board games and language nerds

I met up with some online acquaintances on wednesday and we went for some great Vietnamese food. I met Judith on an online language forum, and her boyfriend Chuck is an iphone app developer and also somewhat of a language nerd. We had lots of fun and they showed me some things around town.

Later in the evening, I went to a floating hostel on the river in east berlin, and partied there with a bunch of people from CouchSurfing. Benny the Irish Polyglot was there again too, so I chatted with him briefly. Actually, I spent most of that evening talking about languages with various people. There was an interesting guy from California who spoke excellent German, and studied linguistics in university. I also met a German woman who just returned from a 1 year trip across Canada.

On thursday I went out for Sri Lankan food in Friedrichshain with Judith and Chuck again. Friedrichshain is just slightly east of the central area of Berlin, and is quite a cool neighbourhood. There are lots of restaurants advertising Vegan options, and lots of great food. Lots of other people with tattoos too, so I appeared to fit right in.

We went to a shop where you can play German board games, which was quite neat. It’s open 6 days a week, and you pay €3 to play all day. They have a selection of 1200 games to choose from, and they also sell beers and other drinks. After playing a game there, we decided it was too hot to play games, and left.

We walked a few blocks away to a shop called “Cupcake”, which was what you’d expect from the name. I was amused at the menu, because it had to explain to the Germans what a cupcake actually was. They also had some vegan options there as well 😉

Next we went back to Judith and Chuck’s place and played more board games there. There was one called “Pandemic” that was quite neat, since it was a cooperative game. All 4 of us played our separate turns, but we all won or lost together. The next was a card game called “Dominion”, which involved building up your deck by upgrading your cards. Each turn you get 5 cards from your own deck, some of which are money and some are actions. You want to eventually be able to afford some of the cards that are worth a lot of game-winning points (although they are not functional in other aspects of the game like the money and action cards are). There was some interesting strategy about keeping track of the composition of your deck and adjusting it so that you were more likely to deal yourself a good hand every turn.

I skipped the hostel and stayed overnight here, and now I’m doing some Swedish study while Judith works. Later we’re going to play some more games 🙂

I’m planning on hanging around until the middle of next week, and then heading off to Copenhagen. I’ve got a possible couchsurfing response from someone in Malmö, so hopefully I can get that sorted out before I get there. I’m looking forward to meeting some people right away, and hopefully I can avoid hostels. Then I just need to find a place to rent for 2 months and I’ll be set 🙂

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exploring berlin

I had a pretty good day riding around yesterday. I had to switch hostels, so I packed up my gear onto my bike at the 10am checkout time, and then basically wandered the city until the 4pm checkin time at the other place.

I went past most of the big name spots, like Potzdamer Platz and the Brandenburg Gate. I’ll get to see all this stuff in-depth later, so I’m mostly just riding past it right now. My main goal is to memorize landmarks and streets, which I’m doing quite well at so far. I actually noticed that there are two very similar clock towers in different parts of town, but one of them has two windows at the top and the other has three. Don’t ask me how I remembered that, but it helped at the time 😉

There’s also some weird yard full of rectangular prisms made of stone, and they’re all different sizes, arranged in a grid. And it’s huge…it’s a large square city block. looks like you could get lost in the middle.

The hostel was an interesting experience last night…I went up to my room at about midnight (a shared 10 bed dorm), and found 3 English guys drinking vodka on my bed. They politely moved when I arrived, and then continued getting hammered on their own beds. So, the lights were on, the English guys were tying one on, and two dutch guys were playing music as they prepared to go out partying. eventually all 5 of them buggered off and I managed to turn the light out.

At some point they came back, and one of the Dutch guys must have been on some weird shit, because he basically sleep-crawled across the floor. Every once in a while he’d shout something in his sleep, and he was constantly flailing his arms around. He made it 10 feet across the room and started occasionally kicking my bed, so I had to give him a slap to wake him up…but he basically continued flopping around for the rest of the night.

Seems like Berlin is quite the popular destination for party-goers from all over. I’m switching rooms again tonight, but within the same hostel, so hopefully the new room has fewer crazies. I’ve never had problems in the hostels before, other than the snoring guy that one time. Maybe this is just what’s expected for high season in Berlin.

I’m off to meet more people today and see the town some more.

day 1 in Berlin

I stayed up pretty late last night since I didn’t arrive in the hostel until almost 1am. It was quite hot overnight too. I’m just getting over some sort of cold, but I think it’s getting better now.

I’m going out to explore Berlin a bit today, and I’m still sending off emails to various people that I’d like to meet while I’m here. Today I’m having lunch with “Benny the Irish Polyglot” who travels the world learning languages. Currently he’s just about finished his 4th month in Berlin learning German, and he’ll be going off to Budapest to learn Hungarian next.

I’ll probably also try to find some bookstores too, and hopefully find some interesting places to meet people and to eat. I need to ask some people about the best websites to use to find apartments too, since I’ll be looking in September in preparation for coming back in October.

Maybe I won’t get all this done today, but I have time. I also want to just sit and relax a little bit, and maybe listen to some Swedish audiobooks.

Just about time for lunch now, I should head out. Tschüss!

the long train ride to berlin

morning in Bratislava

I started out in the morning with my idiot hostel dorm-mates bouncing around doing things at 5am. I thought maybe they were leaving early to catch a train or something, but later they were all sleeping again, so who knows why they were awake. Or maybe they just got back to the hostel at that time after drinking? Probably more likely…I fell asleep before they got back last night.

I eventually managed to get back to sleep until 7am, when my alarm went. I’ve been feeling some sort of cold coming on, but thankfully I felt moderately ok. Even better after a shower, but not 100%.

I packed up my stuff and realized that I had several books that I no longer really needed. I hate throwing books in the garbage, so I was hoping that the hostel would have a bookshelf for exchanging books, so then I could just leave them there for someone else to use. Unfortunately not, so I left them on a random shelf somewhere.

I would rather have brought them to Berlin, because they were all in German and I figured they’d have a better chance of being used there, but they needed to be jettisoned right away. I’m fine with carrying extra weight on my bike, but during a train ride I have to take all 4 bags off my bike and carry them onto the train with me, so several kg of extra books would not be a welcome addition.

Next I checked out and started riding to the train station. My first train was scheduled to leave at 10am, so I left shortly after 8am because I wanted to get some breakfast along the way. Unfortunately, I forgot that it was Sunday, so everything was closed and all good citizens were dutifully off to church.

Most of the way to the train station, I realized that I didn’t have the slightest clue how to get to my hostel in Berlin once I arrived there. I had the address written down, but I’ve learned that addresses can be useless in a city full of twisty German streets that frequently change their name as you go along them in a straight line.

I turned around and rode back to the hostel to use their internet, and got some GPS coords for the hostel. I have no maps for northern Germany in my GPS currently, but having at least a direction and a distance as the crow flies would help. I also wrote down some street directions…and it turned out that one of the streets did indeed change its name as you continue along it in a straight line.

Fully prepared, I again made my way to the train station, and happily found some food stands open there. I had a bad sandwich for breakfast, and some brightly colored carbonated sugar-beverage. I lugged my bike down and up some stairs to get to the right train platform, and eventually found someone who could speak broken German enough to help me find the right train car to put my bike into.

on the train to Puchov

My next destination is a town called Puchov. The train situation today is slightly crazy because of three things: 1) i have to switch several times, 2) there are separate bike tickets and reservation tickets, so I have this huge bundle of ticket-like things and 3) the ticketvendor in bratislava did me a “favour” by giving me some sort of tickets for me personally (not the bike) that say Bratislava -> Deĉin, Deĉin -> Berlin….even though I’m not going through Deĉin. Apparently this saved me €20 and is still somehow legal.

So with that in mind, imagine this scenario. I’m safely aboard the first train, heading for Puchov. The train staff come around to check tickets and I show them my boarding pass thingy with my seat number on it…she shakes her head and rattles off some machine-gun slovak at me. I look at her like a lost puppydog and say “Deutsch? English?”. Once again, the closest thing I can find is one of the other 5 people sitting nearby who speaks broken half-ass German, who tries to explain that they want some other reservation ticket instead of the seating assignment ticket.

So, I give over the whole stack and let them try to sort it out. They eventually find the Bratislava -> Deĉin ticket, say incomprehensible slovakian things while pointing at it, and then eventually shrug and decide that it’s ok to punch it. Phew, didn’t get thrown off the train!

As I was typing this, one of the 5 people seated in the 6-seat booth with me just asked me if I spoke German. I guess he heard earlier when we were trying to sort and the tickets, and was now curious. So I started up a little German conversation with him, and it turns out that a total of 4 of us in this booth can speak German. The one woman who helped me out earlier was just the worst of the bunch…the others are actually pretty decent. Also, one of them said that his sister speaks Esperanto, and lives in Piestany (where I had the Esperanto conference last week, and which we just happened to be passing in the
train).

They were quite amazed that I came from Canada…apparently Canadians have quite a similar rep around here as English-only speakers just like Americans, so they really thought that it was crazy that I was sitting with them speaking in German. Seriously, German has been waaay more useful in Slovakia than English. Definitely a good travel language to have in eastern Europe.

The next thing I’m worried about is getting off at the right stop. These train stations are horribly marked, and the train stops for only a minute or so before moving again. Somehow I have to struggle down the skinny hall with my 4 bulky bags, and find my bike in the other train car and take it off before the train starts moving again. I’m worried, since the bike car doesn’t open from the outside, so I suppose I’ll have to try to go from the inside. Hopefully the train cars connect.

Puchov to Prague

Well, that was quite the exasperating experience. One stop before Puchov was Trenĉin, which is a fairly major stop apparently. When we rolled into the station, it was a mosh-pit of slovakian back-packers. They were lined up 4-deep all along the platform. Honestly, I don’t know how they all got on the train. Since there were clearly nowhere near enough seats for them all, they crammed into the hallways. The place would have been a death-trap if there were a fire.

So, here I am, nervously watching my watch to try and guess when we’ll be at Puchov based on arrival time, and the entire train gets packed full of backpackers. Someone told me that the next stop is Puchov, so I gather all my big bags and start moshing down the hallway. The patient slovakians kindly help guide my bags along the hall as I try not to squish everyone that I squeeze past. I got to the end of the hall, and intended to switch cars to get to the car containing my bike, but it was blocked by a bunch of backpackers so I just waited
until the stop.

At the stop, I threw my bags down outside and frantically tried to get into the locked bike door on the cargo car. After some frantic miscommunication in several languages and some angry facial gestures, I finally found someone who was annoyed enough at me to try to speak English, and they said I should try the other side of the train. I jumped over and around a half dozen people and got through to the other door, and jumped out the other side. Sprinting down the train, I found the baggage people waiting there, wondering where I had been.

So, problem 1 had been solved; the slovakian train had not taken my bike away from me. All bags accounted for, and I’m sitting in the sweltering heat in an exposed train yard. Next problem: the train to Prague is supposed to leave here at 12:13, but it’s already 12:20. I worked the crowd for a minute until I found an English speaker, and he calmly informed me that the Prague train would be there in a few minutes.

By now I’m drenched in sweat, and having trouble carrying my bags while wheeling my bike, but I don’t have time to attach the bags. The train arrived, and a mob of people went out to meet it. The “platform” was a sidewalk sized piece of concrete between tracks, so it wasn’t too easy to get around people. By this time I’d learned to say “Bicykel” or whatever the slovakian word is, so I started calling that out to one of the train staff and they pointed the way.

The guy in charge of bike cargo spoke a few words of English, but he kept apologizing because I had asked him for German first, so he assumed I was German. He slowly and carefully told me about how the tickets worked, and then attached a sticker to my bike so the next guy on shift would know to take it off in Prague.

He then let me know that it’d be ok if I sat in the hallway here on the baggage car, so I’m doing that now. No sense in lugging my bags to some other car for a comfy seat when I can just camp here in the hallway for the next 3 hours or so. This time I’m not getting separated from the bike.

In Prague it should be easier, since I’ve got 2 hours before the next train. I still have to buy another ticket for my bike when I get there, apparently, but hopefully I’ll also have enough time to grab a snack while I’m there. This has certainly taught me the lesson of reserving ahead more, even if I have to beat a ticket out of the monolingual ticket agents. This might have been quite a nice ride if I’d only needed to board the train once, and then sat in a comfy chair the entire way to Berlin, and arrived at dinner time instead of midnight. :/

Prague to Berlin

Arrived in Prague, and immediately went to the ticket office. The staff there were rude and unhelpful. I tried to ascertain whether I could get on a certain train to Berlin with a ticket that didn’t specify that particular train, and they just kinda shrugged their shoulders. I asked if I needed a bike reservation and they eventually said I probably didn’t. I should just show up at the train and ask the conductor. (So I did just that, and it worked out, but it doesn’t make me hate the czech train staff any less. Holy attitude. Fuckers.)

I decided I should get some dinner before getting on the train, since I had plenty of time to wait. I got a nice curry-pasta thing at a place in the station, and tried to get some cold grape juice, but apparently “grep” on the juice menu actually meant grapefruit juice. I gagged it down, since it was cold. I then tried to order a “Caffe Frappe”, which sounded like it had ice in it, but it was more like a room-temperature frothy milkshake. I think the only thing really cold would have been beer, but I didn’t want to get dehydrated.

Got on the train, and found that it had a nice convenient bike room. I stashed my bike and most of my stuff there, so I wouldn’t have to carry the bags around, and then found a free seat close by. Immediately, I heard my two booth-mates speaking English and asked if they were from Canada, which they were! They were quite surprised to hear someone speak English. They’ve been here in Prague for a week already, since one of them is playing in the Ultimate (frisbee) world championships here. He said that apparently a team made up of part of a Vancouver team (“Furious”) and part of a Kelowna team made it to the quarter-finals.

Well, the final train of the day. I should hit Berlin around midnight, and then I get to bike around in the city in the dark searching for my hostel. As luck would have it, this train goes to the *East* train station in Berlin, whereas my hostel is close to the main train station. Oh how I wish I had a map on my GPS that included Berlin.

Ok, I actually found an older map on my laptop, which includes all of Germany but is not routable. I added that to my GPS, so now I have a streetmap for Berlin. I arrived at the Ostbahnhof (east train station) and basically had to ride about 8km across Berlin to get to the west side of town where the hostel is.

I’m just having a cold juice and catching up on the interwebs, and then I’m going to bed. Mission successful!

Hi all

I’ve decided to create a general online diary of daily happenings, since I don’t want to clutter up my other language-related blog with the other stuff happening in my life.

As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in the common room of a hostel in Bratislava. Tomorrow morning I take a series of confusing train rides from Bratislava to some small town whose name I forgot, then to Prague, and finally to Berlin. The roundabout journey was made necessary by the lack of free bicycle spots on the regular train that goes straight from Bratislava to Berlin.

I’m getting a bit tired of bike touring now, since it means that I spend most of my time here in an isolated situation, riding alone through the countryside. I’d much rather be in the big cities, meeting interesting people and having conversations…and of course also using the opportunities available for language study. Therefore, it no longer seems right to continue to log my journey on the bike touring site, so I think I’m going to close off that journal as “complete”.

I’ve booked some hostels in Berlin for the next week, since Couchsurfing hasn’t panned out. I’ll still try and send a few more messages and try to find a free place to stay, but so far it seems that people are either traveling themselves, or already have someone staying there, or just aren’t responding to my surf requests. Oh well.