Prague, Czech Republic
3 stars out of 4
I know. I KNOW. Three stars is not very high for the beautiful and storied city of Prague.
When I look back at the pictures I took and think about how much fun I had, I’m amazed I don’t remember the place more fondly. I had what may have been the best meal of my life at a Michelin starred restaurant called La Degustation. I took a taxi ride with a seemingly insane taxi driver who shot through the cobbled, medieval streets in a fashion way scarier and more enjoyable than any roller coaster I’ve ever been on. I climbed to the top of several church towers despite having a sprained foot. I ate the Czech version of Beef Stroganoff at the Czech version of Applebee’s–and I liked it.
Yet my feelings toward Prague remain kind of cool. There is something muffled about the memories, like I’m covered in gauze. Weirdly, the constant assault of beauty made things seem a little unreal. And there were tourists everywhere. Which is fine, I’m a tourist too, but it was like there was an ACTUAL LAVA FLOW OF TOURISTS pouring across the Charles Bridge.
I did enjoy the grumpiness of the natives, which seemed fairly understandable. Middle aged, young, and even a few old Europeans are everywhere, generally behaving like American college students on spring break: vomiting on things, yelling, leaving piles of trash in pristine parks, randomly pretending to be DJs, and deliberately tripping me as I was getting off the plane (yes, really. I thought it was an accident and then she kicked my friend when she walked past him. And my foot was in a brace since I had a sprained ankle.).
On the other hand, my traveling companion and I got yelled at THREE TIMES in one single, very small museum at Prague Castle–once for laughing too loudly (we spent a lot of time creating inappropriate dialogue spoken by the many uncomfortable and angry looking saints in the gold leaf-covered paintings, which, yeah, maybe that’s also why we got yelled at).
Sedlec, Czech Republic
4.5 stars out of 4
Have you ever, like, thought about mortality, man? Have you ever looked at a pile of human skulls that have been turned into art by some crazy 16th century monk-dude and realized that each and every one of those skulls belonged to human being whose thoughts, feelings, desires were the most important thing in the world to them?
And there they are, bones turned into art. Dead.
Just like you will be one day. It is overwhelming and beautiful and you don’t want anyone to take your picture under the chandelier of skulls, not because it is gross (it’s stunningly beautiful), but because your soul is singing and the tears that are running down your face are tears of joy. It’s like some goddamn Romantic poet from the goddamn 19th c took over your goddamn soul.
4 stars out of 4
This is a good place. There were big parks full of little kids riding bicycles. There was a mile long food market with stalls of weird, kickass food. There was the cafe where Graham Greene wrote The Third Man. There was also the Ferris wheel from The Third Man movie and lots of gorgeous graffiti along the Danube. There were fancy white horses and they lived in stables far, far nicer than my house. There was waiting in line for the cheap (standing) tickets to the opera and then being so exhausted that I sat down on a step during the show. Afterwards, there was a crowd of elegantly suited and gowned people drinking coffee in Vienna at the McDonald’s. Cool. Whatever makes you happy, Europeans, but just so you know, McDonalds is not fancy in America. And Budweiser should not cost $7 for one can.
Oh, and there was lots and lots of schnitzel. I could write a poem about that schnitzel.
Yelllowstone Park, USA
4 stars out of 4
Go to this place. It is kind of like Narnia, except you don’t get to become a king or queen, there are no talking animals, and, okay, it’s not really like Narnia. But it does seem like a magical land. I kept driving and walking around and thinking “I guess they really do pick the nicest places for these NATIONAL PARKS,” which is an obvious thought, but still.
Do you want waterfalls? Check. Bears by the side of the road with (human) jackasses trying to get bear selfies? Check. Do you want to yell out the window at these people “You’re FUCKING idiots!”? Check. How about boiling cauldrons of mud and water? They got em. A geyser surrounded by tourists? Yup. How about bison, elk, mule deer, mountain goats (not the band), bald eagles? CHECK. They also have things I did not see, such as wolves. THEY STILL GOT EM EVEN THOUGH I DIDN’T SEE EM. I would really like to see them.
Anyway, the light is golden and the park rangers are very, very nervous because of the tourists constantly running toward wild animals and sometimes getting mauled or killed.
If you visit, be respectful of the animals and the park rangers’ nerves. If an animal kills you, they have to kill the animal–and none of us wants that, do we?
Photos of Prague, Sedlec, and Vienna by Corey Dalton. Other photos by Jen Bingham