Reasons Thanksgiving is a terrible holiday.

Sure, you get a few days off from work or school, but as you'll soon see, it's not as good as it seems. Here's why:
  1. Travel
    If you’re within eight hours driving distance, or you have enough cashmoney to fly home, of course you’re going to do it, because it’s Thanksgiving and you’re not an ungrateful bastard. But Lord is the traveling a nuisance. I’ve driven the LA to northern California route several times, and the shortest number of hours it has taken is eight, and that’s leaving Wednesday night after 9 pm. Of course, most schools and employers don’t give the Wednesday before Turkey Day off, so everyone is trying to get to all the same places all at the same time, so wherever you go, the crowds make you feel like you’re in the middle of Miley Cyrus concert filled with idiots. Whoops, I guess that’s kind of redundant, since I can’t think of who else would go to a Miley Cyrus concert besides idiots.

  2. The food
    I’m sure I’ll get a lot of flack about this, but Thanksgiving food is just not as good as everyone always says. I can probably count the number of excellent turkey dinners I’ve had on one hand, and that’s not talking smack about the cook. Turkey is just a difficult dish to prepare well without drying it out. And of course there’s so much of it that you’re stuck eating dry turkey for the next eight days straight. Mashed potatoes are delicious, but incredibly unhealthy and full of carbs (which is awful if you’re a carbohydrate bigot). Don’t even get me started on pecan pie; honestly, who thought it would be good to make a pie out of nuts? I’m betting it wasn’t the Indians.

  3. Commercialism
    Now once you’ve gotten to where you’re going and you’ve stuffed yourself with dry bird and nut pie, almost before the dishes are even washed, all the nice, warm, family-related parts of the holiday are over and you’re expected to spend the weekend shopping and getting ready for the next big holiday. Not only that, but you’re supposed to stand in line early in the morning cold for several hours just to exchange your hard-earned money for, let’s face it, crap that will be forgotten about faster than a new year’s resolution.
It’s just such a shame that the good parts, like hanging out with family and passing out from a food coma, outweigh the bad so much that you basically have to keep celebrating Thanksgiving, even in a foreign country, year in and year out. Still, it’s definitely the worst holiday of the year.
Something that has peeved me quite a bit, particularly during my travels around Germany, is the lack of drinking fountains. Bus stations, train stations, public parks, museums, really anywhere that sees a decent amount of foot traffic in the US has a drinking fountain. Here, well, that's not quite the case. You can't find a drinking fountain here to save your life. I'm not being figurative: if you were dying of thirst, I'd give 5 to 1 odds that you would die before you found a water fountain.

The only fountain in Meersburg
...and it doesn't work.
By my reckoning, there are a couple reasons for this. First off, many of these buildings and parks were built a long, long time ago, and either nobody thought to improve them by putting in drinking fountains (doubtful) or nobody wanted to spend the money. The second reason is not far from the first; it's likely that since they covet water so much here, and since they frown on people ordering tap water at restaurants, they don't want to spend money to give people free water and they'd be disgusted by those who drink water from the tap anyway.

The basic premise of this post is that as horrible as some American infrastructure is (take a look at a highway map of LA for an example), there are a lot of good things we've got going back in the old U. S. of A. And one of my favorites is the plenitude of fresh, free water.

Happy thanksgiving from a country that doesn't celebrate it

Ellen and I still managed to enjoy an almost traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls...

...and my favorite, chocolate mousse.
Mousse on the loose!

* * *

Happy thanksgiving everybody. Here are a few things I'm thankful about living in Germany:
  • Some time off from the daily grind.
  • A chance to do some writing and some creative work.
  • Travel.
    ...and especially
  • Cheap and plentiful bratwurst.

Here's a peek at what I've been doing lately


The rest of the Thanksgiving batch can be found at
Update: Just realized the comics were too big and getting cut off on the page. I shrank them down, but if they're too small, just click on them and you can see them on their original site in the original size.

There are a lot of great things I miss about living in the US, but one thing I don't have to miss--thanks to the Internet--is my favorite comics. just redesigned their site and made it awesome in that you can register, check all your favorite comics, and then get a daily e-mail with those specific comics for the day.

Here's an assortment of some of the greats:

F Minus, by Tony Carillo

F Minus

Pearls Before Swine, by Stephan Pastis (my absolute favorite)
Pearls Before Swine

Get Fuzzy, by Darby Conley
Get Fuzzy

Of course, Dilbert isn't on, it's on, which itself is an excellent site with an extensive set of options for the comic lover. Here's a good one from the other day:

Dilbert, by Scott Adams

One of my favorites growing up was Foxtrot, which just switched from daily to Sunday-only. It makes me sad, but they're still quite good every week. Click here for one of my recent favorites (it's on a different site that won't let me embed it here).

Lastly, a great independent comic called Amazing Super Powers from some friends from college comes out every Monday and Thursday. Here's a great one from a couple weeks back. (Warning: it can be a little graphic in nature.)

Anybody have recommendations for my sick sense of humor? Post them in the comments.

To the untrained eye, this may look phallic...

However, to the eye of a sophisticate, a patriot, and a lover of fine things, this is an obelisk of the greatest magnitude. It's a tribute to victory, an homage to excellence, a testament to the fortitude of the human spirit. Truly, a triumph of the will.

Whoops, I guess I shouldn't be mentioning "Triumph of the Will" while I'm in Germany. (I tried to find a link to the actual video, but unsurprisingly I got the message "This video is not available in your country.")

Also, since I promised photos of snow angels and snow forts, here's a feast for your eyes:

Admittedly, it's a pretty sad fort, but I think I made up for it with my epic monument above. I almost didn't put up the picture, but I didn't want to welch on my promise like that. Incidentally, I know a few people named Welch and I can't imagine they're too happy when someone uses that expression, though apparently it's a slur against Welsh people so I guess they'd have more cause to be angry.

Anyway, as I fully expected, it was quite a successful weekend in the snow.

BREAKING NEWS: There's no business like SNOW business

Not only did Mother Nature come through in a big old way, but she was premature compared to my expectation. All week I had been anticipating snow this weekend, only to check the weather report today and see for tomorrow: "Chance of Snow." Chance? What the hell's up with that? Still, I held onto my beliefs.

"It will snow."

Just as Ellen was getting ready to go to bed, I checked outside, fully expecting it to be just rainy and cold, and lo and behold, the unthinkable:

Here, in pictorial detail, is the chain of events that followed:

I shall call him Samuel. Samuel the Snowman.

Snow angels, snow forts, snowball fights and (if I'm not too dehydrated from running around) yellow snow are all coming up tomorrow.

Snow Day? Snow Way!

According to the weather report all week, snow should be coming to Meersburg tomorrow. For the few of you who might remember, it snowed briefly in Madrid when I lived there a few years back, and I can count on one hand the times it has snowed in Sacramento during the 18 years I lived there. (I could probably also count on two hands the number of total minutes it snowed in Sacramento when I lived there.)

Needless to say, I am quite excited about this weekend. It's been stormy, windy, raining/hailing and about 40 degress Fahrenheit today, so snow will be a very welcome change. Pictures of snow angels, snowball fights, snowmen and snow forts to follow.

Did I ever tell you about the time I almost had a pet koala?

I was looking at my pictures from the zoo in Vienna, and they reminded me of a story that I’ve only told a few but I think would appeal to many, considering it has three of the basic ingredients for greatness: 1) free stuff, 2) cute, furry animals, and 3) human stupidity.

I had moved into my first post-college apartment in Los Angeles and was in the settling-in phase, casually surfing craigslist for furniture, books, or anything free that looked cool. Cat-scratched couches, hole-y bean bags, craigslist was a sofa graveyard; it was where bad interior decoration went to die. Thoroughly jaded, I crawled my mouse over to the jobs section, resigned to actually start searching for a means of living, when one simple sentence caught my eye.
Free koala to good home
Do my eyes deceive? Surely that can’t be real, and if it is, there’s no way that it’s legal. Still...

I clicked through to the ad, and there, on the page, was a very homemade-looking photograph of someone holding a koala in what looked like your standard LA-area backyard, or what passes for one. The ad revealed that the person giving away the koala used to be a zookeeper in Australia, had the animal for a pet there and somehow brought it over to the US when she moved. She glossed over any details regarding legality or morality, but the tone of the ad seemed to convey a deep caring for the animal, as though the owner was looking for a trustworthy and reliable babysitter for a small child. Despite my incredulity, I came to believe it as authentic, and then came the difficult part.

Could I, Mark J. Lehman, be the proud new father to a pet koala?

What if the woman giving away the little fellow expected a koala expert? My fingers raced furiously over the keyboard, pouring through site after site on the internet in my haste to learn about koalas. I would need to know precisely how much eucalyptus these animals eat every day, where I could house and protect such a creature, how I could guard it from any neighborhood dogs or, for that matter, nosy neighbors.

Finally, after what seemed like hours, I made a judgment call. Yes, it would be hard work, but I was willing to put forth the time, effort and money—despite my lack of employment—to provide a home for an amiable new friend. Heck, the fur ball would probably be the best motivation to get a decent job.

I surfed back to craigslist and found the ad again, scrolled down to the phone number provided, and with sweaty hands and jittery nerves, dialed each of the 10 digits and prepared for glory.

One ring, two rings, then a click and... “Hello?”

“Um, hi, I’m calling in response to your ad on craigslist regarding the koala...”

“Excuse me?”

I paused. Had I been made? Could she tell just by my voice that I was no expert? Did my youth discourage her from even hearing me out? No way, keep cool, you’ve got this puppy in the bag, so to speak.

“The, um, koala. Your ad on craigslist giving away a pet koala to a good home. I’ve got one. A good home, that is, not a koala, though I’m sure the new one would love a friend, but honestly I don’t know if I’m prepared to care for two koalas...”

Laughter. That’s all I hear. Laughter, drowning out the sounds of my heart breaking in half.

“Oh wow. I, um... wow. Sorry, I don’t have any idea how that got there, but I don’t own a koala. Sure you’ve got the number right?”

I repeated it back to her as I read it from my phone, at the same time double-checking it on the screen.

“Yep, that’s me. How strange. Well, sorry about that. Bye.”

The phone nearly fell from my hand as it was weakened from sadness. I dropped it on the desk, and slowly leaned over, elbows on my knees, head in my hands. You wouldn’t think this would affect me so much, but in the 45 minutes that had passed since I first found the ad, I had fully convinced myself that a pet koala was the key to solving all of my problems, as well as the issues and crises facing the world today. Well, perhaps not, but it had become essential to my settling into my new apartment and my new life, and now it was gone.

I swore off craigslist for a couple days. The lingering pain, like post traumatic stress, was just too much to handle. But I eventually bounced back and am now able to tell, in humorous detail, the story of the time I almost had a pet koala.

I'm just too sensational, I suppose

I wrote a post all about our travels through Austria (in fact, I wrote several posts), and one of them included a video I had uploaded to youtube. The video was a little half a minute thing showing a mother lioness walking up to the plexiglass and growling at the crowd, and it seemed like it was growling at a little girl in a stroller.

So, I of course tried to be as sensational as possible and titled it "Lioness tries to attack little girl at zoo." Turns out, that sort of thing gets noticed, since it's gotten several comments and a couple thousand views from people I don't even know. And to top it all off, the video found itself on a seemingly reputable news site,, as well as two other video sites, one of them foreign.

In case you forgot which video I'm talking about, here it is:

Obituary: The best pair of sunglasses I ever had

Summer 2007 - Fall 2008
Requiescat in Pace

FAKE AVIATOR SUNGLASSES - Died Saturday, November 1 on a train ride from Ulm, Germany to their home in Meersburg, Germany. Cause of death is unknown, though it's suspected that their owner, Mark J. Lehman, sat on them while in his coat pocket. They were approximately 1 and 1/2 years old at time of death.

Birthplace is unknown, but they always considered their birthplace to be Venice Beach, CA, where they first met their only true friend and owner, Mark. It was a summer afternoon in August, and Mark saw them at a booth on the Venice Beach promenade being sold for $7. He immediately fell in love with them, and they with him, and from that day on, the two entities became inseparable.

Sunglasses grew up and spent their formative years in Los Angeles, traveling all over the world to places such as Florida, Thailand, and even the top of Mt. Whitney. Only a couple months ago, when their owner decided to move to Germany, they followed him out there. It's thought that the cold, damp weather of southern Germany didn't agree with them, but we'll never know for sure. They continued to provide all that Mark needed, and he was grateful for them every day.

Sunglasses are survived by their true friend, Mark J. Lehman. They also have a brother still living in Venice with their brother's owner, Daniel Lehman. Daniel's Sunglasses are in bad shape, though, and close to death themselves.

Services were held Sunday, November 2, at Fake Aviator Sunglasses' home in Meersburg, Germany. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Mark J. Lehman and the Buy Me A New Pair of Fake Aviator Sunglasses Fund.
Easily the best postcard I've ever laid eyes on. And since it was one of those advertisement postcards, it was completely gratis. Dunk!
This is just one of a few key finds on that trip across the Bodensee.

I'm in a glass cage of emotion!

Every time I go to take a shower, it’s like a march to my own death.

The shower here is a two foot square box with two small sliding doors in the corner which both slide together to close. I’ve never been claustrophobic before, but in that watery coffin, I often find myself looking at the walls, wondering if they are actually closing in on me or if it’s just my imagination.

I raise my arms to wash my face and bash my wrist against the shower door, dropping the soap. I turn around and bend over to pick up the soap and smash my face against the tile wall. I come back up quickly and bonk the back of my head on the handle, making the water gush out hard on the beginning stages of the welt on my noggin and into my eyes. I turn again to get my face out of the hard stream of water, knock my elbow against the shower handle again, and this time get scalded by the now lava-hot liquid spraying out at me like an AK-47 pumping me full of lead. Then, just as suddenly and for no reason at all, the temperature shifts dramatically, and is now about as hot as Scott Baio’s career.

While screaming and weeping, I manage to use enough water to rinse off any soap that actually made it onto my body during the harrowing affair, then leap out of my cage and violently towel myself off.

I make it out alive, and spend the rest of the day and evening dreading my next visit to the torture chamber that is our shower.

A Journey to the Center of Europe - Day 7

Ellen and I went to Austria and Slovakia for a week-long trip. Read about the entire trip, day by day: Day 1. Day 2. Day 3. Day 4. Day 5. Day 6.

Day 7

Since we spent about 11 hours riding in trains and buses, the trip home was largely uneventful. However, we did manage to find the absolute worst train ever on the connection from Munich to Ulm. It was overflowing with small children, reeked of sauerkraut, and had chairs that felt like we were sitting on wood. Of course, they also had the ability to recline, so the children in front of us put theirs all the way back and then spent about five minutes of the hour and a half-long journey actually sitting in them.

View Larger Map

Oh, and then there was the next train, from Ulm to Friedrichshafen, which broke down in the middle of the ride. I never really expected trains to be perfect, but I’ve extolled the virtues of rail travel before, and gotten in a huff about how America doesn’t have any decent rail travel, and there’s nothing like a train breakdown to really knock one off of that line of thinking. Say what you want about plane delays, at least most of the time you’re inside a terminal and can walk around and poke through books in the gift shop or grab some shite food at the McDonald’s. Even better if they've got a SwankDonald's.

Eventually, the train started working long enough to carry us to the next stop, where we had to get off and stand in the cold and wait for another train to carry us the rest of the way to Friedrichshafen. From there, it was just a short 30 minute bus ride to get back to the little town of Meersburg we call home.

Overall, it was a great trip. There were some definite highs, and perhaps a few lows, but I have to say Vienna is one of my favorite cities in Europe. It has a timeless kind of quality to it, perhaps because it still has all of its super old buildings since they weren’t bombed in the war like a lot of European cities. Madrid still takes first place in the “Mark’s favorite cities” award, but I lived there for almost six months and I speak the language, so what else could you expect?

* * *

If you haven’t seen already, feel free to the click the pictures below for Vienna and Bratislava photo albums.


A Journey to the Center of Europe - Day 6

Ellen and I went to Austria and Slovakia for a week-long trip. You can read about the whole week: Day 1. Day 2. Day 3. Day 4. Day 5.

Day 6

Started the day off checking out a couple English bookshops in city center, where I found the best deal on the most amazing book ever. How Animals Have Sex is everything I hoped it would be and more, particularly for the 1 euro price tag. It describes, in hilarious detail, exactly what it promises, with pictures to boot.

We scrounged some lunch at a very touristy pizza place, with an elderly American gentleman shouting in English that he wanted red wine. Not really sure what we were expecting there, since we picked it out of a guidebook. Afterward, we headed up to Prater, which is a Coney Island-esque carnival thing on the northern edge of the city, and we walked through the stranded town that time forgot. It was supposed to be a fun and joyous place, but turned out to be quite desolate and sad. Merry-go-rounds and bumper cars and roller coasters sat empty, waiting for someone who wanted to ride badly enough to pay the outrageous per-ride prices. We only paid 3 euros each to ride the ferris wheel, and that was only because Ellen wanted to make out at the top. They also had a swings ride on steroids, which Ellen had ridden previously.

Despite reading about a Halloween extravaganza that was to be had out at Prater, no such festivities existed, so we snapped some pictures with the grotesque statues and sculptures that we found and then ventured over to a nearby Irish pub and drowned our depression in pints of Guinness and cider. It seemed to be the hangout spot for all Viennese English speakers, because that’s the only language we heard all night.

The beer and the walking and the length of the trip took a toll, so we were both a bit shagged and fagged and fashed, it having been a week of some small energy expenditure. We retired to the hostel and got some much-needed R&R before heading home the next day.

A Journey to the Center of Europe - Day 5

Ellen and I took a trip to Austria and Slovakia for a week. For previous days: Day 1. Day 2. Day 3. Day 4.

Day 5

We had spent so much time playing with the animals at the zoo the day before, we missed the actual Schonbrunn palace, so we headed back there early Thursday morning and took the Imperial 35-minute tour. I immediately realized that the palace was once the home of the man with the best facial hair ever in the world. And I don’t mean me.

It was a little difficult to focus on just how ridiculous his ’stache was, though, because we were surrounded by annoying tourists. It was kind of fun being able to point out where everyone was from, though, and that’s without hearing languages. Americans would be the folks with the all-white shoes and the shorts, Spaniards would be the ones that pushed right past us wherever they were going, and the Asian folks would be the ones without any “inside voices,” shouting to each across the huge halls.

When our 35-minute tour was finished, we caught the train out to a town an hour and a half outside Vienna called Amstetten to visit a friend from LMU, David. The train ride cost much more than it should have to go to such a boring place, no offense to any Amstetteners out there. We grabbed lunch at a fancy town bar, walked around for a bit, and managed to get slightly lost despite how small the town was.

Before we left, David wanted us to try something called Most, which is basically local-made cider. We found a place called Most & Kost, which sounds more like a kind of Costco for Dr. Seuss fans. An hour or so later, we were back on the train to Vienna, sipping Most and ready for some food. David had a Fulbright get-together in Vienna for the Austrian Fulbright recipients, so we parted ways and grabbed some Chinese food at Happy Chinese, a welcome change from sausage and schnitzel, then we of course got some ice cream at our new favorite place for dessert, and turned in for the evening to look up things to do on Halloween in Vienna.

A Journey to the Center of Europe - Day 4

Ellen and I went to Austria and Slovakia for a week-long trip. This post is Day 4. Previous days here: Day 1. Day 2. Day 3.

Day 4

Since we got tricked into taking the Tram to Nowhere the day before, we started Wednesday with a tram ride the right way and took in the sights of the ring road, the street that encircles downtown Vienna. When the Albertina stop came, we hopped off and went on up to the Van Gogh exhibit, where we nearly suffocated in the strange and exotic sounds and smells of tourists from all walks of life. Since I’m not a huge fan of Van, after bumping into 30 people in about three minutes, I decided to Gogh check out another exhibit.

We read that the Albertina has such an extensive permanent collection of art that they completely rotate out their exhibits every three months, so along with Van Gogh there was an incredible collection of contemporary art that far surpassed that of the Kunstalle from yesterday. I’m a big fan of contemporary stuff because I never know what to expect—for example, one of my favorite artists is Piero Manzoni, who put out a Magic Base block of wood, had people stand on it, then told them they were now a work of art by Piero Manzoni and handed them a Certificate of Authenticity.

New favorite artists from the contemporary wing of the Albertina:

Gottfried Helnwein is best known for Boulevard of Broken Dreams, but my favorite is his satanic-looking Mickey Mouse.

Erwin Wurm did some hilarious drawings. Can’t find a picture of my favorite, but here’s something that’s indicative of the kind of some of the other work he does:

Walter Schmoegner has some stairs pictures that reminded me of M.C. Escher, but creepier. He also has some great paintings involving skeletons in various situations, but I couldn’t find any of those.

Walter Schmoegner

After the museum, Ellen insisted we try the original Sacher Eck torte, which I had never heard of ever before in my life. And since it doesn’t even seem to be on Wikipedia, I’m convinced it’s not as famous as she says. Especially considering it wasn’t very good. On the plus side, they had sugar in pill form, something I had never seen. So, naturally I told Ellen I would give her a quarter to eat a sugar pill. She didn’t do it, perhaps because there’s no such thing as a quarter in Euros. The gauntlet had been thrown, so being a man, I popped one in my mouth. Moments later, I spit it out. I felt like my tongue had been burned with sweetness.

Next stop on our Vienna adventure was the outdoor Naschmarkt farmer’s market, where we got greasy pizza and juicy doner kebab and disgusting dried kiwi. It looked way better than it was. Since we weren’t in a buying mood, we took off towards the Schonbrunn palace and gardens, where we found the best part of Vienna: the zoo!

We met some friendly zebras and giraffes.

We met some not-so-friendly lions and tigers.

And we got to see my personal favorites: the panda, the koala, and of course the turtles (they’re just so wise). I was impressed that the panda had his own armchair. It was truly a zoo fit for a king.

We also some one of the grossest animals, the anteater, and we caught it during feeding time so we saw it in its snotty, disgusting glory.

After a few hours at the zoo, we rounded out the day with a Viennese classic, Wiener Schnitzel. In case you don’t know, that’s not a hot dog or sausage or any kind, but more of a breaded veal cutlet. Very chicken nugget-esque. Dessert was the delicious ice cream place we went to the night before, where the Erdbeercoup was so good that I ate far too much and literally couldn’t walk upright because my skin was stretched so tautly over my new food baby and couldn’t extend any further with some sort of tear.

When we got back to the hostel, I fell asleep quickly and happily with a full stomach and this heartwarming thought: “My favorite thing about Vienna is how fun it is seeing the word ‘wiener’ everywhere.”
Just found this online. Wow is it disturbing, and not just because it shows me rocking a 'stache, something I've tried before with mixed results.

A Journey to the Center of Europe - Day 3

Ellen and I took a trip to Austria and Slovakia for a week. Here's the third day's activities. For previous days: Day 1, Day 2.

Day 3

We got back to Vienna around noon, just in time for lunch at a quaint little Turkish restaurant. Though they unfortunately did not have any Turkish Delight, they did have Turka Cola, which tasted remarkably like RC Cola, Shasta Cola, and every cola knock-off I’ve ever tried.

Our stomachs filled, we took the subway to city center, and found that in Austria, the recorded announcer on the subway sounded exactly like Arnold Schwarzenegger. I kept expecting him to say “Naechste halte: Kah-lee-fohn-ya.”

Coming out of the subway station was like entering a whole new world, and not metaphorically like the theme from "Aladdin". Everywhere we looked we were surrounded by majestic architecture, intricate and grandiose palaces and gardens, and the hustle and bustle of trade and exchange. At least eight different museums dotted the map within 15 minutes of walking from St. Stephen’s Cathedral at the center of the city, and we managed to see the outsides of all eight, but only the inside of three.

The first was the Kunsthalle, the Conemporary Art Museum, which had an exhibit on Edward Hopper. It wasn’t really my cup of tea, but I did find some works by German named Thomas Demand that I found quite interesting. The best part of the Kunsthalle would have to be the gift shop, where they had all of the Coolest T-shirt Contest winners. The funniest thing about them was the price: a whopping 35 euros apiece. The last time I paid 35 euros for a T-shirt it was edible.

View Larger Map

Before the next museum, we took a little tram ride. Our tourist map from the hostel said there were two trams that went in clockwise and counter-clockwise circles around downtown. So we hopped on one, and before we knew it we were miles outside of the city, studying the sign that said “As of October 26, the tram no longer goes in a circle, you idiot tourists,” or something to that effect. We rode back to town, defeated, but when we got back to Stephansplatz and saw a parade of shirtless Turkish men, we knew we’d hit on yet another jackpot.

The rainbow colored “PEACE” flag, typically used for gay pride, kind of gave us the wrong first impression of what was happening. From the German that Ellen understood, it seemed there was some sort of Turkish political figure that was wrongly imprisoned, so there was a march that for some reason demanded the men be shirtless in the cold of October. Whether it was as cool as the random donkey art in Bratislava is something that is sure to be debated for years to come.

Next, we ambled down to the Haus der Musik, a museum that is like a wonderland for small children. Basically every display and exhibit is interactive, you can play wacky instruments, and it even has a place to create your own CD recording using a wide variety of sounds and effects. Some available sounds: wind over the Sahara desert, a man farting, the Apollo 11 launch, feedback, and oh so many more. I found a great remixed Beethoven by a guy named Stefan Obermaier, but the CD was about 20 euros at the gift shop, so I passed. The last time I spent 20 euros on a CD it was edible. I mean audible. Actually, no I don’t.

After the subway ride back to the hostel and relaxing to the soothing sounds of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the recorded subway announcer, we grabbed a light dinner, a few drinks, and turned in early. Tomorrow we’d be hitting the Albertina, the most impressive museum that I’ve been to yet.
Perhaps the following story will illuminate my reason for such a declaration.

"Casino Royale", the last James Bond movie, has become one of my favorite films in recent years, mostly due to Daniel Craig’s remorseless, I-don’t-care-what-anyone-else-does-I’m-going-to-get-my-way, Jack Bauer-esque portrayal of 007 (only with much fewer torture scenes than “24.”) So of course, when I found out that the new Bond flick, Quantum of Solace, would be coming out in Germany this week, a full week before all you suckers back in the US could see it, I started scouring the net looking for original language showings.

What I found: one showing per night at 8:15, in a town that’s a 30 minute and three euro ride away. Well, I wasn’t going to let that stop me. We double checked the bus schedule to make sure they would still be running by the time the movie got out, found out there was only one bus left but we should be able to make it in time, and decided to risk it.

At this point, the astute reader can probably guess what happened. The movie itself was phenomenal, though I had to use my Spanish a bit since some of the dialogue during the scenes in Bolivia are in Spanish with German subtitles. As soon as it finished, Ellen and I were out the door, booking it to the bus stop, about a mile away. We made it at 10:45, with five minutes to spare before the 10:50 bus, so we congratulated ourselves on a job well done.

Only the bus never came.

I’m still not sure why, but we waited until about 11:30 for that stupid 10:50 bus, hoping it was just running late. Since the bus stop is the beginning of the line, it wouldn’t have left early, so neither of us can figure it out. Finally, by 11:30ish we got tired of waiting, flagged down a cab, and dropped about 40 bucks on a taxi back home. It was very weak sauce; in fact, the weakest sauce I can imagine. You can bet that bus company will be getting an angry letter.

Oh how I miss the days of living in a proper city that actually has a movie theater less than 15 miles away, and that shows movies in English more than once a day. Heck, even Madrid had that.

At least I can take comfort in one thing: even in Germany, where everybody is pale white, the cab drivers are still Indian.

A Journey to the Center of Europe - Day 2

Ellen and I went to Austria and Slovakia for a week-long trip. This account details the second day of our trip. Day 1 can be found here.

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Day 2

As luck would have it, when we asked the front desk lady at our hostel about the best way to get to Bratislava, she had an unused train ticket, so we grabbed that and an hour later were officially glorying in the crumble and dirt of Eastern Europe. I gave the friendly lady at the train station some money and she literally tossed some train tickets, change and receipt our way, and we headed off to city center to our “hotel.”

The “hotel” was actually an apartment that a guy in an athletic suit was renting out to us. I got the sense it was a hideout for Slovakian mobsters, but it was clean, had two beds, sheets, bathroom and a door that locked, and all for a decent price, so we risked it.

The first thing I noticed when we went out to look for lunch was the old lady walking her dog across the street. There wasn’t anything abnormal about it, except that the dog was wearing a hoodie. Perhaps she got it from the H&M in Konstanze. I tried to snap a picture but they were quick—that dog must’ve been training for something.

My ideal ham cone.
We found a nice, cheap lunch place off the beaten path, and I want to explain something about Slovakian food: although a “ham cone” might sound like just about the coolest food ever, in reality it’s only slightly above liver as far as taste is concerned. Here I had pictured an ice cream sugar cone filled with ham, but what I got was three slices of ham, rolled, and stuffed with some sort of custard/cheese concoction. Luckily, I also had the best chicken soup I’ve ever had, and it all cost about three bucks.

Walking off the indigestion from my poorly-named ham cone, we stumbled upon the opera house, the Danube (which was much more gray and green than blue), and some rather odd statues. One had a man with his head and shoulders out of a manhole, another was a guy peering over a park bench as if reading the newspaper over your shoulder. Kind of disturbing, but hey, it’s Slovakia.

Finally, we hit upon the castle. Apparently, the castle has been under construction and renovation since the middle of last century, which is only slightly longer than most road construction projects in Los Angeles. So, it was still scaffolded and was not allowing any visitors inside. But luckily, we got to see the huge ad they had draped across the wall of it. There was a rather nice view of the city from the pathways surrounding the castle, so we had a German woman snap a pic for us, and then strolled back down, stopping to snap a few more pictures at a lovely gothic cathedral on the way.

We did some more meandering until we stumbled upon what I like to refer to as “the jackpot.” It seemed to be some sort of art installation in the middle of a promenade, but to me it looked like just a bunch of donkeys.

Okay, so maybe they were life-sized pictures of donkeys, but it was both bizarre and wonderful all the same.

Dinner was Cuban food and Casa de Havana, dessert was chocolates with strawberry and cream filling, and bedtime was welcome and well-deserved. In the morning, we stumbled across a poodle with a white afro on the way to the bus station, and it was like Slovakia’s unique little way of saying goodbye to us.
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