Saturday, February 10, 2007

7 Days, 6, Cities, 5 Countries, 4 Languages - Third Man, Second Cousin, First Time Everywhere

I blitzed Central Europe. Heading by overnight train out of Rome, we stopped for the afternoon in Venice, before continuing on to Vienna. Arriving at night, we spent the next 36 hours there before heading by bus to Prague. Two nights in Prague, and it’s on to Berlin. One night in Berlin, and it’s a van for two hours to Sczcecin, Poland. Count it up - it works.

General impressions are here, with more specifics to follow.

Rome: Rome reminded me a lot of Washington, D.C. Government and Tourism are pretty much the whole economy, and everything touristy is mainly concentrated in a small section in the middle of the city. I liked the city, and it was fun to visit, but I didn’t really feel it.

Venice: Venice is tourism - at least if you don’t have a boat and can visit the outlying islands. We couldn’t get away from it - overpriced cafes and tzotzcke shops everywhere. We did managed to find a couple of somewhat out-of-the way corners, but probably only because it was a nasty day in the off-season. I didn’t quite get the appeal of Venice, I have to say.

Vienna: We were in Vienna for one reason: to go visit the underground river that was used in Orsen Welles’ “The Third Man.” The trip was kind of fun, if simple (and full of spiders) - peep the Cave Clan tag we found in there!The third man is basically a movie about Vienna - kind of the same way that “On the Town” is a movie about New York. The only other thing of note that we did was head up the spire of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in the middle of town, where the views were awful. Probably the worst observation deck I’ve been on. I didn’t much like Vienna as a whole.

Prague: Prague is small, beautiful, cheap for Europe, and extremely touristy. I get the feeling there’s another layer of the city, probably pretty interesting, but one which foreigners will never know. Prague is not really a migrant city, and the population seems to pretty much consist of people there for a couple days and people there for life. Language is also a factor. There’s plenty of people who speak English, French, Spanish, even Portuguese and Italian as second languages. Nobody speaks Czech as a second language - not unless they marry a Czech person and move there. These two factors, at least to me, seem to indicate a city for tourists, a city for locals, and never the twain shall meet.

Berlin: I actually really liked Berlin, which I was not expecting. In fact, even though I didn’t even spend 24 contiguous hours there, I think it deserves it’s own post. More to come.

Sczcecin: Szczecin is not really on the typical European tour list. It’s not even one of those “off the beaten path” kind of cities, and visiting certainly never would have crossed my mind if I hadn’t had relatives there. Still, it was fairly interesting. A German city called Stettin until the end of WWII (today it’s right across the border, and most people visiting by air will fly into Berlin), it has Poland’s second-largest port, next to Gdansk, or Danzig. Architecture is one of three things: the old German City, Soviet era (basically concrete blocks), and post-Soviet era (basically the same concrete blocks, but sometimes with balconies, and painted purple or green). I was only there to visit my second cousin (well, first cousin twice removed, but second cousin fits in with the title better).

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