Aaaaand home again, back in the land of endless ice water in restaurants, and toilets that are free because they save money by only buying half a door for the stall. I didn’t do any writing the last few days of my trip, since I was feeling the time tick down and I had a lot to do. Here’s the rest of what I’ll remember about Prague:

-Having blueberry beer in the wine cellar of the Strahov monastery, and walking around the grounds in the sunshine listening to the bells and the birds. It’s peaceful. Remind me to get cloistered there next time I’m a 12th century Czech monk.

-Taking ridiculous pictures in the mirror labyrinth on Petřín hill.  

-Reon’s “Magic Cave.” It’s an art gallery/fantasy world/psychedelic hallucination with rainbow stalactites and ceramic dragons and satyr masks and paintings of women who are also trees or chess pieces or violinists. And free sangria. Good stuff.

-Dancing at a bar in an old nuclear bunker with a bunch of Swedish girls. One of them gave me her cigarette. We all yelled along during the chorus of Walking on Sunshine.

-Everything inside the Veletržní palác gallery. The paintings in Mucha’s Slavic Epic seem about a couple stories tall and alive, like you could fall right into them. There were so many beautiful paintings in that place. Some of the best and most imaginative and interesting mythological scenes I saw the entire trip. Pirner’s work in particular really struck me. But even the Cubist paintings, which are usually not my square cup of deconstructed tea, seemed more warm and intimate, and not at all severe and soulless. Czech painters have got this art thing covered, apparently, the rest of us can sit down.

-Spending my last night at one of the Alchymist hotels. Oh my goodness. Probably the most beautiful hotel I’ve ever stayed in anywhere in the world. The dining room was half covered in shards of mirror and lit by crystal chandeliers. I could see Prague Castle from my room. The staff were so kind. There was an amazing free wine and cheese hour every day, and the complimentary breakfast buffet was the second best breakfast buffet I’ve ever seen including non-complimentary ones. Whenever I get fabulously wealthy I’m moving in.

-Vyšehrad cemetery. Almost all the headstones had something beautiful about them, flowers or ivy planted, inlaid gold or mosaics, sculptures in both the classical style and the modern. Everything felt cared for, like everyone there had somebody who remembered them. It was nice. Everything was nice.

I’m gonna miss Europe.

Well, Prague is gorgeous. Lots of buildings, even random mundane ones, have sculptures worked into the facade or some other Art Nouveau detailing. There are spires everywhere. It’s pretty incredible. The beer’s not bad either.

I’m staying at Sir Toby’s Hostel, which I really like so far. They have an awesome brick cave of a pub in the basement and triple decker bunk beds. I also want to mention the place I stayed in Budapest, The Loft, which was super tiny (less than 20 beds) but everyone was so nice and it was so easy to get to know people. The staff had great senses of humor; even the info signs that you see everywhere in hostels were funny (over the sink: “Dear sweetheart, I have been feeling really dirty lately. Please do me. Signed, The Dishes.”) And major points for having Cards Against Humanity available to play.

Back to Prague! Things I’ve seen so far: Charles Bridge, Old Town Square and the astronomical clock (super nifty especially considering it’s over 600 years old), the Lennon wall, Prague castle and St. Vitus, the Municipal House (so beautiful from the outside but I was too cheap to take a tour this trip), the House of the Black Madonna (Art Nouveau meets Cubism), the Estates theater (where Mozart’s Don Giovanni premiered), the Mucha museum, Wenceslas square, the Old Jewish cemetery (kinda neat but considering you can only buy a joint ticket and I don’t plan to visit any of the other sites on it, overall a waste of money), the giant metronome, and the DOX modern art museum. I’m sightseeing in a fairly perfunctory way at this point, mostly just wandering by and taking a few pictures before moving on. It’s a compromise between my brain and my feet. Neither one is totally thrilled with the solution, but it seems to be working okay.

(Wrote this a couple days ago, forgot to post.)

Leaving Budapest tomorrow, can’t believe there’s only one stop left. My exhaustion related to all things besides sprawling on a couch and being unconscious continues. Hope I can do Prague justice.

There are two absolutely perfect phenomena in Budapest: thermal baths and ruin bars. I’ve been to the Szechenyi baths and the Kiraly baths and a few different bars, Szimpla Kert was the coolest. The Szechenyi baths have this giant gorgeous pool and fountains and an aquatic chessboard. The Kiraly baths are smaller, but they were less crowded and had tubs that were the perfect temperature for me. I loved floating in the main pool and seeing the sunlight stream through the perforated dome and hit the steam.

Szimpla is this strange, trippy complex of small bars all connected to a main courtyard. There’s Christmas lights and hookah smoke and TV monitors showing meaningless colors and loud music and a defunct car and a gnome hanging from the ceiling and every surface is covered with graffiti. A few too many people, though. Also, palinka hates your throat and wants to set it on fire.

Two more great things in this city: the Opera, and Margaret Island. I saw a bananas production of Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos, there were tiny minotaurs and grisly homicides and a Giant Octopus of Sadness. It was super weird and super fun. Margaret Island is beautiful and leafy and smells like roses and petrichor. I wanted to buy a hammock and move in.

The Hospital in the Rock and the Terror House are both really good museums and I probably have more to say about them than that somewhere in my head but, in the words of my hostel roommates from Liverpool, I can’t be arsed.

In Budapest, taking a day off to read and not walk anywhere. At this point in the trip I’m pretty worn out. I’m still really happy to be traveling and having adventures, but honestly I feel like I need at least week off to just process everything I’ve seen and sleep. Less than two weeks left though, so I’m gonna do my best to enjoy them while also trying to take care of the part of me that needs some rest.

Leftover memories from Vienna, presented in random order because I don’t care very much about anything right now:

-Went to a ton of museums, including but not limited to the Upper Belvedere where they keep Klimt’s Kiss, the criminal museum where you can see crime scene photos from a hundred years ago and the mummified heads of murderers, the theater museum which was fairly disappointing except for having another Klimt painting, and the carnie museum. Glad I saw them but nothing tops the utter fabulousness of the Kunsthistorisches.

-Also fabulous was getting to watch the opening ceremonies of the Life Ball, live and in person albeit behind a couple of very tall wire fences. Ricky Martin and Conchita Wurst performed, Bill Clinton gave a little speech, there was a combination ballet/opera/choral performance at the beginning and a fashion show at the end. The theme was The Garden of Earthly Delights, and there were lots of amazing flowery costumes. Definitely need to attend a ball in Vienna someday.

-The Prater is an amusement park not far from downtown and somewhere between a traveling carnival and Disneyland in terms of size and the quality of the attractions. It is just the best. I didn’t go on any rides but I walked across the whole park taking pictures and being ridiculously happy. Excellent currywurst, also.

-Melange style coffee. What. Incredible. I desperately hope there is someplace in the States that makes it, I don’t know if I can hold out until the next time I’m in Austria.

-Took a bus to what is basically a village on the very outskirts of the city and climbed a massive hill covered in vineyards to get to a place called Heuriger Hirt. Drank wine spritzers and looked down at the hill and the vineyards and the little village houses and the Danube and the boats and the city in the distance. The air smelled like rain and I was there.

Bunking in a couchette on a night train is (for the record, future me) not at all comfortable and you will hurt your back. There is a kind of comradeliness that comes with being five strangers together in a very, very small room though, and an excitement in knowing you are speeding through the dark towards parts unknown.

My main impressions of Vienna so far have been: big—the city blocks here take like ten minutes to walk each—and cold—the first rain since Paris. I also look like I’m related to a bunch of people here (thanks for the nose, Germanic ancestry) so I feel extra terrible about how nonexistent my German language skills are. On the positive side, I got to go to the opera! Eleven bucks for a seat in a box with absolutely no view of the stage, but the opportunity to explore the gorgeous opera house and to creepily peer over other people’s seats when I really wanted to see what was happening onstage. Altogether a lovely evening.

The museums here are some of the best I’ve seen this trip. So far I’ve hit up the Albertina, the Kunsthistorisches, and the Naturhistorisches. The Albertina was pretty neat, got to see some Chagall paintings and a beautiful surrealist piece called Landscape with Lanterns, but the other two museums were absolutely fantastic. Whoever made the layout and lighting decisions at the Kunsthistorisches is clearly someone who really loves museums and knows what it’s like to wander through them. Everything is just arranged and displayed so perfectly it almost doesn’t matter what the pieces on display even are. But the pieces are incredible, and the venue is this old palace type thing with a grand staircase and frescos on every ceiling and it’s also incredible. I didn’t even care that most of the description cards were only in German.

At the Naturhistorisches, I saw a pillar of salt as big as me, a vase of flowers carved out of serpentinite and rose quartz so thin it was translucent, the Venus of Willendorf (much smaller than expected, only about the size of a fist), a room full of meteorites and glass from their impact craters, a life-size model of an allosaurus that moved and roared and activated all my monkey-brain instincts to run away from the terrifying predator, the tentacle of a giant squid, and endless rooms of dead animals, stuffed or in jars, from spineless worms and parasites to fish to birds to snakes to badgers and elephants and camels and lions and one sad panda bear. I would also like to express my appreciation to meteorites (thanks for clearing out the dinosaurs so mammals could have a turn!), lightning strikes (thanks for generating the charge necessary for the formation of amino acids from basic elements which are the source of all organic life!), and volcanos (thanks for ejecting enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that we haven’t been trapped in a planetary ice age for the past 700 million years!).

Oh, and I can’t forget to mention the coolest game store I have yet discovered on the planet, Damage Unlimited. Not only do they offer the prerequisite endless shelves of board and card games and miniatures and dice, they also have a room for books—RPG rules as well as straight up sci-fi and fantasy novels in German and English, a room of various awesome miscellany like lightsabers and triforce earrings and absinthe, and a room of costumes and elf ears and leather armor and foam weapons for LARPing. There should be one of these places in every town.

Spent a day in Ferrara, where it’s way too hot but they have good pasta. Ate at a restaurant where Copernicus studied, wandered around an open air craft market, kind of neat but not really much going on. Now Venice, on the other hand…

It almost doesn’t feel like a real city that exists on Earth. There’s no cars or buses, only foot traffic and boats, and weirdly that makes a huge difference. It’s kind of like wandering around in fiction, or a different century. I loved it. There were the anticipated hordes of tourists, but it actually wasn’t that difficult to get away from them and be the only person in the piazza other than the old Italian man sharing a gelato with his dog. And even on the tourist routes, the masks and glass and lace and marzipans they’re hawking are all so pretty and fun to look at even if they are overpriced. For shopping, I definitely recommend the Ca Macana mask atelier, where I would have likely broken my budget if I had any room at all left in my backpack, and the Libreria Acqua Alta, where the books are stacked ceiling high in boats and bathtubs and the cats are watching you to judge your worthiness.

I only had one day this trip, but I could probably spend weeks there wandering over bridges and down narrow alleys and sitting by the canals watching the tides rise and the gondoliers go by. Someday I’ll be back. As it was, I caught a night train to Vienna.

My last day in Florence. Sad to be leaving, glad I got to be here.

Gelato flavors consumed: stracciatella, “flower of milk”, Nutella, green tea, ricotta and fig, “Mexican” chocolate (dark chocolate with pistachio and a ton of black pepper).

Museums visited: the Uffizi (neat to see the development of Renaissance painting but otherwise not particularly memorable), the Bargello (they have a pre-Victorian spork!), the Costume Gallery and the Silver Museum at the Palazzo Pitti (both utterly fabulous but I especially loved the costumes, all these gorgeous dresses and outlandish hats with the focus unapologetically on the women who owned and wore and often designed the clothes).

Churches visited: the Duomo (yep, that sure is a dome), the Medici chapels (glorious, especially Michelangelo’s Night), the Chiesa di Dante (stumbled across it by accident and was really glad I did, it’s small and kind of dark but it’s easy to imagine Dante here watching Beatrice at a service), the Santa Croce Basilica (where Dante is actually buried, along with Galileo and Machiavelli and Michelangelo. Some very peaceful cloisters and a rose garden here as well, a good place to sit for a while and feel like things might just be okay after all).

Best places to shop: Mercato San Lorenzo (if you need cheap scarves or stone jewelry or leather goods or a tiny crossbow), The Masks of Agostino Dessi: Alice Atelier (if you have hundreds of euro to spend, otherwise it’s just fun to look and be amazed by the masks—steampunk, cyberpunk, animal, two-faced, moons, leaves, Guy Fawkes, basically everything), the Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella (if you want to feel like a sickly yet wealthy Victorian in need of some kind of tonic or possibly an elixir).

Best view: close race between standing on the Ponte Vecchio at dusk, with swallows flying overhead, watching the lights turn on and reflect like a second city in the river Arno, and standing on the hill at the very top of the Boboli gardens, looking out over the surrounding hillsides covered in deep green trees and warm yellow villas and the remains of fortresses, smelling vineyards in the air.

I’m finding that I don’t have a lot else to say about Madrid. I had a really nice time seeing my friend and meeting her friends, I did some completely unnecessary shopping, I ate too many churros with chocolate. I also found a place selling ostrich eggs. The Temple of Debod was neat but made me a little sad that it might be a very long time before I can see an Egyptian temple actually in Egypt. Aaaand I drank Leche de Pantera at El Chapandaz, where the leche squirts out of one of the many stalactites decorating the ceiling of the bar. It is cinnamony and delicious and extremely alcoholic and does not come in any size smaller than one liter. It’s really good to have “get inebriated inside a lactating cave” checked off my bucket list; honestly up until now I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to pull that one off.

I got into Florence this afternoon with my priorities in this order: pasta, gelato, art. Got my pasta in the form of ravioli with pecorino and caramelized pears, my gelato half dark chocolate and half salted butter caramel, and my art just wandering around and looking at the facades of churches and the huge statues at the Piazza della Signoria. Florence is a great city to get a neck cramp in gaping up at all the pretty buildings. My favorite narrow street that I wandered down was the Via Tripoli, which for some reason was completely swarming with pigeons. The air was filled with their cooing and the beating of their wings. When a lot of them took off at once, the way they flickered in the light made them look almost like butterflies, or a waterfall, and it sounded like a crashing wave.

In Madrid now, visiting a friend from college. We went out to dinner the first night I was here and had one of the best-tasting meals of my life at Juana la Loca. There was a tortilla full of caramelized onions and goodness, a deep-fried crab sandwich, a molten caramel volcano cake with banana ice cream, and my first experience of Iberico ham. It was a religious moment. I think from now on when I’m sad I’m just going to replay this meal in my brain until I feel better.

I spent a day at the Prado and the Reina Sophia and was sort of underwhelmed. There were definite high points (Goya’s Black Paintings are unsettling and incredible, Bosch’s Garden was fantastic—at least what I could see of it through the crowd and the rope barrier that kept everyone like 600 feet away) but overall I wasn’t very appreciative of the style of art being displayed. It seemed like everything at the Prado was either Jesus, Spanish royalty, or Greek gods being awful, and everything at the Reina Sofia was scribbles. I know, I’m terrible. The display information cards at the Prado are fun to read at least, they’re about a paragraph long and full of hyperbolic claims that THIS painting is definitely the premier Spanish nude of the nineteenth century.

Yesterday we spent at Retiro Park with my friend’s improv comedy group, who had a rehearsal for a show they’re doing. There was a picnic; it was a pretty wonderful afternoon. After the rehearsal we wandered the park for a while. I got to see the Palacio de Cristal! There were lots of rocking chairs inside as part of an art exhibit, and we sat in them and just kind of rocked for a while. It was suuuuper relaxing. It was a holiday, the feast day of the patron saint of Madrid, San Isidro. When it got dark, there was a fireworks display over the lake.

Got my tablet back, life is good. I can have all the apostrophes I want!

Lisbon was basically the most wonderful place. I was sick and stressed out and exhausted most of the time I was there, and I still adored everything about it. The azulejo tiles, the warm crispy buttery custard tarts, the fado music that rips your heart out right through your guts and you love it. In a half hour train ride, you can get to these gorgeous beaches covered with bright umbrellas and happy people hanging out with the Atlantic Ocean. Which is cold, and glitters. In 45 minutes on a train, you can get to Sintra, which is about the closest I’ve ever gotten to being in a fairy tale. The woods are so green and they cover the hills that are partly hidden by clouds. And if you want to explore an ancient castle or an elaborate palace or a mansion with network of secret tunnels in the gardens, you can do all of that.

In the gardens of the City Museum there are these huge ceramic animals—monkeys and lizards and frogs and lobsters. There’s also a bunch of not at all ceramic peacocks and peahens wandering around who were very agreeable about having their pictures taken. The Calouste Gulbenkian museum also has amazing gardens where I got very lost. The museum itself is small but has all these beautiful little objects, amber jewelry from ancient Rome, ornate silver soup tureens and samovars, a velvet parasol. They also have what is now one of my favorite statues ever. At first it looks like one of the standard “Venus crouching as she bathes” things that I’ve seen probably a half-dozen examples of so far on this trip, but it’s not really Venus. It’s Flora, and her hair is entwined with flowers and her hands are graceful and she has this amazing wicked grin. And dimples! I’m in love.

Fado was an overturning, shattering kind of experience. I went to this small, underground restaurant, with brick pillars and arches supporting the ceiling and candlesticks as long as my arm on the tables. About half the place was taken up by this one huge Portuguese family and their friends and associates. They loved the music, they gasped and cheered in all the right places, and even sang along to a couple of numbers. It was a privilege to share the room with them. My experience with the music was a little complicated. I’m someone who tends to get bored at symphonies and concerts, anything where the music is supposed to be the star of the show and there’s not really anything interesting to look at. But fado was different. I was riveted and adoring and when it was over, it felt a little like being abandoned. There may or may not have been tears (there were definitely tears).

I stayed at the Living Lounge hostel, which was lovely and highly recommended. The decorations were so fun and there were crepes for breakfast every morning. I also met some great people, like the German brother and sister I went out to dinner with the first night, and the Brazilian girl who didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Portuguese so everything we had to say we typed into Google Translate on our phones and showed them to each other. She tried to take me out clubbing, but after we’d been to a couple places and the metro was about to stop running and I realized she was planning to stay out until it started up again at 6am, I bailed. Politely.

Earlier that evening, I discovered the best bar in the world, the Pavilhão Chines. The walls are covered with oddities and Victoriana like helmets and beer steins and model airplanes. Lots of red and chandeliers. The menu is illustrated and so thick it’s actually heavy, full of cocktails that are both classic and hard to find. The bartenders wear bow ties. The music was super cheesy American pop from the 80’s, and my drink came with a little paper chick in an egg on a toothpick. The guy next to me got a clown head. The whole experience was gloriously absurd and delightful. I ordered a Singapore Sling, and it was flawless.

Another fun thing to drink in Lisbon is ginjinha, sour cherry liqueur. It is soooo good. Sometimes they serve it in a shot glass made of chocolate. I feel like these people really understand me.