right. Through a thick glass wall, I saw FCUK stores, and bars, and people seemed happy. But I was in this line that ran as far as the eye could see. “So, this is what they felt like in Bladerunner,” I thought.

We slowly moved and finally were corralled into a big open area, while we waited to be ushered into the NEXT room and line. I waited for poisonous gas to come out of the ceiling vents.

Finally, I made it through the bag check (they found a corkscrew), and now I’m here in Terminal One. Any hope of making it “on the outside” has been crushed by the sheer horror of Heathrow Security in the 21st Century. So here I wait. My body thinks its 4:54, but my watch thinks its 11:55 (my watch is fast). My job is to convince my body to listen to my watch. So, I’m drinking coffee instead of beer. Eggs instead of steak. Duty free eggs. Duty free coffee. Everything is duty free.

In roughly 4 hours, I will be leaving for Prague. I will not sleep before then. I will not sleep before having a beer somewhere in Prague tonight.

Somewhere in Prague, the person who will pour me that beer is not thinking about me all that much. But I am thinking about you, kind sir!

It has dawned on me that one is worldly only in retrospect. No one can be on a character-building journey and be worldly in the present moment. I certainly am not, blearily trudging amongst the foreigners, the british accents sounding more like a cockneyed gang out of Clockwork Orange than beautiful music. But every worldly traveler is worldly through his suffering.

If you don’t know how to suffer, you don’t know how to travel.

And if you don’t know how to travel…brother, you don’t know three-eighths of what you think you do.

Onward,

Justin

Chicago International Terminal

Sunday, October 21st, 2007

I’m sitting at the bar, eating a gyro and sipping on a tall Sam Adams draft.

Two german chicks sit to my right, and to my left, there suddenly appears a tall, nervous-looking Spanish guy. He talks really fast, and the Hispanic bartender seems to be able to barely keep up with the Spanish.

He asks for a tequilla, and the bartender recommends 1800.

“Eighteen Hundred Dolares??!”
“No, 1800 tequilla.”

So, he downs a shot, and immediately asks for another one. Slam!

And another one! Bam.

Then they talk for 30 seconds, and he decides to switch to a better tequilla.

Bam! Down goes another shot. Followed by a 5th shot! He’s been there ninety seconds.

And just like that, he is gone, leaving a dollar and thirty cents in his wake.