a few things learned in eastern europe

I just got back from a ten day trip to Prague and Budapest with a few friends, and here is a quick (but not comprehensive) list of some things I learned:

  1. Budget airlines take their baggage requirements seriously. Pack light and wear all of your layers to save the cheeky 60 euro fee they will charge you if your bag doesn’t fit their requirements.
  2. Airbnb hosts are sneaky. Our host in Budapest sent me a nice email asking me to rate him with 5 stars and write an extensive review, so I did, and then I saw his review which was “Jean was fine.” Bastard.
  3. There is nothing better than beer that costs less than one euro. Nothing!
  4. Snow is a very foreign concept to Australians. If travelling with Australians in winter months, prepare for excitement and endless awe when snow starts to fall.
  5. The one thing that is almost as good as beer that costs less than one euro is kebabs that cost less than two.
  6. That five star cafe that your friend recommended you is worth it. Go. A good meal and/or cappuccino will always make your day a little bit brighter.
  7. If someone asks you to take a photo of him and his girlfriend at a beautiful vantage point in Budapest while the sun is setting, prepare for the possibility that he will propose to said girlfriend and you will have the stressful but beautiful duty to take a whack ton of photos of two people who you’ve never met getting engaged.
  8. If you are travelling with people who have similar eating and spending habits, have a communal pot of money to make the trip way easier. One day you feel great because everyone is buying you food and drinks, and the next day you feel great because you are the kind soul that is buying everyone else everything.
  9. When you get to a new city and don’t know what to do, go on a free walking tour. They tend to take about three hours and give you a good gist of the history and landmarks of the city. You get good tips about the city and potentially will even meet a cool person or two!
  10. Do not book shuttle buses with Wizzair because the bus will never arrive and you’ll lose 20 euros.
  11. Do book buses with Student Agency if you’re travelling Eastern Europe because they will have a TV so you can watch Brokeback Mountain AND Factory Girl.
  12. If you drag your friends to a Canadian Poutine place that is 45 minutes away, call first to make sure they’re open. Because they might not be open and you might then feel like a dickhead.
  13. Do not say yes to the Segway tour in Prague. You look like a dork.
  14. Do not get too hyped up on what happens at the top of the hour at the Astronomical Clock in Prague, it’s nothin’ special.
  15. Do not fall off any of the towers in Prague or Budapest. It’s happened before recently, apparently. Not a good way to go.
  16. Prepare for a heavy meat and bread based diet. If you are a vegetarian, expect a fish or chicken dish, even when you ask for no meat. Vegetarianism is something that is not entirely understood when it comes to traditional Czech and Hungarian cuisine.
  17. Hungarians wear a lot of fur.
  18. The movie Eurotrip’s depiction of how far a dollar goes in Eastern Europe is not quite accurate, but still pretty spot on.
  19. Do not ever watch the movie Eurotrip.

public service announcement: you should go on exchange

“I miss being a student,” a 27 year old Dutch guy told me at a party a few months ago. “When you’re a student, if you have to go to the dentist, that’s the thing you do that day. You can go to the dentist and when people ask you what you did that day, you can say that you went to the dentist and that’s accepted as an accomplished day! Now that I am not a student, if I have to go to the dentist, I have to fit it in on my break and still work from 9-5. Man, I miss being a student.”

This conversation was early into my exchange to the Netherlands, so I didn’t entirely relate to him. Back home in Calgary, I’m used to volunteering 5-15 hours a week, waitressing 10-20 hours a week, and studying with practically all the time I had in between. When I first got here, I felt a sense of guilt when all I did in a day was read some articles and go to the supermarket.

But now, after 5 months of living in Amsterdam, I can understand what that Dutch guy meant. I think it’s a bit of a cultural thing – Europeans seem much better at chilling out and enjoying life than us North Americans. The Dutch work fewer hours than any other EU country, with an average of 30 hours a week. They are also ranked as some of the most productive in the EU, which suggests something about their mindset about working is, well, working. The Dutch have a pretty good work-life balance, with perhaps more of an emphasis on the life part.

This can be frustrating at times, such as when you’re waiting to be served and end up waiting over half an hour for a coffee. But this doesn’t happen often, and it tends to not bother me when it does, as I am happy to spend hours in a cafe. I have no job, six weeks off from school, and feel no need to really do anything that I don’t want to do.

It’s pretty ridiculous.

Today I went to a cafe and read a book. The day before I went to a museum and watched American Beauty. Tomorrow, I think I’m going to do laundry. And I’d say that it’s been a pretty successful week.

I am learning in all sorts of ways that can come from being able to do whatever I want with almost every day. Today I learned heaps bout the history of Istanbul and read far too much about bike lanes in different cities. On Friday I learned all about Keith Harring’s artwork and that a McDonald’s in Rotterdam has won an architectural award as the “worlds fanciest McDonalds.” I’m also getting pretty good at creating delicious chickpea curries. 

It’s going to be hard to go back to the responsibilities of work and school and all that lame stressful time consuming stuff back home, but luckily I still have 7 months to live like a Dutch student and perfect the beautiful art of doing a little less while enjoying a lot more.