The Pearl Jam show in Prague was so inspiring that we decided to spontaneously follow the 10 Club to Berlin for two more shows. It did help that our new PJ friends (Dave & Lauren) offered their hospitality in Istanbul if we joined the parade. And, just when things were getting exciting….. we met our favorite guitarist Mike McCready at the Prague rail station. What an amazing guy traveling like a normal dude with his friends and family.
In hindsight, I wish I had told Mike about my friend Kevin. I vividly remember our sophomore year at the University of Maryland listening to Mike’s side project “Mad Season”. Kevin loved the “Above” album and always wanted to play it along with Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains Unplugged. Mad Season is up there with some of my favorite albums of all time. The band consisted of Layne Staley (Alice in Chains), Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees), a friend of Staley’s from drug rehab and of course Mike on lead guitar. Like Kevin, Mike had alcohol abuse issues…. but fortunately was able to turn his life around. I wish I could say the same for Kevin and think about him everyday. We badly wanted Pearl Jam to play “Release” in Kevin’s memory.
Berlin was surprisingly multi-cultural and open-minded. Between runs to O2 World to pickup tickets, we managed to see the Berlin Wall and downtown nightlife. Our friend Kevin from San Francisco happened to be in town, so we joined his great group of friends for a night out in the “Mitte”. Pearl Jam delivered a killer show playing Pink Floyd’s “Mother” as a dedication to the wall.
Krakow popped up and we quickly found ourselves hopping around the vibrant Jewish Quarter. Our visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenaw concentration camps was very special on many levels. The tour brought about emotions of sadness, disgust, anger and inspiration. The magnitude of the Nazi crimes is impossible to replicate, but Auschwitz does a great job if you care to see what your world is capable of.
I recently read a classic book written by Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl. Viktor was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who spent three years in Nazi camps including Auschwitz. His best-selling book, Man’s Search for Meaning (published under a different title in 1959: From Death-Camp to Existentialism), chronicles his experiences as a concentration camp inmate which led him to discover his hallmark conclusion that even in the most absurd, painful and dehumanized situation, life has potential meaning and that therefore even suffering is meaningful. This conclusion served as a strong basis for his Logotherapy and Existential Analysis, which Frankl had described before WWII.
Now, lets get back to our original plan to hike the High Tatra Mountains in Slovakia. The “Poet’s Corner” hostel in Olomouc, Czech Republic told us about this amazing crew at the Ginger Monkey in Zdiar, Slovakia. We arrived to open arms and proceeded to a group lunch and eight hour rocky trek with Kendlyn in the pouring rain. The 2,400 meter high mountains, fresh air and stunning lakes were well worth our hard effort. I damaged tendons in my right middle finger while falling a few times… but, stuff happens!
Hungary was super affordable and interesting from a wine tasting perspective. We immediately learned about its loss of territory during WWI. Transylvania was a particular sour topic for several people. The food was meat heavy and hard to decipher without a local friend. We loved learning about Hungarian Kadarka & Bull’s Blood wine and culture around Eger. Adam & Nora provided a crazy night out and our first Unicum experience. Budapest taught us quite a bit more about Hungary’s long and difficult past being ruled by successive foreign empires. It was fascninating to learn that the current Budapest is only 150 years old…. while, the architecture appears much much older.
I contacted my old friend Calin in Bucharest about spending time around Romania for a few weeks. He not only offered to meet, but organized dinner for my birthday, a wine tasting, country house and long weekend in Vama Veche at the Black Sea for the Stufstock Rock Festival. In between, Christie and I rented a car and drove Inside the Saxon Triangle of Transylvania. We had no idea about the large German population and history in the region. The German craftsmen guilds in Sibiu and Sighisoara were on display in front of their watch towers. Several tourists in the region were German as well.
On the way to Brasov, we drove the famous Tranfagarason Highway down to Dracul’s castle. I had toured the fake Dracula’s castle in Bran City in 2008…. and enjoyed this 40 minute untouristic climb much more. Vlad “Dracul” Tepes actually lived in Sighisoara for a few years and we were able to see his home there. He was known for impaling his enemies (mostly Turks) to instill fear amongst the much larger army. Bram Stoker learned of Vlad’s story during the late 1800’s and modeled his Dracula character after Vlad. The rest is history and a huge point for future Romanian tourism.
Vama Veche at the Black Sea was quite a unique experience. The town has like 200 residents with a ton of personality. The Stufstock Festival infused hardcore rock fans with the town’s hippie culture. We ate fish, drank beer and watched Calin’s son and daughter participate in the rock show. The event captured a free spirit unlike any other we’ve witnessed in the states. Young people pulled up to the beach, pitched their tents and rocked all night without a soul to cough at them.
Our experiences are growing richer with the added comfort of local friend connections. We never thought July could top June and look forward to intimate time with Jeff & Neda in Bulgaria. Turkey and Montenegro top off our star-studded roster for August… can’t wait!