Overall, Life is good.

October 7th, 2008 by

Sara and I got back from a vacation a few weeks ago. I know I’m always bitching about being broke, but she’s not and if she wants to go on a cruise for a week, who am I to argue? I’ve heard a lot about cruises and how wonderful they are, but my idea of vacation has always been 1) to get as far away from noise and crowds as possible 2) to do so with good friends and/or family, and 3) to do what I want when I want. Our friends Zoltar and Shortcake are the ones who decided on a cruise, so I knew we at least had item #2 covered. I figured 1 and 3 were pretty much out of the question and would have to be okay with that.

So here I am bitching about a vacation I didn’t even deserve in the first place. You wouldn’t expect anything else, would you?

I’m glad I got to go spend time with our friends and see different parts of the world. That being said, I probably wouldn’t get on another cruise ship. Having a predetermined dinnertime, paying $6.50 for a Corona, and spending most of the day looking for a place on the boat that we could hear ourselves think over the noise of children and techno music were the prime influences on our decision to make our own vacations from now on. I know some people love these big party boats, but it just strikes me as the fast food of vacations, except way more expensive. Also, the idea of visiting Rome, Sicily, Athens, Kusadasi (port town in Turkey), and Crete was awesome. The bummer was only getting to spend a few hours at each place. We sprinted up to the Acropolis and stood there with thousands of other sweaty foreigners for the requisite twenty minutes, and then hustled back to the boat because dinner was at 8:30 and lights out was at 10. At least that’s how it felt.

But the Acropolis was a cool thing to see, if only for a little while. Athens was a great city, but most of the other ports were clogged with street vendors trying to shove collectible refrigerator magnets up your ass. You’ve got to figure that when the big boat comes bobbing up to shore, it might as well be a big tub full of cash to Mervik the knockoff purse vendor. And by the way – I don’t mind a little hustle in my street vendors, but don’t fucking touch me. Grabbing my arm to lead me into your store could very likely end up with you bleeding and me in jail. Nobody wants that.

Also, the uneasy feeling you get when you know you’re getting ripped off and you might end up tied to an electrified bed frame while they harvest your organs for a religious ritual doesn’t go a long way in getting me to open my wallet.

So that was about it for the cruise itself. It turns out that Sara and I may not be cut out for cruise vacations. But it was fun overall and we can say we did it.

And they did deliver the towel animals. Sara loved them

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In fact, she loved them so much that I started to feel inadequate and decided to try my hand at a towel snake.

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I know. It looks like it could slither off at any moment


Now let me tell you about the last three days we spent in Europe. Otherwise known as possibly the best vacation I have ever taken.

When we got back to port in Italy on Sunday, we decided we were going to figure out how to get on a train that would take us to Germany. I have some friends there and I used to live there, so I was looking forward to it. We took the train from the port to Rome, and then stood in line to buy our tickets. The nice lady at the counter told us that there was a train that left at 3 pm, but it was oversold. This meant we would be standing up for at least nine hours. We decided on the sleeper train that left at 8 pm. It was now 9 am. So we had 200 pounds of luggage, 11 hours to kill, and nowhere really to go. It was also getting hot.

We found a place in the basement of the station where you could store your bags. An hour in that line and we were at least free to walk around without our stuff. Now it was just a matter of wandering around for the day. By noon we had walked all over the city and we were sweaty and gross since we hadn’t showered since the night before. I wanted to find a nice air-conditioned bar and sit down with a frosty glass of beer for a while.

Italians are a little pushy and loud, but that’s not nearly as big a deal to me as their complete lack of understanding of air-conditioning. And by the way, eat my ass if you think I am being an ugly American who thinks we do everything the only way it should be done. Some things have a right and wrong answer, and this is one of them:

If you have a big freaking sign outside that proudly proclaims “AIR CONDITIONED”, and you are spending the extra money to run said air conditioner full blast, CLOSE YOUR GODDAMN WINDOWS AND DOORS. Nothing like walking into an ‘air conditioned’ restaurant that is about 84 degrees and weirdly clammy because the AC is running like hell in a futile attempt to cool the outside world. It’s simple physics.

Not a single Italian eatery or bar had figured out the big secret, so we decided to wait it out. The train finally showed up, and we had a little cabin with bunk beds and the world’s smallest air conditioner. The train was there an hour before it was scheduled to depart, so I cranked that little bastard to cold and shut the door like a sane person.

I can’t say I was sorry to watch Rome fade into the distance. I know it’s fashionable for stupid people to say that Americans are the loudest, rudest, most un-accomodating bastards in the free world, but in the previous week we had seen more than our share of socially reprehensible behavior from 17 countries. In fact, the only seemingly civilized folks on the boat (aside from the staff) were British, American, and this really cool Indian family we met who lived in Hong Kong. So Xeno that up your phobe, twist it to the left, and break it off.

The train trip was awesome. If you ever have a chance to take a train across Europe, even if it is at night, do it. The sleeper car was tiny, and had a little sink and even a miniature closet where you could hang your clothes. Now on hour 24 without bathing, Sara ran over to the local odds and ends shop and came back with a box of those skin cleaner wipey things. It takes a half dozen wipes for a guy my size to feel like he is barely clean enough to sleep. It was weird and gross and uncomfortable, but we finally were able to settle into the lower bunk and watch a movie on my iPod.

That was one of the best evenings I have ever spent with Sara. We were stinky and hot and could not touch each other for fear that our combined filth would cause some kind of new pathogen to mutate, but we sat there and listened to the sounds of the train and whatever movie we were watching and enjoyed the hell out of it.

We didn’t sleep much. We arrived in Bern, Switzerland at about 6:45 the next morning and had to find the train that would take us to Mannheim. I was lucky to understand enough German to find out where it was.

Side Note – I think one of the main reasons that Americans are perceived as dicks in other countries is the language issue. Our awesome government education system has not deemed it important to actually teach our children other languages, so the first thing most people hear out of our cakeholes is essentially “I don’t have time to mess with your system of pops and clicks, so talk English like a ‘mercan.”

I can understand how that comes across as rude, so if I know a single word of anyone’s language, I will use it. I highly recommend this practice, as it is extremely disarming to whomever you come into contact with. I’m sure I asked the lady at the ticket counter in Rome how many hugs I needed to get a pass on a shoe fairy, but she knew I was making my own retarded effort and was very pleased with it.

Germany is awesome. They have a lot of rules and a very set method for doing most things, but I am a huge fan of any rule or regulation that is born of common sense and practiced in kind. And most rules in Germany are just that. If you want a driver’s license in Germany, it will take at least six months. That is because you have to take a 30 hour classroom course and something like six weeks of road training. It also costs about $4000.00. If you pass the evaluations and tests and you get two traffic tickets, you have to take what they call a “stupid test” and possibly repeat your training before you get the privilege (yes, privilege) of driving again.

This results in far more qualified drivers, fewer accidents, low congestion, and low insurance rates. IT. WORKS. Also, they don’t tie up half of their police force and clog roads giving chicken shit tickets to people who go too fast. Because the drivers actually know how to drive, they don’t have speed limits on many of their roads, and when you get to a stretch of road that does, a camera takes your picture and sends you a ticket if you are too stupid to read the sign. Because the rules are clear, purposeful, and have consequences, THEY. ARE. EFFECTIVE.

We met my buddy Klaus at the train station on Monday morning. He said “what do you guys want to do?” to which I replied “scrape the first five layers of scum off with a garden trowel, then see if a pressure washer can break through the harder stuff, and then take a shower.”

He said that our other buddy Thomas was waiting for us in Heidelberg, so we’d go see him and then maybe get cleaned up. Awesome.

We walked around Heidelberg for a while, had a couple of beers, and then Klaus and Thomas and I went back to the building where we met almost 13 years ago. It’s a student housing building called Curt Sandig Haus in Mannheim. When we lived there, the three of us had some great times. There was a little bar in the basement, and I offered to paint a mural down there in exchange for the hospitality the rest of the residents had shown the 22 year-old out-of his-element Dusty Scott. I painted for weeks and weeks, and got free beer for the rest of my stay because they liked the painting so much. We asked if we could see the bar, and someone opened it up for us. Most of the work had been painted over in a lovely shade of lemon yellow, but the big cityscape was still on the back wall. Klaus and Thomas and I reminisced for a while and took this picture to remind us of the good old days.

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Actually, the whole place might as well have been in a time capsule. I went up to the floor I lived on and everything was exactly the same. Three mini-fridges served all 16 people on the floor, the bathroom still had an incomprehensible toilet paper dispenser, and the smell in the kitchen and TV room was eerie.

Finally, at 8 pm, we were on our way to Klaus’s place. Ellerstadt is the kind of place I would love to live. It is a small village west of Mannheim. Since we got there pretty late, he said “Let’s go see if we can find a winefest and you guys can shower when we get back.”

By now I had a visible cloud of green fumes rising off of me that was distorting other objects if you looked through it, like heat rising off of a road in summer. Sara and I looked at each other and decided if we’re going to smell like hobos, we may as well be drunk, so we headed out.

Walking through Ellerstadt, I commented on how old some of the houses looked that surrounded Klaus’s place. “About how long have these houses been here?” I asked. “This one is 800 years old”, he said, pointing to a stout brick home on the corner.

Living in a country that is just over 200 years old, 800 years barely computes for me. It turns out this particular village was settled 1200 years ago. There are now 2400 residents, and 18 wineries. That is a damn fine ratio if you ask me.

And holy crap, the wineries. We walked around his neighborhood (keep in mind it is Monday night at about 9:00), and every block or so, one of the winery owners would be open for business. The entire village was
surrounded by vineyards, and most of the winery owners had a big covered patio or outdoor space where they would serve German food and whatever kind of wine they had bottled.

This is what I travel for when I travel. We were the only foreigners there, the food was as authentic as it gets, and I was attempting to make small talk with the friendliest strangers I had ever met using my shitty broken German. These people know how to live.

We ordered four glasses of wine (Klaus’s pregnant wife Miriam opted wisely to go to bed instead of coming with us), and this kid who couldn’t have been more than 18 years old came up to our table with it on a serving tray. In slow motion I watched the glass closest to him tip back. He moved the tray back in an attempt to catch the rogue goblet, but that tipped all four of the glasses forward in an unrecoverable fashion.

The cascade of red wine began at the end of our long table and is probably still flowing somewhere in Switzerland.
You can’t fully appreciate the volume of wine that four glasses can hold until you have seen the surface area it can cover. The waiter was mortified, of course, as we jumped up and looked at each other.

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Klaus’s head was cut off because he is eleventy feet tall

We looked like extras in a slasher film. After the laughter faded, we ordered another round. The waiter sheepishly asked me if we wanted another waiter. I said “No way – you are the only one allowed to touch our drinks, because I bet you’re the most careful waiter in the world right now.”

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Definitely the picture to use on our wedding announcement

It was closing in on Tuesday morning. Sara and I had not had a shower since Saturday night, and now we were wearing an entire bottle of wine. I don’t think I have ever had a better time than I did with Sara and my buddies that night in Ellerstadt. We stayed out until the wee hours, got drunk, told stories, staggered home, and finally got a shower.

We spent the next two days riding the streetcars around Mannheim and the neighboring burgs. Germany is just awesome. The weather, the people, the food, the scenery. I’ve been a lot of places in my life, but I don’t know if I’ll ever find a place I like to visit as much as Germany.

Mega-thanks to Zoltar and Shortcake for putting up with us for a week on that boat, To Klaus and Miriam for giving us a much needed shower and a bed, and to Thomas for making the time to hang out with us.

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…and you’re welcome for the voodoo I threw down on the grill as Thomas and Miriam did their best to ignore me. First one’s free.

28 Responses to “Overall, Life is good.”

  1. on 07 Oct 2008 at 4:02 pm Tunegoon

    FIRST DAMMIT!

  2. on 07 Oct 2008 at 4:12 pm Dusty

    Christ. You even beat me to it.

  3. on 07 Oct 2008 at 4:22 pm Moose

    That was the best shower of your life, wasn’t it?

    Maybe can clear up a question that has been haunting me ever since I grew old enough (read: found someone to make me a fake ID) to visit a German bar and partake of the awesomeness that is the beer boot. (DAS BOOT!) Huge glass shaped like a boot, filled with more beer than four frat boys could drink in a day. Do those really exist in Germany, or is this an American invention in yet another example of Disneyesque bastardization of culture? (Uh, whatever it is, it’s still AWESOME.)

  4. on 07 Oct 2008 at 5:17 pm Brandi

    I lived in Mannheim for nearly 5 years and have missed it every day of the 4 years since we moved back to the US. Thanks for reminding me once again of all the reasons I loved it.

  5. on 07 Oct 2008 at 6:12 pm Byn

    I would ADORE going to Germany.
    Or any other European country, really.

    One of these days…..

  6. on 07 Oct 2008 at 8:24 pm Claire

    I totally agree that we are assholes because we speak no languages. I recently got back from Panama where we honeymooned and while there I had to buy a “Learn English” book from the gift shop so I could reverse engineer the Spanish language enough to leave the resort and not force the poor sales clerks to stumble through their limited ‘Merican.

  7. on 07 Oct 2008 at 9:25 pm nomatophobia

    I took a train in India from Chennai to Kerala/Cochin, which is essentially a train from the coast of the Bay of Bengal to the coast of the Arabian Sea.
    I won’t say it smelled pretty, and that it wasn’t stuffed to the brim with exhausted Indians, that the engine made it through the night, or that I knew what bucket in the corner of the sleeper bunk was for – but I didn’t sleep a wink. Couldn’t stop staring outside, and it was also one of the best moments of my life. Even after I found out what the bucket was for.

    And I’m high-tailing it to Ellerstawhatzzit as soon as I learn “which way to your mom’s room” in German.

  8. on 08 Oct 2008 at 12:54 am TLee007

    Personally, I’d love to visit Rome, Athens, and Amsterdam. All of them are wonderful places from what I’ve been told. Paris is a bit too overrated, based on the stories from those I know that have been there.

    Anyway, nice story Dusty. Hope the wine washes out…

    TLee007

  9. on 08 Oct 2008 at 1:58 am mithrilux

    Great story – as always. It is a shame more Americans don’t bother to learn a language (including English). I would say it’s tough to pick one. Most other countries, the choice is easy: home language + English. I am glad you had such a good vacation and admire the bravery of taking trains around Europe.

  10. on 08 Oct 2008 at 2:05 am ThatGuyInRenoYourBrotherKnows

    Hey this might sound all ‘merican, but why is that German dude Thomas wearing a sombrero? I thought those were mexican hats.

  11. on 08 Oct 2008 at 6:30 am warcrygirl

    Wow, I can hear the cobble-stone streets and smell the wine and brats right now. When I was in my early 20’s (before marriage and kids) I wanted to back-pack my way through Europe. I never did get that chance, maybe when the kids have grown and moved out I can at least get to travel some. If you don’t use that pic on your wedding announcements at least use it on your Christmas cards.

  12. on 08 Oct 2008 at 7:23 am davejase

    “Xeno that up your phobe”… Priceless. When’d you start drawing/ painting? In the womb? Welcome back- glad you had a humorous, if sweaty, vacay…

  13. on 08 Oct 2008 at 7:26 am sarah

    It’s the stuff that happens when you weren’t expecting stuff to happen that always is the best stuff. When all of the pilots for Aer Lingus decided to go on strike in the middle of my and my husband’s vacation in Ireland, we were stranded. A very nice and patient lady at American Airlines found us another flight back to America, except it departed from London. Nothing to do but get on a ferry in Dublin with one tiny suitcase (we shipped the rest of our bags home via FedEx) and head into the unknown. After disembarking in some port in Wales, we consulted the most confusing train timetables known to man and then decided to get on the only train that was in the station. It had to go somewhere, right? As long as it headed in the general direction of London, we might make our flight the next day. Fortunately we had chosen wisely and the train was indeed on its way to London. Watching the Welsh and English countryside slip past the windows in the late afternoon was a wonderful experience. After a couple of hours we decided to get off the train and find a place to stay and something to eat. No rhyme nor reason to the town we picked. We just got off because we felt we’d been on the train long enough. Standing there in the deserted train station: “Now what?” Just up the block there was a B&B/pub. We got a room, found a place to eat, and when we came back to the pub, we sat at the bar and had several hand-pulled English bitter ales while the local Society for the Protection of Owls held a fund-raising trivia contest (heavy on the “football” questions) and a dog snoozed on the floor. But the best part of all was when we asked the pub’s owner how to get to London the next day. He said, “You have to talk to this guy.” “This guy” turned out to be a trainspotter. He knew everything about the trains and train schedules. He wrote on a napkin a series of instructions on what trains at what times and where we had to use to get to Heathrow Airport. His instructions were so perfect we arrived at the airport the next day with hours to spare.

    When we talk about our Irish vacation, we don’t really talk about the 7 days we spent in Ireland. We talk about the 2 days of nearly nomadic travel we did through England, set loose without a map, a car, no idea, really, of where we were going or what the hell we were doing. With a little luck and the help of some wonderful people we found our way home.

    Those 2 days were the best vacation ever.

  14. on 08 Oct 2008 at 7:45 am Jess

    Wonderful vacation story! I really enjoyed it! Looks and sounds like you and Sara are totally in lovey dovey and I think that is fucking fantastic!

  15. on 08 Oct 2008 at 9:36 am Capt. Ozark

    The pictures of Sara make me feel funny. Can I date her when she doesn’t like you anymore?

  16. on 08 Oct 2008 at 12:51 pm Ernie

    So… are there any secret voodoo ways of getting wine out of your clothes?

    I’m…um… just curious, because I am a clumsy dumbass who hasn’t learned to drink clear liquids or use a damned sippy cup like the rest of the special-needs class.

  17. on 08 Oct 2008 at 2:32 pm M.A.

    I agree with you about night train rides in Europe — especially in one of those micro-sleepers. The mini-sink — so cute! The tiny closet — so practical! The 2-foot wide “cot” — so … uhm… cozy!

    That’s okay. My husband proposed to me as we clickity-clacked our way past San Tropez on our way from Nice to Paris.

    Yeah. Train rides in Europe are pretty cool. Thanks for taking me back there, almost 9 years ago to the day.

  18. on 08 Oct 2008 at 9:35 pm JT

    This…is what makes life worth living.

  19. on 09 Oct 2008 at 12:23 am honk williams

    @moose

    Yes, we’ve got those beer boots, though it has nothing to do with “Das Boot” (the movie). They are available in sizes from 2L up to 10L. Always a goog laugh when people don’t which way to hold it. If you use the wrong technique you might get the whole load right up your face.
    But I guess they’re mostly used in southern Germany, specifically Bavaria (Where else? We invented Oktoberfest! 😉

  20. on 09 Oct 2008 at 8:40 am Jim C

    Dusty,

    The “Voodoo Throwdown” was appreciated — especially with that intense look! You certainly put the good jumbi on the grill.

    Actually the whole article was appreciated, especially in this crappy market environment. I needed a good laugh!

  21. on 09 Oct 2008 at 9:27 am bart

    I just realized who Sarah reminds me of: Julia Nunes (http://www.youtube.com/user/jaaaaaaa).

    What in the world do these beautiful creatures see in trollish malcontents like you and I? If I was a chick, I’d so be a lesbo (but then again, somebody please explain why half the lesbo pair is almost always as unattractive as a really ugly dude).

  22. on 09 Oct 2008 at 11:07 am Sara - not the skirt

    Welcome back Dusty! Love all your writings.

  23. on 09 Oct 2008 at 2:34 pm nomatophobia

    @Ernie – This voodoo magic potion called “Wine Away” (wineaway.com). My dad keeps a bottle of it handy whenever I come over. If there is wine in the house, it’s going on my clothes. I…I have a drinking problem.

  24. on 09 Oct 2008 at 9:06 pm Randi

    Dusty, you’re a guy who understands the good stuff in life. I lived in Gelnhausen, Germany for three years, going to school in Hanau. I miss it awful. My kingdom for a broechen. A rindwurst. A Kinderegg. *sigh*

  25. on 09 Oct 2008 at 9:07 pm Randi

    ….some unwashed leiderhosen….

  26. on 10 Oct 2008 at 10:55 am Sheppe

    An enjoyable read, as always. Glad you had a great time.

  27. on 10 Oct 2008 at 12:22 pm The non-funny, female Dusty

    “So Xeno that up your phobe, twist it to the left, and break it off.”

    Hilarious! Loved the trip report. Makes me want to pack my bags again.

  28. on 10 Oct 2008 at 11:44 pm Incredipete

    Wait! How did a bum like you score a hottie like Sara? Well done, my friend. Well done.

    As for the trip – I’m with you on Germany’s brilliant rules. Funny how people follow rules when they make sense and are enforced. Go figure.