“And after dinner, of course,” said one of our new friends, “vodka and pickles.”
At this point in the evening, I felt nothing could shock me. Earlier I’d been staggered to observe people in many of Krakow’s charming bars casually drinking liters of beer through large plastic straws. When I asked a local woman about it, she laughed and said, “Oh, that’s not beer.” I was so relieved; call me old fashioned, but somehow sipping beer through a straw seems to be flying in the face of nature. “No,” she continued. “That’s beer with ginger flavor added to it.”
I was still reeling from that appalling revelation when a round of tiny vodka glasses appeared on the table along with huge green pickles. “You eat them after drinking the vodka,” someone explained. “It helps keep you hydrated.” Oh, well, if it’s good for my heath… Na zdrowie!
After a month on the road, I’m still gobsmacked by how much I have to learn about the world. So far we’ve traveled through Spain (Seville, Barcelona), Italy (Genoa, Verona), Germany (Munich), Austria (Salzburg) the Czech Republic (České Budějovice, Český Krumlov, Prague) Poland (Krakow, Katowice), and Slovakia (Zilina, Košice). We’re now proceeding towards Transylvania by slow stages, hopping from one hitherto unknown spot to another. As we stumble on and off trains, we find we’re confronting many of the essential travel questions people have been asking since our earliest ancestors first wandered over into the next valley and discovered another tribe.
How do you communicate without a common language?
Zipping in and out of so many countries, we scarcely have time to learn how to order beer in our new temporary language, let alone master the nuances of conversation. But if you’ve ever played charades or Pictionary, you’ll know that words aren’t everything. Last week I stopped into a hair salon in Krakow, pointed at my gray roots and made scissor motions at the tips of my hair; my new fryzjer knew just what to do. Similarly, when I arrived in Košice yesterday and wanted the hotel to wash our things, I simply made drawings of the various items, which not only amused the desk clerk no end, but insured that we received every item back this morning.
Can you turn strangers into friends, or at least acquaintances?
Finding congenial souls along the way enlivens the journey and gives you fresh topics to think and talk about afterwards. One of the best ways to meet interesting people is to take a free tour. You usually get the liveliest and most knowledgeable guides, who are highly motivated by your tips and the hope of luring you into taking more tours; people who take free tours tend to be slightly less conventional and more open. Another way to connect is by renting a room or apartment directly from an expat or local via AirBnB, where you’re likely to find cheaper, homier places and a host who knows the best bars in the neighborhood.
What makes for the most memorable experiences?
We recently had a one-night stopover into Katowice, Poland, a gritty, post-industrial town whose mines were exploited by the Nazis and the Soviets, leaving a landscape dotted with the monstrous, rusting hulks of derelict factories. “Katowice is the butt of jokes throughout Poland,” a tourist brochure informed us, rather unnecessarily. At the train station’s information booth, we asked the two young men on duty how to get to our hotel, which was 300 meters away. The tall, skinny one with the braces started to answer, the short, stocky one disagreed, and they went back and forth like two wild and crazy guys from the old Saturday Night Live routines until Rich and I went into whoops and had to hurry away. We soon found our hotel, which was so close to the station that we could here them announcing trains from our room. My point – and I do have one – is that getting off the beaten path lets you experience all sorts of odd and entertaining encounters. Our night in Katowice was like stepping back in time to the old Soviet days, only with better food and the opportunity to leave in the morning.
There isn’t nearly enough space in a single post to fill you in on all we’ve learned, so watch for future updates on lodging, packing, train travel, and of course, drinking customs around the world. Na zdrowie!
9/4/2013 08:07:15 am
Karen and Rich - I am enjoying reading about your travels. Karen's stories are entertaining and always funny.
9/6/2013 09:00:55 am
9/4/2013 08:21:39 am
Sounds like you're having quite the adventure! Fascinating!
9/6/2013 09:04:45 am
Thanks, Sue. It's been great fun, and we're getting further and further off the beaten path. Today we are stopping over in a town in Hungary that sees so few strangers that no one at the official tourist office speaks English and they don't carry city maps. Tomorrow, on to Romania!
9/4/2013 08:29:25 am
Love your posts Karen. Cant wait for the next one!
9/6/2013 09:05:31 am
Thanks, Steve! It's great fun having so much good material to write about. This is a very colorful part of the world!
9/4/2013 09:09:07 am
Hi there! You manage to make even the most mundane of activities, like washing clothes, interesting and adventurous. You have such a zest for life and new things. It's wonderful!
9/6/2013 09:07:24 am
Thanks, Andrea! Speaking of laundry, I spent part of last night frantically drying socks with a hairdryer because the train we'd planned to take got cancelled, and we had to leave half a day earlier. It's always something!
9/4/2013 03:17:49 pm
Please eat pickles for me!! We'll have a Pivo when you're back in town.
9/6/2013 09:08:28 am
Yes, Cat, this pickles and vodka thing – although conceptually a bit weird at first – is actually great. So look for it at our next party!
9/4/2013 06:42:08 pm
KAREN AND RICH: glad to hear you are experiencing just what you hoped you would - and glad not to hear of any medical issues - so keep up the good health Rich - and Karen - just stay as healthy as you always look.
9/6/2013 09:10:24 am
Thanks, Bill. There's something about being on the road that just suits us. And we're certainly thanking our lucky stars that we haven't had any medical emergencies, although Rich (of course) has an app for that, just in case! Meanwhile, we're loving this part of the world.
9/6/2013 09:12:06 am
Thanks, Maria, and I'll certainly keep you up to date! Right now we're in a small Hungarian city called Nyiregyhaza (do NOT ask me how it's pronounced) en route to Romania, so we're thinking things will be extra interesting up ahead...
10/21/2013 02:16:13 am
Nice post i get good information from this sharing thanks
10/22/2013 01:32:17 am
nice sharing good post
Leave a Reply.
Winner of the 2023 Firebird Book Award for Travel
#1 Amazon Bestseller in Tourist Destinations, Travel Tips, Gastronomy Essays, and Senior Travel
This blog is a promotion-free zone.
As my regular readers know, I never get free or discounted goods or services for mentioning anything on this blog (or anywhere else). I only write about things that interest me and that I believe might prove useful for you all to know about. Whew! I wanted to clear that up before we went any further. Thanks for listening.
TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
Wanderlust has taken me to more than 60 countries. Every week I provide travel tips and adventure stories to inspire your journeys and let you have more fun — and better food — on the road
Don't miss out!
SIGN UP HERE
to be notified when I publish new posts.