According To Walter
Its too bad this blog doesn't have an extra-LOUD setting

Sep
24

Just a couple of things real quick for those faithful few of you.

I am once again back to my home away from home (also known as the Austin Bergstrom International Airport, but really any flying contraption station gives me the same cold/terrible seating/oddly comforting embrace). This time Im off to the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA to check in on a handful of hooligans from Prague.

I realize that I lied to you the other day. Straight up lied. Right through the teeth. But I will deliver.

Eventually.

Also, speaking of Prague, if you, like me, never wanted to leave (albeit vicariously on your part, now my part as well), then I encourage you, nay, I implore you to read this young man’s blog. Thats coming to you direct from the clever mind of Ben Lyon aka this kid:

Until next time, kamaradku.

Sep
01

To the two people that have viewed my blog for the past handful of days:

Thank you. Your loyalty is admirable.

Theres been a lot going on in this little life of mine. Ill treat you to some of it this weekend.

But seriously, its strange, eerie even, how flattering it is to see my tiny graph say two views. Right above where my blog service reads “DEADBEAT” in all caps and complains that I never call anymore and wishes that I would take it out to dinner and have a real conversation with it once in a while. You know how they get.

Jul
16

You think what I do is easy? That its all gourmet meals and fun in the sun? That its not filled with danger at every turn?

Because youre wrong.

Dead wrong.

Well, no, actually thats about right. But I never promised to be the ultra-cool, adventure-seeking, daredevil you all envision me to be. I clip my toenails just like everyone else (an activity demonstrating a lack of adventure rather than some sort of uniting factor of humanity, lets just be clear on that. I clip with no kind of extra glory).

So my (semi) adventure in Sorrento (did I mention I was in Sorrento? Sometimes I get mixed up on these things. Anyways, Im in Sorrento. Well, not currently. Currently Im in Rome, but we’re pretending Im doing this in an orderly chronological fashion. So this is me from the future writing as if Im me from the past in Sorrento. Phew) began as any other: filled with feasting, a blazing sun, barely navigable waterways to untold treasures and alleged Italian pirates. I say alleged because while they didnt do anything specifically piratey, they were scraggly and sang a lot in boats. You put that jigsaw together and I say youve got something like a pirate. Take a look for yourself:

Maybe he was charming away the flesh-eating sea monsters of the deep. As they say, music soothes the flesh-eating sea monster. Or beast. I can never remember that one exactly. Thats the Blue Grotto, by the way. Located under the island of Capri. Here you can see the conditions of my travels that would push any man to the brink of his sanity:

Ah and the best fish Ive ever eaten. Way to go Italian Red Snapper:

And the Blue Grotto sans Italiano:

After all the enjoying all the tantalizing shindigs Capri had to offer, we took a skiff (but skiff would be appropriate?) back to the mainland.

The land was also filled with mysterious cryptograms that it would take a master scholar countless millennia to decipher:

But I just thought they were amusing.

Oh and one thing I need to mention before I forget. The Blue Grotto of Capri (arguably one of the most beautiful places Ive ever witnessed with mine own eyes) is the hands-down, filthy-highway-robbery, epitome of a tourist trap. Let me paint a large, fiscally irresponsible picture for you: you buy a ticket on a ferry boat from Sorrento to Capri for 14 euro, then a smaller boat from Capri to the Blue Grotto for 12 euro, then you get in a very tiny boat with an Italian man and they take you to a man in a boat who asks a paltry 11.50 euro per person (46 euro for every boat, always), who then ferries you around for 5 minutes, sings a little, and asks a tip of roughly 10 euro. Badabing badaboom. Your kids cant go to college now. Hope you thought it was beautiful.

Deep exhale.

But it was beautiful. Post-Capri, we had another night in Sorrento and then it was off to Rome (where I reside currently, typing out this blog while the rest of my nuclear family ooohs and aaahs around the Vatican Museums, a tour which, is unbelievable, but only so on the first trip. I, having taken that tour and given that tour to the most recent group of scallywags, decided to opt out).

I enjoy Rome, but find myself always wishing I was somewhere else. Its not that the food isnt great and the sights arent amazing, it just doesnt feel very cultural. I would love someone to argue that out of my head but its just how it sits currently. Theres so much history but its all dead history. Its just like, look some ruins, plop a city around it and BAM! Nobody really seems to care. I dont know. I guess I just have a special preference for cities like Florence.

I realize I just kind of glazed over Paris and in a way Florence and I apologize for that. Paris, for me, was about reuniting with my sister and being in a cool place while doing so. I hope to go back sometime and dig a little deeper. But it really was stunning.

Now lets get some ground facts laid down: I love my family very much.

But (ah the inevitable but. Why would I tell you something like that without there being a deeper point to expound on. Its like the pick-up line of non-romantically-oriented conversation)…

It has been exposed to me how much I took for granted traveling alone. I very much enjoy being only responsible for myself and always being able to move at the pace I see fit. My family, God love them, moves at a much different pace than I do and at times it has been very frustrating. Its been the cause of many pauses followed by deep breaths and counting very slowly to ten. Not really, I dont think that works, it ironically frustrates me more to try to deliberately slow everything down. So this has been revealing of my character.

Now Im off to haggle with some dudes selling trinkets on the street. Im going to try to channel the bargaining greatness of the savvy Brian Holmes, but I make no promise to share his success. And then its off to test the repatriation of remains clause in the leftover international insurance I have from Prague when I rent a scooter with my sister.

Dream.

Come.

True.

Final thought: theres something I enjoy about the patience it takes to peel an egg in the morning.

Jul
12

Oof

is the sound of me getting kicked in the chest by my good fortune. You know, the kind of good fortune that goes around kicking the asses of really lucky people. Like me. Because after a measly three weeks at home, I am back jetsetting (I actually prefer the term globetrotting as it just evokes feelings of cool, you know?) across the European continent. Its honestly absurd that I have been able to do things like this. So perhaps I should amend the sound to

Oof. Erg. Glphff. Ugh. Aaaaaaahhhhthpbt.

(kick in chest-> doubled over uppercut-> face-smother in dirt or mud depending on the humidity-> wind up punt in left side-> bodyspin hurl resulting in Wile E. Coyote-esque plummet from preposterous heights)

Yeah that seems more fitting.

But rather than listen as I explore the onomatopea of theoretical ass-kickings, Im sure youre more interested in my travels so far. Or you arent and you just accidentally entered this url and are disappointed to find its not the video of dancing cats you were expecting. Either way, Im thrilled to have your attention.

It all began during the clear, pre-dawn morning of July 7th. I say pre-dawn because my flight was leaving the ground as the sun rose; my journey to the airport began much earlier at the ripe still-night hour of 4 am. Anywho, I the first country I made it to was the stunning interior of the Cincinnati airport. I have given it this upgraded status because I felt there had to be some sort of genuine attraction there and that it was indeed the first leg of my journey because I was in this airport for a period longer than it takes to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. Gorgeous Cincinnati… airport… gate B8.

Blah blah blah he’s complaining about airports again, why am I even reading this blog? Walts stupid.

That hurts, reader. That really cuts me deep. I just want to, as always, give you more than just a story, a simple list of facts. I want you to feel with me. And I felt that the Cincinnati airport sucked. And was well worth complaining about. But we must persevere onward.

So after a layover-in-Cincinnati-length flight, I landed in Paris: the City of Lights. At this juncture I would like to make clear that whenever I write Paris I want you to read it as I think/say it: Pa-hree. As in I dont know any French but I can bastardize the language with my faux accent and pretend Im French by saying Pa-hree. Got it? Itll be fun.

Paris (Pa-hree) was every bit as beautiful as everyone had ever described it. The architecture and sheer ocular splendor of wandering the streets blew me away. Paris was the destination of choice because it was the then-current residence of my wonderful little sister pictured below with an apricot pastry:

So we, as a family, as the mighty Lengel clan, are traipsing around Europe to celebrate the family’s reunification after six months of separation. Here’s a quick photo tour of Paris (Pa-hree, remember?). By process of elimination, you can figure out much of what I did and did not do:

Ta da! Pretty neat I suppose.

Then it was off to Florence. (Lets take a pretentious timeout together and allow me to say that this was my second time in Florence and will be my third time in Rome in a single year. Wow) The road (track, rather) to Florence started off a little bumpy with us getting roughly 400 feet away from the train station before our engine broke down and delayed us a whopping five hours. My sister, at this point the poster child for grumpytown, decided to start a theoretical blog (which I endorse wholeheartedly) called exhaustion.com/disastertrain. How can I argue with that? Disaster train? Its brilliant! So we suffered our immense trial (psyche) and made it to Florence which then proceeded, as a united city, to jockey for the top spot of hottest place on earth. Here are some pictures (including the tragic world cup finale):

Fake David!

Still got it:

Followed by:

Tragic.

This morning we took a wonderful high speed train to Naples and connected to a splendid little town on the western coast.

Thusly, I type this out from Sorrento on the Amalfi Coast of Italy. This place is so head-over-heels the opposite of my travels earlier this year. Its beautiful and picturesque and (here’s where we diverge) resort-like and sprinkled with garden terraces and tiny fridges filled with uninsured-surgical-operations-priced beverages. The hotel we are staying at has as many stars as I have limbs! If I want a sandwich, all I have to do is find someone and ask them for a sandwich and BAM! a sandwich appears. Whahahahaaaaat? Have I stumbled into some sort of weird hedonistic Garden of Eden? Or am I just traveling on a budget slightly up from $8 a day? Tough to say.

This really turned into quite a doozy of an entry. I congratulate those of you who have made it this far. You are strong-willed and possess great  (insert your adjective of choice here) .

I suppose Ill leave you with the anthem I woke up with in my head this morning. If you know it then go ahead and sing along.

Ahem.

This time baaaabyyyyyy Ill beeeeeeeeeee bullllllleeeeetttttttproof. (repeat indefinitely)

Also, this is the candelabra I was dreaming of:

Jun
29

Before I traveled last summer, I had a conversation with the superbly wise Jacquie Heim. Over the course of this conversation she said some things to me that I will never forget. The most important (and relevant) of them being the following:

Dont be one of those assholes who comes back after traveling around the world and thinks they know everything.

Truth bombs. Bam.

But its true. Ive been a lot of places (41 cities in 13 different countries) within the past year. And you know what? I know nothing, let alone everything. The little that I thought I knew has now been put in the context of a world that is so infinitely larger than I am that whatever knowledge was contained therein, has become as the most infinitesimal, microscopic thing. Its phenomenal. I never thought I would be so lucky as to be made to feel so insignificant by a big amazing world.

But Ive learned a lot. My invisible-to-the-naked-eye small amount of worldly knowledge has grown by 41/13 imperceptible steps. I would never claim that I know everything. I might act like it, but thats just because I enjoy the challenge of bullshitting about things. Exercises in persuasion I call them. But deep down I know, you know, that this extra large head of mine will never know everything.

And thats the beauty of it all.

Im heading to Paris to see my sister in 8 days. So move the fraction to 42/14. We’ll see how it goes. Maybe traveling again will give me the motivation to finish the posts I never threw up (like Cinque Terre, my last trip through Prague, and the rest of Warsaw). Who knows.

Also, I think I will continue to write on this, albeit less frequently and about much less cool things (simply the nature of my regular non-globetrotting lifestyle). I dont know if youll stick around to read it or if youve stuck around this far. But I hope you will. I value you, reader. Your silent, watchful eyes. Your caring, infrequently placed comments. Your enthusiasm that oscillates between yeah-I-guess and meh. Ill be here, patiently scribing the world I know, inserting half baked bad jokes and a lot of pretentious egocentric musings.

Am I selling this alright? Would you buy this product from me? From Billy Mays?

Thats what I thought.

Jun
14

For everything that Ill miss about cuisine from the Balkans, Im glad to be in a country that has amazing sausage again.

Jun
13

I love the World Cup.

Watching Germany dismantle Australia while a bunch of drunk Poles wearing German jerseys hoot and holler behind me is a superb experience that I will cherish deeply.

I did find out, however, that Metallica is once again ruining my life. Those assholes are playing here in Warsaw the 16th and every hostel this side of the Berlin wall is booked up for the 15th and 16th.

Why? Those guys suck.

Jun
13

I meant to write this post waiting for the train in Sofia. But I was tired. I meant to write this post on the 7 hour train from Sofia to Bourgas. But I fell asleep. I meant to write this post waiting for my WizzAir flight in Bourgas. But I was tired. I meant to write this post on the plane to Warsaw. But I was the extremest opposite of conscious as soon as I sat down.

So here I am, on the final leg of my journey in Warsaw. Im still tired, but my hostel bed won’t be ready for another couple of hours and I feel it strange for people to strut into this hostel to check in and be greeted by a unshowered, unshaved, long-haired, grimy ruffian passed out on the couch. Im about helping. And that doesnt strike me as such.

Sofia was wild. I only utilized my first day. All I really wanted to do the second day was head out to Mt Vitosha but it just didnt work out. To help, I felt lousy. So with motivation low and the promise of a night of bad sleep ahead of me, I decided to watch the hell out of some Arrested Development. YES.

I did have one of the most amazing meals I can remember at a tiny cafeteria style restaurant called Trops:

Remarkable? No. Delicious? Beyond the capability of mortal expression.

I did a good deal of walking around, seeing such wonderful sights as this:

and this:

Maybe its the Bulgarian sun, but my body reacted in a much more normal fashion to the heat. Another thing Ive noticed is the drastic reduction in my belly button lint production, a fact which both relieves and saddens me. I was only a couple weeks of good belly lint away from finishing my scale replica of Michelangelo’s David. I suppose he’ll never receive that chiseled jaw line. Although I was a little worried/skeptical of my ability to capture the emotion in his eyes with a mixed palette of lint.

Anyways, as I was strolling through the city, I found myself walking down a large sunny street. A friendly looking man, snazzed up in a business suit and wielding a professional looking attaché case, turned to me and asked something in Bulgarian. I chuckled, as is my normal course of action when I dont know whats going on. Realizing that I didnt speak Bulgarian, he apologized and said he was looking for a certain street. Blah blah, we exchanged pleasantries and I walked off. Before getting too many steps away, however, the man called out to me and said “You know, since we’ve already… well, while we’re at it, Ill give you my card.” With that, he smiled and turned the other way.

This is his card. This is the professional friendly man’s card:

USELESS!

But I guess it is a pretty good hourly rate. You know, if I had any kind of reference on the subject.

Other friendly Bulgarians I met were two ancient (but spry) women on the train. We spoke our respective languages at each other, unable to understand but somehow able to understand. You feel me? We realized that we were all in the wrong seats and one woman helped me find my seat because I, too, struggle with numbers and orientation. The other said farewell to me along with a word that sounded like modesh (which, unfortunately, I have no idea how to spell and thus Google is worthless in providing me an answer). I hold that this word means something like cutie or handsome. She was a fun old lady.

But now, after one of the worst nights of “sleep” of my life and a 2 hour WizzAir flight (which of the discount airlines, sucks theleast) I am in Warsaw. My first impressions are simply that it is huge. The streets are huge. The buildings are huge. But the weather is awesome.

I might try to swing over to Prague for a night or two, but Im not sure if I have the fiscal resources or time to do that in a meaningful way.

Returning to a place where Prague (my most recent home) is a viable option, stirs in me a certain feeling. Ive let myself slip into the dangerous position of counting down the days (5) until I get home. This is dangerous, not because of what I look forward to, but because looking ahead draws my attention (and potential enjoyment) away from the here and now. As far as homesickness goes, Id say Ive got something like the homecommoncold. Certainly not the homeflu or homebola that Ive seen others contract. Its not bad, but Im certainly not homehealthy.

You follow all that?

Meanwhile, Im going to fall asleep to the Polish news playing in this lobby. Little Marski is running around Paris right now and I cant wait to see her again.

Jun
11

Night Train: 1
Walt: 0

Now, I love trains. I prefer their wider seats and walking areas. I prefer their openable windows and antique breaks that make a noise like the gates of hell opening. I prefer the wildly fluctuating temperatures and frequent stops so border guards (or simply men who like badges) can shake me awake and ogle my passport. Yes, these are the things that make train travel special.

But it doesnt provide for the best night of sleep.

I shared a cabin with a Chilean named Pablo on his way to Istanbul. Although I envy his destination, I cant say Im jealous that after the 10 hour night train he was catching the first 10 hour day train to Istanbul. Sometimes you just need a break.

I feel like this is an appropriate time to mention my recent, how do you say, condition. I dont know if it was all the cevapi I ate in Sarajevo or my body’s compensation for the summer that never arrived in Prague, but I have grown, spawned might be a better word, another 8 million sweat glands. Wikipedia tells me that the average adult human has around 2.6 million sweat glands, so in perspective, the increase of sweating makes my estimate seem a little low. Maybe Ive developed 40 million more sweat glands.

I dont know why.

Its like Im always swimming.

Its like Im Tom Khoudary.

This fact makes me love showers. But since I got to my hostel in Sofia at 8:00 AM and they dont check in til 12:30, I am forced to enjoy the film of crust on my skin.

I have a woefully small amount of time here in Sofia. And it is entirely the fault of WizzAir who only flies from Burgas, Bulgaria to Warsaw once every two weeks (and their two-weekly flight leaves the day after tomorrow. From a town 7 hours away. Balls). Nonetheless, the stunning Kate Goldstein has given me a to do list that I will try valiantly to accomplish (regardless of the fact that an alarming percentage of the list contained activities, and I quote, “with creepy drunk men who speak no english.” And you know Im not one to take things out of context.

So I will try. And then I will take another night train tomorrow night to catch an early flight to Warsaw to stay in Warsaw (or explore the surrounding area, I dont know) for five nights. This trip is quickly drawing to a close.

And if I fail to achieve the Amazing Race list of Sofia, it is no catastrophe. Im already planning to get back to the Balkans, as they are on a level equal with China in amazingness. Thats right, equal in amazingness.

So Ill wait for the shower. Heres a picture of something cool:

Jun
09

I like Belgrade (or Beograd or Београд).

But in a different way from the rest of the Balkans.

Its a really neat, giant city. The streets are big and there are tons of shoddy buses blazing around everywhere and the buildings are big. Its like a Rome that agrees with me (but with less awesome food). This place feels less different from home. Something about how its set up I guess.

To be honest, however, Ive gotten tired of the see-this-see-that-go-to-this-museum spirit of traveling so I spent most of my only full day here lounging. Drinking various coffees or sitting in various shades. Because otherwise your time gets sucked up in the maelstrom of looking at buildings and things.

Look! Some statues or whatever!

See? Not amazing. I wish I had an infinite amount of time at my disposal so that, in each of these wonderful cities, I could stay as long as the sponge of my mind needed to soak up the city and culture around it. I was fine with the whirlwind tour of western Europe I took last year because it was more or less a go-to-these-cool-cities-TO-SEE-these-cool-things trip. Whereas here it is more about the culture and the people and the food. Thats not really fair to Spain, Germany, and Italy but its largely because Ive fallen madly in love with the Balkans. And there are less amazing landmarks and whatnot to see here. But the allure is that much more for me because of this. These are excellent places to be.

One thing Ive noticed, I mean, its difficult not to as its so overt, is that the ladies of Belgrade are on the whole very very attractive, not in a beautiful way, but more like hot, you know, like hawt. And they dress like they know it. Interesting, but not my cup of tea.

Seriously, I spent a monstrous amount of time people watching. And the above fact was made abundantly clear to me.

In my non-running-around time, Ive also become wildly fond of the Cyrillic alphabet. Its quite fantastic. Ive gotten a pretty good grip on it (which honestly surprises me) as its relatively simple once you overcome the initial what the hell fear of the letters.

For instance:

says “ulica skadarska” which means “skadarska street.” Eh? Not bad, right?

And this sign is awesome:

For being a warning sign, it seems oddly threatening. Gah I love eastern Europe!

Ive taken the liberty of scribing my name in Cyrillic as well, which is available to you now:

(But to be entirely fair, its Valter Lengel. They dont do much of the W in these languages)

I met a guy in my hostel here (fascinating individual named Martin) who has been traveling for the past 8 weeks from his hometown Innsbruck, Austria. His final destination is Jerusalem. But heres the kicker: hes walking the entire distance. I dont know if you caught that. Hes WALKING. Thats over 1000 km so far and hes got 5 months to go. I asked him if he had some kickass huge maps to plan his trip and he said no, he just follows the water. WHAT?!? Yeah, hes just following the Danube from his hometown to where it hits the Black Sea and then hes going south to Jerusalem. Hes a really interesting guy. I wish I had snapped a picture of him before he left but he kind of looks like this:

but Austrian and with longer hair and glasses…so I guess not really like that. But close!

The point is, I had a flash of the future and became enlightened to the fact that I may very well look like him. Future me now has a second possibility. Which means my options are the above (roughly) or this guy:

Honestly, I dont know which Im pulling for. Both are glorious in their own rights.

Ive got a bit more time in Belgrade and then Ill take the night train tomorrow to Sofia, Bulgaria.

Hooray!

Only a handful of days until I return to good ol’ ‘Merica.

Here are some more pictures Im pleased with:

Im loving the night photography.